When Mark Barber fronted at Adelaide International Raceway for Street Machine Drag Challenge 2017, his LJ Torana coupe caught our attention straight away. It may not have been the quickest car in the field, but it was easily one of the coolest.
First published in the July 2022 issue of Street Machine
Powered by a solid-cammed red 202 topped with a 12-port blue-motor head, it was fitted with a black 202 EFI intake manifold from a VK Commodore and a GT3582 turbocharger on a homemade steampipe manifold. Then there were the electronics – an owner-configured Delco system lifted from a VS Commodore, which not only ran the fuelling and ignition of the venerable little Holden six, but also the electronic 4L60E overdrive transmission.
Mark wrestled with the 202 for a good number of years, including several stabs at our five-day Drag Challenge marathon. He dealt with his fair share of failures during that time, and in the course of those he upgraded from the 4L60E to a Jatco trans, which saw him run a 6.95@99mph best over the eighth-mile (equivalent to a mid-to-high 10 over the quarter).
Eventually, though, he conceded that the road less travelled isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be, and dumped the Holden mill in favour of Nissan’s formidable RB30 3.0-litre straight-six. “I just decided enough was enough and that it was time for a change, and I modernised some of the other gear in the car as well when we did the swap,” he says.
The RB was pinched from an R31 Skyline and is still a stock-bottom-end package, with Mark simply adding an upgraded head gasket, head studs and a Crow camshaft. He was determined to spend money where it counted, so the bolt-on bits copped a pretty decent makeover. The RB now has a PRP trigger kit to replace the distributor – one of the known weak points of the RB30 – with a set of R35 coils. Feeding the Pulsar GTX3484 turbo is a 6boost manifold, which sends its charge through a front-mount intercooler and a Proflow forward-facing plenum.
Other than the engine, the other major change Mark made was ditching the old Delco brains for a Haltech Elite 2500. “The funny thing now is that knowing what the Haltech can do, I probably could’ve made the 202 live if I’d put it on that instead,” he laughs. “But the results from the RB with the instant PBs are hard to argue with.”
The Jatco ’box and beefed-up BorgWarner diff were carried over from the old 202 set-up, helping make the conversion process relatively simple.
Mark does most of the tuning on the fly as opposed to spending copious amounts of time on a dyno, so he doesn’t have an exact power figure for the RB combo. “I’d say it’s making somewhere between 300 and 350rwkW [402-470rwhp], depending on what boost we put into it,” he says. “Right now we’re at around 25psi.”
During all the COVID closures and related circumstances in 2021, Mark managed to get a road trip in up to Alice Springs for Red CentreNATS, where the car ran straight into the low 11s. “I drove it up there full Drag Challenge-style with the trailer on and the wife and kids aboard, which is why I took it a bit easy on the track,” he says.
He then went on to have an absolute field day at this year’s Holden Nationals, dropping the Torry’s PB dramatically to a 10.1@131mph during the course of the weekend and going on to win the Holden Power Adder class. “It was awesome to get that PB and the class win as well, which I wasn’t expecting at all,” he says.
Heading home with a class win and some cash in hand, Mark then set his sights on getting the LJ ready for Drag Challenge Weekend 2022, which the car managed to get through without any issues. “All we did all weekend was empty the catch can and play around with the tune; it was great!” Mark enthuses. “I ran a few 10.0s on the Friday, so the next step is to get it into the nines. But we still finished strong, which is better than any other Drag Challenge I’ve done!”
While he missed out on a nine-second pass at DC, Mark still drove the little Torana all the way over from South Australia, his trailer in tow, then booked another 1000km on the road over the weekend going from Heathcote to Mildura and back – all while running consistent 10.0s on track. Solid effort!
And he got close to a nine again at Summernats Slam, running a 10.04 at 120mph after backing off at the 1000ft mark.
But Mark was determined to chase a nine-second timeslip, so he returned to Red CentreNATS in 2022, driving the car up to Alice from Adelaide – Kirkey race seat and all – and reeled off a 9.927@136mph. “Finally!” he beamed. “What a mission it’s been to get that nine!”
1972 HOLDEN LJ TORANA
Class: Speed Pro Six-Cylinder
Engine: Nissan RB30
Camshaft: Crow TX2
Inlet: Proflow, 4in throttlebody
ECU: Haltech Elite 2500
Rotating assembly: Stock
Oiling: N1 oil pump
Ignition: PRP R35 coils & trigger kit
Fuel system: Twin Walbro 460 pumps, 2000cc injectors
Cooling: AFCO radiator, SPAL fan, air-to-air intercooler
Transmission: Jatco RE4R03A, manualised, transbrake
Diff: BorgWarner, 3.08:1 gears, 28-spline billet axles, torque-lock centre