Australia's greatest automotive brand and arguably most important companies was celebrated in competition at Heathcote Park Raceway, with Holden enthusiasts bringing their powerful pride and joys from interstate to race down Central Victoria's quarter mile. A cultural icon, without Holden, our motorsport and car scene would look very different.
James Alexander Holden began J.A Holden & Co. making saddles in 1856, and after H.A Frost from Germany and James' grandson Edward joined, the company was renamed Holden and Frost Ltd and switched their focus to repairing car upholstery. From car upholstery, they moved on to mounting bodies that they had trimmed out and painted and began building their own sidecar bodies. In 1923, a new company was made, Holden Motor Body Builders Ltd assembling bodies for Ford, GM and other car makers in Australia. In the late 1940s Holden were aspiring to build the first Australian designed car. With financial support from GM, they were able to do just that, and in 1948, the Holden 48-215 was released. Holden dominated the Aussie car market in the 1950's and the rest was history.
There were some fantastic examples of these Aussie battlers that took to the track at Holden Nationals taking humble and not so humble Holden's, modifying and driving them to the extreme.
The Torana was Holden's mid-sized car from 1967 to 1980, becoming Holden's first motorsport legend. The first generation Torana, the 'HB' was closely based on the Vauxhall Viva from England, however the one you see here has barely any relation to the small four-cylinder British family car.
Andrew has swapped the puny 1.1 litre originally in his 1967 HB for a Garret turbo strapped to a 6 litre LS2 V8. Only the factory frame rails at the front of the car are original, the rest of the chassis is brand new thanks to PSI in Sydney. An ice tank in the boot, keeps the engine and turbo running cool as it shoots down the quarter mile in 9 seconds.
Andrew has had the car for twelve months, and it had sat in his shed for nine of those, before the car was put together in the past three. When I spoke to Andrew during the Thursday Test 'N Tune Day before the two-day competition, he had just run a personal best of 9.0 seconds, but clearly, he knew there was more speed to be found.
I'll run an eight today, maybe tomorrow in one of the qualifiers, and then I'll dial it back so I can run the same number over and over." - Andrew (1967 Holden HB)
Kevin Bowker also needs a shoutout in his 800hp HB Torana. Torana is an aboriginal word meaning 'to fly', and as Andrew's black HB flew down the quarter in nine seconds, Bowker's Torana pointed skywards off the line, wanting to take off quite literally.
Before 1970, the words 'Torana' and 'Motorsport' went together like vegemite and peanut butter. In other words, they were incompatible. But the second generation Torana, the 'LC' would put things into motion. The new six-cylinder Torana GTR XU-1 dominated Class C at the 1970 Bathurst 1000, and finished third outright. Throughout racing in 1970-71, the LC Torana proved to be a special and favourable weapon indeed.
There were two LC Torana's that stood out to me at this year's Holden Nationals, the first being Mick Atkins patinaed LC dubbed 'The Project', as it's not quite finished yet.
Powered by a small block Chevrolet 407 cubic inch V8, with 220 AFR heads, and a 4150 carburetor, all 650hp is sent through an infamous Holden Powerglide and a 9-inch diff to the sticky 32-inch slick tyres. The torque converter has a 6000 stall, meaning that the tyres will break loose at 6000rpm.
The fastest time Mick had run in it when I spoke to him was an 8.9 second pass at 124mph, although it reached 140mph on a different pass. The car had broken a collector (where the headers merge into the exhaust system) during the weekend, but thanks to the O2 sensor and a few zip ties, it wasn't going to fall out.
I've just got to get used to the pro [starting light] tree. [The car] is consistent, but I'm not consistent, but anyway, I'm just having fun." -Mitch Atkins
The second is Will Wallace's 1970 LC Torana set up for the 1/8th mile. A 327 cubic inch V8 with a Holden based 308 stroker has been strapped to a V27 Vortex Supercharger making 1000hp.
Will first got the car a bit over 12 months ago, when it had a small block Chevrolet engine in it. The monster screaming out of the bonnet is an engine he had lying around. In addition, he kept the 9-inch differential the car came with, but changed the gearing, more suited for 1/8th mile drag racing.
