Hatchback's were considered to be the epitomy of high fashion in the 1970's, and in our opinion none pulled it off better than the LX Torana
- even when compared to the unbelievably popular Volkswagen Golf
By 1976 the Torana sedan was beginning to look a little tired, and the GM designers needed to freshen up the design to keep the mid-sizer appealing - and broaden the cars appeal. The answer was to create a 3 door hatchback design - the sleakest Torana yet to grace a Holden showroom.
It's just as well that the new hatchback was launched with the LX too, as the other changes introduced on the new model were rather obscure. Sure, there was the introduction of a new "soft feel" steering wheel, and the instrument lettering was changed from white to yellow. Then there were the round headlights that replaced the LH's squared off units, and the window surrounds were blacked out. But if it weren't for the Hatch, the introduction of the LX could have arguably taken the gong for being the "mildest" face-lift ever.
To create the free flowing lines, the GM stylists dropped the roofline sharply from approximately six inches behind the thick B-Pillar - and in doing so created a genuine fastback style. The down-side was that the rear roof-height was somewhat compromised, meaning tall passengers would probably have preferred to travel in the back of a standard LX Torana sedan despite the new model's great looks.
With the rear seat folded, the appearance with the 3rd hatch door being open was that the Torana Hatch could consume plenty of luggage - almost the match for a Station Wagon. But that was in appearance only, and owners soon discovered that the floor, while being nice and flat, was seriously lacking in depth.
This had been accentuated by the designers having the spare wheel mounted neatly beneath the carpeted floor. It looked great, but just like the rear headroom, the carrying capacity of the Hatch was also somewhat compromised.
Yet despite the the versatility of the Hatch being limited, this did not keep buyers away. Right from the get-out sales were strong - one look at the car in profile being enough to convince many that they "just wanted one". Of course having the Torana appeal to the younger generation was also a consideration, and GMH knew the hatchback style would be a winner.
To that end a rather unique option was devised - the "Hatch Hutch" - a $65 annexe/tent-like device that attached to the rear of the car when the rear door was opened, creating a "Panel Van" type accomodation area. We think it was a great idea, given the Torana would make a far easier car to live with on a day-to-day basis than a large panel van.
However despite a slick marketing campaign, the Hatch Hutch never caught on, it simply not having the same cache as the ever popular van's. Some we have spoken to have claimed the perceived lack of privacy afforded by the hutch did not make it an ideal leg-opening attraction, it never really challenging the Sandman
for supremacy with the young drivers of the day looking for a bedroom on wheels.
It was unfortunate too that, under the skin, the mechanicals of the LX Hatch were identical to the LH. The new model would have been an ideal candidate for some suspension tweaks, given this was one of the area's often criticised. In fact many regarded the LH/LX suspension as "soggy", which was a shame given the swept lines of the hatch.
At introduction the Hatchback entered the market further up the price scale than the humble S sedan (which listed at $6183 as at March, 1976
) and SL sedan was listed at $6620. The Hatchback was available in two models, the SL (Sports Luxury) and SS (Super Sports). The entry price for the SL was $6502, and for that you got as standard the trusty 202 Red Motor
mated to an Aussie 4 speed transmission.
Of course that was the starting point, and it was very easy to spend a lot more than that to get one on the road.
Adding to the cost were attractive options such as the Tri-matic transmission, factory air-conditioning, radial tires and of course the ever popular 253 4.2 liter V8. The SS weighed in at $6967, although for that you did get radials, a sports wheel and front and rear sway bars as standard (the latter going a long way to negating the ever-present understeer).
The interiors of both Hatch models were slightly better furnished than the sedan equivelants. For instance, there was a full-length console, and the SS scored comprehensive instrumentation. And unlike the SL, the SS could be ordered with an optional 308, making it the equivelant of the SL/R 5000
. But it was not quite the equivelant, and we are not talking strictly of mechanicals. Suprisingly the Hatchback Torana's were heavier than their sedan equivelants, although it was not enough to seriously affect power-to-weight ratio's.
Three Words - Radial Tuned Suspension
But things were to change during the reign of the LX, and thankfully much for the better. The changes were ushered in courtesy of Charles S (Chuck) Chapman and Joe Whitesell, the two Americans heading the team at Fisherman's Bend fresh from a stint working with Opel.
Chapman had been the chief engineer at Opel, and after driving a pre-release LX Hatchback realised it was an ideal candidate for suspension refinement. He set about creating a team of engineers who's task it was to develop the handling of the Holden range. Their answer came in three words - Radial Tuned Suspension.
Of course the idea was already 40 odd years old, but taking an idea and putting it into production proved a master stroke. The new suspension set-up changed entirely the handling of the Holden's, and much for the better. The first Holden to proudly display the new "Radial Tuned Suspension" badges was the four-cylinder Torana sedan, in November 1976. That was a good thing too, as the 1900 Torana was seriously out-classed by Japanese competition, except maybe for body strength.
By design, RTS necessitated the fitment of decent radial tires as standard. But that alone was not enough to take the fight up to the Japanese, so the design team set about introducing a higher specification level which included better quality interior trim, and even the name was changed, the 4 cylinder Torana now being dubbed the "Sunbird".
Of course great tires did not equate to better handling - and the improvement introduced with RTS was huge. Joe Whitesell described the changes as follows..."Neutral handling behaviour, higher cornering force capability, reduced body roll, steering with high response and an optimum road feedback on centre feel, maximum straight ahead stability, lack of fishtailing, optimisation of tire traction, stiffer but no less comfortable ride, smooth ride, even under full load condition". To achieve this, the engineers relocated the pivot points for both upper and lower suspension arms, while revising the lower control arm bushes. They set a half degree of negative
camber (at rest) to the front wheels, which increased with the body on roll to three percent.
The coils were uprated by some 15 percent front and rear, roll bars were fitted front and rear, and the steering ratio was dropped from 18.0 to 20.4 to reduce effort given the new radial tires offered far better adhesive qualities than the outgoing crossplies. This however was only the first phase of the RTS upgrade, the remainder of improvements making up phase 2 which was introduced with the UC Torana
. All this was good news for Torana 4 cylinder buyers, however those wanting the six or V8 models would have to wait another 3 months - although it was well worth waiting for.
Like the Sunbird, the bigger engined Torana's scored 5.5 inch wheels shod with 78 series steel belted radials (70 series on V8's). Please note - the base S model was fitted with 175SR13 textile radials, although this still allowed it to out-corner pre RTS SS Hatchbacks. The introduction of RTS was a revelation for the driver, and changed the personality of the cars completely. Once again, the 6 and V8 Torana's were highly desirable, and in Hatchback form were also great looking. Overnight they reached cult status - and that has remained to this day. They are highly collectable and sought after - and for good reason. They are rare, they are Australian, and they offer an enjoyable driving experience.