Matt Watts’s blown LX Torana hatch

The lifelong dream of a Papaya Orange Torana hatch with red and orange stripes has finally come true for Matt Watts

Photographers: Chris Thorogood

WHILE Matt Watts might be best known for his antics on the burnout pad in either BLO202, his LJ Torry, or BLOUP, his KE30 Corolla, he seems to be developing a habit of building super-sano streeters with LSA-blown powerplants. We featured his HQ Sandman ute in SM, Dec ’20, and towards the end of that yarn he mentioned he was doing a pro street-style LX hatch. Well, ladies and gentlemen, here it is in all its Papaya Orange goodness, and if you happen to have that back issue handy, you can definitely spot the family resemblance.

First published in the December 2021 issue of Street Machine

While having two cars in SM within 12 months might seem like a ridiculous turnaround, the LX was actually a much longer build than the HQ, starting around eight years ago. But that’s nothing compared to how long Matt has held the dream of owning an LX hatch, and specifically, a Papaya Orange one.

“Since I was a young fella, my old man would tell me about his ‘big regret’ car,” Matt begins. “After selling his LC XU-1, he went and looked at a Papaya Orange LX SS hatch. He stewed on it a bit too long and the car was sold before he made his mind up, meaning he never got his desired LX hatch and he kicked himself ever since. I grew up looking at the pictures of his LC, and he would show me pictures of hatchbacks and I just wanted to have one of both.

“I was lucky enough my first car ended up being an LJ Torana [which has since became BLO202], although we did look at an LX hatchback then but passed up on it; it needed a little too much work to be on the road for my first car,” he continues. “It was a complete hatch for 800 bucks!”

Feeling the sting of regret at letting that $800 hatch go, Matt began searching for a complete, running and registered LX that he could slowly do up, but in the six months he was looking, the prices of Toranas – especially hatches – started to skyrocket. The stash of money he had squirrelled away started to look inadequate as the prices went up around $15,000 in that short time. So of course, Matt did the exact wrong thing and bought a car off the internet sight-unseen.

“It had the bones of what I wanted, already tubbed with the ’cage, but it was a fair project,” Matt says. “It was basically just a hatch shell with a bootload of the parts off it. The guy listing it was doing it up as a drag car, but it wasn’t too far cut up. Being young and excited, the stance with the big wheels just screamed at me and made me look past how much work it would need to get it to the point of being on the road.”

Matt wasn’t getting his hopes up too high, and knew the body and paint wasn’t perfect, but he was led to believe it would be good enough for him to whack a driveline in it, put the interior back together and start driving. In the meantime, he’d have a half-decent car to cruise around in while he saved up to give it a colour change: “The car was blue when I got it, so I was always going to paint it.”

Once the truck arrived and Matt had a proper look at the hatch, he realised there would be no slapping it together; the only way the project would progress was if he got the paint and body done right off the bat.

For that, he turned to Scott at Conder’s Automotive Restoration Services in Ballarat. “I had three main requests,” Matt explains. “I wanted the body fixed, the engine bay smoothed and the car painted Papaya Orange with orange/red SS stripes – of course!”

After blasting revealed the job was going to be a bit bigger than planned, the team at Conder’s knuckled down and treated the car to a full rotisserie restoration. “After the panels were bolted back on, the stripes were applied and it was sitting back on its wheels, I was in awe,” Matt enthuses. “My dream vision was starting to come true and my love for the car was back.”

Matt admits that things slowed down for a bit while the bank balance recovered, but the car got dragged out of the naughty corner to fit the all-new interior from Winner Products, although he tweaked it slightly from the factory black with grey inserts: “I wanted it all black, so I opted for a black golfball insert on the seat and door trims. The trim was all fitted by BazTrim in Ballarat; they did a super-neat job modifying the trim to suit the tubs.”

