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When Holden took on rallying’s best

The annual Southern Cross Rally attracted many of the world’s best drivers in the discipline before there was even a world championship and Holden’s Torana GTR XU-1 was one of the leading contenders.

The Southern Cross Rally was the premier Australian event between 1966 and 1980 where some of the world’s best took on the locals around the Port Macquarie area.

A part of Australia’s golden era of rallying during the 1960s and 1970s, the Southern Cross Rally is still regarded as iconic, but fell short in its latter years of becoming a world championship event after it began in 1973.

Global stars Andrew Cowan, Roger Clark, Timo Makinen, Ari Vatanen and Rauno Aaltonen were just some to take on the challenges of the Southern Cross, which included the local drivers. Australian Rally Champions Bob Watson, Greg Carr, Ross Dunkerton, Colin Bond, George Fury and even flamboyant touring car privateer Peter Janson were among the international’s opponents.

However, there was one model utterly dominant during the early-1970s and it was Holden’s Torana GTR-XU-1.

In LC and LJ configuration, the GTR XU-1 won the ARC four-times in a row between 1971 and 1974, three of these for rally driver turned touring car star Colin Bond as the Holden Dealer Team enjoyed success on the dirt as well as the circuits of Australia.

Prior to the GTR XU-1’s entry into competition, the menacing Monaro GTS was used as the entry into the new decade heralded a new type of car required to be successful in rallying, which was small and nimble.

The Mitsubishi Colt and Ford Escort also emerged during this early era, joining the likes of the Mini Cooper, Datsun 1600 and Volvo 122S as frontrunners in rallying.

Debuting to immediate success in 1970 through the Holden Dealer Team’s Barry Ferguson and Dave Johnson, the GTR XU-1 entered itself as the model to have.

In 1971, a serious effort from Mitsubishi proved a precursor to what the Southern Cross Rally was to become as the increased support led to other manufacturers including Ford and Datsun doing likewise.

Holden made it back-to-back victories as Bond co-driven by George Shepheard took the win from fellow Torana driver Stewart McLeod and Adrian Mortimer, though Mitsubishi were right behind as Doug Chivas held a large advantage until retiring on the third night in his Galant.

Although Torana continued its success in the ARC, Andrew Cowan and Mitsubishi became unbeatable in the Southern Cross winning the next five editions.

Progressing to the LH Torana V8 to then a turbocharged Holden Gemini driven by Wayne Bell, but Holden never had the same success in the ARC again.