Holden 355-powered LJ Torana GTR

This Holden LJ Torana GTR rocks a Harrop 355 stroker motor topped with VL Group A injection

Photographers: Tony Rabbitte

Done deal. Rob Belsito handed over the dough and now the seller had to sign away ownership of the tidy 308-engined Torana. His face went pale and his hand shook. Maybe he knew he’d regret it or maybe he wasn’t sure it was going to a good home. Whatever the reason, he was nervous. But he signed. Rob walked around to the passenger’s side while his mate climbed behind the wheel — Rob had never driven a manual. The mate he’d entrusted to take him and his new toy home smoked it up all up the street.

First published in the April 2005 issue of Street Machine

God knows what the nervy seller thought, and who really cares? Fact is, the Torrie went to a great home and if the bloke recognises this as the car he once owned he’d have to be happy. Rob’s done an awesome job, turning a decent street machine into an elite-class winner. He scored a Top 20 and Top Tudor at Street Machine Summernats this year, and Top Coupe/Tudor and Top 10 at the Sydney Car Festival before driving home to Wollongong in rain and fog.

“That’s what they’re built for,” he says. “It drives smooth and loves cruising.”

Rob set out to own an LJ that was different from the rest. He’d not seen VL Group A injection fitted to one, so that became the centrepiece of his first ever car build-up. He just wanted to create something that’d “hold its own on the street and at shows” and reckoned the project wouldn’t be hard.

“How wrong I was,” he grins. “Now that I’ve done it myself, I have a newfound respect for modified car builders.”

He wisely chose a car already engineered for a V8. He stripped it and bead-blasted the body. The car was then sent to Elchaars Accident Repair Centre, where the boys patched a little rust, smoothed the body and applied the duco. From here, Rob says the project snowballed. “At times I was ready to give up, but I kept an image of the finished car in my mind to keep me going.”

Ultra Tune at Erina rebuilt the donk around a 355ci Harrop stroker crank, ACL flat-top pistons and a mild COME cam with 218deg duration in and out. Super Flow worked up a good set of VS GTS heads. At 10:1 compression, the engine likes 98-octane juice.

An Aussie Desert Cooler triple-flow radiator and Davies Craig thermo fan cool things. Rob went for a bullet-proof fuel system: Barry Grant adjustable regulator, Peterson –8 billet filter as well as a Holley 750 GPH billet filter, swirl pot, Bosch lift pump and Carter Performance electric pump, all through braided –6 lines, into a modified rail. After the fuel’s burnt, gases shoot out 1¾-inch custom extractors into a 2½-inch system with twin cats and Competition coating.

Rob expects about 350hp at the crank when he gets the factory ECU re-tuned on the dyno.

The grunt is funnelled through a damn-near unbreakable driveline, which includes a manualised Turbo 350 and a CSW nine-inch diff, complete with billet 31-spline axles, Moser alloy pinion support and a full spool.

Body mods go way beyond the ultra-smooth engine bay. The rear arches are stretched and the back-end’s tubbed to fit the nine-inch wide wheels. The mirrors, passenger-side door lock and aerial are all gone to clean the lines, and the battery lives in the boot.

The engine is exactly the same colour as the body, and even the radiator’s been sprayed. What’s not painted red is chromed and polished — except the rocker covers which are painted silver with black pinstriping. Parts like the induction snorkel and many brackets had to be made from scratch.

Slide underneath and there’s even more perfection — everything’s painted or polished. With the tubs in place, Rob had a bar welded between the chassis rails to mount coil-over shocks; the lower mounting points on the diff housing are reinforced by chrome-moly bars. All the trailing arms are fabricated from chrome moly, too. And painted red.

The Torana stops like a demon on Commodore brakes — DBA discs from a VL V8 all ’round, with a CRS VT caliper kit up front and VL V8 calipers at the back. Rob chose an XB master cylinder and modified a ZF Fairlane booster to clear the rocker covers. All hoses are braided and the solid lines are hidden as far as possible.

Rob’s rapt with the job Steve at Cools Auto Trim did inside — a full re-trim including hood lining, while the parcel shelf hides the rear speakers. Rob retained the standard dash face but fitted silver-faced Auto Meter gauges. The lower panel is modified, with stainless inserts, warning lights and aircraft-style switches. The fuses are hidden in the glovebox and the ignition and coil — MSD 6AL and Blaster three-coil respectively — are under the dash. The boot’s renovation includes a gas strut system for the lid.

What a way to make your debut as a car builder. Unfortunately for show-goers, Rob doesn’t plan to do another unless he wins the lottery and you can almost hear other crafters breathing a sigh of relief. His long-suffering wife, Gessica, who married Rob in the middle of the build, is enjoying getting to know her hubby better now that he’s got time on his hands.

His next job is to finish the house. Knowing Rob, he’d turn a cottage into a castle.

Robert Belsito 
Holden LJ GTR Torana

Colour:Spies Hecker Nightfire Pearl Metallic
Engine:Holden 308
Crank:Harrop 355 stroker
Pistons:ACL 10:1
Heads:VS GTS Commodore
Injection:VL Group A
Gearbox:Turbo 350, manualised
Converter:TCE, 3000rpm
Tailshaft:Three-inch thick-wall
Diff:CSW nine-inch, Moser alloy pinion support, 3.55:1 full-spool gears
Axles:Moser billet, 31-spline
Yoke:Mark Williams
Suspension:Pedders springs and shocks (f); Strange coil-overs (r)
Bushes:Nolathane (f); rubber (r)
Brakes:DBA drilled/slotted discs with VT (f) and VL (r) calipers
Wheels:Simmons FR 17×7 (f), 17×9 (r)
Tyres:Falken 215/50 (f), 275/45 (r)
Front seats:Recaro
Seatbelts:Sabelt three-point harnesses (f)
Window winders:Billet Specialties
Gauges:Auto Meter
Shifter:Hurst Quarter Stick
Sound:Sony Xplod, Sony amp, four-way 6×9 speakers

John at Erina Ultra Tune; Ross Burgess for a tough gearbox; Steve at Cools Auto Trim; Ed Brodie for the fuel tank and system; Elchaars Accident Repair Centre for paint and panel; Joe, Mike and Dave at Profab; Steve’s Speed Shop; Dave and Al at Reliance Brakes; Enzo for the wiring; Dom, Pete, Jon, Starls and Rob for all their help; Dave Cornford (XUI-05L) for his inspiration, dedication and huge effort; Mum and sister for their support and the garage; Gessica. “Build dedicated to my late father, Lorenzo.”