Hunt through the classifieds on these pages (and at tradeuniquecars.com.au) and you could be forgiven for thinking that Aussie muscle cars cost about the same per kilo as gold.
Seriously. Even though the market has softened off from the crazy heights of five years ago, you can still spend several hundred thousand on a premium desirable, such as the mighty Ford Falcon GT-HO Phase III.
So, unless you’ve just won the lottery, or have the income of an oil sheikh, you can forget owning a prime piece of Aussie road-going beef. Right? Err, no. There are still some gems out there, if you know what to look for. Two of them are right here on these pages: the Torana LC/LJ GTR and VF/VG Valiant Pacer. Okay, $35,000 (for a top example) is still a lot of money, but is achievable for many and equates to the cost an average family car. You won’t get power steering, fast glass and air-con, but you will get a genuinely fun machine that actually holds its value, instead of plummeting like a lead balloon the moment you drive if off the sales lot.
In fact, you may even be rewarded with a reasonable return on your investment, assuming you can ever part with the thing.
One of the reasons they’re tricky to find is they often end up as family heirlooms and/ or are passed on to new owners without
ever being advertised. So the advice is, join a club and get into the owner networks before you buy.
Speaking of advice, we’ve assembled a team of experts here to help you out. First, long-term road-tester and Unique Cars workshop guru Dave Morley passes on his thoughts. Then we have Mick Hogan, a very experienced mechanic entrusted with our upcoming give-away Torana build. Then valuation and history expert Cliff Chambers with a buyers guide on each car, plus you’ll hear from the owners themselves. Enjoy!
My mum still chuckles about the five-year-old Morley declaring that he wanted a GTR Torana – dark green so it wouldn’t show the dirt. But it was true: I did have the five-year-old version of the hots for these little missiles (which the NSW Highway Patrol was using at the time).
Fast forward a decade-and-a-bit, and I’m mucking about with wheezy old red sixes when a mate rolls up in a four-door VG Pacer. One ride in that thing had the same effect as those early Torana chasers: Just had to have one.
Funnily enough, I’ve never owned either an LC/LJ GTR or a VG Hemi Pacer, but I have had a bit to do with them over the years. And when you consider that they’re probably the last valuefor- money Aussie muscle-coupes (if you take the two-door Pacer) maybe it’s time. Or maybe not.
Perhaps I should just replay all those old blackand- white memories and sort the fact from the fiction.
One thing you can’t argue with is that both the Torana and Pacer look fantastic. I even like the black steel wheels of the early GTR (especially with redwalls) and while it does appear a bit narrow, it also looks incredibly light on its feet.
Which it sort of is. And while I know it’s not the popular viewpoint, I actually like the four-door Pacer better than the two-door, but I can see where the two-door fans are coming from. The stripes, the black-outs, hell, these things look so tough they do what few other cars can achieve: they get away with pressed wheel-trims.
So which one would I buy today? Damn good question, and it would depend on what I proposed to do with it. That said, I don’t reckon I’d be using either as a daily, but as a weekend warrior, they both have some pros and cons.
On that basis, I’d say the car with the least unfortunate compromises is the one I’d go for, so let’s start with the driving position. Right about now, Torana fans everywhere are sighing and scrunching up their foreheads, because they know what’s coming. Yep, those early Toranas had one of the most illogical, uncomfortable
MICK HOGAN is ringmaster at Glenlyon Motors in Melbourne and has been entrusted with building our Project Torana. He has decades of experience with just about every car known to the human race and is an enthusiastic petrol-head. Here’s his advice on buying a Pacer and GTR.
“In all Valiants your biggest problem was factory rust – they all came with it and it’s your biggest killer. Your substructure and front end component mounts is where the problem lies, the control arm mounts on the chassis had a problem with cracking.
“You’re talking about a car that’s nearly 40 years old, so your chances of it being original are nearly zero. Lower control arm mounts, torsion bar mounts, stabiliser mounts, all these things need to be looked at.
“Even though they were the cheaper car in the marketplace, they’re the most expensive to buy componentry for. Always have been.