Even in half the distance, Will and his Torana is able to get up to 136mph, and put in a time of 5.2 seconds to the 1/8th during the Thursday Test 'N Tune. Competing in the Big Tyre class, up against cars with double the amount of horsepower, Will's aim for the weekend was to put in as many runs and thus gather as much data as possible, and obviously also have fun.
In 1974, the Torana would get a refresh with the LH chassis, larger in size, performance and success. Peter Brock would the Bathurst 1000 back-to-back in 1975-76, as the LH Torana SLR/5000 was the dominant force in the Australian Touring Car Championship. The facelifted LX Torana would continue Holden's success, with Peter Brock again - this time alongside Jim Richards - winning at Bathurst in 1978 and '79 before the new Commodore became Holden's flagship model to take racing.
There would be one more production model of the Torana before its end. The UC Torana was introduced in March of 1978 saw a return to a sensible mid-sized car, with no V8 becoming a direct competitor to the Ford Cortina. However, it was soon dropped as it became evident that it was outdated compared to the similar sized and more modern Commodore, that had been released only seven months later.
Although it was the Torana that put Holden on the motorsport map, it would be the 4-door Commodore sedan that is Holden's most successful model, both on and off the track.
Not only did the Commodore replace the Torana at the front of Group A racing in Australia but also in the showrooms as the mid-sized executive car in Holden's fleet. The position that used to belong to the Kingswood and Premier models.
Phil Armstrong's VH is a very cool example of the first-generation Commodore. Powered by a Holden 355, Phil can pedal this blue beast to a 10.93 second 1/4mile pass at 120mph using the Turbo 400 transmission and four Borgwarner 44's in the rear end. Phil tells me these modifications make it a car that you just 'get in and go', and that was proven with each pass he made.
The next phase of the Commodore's first generation after the VH was the VK, which included a new homologation car for the Group A category in the Australian Touring Car Championship, with input from Peter Brock himself.
From a distance and even closer up, this VK Commodore looked like a clean untouched example of the Group A homologation. However, the rear semi-slick tyres, exhaust soundtrack and times down the strip for this particular car said otherwise.
Luke Renyard's 1985 replica Brock Commodore gets all its power from the 550hp six litre LS motor, which sends it all through the Turbo 400 and a differential from a VL Commodore. Luke and his VK were entered into the 'Street Brawler' class, meaning, in addition, they had to take a 40km drive, visiting different checkpoints to qualify for their class.
[The aim] was to run a ten second pass, haven't got there yet... So far today [we've run] an 11.4 so we've made a few changes, so you never know. Go out again in an hour or so and see what happens" -Luke Renyard (Day 1 of Competition)
One of the most popular early Commodores is the VL, mostly thanks to its six-cylinder Nissan RB30 power. The 'Six Cylinder' class was also one of the most competitive and exciting to watch at this year's Holden Nationals, filled to the brim with VL entrants pushing big numbers, and very quick times.
Giovanni Inturrisi's VL Calais was pushing big numbers under the bonnet and on the track. The RB32 billet block, with a twin cam head is all thanks to JW Automotive and puts out 2250hp. The VL's personal best down the quarter mile is a brutally quick 7.0 second pass at 200mph. "It's an eager beaver that one!" one of the young team members told me.
A full Motec system is the brains of the car, as the VL can be switched from E85 to methanol for street or track driving. Although the team's objective for the weekend was just to win the class, and not run a new personal best, it can definitely go faster.
Probably not here, but a 6.70, 6.80 [second pass] is definitely the aim." -Team Technician
Speaking of heavily modified, Shane Guthrie's 1990 VN, the first variation of the second-gen Commodore is exactly that. Originally owned and driven by Lucky Bellleri, Shane bought it as a rolling chassis last year. Now it has an alcohol injected 540 cubic inch big block Chevrolet V8 with a 14/71 blower sticking out from the top, sucking in all the tense air around the drag strip.
