Australian Muscle: Restored 1977 Holden Torana SL/R 5000 Still Lays Down Rubber
Photography by Jayson Fong
While in more recent times we’ve been spectators to the rise of hybrid and electric cars, our equivalents in the 1960’s and ‘70s saw the rise of the muscle car—in other words, a different zeitgeist. Although it was primarily an American phenomenon that graced us with big V8s and the birth of iconic names like Mustang, Charger, and Camaro, we shouldn’t forget that it was a movement that made its way around the world. On the other side, in Australia, it was Holden and Ford making legendary names like Monaro and Falcon GT that meant performance, and among them was the once humble family car: the Holden Torana.
Initially introduced in 1967 to fill a gap in the Australian market, the four-cylinder Torana was essentially a rebadged Vauxhall Viva from the UK. Although the performance from the first cars until 1969 were disappointing, the Torana name (Aboriginal for “to fly”) was also backed by three-time F1 champion Jack Brabham, linking the Torana to motorsport and opening a path of rapid evolution from its Vauxhall roots.
Despite the Monaro being Holden’s flagship model, it would be the Torana that would be destined for racing fame, where its smaller, lighter, and more agile frame made it fit for purpose. In typical muscle car fashion, the 4-cylinder was quickly replaced by a six pack before ultimately making room for a V8 that would help the Torana become Australia’s most successful sports car on the track until the release of the Holden Commodore. Succeeding at a time that would see wins on the track directly translating into sales on the road, the Torana would go on to take multiple championships, wins at Bathurst, and be part of heroic journeys that would see the rise of iconic Australian drivers like Peter Brock, the “King of the Mountain.”
Of the many variants to hit Australia’s public roads, the SL/R 5000 like this example from 1977 owned by Sydney-sider and performance car enthusiast Buddy Isaac, was inspired and sold on the basis of the Torana’s motorsport success. Muscular on the outside in every sense of the word with the “A9X” option body kit, lettering, flares, and rear facing bonnet scoop, its tough-guy looks are matched by a V8 with a substantial number of cubic centimeters: 5000, if the name didn’t tell you that already.
Saved from a garage that it had been sitting in for over 15 motionless years, Buddy and the Isaac family brought the car back to life by stripping it and rebuilding from the ground up. With an automotive background, the family team went to work on the SL/R and had every panel restored and coated in 15 layers of matching paint around the original interior. Completed with a worked 308 motor at its heart, the restoration revived a passion for Torana’s that Buddy has had since his youth when he learnt to drive in the highly sought after Torana A9X, as a result, there’s an A9X now being restored that hangs above the SL/R 5000 in his garage.
However, even with 41 years having passed since this Torana left the factory, this is the kind of machine that still demands your attention on the road. With its fender flares, bonnet scoop, and V8 lodged in a medium-sized (hatchback-sized by today’s standards) family car body, the Torana is a muscle car through and through with the attitude of Mad Max, giving it a unique and distinctive Australian flavor.
When Buddy brings the eight cylinders up to speed and heads back home from our shoot location, I’m given a surprise when it wasn’t the typical “classic car” departure. With an explosive roar, 5000cc’s of Australian power ignite the rear wheels which disappear behind a frenzy of smoke as Buddy and his Torana make their way up the hill. I’m not sure why I was surprised, but it’s perhaps because I’ve grown up in an era of increasing refinement and quiet comfort. I know what i’d prefer though. Long live the muscle car.