THE Street Machine team has been pursuing their monthly web series Carnage for over a year now, attempting to bring a little bit of Roadkill-style chaos Down Under.
That makes sense – reader surveys tell us that drag racing is by far the most popular form of motorsport amongst Street Machine readers. And our deputy editor and chief Carnage spannerman Scott Taylor has himself been addicted to drag racing since the early 90s.
However, in his quest to seek out some budget projects for Carnage, Scotty started thinking out of the box and surprised us all by announcing that he’d bought a 1995 SB Holden Barina as the next Carnage project. It came as part of a two-for-one deal that also included a Toyota 1JZ-powered Volvo! The Volvo made sense; we weren’t too sure about the Barina.
It certainly isn’t the usual Street Machine fodder, but Scotty enthused that for only $500, we got a little car fitted with a two-litre engine out of a Holden Calibra C20XE. “The car came from the factory with 44kW [60hp],” he explains. “Now it has 110kW [148hp]! That is over double the factory output.”
Well, that is definitely something, but compared to the 650rwhp we have seen out of the MX5.7, it hardly seems that exciting, does it?
“Outright power isn’t the point of the Barina,” Scotty asserts. “The MX-5 and the Taxi are insane, but they are also expensive. I love drag racing and I always will, but I’ve been wanting to try hillclimbing for a while now and the Barina seemed like the perfect, low-cost way to have a go.”
Hillclimbing is essentially a timed one-lap sprint along a course with plenty of tight corners and elevation changes. The variety of cars entered at hillclimbs is awesome – there’s everything from tiny, purpose-built open-wheelers to full-weight road-registered weapons, with a heap of classes to suit. Weird and wonderful engine swaps abound – like drag racing, hillclimbing is one of the few forms of motorsport where competitors can let their imaginations run wild.
Once Scotty took possession of the diminutive Holden, he replaced the clutch, stripped the interior and gave it a service. “We took it out to Calder to give it a shakedown and to see what it would do,” he says. “It ran a best of 15.2 seconds with the old tyres; it just smoked them right off! But it was fun. It redlines at 6700rpm and gets there really fast. People kept asking if we had a rotary in it!”
With that done, Scotty fitted some decent semi-race rubber (Federal RS-RR 205/50/15s) and had the boys at Extracted Performance Exhausts fit a muffler and sidepipe to keep the noise down to a shrill roar. He then took the car to One Tree Hill in Ararat to bust his hillclimb cherry. Straight away we discovered one big advantage over the drags: The event was plagued by rain, but it still went ahead!
“It was hard work in the rain, but I could tell straight away that this was our kind of thing,” Scotty says. “The officials were great and chilled out compared to what I’ve seen at full-on circuit racing. They’re all about safety, but also want everyone to have a good time.”
What we can tell you is that Scotty kept the Barina in one piece and was keen for more, so he entered the car in a meeting at the Gippsland Car Club’s Bryant Park track – otherwise known as Haunted Hills.
“One thing the Barina really needs is decent springs and shocks, but they didn’t turn up in time,” Scotty says. “I fitted a short-shifter and a factory tacho dash, but other than that she’s still mostly as we bought her. It owes us around $2000 so far, with the biggest chunk of cash going into the tyres.”
And to mix things up further, we invited Brenden ‘Bubba’ Medlyn along to co-drive. Like Scotty, Brenden is a drag racer to his bootstraps, but as we discovered when we took the MX5.7 to Powercruise Tasmania, the bloke can also handle a set of corners like a pro. And with his Drag Challenge-winning VH Commodore off the road for a major rebuild, Bubba was desperate for some action. Even in a Barina!
This time, the weather was fine and clear and we arrived at Bryant Park to find the place full of interesting cars, ready to race. The Gippsland Car Club runs a slick show; even with 46 entrants, the event ran like clockwork.
The track has a number of configurations that it can run on, so drivers were able to vote on which two formats they wanted to attack, choosing the outside track and the short track by a show of hands. Each racer got five goes at each format, for a total of 10 runs – something most drag racers can only dream about getting at a test ’n’ tune.
“The best run of today on the long track was in the 51-second zone,” says John Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the club. “When the Australian Championships are on, the best guys will be doing close to the record, which is around 44 seconds.”
Our Barina was a long way off those kinds of times, but the boys had a bundle of fun nevertheless.
Bubba recorded the best time around the long track, to the tune of 67.45 seconds.
And how does that compare to the drags? “A seven-second pass at the strip in a street car is scary as hell, but it is all over quickly,” he says. “This is balls-to-the-wall for the entire lap – you’re constantly trying to find the car’s limits without crossing them. The Barina handles like a boat and has the aerodynamics of a brick, and I didn’t even use the brakes for most of the track!”
Scotty could see similarities as well as differences: “The track might be longer and have a few corners, but it’s still a standing start and you’re still running against the clock. However, you don’t stop racing because a drop of rain hits the track like at the drags,” he says. “Bryant Park was really challenging and I scared myself silly; you go over some of those crests and your stomach drops as the track curves away. I erred on the side of caution because I didn’t want to stack the car, but hillclimbing is awesome – we’ll be back!
“The car definitely needs the new suspension,” he continues. “People were telling us how much the car was wallowing around, but it didn’t feel so bad to us. Then we looked at the footage! Stiffer springs and better shocks should improve it out of sight. At the moment it is easy to loop the car if you jam on the brakes, because it takes all the weight off the rear.”
