Born over a six-pack
It was literally the car born by Holden executives shooting the breeze over a few coldies on a Sunday morning.
They were looking for a new race car to replace the Monaro, whose days as a competitive racer were ending.
And the executives hit on the seemingly-outrageous idea of fitting a six-cylinder engine to the Torana, a Holden-ised version of the British Vauxhall Viva.
The first Toranas, launched in May 1967, retained the HB Viva’s stylish “coke-bottle” body and a four-cylinder engine.
But after those Sunday morning beers, Holden was to develop its own version, adding a long nose to accommodate a six-cylinder motor and re-styling the car (four-cylinder versions using the new styling continued to be built).
The Torana six was born because General Motors-Holden regarded motor racing as an essential part of its marketing, and the current race car, the Monaro, looked set to be unable to match Ford’s racing Falcons.
In his Holden history, Heart of the Lion, John Wright quotes former Holden sales and marketing executive John Bagshaw as saying the Torana six was dreamt up over the proverbial few beers.
“The cost of developing the racing engines of the [Monaro] – the engines that we had available – was going to be horrendous and we didn’t think we’d be competitive,” Bagshaw said.
“And so we took a look at the Torana, which was a great little car, and over a few cold beers, Max Wilson [managing director], Bill Steinhagen [Holden’s chief engineer] and I sat down and said ‘what the hell are we going to do and what if we could strap the six-cylinder engine into the Torana’.
“The six-cylinder Torana started as a discussion about what the hell we were going to do about motor racing.”
The notion was that if they could shoehorn a six-cylinder engine into the Torana/Viva, the car would be “a real little pocket rocket and it would cure any problem of over-capitalising a product that was not going to be competitive”.
So Holden built a clay model of a Torana six, and assembled focus groups of potential customers.
“People just said: ‘this is fantastic’. So all of a sudden we did some volume estimates and ‘hey this thing is going to pay off on the bottom-line’.
“If we can do this we can justify on volume…we’ve got some building blocks here. If we can put them together, we can get a viable product,” Bagshaw said.
The six-cylinder LC Torana debuted on October 31, 1969, and was immediately successful, capturing just over 22 percent of its market segment.
The Bathurst special, the XU-1, broke cover in August 1970, two months before the Bathurst long distance race.
It was to prove itself the “pocket rocket” Bagshaw had dreamed of over those Sunday morning beers.
It was the first Holden to come as standard with triple carburettors, had wide wheels, big exhaust, a floor-mounted gear lever – in short a real factory hot rod.
Off the production line its six cylinder engine produced 190 horsepower (140kW) at 5600rpm thanks to its triple Stromberg carburettors, a revised camshaft and a lightened flywheel.
It had heavy-duty springs, a larger 77.3-litre fuel tank, new Globe Sprintmaster wheels; and a tall 3.08:1 final drive ratio gave it a 225kph top speed.
The XU-1 came in wild colours – like Strike me Pink, Lone O’ranger, Barney’s Shirt (a bloke called Barney had worn a purple shirt to work at Holden one day).
The cosmetics included a big bootlid spoiler, and black-out sections of bodywork.
The XU-1 became Holden’s racing car, and in 1972 Peter Brock drove one – an LJ model – to the first of his nine Bathurst wins.
In wet weather, Brock defeated the mighty Falcon GT-HOs in the Hardie Ferodo 500 and the XU-1 went on to win the 1973 Australian Touring Car Championship, earning the car its Giant Killer reputation.