Driving a real race car on the street is a dream. Without knowing, it’s a dream Chris had been living for 22 years.
When a car belongs to you, it feels unique. It seems faster than others just like it, handles more tightly, sounds better. It’s that feeling that drives us to spend our salary and while away hours in garages. To juggle daily obligations between appointments at workshops.
Chris always knew that his A9X Torana was unique.
The owner since 1987, he poured his passion into turning a rolling chassis into the picture in his head, a muscly street brawler. He knew it was special, even as a 19 year old in the back of an Ashfield, NSW wrecker’s yard, staring at a black shell with a few unusual features. “Back then you wouldn’t buy a car back that had a lot of holes in it. You would think it was molested. An original guy wouldn’t go near it. But, I was a modified guy,” says Chris.
The ultimate spec of Holden’s cult car, the LX Torana A9X’s debutante race at the 1977 Hang Ten 400, was a fairy tale. With Peter Brock and Allan Grice on the tools, the A9X’s demonstrated their racing chops and thundered to a 1, 2 victory around Victoria’s Sandown Raceway. The five litre hatchback dominated back to back seasons of the Australian Touring Car Championship, winning Bathurst in 1978 and 1979 and etching the A9X indelibly into history.
Equivalent to stumbling on a copy of the White Album signed by The Beatles at a garage sale, four years ago Chris found out what it was that made his Torana special. His A9X was an ex-Group C Race car that had been driven in anger, and that wasn’t all.
One of 33 race prepared A9X’s built by Holden, the car was prepared and tested by Peter Brock and his race team for privateer gentleman racer Graeme Smelt.
Christ spent his youth on the stoop of his family’s inner city home, watching muscle cars grumble by. Motorsport was not a defining part of his childhood, but planted with his brother in front of the television to watch the Great Race, the Brock-steered Torana’s at the front of the pack had his full attention.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to try hard to get one of those cars when I get older’” said Chris.
He started saving from 16. He was so certain of a future with a Torana, he bought wide Simmons, Recaros and the must-have drop tank years before finding the shell in the trading post destined for his garage.
Reportedly an A9X, Chris set about building the car he had built in his head years before. He got the shell straightened and painted, hot-L34 V8 built and put his bedroom full of parts to use. The A9X spent the next 22 years as a staunch street weapon, blasting past the terraces he used to dream from.
There were always elements of a touring car past. An adjustable pan hard rod, a big diff and a wide transmission tunnel, holes for a roll cage and a cut out where a fuel cell had once resided. In the early 00’s prices were climbing and claims of race car heritage were flying thick and fast. Chris decided to dive a bit deeper.
A mate paint stripped a small patch he suspected hid some numbers might tell the cars story. When the numbers were revealed, Chris went straight to CAMS.
After some back and forth, Chris got a phone call from CAMS that made his day.
“He said to me ‘are you sitting down? Go crack a bottle of champagne you’ve got Graeme Smelts black ex-race car.’ At that point I was so excited I hung up on the guy. I started jumping up and down and started ringing my friends saying ‘mate, we’ve got a real race car!’”
With a photo of the car in hand, Chris immediately set about replicating the look of the Graeme Smelt car. He was done in a week.
Since the discovery, Chris has been in touch with Graeme. The cars former owner confirmed the cars origin after a close personal inspection, and the mystery was revealed. Chris was absolutely sitting on motorsport history, and vintage race car gold.
Now with a 490 horsepower VN V8 replete with top loader and nine inch diff, the transfer from Torana owner to heritage race car custodian hasn’t stopped Chris from making sure the car gets the thrashing it deserves.
“I don’t want to make it a museum piece… as a kid I always dreamed of owning a touring car and driving it on the street.”
With the price of Torana’s rising like Sydney real estate, Chris’s plans don’t include cashing in on his good fortune.
“Knowing that I’m taking out a Peter Brock special and Graeme Smelt touring car is fantastic”.
“People have got their cars in their garages. They just sit there looking at them and they just clean them and clean them. So, I’ve decided to just make it a landmark – get it out there, thrash it, abuse it, but be very careful with it at the same time.”
Not too careful, though.