Video: 80s-inspired pro touring Torana hatch

Heath van der Waerden’s hard-hitting Torana hatch has style, brains and brawn – and it runs on LPG!


At just 32 years old, Heath van der Waerden has dedicated a quarter of his life to this stunning Torana build, and it’s fair to say he’s done it entirely his way.

First published in the September 2023 issue of Street Machine

“I think I was born about 20 years too late,” he says. “I love the individuality you see in hot-car builds from the 1980s and 90s, so I wanted to apply that mindset and styling to the Torana while integrating some Jap and Euro cues and a smattering of modern inclusions, but not have them clash.”

Cars like Howard Bell’s LITRE8, Craig Parker’s TUFFXY and Mark Sanders’s Torana are obvious inspiration points for Heath – builds reflecting an interest in circuit racing over the more usual pro street.

The result is a Torana hatch for all seasons – right at home at motorkhanas and lap-dash events, the Summernats Elite Hall, and, of course, the street. And with the Hatch Hutch erected, it makes a mighty fine camper as well.

Heath isn’t a big fan of car trailers and drives the Torana to every event he attends, often camping in the Hatch Hutch. In fact, he is just about to clock over 10,000km in the first year of the car being on the road

Heath had already owned a string of LH and LX sedans before he spotted a neat UC hatch up for grabs nearly a decade ago. “It was a bargain that I wasn’t looking for at the time, but I always wanted a hatch, so I stepped up.” However, apart from the doors, glovebox hinges and rear glass, there’s nothing on the shell left of the original purchase, so maybe “bargain” no longer applies. Heath’s goal for the Torry was simple: “I wanted to build a car that would give the 16-year-old version of yourself a stiffy if it rocked up to the local milk bar in the late 1980s.”

The first thing you’ll notice is the Torana’s total lack of UC-ness in the looks department, with Heath opting to switch out the original front panels, tail-lights and rear quarter metal for LX equivalents. But that is just the tip of the metalworking iceberg.

The Ultra Blue paint is set off perfectly by the orange graphics, and although Heath did most of the body prep, he doesn’t for a second claim credit for how good it looks. The guards were trimmed and all four wheel tubs were modified to tuck in plenty of rim and rubber while allowing the car to stay low. Those show plates are a tongue-in-cheek nod to Mark Sgaravizzi’s infamous XD Falcon, 88NATS (SM, Jul-Aug ’87)

The guards were aggressively clipped to allow the fitment of A9X-style flares and large rubber with decent-offset wheels, while the matching bonnet scoop was enlarged and now features an integrated air filter assembly. But the pièce de résistance is the custom aluminium sunroof, fabricated with Heath’s friend and metalworking maestro Peter Tommasini, which was a must-have addition for Heath due to his love of touring-styled drivers. Being a jack of all trades, Heath did the majority of the car’s body prep and epoxy work before Josh at Bohm Motorpanel Transformations checked and finessed the shell where necessary.

With the panelwork and mods completed, Josh lathered the hatch in clear-over-base DeBeer Ultra Blue with blackouts, finishing the engine bay in contrasting Safety Orange. “This is the part of the build that seems to confuse people the most,” Heath says. “You paint a Holden engine bay black or body colour and no one bats an eyelid, but go with orange for a blue car and it’s like the world is going to end! But I have one word for those confused: COPBAIT.”

That’s right, Heath’s inspiration for his Torry’s two-tone treatment was Queenslander Rohan Hawley’s wild 90s-built black Torana, COPBAIT, with its bright pink engine bay.

Though they were always part of the Torana’s concept art, the stripes are a recent addition – a collaboration between Heath and Michael Gray Design, before being whipped up by S2F Signage.

Swing open the three doors and the interior is just as trick. The Recaro LX-C front pews and the factory split rear have been freshly retrimmed in black vinyl and genuine GM-H ‘Fashion Pack’ inserts, while the period-correct Momo Veloce sports wheel cops plenty of hard twirling thanks to Heath’s spirited driving style.

