Bob Morris GTR XU-1 Torana
Bob Morris GTR XU-1 Torana
The Holden GTR XU-1 Torana was the giant killer of the 70's. Battling against the big Ford GTHO V8's they became one of Australia's most successful racing cars.
This LJ XU-1 was campaigned by privateer Bob Morris who had the sponsorship of flamboyant Sydney car retailer Ron Hodgson. This association was to help Morris become one of Australia's top touring car drivers. Of all the privateer Torana racers, Morris was by far the most successful, being the only driver to beat the XU-1's of the factory Holden Dealer Team (HDT).
Morris proudly with his new race machine.
The XU-1 was first raced in the 1973 South Pacific Touring Series at Warwick Farm. It was a replacement car taken from Hodgson's showroom after their first car was rolled in the initial series race at Surfers Paradise a week earlier. The race at the Farm was wet and Morris came in 3rd behind HDT driver Brock and Falcon stalwart John Goss.
Amaroo was to become one of his favourite hunting grounds in the XU-1.
The next outing was his debut in the popular Sun-7 series race held at Sydney's Amaroo Park. It was a tough series against the likes of John Goss, Fred Gibson, Allan Grice and the Holden Dealer team driver Colin Bond. The little red Torana was still finding its feet in those early races, but was to become a force to be reckoned with at the Amaroo circuit. The race was won by the Amaroo expert Colin Bond in the works XU-1. Morris came home 2nd after passing the other works entry, this time the Ford GTHO falcon of Gibson. It was the start of a long association between this circuit, Morris and the XU1.
Oran Park was an unlucky event for the XU-1. Morris was having a great duel with the Gibson GTHO and was set to take him on the final lap when the big Falcon had a big slide which baulked Morris who had to be content with 2nd. Bond finished 3rd.
In the second race that afternoon Morris was on again, with the big Falcon when it's engine blew creating an oil skid pan on the left handed dogleg. Morris joined Gibson in the slide, but managed to recover only to find the Falcon in an unavoidable position across the track. He hit him, thus ending his race but luckily the damage was only slight. Allan Grice went through to take the win in the Cessnock Motors XU-1.
Keeping Brock at bay at Easter Bathurst 1973.
They ran the Easter Bathurst meeting but both races resulted in DNF's. That day's second race was a tight tussle between himself and the HDT's number one driver Peter Brock. The fight ended when Morris's engine failed, it was Goss who won overall against Brock though.
He was back flying the flag at Oran Park with better results, winning the race and setting a new lap record. Subsequently, in the second round of the Sun-7 series at Amaroo he was on pole but had to retire from the race when the harmonic balancer came loose. It was during this race meets preliminary heat that Morris gave his impression of the Holden Precision Driving Team with a miraculous near roll over after being squeezed by Pete Geoghegan's Charger at STP bend. Somehow the Torana didn't go over but the incident damaged the front end enough for the car to retire from the heat.
Oran Park 1973, one of the great ATCC events.
Late June '73 was the seventh round of the Australian Touring Car Championship. A lack of funds had stopped Morris from contesting the first six rounds but with the event coming to Oran Park an entry was easy. There was a huge turn out on the Sunday with over 30,000 people attending. Morris was able to place 3rd on the Grid behind the Moffat GTHO and XU-1 of Brock. Splitting the two other works cars of Bond and Gibson.
Chasing Moffat on lap one of this epic race.
The race itself was all between Moffat and Brock, Morris was pushed back to 5th after Bond and Gibson got past. Up front the two leaders were fighting for the championship, Brock finally took the win when Moffat was baulked while passing a slower car. This was later reversed after scrutineering when Brocks car was found to be illegal and Moffat was awarded the win. This pushed Morris up to 4th place, making him the first privateer home.
Three weeks later the final round of the ATCC was held at Warwick Farm. Morris got his first pole position in an ATCC and had Brock sitting right next to him. The start was a drag race with Morris getting to the corner first only to have Brock snatch the lead under brakes at Creek corner. This was the beginning of a race-long dice with the number one HDT car. Brock slowly managed to pull away from the hard charging Morris, both drivers recorded an equal 'fastest lap' in their efforts to try and outdo each other. It was however Brocks race, with Morris a happy 2nd. This was an early sign of Morris becoming the main opponent to the Factory Torana's.
Amaroo's Sun-7 race at the end of July was 'one of those days' for the Hodgson Team. It started well enough with him gaining pole, but in the first heat Morris had to pit for water after the radiator cap was left off. The second heat had him passing under a yellow flag, which saw him disqualified and later penalised with a 30 day race ban.
