The Marlboro-Holden Dealer Team (M-HDT) under the new management of expert race car builder John Shepherd, swept all before them in 1978 for a dramatic return to the top of the Australian Touring Car ladder. Peter Brock, after three years as a privateer returned to the team as their number one driver and became the Australian Touring Car Champion with this Torana A9X.
The people who knew John Shepherd and his achievements had no doubt as to the final outcome of the 1978 touring car season. With his meticulous car preparation, unflappable nature and remarkable straightforwardness he was a fresh light for a racing team that had been tumbled by an overwhelmingly strong Ford opposition during the previous year.
Brock and Shepherd weaved their magic on Australia’s most famous racing team and the results were immediate. But they needn’t have tried so hard. The Moffat Ford Dealers team, 1977’s all conquering combination of Allan Moffat and Colin Bond in their XC Falcon Hardtops had experienced budget cutbacks, the loss of team manager Carroll Smith and a considerable fall in team morale.
It was evident in the opening round of the Australian Touring Car Championship. The M-HDT boys were all smiles, resplendent in their smart uniforms, tending to the shiniest of red, white and black cars seen in some time. Sheppo was a good manager and Brocky was back. They knew then they were on a winning streak, especially when it became evident that the Moffat/Ford cars were having problems.
Brock won the first two rounds at Symmons Plains and Oran Park displaying the driving form that was matched only by the John Shepherd supervised preparation of the car. The third round would have been Brock’s too, but a bingle with Moffat saw the Amaroo Park round go to the Craven Mild A9X driver Allan Grice. Brock still managed to get 3rd though.
An almighty legal war concerning whose cars were eligible and whose weren’t broke out at the fourth round at Sandown. Both Moffat and Brock were excluded from the results, Moffat with illegal roller rockers and Brock for having the wrong front sway bar. Later CAMS suspended both the Fords and M-HDT for four weeks of racing due to these infringements.
It mattered little for round five at Wanneroo in WA. It was the M-HDT all the way with Brock and teammates Harvey and Negus coming 1st, 2nd and 3rd in both races. A crushing blow for supporters of the Ford Marque. This is in fact the only time a team has taken the first three places in an ATCC race.
With both the Ford and Holden factory teams serving their suspensions from CAMS during the sixth round, Bob Morris ran away from the field to ensure the Torana’s domination stayed intact. Then came Lakeside, the scene of Torana’s first victory in the reversely lop-sided championship of the previous year. It may have been an omen for the 1978 race because this time Allan Moffat scored Ford’s first major victory of the year. It wasn’t going to be enough to win the championship for Ford but at least it was a showing of strength.
The final round was at Adelaide and was an interesting race with either Brock or Bob Morris being in a position to win the Championship. On lap 15, Morris gave it to Brock when he hit a back marker and spent the rest of the race buried in a sand trap. Brock came 3rd behind Bond and Moffat. It was Brock’s second ATCC title, winning by 2 points from Morris.
As well as the ATCC races the M-HDT Torana’s competed for Holden in the Australian Championship of Makes Series. This series was five endurance races run between July and December. The Brock M-HDT Torana was the most dominant in the series by far. The first round was at Oran Park and Brock had a close win over Alan Grice. He finished the race with barely one litre of fuel left in the petrol tank! The second was at Sandown for the annual 400 km lead up race for Bathurst. Brock won the race for the third time in succession, crossing the line with teammate Harvey in a 1-2 formation finish.
Round three was at Adelaide and Brock placed 2nd behind the Ford of Bond. The next race was in sunny Queensland at the Surfers Paradise circuit. Brock was the victor, leading the entire race for all but three laps. Thus avenging his only defeat by Bond in the previous round. The M-HDT as well as all other major teams didn’t compete in the final race at Calder as Holden had already sealed the title as the top Manufacturer.
Bathurst was the ultimate title for Holden and Brock that year. Teamed with New Zealander Jim Richards they drove the Torana at a record breaking pace, chopping 13 minutes of Moffat’s 1977 race time. He also managed to grab pole position as well as a large chunk of the $50,000 prize money. This underlined the superior domination of the M-HDT in 1978 when Brock rejoined and Sheppard took the helm.
In 1979 the Torana was campaigned by the talented driver John Harvey as the number two M-HDT car. Brock was given a new car, which was distinct with its fawn coloured interior. For the opener of the ATCC series at Symmons Plains it was Harvey who came out on top, beating the pack, just to show that the old racer still had it in her. This was to be the last race the Torana was to win. Round two was a 3rd behind Brock and the now very determined Bob Morris.
Oran Park was next and Harvey finished 4th. Then it was Sandown and he finished in 6th place. At the Wanneroo race he finished 2nd to team leader Brock who was in a very tight points race with Morris for the overall championship. 3rd was the best he could manage at Surfers where the Bryan Byrt Falcon driven by Queenslander Dick Johnson almost won the race. Brock was once again the winner from the 4 door A9X of Charlie O’Brien. Lakeside was the seventh race of the series; Harvey came 2nd behind Bob Morris who was now 5 points in front of Brock. The final race at Adelaide Raceway was a win for Morris giving him the championship he thoroughly deserved. Brock came 2nd and Harvey 3rd in both the race and championship.
Bathurst that year was to be the Torana’s last race. Harvey had Ron Harrop as a co-driver and on lap 57, with Harrop at the wheel the Torana lost its brakes and hit the wall at XL bend. The Torana had managed to get as high as 2nd place till the accident. It was hardly a fitting end to its long and great racing career.
That year the M-HDT team was given the most commanding win ever; the great race when Brock and Richards once again won. It was however, a win like no other. They got pole position then led the race from start to finish never surrendering the lead. He finished 6 laps in front of his closest competitor and just to make a point, set a new circuit record on the final lap. Not a normal thing to do in a 1000km race! It only cemented the status of Brock and the M-HDT as the late 70’s dominant force.
The un-repaired Torana was sold after the ’79 race to restoration specialist and HDT employee, Jim Sheppard. He carefully rebuilt the car to like new specification. It then passed through a few different owners, and after a long stint in the Bathurst Museum, was acquired by David Bowden. Little has been done to the car since receiving it, only maintenance checks to ensure it provides a good showing at any of the display and race meets it is asked to attend.