One thing Matt was adamant about was keeping the rear seat’s folding and latching mechanisms functional. “The goal for this car has always been competing in Drag Challenge and events where I will set up my hatch hutch and sleep in the back, so it was a must for me to retain the standard-style, flip-forward rear seats and for them to be level with the parcel board,” says Matt. He opted to leave out the centre console though, as he felt they take up a bit too much space in the smaller cars. In its place, he chose a TCI Magnum to shift the gears on the full-manual Powerglide.

When it came to powering the hot hatch, Matt did consider going for a cranky Holden V8, but with performance at front of mind, he chose the bang-for-your-buck boosted LS combo. “Anyone that knows me knows that I’m hard on the gear, so the engine is definitely going to cop a beating,” he says. The combo is built around a stock-bottom-end 6.0-litre LS2 fitted with a Comp Cams bumpstick with 234/241 duration and over 600thou lift. It’s got a Melling oil pump, good valve springs and the rings have been gapped for boost. Matt had actually collected a single-turbo kit, but deep down, he’s a blower guy, so the turbo bits were sold off and an LSA blower found its way into the engine bay.

One of the highlights of this car – and Matt’s HQ ute – is how neat the engine installation is, especially considering the complexity of the modern LSA engine: “Plumbing an LSA gets very busy in a small car, so finding the right location for the heat exchanger, cooling reservoir, supercharger water pump and all the associated lines – and making it work – was a fair task,” Matt admits.

Matt also mounted as much of the ‘brains of the operation’ as he could under the dash. The Holley ECU, coils, relays, a couple of 12V heaters for demisters and the hidden wiper motor from Boosted Fabrications have all been fitted out of sight. The task of rewiring the whole car was handled by Rynx Customs: “The boys knew the drill; I wanted everything hidden and basically wanted the engine to be standalone in the bay.”

The end result is a combo that puts out well over 600hp to the tyres on a pretty mild tune, which should see the car run deep into the 10s – possibly even the nines. That’s pretty wild, but if you’ve been following Drag Challenge for a while, you’ll know that single-digit ETs are where it’s at. Matt’s already got a spicy little forged combo going together with ported heads, a much more aggressive cam and a fair bit of comp for a boosted engine.

Doing Drag Challenge in a Torana hatch, running nines and sleeping in a hatch hutch sure sounds like a killer plan – and to be honest, worthy of an Australian of the Year nomination!

Stop press: Matt and the LX completed Drag Challenge Weekend 2022 in style, finishing in the top ten of Haltech Radial Blown and running a new PB of 9.97-seconds over the quarter mile.


Paint: Papaya Orange
Type: 6.0L LS2
Inlet: LSA, 1150cc injectors, 102mm throttlebody
Blower: LSA, 28 per cent overdriven
Heads: GM square-port
Cam: Comp Cams 234/[email protected], 0.621 lift
Rotating assembly: Standard
Radiator: Custom alloy, twin thermo fans
Exhaust: Rod Shop headers, twin 3in pipes
Ignition: GM coils
ECU: Holley Terminator X
Gearbox: Powerglide, full-manual, transbrake
Converter: TCE 3500rpm stall
Diff: CE sheet-metal 9in, billet 35-spline axles, 3.5:1 Richmond gears
Front: Standard with Rod Shop Viking double-adjustable coil-over kit
Rear: QA1 coil-overs
Steering: Standard rack-and-pinion
Brakes: Wilwood drilled and slotted discs, four-piston calipers (f & r)
Rims: Billet Specialties Street Lite; 15×3.5 (f), custom MaxWheel 15×10
Rubber: Nankang; 145/80R15 (f), 275/60R15 (r)

My partner Jess for her support and putting up with all the long hours in the shed; my dad Richard; Andrew and the team at Rynx Customs; Mark at Sass Automotive; Castlemaine Rod Shop; Moolap Mufflers; Boosted Fabrications; Geelong Tyre & Auto; Marshall Speed Shop; SPCALK Custom Detailing; Scott at Raceworks; Paul Rogers; Conder’s Automotive Restoration Services; Blake’s Automotive; Southern Union Crew; Brad Simpson; Dan Smith; Polly; Darrell Smith