It’s Chev, Ford, Mopar and it’s a huge jump.
There are economic things to look up when purchasing a Valiant.
“The 245 and 265 Valiant straight Hemi sixes were probably the best engine Australia ever made – built to last and they’ve stood the test of time. They’ll handle a mountain of abuse before they fail.
“The GTR Toranas are not prone to a lot of rust, depending on where they were stored.
Again they’re a subframe-mounted car.
“Check the subframe mounts to the bodywork, front and rear, control arms, springs and shockers.
“The GTR engine is the old 186 and a pretty bullet-proof motor that’s cheap to maintain.
Never be concerned about the mechanicals, it’s not going to cost a fortune to fix it.
“If you’re looking at it investment-wise, truly even though they’re more expensive I’d be looking at the Pacer purely because of their rarity. I don’t think they’ve ever been as well accepted as the GTR or Charger, I always think they’ve been a little undervalued.
“At $35,000 they’d want to be at the top of their game. You’re buying somebody else’s idea of the way it should be, not necessarily the way you would have done it. Sometimes it’s actually better to buy one that’s a little more run down and build it the way you envisage it.”
cabins known to man. Remember the TV ad where the kid claims to have been attacked by a shark: “My head went this way and even my guts went this way!”. Yeah, well, that kid must have been at the wheel of a Torana at the time. The Pacer is way better with a more homo-sapiens-based relationship between the controls and a lovely dashboard with all those Pacer-specific dials.
Engines? Well, the red sixes in GTR Toranas were good things and you can absolutely tune their nuggets off. Parts are available at your corner video store and there can’t be any tappet-head out there who can’t put one right on the rare occasions it goes bung. But, in standard trim (and we’re talking about collectable cars here, right) it can’t really cope with the 245 Hemi in a VG Pacer. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it on the basis of the Hemi’s torque.
When it comes to drivelines, the Torana claws back a bit of ground. With a four-speed versus the Val’s three-speeder, the Torana has better ratios. If three is good, four must be better. It’s that simple. Mind you, the Opel tranny as fitted to LC GTRs is an irretrievably useless piece of crap with a fragile feel, poor action and the noisiest, rattliest shifter ever made.
Now, on paper, the Torana should have the wood on the Valiant come the discussion on suspension, too. I mean, it’s coils all round on the Torana versus rear leaves on the Pacer and rack-and-pinion plays recirculating-ball in the steering stakes. But I’m here to tell you that a well set-up Pacer with modern suspension bushes and a good wheel alignment actually feels pretty darn tight and responsive. And unless the Torana is equally well fettled, it can feel loose and crashy with ride quality that keeps dentists in business. We’ll call that one a draw, I reckon.
Brakes? Well, the VF Pacer was standard with powered, finned front drums, but discs were optional. Most owners ticked that box, apparently. The VG was standard with front discs while the GTR Torana always had front discs as standard. And, being the lighter car, it should pull up a bit better but, to be frank, both are adequate, rather than great, stoppers.
Another draw, I’d say.
So what about collectability? Well, both have lagged behind their hero big-brothers; the XU-1 in the Torana’s case and the Charger in the Pacer’s family. But it might pay to remember that in the day, the Pacer was the big-hitter and the Charger only came along in the next generation, effectively making the Pacer second-best at that time.
Which means it’s the Pacer, not the Torana GTR, that has the more memorable Bathurst heritage, and that will always have an effect on collectability in this country. Mind you, I say more memorable, because the LC GTR Torana did, in fact, grid up at Mount Panorama in October in 1971 and 72, running in the price-class under the mighty XU-1. And they didn’t do too badly, finishing as high as ninth in class and 22nd outright in the hands of Mal Brewster and Ray Strong in 1972. But the Pacer with its fourth outright (Doug Chivas/Graham Ryan) in 1970 certainly places the Val higher on the Bathurst totem-pole.
But you know what? Even considering all that stuff, I’d still be torn over which car I’d go for.
The adolescent me says go the Pacer, but the five-year-old Morley was also pretty keen on getting his way. Both back in the day, and now.
