Daniel Szabolics’ blown Holden LX Torana hatch

Dan Szabolics' blown small-block Torana hatch combines Group C heritage with street-car attitude

Photographers: Chris Thorogood

THE image of Peter Brock laying waste to the 1979 Bathurst 1000 in his Marlboro HDT A9X Torana is etched into Aussie history, with the six-lap victory just one dot point in his utter domination of that race weekend. It spawned a generation of Torana fans and surely helped the A9X become one of the most collectible Aussie-made cars of all time.

This article was first published in the April 2020 issue of Street Machine

Having done their time as cheap second-hand transport, LX Torana hatchbacks are now one of the most prized finds among Aussie car enthusiasts, so it takes guts to modify something worth a good chunk of house. But Daniel Szabolics thumbs his nose at the purist concours scene; he builds his cars how he likes, thanks very much.

Behind the tough small-block is a 3500hp-rated TH400 auto originally slated for Dan’s twin-turbo, big-block HQ. The RC Metalcraft sheet-metal 9in out back is packed with a Strange centre, billet 35-spline axles and 3.5:1 gear

Dan’s seven-second, 200mph small-tyre HQ Monaro (SM, Dec ’19) set the internet on fire when it debuted last year, but this blown small-block LX streeter was actually done in between starting and finishing the HQ. Both carry his trademark cues: killer stance, tough drivetrain, fat tyres on drag wheels, clean and simple interior, all topped off with a classic colour scheme on a stock-looking body. And when the finished product looks this good, you can see why this style has taken off all over Australia.

The LX rides on King Springs with AFCO shocks, with Wilwood disc brakes at all four corners hidden behind Weld AlumaStar wheels. The hoops span 17×4.5 up front and 15×10 out back, wrapped in 26×6.00 M/T front-runners and 275/50 ET Streets respectively

“I actually built the hatch about seven years ago,” Dan says. “I started building the HQ, which was going to be a slick car originally, and that was dragging on. I’d been looking for a Torana hatch for a while and I found one in Melbourne that seemed promising, so I drove down to look at it, but it was rusty and had been bodged-up.

“I went back to the motel and decided to not buy it, but I had a feeling, so I jumped on the internet and this one popped up in Gippsland. I drove straight there to check it out. It was orange, being sold as a roller and was in pretty good nick, as it had been sitting in a shed. The trim was pretty ugly and the paint wasn’t the best, but I knew it would be an easy project.”

A Melling oil pump and ASR sump keep the black gold circulating in the tough SBC, while a PWR radiator and Spal fans keep the combo cool. “Matt Snell made all the exhaust, including the headers and twin 3in system,” Dan says

Buying a solid, straight base to build upon proved to be a masterstroke by Dan, who saved bulk time and work normally needed to get Torana hatchbacks free of rust and in shape.

“This build was nothing like the HQ,” says Dan. “I had a painter at work and we stripped the car together, and within a month it was painted and back together. I think we fixed two small bits of rust, and we only spent a couple of days fiddling with the body. It was a quick, easy one, and I had it going in no time.”

Coated in clinical-cool Polaris White with satin-black A9X-style blackouts, the little Torry’s demeanour was pumped up with a flare kit and front spoiler, though the duck-tail was left off the rear for a smooth look. While the factory used gloss paint on two-tone cars, Dan went for satin to give his car a bit more attitude to match the noise-maker living under the reverse-cowl bonnet: a 440ci Vortech-blown small-block packing all the good gear.

Built by Down South Engines, the rotating assembly features a Scat crank and rod combo, paired to JE pistons and Clevite bearings. A solid-roller cam works with AFR 225 heads, topped by an Edelbrock intake manifold breathing charge-air from a Vortech V7 centrifugal blower. Fitting it all into the Torana’s fairly diminutive engine bay was a challenge, to say the least.

“People said I was crazy putting the blown small-block in, as I’d have to cut the car up to make it fit, but the only mods done to the body are the deleted heater box and a couple of holes we made for the catch can plumbing,” Dan explains. “Mounting the water-to-air intercooler provided a lot of headaches, but the two Matts [Snell and Langbine] made it lay flat under the crank, while Matt Langbine also drew up and made the blower bracket, as I didn’t want the blower poking through the bonnet. The V7 was already on the combo, so I sent it away to CAPA Performance and got some upgrades done to it, like a billet wheel.”

The cabinBehind the tough small-block is a 3500hp-rated TH400 auto originally slated for Dan’s twin-turbo, big-block HQ. The RC Metalcraft sheet-metal 9in out back is packed with a Strange centre, billet 35-spline axles and 3.5:1 gears

Drinking E85 through 2000cc Bosch squirters and being fired by a Haltech Elite 2500 ECU (installed and tuned by Matt Webster from Webster’s Dyno & Performance), the hatch hasn’t been set to kill just yet.

“CAPA told me it should make 1200-1400rwhp, but we were melting the tyres off it on the chassis dyno on around 14psi and 670hp,” Dan says. “I don’t like talking power figures if you don’t really know, so I’d like to put it on a hub dyno and finish it off. It’d have to make 1000hp, though. It’s unreal to drive; it’s aggressive and fast and feels like it’d go 8.50s.”

With his HQ coupe having run 7.11@202mph (and plenty more left in it), we don’t think Dan is in too much of a hurry to race the hatch, particularly when there is an HK Monaro cruiser project waiting in the wings. The purists aren’t going to like that one, either!

Dan’s kids (daughter Mila pictured here) play a huge part in his enjoyment of his cars, so he’s planning a family-friendly HK Monaro cruiser to take the tin lids out for ice cream – or his mates down to the pub


Paint: Polaris White/Satin Black

Brand: Chev 400ci small-block
Capacity: 440ci
Induction: Edelbrock Pro-Flo XT
ECU: Haltech Elite 2500
Blower: Vortech V7 centrifugal
Heads: AFR 225 alloy
Camshaft: Custom solid-roller
Conrods: Scat
Pistons: JE
Crank: Scat
Oil system: Melling pump, ASR sump
Fuel system: Holley Dominator pump, Bosch 2000cc injectors
Cooling: PWR radiator, Spal fans
Exhaust: Custom 3in stainless
Ignition: LS coil packs

Gearbox: TH400 three-speed
Converter: Pro Torque
Diff: RC Metalcraft sheet housing, Strange Engineering centre, billet 35-spline axles, 3.5:1 final drive

Front: King Springs, AFCO shocks
Rear: King Springs, AFCO shocks
Brakes: Wilwood disc brakes (f & r)
Master cylinder: Wilwood

Rims: Weld AlumaStar; 17×4.5 (f), 15×10 (r)
Rubber: Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R 26×6.00 (f), Mickey Thompson ET Street 275/50 (r)

Dean Soderblom; Jole Styles; Simon Borella; Matt Snell; Matt Langbine; Corey Edwards; Universal Upholstery; Matt Webster for the dyno; Gazzard Brothers; last but not least my wife Sandy for all the late nights and weekends spent in the shed