Imagine you’re down at the local cafe one Sunday morning, sipping on a coffee, when you hear the disruption of peace that could only come courtesy of an angry, obnoxious V8 engine. Before you can consider that the noise you’re hearing is surely too aggressive for just one car, a pair of Holden Toranas — draped in vivid hues of blue and orange, respectively — rumble past before vanishing from sight and, a good few minutes later, earshot. You’d either be bloody confused, wondering what the hell you’d just seen, or bloody excited, wondering what the hell you’d just seen.
Well, to answer that, we’ll turn to the cars in question. The two Toranas are owned by two mates, who also share the name ‘Dave’ — although that’s about where the similarities end. The bright blue Torana UC is owned by Dave Wyatt, and, with its low ride height, dished rims, and huge blower aiming at the sky, has been injected with a double shot of aggression it could otherwise never have hoped to achieve. Dave Marsh’s equally bright Torana LH looks just as tough, but in a retro kind of way — wide Cheviot Hotwires, bolt-on flares and spoilers, and a satin-black bonnet combine to give the appearance of a ’70s Bathurst racer that has time-warped to 2015.
Both Daves — we’ll call them Dave W and Dave M, to make it easier — came into their Toranas through a deep-seated love for the cars that could only have come from being raised around them, in families that flew the Holden flag high.
The story behind Dave W’s UC begins with his purchase of the car in 1997. At the time, the car was in totally original condition: silver paint, red interior, and glorious 202ci straight-six and three-speed. He copped a bit of a ribbing from his mates, as it looked just like a woeful Holden Sunbird, but Dave didn’t care; at the time, he only planned to used it as a work car — how things change! At some point, Dave’s mates came up with the name ‘Moondog’ (the opposite of ‘Sunbird’) and the name stuck — so, too, did Dave’s affection for the car. As he and his mates enjoyed more and more good times cruising around in the Torana, he began to formulate a plan to shove a V8 into the car and do it up while he was at it.
Luckily for Dave, his grandfather, Sonny Curel, was an old-school panel beater with 40-odd years of experience. He’d taught Dave some of the tricks of the trade a few years earlier on an old Subaru, and Dave felt comfortable taking his hand to the Torana’s bodywork.
In 1999, the Torana was stripped completely and prepared for panel and paint. In a stroke of good fortune, Dave found barely any rust or bog, and the car was soon ready for a new coat of paint. A fresh coat of forest green was applied by a local painter, and Dave was stoked with the car’s appearance. All it needed now was a proper motor under the bonnet.
When Dave M was growing up, his dad — known as ‘Marshy’ — worked for Winstone Aggregates at the Mt Wellington quarry, and had a variety of company cars, all of which were Holdens. One of these was a Torana LH, of which he was particularly fond, and Dave says this is where his passion for Holdens, especially Toranas, came from.
Over the years, Dave went through a number of cars, but always had a soft spot for the LH. After a 12-year stint in Australia, he returned to New Zealand following the birth of his first child, and his desire to own an LH became a distinct possibility. A long, fruitless search ensued, before Dave came across a former drag car in Tokoroa — first impressions weren’t great, but, as Dave talked to the owner and looked more closely at the Torana, he began to see the car’s huge potential.
“He told me that this was the second Torana he’d owned. His original car had come off the trailer on the way back from drag racing at Meremere,” explains Dave. “He found this car in an old guy’s shed, and converted it into a drag car, with the running gear out of his old Torana.”
It was a done deal, and Dave couldn’t get the Torana back home quickly enough. On getting home, he realized he’d need help unloading the car from the trailer, so he phoned Marshy to ask for a hand.
“Before I could hang up, he was at the door,” Dave tells us. “He had a smile a mile wide when he saw it — not only because he liked the car, but because it was a V8.”
Just a quick do-up
Remember — in the days before Trade Me — the print publication called Trade & Exchange? That’s where Dave W came across an advertisement for an ex–drag car engine, sold by Rotorua V8 Performance. It sounded just the ticket for his UC, so Dave trekked down to Rotorua with a mate to check it out. It sure looked perfect: a tunnel rammed 350ci small block Chev with ‘Fuelie’ heads, 11:1 compression, and twin 600cfm Holleys — the fact that it had run 11-second quarter-miles in another car sealed the deal. A few bottles of beer later, and Dave was homeward bound with his new motor in tow. Back home, the small block was bolted to a GM TH350, with a Ford nine-inch diff out back — the combo proved to be pretty bulletproof, and after years of good times and even better skids, Dave decided that it was again time to give the Torana a freshen-up.
