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.