AS A kid, Alex Fenech attended some of the earliest Summernats events, and will never forget the impression they made. “There were blowers and big tubs everywhere,” he recalls. “That’s where it all started for me. I grew up always wanting a car with that pro street look.”
This article was first published in the February 2020 issue of Street Machine
Now a 47-year-old trucking company owner, Alex has had his fair share of bruising street cars, including an HT Monaro GTS, an XD ESP Falcon, a ’57 Bel Air and a blown ’32 rod. Truth be told, this low-slung 1977 LX Torana sedan wasn’t his initial choice for his next project.
“I had bought an FB Holden and originally intended to build that up with a big blown motor and fat rear end,” he says. “I bought a supercharged six-litre L98 from a guy in Melbourne who competes in the burnout competition at Summernats, and we successfully fitted the engine into the front of the FB, but I couldn’t get it passed for rego.”
Sourced from a well-known Summernats burnout competitor, this blown L98 6.0L combo has been built to last and has no trouble turning those mammoth 29in M/T rear treads into smoke. It features a Crower crank, Arias 10:1 pistons and Oliver rods, along with the original L98 heads and a Clive Cams bumpstick
With this setback, the FB was sold off and Alex looked for a new car to house the engine. It wasn’t long before he found what he was looking for in the shape of a super-clean LX Torana rolling shell, which was already sporting some choice mods and had most of the bodywork completed.
“A mate and I left Sydney at 5am for Melbourne, arrived at 3pm, bought the car, got it on the trailer and turned around – a one-day trip,” Alex says. “It had already copped a McDonald Brothers four-link, nine-inch conversion and wheel tubs.”
While the car didn’t come with a whole lot in terms of spares or, well, anything really, the panels were ship-shape and free of any nasty surprises. “It was really straight,” Alex confirms. “We rubbed it all back and re-high-filled it in the shed at home before sending it out for paint.”
Despite the size difference between the 29×15 Mickey Thompson rear tyres and the 145/15 front-runners, Alex says the car is really nice to cruise in, thanks in large part to the entirely rebuilt steering and suspension
Ah, the humble shed: a place where magic and nightmares can unfold in equal measure. Thankfully for Alex, his shed wasn’t just somewhere to build a tough new street machine, but also a place to forge happy memories and strengthen the bonds between him and his teenage son, Adrian.
“I bought the shell back in 2014 when my son Adrian was 14 years old. We said: ‘Let’s build it together.’ The Torana only left the shed to get the paint done.”
Alex scored the Torana as a primered rolling shell having already copped the McDonald Brothers wheel tubs, four-link and 9in conversion. With a custom Race Solutions 60L fuel cell and some slick PPG Jet Black paint, the finished car is a masterclass in minimalism for the street
Now a 19-year-old fourth-year apprentice mechanic, Adrian proved to be the perfect garage buddy, with a combination of youthful enthusiasm and hands-on skill. He had previously turned his talents to installing a set of mini-tubs and a self-built exhaust system in his own 347ci Ford Capri, which he bought at age 16. The black LX wasn’t even the only project car the pair was working on, with a matching blue and silver SL/R 5000-style sedan completed at around the same time. “That one was more of a restoration project and we had no intention of selling it, but a woman saw the car and wouldn’t leave until we agreed to sell it to her,” Alex says.
Two 750cfm Holley carbs sit on top of a Weiand 6/71 pump, which is mated to the L98 via a custom manifold. With the bonnet closed, it looks fittingly old-school, but offers all the reliability and power-making capabilities of the LS engine family
Alex and Adrian used the funds from the sale to complete the LX, which returned home sporting a mirror-finish coat of PPG Jet Black paint that really highlights the smoothness of the bodywork. “The colour decision was hard, as there are so many Toranas out there,” Alex says. “But black is an old-school colour and everything else goes with it. Plus, the body was just too good to cover in white or something that wouldn’t show off how straight it is.”
There’s no doubting the impact of the colour choice – especially when combined with the equally old-school Weld rims and dumped pro street stance. Oh, and that pair of Holleys and air cleaners poking through the bonnet.
