In the early 1960s other car manufacturers began
offering motorists a broader range of motor vehicles.
The emphasis was on smaller, more economical and considerably
cheaper models - particularly as this era was considered
the start of the two car Australian household.
GM-H realised it needed to move away from building only
large cars - and their answer came in the HB Vauxhall Viva
. The Viva's were first introduced in April 1964, then as the HA Viva
model, which possesed a boxy look,
lots of sharp edges in its styling - and a reputation
for being tinny and troublesome.
In fact the first Viva's virtues were a little difficult to find. The performance was so-so at best, it being able to reach 50 mph in just under 14 seconds. It was, however, cheap to run, and the floor mounted gearbox was well above class standards of the day for its "slick" action.
GMH claimed that, after rigid tests "...in Europe, Canada and Lang-Lang, the Viva has been designed to give an inherent anti-roll characteristic". That proved to be a little wishful thinking during the 1966 Gallaher 500
(the precursor to the Bathurst 1000 enduro), when a HA Viva being driven by Gary Shoesmith and Tony Robards seemed to flip with suprising ease
! The roll-over also clearly demonstrated how poor the strength of the Viva was, particularly the roof which simply flattened like a pancake.
Sales continued to be laclustre until May 1967, when
the new and improved model was not only released as
the HB, but also under Holden's new brand name "Torana". There were plenty of good reasons for GMH to get their hands on the little import, particularly given the continued popularity of the Volkswagen Beetle
and MK. II Mini 1000
, the latter being released shortly before the HB.
But unlike the competition, the Beetle with its rear mounted boxer engine, and the Mini with its transverse front wheel drive configuration, the HB Torana followed a more traditional path that was preferred by many Aussie motorists. Sure, it was the first Holden to depart from the traditional family sedan formula, but it did represent good value, particularly for families now adopting the "two car" policy.
The engine was enlarged to 1159ci and developed 56 bhp - no power house but still a marked improvment on the original Viva. The engine incorporated positive crankcase ventilation and was also far quieter, thanks largely to better sound deadening materials being used along with a double silencer system.
Getting the best out of the HB Torana required the driver to use plenty of gear changes, and thankfully the 4 speed box was a real winner. Stubby, light and posessing delightfully short throws, the feel was positive and sporting. The steering was also well sorted, the precise rack-and-pinion requiring only 3.4 turns to go from lock to lock, the car having a tight 32 foot turning circle. And best of all, the three-leaf transverse spring fitted to the Viva was ditched, being replaced by coil springs.
Upon release, the HB Torana was available in three models, and all of them were two-doors. There was the base "Torana", followed by the S and SL. The latter Super Luxury model boasted such creature comforts as a cigarette lighter, carpet, (very) fake wood trim on the dashboard and a heater-demister. All models were fitted with bucket seats, and Wyvern grain and Sadlon vinyls were used in the SL. Optional (for those who cared a little for their backside during the hot Aussie summers) was Castillon weave.
In 1968 Holden introduced the Series II HB Torana, the
main feature being the introduction of a 4 door model.
Suprisingly, the re-modelling to allow the fitment of rear doors only shaved 5 inches from the front doors (meaning entry and egress were little affected), and with the Torana offering a generous 16 cubic foot boot, it now took the fight up to the likes of the Toyota Corolla
and Datsun 1000
Also with the introduction of the Series II came the Series 70 engine option, the engineers re-tuning of the 1159ci motor to enable
a healthy 69bhp output. These modifications included changes to the cylinder head and a lift in compression ratio, up from 8.5 to 9.0:1, that combined with a higher lift camshaft. There was even a new exhaust sytstem that had twin branch exhaust manifolds and two seperate reverse flow mufflers. GMH claimed a 20% increase in power, important given the cars detractors would often cite the power, or lack of, as the biggest criticism of the little Holden.
Engine mods aside, the Series II HB also received much improved braking system, all Series 70's being fitted with power assisted front discs. To further up the safety ante, GMH fitted low profile 6.20 x 12 tires on super wide four inch rims. In 1968
the first "sporty" Torana was introduced, although few would have guessed that it would morph into the legendary A9X
9 years later. The new 2 door 'Brabham' Torana featured a raft of upgrades, most noteable amoung them being such go fast options
as a broad centre rally GT stripe and Brabham decals. Unfortunately though, the Brabham Torana was a bit of a let down, as stripes did not a sports car make.
A few months after the Brabham's release (on September 24) there was another revision which included round instruments, while a broad and narrow stripe around the nose replaced the previous single broad decal. There were also black paint-outs under the front bumper and between the tail lights, and another stripe was added, which ran the length of the car below the doors. The Series 70 engine was used, however it was fitted with a twin Stromberg carby, which helped the little engine to a (less than overwhelming) 79 bhp.
HB Torana Top Speeds
That may not sound much, but it was 10 more than the Series 70 had to offer, and was a whopping 23 more than the standard Torana possessed. The Brabham Torana was also fitted with twin oversize exhaust pipes, although they produced far more bark than bite, particularly when you compare top speeds. In standard guise, the HB was good for around 80 mph.
The Series 70 engine lifted top end performance by around 5 miles per hour, however the Brabham modifications managed to only extract another rather wheezy 4, and this was going down hill with a strong tail wind. Despite all the Brabham's sporting pretentions, far more humble cars such as the Morris 1100
, which layed no claim to any sporting ability, had the measure of the car. Perhaps the fact that GMH still shod the little Brabham with red line nylon 6.20 x 12 tires, the same as fitted to the regular Series 70, was evidence enough that the car was not a serious sports car proposition.
The facelifted 1969
received a far better interior treatment than the lesser Torana's. Upgrades included a new dished simulated woodgrain sports steering wheel, along with a proper set of sports instruments which included tacho, oil pressure, amp, temperature and fuel gauges.
Interestingly enough, the word Torana is an aboriginal
word meaning "fly" - something the much underpowered
HB was incapable of, even in Brabham guise. But the Brabham is still very much an important car, and deserves a high place in Australian automotive history. It marked the desire by GMH to not only supply the Australian domestic car market with a small car, but a sporting one at that.
For now the honours would fall to the Monaro
, but there were some industrious engineers who obviously felt a good old Aussie six could lift the performance bar far higher. They were right, and the Brabham set the scene for future Torana models, cars so formidable they would quickly take the greatest prize in Australia, honours at Mount Panorama