Ask my mother about it. (P.S. After more consideration, the bargain Aussie muscle car I’d go for is the one we haven’t mentioned: the VH Valiant Pacer. Think four-door Charger and you’re getting the idea!)
Tough, rugged, and not many about.
ONE OF the big challenges when you get into any historic car is where in hell do you find reliable information? The web is an obvious place to start and you’ll inevitably find a mix of well-researched info, little gems like pictures of original brochures, and a fair bit of mis-informed rumour and legend.
When it came to the Pacer, we found the above book, Chrysler Valiant by Elisabeth Tuckey and Ewan Kennedy, to be very useful. Unfortunately the pics are all black and white and not great quality, but the information is very good and wellresearched.
Torana Tough, the Norm Darwin history shown below, has much better reproduction inside, despite what the blurred cover shot might suggest.
It will be invaluable for any restorer and goes into extraordinary detail. Both cost around $50 and we got them from Motor Books.
WITH THE weather rapidly closing in at Sandown, we were standing around waiting for the GTR Torana to make an appearance, and got a hell of a suprise when it rolled into view with an L-plate in the window!
That’s not exactly a common sight on Unique Cars shoots.
It turns out this is the owner’s first car.
Jayce, an apprentice carpenter, says he grew up admiring a similar car owned by a family member and had decided to get one of his own from a very early age.
“I love them,” he says.
“My uncle had one while I was growing up and I had to have one.”
He says the 1973 GTR is pretty much standard, including the tough and easyto- fix 186 powerplant with its triple SU carburettors and the four-speed Opel gearbox.
He managed to find the car in good condition – not always easy - though it was painted red.
Having decided it was basically solid and rust-free, he handed over the money and set about getting it resprayed to the original tangerine.
So what’s it like to drive? “It’s pretty much what you expect, it’s an old car.”
You get the feeling that the Torana is anything but the end of the road. What’s the next target? “I want an XA coupe,” he says, confessing he’s plotting to collect two-doors.
1969 was a truly remarkable year.
Mankind headed for the moon, Sesame Street kept the kids transfixed and Australian car companies realised that ‘baby boomers’ had suddenly become a large and lucrative sales target.
Holden a year earlier had stirred the loins of younger enthusiasts with its shapely race-winning Monaro GTS. To make a Monaro go, though, you needed a V8 and younger people often couldn’t afford or insure one of those.
When Holden’s larger and more aggressive LC Torana range appeared in October 1969 it included a model aimed squarely at buyers in the under-30 age range.
This Torana not only offered a six-cylinder engine where previously there had only been fours but the ‘flagship’ came with 2.6-litres, a dual-throat carburettor, revised cam and larger valves, a chromed air-cleaner and free-flowing exhaust system.
As fitted to dad’s HT Kingswood, the ‘161’ engine produced 114bhp (85kW) but in the lighter GTR the breathed-upon motor punched out a useful 93kW. Four-speed manual transmission was mandatory.
Suspension changes meant that the GTR sat lower and rode harder than other six-cylinder cars in the Torana range. Front disc brakes were standard, as were sports wheels clad in red-wall cross-plies that were speed rated to 190km/h. Top speed was about 170km/h and an LJ version would better 10 seconds for the 0-96km/h dash.
Advertisements for the GTR featured a low-angle picture of the car with emphasis on its muscular shape, fat rubber and evocative ‘go faster’ stripes echoing those on the HK GTS.
Although not evident in the ad, ‘sidewinder’ stripes ran from nose to below the rear side windows.
Other hints that people who owned GTRs might really be aspirational Monaro owners included a liberal sprinkling of metal ‘GTR’ badges, slotted front mudguards, front bucket seats and the same horrible alloy-spoked steering wheel as fitted to GTS versions of the big car.
Affordability was crucial to the success of models pitched in the direction of younger motorists and Holden worked some magic in bringing the GTR to market for $2766 (just $190 more than a six-cylinder Torana SL) and undercutting the VF Valiant Pacer by $30.
March 1972 brought the updated, more civilised and powerful LJ Torana range.
The GTR’s presentation had lost some of its brashness but there were new colours and contrasting black-out panels.
