Chris Vassilis’s 840hp naturally aspirated LX Torana

Chris Vassilis's eight-second LX Torana street cruiser is a natural-born killer

Photographers: Ben Hosking

Vassilis shares a unique relationship with his good friend and childhood neighbour, Bill Kaglatzis, owner of BK Race Engines. “If it wasn’t for Bill, I’d probably have bought a few houses by now,” he laughs. “Bill is definitely responsible for my love of cars. As a kid, I rode my bike around to his house one day and saw him piecing together an engine covered in Speedflow fittings and with two giant turbos hanging off it. That day the Lamborghini and Mick Doohan posters came down from my bedroom walls; I fell in love with tough V8s!”

First published in the August 2022 issue of Street Machine

Even so, it would take almost two decades for Chris to snag a muscle car of his own. Easily distracted throughout his teens and 20s by rotaries and motorbikes, he eventually outgrew these toys and found himself staring at an empty shed.

“My dad owned a Torana hatchback before he had kids and always spoke about it, so I pictured myself owning one, one day,” the Sydneysider says. “My wife and I were driving to Port Stephens and saw a convoy of Toranas heading to Toranafest. To my surprise, it was my wife who suggested I buy one – she probably thought I was just going to slap some whitewalls and venetians on a stocker and cruise it!”

Striking while the Minister for Finance had the war chest open, Chris immediately jumped online and found a prospective project several hundred kilometres away in Mudgee, NSW. There was no point making the eight-hour round trip without bringing the car home, but the gravity of the situation quickly dawned on Chris. “It was literally just a shell – no wiring, no glass, nothing in the doors,” he says.

A quick call to Chris’s old neighbour Bill saw the project gain some direction. “A customer of his had brought in the Dart block, heads and manifold, and they were just sitting at BK Race Engines, so I snapped them up. Then I bought the wheels, as they can make or break a car, and we built the rest of the car around the engine and wheels.”

While Chris and Bill continued to sketch out the plan for the driveline, the car was dropped off at Shane’s Chassis & Fabrication. “It was only supposed to be a set of mini-tubs and a ’cage,” laughs Chris. However, that quickly expanded into a four-link suspending a fabricated nine-inch housing; tubs to suit 275 radials; chassis connectors; and a six-point rollcage, all designed to complement the rapidly escalating plans for the driveline.

“From the outset, Chris’s goal was to build a genuine eight-second street car,” Bill explains. But as the plates might suggest, the boys chose the path less travelled to get there – you’ll find no power adders on this Torana.

“I’d done the turbo thing with my RX-2 in the past,” says Chris. “It wasn’t right for this car. You just can’t compare the raw muscle of a naturally aspirated V8. Hell, I didn’t even want a computer on the car!”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Bill. “I never thought I’d see so many people returning to naturally aspirated, but it’s very popular at the moment,” he says. “The truth is, though, that an eight-second street car is fast no matter how you get there, and the technology in some of the components makes 800hp N/A small-blocks a reality these days.”

The phrases ‘technology’ and ‘single-carb, N/A pushrod V8’ might seem antonymous, but a clever combination of parts gives this big-cube small-block perfect street manners. “The secret to this engine is the cam and heads,” says Bill. “You can make more power with a different combo, but with this cam, lifter and spring combo, we’re getting ‘set and forget’ reliability, which is important for a street car.”

Topped by a single-plane manifold and a whopping 1175cfm APD carb, the engine stays true to the Torana’s muscle car heritage while meeting Chris’s brief of keeping it all under the bonnet. The single-carb screamer reeled off an impressive 840hp on the engine dyno.

Meanwhile, some four hours away in the NSW country town of Gundagai, the Torana was stripped as bare as could be to have decades’ worth of neglect repaired. “Shane from S&K Restorations painted Bill’s GT, and after seeing that car in the flesh I knew they’d be doing the Torana,” says Chris. “It wasn’t a quick job by any means – every time I’d go down I’d be preparing myself to tell them to hurry up – but every time I saw the car in bare metal and the work they’d done, I knew it would be worth the wait.”

With every panel unpicked and repaired, NOS rear-quarter panels hung, and with nary a skerrick of filler needed to prepare the car for paint, Chris knew his original plan to daub the Torana in white would do a disservice to the standard that had been reached.

“I’d been talking about painting the car white for two years, so you can imagine the look on my wife’s face when I woke up one morning determined to paint the car silver,” he laughs.

That new hue is perfectly complemented by the black-outs and the Weld wheels, and the end result is a timelessly tough car that’s the perfect homage to its era while still looking entirely presentable today. It’s practical and oh-so handsome with its complete leather Recaro interior, and with little more than dropping the rear pipes, the car has already run a string of low nines on debut.

“When it’s showing this much power at the track, we have to use the MSD Grid as power management to stop it hanging off the rear bumper,” say Bill. “We’ve recently changed from 3.9 diff gears to 4.3, and we’ll go out and get that eight-second pass. If Drag Challenge ever comes to Sydney, we’d have a look at that too.”

As Chris says, this is a car absolutely built to handle drag-and-drive events.

“For me, a cool street car is something that can go up on the rear bumper and then also cruise around with the family,” he says. If this marks the advent of a trend for wildly tough, quick-as-hell N/A street cars, we’re all in.

Chris Vassilis
1976 Holden LX Torana Hatch

Paint: Custom-mixed PPG Silver 
Brand: Dart Iron Eagle block
Induction: APD 1175cfm carb, Edelbrock intake manifold 
Heads: CHI 13-degree heads
Camshaft: Bullet solid-roller
Conrods: Oliver
Pistons: Diamond custom pistons, 12.5:1 comp
Crank: Callies Magnum
Oil pump: Melling billet oil pump
Fuel system: Walbro in-tank fuel pump, Aeromotive regulator 
Cooling: Shane’s Chassis custom radiator, Meziere electric water pump, twin thermo
Exhaust: Custom 4-into-1 headers, dual 3.5in system, X-pipe, Hurricane mufflers
Ignition: MSD Grid
Gearbox: Transbraked TH400
Converter: SDE 5800rpm converter 
Diff: Shane’s Chassis fabricated 9in housing, 35-spline Mark Williams axles,
4.3:1 gears
Front: Shane’s Chassis-specced springs, Pedders 90/10 shocks
Rear: Hypercoil springs, Strange double-adjustable shocks, four-link
Brakes: Wilwood discs (f & r)
Master cylinder: Wilwood
Rims: Weld AlumaStar; 17×4.5 (f), 15×10 (r)
Rubber: Mickey Thompson 26x6x17 (f), Mickey Thompson 275/60R15 (r)

Billy from BK Race Engines and Shane at Shane’s Chassis & Fabrication, both of whom guided me through the whole process; Shane at S&K Restorations in Gundagai; Al and the team at Al’s Race Glides; Jim from Speedy’s Diffs; Colin Boyd for the wiring; Michael from Complete Trimming; Paul from Rocket; all my mates who helped along the way and are still involved; my wife Joanna