Platinum record: 388-cube HT Monaro

Tougher than a $10 steak!

Photographers: Tony Rabbitte

We first set eyes on Steve Pennel’s HT Monaro at famed Brisbane cruise spot Harry’s Diner. It was easily the coolest car of the assembled throng and looked like an immaculate resto, sitting on a set of big-inch Torque Thrust IIs. We didn’t stick around long enough to hear Steve start the car up that time. If we had, we might’ve gained an inkling of the car’s impressive 660hp at 7200rpm and 525 ft-lb at 5200rpm figures.

First published in the November 2007 issue of Street Machine

“I’d been looking for a Monaro for some time,” Steve says. “I had a fairly tough VH Commodore a few years back but my heart was set on a first generation Monaro that I wanted to build as a real 10-second street car.

“One day I was driving past John White Race Engines and spotted an HK out the front, for sale. I stopped in and started having a yarn with Martin White about the car, racing and all that kind of stuff. I didn’t end up buying that car but after having a yarn with those boys, I knew they really knew their stuff.

“A little while later I spotted an HT for sale in the Trading Post. It was just a painted shell that had almost nothing in it: no dash, steering column, interior or glass. It did have a 350 though, and a nine-inch. It was a good starting point for me.”

The paint had a few minor imperfections so he sent the car to Toowong Smash Repairs for a touch up and then gave Martin a call to see what engines they had kicking about.

“The whole idea was to have a 10-second street car that was really a street car. It had to run on unleaded and not break down or get hot. I wanted to stay with the small-block so I needed something that had plenty of balls.”

Luckily, a customer’s drag engine was for sale. It was in pieces but it had all the good gear.

“I rang the owner and cut a deal with him that worked out for both of us.”

Steve then got together with Martin to plan the build. As everything was to be rebuilt from scratch, Martin’s input was essential — especially when it came to setting the car up for drag racing.

Martin took charge of the suspension. The leaf springs were tossed in favour of a set of custom Fulcrum nine-pack leaves and Cal Trac bars. While rear brakes are still drums, a set of WB rotors was slotted to the front, with Koni shocks all around.

Bob Grant got the nod to build a tricked-up TH400 three-speed auto with a 5200rpm stall converter from the Converter Shop in Brisbane. To make the car nicer to drive, the converted Ford nine-inch differential was fitted with 31-spline Moser axles and a Detroit Locker rather than a spool.

In the comfort department, the front buckets were replaced with Jaz items to meet ANDRA technical requirements, and the whole interior was tastefully trimmed by Lee Brothers Motor Trimming in the standard black Monaro material.

“I think the hardest part of the build was trying to be patient,” Steve says. “Building a custom car is hard work — stuff just doesn’t fit like it’s supposed to but the first drive made it all worthwhile.”

On its maiden outing, Steve ran a 10.9@129mph and has since improved to a 10.45@127mph — through the mufflers, on BP Ultimate.

“Now we know how Steve likes to drive, we’ll hot the engine up,” Mick from John White Racing says. “Since he likes to go hard, we’ll bump up the compression to try a get a bit more out of the combination. We’re confident we can squeeze 700hp from the engine while still on pump gas.”


The Monaro’s 388ci engine combo is designed for maximum reliability and it’s filled with some of the best goodies around.

The block is a Chevy four-bolt Bowtie item with splayed steel caps, Velasco 35⁄8in crank, Manley six-inch H-beam conrods and a set of CP pistons.

Heads are 18-degree Trickflow items that flow 673hp at 650 lift. These are complemented by a Reed roller cam with 620 lift on the intake, 640 exhaust, and 106deg lobe separation. Then there are roller lifters and 1.65:1 and 1.55:1 T&D shaft-mounted rockers. As the engine was designed for total street use the compression is a conservative 10.5:1.

The air/fuel mix is fed through a 950hp Holley and a Victor 18-degree High Torque manifold, then fired by a billet MSD distributor and MSD 7 ignition.

The four-into-one headers and rollcage were all fabricated by Brian at Exhaust Innovations in Capalaba. The primaries are 17⁄8-inch, stepping up to two inches, and they flow into a dual 3½-inch exhaust system.


Donk:Chev 388
Crank:Velasco 35⁄8in stroke with Manley six-inch H-beam rods
Pistons:CP 10.5:1
Heads:Trickflow 18-degree with PSI springs, Manley valves
Induction:Victor Junior, Holley 950hp
Ignition:MSD 7, MSD distributor
Sump:High Energy Pro Bracket
Exhaust:Four-into-one primaries (17⁄8in stepped to two-inch), dual 3.5-inch system
Converter:Converter Shop 5200rpm
Tailshaft:Custom 3½-inch, billet yolks
Diff:Nine inch, 31-spline Moser axles, 4.11:1 gears, Detroit Locker
Springs:Custom Fulcrum nine-leaf spring pack, Cal Tracs (r)
Shocks:Koni 90/10 front
Brakes:PBR WB discs (f), HQ drum (r)
Belts:RCI Harnesses
Instruments:GTS Holden and Auto Meter
Shifter: Quarter Stick
Wheels:American Torque Thrust II, 18×7 (f), 20×9 (r)
Tyres:Nexen, 225/40 (f), 255/35 (r)

John White Racing; Exhaust Innovations; Toowong Smash Repairs; Full Race Fabrication; Lee Brothers Motor Trimming.