It would be fair to say that Alex was taking a gamble by buying an old burnout car engine, but things have so far worked in his favour. The L98’s bottom end boasts a Crower crank, Oliver rods and Arias pistons, retaining the factory cubic capacity and 10:1 static comp. The OE heads also remain in place, although a Clive cam now actuates the valves.
It’s up top where things get more visually stimulating, with a custom intake manifold mating the Weiand 6/71 supercharger to the valley of the L98. Above this are two 750cfm Holley carbs that mix the bulk air and PULP. Alex says the combo has been good enough to make 718hp at the flywheel on just 8psi.
Power makes its way rearward via a Hughes manualised two-speed Powerglide and 3800rpm TCI stall converter before reaching a nine-inch diff with 31-spline Moser axles and 3.77:1 gears.
Despite the grunt and the mammoth rear rubber, Alex reckons the car is a pure pleasure on the road. “It drives beautifully,” he says. “All the suspension has been rebuilt: new steering box, tie-rod ends, ball joints, bushings and Spax adjustable coil-overs in the rear,” he says. “We also upgraded the brakes with HQ front discs and a Wilwood master cylinder and booster delete. The rear end has XY Falcon drums.”
Alex’s Torana offers a spartan black-on-black colour palette, the only deviation being the fire extinguisher and the blue of the Haltech digital dash. While the latter is a decidedly new-school bit of kit, Alex felt it a better alternative to cutting up the original dash
There was very little in the way of interior parts when Alex bought the car, so he and Adrian had to source most of the items to finish off the cabin. “It came with a couple of boxes of bits, like nuts and bolts, but not much else,” he says. “It did come with some rusty old seat springs, which I had restored and used in the car.”
Alex also added G-Pak door trims and largely stock-looking trim – save for the ratchet shifter, classic-looking SAAS tiller and Haltech digital dash. You won’t find any car audio gear lurking in this beastly street car – you wouldn’t hear it anyway.
In all, the build took three years of work in the pair’s spare time (not forgetting the parallel SL/R-style resto they undertook at the same time). Now it’s finished, Alex just hopes to enjoy it and maybe get it out to the track at some point to see what it can do.
“My favourite part of the build was simply being able to do it all with Adrian,” he says. In fact, Alex hopes to start work on a new project soon, this time an HK Monaro that will also sport a tough pro street look but be powered by a twin-turbo LS. “I’ll keep the Torana, though,” he says.
That’s going to be one hell of a family collection!
1977 HOLDEN LX TORANA
Paint: PPG Jet Black
Brand: GM L98 6.0L
Induction: Custom sheet-metal intake manifold, Weiand 6/71 supercharger, two Holley 750cfm carbs
Camshaft: 248/248 Clive cam, Isky lifters and springs
Pistons: Arias 10:1
Oil pump: Melling; Castlemaine Rod Shop custom sump
Fuel system: Holley EFI pump (PULP), Aeromotive FPR, braided lines, custom Race Solutions 60L cell
Cooling: PWR alloy radiator, twin thermo fans
Exhaust: Castlemaine Rod Shop 17/8in headers, twin 3in mild-steel pipes, Lukey mufflers
Ignition: MSD 6LS 2
Gearbox: Hughes manualised Powerglide
Converter: 3800rpm TCI stall
Diff: Ford 9in, 31-spline Moser axles, 3.77:1 gears
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: Monroe shocks, Pedders springs
Rear: Spax coil-overs, McDonald Brothers four-link, McDonald Brothers wheel tubs
Brakes: HQ discs and calipers (f), XY Falcon drums (r)
Master cylinder: Wilwood with booster delete
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Weld; 15×4 (f), 15×12 (r)
Rubber: Nankang 145/15 (f), M/T 29×15.5×15 (r)
Fenech Performance; TT Auto Rewiring; Turbo Exhaust Centre; Race Solutions; Just Upholstery; Castlemaine Rod Shop; Flemo (concept and design); Sam (brake and fuel lines); Richie (paint and panel); Mick (guidance); my lovely wife Jackie for her support