2000hp radial LX Torana

Darren and Leah Dubbelman turn tribulation into triumph with their 2000hp radial Torana

Photographers: Ashleigh Wilson

FROM the near-2000hp turbo small-block lurking under the bonnet to the incredible attention to detail throughout, Darren and Leah Dubbelman’s LX Torana drag car is one of the toughest and most well-sorted radial rides around. But the couple’s journey to get the car to the track has been far from easy.

First published in Street Machine’s Yearbook 2021

Back in December 2018, Darren was just 42 years of age and fit as a fiddle, and the car was 95 per cent built. But at 1:30am one morning, he had a massive stroke and heart attack. Leah performed CPR on him for 20 minutes and the paramedics lost him a number of times while attempting to revive him. Amazingly, Darren eventually pulled through, but the incident left him with permanent damage and confined him to a wheelchair.

The road to recovery was long and hard, but the true love of his wife and the loyalty of real mates shone through to see Darren live his dream of getting the Torry to the track. His good mate Simon Graham (who drives the car now that Darren cannot), father Arie Dubbelman and friend Marvin Bridge spent the next two years finishing the Torana behind the scenes while Darren convalesced.

A custom-built trailer and new team golf buggy were just two of the many pieces required to make the dream a reality, but earlier this year Darren and Leah finally debuted the car at a Kenda Tires 660 Drag Radial Series round at Willowbank, with support from crew members Steve Cini and Andrew Odlum. The Torana went 4.60 over the eighth, without even a trip to the dyno – a world-class effort by mates and loved ones!

Darren’s been around the small-tyre scene his whole life. “My dad was into motorsport and I got into the drags back in the days of the Performance Street Car deal,” he says. “I used to go to the events, keep to myself and just sit back and watch.

“APSA fired up and I started in Modified Street Blown,” he continues. “I was even number-one qualifier at a few of the events, and had probably the first turbo V8 back in the day with mechanical injection.”

Darren has always been a Holden guy, and apart from a Monaro early in the piece, he has had Toranas for the past 20 years, always enjoying the small-tyre challenge and staying in touch with friends in the USA who shared the passion back when it was scary to race on a radial.

Darren explains how they came to own the current Torry: “We were probably about 90 per cent through building the chassis and a total rebuild of my old car when we saw the car we have now for sale as a bare roller – and I mean bare.”

Darren and Leah stripped it to its bones and began the rebuild, armed with a 20-year accumulation of parts and Darren’s ability to handle every facet of the build himself. “I have always been a small-block guy, and after years of buying and collecting, I had a lot of what I needed in the shed,” he says. “I come from a data analysis and engineering background, so I gravitate towards technical things; when it came to building the car, from motor through to wiring, tuning and fabrication, if I didn’t know it, I taught myself.”

From the outset, Darren resisted the urge to go with the cheaper power of an LS for the LX, instead embracing the traditional pro street vibes of a small-block Chev. This 350 Chev is a serious piece of work, based around a Dart Little M block fitted with a Callies crank, GRP aluminium conrods and Diamond pistons for a secret-squirrel static compression ratio.

The SB2.2 heads were ported by Darren and upgraded with titanium inlet and Inconel exhaust valves. They are port-matched to a homemade inlet manifold that started life as a tunnel ram but has had all kinds of bits added, including a set of eight 800lb Billet Atomizer injectors to feed the alcohol-sipping combination.

The good bits continue throughout the valvetrain, with a solid-roller camshaft, Jesel belt drive and shaft-mounted Jesel rockers keeping the motor happy at 8400rpm.

Darren custom-built the hot side, too. It’s been ceramic-coated black and fitted with a 85mm Precision Pro Mod turbo and a set of homemade blow-off valves hidden from view under the front apron on the intake side.

The radiator has been moved to the rear of the car; in its place sits an alcohol header tank that runs to a 22-gallon Waterman fuel pump driven off the camshaft.

A five-stage Peterson dry-sump oiling system is also wedged into the engine bay and was the result of more parts bought at the right price over the years. “I didn’t have a dry-sump oil pan, so I cut the rails off the wet-sump Milodon pan I had and fabricated something that would do the job,” Darren says.

Darren rates the combo at 2000hp, so the rest of the drivetrain had to be just as tough. The trans is a Powerglide with a 1.80:1 first gear that he built himself. It runs the older-style Dedenbear (now Reid) SFI case fitted with a bunch of good bits including a 10-clutch, high-gear drum. The converter is a 9.5-inch bolt-together item, with different stators available to suit various tracks and tyre sizes and swapped out based on what the driveshaft sensor and G-meter say after each meeting.

The car originally had a four-link, but Darren has rebuilt and totally reconfigured the rear end and extended the half-chassis in chrome-moly (the original 3×2 box-section chassis finished at the four-link bars), adding a bunch of extra barwork as well.

The nine-inch rear is currently fitted with an alloy Moser centre with 4.2:1 Pro Gears, swinging a set of 315 radials on beadlock rims and controlled by AFCO Big Gun shocks with external canisters. Strange shocks live up the front.

Darren has also fitted a chrome-moly driveshaft tunnel from the transmission back, deleting the original tailshaft loops as a matter of driver safety.

The original glass windows have been swapped out to polycarbonate items, with the car still retaining steel front panels, roof and quarters. The bonnet, front doors and bootlid are all fibreglass, and the original rear doors have been welded to the tubs.

“The car weighs 3100lb,” Darren says. “Ideally I would like to take 250lb out of it, as it is a lot heavier than I hoped, and get it down to around 2800lb. The build budget dictated that we used heavier parts on some items initially that can now be swapped out to reduce weight.

“Power-wise, it will be all tapped out at 2000hp,” he continues. “At 1800hp and 2800lb, it should run a 4.30-4.40; I’d be walking on water with a 4.30, but the X275 guys can do it, so I can too! We went 4.60s at the last meet, which is where I thought it should be with the tune-up, and if we can shave half a tenth each time we come out, we are on target.”

Although Darren now has some significant health issues that stop him driving the car, Simon Graham has been doing a killer job of piloting the beast, with Leah, Steve and Andrew running the pits. It’s really a remarkable group of people involved in this car and a special tribute to Darren, who we all hope can live out his dream, even if it’s not in the driver’s seat.

Photographers: Ashleigh Wilson