Steve Santos’s turbo slant-powered AP5 Valiant

Steve Santos smashed out this gorgeous AP5 Valiant in only four months as a 70th-birthday present for his dad

Photographers: Ben Hosking

If there was an award for Son of the Year, surely Steve Santos would be right up there in the running. After all, how many other people out there have built a car as a birthday present for their dad? There’s nothing like a deadline to get you motivated, and Steve’s was just four months away: his dad’s 70th birthday.

First published in the April 2022 issue of Street Machine

“I was initially building an EJ wagon for him,” Steve explains, “but once I got into it, I started to like the car myself, and it was becoming too much of an engine combo for him. So I thought, ‘Bugger it, I’m keeping this.’ So, I finished the EJ and literally had four months until his 70th.”

The new plan was to find an AP5 Valiant, as Steve’s dad would always reminisce about the one he had as a young bloke. Due to the very short build time, Steve knew he had to start off with a prime example, and where better to look than the birthplace of Aussie Vals, Adelaide.

“I drove to Adelaide and found one that had a great body. I paid a premium for it because it had been restored to original and it had a lot of work done on the body,” he says. “When I started speed-filing it back, there were a couple of little rough spots that I had to fix.”

The engine bay is where Steve and his mate Tito did a bunch of metalwork. The inner guards on a stock AP5 are nowhere near as smooth as what you see on this car. Steve also mounted the radiator overflow and wiper washer bottle under the inner guards; you can see the lids just poking through. The firewall also got smoothed out, but this was done with a flat panel that also allowed the hoses and wiring to be hidden.

When Steve purchased the car, it was painted a peachy/creamy colour with a red interior. The previous owner had been an apprentice mechanic at Chrysler when the AP5 first came out, so mechanically it was pretty good as well. While Steve kept the bulk of those mechanicals stock – more on that later – the paint and interior had to change, and Steve knew exactly what colour it had to be.

“The two prerequisites in my head were that it needed to be push-button auto and it needed to be red, because that’s what dad’s was and they were the stories I remember as a kid,” he says.

“I would never do a red car for myself, but I’ve always liked the Mazda Soul Red, so I went to Canberra Bodyworks to talk about it. Soul Red is a three-layer system, so I ended up picking something from the Sikkens book that was close and just a clear-over-base,” Steve continues.

At first glance, you might assume that the car has a vinyl roof, but it’s actually painted black, not to imitate vinyl but to add a more modern touch. “We did the EJ like that,” Steve says. “Initially we were going to do an off-white roof for
that, but my trimmer Gavin Lockwood suggested we do it black like the new Range Rovers, so we carried the same idea across to the Valiant.”

Where this car gets really interesting is when you pop the bonnet. It’s not too often you see a slant-six these days, especially one that’s got a turbo hanging off the side. This one really does live up to the ‘Leaning Tower of Power’ nickname. There isn’t a giant front-mount intercooler hanging out under the bumper, and while that would no doubt improve the performance and efficiency of the turbo set-up, that wasn’t Steve’s aim with this build.

“It’s only running 6psi, so it was more of a look thing than really chasing power, because it was just for Dad,” he says. “It looks good, drives really, really nice and it’s smooth. When you pull up somewhere and someone wants to have a look, you open the bonnet and they’re like, ‘Wow!’ It’s not something you see every day.”

Not having an intercooler also simplified the plumbing and fabrication required – Steve was facing a time crunch, after all – so the selection of the Holley Super Sniper 2300 EFI made a lot of sense. The self-contained unit only needs a handful of wires to hook up and the injectors are built-in, so there’s no need to mount injectors into the intake. It’s also a self-learning unit, although Steve admits it lost its memory and left his dad stranded on one occasion.

One thing you can’t fault is how neat the engine bay looks and the effort Steve and Tito went to with the blacked-out engine and finned dress-up gear. The rocker cover and oil cap were sourced from Aussiespeed; in fact, three oil caps were sourced – one for the engine and two more that were modified and used to cover the shock mounts. The other finned parts were either fabricated or modified to match, with the master cylinder lid made from an LS valley cover. The carb hat was already finned but was machined to match the rocker cover more closely.

So, did Steve manage to surprise his dad? “He had no idea about the Valiant,” he says. “He knew I was building the EJ; I don’t think he thought it was for him – he might have hoped it was for him – but he had seen it and it was no secret. With the Valiant, because it was only four months, we managed to keep it away from him, which was hard, because I had to keep the roller door closed even when it was hot, just in case he rocked up unannounced – as parents do.”

A car like this doesn’t happen by itself, and Steve has a group of talented people around him who have helped out on many of his builds. But the one that always gets a mention in Steve’s many magazine features (see more, below) is Tito Contreras: “He is a great friend who has a panel beating background and has been there from the beginning,” he says.

“He has always helped, from the day I purchased the car through to the day of the photoshoot. Traditionally, he has done the major panelwork and I would do the finer details behind him, but after an accident three years ago where he broke his back, these days I do the major bodywork and he does the ‘little things’ – not his favourite task. I learnt my panel skills from watching him for many years.”

As well as skilled people, the other thing you need is time; you just can’t get it done unless you put the hours in: “For those four months, I got up every single morning at 4am, did three hours before I went to work, then get home at 4:30 or 5pm and worked through to 9 o’clock most nights.”

Steve unveiled both the Valiant and the EJ at Summernats 34, with both making the Top 60 – an absolutely amazing feat – so you’d think he might take a bit of a break. Nope, he’s already started another project! All he’ll say is that it’s got a Holden badge and it’s made in Australia, but it’s a pretty big departure from what he normally builds. Keep an eye out for the EJ in an upcoming issue, and no doubt it won’t be too long before his latest project is done – and more than likely gracing Street Machine.


The Valiant is the fourth car of Steve’s to have featured in Street Machine – and his EJ wagon will soon follow suit.

His first feature car was an immaculate VL Calais (above) packing a Vortech-blown, EFI Holden V8 (SM, Mar ’01).

His genuine VL Walkinshaw (above) won the first-ever Summernats Horsepower Heroes comp back in the 90s when it was owned by Anthony Fabris. Steve took the already-legendary Walky to even greater heights, adding twin turbos to the Holden V8, draping the black paint in a heavily flaked overlay, redoing the interior in tan leather and fitting monster 22in wheels (SM, Jul ’06).

Steve then jumped across to the Blue Oval and built BOSSXY (above), featuring a centrifugally supercharged Boss 5.4, big Simmons rims and killer detailing (SM, Jan ’18).


Paint: Sikkens red and black
Type: 225ci slant-six
Inlet: Aussiespeed
Induction: Holley Super Sniper 2300
Turbo: Aeroflow Boosted 5449 
Head & cam: Stock
Crank & conrods: Stock 
Radiator: Fenix aluminium with twin thermo fans
Exhaust: 2.5in single system 
Ignition: ICE
Trans: Torqueflite push-button auto
Diff: BA Falcon, Truetrac, billet axles
Front: Torsion bar, Koni shocks
Rear: Lowered leaf springs, Koni shocks
Shocks: Koni (f & r)
Steering: EPAS Performance power steering
Brakes: Wilwood discs (f), BA Falcon discs (r)
Rims: BCI Wheels Smoothie; 20×7 (f), 20×8 (r)
Rubber: 215/35R20 (f), 245/35R20 (r)


Jake Edwards at Jake’s Performance for the engine, tuning and constant advice on the drivetrain; the team at Canberra Bodyworks for paint; Gavin Lockwood at GAS Auto Trim for the interior trim; Tito Contreras for help throughout the entire build; Rob Sharp for help with wiring and troubleshooting