Holden's Pre-Commodore Heroes: LJ Torana GTR XU-1

Mount Panorama and its enduro played the frontline to Holden and Ford’s rivalry in the 1960s.

Production-spec rules that allowed any showroom car to reach the podium gifted the winner an advertisement better than any billboard. With this in mind Holden didn’t give Australians a roomier LC-series Torana in 1969 like expected, but a couple more pots instead.

The coupe now had a six. As a result the Torana would end the Ford Falcon GT-HO’s dominating grip on The Mountain and pour Peter Brock his first glass of winner’s champagne. The Toranas found a natural foe in Ford’s Capri GT, but its destiny meant inevitable comparisons to Holden’s HT Monaro GTS 350, Bathurst’s 1969 winner.

LJ-Torana-GTR-XU-1-engine.jpgHolden’s Monaro was still competitive around this time. Its V8 had grown to 350 cubes in the HT, and could trounce a Torana GTR to 97km/h by 3.9 seconds. However, one key stat could not be ignored. The 2.6-litre GTR weighed one tonne, or 500kg lighter than the Monaro and Falcons.

This inspired Harry Firth, the Holden Dealer Team’s boss, to put the GTR into development early on and try to extract something special in time for 1970’s race. So Holden dropped in a 3.1-litre straight six, the Monaro 350’s brake discs, stiffer suspension, and a larger 64-litre fuel tank.

A new front-dam aided cooling and a tiny rear spoiler helped aerodynamics. Revealed as the XU-1 performance and handling package, the newcomer debuted with 118kW and 258Nm. Nowhere near the Monaro’s grunt, but its weight meant faster corner exits than the Monaro.

LJ-Torana-GTR-XU-1-drive.jpgWhile all this effort might seem a bit short changed by ‘close enough’ straight-line performance, the lighter, more frugal XU-1 allowed fewer pit stops. Plonking a rabid V8 in the Monaro may have also looked contradictory to GM’s no-racing policy, which Holden sidestepped by funding HDT via dealers.

Vindication for Holden’s decision to swap out the Monaro at Bathurst came at Warwick Farm in September, 1970, when Colin Bond, in an XU-1 dusted off Bob Jane’s Monaro 350 at the Gold Star series production race. If HDT had made the wrong decision for Mount Panorama, it planned to dodge embarrassment by publicly gunning for a class win.

Come October, though, an all Torana XU-1 line-up with star drivers Norm Beech, Colin Bond, and an emerging Peter Brock, said otherwise. The Torana proved itself to take their class victory. Yet while it circulated Bathurst at great pace, the Falcon GT-HOs slaughtered them for outright speed.

LJ-Torana-GTR-XU-1-interior.jpgUpdating the Torana for 1971 with an Aussie close-ratio gearbox and more power couldn’t stop Ford repeating a dominant performance. Fed up, engineers cracked their knuckles on the restyled LJ-series XU-1 in 1972 and found the Torana a 3.3-litre six, new spring rates, and a quicker steering rack.

More capacity, bigger carbies, higher compression, and new cam timing netted an extra 22kW and 13Nm. Permitted blueprinting may have yielded more power in race spec.

Qualifying for 1972’s race revealed the Torana 3.3-litre still lacked the Falcon’s dry pace, despite 212km/h on Conrod Straight, but rainy conditions rewarded its nimbler package and Peter Brock’s wizardry in the wet. He finished first by eight minutes to steal the winner’s ribbon from Ford’s hands and cement the Torana into this hall of fame.

LJ-Torana-GTR-XU-1-paint.jpgOh, and it managed to put a couple of Australian Rally Championship wins under its belt, too. A small run of XU-1s were honed for 1973 with revised cylinder heads, manifolds, flywheels and rear axles. After Holden’s V8-powered Torana was axed by the infamous Supercar Scare, government pressure on CAMS saw rule changes that allowed modification to racecars, laying the ‘Strictly Stock’ rules to rest.

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Holden used this to close the speed difference to Ford, however, its racecars and road cars were now a separate species. Leaving the LJ Torana GTR XU-1 as the last race-winning Holden you could buy new.

LJ Torana GTR XU-1 Specs:
On sale: 1970-72
Engine: 3310cc 16, OHV, 12 valve
Power: 140kW @ 5600rpm
Torque: 271Nm @ 4000rpm
0-97 time: 8.4 seconds (claimed)
Weight: 1098kg
Price new: $3455

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