The car is a full tubular chassis whilst having an onboard fire system and Funny Car roll cage inside. Shane first fired up the car only four weeks before Holden Nationals, so he's aim was to be competitive, consistent and obviously keep it off the wall.
You can't get much more modified than this. It's an absolute animal to drive, very vicious off the start. So far, my best time is a 7.90 [at] 175mph." -Shane Guthrie (Day 1 of Competition)
HSV (Holden Special Vehicles) became Holden's performance division in 1987, and its best seller is the Clubsport, the entry level high performance HSV model based off the Commodore. This Clubsport however, despite being still suited for the street is packing more performance than when it left the factory.
Below the bonnet is a 355 Stroker with cast iron heads, bolted to a 3-speed manualised Turbo 350 gearbox. A Detroit Locker differential with 4.11 gears makes sure all 500hp is put through the rear wheels. When I spoke to Peter Ritter, he had just run a personal best of 11.18, albeit without the exhaust, which was holding back the car by a couple of tenths down the track.
It drives mint, we've done Drag Challenge in it a few years ago so it cruisers around. We've made a few changes with all the testing we did [on Thursday] and today, so [we'll] try and back a number up on the next qualifier. So, we'll try and get a consistent number, which I haven't gotten yet." -Peter Ritter
The fifth and final generation of Commodore to be built in Australia began with the VE, which was also the first Commodore to be completely designed in Australia, rather than being an adapted Opel based design. The Calais is the Commodore's flagship model, and this is Daryl Newman's VE Calais. The 6.0 litre Chevy V8 small block powering Daryl's Calais has heads from the LS3, lifters from an LS7 and a camshaft from VCM. The upgraded engine puts out 309kw and an impressive 608NM of torque, which Daryl was very proud of.
It's very expensive for tyres and wheels haha! So I'm trying out different tyres and wheels because [these] one's chatter like mad. But I'm new, this is my first race!" -Daryl Newman
Daryl served in South Vietnam as a paratrooper for the 3rd Battalion in the Royal Australian Regiment, and although racing his VE doesn't quite hold a candle to the adrenaline of jumping out airplanes, he still is extremely keen on his racing.
My old man was a speedway racer in the 50s, 60s and 70s. So, I bought this car and thought 'let's do something with it'... [and] do it all myself at home. It's not as much adrenaline as jumping out of airplanes, but that's why I need to go faster!" -Daryl Newman
There were quite a few other sedans and coupes that Holden made during their time including but not limited to under the Monaro, Gemini Premier and Kingswood names. One sedan that may have been forgotten is the Holden Camira.
Although it was unable to take to the track due to a blown head gasket, this is one special Camira. Originally built by the Roberts brothers in the late 80's, it is most known as being driven by Craig Geddes. Geddes is one of Australia's most successful drag races, eight-time ANDRA Sportsman Champion, who recently claimed the Competition Australian Title, took this Camira to victory in the 1995 Australian Super Gas championship. After it was raced by Craig Geddes it was raced by Adrian McGrotty (who now races a Commodore in Super Gas) for a few years, then by Matt Forbes until 2006. Current owner Kym Oberaur bought the car from Forbes in 2006 and raced the car until 2013, when the Camira parked.
With help from Rod Camilleri (above) to rebuild the old school 406 small block Chevrolet V8. The Camira also has an 830 Demon carburetor that like many other parts including the fuel pump on the car, is no longer manufactured. Approximately 550hp is sent from the engine through the 2 speed Powerglide with a 1.80 first gear rather than the standard 1.76. Because it is set up for Super Gas racing, which uses a Pro Tree for the start, the Camira has a delay box, allowing the driver to let go of the transbrake before the last amber flashes on the tree, meaning the car will count down and then release itself off the line. Kym and Rod have certainly put in a lot of work in getting this historic Super Gas Camira back up and running, and it will be awesome when Kym finally gets to drive it in competition.
It's set up for Super Gas... but we'll be running it in the Super Sedan championship... We'll go to as many tracks as we can. I'd love to go next year to the Winternationals in Willowbank. Hopefully we'll be back out again in another three or four months time and we'll give it another go." -Kym Oberaur
Other than sedans, Holden has been moving Australia with their wagons, vans and most notably their utes.
