With only one prototype completed, this Holden was a case of what could have been
IT’S DESTINED to remain as the greatest ‘one that got away’ story from Australia’s 70 years of clever and courageous car manufacturing. The Torana GTR-X of 1970 tops an honour roll of concepts cooked up by Australian design teams, often fuelled by little more than inspiration, hours and eye-drops.
Vietnam War and conscription aside, 1970 was a great time to be a young Aussie male. The still-recent invention of The Pill opened one avenue for self-expression; a growing feast of local, affordable performance cars provided another.
Holden’s Monaro had been joined by the LC-series Torana, which in 1970 spawned the first Bathurst-bound GTR XU-1. But Torana design studio leader Phil Zmood was among those more starstruck by a far more exotic ‘Holden’, the Hurricane concept car.
In response, in mid-1969 Zmood had sketched a futuristic frontengined, two-seater on the architecture of the LC XU-1. His ‘Torana GTR-X’ immediately got enough traction for the building of a prototype, using affordable (and low-volume-appropriate) fibreglass for the body.
It’s believed that, within the next six months, four bodies were built.
One would eventually be fully completed, a second built to a rolling chassis, but nothing is known of the others.
The completed prototype was fitted with the LC XU-1’s 3.0-litre 186S engine, producing 119kW for the claimed 1043kg coupe.
A production version would be likely to carry the later LJ GTR XU-1’s 3.3-litre 142kW engine.
And so to the great existential question: how likely was the GTR-X for production?
In 1970, cars like the Bolwell Nagari were beginning to prove that low-volume, fibreglass-bodied cars on tough Aussie components could be viable and valuable. The GTR-X could give Holden an international shine among GM’s Corvette and Opel coupe offerings.
On the other hand, concept cars often exist for no better reason than to gee up the public and, no less, the company’s designers, both present and future. Such had been plainly the case with the Hurricane. Literature on the GTR-X, handed out at motor shows, used non-committal phrases like “built to assess public reaction” and “the thought of possible limited volume production.”
In any event, the GTR-X’s fate was mostly likely sealed not in Fishermans Bend or Detroit, but in Hiratsuka, Japan, where in October 1969, Nissan built a swift, stylish and amazingly inexpensive coupe called the 240Z.
Had it reached production, the GTR-X would have been the first Holden with four-wheel disc brakes – and Holden’s first hatchback.
Holden has said that the GTR-X reached 210km/h in testing, but insiders whispered that the aerodynamic lift was terrifying.
A lot from a little: remember that Holden’s world-class sports coupe concept was only three steps removed from a Vauxhall Viva.
Raised, pointed nose, upswept tail, white bodywork with red accents? Holden Torana GTR-X or Speed Racer’s Mach 5 from 1967?
It’s been reported that a long-time Holden employee kept the second GTR-X (a rolling-chassis), plus the original fibreglass moulds.
The GTR-X sat on a 2388mm wheelbase (150mm shorter than the donor LC Torana’s) with a shorter, lower body at 4178mm long, 1732mm wide and just 1135mm high. Front and rear tracks were 50mm and 100mm wider, respectively. Steel framework bore the suspension, bulkheads and a rollover bar at the head of the opening tailgate.
Beneath the front-hinged bonnet sat the LC XU-1’s lusty, trusty 3048cc ohv straight-six. XU-1 boasted a hotter camshaft and larger valves. It was fed by triple Stromberg carbs, exhausted g , through twin manifolds and a 2.0-inch system, and made 119kW at 5200rpm and 265Nm at 3600rpm. GTR-X’s four-speed manual may have been the stock M20, or beefier Bathurst M21.
The downside of the GTR-X’s exterior is that it causes some to overlook the interior.
Snug, fibreglass-framed buckets were abreast of the tall centre console with stubby four-speed shifter. Black vinyl, chrome and stunning machine-milled instrument panel sat stylistically between Modena, Motown and Melbourne; dash housed a full complement of instruments and push-button AM radio. Three-spoke wheel was height-adjustable. Hatchback offered some practicality.
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