There are a heap of one-off inclusions that offer a factory feel to the cabin, including custom Speedhut digital gauges housed in the factory cluster using 3D-printed adapters; a 3D-printed cup holder in the centre console; an overhead console and shifter fabbed from stainless steel; and a hidden ashtray that slides out to become a phone mount and charger. There’s a stainless tubular brace and harness bar nestled between the pillars for when the action heats up, but remove four bolts and this can be whipped out for street duties.

Heath earns a daily crust as a sales engineer, but his extensive technical knowledge is backed by serious hands-on experience, and the Torana’s undercarriage and driveline are where his skills shone the brightest. A trusty iron lion was chosen to power the car, expertly screwed together by Heath, who filled a factory cast VR block with a COME nodular-iron stroker crank for 383ci capacity, swinging Eagle I-beam conrods topped with Probe forged pistons.

There is a lot going on under here! The full-floating BorgWarner diff has been heavily braced and is located by adjustable lower arms that connect to reinforced factory floor points. The factory upper control arms have been replaced by a wishbone with a single roll-centre-acting ball joint mounted to the back of the diff bracing. The bolt-on drop tank covers and seals the LPG tank

VN-style COME 600-series alloy heads receive their orders from a matching COME #538-grind solid camshaft, topped with a quad Weber IDF intake and EFI Hardware Pro-Street throttlebody system that uses Keihin vapour LPG injectors – yep, Heath’s hatch relies solely on God’s own barbecue fuel for its punch.

A ported original-style oil pump draws the good juice from a winged and trap-doored sump, with cooling maintained by a shrouded alloy radiator running twin 10-inch thermos. Stainless tri-Y headers whisk away the burnt gas into a huge expansion chamber, which then feeds into a twin 2.5-inch system and MagnaFlow mufflers.

The engine bay features a heap of refinements and custom touches, including the purpose-built tanks in the forward corners that form a catch can, coolant overflow and windscreen washer set-up. Heath tried to make as many components as possible multi-task in order to keep things neat and save weight, and these tanks pull double-duty by concealing the ugly area behind the headlights

The engine is backed by a billet flywheel and 11-inch clutch, designed to work under extreme Heath pressure with a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed manual and 3in-diameter steel tailshaft. The diff itself is a work of art, starting life as a R31 Skyline solid-axle BorgWarner unit but converted to a negative-camber, full-floating configuration running hollow 31-spline axles and a Harrop Truetrac centre. The heavily braced housing is located by Heath-made adjustable lower arms that connect to reinforced factory floor points.

The traditional pair of Torana upper arms have been replaced by more of Heath’s handiwork in the form of a fabricated wishbone with a single roll-centre-acting ball joint that mounts to the back of the diff bracing, where the original floor and fuel tank once were. A rear-mounted custom K-Mac-style adjustable sway-bar was also added for good measure.

Heath’s original plan was to leave the hatch painted black but with an added Targa top and a bright orange rollcage. “I wanted it loud and rude like that, but the plan changed along the way,” he says. He ended up going with the sunroof in lieu of the Targa conversion, which can be completely removed and stowed beneath the false floor in the boot

The front crossmember has been shifted forward – with the motor shifted rearward on it – and a 24mm sway-bar was kept rear-mounted to allow functional fibreglass brake ducts to be incorporated. The brakes themselves are Wilwood components with hub-stiffeners added, large enough to be effective under duress but small enough to still allow 15-inch wheels to be fitted when the need arises.

The current rims are Panasport G7 C5Rs all ’round – 16×10 on the front and 17×12 on the rear, shod in 225/50 and 285/40 rubber respectively.