Under the bonnet was the same basic 3.3-litre motor that powered the hot-rod XU-1. With just a dual-throat carburettor the GTR’s ‘202’ produced 101kW and delivered its extra power through a new M21 four-speed gearbox. Inside was an improved steering wheel and redesigned seats with springing that didn’t bounce occupants into the hood-lining.
XU-1s were always the ‘hero’ car for Holden racers, however at the 1972 Bathurst 500 where Peter Brock scored his maiden victory, two GTRs contested Class B. Sadly they couldn’t catch the rotary Mazdas.
Early GTR Toranas must have seemed the most revolutionary cars ever sold by a mainstream manufacturer in 1960s Australia. Prior to the Torana came the GT Cortina and BMC’s Mini Cooper S but neither could claim the sleek and sexy Monaro in its bloodline.
Road testers complained quite bitterly about the nose-heavy Torana’s inclination to understeer.
The steering was heavy and a little slow and could get tiring unless drivers resisted the urge to bowl up to tight bends and fling in then expect the car to compensate.
Advances over almost half a century in tyre, shock absorber and suspension bush technology allow most of the Torana’s bad habits to be tamed. With quality rubber, shocks and altered spring rates they aren’t a bad handling car at all.
If a Torana you’re considering feels like the seat springs have all collapsed, don’t worry as they weren’t much chop to begin with.
Ventilation was another issue and lack of airflow with the quarter vents closed was pretty unforgivable even for an Australian car.
Today’s owners probably won’t ask their GTR to serve as everyday transport but there is no reason why a well-maintained car cannot be viable as a standby. The Opel-sourced gearbox used in LC versions broke if abused; however most will by now have been replaced by the locally-made M21 or even a five-speed.
These cars didn’t come with seat belts in the back but retro-fitting is possible
and essential if you want to securely carry back-seat passengers. They didn’t come with baby capsule mounts but one of those can probably be welded in as well.
It has been many years since Torana enthusiasts have been able to wander into the nearest specialist car-yard and find at least a couple of decent GTRs on show, Many have been snaffled as donor cars for XU1 ‘tributes’ and become less desirable in the process. Turning up at a few All-Holden days will reveal any cars that are being sold but even if there are no GTRs immediately available, owners may know what else is available.
Although informed sources confirm that around twice the number of LCs were built as LJs the early cars seem harder to find. However, like LC XU-1s, they are generally less expensive than later cars.
Top-quality examples of both series will exceed $40,000 and even neglected cars with incorrect engines and bad paint manage $15,000.
GTRs were identified by the build code 82911 in their serial number. Confirming engine authenticity is more difficult but not as vital as with the more valuable XU1.
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Once issues of authenticity are clarified, take a hard look at structural areas including the firewall, floors, sub-frame and suspension mounting points. Many Toranas were first restored in the late-1980s when values first spiked and some jobs weren’t too flash. Replacement panels are available as are reproduction bumpers but check the quality.
‘Red’ Holden engines haven’t been manufactured in over 30 years but new parts exist in abundance. About the only expensive thing about keeping an LC-LJ running arises if the original block is cracked or so badly scored it needs intensive therapy. If ‘matching numbers’ isn’t an issue, just pop into your Holden recycler and collect a serviceable block plus the bits needed for refurbishing.
Everything underneath an LC-LJ is pretty simple, cheap to replace and usually available. Complete steering racks are being offered at $500 exchange, with replacement LJ steering wheels $400- 475. Re-rated coil springs with bushings and shock absorbers to match are best supplied and installed by a suspension specialist. New brake boosters are selling for around $400, rebuilds from $250.
Soft seat springing is an issue and the vinyl after many years may be brittle. Some cars have cloth or velour inserts which make for greater summer comfort but look a bit tacky. The standard headlights were terrible for a car with the ability to cover ground quickly so many acquired halogen inserts or separate driving lights. Make sure the fan works so you get some demisting flow but there isn’t much that will cool a hot Torana cabin.
