The LH Torana sure looked the part, once and for all dropping any semblance of linage with the Vauxhall Viva's
from which it originated. And while the LH was a truly great car, it was the dominance of the GT Falcon
at Mount Panorama
that many believed drove the General to shoe-horn an all-Aussie V8 under the hood.
Australia's love affair with the bent-8, which remains to this day despite soaring petrol prices,
would create adequate demand to ensure a V8 Torana would be a sales winner on the showroom floor. But simply plonking a large motor in a medium sized car did not a race car make, and while the V8 Torana's were good, they were not great, leastwise when compared to the formidable XU-1.
Sure, the small block 308 had oodles of power and torque for the LH, even if the new model was a little larger and heavier than its predecessors. But there was no way it could compete - particularly in a straight line - with the likes of the GTHO
Many motoring journalists (and these guys are nearly always extremely good drivers) tried to better 0 - 400 metres in under 16 seconds, but few succeeded. Disappointing when you consider there was 240 bhp on tap at 4800 rpm, and a whopping 315 lb. ft of torque at 3000 rpm, all this in a relatively light 2700 lb. motor car.
Some will quickly point out that these times were the match of the XU-1, and they would be correct, but the extra bulk did not bestow the SL/R with XU-1 type handling, no matter how good the driver. Yes, the SL/R 5000 was an exceptionally good car, but the jury was out on whether it was the match for the XU-1, and few questioned it had the creditentials to match the HO's. And that was before anyone mentioned the word understeer (of which the SL/R 5000 had copious amounts).
Of course the GMH marketing department put lots of emphasis on the racetrack potential of the SL/R 5000, describing it as the "new contender". As a mighty family sedan it fitted the bill, but as a race bred special, as was the case with the XU-1 and GT Falcon's
it fell a little short.
The differences between the SL/R 5000 and supposed lesser Torana's (we say that with tongue in cheek as, official Torana aficionado’s, we think they are all great), if you exempt the engine, there were few other differences. Like all SL/R's it featured front and rear roll bars, however the interior was the same as any 3.3 liter SL/R, and only a pair of spoilers distinguished the 5.0 liter SL/R from the rest of the pack.
The "ducktail" rear spoiler did little to enhance the appearance of the SL/R, although it did considerably restrict rear vision. In theory, the spoiler was supposed to create a down-thrust of 15 pounds when travelling over 100 mph - a speed achieved by the SL/R without effort, provided you were not trying to avoid a speeding fine.
At the time many thought the looks were rather gregarious, but by today's standards we think it better described as muscular, and rightly so. But looks alone would not place the SL/R on the podium at Mount Panorama
, and so GMH set about undertaking some rather major modifications to ensure a winning formula.
The Super Car Scare
Torana buff's will speak of the supposed XU-2 under development at Fishermen's Bend, a car that was going to boast 300 bhp and four wheel disc brakes. Exactly what those plans entailed we cannot confirm or deny, however what we do know is that that the General intended a High Performance Torana to take the fight up to the Falcon GT's. Many believe it to have been the negative publicity generated in 1972 during the "Super Car Scare" that prompted the marketing team at Fishermens Bend to dump the XU-2 moniker.
Instead the race bred Torana would simply have the engine designation tacked onto its name. The engine chosen for the job was the L34. L of course is the prefix used by General Motors for their engines, and in this case L34 represented the 308 High Compression variant two (the variant two referring to beefier componentry, such as stronger rods and bearings) used to improve durability.
In case you are trying to determine exactly what sits under the hood of your own Torana, L31 referrs to the stock 308 5 liter engine, L32 to the 4.2, L33 to the low compression 4.2 and L20 for the High Compression 202. The engine however was only one small part of the L34 package. There were bigger inlet and exhaust valves, twin headers, a wider track and of course the bolt-on flares. Higher spring rates and stiffer dampers gave the L34 better grip on the road, while helping to reduce body roll and the understeer haunting lesser Torana V8's.
Added to the mix were $1500 worth of options, which included some pretty good kit. Best of these was the Holley four-barrel which replaced the Stromberg (which was also a 4BBL), a hot cam profiled with Mount Panorama very much in mind. Strangely though, 4 wheel disc brakes would have to wait until the emergence of the A9X
. You could option the L34 with a "High Output" package, which pretty much made the car race track ready. The package included an engine oil cooler, an even larger camshaft, a 780cfm vacuum secondary Holley carburetor and other minor modifications.
In the end, the L34 was a very sharp instrument indeed, but it was not a Phase Three slayer. It came close, but no cigar. In the 1974 Hardie-Ferodo 1000
Bob Forbes / Wayne Negus Torana L34 would place second,
the Jim Richards / Rod Coppins Torana L34 third, and the
Colin Bond / Bob Skelton Torana L34 fourth. But winners are grinners, and that year John Goss and Kevin Bartlett would win the event in their XA GT Falcon