“Torque was where motoring television all started, way back in 1973 when the Australian Broadcasting Corporation approached Peter Wherrett to produce a television program on motoring”
Executive producers Alan Bateman and Bruce Buchanan, producers David Wood and Andrew Lloyd James (of SBS fame) got together and produced a pilot, which led to the world’s first television motoring series going to air in March 1974.
I doubt whether any Australian male, or their sons, old enough to remember, ever missed a single episode of Torque, such was the enormous popularity of the show.
It was so popular in fact, that the seventh and final series commenced in May 1977 and that, according to David Wood, was only because everyone involved were bored and wanted a change.
I know this, because David very kindly produced my first TV pilot with Peter Brock in 1989, and we spoke with Peter Wherrett about various ideas for the show, should a television network have decided to pick it up.
From aged 12, when Peter drove his first car, he had already decided that his future would revolve around cars, but it wasn’t going to be all glamour. He worked a number of jobs including, petrol station attendant, servicing automotive equipment, selling cars and even as a rep for an oil company.
But Peter Wherrett wasn’t afraid to tell it how it was, and he was annoyed by the complete lack of useful motoring information in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, and he told them so in 1957. The response, he was asked to write a weekly column for the paper, and he was on his way.
Over the next few years, he developed a keen interest in motor sport, more than likely fuelled by his writing about the subject. So much so, that he started racing cars in 1960 and continued to do so for several years, although he never really considered himself a racing driver.
I guess he saw himself more as someone who could impart better driving skills to the public, who he believed were sold short when it came to proper car control on public roads.
So in 1967 he formed the Peter Wherrett Advanced Driving School – the first of its kind in Australia, which he eventually sold to his manager Peter Finlay, who continues to run the school today.
But clearly, Peter was destined for bigger things and Torque came along at the perfect time, allowing him to showcase his talent in front of the camera.
What made Torque such compulsory viewing was Peter’s utterly candid approach to what he thought of a car. He wasn’t afraid to call a lemon a lemon. On the other hand, he was always quick to point out improvements by a manufacturer.
It was this kind of straight talking that made Peter Wherrett a household name in Australia, and gave the program the high level of credibility it thoroughly deserved.
Peter will be missed by many thousands of Australians who vividly remember tuning in to “that show on cars” each week, and by any of us who have tried in vain to emulate what he did with cars on television, including Jeremy Clarkson.
Peter is survived by his son Steven Wherrett, daughter Jane Whitburn and six grandchildren.