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Wednesday, 19 September 2018 14:30

Back to the future: Two-door cars in Australian touring cars

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After two and a half decades of four-door sedans ruling Supercars, the category is returning to its roots with different body styles represented on the grid from 2019, as we analyse in SupercarXtra Magazine issue #106.

CLICK HERE for details on issue #106.

When the Australian Touring Car Championship launched in 1960, it was mandated that four-door production cars sold within Australia could compete in what was then a single-race championship.

There was little competition for the Jaguars that won the first four championships from 1960 to 1963 with the Ford Cortina GT winning out in 1964.

The championship opened up to other cars from 1965 under the Improved Production regulations, which was a forerunner to what became known as Group C. This allowed more highly modified cars to join with imported two-door coupe muscle cars becoming the favoured option for competitors.

The V8-powered Ford Mustang was the car to have and racked up five consecutive championship wins from 1965 to 1969, dominating the local entrants and Morris Coppers that filled the grid.

Its rule came to an end through an Australian two-door performance car. The Holden HT Monaro GTS350 won the title in 1970, becoming the first Australian-made car to win the domestic touring-car championship. However, the imported variant, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1, won the next two titles in 1971 and 1972 to round out the Improved Production years.

Group C launched in 1973 with the aim of moving aside the imported muscle cars in favour of Australian-built equivalents with regulations that would apply across the championship and the endurance event at Bathurst.

This proved to be huge positive for the local car industry, particularly Holden and Ford, who could showcase their products on the race track, namely the Torana and Falcon. Both models deviated between two and four-door models in this era.

Ford raced two-door hardtop versions of the XA, XB and XC models from 1973 to 1979. It was in this period the Blue Oval enjoyed some of its most memorable moments, including the first Bathurst 1000 win in 1973 and the one-two formation finish of 1977.

Likewise, the Torana two-door LJ model was driven by Peter Brock to his first Bathurst win in 1972 with the later LX A9X two-door hatchback dominating in 1978 and 1979, winning Bathurst in the latter year by seven laps.

The car industry changed into the 1980s with a greater emphasis on four-door sedans. Ford’s XD Falcon featured four doors with Holden replacing the Kingswood and Premier sedans and retiring Torana with the four-door Commodore.

It would take imported cars to bring two-door coupes back to Australian touring cars with the Mazda RX-7 and BMW 635csi debuting in 1981. Together with the Nissan Bluebird, these cars revolutionised Australian touring cars and muddled the Group C playing field with the introduction of different engines and body shapes.

The RX-7 won the championship in 1983, though the Falcon and Commodore continued winning at Mount Panorama, Bathurst.

With the struggle to police parity in the latter years of Group C and responding to international forces, Australian touring cars opted for the Group A regulations from 1985 with two doors becoming the dominant force.

Two doors won each Group A championship run from 1985 to 1992 courtesy of the BMW 635 CSi, Volvo 240T, BMW M3, Ford Sierra RS500, Nissan Skyline HR31 GTS-R and Nissan Skyline BNR32 GT-R.

Initially, BMW held swap with its 635 CSi winning the title in 1985 and the M3 in 1987, sandwiched by the bigger bodied but still two-door Volvo 240T in 1986.

Ford runners had opted for the Mustang but after two uncompetitive seasons switched to the Sierra from 1987. The turbo-charged rocket became the car to have in Group A from in 1988 and 1989, completing championship and Bathurst doubles across both seasons.

The Sierra was usurped by Nissan’s Skyline HR31 GTS-R and BNR32 GT-R, which dominated in a similar manner with its first championship win in 1990 and its own championship and Bathurst doubles in 1991 and 1992.

The rule makers sought to return the focus to Australian cars with the Falcon and Commodore V8-only rules implemented in 1993, requiring four-door sedans as part of the regulations. The four-door requirement remained in place when the series opened up the new manufacturers as part of the Car of the Future blueprint.

But the end of Australian car manufacturing would force Supercars to do away with its strict rulebook. The Gen2 regulations would pave the way for cars of different engine and body shape configurations to join the category, allowing for the return of the two-door Mustang in Supercar spec.

When the Mustang joins the ZB Commodore on the grid in 2019, it’ll signal the changing of direction for Supercars under Gen2. But it also represents a return to the category’s true roots of variety in machinery.

CLICK HERE to purchase issue #106 within Australia.

CLICK HERE to purchase issue #106 within New Zealand.

CLICK HERE to purchase issue #106 for the rest of the world.

CLICK HERE to find where to purchase issue #106 at your nearest store.

CLICK HERE to purchase the digital edition of issue #106.