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Torque – Series 1, Episode 8 (1974)


A roundtable discussion arising out of the unacceptable road toll in Australia is introduced by program presenter Peter Wherrett and convened by Four Corners (2008) journalist Jim Downes. Those taking part include: Dr Michael Henderson, head of the traffic accident unit in NSW; Bob Marshall, head of product development at Ford Australia; Hugh Mackay, a communications psychologist; and Sir Laurence Hartnett, former managing director of GMH.

Curator’s notes

Torque was the first ever popular series about the motor car on Australian television. Because the ABC is an advertiser-free zone, Peter Wherrett, a former racing car driver and motoring journalist, felt he could praise or blame car manufacturers without fear or favour. The program was enormously popular and ran in prime time on the ABC until 1980.

This is a black-and-white program from the very first series and already the natural television presence of Peter Wherrett is obvious. He grabs our attention with the opening sequence. Maybe he felt too inexperienced to handle the roundtable discussion that arises out of the shattering road accident figures – 4,000 dead and 90,000 injured at that time – or maybe the production team was doubtful that he could pull it off. Whatever the reason, he hands the discussion over to the journalist Jim Downes. What follows is rather dry and unfocused, not at all what we would see in later episodes of Torque. Wherrett became famous for his searing indictments of aspects of the motor industry, coming out of his wide-ranging experience of the world of cars.

In an interview with George Negus on the ABC in 2004, Peter Wherrett told the host that 'torque’ means 'a twist’, and that the word originates from a twist of metal that the Greeks used as a decoration. He continued, 'the twisting action of the engine is actually the opposite of, or an adjunct to, the power of the engine’. Maybe a motoring buff can understand that.