Surviving Street Machine Drag Challenge can be a pretty tough ordeal, especially when you’re running single-digit ETs, and the typical racer might spend years building their car to handle the drag-and-drive torture test. Danny Howe and the Riot Lab crew did things a bit differently, putting together what we’re pretty sure is Australia’s first turbo Godzilla-powered streeter on an incredible 10-week turnaround.
First published in the December 2023 issue of Street Machine
Danny’s last feature car was his epic VN SV89 tribute (SM, Jun ’23), but before that, his Barra turbo XE ute appeared in our May ’21 mag. That unassuming, 1000hp S-Pack inspired Danny to hunt down a matching sedan, so he started scouring the web, but it turned out neat S-Packs are a bit harder to find now than when he bought the ute in 2017. “Gumtree had a few XEs for sale, but because Sierra Tan in the S-pack style was only made for one year – 1982 – it definitely wasn’t easy,” Danny says. “I found something in Queensland, but the guy’s photos sucked. After some back-and-forth, he sent me a pic of the trim, and it was the car you see today. We got it towed down and got straight into fixing it.”
With Danny’s co-worker Ryan O’Donohue busy working under the Riot Lab banner, serious work on the XE was only able to begin less than three months from Drag Challenge 2023. “Ryan put in some massive weeks on and off the car, as we were both working on customers’ cars in between the build,” Danny says. “Ten weeks out, he started doing the rear clip and setting up the car.” A Strange nine-inch sits among the signature Riot Lab barwork, and uses a centre borrowed from Matt Sadler from GJ Drivelines.
Danny and the lads at Avondale Motors put in some overtime to get the body straightened and repainted in its factory Sno White. “We left the panels for a later day and just did the body to keep the car moving,” Danny explains. “Then we went straight back to Riot Lab, where we fitted the driveline and diff, before Chris from Racewires killed it in setting up all the wiring.”
Small-block Ford power was Danny’s original vision for the sedan, until Ford’s mighty Godzilla powerplant hit Australia in early 2021. There’s a beefed-up ’Zilla currently in the works at Dandy Engines, but time crunches and shipping delays meant Danny fronted up at Drag Challenge with a stock-internals motor and two Garrett G42-1450s bolted up via a Shaun’s Custom Alloy intake. The 7.3-litre pushrod mill runs a Nick Williams 103mm throttlebody and F750 injectors, controlled by a FuelTech FT600 ECU and FTSPARK ignition system. A Waterman fuel pump delivers E85, while a Profab front-hump sump and Peterson oil pump offered a drop-in fit to clear the Falcon crossmember.
Danny cut 50mm out of each shock tower to make room for the mill, and the sheet metal he welded back in replicates the original Falcon stampings. At a glance, it looks like a Godzilla fits straight into a stock XE bay, but Danny assures us that’s not the case. “With all the shit in there, it sort of throws you off,” he says. “To say there are modifications in the engine bay is an understatement!”
Daniel ‘Pazzo’ Nunziante sourced a set of Afco coil-overs, allowing Danny to turf the stock front end in favour of spindle mounts. As DC loomed, Danny reckons there was barely a time when multiple people weren’t thrashing on the car at once. “I plumbed up the fuel system and oil lines with Jake [Betteridge], in between Ryan working on the exhaust system or just mounting things. The last week was a test and a half!”
Consistent with the cool factory-meets-race car interiors of Danny’s other 80s rides, Danny Drewitt of SOC Auto Upholstery wrapped the Kirkey race seats with the iconic striped Sierra Tan S-Pack vinyl and fabric, which sit inside a six-point rollcage by Riot Lab.
The car was up and running by the Friday before Drag Challenge, so Danny headed out for a quick wheel alignment before a sesh on the Tunnel Vision dyno. “We played around for a few hours before doing the pulls,” Danny says. “Me and Nads [Nathaniel Ardern] from FuelTech had spoken the day before; we both wanted to see 1000hp, and we made 996rwhp.” That’s the most power Dandy Engines’ Frank Marchese has ever seen at the hubs from an engine with a stock rotating assembly and cam. “We went to start it to do the last pull for the magic number with a stock engine, but it didn’t seem happy,” Danny says. Frank discovered and replaced a hurt piston during the teardown, while Danny took the trim-less, bar-less and bonnet-less car back to Avondale Motors for one last round of assembly.
“On Sunday, we had the car running again, and Tarek came out and did the S-Pack stickers while we just kept fitting things,” Ryan says. “By 5 o’clock, I drove around the block and it had brakes, so we drove straight to Riot Lab for Ryan to do his final touches.”
Danny, Ryan and Jake packed their trailer and set sail for Tailem Bend the next morning on a seven-hour, 660km shakedown run, using a crucial tow-ready 98 tune from Nads. “The car drove perfectly,” Danny grins. That was a good thing, because the XE rolled into the DC scrutineering shed at The Bend Motorsport Park with just 15 minutes to spare.
The car’s maiden pass gave a 9.7-second ET, with Danny letting off the pedal at half-track to collect data. “We blew the tyres off on the third pass at The Bend and didn’t want to wait around any longer, so we called it there with a rough idea of what the car was going to do,” Danny says.
By Day Three at Heathcote, he’d cut the PB down to 9.13@146mph – not a bad effort for an untested car running all-stock guts and a torque converter designed for more launch revs than the stock ’Zilla can handle. “We were slowly doing changes every day on the computer, just giving it a bit more each day and making sure it was happy on every pass,” Danny says. “We tried not to kill it!”
Aside from tweaking the cable adjustment on the M&M shifter, the XE flawlessly ate up the 2500km Danny and the boys threw at it. “There weren’t really any issues other than our short timeframe and the stupid amount of hours to get everything done and done right,” Danny laughs. “Lachie [Mouneimne] had a trans issue earlier in the week, but he had a tow vehicle, so we used that to get home afterwards – a week of side exhaust is a bit much!”
Now the pressure’s off, Danny’s got time to make a few more quality-of-life tweaks to the car, not to mention that tougher Godzilla that Frank Marchese is currently knee-deep in. It’ll pack CP pistons and Diamond rods, plus a new cam, lifters and studs to handle more rpm and heaps more boost. “There’s nothing too extravagant about it,” Danny says. “We’re hoping to make 2000hp.” Nope, nothing extravagant there!
1982 FORD XE FALCON
|Spies Hecker Sno White
|Ford Godzilla 7.3L V8
|PWR core, Spal 16in fan
|M&M Turbo 400
|Strange 9in, 3.5:1 gears, Truetrac
|SUSPENSION & BRAKES
|Wilwood discs (f & r)
|WHEELS & TYRES
|Weld V-Series (f & r)
|Moroso DS-2 26×4.5×15 (f), Mickey Thompson 275 (r)
Riot Lab; Speed Pro; Avondale Motors; Racewires; Progen Performance & Auto Hoses; GJ Drivelines; Danny at SOC Auto Upholstery; All Week; Nathaniel Ardern at FuelTech; Frank Marchese at Dandy Engines; Pazzo; Jake; Foxy; Matt; Brett; Harley; my old man John Howe; everyone who offered to help.