John Szwede’s Pro Touring LX Torana SS

John Szwede's genuine LX SS Torana has been built to enjoy the way The General intended - flat out!

Photographers: Alistair Brook


These days, we see so many pro street Torana builds geared towards drag racing that it’s easy to forget the Torana legend was in fact forged in the win-on-Sunday, sell-on-Monday world of touring car racing. The LX platform was particularly successful, scoring back-to-back Australian Touring Car Championships and Bathurst 1000 wins, the latter of which is regarded as the most dominant Bathurst win of all time.

First published in the June 2023 issue of Street Machine

One bloke who certainly hasn’t forgotten about the Torana’s roundy-roundy pedigree is Melbourne’s John Szwede. His beautifully turned-out LX SS hatch is built to tackle spirited drives on Aussie B-roads, tarmac rallies and track days, just as The General intended. But despite the Torana’s undeniable Aussie motorsport prowess, and even though his car had already been fitted with an LS1 when he purchased it, John knew it left plenty of scope for development.

“I don’t want to offend anyone, but this is just my opinion: every Ford and Holden I have ever driven handled like an absolute bucket of arse compared to anything I’ve ever driven from Europe or Japan,” John says. “Not only was the handling ferociously bad, but the power also wasn’t there, and the brakes were basically a figment of your imagination!”

Having owned plenty of sharp, performance-focused cars in the past such as AMG Mercs, an Audi RS6 and a Tommi Mäkinen Evo, John had a high benchmark in mind for his Torana.

“Originally I wanted to supercharge it, but then I decided on building a stroker, because the Torana was already engineered for the LS1 when I bought it,” he says. “I spoke with many workshops and didn’t like what I heard, but I eventually called Nathan Higgins, who put me onto Glenn Wells Engines.”

Glenn punched the LS1 out to 383ci by way of a Howards crank, Manley rods and CP pistons, with the heads being treated to CNC porting and stainless valves by Nathan Higgins. Nathan also worked with Glenn on a camshaft grind to suit the type of driving John had in mind, and as a result, the engine has an extremely flat torque curve all the way from 2800 to 6500rpm, with maximum power produced at 7200rpm. Topped with a super trick-looking RHD Engineering ITB intake manifold and run by a custom-tuned OEM HSV ECU, the little LS screams its way to an impressive 484rwhp on pump fuel.

When it came to the transmission, John was most dissatisfied with the T56 the Torana was running when he purchased it. “It was probably the worst manual transmission I’ve ever shifted with,” he says. “After chatting with Mal Wood, I bought a close-ratio Magnum six-speed, and I think this is the second greatest modification I made to the car. The gearbox is absolutely sublime; you can shift it under load and it’s remarkably fast.”

It was in the course of fitting the new gearbox that John realised the car had some issues lurking beneath the surface. “We discovered the transmission tunnel had been held together with roofing screws; I was very disappointed in some of the things we discovered under the skin of a car that looked so beautiful on the surface.

Some of the wiring and engineering was questionable at best, so we refabricated, reshaped and rewelded, and added all sorts of nice little bits and pieces to make the car easier to work on and fix should anything break.” It was then time for John to turn his attention to the steering and stopping sides of the equation.

A diff failure early on in the piece led him to Jamie at Race Products in Queensland, and the live-axle nine-inch rear end now sports a floater kit, larger axles and two degrees of negative camber. Lee at Melbourne Performance Centre then sourced an AP Racing hydraulic handbrake, which John attests is laugh-out-loud fun to use.

Brake discs are Vari items in 304mm up front and 289mm on the rear, with six- and four-piston calipers respectively, and they pull the Torana up just nicely. The wheels were made by Paul from Wheel Mods in Rowville, based on pictures of Peter Brock’s ’78-’79 car. Paul whipped up a CAD design that John then approved, and a full set of centres were machined up. “The wheels are fully forged and they’re super strong and super light,” John says. They measure up at 15x9in on the front and 15x11in on the rear, wearing Pirelli Corsa 225/50R15 and Michelin TB5 335/35R15 hoops respectively.

“After 262 days of lockdown in Victoria, I finally got to drive it!” said John. “For a back-road tarmac rally weapon, I feel now it’s an absolute beast, and it keeps up very easily with a lot of modern machinery – not only through the turns, but it gathers speed incredibly fast.”

The car won its first timed event at the recent Retrospeed Sprints at Wilby Park (News Front, SM, May ’23), and set the lap record for the event. And while John reckons further suspension and set-up changes will be required to further refine the car for circuit use, that’s all part of the thrill of the chase.

“I know to your avid Street Machine readers, the power the car makes is not going to sound very exciting, or the fact that it sits a bit higher than some Toranas, but it’s 100 per cent functional for what I wanted to do with it,” John says. “At the end of the day, that’s what everyone needs to focus on: build what you want.

It’s fine to get opinions from other people, but ultimately, make your own decisions and take the car out of the garage and use it. It’s really fun and it’s good for your mental health. Life is short!”


Paint:Lone O’Ranger
Brand:383ci LS1
Induction:RHD Engineering ITB intake manifold
Heads:Higgins CNC-ported, stainless valves, titanium valve springs
Camshaft:Custom Nathan Higgins grind, 246/264, .620 lift, 109 LSA
Oil pump:High-volume
Fuel system:Twin pumps
Cooling:Custom radiator
Exhaust:13⁄4in tri-Y headers, custom exhaust
Ignition:OEM LS1
Gearbox:Close-ratio T56 Magnum
Diff:9in, 4.11:1 gears, Truetrac, 31-spline Race Products axles, 2 degrees negative camber
Front:Browns 1190lb springs, Koni red shocks with custom valving
Rear:King Springs 320lb springs, Koni red shocks with custom valving
Brakes:Vari 304mm discs with AP Racing six-piston calipers (f), Vari 289mm discs with AP Racing four-piston calipers (r)
Master cylinder:AP Racing
Rims:Wheel Mods custom forged; 15×9 (f), 15×11 (r)
Rubber:Pirelli Corsa 225/50R15 (f), Michelin TB5+ 335/35R15 (r)


Lee Partridge and Lee Burley for the dyno tuning; Phil and the Melbourne Performance team for the fabrication; Jeff Beaumont and Zac at Techsport; Lawrie at Pinnacle Road & Race Works; Paul at Wheel Mods in Rowville; Bruce at Classic Auto Refinishing; my neighbour Gary and my wife for all their help and listening skills; Glenn Wells and Nathan Higgins for their exceptional professionalism and speedy work; Heath for the amazing headlight covers; all the people who wave and stop for a chat along the way; @girtbyspeed – yes, I’m going to start a YouTube channel to show all the wonderful adventures with my cars and bikes