Twin-turbo LSA-swapped 1984 Mercedes-Benz wagon sleeper

This 800hp, twin-turbo Mercedes wagon is Riccardo Pontonio’s idea of a stress-free Drag Challenge cruiser

Photographers: Shawn McCann

It might be hard to believe when you look at the photos, but Riccardo Pontonio’s beautifully presented, 800rwhp Mercedes-Benz sleeper is actually the result of a joke gone too far.

First published in Street Machine’s Yearbook 2023

Ric has a VK Commodore as his main instrument of speed (SM, Mar ’20), a true streeter that entered the Seven-Second Club at Drag Challenge 2022-’23. Running a car to that level can be a tad stressful, though, so Ric wanted something a bit cruisier for his next DC campaign to take the load off the VK – and his sanity.

“The idea was to build a simpler car for Drag Challenge and cruising, and we originally got a Rolls-Royce to swap my LSA into,” Ric says. “Problem is, I fell in love with that car as it was and couldn’t bring myself to cut it up.”

Enter this 1984 Mercedes-Benz 230TE. Ric found it for sale in Melbourne, and it’d been off the road for 13 years. “It was in really good nick, so it was the perfect starting point,” he says.

The car was shipped over to Adelaide to Jason Waye and the crew at Tuff Mounts/Muscle Garage, who were tasked with mounting a dummy LS and Turbo 400 ’box. They knocked it out of the park, and now offer a conversion kit as a result.

While that was happening, the lads at Frankston Engine Centre gave Ric’s LSA a renovation to suit the twin turbos he wanted to run. It copped Lunati rods, Diamond pistons and a Brian Tooley Racing (BTR) Stage Three turbo camshaft. The crank and heads are stock, while a BTR intake manifold replaces the LSA’s blower. Engine management is a Haltech Elite 2500 with flex-fuel capability.

Once Jason was done, the wagon was shipped back to Melbourne for surgery with Adam Rogash and the team at MPW Performance, as Ric’s desire to run turbos meant a decent amount of fab work was needed. Having built and looked after Ric’s VK, MPW was the natural choice.

The team managed to fit the pair of Garrett G30s, intercooler, exhaust, manifolds and plumbing without cutting the Merc’s engine bay. “Adam was excited about the challenge; he and [MPW’s] Ayvon [McLeod] love doing different stuff like this,” Ric says.

MPW also took care of fashioning the independent rear end, employing a Commodore-sourced BorgWarner M80 LSD that was then beefed up with a Harrop cover and centre. “These Mercs were originally IRS, so it made sense to keep it that way,” Ric says. MPW fabricated a subframe to suit the diff, with custom tail- and drive shafts from GJ Drivelines.

For the final stage of the build, the car was dialled in at Ric’s work, Walkinshaw Performance. “The boys there were incredible,” he says. “In the lead up to Drag Challenge 2023, we were doing midnight finishes every night, but they loved it.” Countless parts were engineered and machined, including the centre console, front seat mounts, digital dash holder and more.

The hard work paid off, as the Merc made its maiden voyage of 650km from south-east Melbourne to South Australia’s Tailem Bend for the start of DC 2023. “That drive to Tailem was the furthest it’d been other than around the block, but we made it,” Ric says.

Due to the last-minute trash, Ric wasn’t aiming for the Merc to set the timesheets on fire at DC. Running a very lazy tune on 98 and easing off the line, Ric just wanted the car to make a pass at each track and finish the event.

An 11.66@129mph was his best from the week in the Tuff Mounts 235 Blown class, and he and his crew did so in matching retro outfits, while lapping up the Merc’s crisp air con. “It was heaps of fun; we got to do it nice and relaxed, which is what I wanted,” he says.

Since then, the wagon has copped a spicy E85 tune at MPW and now makes a ballsy 804rwhp on 16psi of boost. “It bloody rips now; it’s an animal!” Ric enthuses. “It still drives like a normal car – I’ve been dailying it for the past month – but it’ll still light ’em up in top gear at 100km/h no problem. It’s so much fun!”

The Benz will make a return to the strip at some point, where Ric reckons a high nine should be on the cards. It’ll never get a rollcage or ’chute though – that’s what the VK is for. You’re more likely to see this thing cruising to the pub, which is exactly why Ric built it.


Paint:Mercedes Thistle Green
Type:6.2L LSA
ECU:Haltech Elite 2500
Turbos:Twin Garrett G30
Camshaft:BTR Stage Three turbo
Oil pump:Race
Fuel system:1650cc injectors
Cooling:Adrad custom radiator
Exhaust:MPW 3in stainless
Ignition:LS3 coils
Gearbox:TCI Turbo 400
Diff:M80 IRS, Truetrac LSD, 3.46:1 gears
Front:DGR coil-overs
Rear:DGR coil-overs
Brakes:Mercedes W126 300mm discs (f), Mercedes W123 discs (r)
Master cylinder:W126
Rims:Rial Cobra 15×7 (f & r)
Rubber:Anchee 205/60R15 (f), Mickey Thompson ET Street 235/60R15 (r)

Jason and team at Tuff Mounts; Adam and team at MPW; Heath and team at Harrop Engineering; Jamie and team at Raceworks; Brendan and team at Turbosmart; Matt and team at GJ Drivelines; Shaun and team at YTG; Dave and team at Frankston Engine Centre; Derek at Motorsport Engineering Services; Ash and team at Sunset Shine Detailing; Nick, Dave and Brock at Walkinshaw Performance; Cam at Rosebud Panels; my good mates Jeremy, Jimmi and Dragos.