NUMBER BUILT 6610 (LC) 3639 (LJ) BODY unitary 2-door sedan ENGINE 2600, 2834 or 3310cc, in-line six OHV POWER & TORQUE 101kW @ 4400rpm, 262Nm @ 2000rpm PERFORMANCE 0-100km/h: 9.4 seconds, 0-400 metres 17.5 seconds (LJ GTR) TRANSMISSION 4-spd manual 0SUSPENSION Front: ind – wishbones/coils, anti-roll bar tele shocks Rear: live axle – coils, links, tele shocks BRAKES disc/drum TYRES BR70H13 crossply PRICE RANGE $10,000-45,000 CONTACT www.gtrtoranaxu- 1carclubinc.com
THERE’S NO mistaking Ray Ikin for anything other than a car nut. “I was born into the motor industry,” he says, “My father was a Rootes Group agent.”
Ray left school to tackle a motor mechanic apprenticeship and, though he completed most of it, he got a little distracted and got into the transport industry by buying his first truck at 18 years old. That turned out to be a career-long decision.
However he reckons the apprenticeship has served him well: “It’s been handy all these years. I love doing engines and have lost count of how many I’ve done.
And I’ve restored cars that really should have been taken down to the tip.”
Though he owns a range of classics, including a Ford XY GT and Leyland P76, he has a soft spot for Mopar, confessing that he took a second job as a taxi driver way back in 1972 to pay for his first Charger.
As for the 1970 Pacer, he found it sitting in the showroom at Shannons. He and the missus loved the look of it and bought it on the spot.
He’s upgraded the standard 245 Hemi to 265 (a common period modification).
The trim had to be redone and, in the process, he added Charger seats, recovered in Pacerstyle upholstery.
So, why choose the hardtop? “I love the look of them.”
Chrysler was perennially broke yet did much of the local motor industry’s pioneering work. It gave us the first sexy ‘family’ car, the first mainstream V8 and then with the VF Pacer the first local model to specifically target younger drivers.
Elsewhere between these covers you will find a guide to owning a Holden Torana GTR.
Not really a fair comparison with the larger and dearer Pacer but both do owe their existence to the ‘youth market’ phenomenon.
At launch in 1970 of the VG range, Chrysler took the Pacer further away in price, equipment and performance from Holden’s Torana. The basic engine became a 4.0-litre, 245 cubic inch ‘six’ with a two-barrel (or 2bbl) carburettor and 138kW. Three-speed transmission was standard (with automatic optional) but four doors weren’t. The Pacer was now available with the two-door, US-sourced Hardtop body that had done very well as part of the VF Valiant series.
Looking to the USA where similar Dodge Darts were sold with 5.9-litre V8s it was obvious what could be done to improve performance. However the Pacer marketing philosophy was very much centred on a six-cylinder design and no one really contemplated the car with a USA-style driveline.
Pacer Hardtops at $3178 cost $200 more than the sedan but very similar in specification and trim. Colours came with clever code-names like Little Hood Riding Red, Bondi Bleach White and (for whale enthusiasts) Thar She Blue.
Inside, the slightly crazy ‘tombstone’ bucket seats that defined the VF had been swapped for more conventional and comfortable folding-back buckets. The dash was designed to accommodate a tachometer.
The Pacer engine was on its own sufficient reason to buy one. Although the seven bearing in-line six didn’t have actual ‘hemispherical’ combustion chambers it
was durable and – as demonstrated by triplecarburettor E38 and E49 versions – able to produce exceptional power.
Kelsey-Hayes front disc brakes were introduced with the VG range and were standard to the Pacer.
Three-speed all-synchro transmission with a floor shift was standard and a tallish final drive took manual cars all the way to 182km/h but they cruised happily on unrestricted roads at 140-150km/h. The tall gearing coincidentally helped with fuel economy but the only place this seemed to matter was at the 1970 Bathurst 500 Mile race where the more economical 2bbl sedans finished a lap ahead of the fancied 4bbl.
Had you been in the market for a fairly affordable, Aussie-made performance car and hopped straight from a GTR Torana demonstrator into a Pacer the gulf in design philosophy would be inescapable.
