Steve Leerentveld’s extraordinary LJ Torana is the 2004 Penrite Street Machine of the Year and while the competition was tough, there’s no doubt the monster-motored Elite car deserves to add the ultimate award to its already impressive gallery of trophies and accolades. This is a car that won a Top 10 Elite spot at Summernats 17, redefined Tuff Street credibility and has true street drivability. No wonder more of you voted for it than for any other machine.
First published in the December 2004 issue of Street Machine
SMOTY tops a tumultuous time for the tear-arse Torrie. Twelve months earlier it was being wildly re-invented for Summernats 17, where it did Steve proud with a Top 10 spot. Back home in Queensland, Steve embarked on one of the most ambitious and in-your-face forced-induction systems ever — a pair of custom-made turbochargers on the existing blown 304!
How does it feel to win SMOTY?
Awesome, mate. I’m absolutely stoked! It was my ultimate goal when I built the car and why I put all the turbos and crazy things on. The awards that have always meant the most to me are the people’s choice ones because that’s where people have a say about what you’ve built, not magazines or advertisers or sponsors or car clubs. It’s people saying: ‘We like what he’s done’.
Last year’s winner was Adam LeBrese’s custom EH. And now a Torana comes along and wins.
It’s a bit of a contrast. To go from having a car that had nothing hanging out the bonnet — it was a very subtle car but with awesome body changes — to something that is very much in your face, it was a big change. I think my car possibly grabbed both sides of the community.
I don’t think a Torana has ever been there, has it? Most of the winners have been traditional muscle cars but no-one’s ever called an LJ Torana a muscle car [laughs]. It’s probably good to have something a little bit different.
Toranas have always been very popular in the street machine scene, though.
They have but they never got to the pinnacle. Can you ever remember an LJ winning anything? The only LJ I can remember winning anything was Alan Kirk’s (SM, Nov ’02), the white one from WA that got Top 10 at Summernats a couple of years ago.
Did you think you might be wasting your time doing this to a Torana?
No. I’ve built a few Toranas for customers and nine out of 10 times they start coming together really nicely with a good engine combo but in the end they get so desperate to get the car on the road that they just don’t finish it and they drop the ball. I decided to do one and not drop the ball, show them exactly what they could have had if they’d gone a little further.
It had to do everything. It had to handle, had to steer, had to drive and had to be comfortable. It had be something you can jump in and drive.
I love driving it. At every car show I go to I jump in the car and go for a cruise around town. It’s something I like to do to prove that, yes, it does drive. People see you driving. Nobody drives their Elite cars.
Do you think that had an impact on the SMOTY voting?
Yes, yes I do. That and the fact that I changed it, that it’s very much in your face. When I came out with the turbos and the blower, no-one had seen anything like that. When I unveiled it [with twin turbos] at the Holden vs Ford show in Brisbane, you could read people’s lips walking up to the car, just going: ‘F**k off!’
With your set-up and Gary Myers’s twin blowers, people are starting to talk about cartoon cars. What’s your attitude to that sort of comment?
Cartoon cars? Funny you ask that. Remember when you’d go to the model shops you could buy those crazy monster cars, with the massive motors hangin’ out the front? I thought there’d be nothing better than building a Torana like that.
At the end of the day, though, everything we build does work. That’s the difference. Everything’s there not just for looks but to do a job.
Any plans for the $15,000 of Penrite’s money you’ve won with the SMOTY award?
The money’s going into a party for everybody involved in building the car.
That’ll be a hell of a party.
It will! It’s a way to say thank you, because nobody can do everything on their own.
Redcliffe Dyno and Performance; KV, KV’s Race & Resto; Peninsula Electroplating; Lee Bloom and David Tait; Marty, B&M Smash Repairs; Rob, Beenleigh Auto Trim; Steve, Bob Jane T-Marts, Maryborough; Robert Staib; Patrick; Peter and Daniel; Paul and Cathy; Scott Bentley; Kevs; Greg Holston; ARE Radiators; Stewart; Max Wedge Performance; my wife Gillian and daughter Jessica; Penrite Lubricants; and everybody who voted for it, thanks very, very much.