The other big improvement, he says, would be to get the power steering working again. “At the moment it is disconnected and you really have to muscle the car around. Bubba and I were both exhausted at the end of the day. I reckon we’ll convert it to an electric pump from a Holden Astra.”
Other tweaks? “At the moment, the car is running standard seats and seatbelts, so to stop yourself moving around, you’ve got to really hold onto the steering wheel for dear life,” Scotty says. “If we decide to step up to state-level events, we’ll need a rollcage – so we’ll do a race seat and harness too. That will make it more fun. I’d also love to find a limited slip diff for it, as she is really struggling for traction. But I’m going to have to find a budget solution for that. Upgrading the brakes shouldn’t be hard – you can fit bigger brakes off an Astra without too much trouble and a bit of time at the wreckers. And I’ve ordered a performance chip for the engine from Spain, so who knows what that will do!”
While we expected to cop a bunch of grief from diehards online about our tiny Holden hatch, the first Barina Carnage episode has proved to be very popular out of the gate, with a stack of positive comments. Who would have thunk it?
“People love it, I’m really surprised,” Scotty says. “Of course, lots of commentators want to take it further and turbo it, but we’ll stick to the budget-built mantra for now. My next aim for the car is to take it to Ararat for their King Of The Hill meet. It is on the day after Drag Challenge finishes – what could do wrong?”
Larry Kogge may not be quite so young anymore, but he sure can steer his Torana (below) around a track! Larry raced a humpy at the drags in the 60s and a Torana sports sedan in the 70s, and bought this tough Balmoral Green two-door eight years ago. Since then he’s refined the art of piloting it, and has a list of championship and sprint wins to show for it.
The car meets Historic Group NC specs, with a 202, M21 trans, banjo diff and standard XU-1 brakes. Induction is courtesy of triple 1.75in SU carbies and a big stick, and the roar coming from the side-exit exhaust is simply righteous.
At the Bryant Park hillclimb, Larry even beat the short-track record with a 41.06 – the previous 41.15 record was his as well! Sadly, demand for classic iron in the collectors’ market has swallowed up a lot of old race cars, meaning Larry’s Torry is the only regular competitor in its class in Gippsland. “When I first raced here we had two or three XU-1s, a V6 Capri and three Chargers; it was good,” Larry says. “Now it’s getting annoying being the only one.”
We hope Larry keeps racing – there’s something special about seeing and hearing this angry Torana howl around the track.
1. Jett Gane pinched his son’s car for a bit of track action. The Falcon runs a freshly built 250 crossflow with a 600 Holley and a big enough cam to pump out 315hp, backed by a T5 box and XA GT 9in. Although the Ganes didn’t build it, the ute was already set up for six-hour endurance races at Phillip Island by the previous owner
2. About the only stock car on the track was Ben Huke’s VF Magnum ute. “The colour’s Spitfire Green and you can spot it from ages away,” Ben laughed. “I always wanted a V8 ute and I realised this was my last opportunity to buy a new one. Holden did a good job with these – they stop, handle and go really well. I’m only a few seconds behind the R34 GT-R here today, but I need some better tyres before I can push it any harder”
3. “I just wanted something to have some fun at the track in, and I found this BA XR6 Turbo for $1000,” Tim Boyd said. The original five-speed has been swapped for an FGX Sprint TR6060, and the smaller turbo from an FG helps keep the boost readily available. Tim was the quickest competitor outside the 59sec barrier – not bad for a full-weight BA!
4. With both Scotty and Bubba giving the Barina a thorough thrashing (not to mention its standard suspension and brakes), there were bound to be some interesting moments on the track. Scotty discovered the brake bias was in need of some adjustment when the car decided it wanted to play in the grass instead of on the tarmac. Bubba couldn’t have driven the poor little thing any harder, and was 2sec quicker than Scotty on both tracks. “I was trying to put it on its roof every single lap!” he laughed
5. Dean Evans was steering his son Andrew’s R33 Skyline drift car, complete with rock-hard suspension and really cheap stretched tyres.
“Andrew loves knocking panels with his mates, but these events are so much cheaper than a drift meet and they’re a hell of a lot of fun,” Dave said. “The car’s all set up for the drifts next week; we haven’t changed anything except running lower boost. I’ve got an LSA Maloo and a VL with an injected 5.0L that we’re thinking of entering here when it’s back together”
6. This little two-door MkII Cortina belongs to Nathan Elder, who snapped it up when he saw it for sale because it looked exactly like his first car. Hidden under the bonnet is a drysumped Crossflow four-pot that’s been stroked with a Datsun crank and rods to bring up it to 1700cc. Underneath is a close-ratio four-speed, coil-overs, a 4.1:1 LSD and semi-slicks. Nathan was 3sec behind Steve Schmidt’s Mini Cooper in the Historic Group N (up to 2000cc) class
7. David Casey’s diminutive openwheeler weighs 285kg and was quick enough to take third place overall on both tracks, with a 55.61 and a 39.33 respectively. The CBR600 donk swallows E85 and boost, and revs to 15,000rpm! The brakes are all pinched from motorbikes as well, and steering is taken care of by a sandrail rack
8. Fred Galli’s Formula Libre weapon came damn close to netting him the outright quickest time of the day, but unfortunately it left the tarmac on his fourth run and suffered some raceending damage. The blue beast weighs in at a portly (for its class) 600kg and is powered by 220hp worth of turbo Liberty motor backed by an auto out of a Brumby! “It’s strange to drive an auto race car, but when you get it right it’s amazingly fast,” Fred said