Holden’s Torana hatch wasn’t hugely popular. In fact, only around 8000 of them were made, so the ones that remain on roads today are a bit special. And with NASCAR power and a Summernats Top 60 berth to its credit, Blake Evans’s example is even more precious.
First published in Street Machine’s 2022 Yearbook
This Canary Yellow LX is not the first of Blake’s builds to have achieved ’Nats success. “I had a lime-green LC Torana GTR that we took to Summernats 30,” he says. “It was a street-type car – stone chips included – but my aim was to get it into the Top 60. I gave it a bit of a tidy-up and fixed up a few things that I knew weren’t to the right standard.” The result? “Yep, Top 60! I was pretty happy with that!”
After ticking that box with the GTR, Blake and his dad Paul threw themselves into this LX hatch, which they found in 2016 in Burra, rural South Oz. “The bloke we bought it from saved it from being turned into some sort of dirt circuit car,” Blake explains. “When we found it, it had been pulled apart and was sitting as a bare shell in a shed. It was one of those typical unfinished projects; you know – someone has a grand plan, the car gets pulled apart and then nothing.”
As-bought, the bare-bones shell was in primer and showed some minor rust. “A week later, Dad was chasing parts on Gumtree and other places and we found an ad,” Blake says. “A bloke was selling hatch parts; it was the fella we’d bought the shell from! If he’d mentioned he had all these parts when we bought the body, we would have grabbed the lot!”
Of course, they did grab the lot, which saved them the time and effort of having to track down hatch-only parts such as the rear seat and sill trims. As luck would have it, years ago they’d also bought a stash of NOS Torana spares such as tail-lights, indicator lenses and headlight surrounds, which further eased their burden.
From the start, Blake and Paul knew exactly how the completed car would look. “Dad and I had a theme in mind,” says Blake. “When I was a little kid, Mum had a Canary Yellow SS. We wanted one almost exactly the same, but we also really love that Tuff Street appearance, so we wanted to fit the biggest tyre we could under the rear.
However, the pair were adamant that the hatch’s metal remain unmolested, which meant no cutting of the tubs: “We didn’t even want to lip the edge,” Blake says. That meant careful checking before ordering the Max Dumesny rims and an axle to fit the 255/60 Mickey Thompson ET Street tyres.
All the bodywork and much of the paint was done at home in the back shed. “The outside of the shell was done in a booth, after we’d done the door jambs, engine bay and other parts here,” explains Blake. “A friend of ours, Steve, has a booth about 15 minutes away in Tanunda. Another mate, Shannon, helped Dad lay on the final colour.”
The interior looks gloriously fresh thanks to new seat trim from Aussie company Winner Products. Knox provided the carpet, and fresh seatbelts went in, too.
One deviation from the plan – and quite a good one, as it turns out – was the Torana’s engine. Paul and Blake had built a 383-cube small-block Chev V8, but they stumbled on something even more impressive – an ex-Winston Cup NASCAR engine for sale. “It came in under the bonnet of a Super Sedan-type of roundy-roundy car,” Blake explains. “A bloke had plans to put it into a Torana he was building for Powercruise. His plans changed, so this was put up for sale.”
Collecting the engine meant a road trip to Sydney and back. However, on the way home, Paul began suffering chest pains. “We made it back home before he decided to go to hospital and get checked out,” Blake says. “The heart attack happened as he was going in the doors of Emergency!” That was a close call!
Once Paul was back on deck, it was time to take a look at the newly purchased mill. “The engine was together, but we took off the sump,” Blake explains. “We checked everything, including the rockers and springs, and we installed a new belt drive for the cam, as we didn’t know its age.”
The NASCAR donk’s set-up – including being converted from dry to wet sump – was terrific for Blake and Paul. “It had a Torana sump and pipes,” Blake says. “At this stage we’d already done most of the hard work and the engine bay was already painted. We hadn’t sliced back the chassis rails for big pipes, so we were concerned stuff might not fit. But when we dropped it in, it was an almost-perfect fit; it went in very easily.”
Of course, the engine’s appearance was lifted to the same height of less-is-more quality as the rest of the car. A clean and simple display of silver, alloy and gloss-black offers a hint of menace and purpose that’s right in line with its racing heritage.
A top touch underneath the car is the fuel tank, which has been modified to allow clearance for a second exhaust pipe down the right-hand side. Sure, Toranas were designed to carry a V8, but they don’t easily accept a true dual exhaust system. “Some people chop the tank square, but it never looks right,” says Blake. “We made one tank from two; what we did makes it look factory and allows us to run a decent-sized tailpipe on the driver’s side.”
So, how much mumbo does the thing have? “We haven’t confirmed it yet, but I’m happy to guess around 750hp right now,” Blake says. “Eventually, of course, we’re going to run it down the strip; the timeslips will tell the true story. Hopefully the new Tailem Bend strip will be ready by the end of the year so we can give it a run.”
Given the car’s good shell to begin with, combined with the lads’ experience, the Torana went together without any frustration. In fact, Blake reckons the only real letdown was the early death of a new race-spec alternator in the weeks leading up to Summernats.
Once at the ’Nats, though, the hatch continued Blake and Paul’s winning ways, making the Top 60 and scoring runner-up Top Tudor. But despite that success, Blake is adamant that the car is a driver. “I did 250km in one weekend a few weeks after Summernats,” he says. “The goal was to have the car built by Summernats; we’ve done that. Now we get to enjoy it.”
PAUL & BLAKE EVANS
1977 LX HOLDEN TORANA HATCH
|Paint:||PPG Canary Yellow|
|Brand:||NASCAR GM Bowtie|
|Carb:||1000cfm APD billet, set up for E85|
|Oil pump:||External Stock Car Products, Jeff Johnston’s Billet Fabrication race-spec pan, Clear View filter system|
|Exhaust:||Fabricated 17/8in four-into-ones, dual pipes|
|Ignition:||MSD Power Grid|
|Gearbox:||TH400 three-speed auto by Jamie at KEAS Transmissions|
|Diff:||9in, 31-spline Moser axles, 4.11:1 Truetrac|
|SUSPENSION & BRAKES|
|Front:||King Springs, Monroe shocks|
|Rear:||King Springs Super Low, modified shocks|
|Brakes:||Wilwood 320mm discs (f), HQ Holden drums (r)|
|WHEELS & TYRES|
|Rims:||Billet Specialities Comp 5 15×3.5 (f), Max Dumesny 15×8 (r)|
|Rubber:||Nankang 165/80R15 (f), Mickey Thompson ET Street 255/60R15(r)|
Raceworks; Todd Foley at AFS Industries; John Ricca at Race Parts Melbourne; Nick Efthimiou at Racekrome Ceramic Coatings for pipes; Jamie and Paul at KEAS Group; Shannon for help with the paint; Matt Hendry for help with detailing; the women in our lives: my partner Lisa and my mother Diane for letting me and Dad spend endless hours in the shed doing what we do and sharing the bond together – priceless!