Peddling hard with Goss and Geoghegan breathing down his neck.
That month off gave the team time to recoup and come back in fine form for the Sun-7 final on August 18th. Morris was on the front row with Bonds HDT car alongside, before proceeding to comfortably win the race with Bond, Goss and Grice (finishing in that order) behind. The second heat was another win for Morris and no doubt he had a far happier team (and sponsor) because of it. After so many months of being so close he had now finally finished on top.
It was now entering the endurance part of the year. The team headed off to Adelaide for the first of the Manufacturers Championship races only to retire on the 4th lap with tyre problems. Sandown was next and Morris finished 7th.
Morris in the early stages of Bathurst, not a good year for the team.
For the big one at Bathurst Morris had open wheeler driver John Leffler as a co driver. A lot was expected from the team at this race. Team owner Ron Hodgson had even trailered over seven red mock up XU-1's that were sign written to look like the race car to promote their win for that year. But the Bathurst hoodoo was to continue with Morris coming to a halt on Conrod straight after the engine let go on lap four. The mock up cars were never unloaded... It is interesting to note that this engine was the same one used throughout the year of 1973.
The 6 promotional torana's that never got unloaded in 1973.
In the season of '74 the decision was made to have HDT engine guru Ian Tate build the Torana's new engine. The car was sent down and rebuilt to the same specifications as lead driver Peter Brock's XU-1, with the bigger 58mm Weber carbs and many other tricks the legend HDT tuner had learnt from the success of their famous cars. With this association the XU-1 was even quicker and ready for the new year.
March 3 was the motor seasons beginning at Amaroo's Sun-7 race. Morris was expected to give Bond a hurry-up, and although he was fast in practise, a slipping clutch put paid to his chances of winning the real race. He still managed to get 3rd though. The Hodgson team decided to race at the Amaroo Sun-7 race instead of the first round of that years ATCC in Tasmania, so his first race in the championship was round 2 at Calder. He finished 2nd behind Brock.
Round 3 was held in atrociously wet conditions at Sandown. Moffat and Murray Carter pushed ahead in the big 2 door Falcons, while once again Morris had a ding-dong battle with Brock. Throughout the entire race it was Morris desperately trying to find a way past Brock. He was attempting moves on the HDT driver almost every lap, but the dry line was always occupied. Once when Morris did have his nose in front, Brock showed his contempt for the wet by going around the outside and keeping his spot. That was how the race finished, with Brock able to keep his position.
1974 had the Torana faster than ever after being rebuilt by HDT.
Round 4 was on home ground at Amaroo. But home circuit advantage was not enough to beat Brock. Again there was a big tussle with the two HDT cars teaming up on Morris. This didn't faze him, splitting the pair as he set a new lap record and tried to take the win. On the final lap at (appropriately called) Hodgson corner Morris made his final move. Brock tried to block him and the two cars clashed while striving for the line, Brock only winning by a hairs length, Morris 2nd and Bond 3rd.
The next ATCC round at Oran Park was a Brock-Moffat affair, Moffat winning the race. Morris had a bad start and had to fight his way through the field to finally finish in 3rd place behind Brock.
Beautiful Queensland was the home for the 6th round; it marked the ATCC debut of the new HDT SLR 5000 Torana's. The new V8 Torana was a bigger car than the XU-1 but the increase in power from the V8 was evident. Brock gained pole with Morris next to him, Morris managed to hang onto him for the first few laps but then Brock slowly pulled away, being able to lap a couple of seconds quicker than Morris. It was an easy win for Brock with Morris a distant 2nd and Queenslander Dick Johnson in Brock's old XU-1 3rd.
It was now back to Sydney for round 2 of the Sun-7 series. It was a great race for Morris with him downing Bonds HDT XU-1. In the first race Bond was caught out overtaking a slower car, and Morris slipped through to take the win. Race two was another cracker with Bond again in front till the second last lap where Morris found a way past the HDT car to win. Morris had once again shown himself to becoming the new Amaroo master.
The team didn't have too long to celebrate as the car was trailered across to Adelaide for the final ATCC round. Brock again dominated, yet it was the 'on form' Morris who impressed. Initially taking it easy in the first part of the race he then proceeded to carve through the field to take another 2nd place behind Brock. With his consistent finishing's he earned his 2nd overall place behind Brock in the championship.
The only privateeer Torana to ever beat the HDT cars of Bond and Brock.
