Flashback: 383 stroker-powered LX Sunbird – DRAGU

This evil LX is so dark, even light can’t escape. Wonder how it goes with radar

Photographers: Tony Rabbitte

It’s brutal, this car. As Jimmy Callanan boots the grunt pedal, the short-arsed Holden Sunbird is all mechanical solidity, all violent thunder from the huge dual exhausts. As the twin bonnet pop shotguns point the way to somewhere beyond the immediate horizon, the mini-spool bites and the Sunbird twitches sideways.

First published in the December 2010 issue of Street Machine

Then it’s all savage grunt from the 383 Chevy, spearing the little black car hard along the single-lane road, between lines of crooked power poles and the golden-yellow stubble where crops of milo and wheat once grew.

This is Dalby, in south-east Queensland, and this is one helluva car!

He’s just 27, is Jimmy. Like his father before him, a mostly self-taught master painter from the far away plains. Didn’t know what to do after school until he landed an apprenticeship with Shane Collins, in Toowoomba. In his second year in the trade, Jimmy was it — senior painter, working on everything from Mercedes to Maxivans. There wasn’t anybody else!

“I was thrown in the deep end. They put me in a booth and closed the door, so I just had to do it.”

He did it so well that he was nominated for Apprentice Of The Year “but there was too much hoo-ha in that, so I didn’t go through with it”. Instead, he began to try different stuff on his own cars. Wild custom paintjobs soon followed. Green mixes with silver overlays on a Datsun ute, rainbow metalflake over Midnight Maroon across a ski boat, two-tone black with white pearl and silver flames on his own Mitsubishi Triton tow car. It all worked.

The Sunbird project began with a $300 buy which had the four-pot slushbox 1977 LX sitting in his suburban Toowoomba garage.

“I wanted something to do in my own time, to further my skills outside of work, at my pace and speed,” Jimmy says, remembering those seven hard years. “But the build got out of hand, as builds usually do. The work went on as funds came in.”

Stripped and reworked, including narrowing and boxing the engine bay rails to support the V8 Chev with its 4500 converter stall and Turbo 350 behind, the Sunbird front end adopted some HQ discs. At the back, a Ford nine-inch sprouted HQ drums and boxed Torana control arms, with a custom anti-sway bar to hold it all together. Everything underneath was smoothed and painted and polished, although he settled for plain black texture coat for the underbody tin, which is there for genuine street driving.

It’s just streetable. Docile and almost comfortable to sit in, as it rumbles along with the Pro Ratchet gearshift of the fully manualised auto in top cog, the stroked 383 small-block doesn’t seem to mind pedestrian speeds. Under the polished alloy five-inch shotgun is a 428rwhp and 610Nm Chev mill, sporting Dart Platinum heads and a Victor Jr manifold supporting a BLT-worked 928cfm Holley four-barrel. Forged 10.5:1 pistons and Eagle H-beam rods take care of the squeeze, a Comp cam and solid lifter kit run the valves and MSD ignition provides the sparks.

The gadget’s cooled by an Aussie Desert Cooler radiator and CVC electric pump, and in a seam-welded brilliant black engine bay, the polished alloy and stainless stuff stands up and shouts at you.

Open a door and the perfume is exquisite. Rich tanned and embossed red leather is everywhere. KAM Motor Trimming on Queensland’s Gold Coast worked this — three solid weeks of cutting and persuasion with flawless cow hides that now form the roof lining, boot interior, and floor covering. Hand-cut foam produced the intricate detail patterns, and the door trims feature laser-cut black steel accent pieces.

The front buckets were reworked but behind them a leather-wrapped panel replaces the rear bench — it’s registered as a two-seater. All of this is neatly fitted around a full rollcage. Jimmy took time out to produce his own custom fibreglass composite dash assembly, featuring Auto Meter Pro-Lite instruments.

But it’s the paint that blitzes your eyes — De Beer two-pack over a solid black base. Three coats of Black Candy with four coats of clear. The entire steel body was primed three times and blocked out with coarse paper, Jimmy preferring to wrap this over a standard metal file, with shorter blocks for the corners. And the depth in the paint is incredible.

There’s not so much as a rumour of a hint of a ripple anywhere, and the finish by this young master painter brings words of astonishment even from old pros. The judges agree, with the LX picking up Car Of Show awards at this year’s Automania on the Downs and Drive For Live events, as well as a Top Five spot in the Elite judging at Powercruise 25.

When I asked if the end result was worth seven years of solid effort, Jimmy simply smiled and answered in two short words.

“Bloody oath!”


Colour:De Beer Black Candy
Type:Chev 383ci
Inlet:Victor Jr
Carbs:BLP Holley, 928cfm
Heads:Dart Platinum
Cam:Comp Cams solid
Pistons:SRP forged flat tops
Rods:Eagle H-beam
Sump:High Energy
Radiator:Aussie Desert Cooler
Exhaust:Custom tri-Ys, twin 3in system, X-pipe, Hooker mufflers, X-Force cannons
’Box:TH350 full manual
Converter:Converter Shop
Diff:Nine-inch, 3.9:1 mini spool, Moser 31-spline axles
Bounce:Kings Springs Lows, Pedders 90/10 (f), Kings Super Lows, Pedders gas shocks, Whiteline sway bar (r)
Brakes:PBR twin-piston calipers (f), HQ drum (r)
Rims:Bonspeed Wave Teks, 18×7 (f), 18×8 (r)
Rubber:Nixen 215/35 (f), 235/40 (r)

Rob Scoons; Rod Williams, Raw Performance; Rob, Kam Motor Trimming; Geoff, Pro Fab Toowoomba; Mum & Dad; Shane Collins; Fat Pipes; Colour Stop Toowoomba; Cruisers Car Club, Dalby; Black Toyota, Dalby; Pete & Adrian; Gary & Jamie Dunlop.