EVER watch those Seppo car shows on television and wonder how they manage to cobble a car together in record time to any sort of respectable standard? Just ask Luke Mitchell of Advanced Motorsports; the struggle is real.
This article was first published in the September 2020 issue of Street Machine
Wilky’s Pro Paintz did an outstanding job of paint and panel duties in very short order, laying down the PPG custom blue pearl duco with aplomb. Anyone who saw the Torana under lights in the Elite Hall at Street Machine Summernats 33 will understand why it won Top Standard Paint
This positively gorgeous LJ Torana was built from the ground up in just four months for Aussie TV show Rides Down Under: Workshop Wars, and there’s no questioning the standard to which it is finished – it landed in the Elite Top 10 and won a swag of tinware at Street Machine Summernats 33, which is a hell of an effort given the timeframe of the build.
LJ coupes are a hot-looking shape, so Luke saw no need to muck around with the body beyond making sure the gaps were on point and adding some jewellery in the form of LC GTR stripes and colour-coded GTR badges. But the car’s stance is aggressive to say the very least, with 20x12in Intro Twisted Vistas tucked well inside the rear wheelarches
“We were approached to do the show by the producer Rob, who was just a normal car guy,” says Luke. “We decided to go ahead with it and we were initially going to do a customer’s car, but I didn’t want any potential complications like money drying up midway through the build, so I decided to do my own car instead. I’ve always been a Torana guy, and I’ve had a few LJs but never actually found the time to finish any of them, so this is the car we decided to build.”
Luke already had an LJ shell that could have formed the basis for the project, but a mate of his had one that was in better shape, so he purchased it and brought it to the shop, before he and his team ran at it flat-out. The project management side of the build was expertly handled, and it needed to be given the deadline and the scope of the modifications; there was simply no margin for error or delays.
Luke loves the shape of LJ coupes, so he wanted the body to retain a factory look, but beneath the surface the car is extensively modified. The chassis and floor are completely bespoke from the firewall back, boasting a custom four-link rear with Viking coil-overs, a sheet-metal full-floater nine-inch, and cavernous tubs that swallow 325/25/20 tyres on huge 12-inch Intro billets (despite the car’s slammed stance).
The bay was a joint effort between Advanced and the lads at Wilky’s Pro Paintz, and there’s some very handy work in here; the Top Engine Bay trophy from Summernats 33 stands as evidence of that. Then, of course, there’s the thumping 8/71-blown, Dart-blocked, 430ci LS, with an estimated 1800hp worth of shove
The front portion of the factory chassis remains, as does the standard-issue K-frame, albeit radically modified by the team at Advanced. “I wanted to show people that you could get great results with the stock front end,” says Luke. “We notched it for sump clearance and re-welded the whole thing for a nice bead. We strengthened the lower arms and modified them to fit the Viking coil-overs, fitted tubular outriggers for added pipe clearance and had the whole thing powdercoated.”
The amount of fabrication work in the engine bay is quite incredible; it really is a case of the more you look, the more you see. The usual tricks such as welding up the heater box holes and remote-mounting the brake master cylinder have been done, but in addition, the inner guards have been raised to remove the factory pressings behind the headlights, and the curved section of firewall behind the bonnet hinges has been fabricated to flow into the inner guards. Every join, bend and factory imperfection has been seam-welded, smoothed, removed or otherwise improved by Jason from Wilky’s Pro Paintz. A custom radiator support panel was built to fill the void between it and the nosecone, with a custom stainless-steel bonnet catch mechanism teaming up with the countersunk push-button bonnet pins to prevent any nasty accidents. The level of thought involved in something as simple as the symmetrical catch cans is impressive – the angle mirrors that of the radiator support panel, while bulkhead fittings plumb the breathers through the inner guards to position the unsightly filters where the casual observer will never see them.
Contrary to the body, not much Torana remains under here. The chassis and floor are custom-built from the firewall back, as is the four-link rear end, which cradles a 35-spline sheet-metal 9in sprung by Viking coil-overs. A custom transmission crossmember supports the Reid-cased Powerglide, and the impressive bespoke exhaust system was built in-house at Advanced Motorsports
But of course, the centrepiece of the bay is THAT engine – an LS with 30psi of compressed atmosphere crammed straight down its gullet by a BDS 8/71 three-lobe, high-helix pump. It’s no socks-in-your-jocks blower set-up on a near-stock LS, either; the motor measures in at 430 cubes and runs a Dart LS Next block, AFR Mongoose six-bolt heads, custom Surecam stick, Callies Magnum crank, Oliver rods and JE slugs. It’s yet to be run up on the dyno in full kitchen-sink mode, but Luke reckons it should be good for around 1800hp once tuning is finalised.
