Twin-turbo LSA-swapped 1984 Mercedes-Benz wagon ready for Drag Challenge

Riccardo Pontonio plans to run laps at Drag Challenge 2023 in one of the sleepier entrants lining up for the event – a 1980s Mercedes wagon with an LSA and twin turbos!


Riccardo Pontonio has long been campaigning his LSFKNX VK Commodore (SM, Mar ’20) at Drag Challenge. That car entered the Seven-Second Club at DC 2022-’23 earlier this year, and has a PB to date of 7.56@181mph.

Running a car at the pointy end of the DC field is a stressful exercise, so for his next build, Ric wanted to take a more relaxed approach. “I just wanted a nice, simple cruiser for the next one, so we can spend more time having fun and hitting the beers than fixing the bloody thing!” he says.

That brings us to this 1984 Mercedes-Benz 230 TE wagon, which is in the final stages of construction before its deadline of Drag Challenge 2023, 10-14 October. Ric purchased it as a stocker with the original four-pot, and the initial plan was merely to slap an LSA and Turbo 400 in the car for a simple DC cruiser. As you can see, that plan didn’t last very long.

“I just didn’t trust myself,” says Ric. “I knew I’d want to turn it up at some stage, so the engine builder and I decided to ditch the [LSA’s] blower and go with twin turbos.”

Still using an LSA as a starting point, the lads at Frankston Engine Centre gave it a renovation with some Lunati rods, Diamond pistons and a Brian Tooley Racing (BTR) Stage 3 turbo camshaft. The crank and heads are still stock items, and replacing the LSA blower is a BTR intake manifold.

“I just wanted a nice, simple cruiser so we can spend more time having fun and hitting the beers than fixing the bloody thing!”

While the mill was being pieced together, Ric took the Merc from his home in Melbourne to good mate Jason Waye and the boys at Tuff Mounts in Adelaide. Ric and Jason pulled the four-pot out, and then he left Jason to work his magic getting the new driveline mounted. Using a dummy LS, Jason’s boys got the Bowtie and the Turbo 400 ’box snugly into the Merc.

With the mounting sorted (which is now offered as a kit from Tuff Mounts – neat!), the Merc then headed back home to Victoria for some surgery at MPW Performance & Race Fab. Adam Rogash, Ayvon McLeod and the boys were instrumental in putting Ric’s VK together, so they were his obvious choice to take on the fab work. “Adam was excited about it; for them it’s something a bit different, and they love a challenge,” Ric says.

They were tasked with mating the pair of Garrett G30s to the LSA. A hand-made pair of exhaust manifolds and dump pipes were in order, and the boys also sorted the intercooler placement and piping.

Another super-cool aspect MPW tackled was fitting the Merc with an independent-rear BorgWarner M80 LSD nicked from a Commodore. “These Mercs were originally IRS, so it made sense to keep it that way,” says Ric. MPW fabricated a subframe to suit the diff, with the driveshafts and tailshaft custom-made by GJ Drivelines.

The build is now in its final stages, and Ric is carrying out the remaining tasks on a borrowed hoist at his workplace, Walkinshaw Performance. “The boys have been doing a lot of work to get this thing over the line, so I can’t thank them enough for their efforts,” he says. The work has included using CAD to adapt the Merc’s seatbelt buckles to the sweet Recaro front seats, as well as brake upgrades and lots of other fiddly jobs.

At the time of writing, Ric is predicting the Merc build will wrap up just shy of a week before DC ’23. “We’ll be driving it across [to South Australia for the start of DC]”, says Ric. “I’ll have my good mates Jimmy and Jeremy with me, who were in the VK last time, and Paul Hamilton will be jumping in this time as well.”

Obviously, the Merc will have to hit the dyno before then, but Ric’s not interested in bold claims for this car. “I never built it to a number, and we’re limited by the alloy block anyway,” he says. “If we got 900hp at the engine on E85, I’d be happy to call it there.”

Ric will be running with the small-tyre clan in the Tuff Mounts 235 Blown class at DC ’23, and will be doing so with the comfort of air con, a booming stereo system and even cruise control! With a limit of 10.99 – as the Merc is not teched to go quicker – it’s looking like it’ll be a pretty cruisy week for Ric, but that’s exactly what he’s after.


ECU:Haltech 2500 Elite
Turbos:Twin Garrett G30
Camshaft:BTR Stage 3 Turbo
Oil pump:Race
Fuel system:1650cc injectors
Exhaust:MPW 3in stainless
Diff:M80, Harrop Truetrac, 3.46:1 gears

Jason and the team at Tuff Mounts; Ayvon, Adam and the team at MPW; Heath and the team at Harrop Engineering; Jamie at Raceworks; Brendan and the crew at Turbosmart; Matt and the team at GJ Drivelines; Shaun at YTG; Dave at Frankston Engine Centre; Nick, Dave and Brock at Walkinshaw Performance; Cam at Rosebud Panels; my good mates Jeremy, Jimmi and Drags.