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Peter Lang, the star recruit for the Holden Dealer Team in 1973, took out that year’s Australian Rally Championship in his Torana XU-1 at his first serious attempt at the title. As Jeff Whitten remembers, it was a championship that was strongly criticized, as it outlawed cars such as the Lancer GSR and the Datsun 180B SSS. * * * * * Peter Lang, a Canberra geologist, and his Victorian navigator, Warwick Smith, drove consistently throughout the year to finish with a total of 36 points, earned from three wins, a second and a fourth in the six-round series. The only time in which they failed to finish was in the opening round, the Uniroyal Southern 500 in South Australia, after suffering a broken differential.

Colin Bond and George Shepheard finished second in the 1973 ARC in a Torana. Photo: Graham Ruckert

The 1973 season went down to the wire and thanks to their consistent performances, that year’s championship became the year of the Torana. No other make looked like winning –Toranas winning every event. The result came as no surprise to many observers who had predicted a one-sided championship. The restricted eligibility rules were altered to allow basically standard vehicles to participate, with no engine mods or strengthening of body or suspension components. Neither did it allow for cars with specially homologated components such as the Mitsubishi Lancer GSR or Datsun 180B SSS coupes, cars which had appeared in events like the Southern Cross Rally. The new regulations for the series were strongly criticised, particularly as they acted against the private crews who were unable to afford constant replacement of damaged parts. So in effect, the 1973 championship was virtually a one-horse race.

Peter Lang claimed his Australian Rally Championship title in 1973. Photo: Graham Ruckert

Despite the lack of formidable competition from other makes, the series lacked little in the way of interest, with no fewer than three crews holding the lead at different times during the year. Defending champions Colin Bond and George Shepheard, seeking a hat-trick of titles in their Holden Dealer Team XU-1, won only two rounds during the year and had to be content with second place overall. Similarly, South Australian champions Stewart McLeod/Adrian Mortimer took an early lead after winning the first round, but despite that they only finished third overall in the series. There were few other serious competitors, but Sydney-siders Ed Mulligan, navigated by Mike Batten, drove well throughout the year, finishing fourth in their Mazda RX2.

Colin Bond started in Toranas, but eventually became a Ford man. Photo: Graham Ruckert

Victorians Tony Roberts/Jeff Beaumont started the year well in a Peugeot 504 entered by Renault Australia, but when Renault withdrew from rallying mid-year, they were left without a ride. They appeared twice more, driving a Saab 99 and gained fifth place at the end of the year. Bruce Hodgson/Fred Gocentas had a fraught year in their big Falcon 351 GT, being plagued with punctures and numerous small problems with kept them from major placings. A number of other well-known crews competed in various rounds, but none except Frank Kilfoyle/Mike Osborne ever looked like toppling the all-conquering Toranas from their perch.

Seen here in the 1972 Warana Rally in Queensland, Frank Kilfoyle would drive a Datsun 240Z in 1973. Photo: Graham Ruckert

The Victorian paring were poised to take out the fourth round of the series, the Bega Valley Rally, until their works Datsun 240Z broke its diff almost with in sight of the finish. Lang and Smith became only the fifth crew to win the ARC, Colin Bond/George Shepheard having won twice since its inception in 1968, when HDT boss Harry Firth and Graham Hoinville won it in a Cortina GT. 1973 Australian Rally Championship results: 1. Peter Lang/Warwick Smith, Torana XU 1, 36 points 2. Colin Bond/George Shepheard, Torana XU1, 29 points 3. Stewart McLeod/Adrian Mortimer, Torana XU1, 25 points 4. Ed Mulligan/Mike Batten, Mazda RX2, 16 points 5. Tony Roberts/Jeff Beaumont, Peugeot 504 & Saab 99, 11 points 6. Bruce Hodgson/Fred Gocentas, Falcon 351 GT, 7 points =7. Dean Rainsford/Grahame West, Citroen GS, 6 points =7. Kilfoyle/Osborne, Datsun 240Z, 6 points Full 1973 ARC results HERE. Note: The comprehensive Australian Competition Yearbook was used for parts of this story.
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