It was an Australian sports car that never went into production, but made many a mouth drool at thought it went so close. In 1969, General Motors-Holden’s commenced manufacture of the LC Torana. Based on what one well-known motoring journalist of the day called the ‘13-canary power’ Vauxhall Viva, the Torana was to be the basis for a number of different models that ranged from powder-puff soft to growlingly aggressive.
The basic four-cylinder car retained a 1.2-litre Vauxhall engine, but the level of power and torque were never enough to provide any real performance. Answer? Design in a 108mm extension forward of the firewall to allow the insertion of a Holden six. It was available with either column auto or four-on-the-floor manual.
The basic 2850 engine added a bit of grunt, albeit with quite a number of newly acquired problems, not least that the front tyres were now prone to scuff at any position other than dead ahead. Torana development continued, right up to an option called XU-1, the ‘little’ six-cylinder that finally brought down the all-conquering Ford V8s in the Bathurst 1,000km race, but that’s another story.
There was a lot of experimental work in progress at Fisherman’s Bend back then, not least the Hurricane, a radical mid-engined car (itself another story) designed to show off the newly developed Holden 308 V8 engine. Soon afer, Holden chief designer, Phil Zmood, starting with a clean sheet of paper, penned the sharpest-looking car to come from an Australian design studio. Perhaps ever.
The Torana GTR XU-1 had an aggressive stance but, despite scoops, vents and spoilers, its body still looked pretty much like its parent, a 1.2-litre four. This was about to be put to rights with the GTR-X, a true Australian sports car using the XU-1 floor pan and running gear.
Even half a century on, the car is generally considered attractive, which it is from most angles. The feature line along the body, from a 3/4–front aspect, seems to protrude rather pointedly from the rear corner of the car, but that’s only a minor criticism, for public response to the design was massively positive.
There was something especially appealing about the wedge shape with an almost knife-edged nose, long curve of bonnet, steeply raked windscreen and acute sweep of roof down the hatchback. A concave feature containing boomerang shaped tail lights curved up from the bottom of each rear wheel arch, crossing the car just below the hatch opening. Perhaps the only jarring aspect was a puny wheel and tyre package. Its feet were 13-inch x 6.5-inch pressed steel wheels with chrome covers and fitted with, from memory, 70-profile rubber. It was a sign, perhaps, that despite the designer being a brilliant Australian, it was yet an American-owned company.
Under its bonnet, a drivable prototype was given the same 3-litre 189S six-cylinder as fitted to the LC XU-1 Torana, which also lent its platform for the concept. A 4-speed manual gearbox sent power to the rear wheels. Power peaked at 119kW and 5,200rpm while torque was rated at 265Nm at 3,600rpm, which may not sound like much by today’s standards but the concept weighed just 1,043kg.
The interior was as expected of sports cars of the day: a large speedo and tacho separated by a stack of idiot lights; no less than six smaller gauges spread across a machined alloy dashboard; black-clad bucket seats; and a console from which sprouted a stubby gearlever. It had one feature relatively little used back then, a steering wheel with tilt function.
I saw a GTR-X at a design studio open to invited members of the public, falling in love with the wee car (it stood just 1,135mm high) and was ready to go into debt to buy one, but it never happened.
Despite advertising for the GTR-X being well advanced, and sales brochures prepared, the bean counters stepped in to kill it. For it to achieve the required level of sales in our comparatively small market, it needed an eight-year production run. Timing was bad, too, because Datsun had recently stepped up to the plate with the release of the well-priced and already popular 240Z. The risk was just too great.
I dream still.