Dave Carnell’s nine-second HQ One-Tonner

Dave Carnell's HQ Tonner runs nines, makes 780hp and completed Drag Challenge with a cheap-as-chips turbo LS!


It’s often said that less is more, and we reckon Dave Carnell’s HQ Tonner is the vehicular proof of that adage. The big ute has a PB of 9.50@138mph, successfully completed five days of Street Machine Drag Challenge torture, and made over 780hp at the hubs. And it did all that with a virtually bone-stock, turbocharged, alloy-block LS!

First published in the March 2024 issue of Street Machine

The crank, rods, pistons, heads and even the plastic inlet on this L77 mill are all standard, with the only additions being gapped rings, an upgraded valvetrain and a VCM 16 camshaft to cop the boost from a Proboost GT42.

“I just like working with what I have, doing as much as I can myself,” says Dave. “My goal was to run nines and drive to and from the track, and we’ve done that easier than I thought we would!”

The Tonner has a long history with Dave, who first picked it up for just $300 in 2010. “I fitted a small-block to it and did a lot of burnout events with it, but then I ended up selling it in 2014 as a roller,” he says. “I regretted that, and then three years later, it came back up for sale, and my wife sent the deposit through before I could even negotiate!”

The big ’Q needed a full going-over, so Dave pulled it down to a bare chassis and started again. The whole lot was sandblasted, and Dave then did the bulk of the panelwork. Once he had the body sorted, the Tonner was painted in Harley-Davidson orange by Andrew Yeo. “I love the process of building cars; that’s half the fun for me,” Dave says.

When it came time to decide on a powerplant, Dave’s good mate Lee Murray made the choice fairly easy. “Lee had some turbo LS1 exhaust manifolds and the GT42 turbo, so I got those off him and used a Tuff Mounts kit to get the LS and Turbo 400 mounted in it.”

We took so many spares and didn’t use any of them! The car ran faultlessly all week on the road and track

As mentioned, the L77 only got a camshaft and some basic valvetrain goodies, and Dave hooked up a Haltech Elite 2500 to control the whole deal, along with plumbing and wiring an E85-capable fuel system.

Tuning duties went to Adam Rogash from MPW Performance & Race Fab, who has been guiding Dave through his journey to nines since the first tune. “He’s been instrumental in this thing; I can’t speak highly enough of him,” Dave says. “He knows what works best and is great to bounce ideas off. He’s set the car up so it gives all the boost and timing at the start of the track, and then winds it back in the top end to keep the engine alive. They also did the new nine-inch for it, so it wouldn’t be what it is without Adam and those boys.”

Drag Challenge had always been a bucket-list event for Dave, so he and Lee saddled up the HQ and joined the MPW crew for the 2023 five-dayer last October. “We took so many spares and didn’t use any of them!” Dave laughs. “The car ran faultlessly all week on the road and track, and we got that PB at Heathcote, which was right on our class time.”

That 9.50@138mph PB scored Dave second in the new Carnage 9.5 Radial class, giving him the bug to come back again this year. “Count me in for the next one for sure, and we’ll be hitting up other events like the Hardass 1000, the Holden Nationals and all that, so it’ll be another big year.”


Class:Carnage 9.5 Radial
Brand:GM L77
ECU:Haltech Elite 2500
Turbo:Proboost GT42
Diff:9in, 35-spline, 3.5:1 gears
Rims:Convo Pro; 15×4 (f), 15×10 (r)
Rubber:185/80R15 (f), Mickey Thompson Radial Pro 275/60R15 (r)

Adam Rogash at MPW Performance & Race Fab; my mate Lee Murray; Andrew Yeo for the paint; my wife Nicole and my kids for being my biggest support and sharing my passion.