Morris continued his clash with Bond in the Sun-7 who now sported a SLR Torana to keep him at bay. While Bond shied away from the pack in both races Morris was trying to keep the SLR of Allan Grice honest. He managed to win race one, with Grice coming together with Goss and allowing him through to finish behind Bond. Race two was yet another 2nd, with Morris barging past Grice at Hodgson corner to get the placing.
By now most other Holden teams had moved to the SLR 5000's race cars. Morris however kept campaigning the XU-1 believing it to be a more reliable (and less costly) proposition.
September saw an interesting race which had a number of the top privateers and their endurance co-drivers paired in a two-part race called the 'Chesterfield Challenge'. It was run at Oran Park during a round of the 'Toby-Lee' sports sedan series. First race saw John Leffler at the wheel bringing the Torana home in 2nd. The 2nd race had Morris in the car with an easy lead over Kevin Bartlett in the Goss Falcon. That all fell apart on lap 19 when the fan belt broke. After a hurried pit stop he managed to come back and finish in 5th place.
The Final for the Sun-7 was intriguing in that Bond chose to use his old XU-1 for the race. The first heat went to Bond with Morris being his usual 8 to 10 inches from the HDT cars tail for the entirety of the race. He made his now trademark last lap try for the lead at Hodgson corner but Bond kept his line forcing the Hodgson car out into the dirt and a 2nd placing. The penultimate heat was more of the same with Morris going to great lengths to pass Bond but the HDT was to win and take the series. Morris was 2nd, again.
At the Sandown 250 that year Morris was vindicated in keeping the XU-1 when all the top SLR's had mechanical failures. He and Leffler were the first Holden home behind Moffat in his new Brut 33 Falcon Hardtop.
Final race at Bathurst 1974, only made it half way.
Their Bathurst bad luck continued that year when on lap 63 the engine expired. Morris had only just given the car to Leffler, when he came back in with oil everywhere, he was told to go back out but the car didn't make it back to the pits, coming to a halt on Conrod Straight.
By November Morris had the XU-1 advertised for sale as 'The fastest non works Torana in the world'. The team had finally joined the rest of the Holden brigade and began to use a V8 SLR Torana. The final race for the XU-1 was the Chesterfield 300 at Surfers Paradise. The new SLR was crashed while doing some promotional filming and Morris had Leffler bring the old XU-1 up from Sydney. Contrary to the reports in the press that the car was trailered up, Leffler actually put a trade plate on the back and did an all nighter, driving the noisy beast to Queensland ready for the next day. It was during practise that they realised the Bathurst diff gearing was in the car, so they went to a local shop to change the gearing. Little did they know the shop set up the differential incorrectly, which was to cause their retirement the following day. Morris had to start from the back of the grid, by lap 73 he had made his way to 2nd place when smoke started pouring from the diff. Two laps later he cruised to a stop thus ending the little cars partnership with this talented driver.
It was soon sold to another privateer, Ray Lintott, who continued racing with it as did the next few owners until it was acquired from Torana enthusiast Philip Knox by David Bowden. It was a personal reason that led David into getting the car, as he was a good friend of Morris's long time patron, Ron Hodgson, who sadly passed away in late 1979. David also knew that the Torana was by far one of the most original group C XU-1 left, out of the few remaining. Something very worthy of joining the collection in Buderim.
Morris went from triumph to triumph after his time in the XU-1, winning Bathurst and the Australian Touring Car Championship in Torana's. In 1999 he was reunited with the XU-1 at the Clipsal 500 Legends display some 25 years after having last raced it. He was delighted to see his old warhorse in such good condition after all these years. On the track he was having fun with his long time sparring partner Colin Bond who was also in an XU-1 (Allan Grice's Cessnock Motors car). The two seeming like school kids as they plotted and schemed ways to pass all the Fords in the demonstration.
On the final day Morris had his sight set on Norm Beechey in his souped up Chevy Impala. Beechey was let off first with a one minute buffer till Morris was let go; he flew off driving like the days of old, finally catching Norm but running short of a lap to make a pass. When he came back into the pits he had a grin from ear to ear, remarking the car was just as good as he remembered it to be.
How she looks as of September 2015, a grand little beast that we love.
It was also featured in the unique cars magazine Bathurst special in 2012, where she was taken to Lakeside for a few laps. This wonderfully orginal Torana will be staying this way for many years to come, a bit rough around the edges but a true representation of what a pure group XU-1 racer is all about.
All images in this article are thanks to www.autopics.com.au and are not to be shared or copied © 2015