For a start, the Pacer would feel massive, not to mention more luxurious. It would need to be too, because it cost $412 more than the smaller and perhaps sexier Holden.
Plant your foot and the grin would grow wider. That 245 cube motor, even without the race-face four-barrel carburettor, was grunty in any gear and would run to 120km/h in second. With so much available torque you could dawdle behind slow traffic in top then floor the pedal when a passing gap appeared and the Pacer would just go.
Standing-start acceleration was pretty impressive, even when hampered by the dog-leg shift from first to second gear. However it was a rocket in the mid-range; level-pegging the XU-1 Torana’s 80-110km/h time of 4.1 seconds.
Unassisted steering with 4.4 turns lock to lock was intended to make low speed turns almost effortless but relayed minimal information at higher speeds. Tight, dry bends sent the Pacer into typical and controllable understeer, but throw some water on the surface; loose gravel or corrugations and these cars could get alarmingly sideways.
Radial-ply tyres helped but there was only so much they could do to compensate for inadequate design.
Sedans used in Series Production racing featured huge amounts of negative camber that sat the front tyres at peculiar angles to minimise steering inputs and improve mid-corner stability.
Cars with disc brakes provide more sustained and predictable brake performance but be wary of rear drums that lock when cold. Good idea to warm your brakes for a few hundred metres after leaving home.
Reliable sources say that 1162 two-door Pacers were built and they remain reasonably easy to find. Importantly, a lot of these survivors have been kept in close to factory condition.
The informative website devoted to VG Pacers (valiantpacers.com) shows cars ranging from pristine show-stoppers to rusted and crash-damaged shells.
Certainly enough to encourage restorers but not so common that values are likely to pedal their way backwards if the economy tanks.
Cheaper two-doors with nasty repaints and/or a V8 engine transplant can cost $15,000, with decent 245-cube manuals sitting on correct wheels and hubcaps between $20,000 and $25,000 Finding a VG Hardtop in fully restored condition or with the extremely rare E31 Track Pack can escalate value into the $50,000-plus range. However for a roomy, rare Australian car that can still hold its own in everyday traffic that isn’t a huge amount.
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These cars have a couple of places where rust can hide and cause serious harm in a crash. The front subframe mounting points and chassis rails must be closely examined for rust, misalignment or poor repairs. Also pay attention to the steering box mounting points which crack and rust. The doors often won’t shut without being pushed and lifted and may need new hinges.
These are available via Mopar suppliers here and in the USA but cost $140-180 each.
Overseas sources quote A$600 for new rear window glass, with freight extra.
The 245 Hemi engine ranks among the most durable power units ever made in this country. Provided they haven’t been overheated so seriously that rings crack or the cylinder head warps, 300,000 kilometres between rebuilds is possible.
Replacement heads are available at less than $1000, with replacement pistons and rings around $500 a set. The manual transmission and standard diff are easily replaced.
A very simple suspension design that is easily modified to lessen steering effort and improve behaviour on rougher roads. Just $150 spent on quality front-end bushings can make a noticeable difference.
Reconditioned steering boxes and complete rack and pinion conversions are available. Brakes that feel wooden or have a ‘mushy’ pedal need the hydraulics investigated.
Make sure that the seat backs latch and unlatch easily and seats move on their runners. Window winders that bind can often be fixed easily but be wary if the glass is scratched and really difficult to move.
Very few Valiants of this age have airconditioning but with lots of glass it’s worth having. Look at side and windscreen seals for signs of water entering the cabin.
NUMBER BUILT 1162 BODY unitary 2-door hardtop ENGINE 3993cc in-line OHV six-cylinder POWER & TORQUE 138kW @ 5000rpm, 325Nm @ 2000rpm PERFORMANCE 0-96km/h 8.8s, 0-400 metres: 16.7s
TRANSMISSION 3-speed manual 3-speed automatic SUSPENSION Front: ind– with torsion bars, tele shocks Rear: live axle with semi-elliptic springs, tele shocks BRAKES disc/drum TYRES 735 x 14 cross-ply or 185H14 radial PRICE RANGE $7500-45,000 CONTACT www. valiantpacers.com