Custom side trim panels with colour-coded GTR badges are a continuation of the factory-style door cards, tying neatly into the interior, while the twin Odyssey batteries are hidden under the rear seat rather than in the boot. The custom fuel cell is T-shaped so that the rear rails bear the weight, and features an internal seven-litre surge tank fed by twin Aeroflow lift pumps, while an Aeromotive main pump fires E85 north to the engine
The fuelling and ignition systems are the business, with an Enderle Big & Ugly hat housing a Joe Blo EFI system with nine 1100cc injectors, plus a further eight 2200cc injectors mounted in the manifold and fed by a pair of fuel rails. “The injectors in the hat are mostly there to cool the blower, while the bottom set of injectors do the bulk of the fuelling and allow us to keep it driveable and to tune individual cylinders,” Luke explains. It’s all managed by a Haltech Elite 2500 ECU, with Haltech Smart Coils firing the plugs.
There’s a rollcage and Kirkey buckets for safety’s sake, but they’ve been integrated into the cabin in a way that’s sensitive to the OEM feel. The seats have had the headrests lopped off and were trimmed in GTR vinyl by Jerome at Car Roof Linings, but Luke has another unmodified seat stashed away that will pass tech should he decide to race the car
Inside there’s a definite factory flavour, with Kirkey race buckets cut down to mimic the low-back look and covered in GTR-style trim by Jerome at Car Roof Linings. The door cards are standard-style (minus the carpeted sections at the bottom and with the addition of colour-coded GTR badging), and a factory GTR steering wheel was used. Noting that the glovebox and instrument cluster apertures were the same size and shape, Luke fashioned a custom cluster for the Haltech IQ3 dash out of a glovebox lid – clever thinking!
That alone is a hell of a lot of work to get through in four months, but let’s not forget one minor detail – the car was still yet to be painted! “We built the whole car in the metal right up until the point that it could have run; every hole that needed to be drilled or part mounted or bracket fabricated was done, and every panel gap was bang on,” says Luke. “Then we stripped it and re-blasted and primed the shell and sent it back to Jason and Tom at Wilky’s Pro Paintz to have the panel and paint done. We got the car back on Christmas Eve as a painted shell with swinging doors, and with the help of some great friends managed to load the car finished at 4am New Year’s Day to head to Summernats. During that period we usually had 10 people working on the car; it took monster hours from a lot of people, but we got there!”
As we’ve already mentioned, Summernats 33 was a great success for Luke and the car, with a Top 10 spot, trophies for Top Standard Paint, Top Engine Bay and Top Super Street, and an invitation to compete at MotorEx for good measure. Pleasingly, it also managed to win the build-off on Rides Down Under: Workshop Wars, which was the catalyst for the project in the first place.
So, given that Advanced Motorsports has a strong focus on drag racing, are we going to see the car venture down the strip? “The plan was to race it, but it’s too pretty now!” Luke laughs. “I’ll drive it and do Powercruise and things like that; we wanted it really low, so the suspension isn’t really optimised for drag racing. Who knows, I might make a pass in it one day.”
1973 HOLDEN LJ TORANA
Paint: PPG custom blue pearl
Brand: 430ci Dart LS Next
Induction: Big & Ugly hat, Joe Blo EFI system
ECU: Haltech Elite 2500
Blower: BDS 8/71 three-lobe high-helix
Heads: AFR Mongoose six-bolt
Camshaft: Surecam custom
Crank: Callies Magnum
Oil pump: Moroso
Fuel system: Two Aeroflow 540lph lift pumps, Aeromotive 7.0 main pump, nine 1100cc injectors and eight 2200cc injectors
Cooling: Custom PWR radiator, twin SPAL fans
Exhaust: Custom by Advanced Motorsports
Ignition: Haltech Smart Coils
Gearbox: Powerglide, Reid case, transbrake
Converter: TCE 5000rpm
Diff: Sheet-metal 9in, 3.2:1 gears
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: Viking coil-overs
Rear: Viking coil-overs
Brakes: Wilwood discs and calipers (f & r)
Master cylinder: Wilwood under-dash
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Intro Twisted Vista; 20×8 (f), 20×12 (r)
Rubber: 225/25/20 (f), 325/25/20 (r)
My beautiful wife Chantelle and daughter Lyla; Jason and Tom at Wilky’s Pro Paintz; Jerome at Car Roof Linings; Kyle, Doug, old boy (Bruce), Matt, Richard, Aaron, Brad, Dan and Scott; Rob from Rides Down Under: Workshop Wars; all the others behind the scenes