Cars I’ve owned – Holden LJ Torana

My first (and third) car was a Holden Gemini. If you missed that story, the link is your friend.

The first Gemini I owned was, shall we say, less masculine than an 18-year-old Australian boy would like. To its credit, it was a rear-wheel-drive car and Geminis could actually be quite fun to drive. BUT….. it was also Baby Blue in color. I didn’t cry too much about its sudden demise, which came courtesy of a freak thunderstorm and a rather large tree.

With the insurance payout burning a hole in my pocket, I set out in search of something that would give me a little more street cred. One of our genuine Aussie motoring icons. I couldn’t afford the most iconic version, as it turned out, but I did manage to snare myself a rather nice 1973 Holden LJ Torana.

For those who are unfamiliar, the LJ Torana can be quite a looker:

Mine didn’t look that good, unfortunately.

The picture above is of a GTR XU-1 model, a special hot edition of the Torana based on the cars that were campaigned quite successfully in endurance racing here in Australia in the 1970s. In fact, Australia’s most prestigious race, the Bathurst 1000, was won in a Torana five times during the 1970s, with four of those victories coming at the hands of the mercurial Peter Brock.

My Torana wasn’t the racier two-door model, as seen above. I had the 4-door sedan, but I also had the rear spoiler, 5-slot mag wheels and tinted windows. Unfortunately, I also had a “P” plate on the back – the sign displayed by law to show that the driver is a provisional (i.e. new) licence holder.

No, it’s not me in the car, but it is my car. Circa 1989.

A hotted-up Torana with a P-plater at the wheel was simply too tempting for the local constabulary and they used to give in to temptation quite often. I was pulled over for licence checks, vehicle checks, and occasionally due to driving at excessive speed, too. Thankfully we didn’t have a points system on our drivers’ licence back in those days. I fear I may have spent quite a bit of time catching trains.

One time, the police pulled me over to inspect the car. I hadn’t done anything wrong. It was a ‘random’ check of a hotted up Torana with P-plates. One of the policemen went to the rear of the vehicle and asked me to operate the brakes, to check the brake lights. Satisfied, he started walking towards the front of the car, along the driver’s side. As he was making his way forward, his partner asked me to operate the window washers. Unfortunately, they weren’t quite properly aligned so that the water jets hit the windows. One jet shot water off to the left, soaking policeman #1 as he walked towards the front of the car. Thankfully they both had a good sense of humour and I was allowed to drive away without any defect notice.

My 4-door Torana had the 6-cylinder ‘202’ engine – so named for the number of cubic inches displacement – and an ‘Aussie’ 4-speed gearbox. The performance wasn’t swift by today’s standards but it felt pretty fast at the time. More importantly, it was a Holden 6-cylinder and either that or an equivalent Ford comprised the minimum requirement for Aussie mateship back in the day. Anything less was just a tad un-Australian.

The car was white with a black interior and typically for Australian cars of the era, it had vinyl seats and power-nothing. In fact, half of the electrics that were supposed to be in the car didn’t actually work (indicators and brake lights were frequently inoperative). Thankfully the tape deck and graphic equaliser were pretty reliable.

As a side note, isn’t amazing how much we all paid for sound systems back then? I can remember walking into my local car audio store and staring in wonder at the display systems, wishing I could afford some of the more expensive models. People were shelling out well over $1,000 – in late 1980’s money – for systems that were very basic by today’s standards.

This is the car that carried me for much of my youth. It was the first ‘cool’ car that I owned (yes, really) and I went everywhere in it, anytime, day or night. It took me on 2 hour drives to the beach, usually on 5 minutes notice, and on 10 hour interstate trips (would I do 10 hours in a 1973 Torana today? Not likely). It cruised/terrorised the streets of our local stomping grounds and was the backdrop to so many laughs and good times. It carried my friends, my guitars, my amps and about 2 cubic meters of trash at any given time.

In return, I abused it. I wasn’t anywhere near as caring with my cars as I am today and let’s just say that there wasn’t really any sort of regular maintenance schedule. I might have changed the oil at some stage. I’m pretty sure I changed the brake pads myself once, too.

Of course, the car deteriorated over the time I owned it. My fondest falling-apart memory was me having to carry around an extra large screwdriver, which I’d use to dig around the gearshift and re-align the linkages so that I could change gear.