Heath’s vision included an interior featuring original GM-H ‘Fashion Pack’ inserts. “It took me four years to find a roll of NOS material, and it was seriously the best score,” he says. Said fabric found its way onto the Recaro front pews and original split rear. The Torana retains the foot-operated pendulum pedal for street use, but there’s also a hydraulic lever version for the track

The coil springs are a mix of trimmed A9X King Springs on the front and custom-wound items for the rear, while custom Shockworks shock absorbers control the dampening action. A solid-mounted LH Torana rack was swapped in for better steering, with a shortened column, longer intermediate shaft and twin knuckles improving on the factory geometry.

Now that the Torana is complete, Heath has no big plans for it aside from driving the balls off it. “I do want to make some minor changes with Drag Challenge in mind, but for the most part, any details or issues with the car were fixed or rethought a million times during the build,” he says. “This is definitely not my last hurrah, though; I have a Manta Mirage sitting in the corner that’s just begging to become a wild street car, and I want to build an N60 HiLux 4Runner into a low, 2WD, driftable thing. However, that is all in good time, as this build is still very fresh in my mind – it gave me every problem you could imagine, and many that you couldn’t.”


Heath placed his hatch on a strict weight-loss diet during the build. “I’ve always loved the philosophy of weight reduction mixed with component refinement,” he says. “Ron Barclay’s HQ ute taught me the latter, so I refer to this as ‘extreme Barclay’.”

Materials selection, reducing the weight of existing parts and designing lightweight new ones have all contributed to more than 100kg being shaved from the car.

There is not a burr or casting mark on anything; all corners and edges have been radiused and any multi-fit aftermarket parts have had superfluous details removed so they can only go in one way and fit on this car.

Most of the hanging panels are fibreglass, and much of the steel that’s left has been filled with holes and dimpled where safe to do so. All up, there are 1371 lightening holes in the car.

The bonnet hinges are now springless, and each one was drilled 56 times before Heath considered them light enough to go to the platers. V8 cylinder heads usually have the same casting bosses at each end so you can interchange them side-to-side, but not on these ones – the extras on the back are all gone.

The weight-saving even extended to the shifter knob, which started life as a solid billet piece but has now been hollowed out.


Colour:DeBeer Ultra Blue
Make:Holden 383ci
Block:Factory cast VR Commodore
Crank:COME nodular-iron
Camshaft:COME solid flat-tappet
Pistons:Probe forged
Heads:COME 600-Series alloy
Intake:Quad IDF Weber
Induction:EFI Hardware 50mm throttlebodies, Keihin vapour LPG injectors
Exhaust:Stainless tri-Y extractors modified with cone-over merges, custom expansion chamber, twin 2.5in stainless-steel system
Gearbox:Tremec TKO 600 five-speed
Clutch:Single-plate organic 11in, billet flywheel
Diff:R31 Skyline BorgWarner, Harrop Truetrac, full-floating hollow 31-spline axles, 1° negative camber
Front:Repositioned adjustable Torana double wishbone, corner-weighted King Springs cut to 900lb, Shockworks mono-tube shocks
Rear:Custom-fabricated adjustable three-link, Brown’s 250lb custom-wound springs, Shockworks mono-tube shocks
Brakes:Wilwood 310mm vented discs and four-pot calipers (f), Wilwood 298mm vented discs and four-pot calipers (r), MC4 parking brake calipers
Steering:Solid-mounted LH Torana rack-and-pinion, modified Torana column
Rims:Panasport G7 C5R; 16×10 (f), 17×12 (r)
Tyres:Hankook RS4 225/50 (f), whatever is unlucky 285/40 (r)

My friends Shannon Heraud, Kieran, Ross, Stew and Julian for all being helpful sounding boards and assisting; all of the other competent car builders who helped advise me as I stumbled through the eight-year build; The Render Garage for the visualisations; Peter Tommasini for letting me spend a summer making the sunroof with him; Josh Bohm for helping me finish the bodywork and painting it when I was in lockdown; Jason at Tunnel Vision Turbocharging for making it roar with a proper tune!