Cara Bertolli's HZ Utility is as expected, more of a racecar than a farmyard vehicle that she's built over the course of five years. The LS1 with carby distributor, 232/236 camshaft and Higgins CNC ported heads, sends all 540hp through the manualised T350 gearbox.
Coming into Holden Nationals, the car's personal best was a pass of 10.84 seconds.
[The aim for Holden Nationals is] just to go consistently, which the car has proven to be able to do... Hoping we can run [a] 10.70, 10.60 if [the car] is nice to me!" -Cara Bertolli
Chris Cookson's VY SS Ute is another example of a Holden utility vehicle turned drag strip monster. Chris bought the car when he was 20 years old, before he was allowed to drive it on his P plates and has built the car up to the state you see it in now over sixteen years.
The twin 69mm Borg Warner billet turbo LQ9 engine with cast iron block puts out a whopping 1046hp. Methanol is injected through 700lb/hr injectors, and all the power is sent through a 2-speed Powerglide gearbox and 3500 converter to the double bead lock rear wheels.
Chris' VY Ute used to be a single turbo on a stock engine reaching ten seconds down the quarter mile. When the Powergllide was put in, the engine had had enough, so Chris decided to build the whole thing properly. Up until Holden Nationals the car in this set up had no time but, by the end Chris made a pass of 9.1 seconds, with much more potential predicted.
Like most manufacturer-based drag competition, entrants with cars made by other companies are still allowed to compete, and rather than being put in their own 'Imposter class', Camaros, Fords and other non-Holdens were mixed into each racing class, up against the signature Holdens.
One non-Holden competing in Holden Nationals was Clint Noble and his Fiat Topolino dragster which was allocated to the Aspirated Assassins class.
Sitting bare chested is a 489 cubic inch big block Chev motor making 660hp and 600ft/lb of torque, mated to a 2-speed Powerglide and 9-inch differential.
[It is] a big learning curve going into a centre steer car. It moves a bit, keeps your attention levels up.” -Clint Noble
The Fiat Topolino set a new personal best during the Thursday Test ‘N Tune with an 8.63 second pass at 153 miles an hour.
It’s not as quick as any of these turbo cars, but ask any of the turbo guys to get in one of these and they just look at you and laugh… not a chance!” -Clint Noble
After qualifying - which went all of Friday and into Saturday morning - was all said and done it was time for the elimination rounds.
Every class would race DYO, except for the 'Big Tyre' class which would follow the Chicago Shootout system, the best of four runs taking home the trophy.
Elimination after elimination, drivers were getting paper thin close to their dialed time, within thousandths of a second. After three days of quarter mile drag racing, and two days of competition, with the most entrants ever at a Holden Nationals event, there could only be… nine winners.
Chris Tatchell in his LH Torana would claim back-to-back victories in the Iron Lion class.
Pat Caruso would claim victory in his 700hp Gemini Coupe dragster - a common sight at Heathcote - in the Aspirated Assasins class.
Matt Murphy in his nitrous injected HQ Kingswood won the Boosted Holden class.
Chris Oscurro and his VL would win the battle of the RB’s in the first year of the Six Cylinder class.
Kevin Cox pulled off wheel stand after wheel stand on his way to victory in the 235/255 Tyre class in his HK Premier Wagon.
Mark Drew in his six-second street LH known as the ‘Crusty Torana’ would win the 275 GOAT Tyre class.
Imposter Steve Athens’ Ford Mustang would claim the trophy in the Big Tyre class as Jamie Turner’s 450hp LS swapped HQ Kingswood would win in the Street Brawler class.
And finally, Nick Nelson and his VK Commodore would win the Stick Shift class.
A special mention also needs to go to Bruno Matijasevic and his HG Kingswood, which throughout the weekend set the fastest times ever seen at Holden Nationals. In consecutive runs on Friday, the car ran a 6.82, then a 6.85 second pass, both at 190mph.