The car eventually died of neglect after just 20 months or so of my ownership. It was a life lived at full tilt. An automotive version of “sleep-when-I’m-dead” that it eventually got to fulfil, much to my shame and embarrassment. It was a car that I always wanted, a car that I enjoyed, but a car that I didn’t care for the way that I should.

It’s not the only one, either, but stories of the others will have to wait.

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17 Comments

    1. To me as a european the Torana looks very Much like GM. Opels of the day had a similar design to that of the Torana. I really like the 70’s GM designs. The Kadett, Commodore, Diplomat, Rekord, Manta etc. The last 6 cyl Commodore GS/E Coupé is one of my favourites.

  1. That looks suspiciously like my first car which was a Hillman Avenger 1500GT of 1971 vintage, a UK made car 1500cc with twin carbs, four doors and the same Rostyle wheels as the red Gemini. I took them of and put on a set of 5J Weller steels with wider tyres. I bought it from a colleague in Germany where I was serving in 1975. We did some miles together and it finally expired a couple of days after I got married in 1980 when a mate was returning from taking my parents and sisters to Aldergrove airport in Co Antrim and the bonnet came loose. Hillman were part of Chrysler group at the time which was, I think, part of GM but changed it’s name to Talbot and was sold to Peugeot. The Hillman Avenger in 1800cc Brazilian spec was one of rally cars of the day in the 1970’s, showing the Escorts a clean pair of heels.

    1. Not quite…Hillman was originally the main marque of the British Rootes Group (inc. Singer, Commer, and Humber) who were sold to Chrysler who were, in the ’70s, major GM competitors. The Talbot name was revived as a desperate badge-engineering exercise, before Peugeot were conned into buying what was left.
      What I don’t remember is which global company owned Holden…was it GM?
      Also…how much like an anorak-wearing rivet-counter have I just sounded??

  2. There seems to be a great kinship of this car and the Opel Kadett of the same era. I’m assuming that there were common platforms and/or body styles? Or, given the left-side driving thing, perhaps a Vauxhall? If you know, give us the scoop.

    It is a great-looking car as you’ve said, and, believe me, I’m currently living the constant reduction in pricing for consumer technology as time goes by. Challenging for the manufacturers, great for the consumers.

  3. Re: spending more on sound systems than on the car reminds me of stopping at Radio Shack on the way home from purchasing my first car, a 1967 Chevelle 2-door hardtop. I paid my grandmother $125 for the car and promptly spent $135 for the AM/FM/cassette deck, a pair of 6×9 speakers, and an antenna.

    1. You are my kind of guy. I had a 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix (400-cu in V-8) with a stereo system worth slightly more than the car. $500 for the car, $550 for the stereo (Pioneer component system AM/FM cassette, graphic equalizer/amp with 2-way 6×9, 2-way 6.5″ and an amplified subwoofer under the back seat).

  4. Ah the memories! nothing like cruising in the Torana on a Saturday night, that feeling as you slide across the bench seat when you take a corner too fast, and what was with that handbrake that was actually a pedal?

    1. Mine didn’t have a foot/handbrake. Normal in that department. It did have a foot-operated hi-beam switch, however. I wouldn’t mind seeing that one make a comeback.

      I also had bucket seats, which were probably considered a luxury item back in 1973.

      1. I’d forgotten about the foot-operated hi-beam, one of my favourite features of my Kingswood. “Look Ma, no hands!”

  5. It’s a Looker, there are something very special with these “cars for the common people” 70’s British designs. I checked wikipedia and it says its a GM car (?) but i guess GM at that time still had not put their claws to deep into the British imperial stuff. Well i’m not sure about what i say about this. But i really think the Ford Cortina is a pretty sexy looking car.

  6. Chilhood neighbour had a dark green XU1 for the whole 10 years I lived next door. Probably still has it . In fact probably will get buried with it unless somebody has stolen it in the last 22 years.

    Funny story actually. He was once stopped by the police questioning him about the reported local theft of a dark green Xu1. He pointed out that they were barking up the wrong tree as the only one the same colour as his was housed 80km away so unless that was reported stolen they were bullshitting.

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