The car was stripped again, and Dave enlisted the help of his mate Robert Schedewy to soda blast the car. A few small patches of rust were found, but most of the panels still had their factory zinc coating after all those years, which sure was reassuring. Countless hours of massaging and touching up the steelwork, and the Torana was ready for ready for paint.
This time around, Dave decided he’d tackle the painting himself, and chose PPG Blueprint Blue to match the colour of the trucks on his fleet. He rigged up a makeshift booth in his garage, with an extractor fan to clear dust and overspray, and got to work. First time around, the old spray gun left him with a stripy finish that he was less than happy with. Not one to give up that easily, Dave bought a new spray gun, block sanded the bodywork back again, and went in for attempt number two — success!
“I called up my grandfather and asked him to come down for a quality check,” Dave says. “His comment was ‘Some paint shops can’t even do a finish that good!’ Naturally, I was chuffed.”
Sonny wasn’t lying, either — although the paint is around four years old now, it still looks as good as new.
The months following Dave M’s purchase of the Torana were good ones. With more than 600hp on tap, thanks to the nitrous-equipped small block it used to be fitted with — hence the ‘600LH’ number plate — fun was guaranteed. Using that kind of power the way it’s meant to be used puts a bit of strain on mechanicals, and Dave decided to pull the tired motor out of the car for a freshen-up. Of course, as we all know, one does not simply pull a motor out of a car without taking the opportunity to tidy up the rest of the car.
Dave sanded the Torana right back to bare metal, finding only one tiny patch of rust near the corner of the front windscreen. Realizing that he had a rare example of a virtually rust-free old Holden, Dave quickly set about building it into his dream car. He chose deep orange for the bodywork, with matte black for the bonnet and accents — finished in this colour scheme, rolling on beefy Hotwires and chunky rubber, it really does look like the quintessential ’70s Aussie muscle car. While the painting was taking place, Marshy would call in frequently to check on progress — he especially liked looking underneath, at the meticulous paintwork and the detail that had gone into the work on the car. That attention to detail is exemplified by the underside and items such as the suspension control arms and sway bars, all of which have been coated in a matching shade of orange.
While Dave W was prepping the UC for its new coat of paint, he was also keeping busy by turning his attention to the engine — a bottom-end overhaul, and some nice and shiny bits had it all looking grouse. With his freshly reconditioned TH350, he was all ready to go — well, until he went to back the car out of the garage and found out that he had no reverse.
“I dropped the pan off to find the filter floating in sludge,” Dave says. “This was someone else’s shit that hadn’t even been touched!”
However, showing his usual steely determination, Dave took the car down to his mate Cliffy, a retired transmission builder, who was keen to do the work. Thankfully, the guy who originally ‘reconditioned’ the transmission came through for the parts and labour, and Dave ended up with a better, stronger transmission. With this hurdle overcome, he worked day and night to get the car ready for the closely approaching Beach Hop.
“I got her ready around lunchtime on the Friday — still covered in shit, I was straight off with my eldest boy, Zayde,” he says.
Over the year, Dave got to thinking that he’d like a new engine. A call to Al Shadwick, at Al’s Blower Drives, had him sorted pretty quickly. An Edelbrock crate motor was subjected to a few minor modifications before it was ready for a TBS 6–71 billet supercharger, with twin Edelbrock 500cfm carbs, to be bolted onto it. That shiny tower of metal protruding from the bonnet was just what the Torana needed to pump its performance and stance into Dave’s good books.
All that was really left on the to-do list was the exterior brightwork. Dave removed the Torana’s bumpers years ago, hating that they looked like design afterthoughts. After years of talking about it, he finally got hold of a panel beater who helped him to get the bumpers just right — around 60mm of overall width was taken out of them, and they now sit flush with the body.
“It took me a while to get used to seeing her with bumpers on, but they finished the car beautifully,” he says.
The final piece in the puzzle was the wheels — they make or break the car. Fortunately, Lance from Arrow Wheels was a huge help, giving Dave a few wheels to test fit. Dave says Lance came and measured them right down to the millimetre for the best fit. The custom-barrelled wheels the Torana now wears are spot on. They’ve got that old-school Simmons B45 style, but with a modern design that ties in perfectly with the overall theme of the car. Having owned the Torana for nearly half his life, Dave says it isn’t going anywhere, and he’ll continue to work on it for as long as he can — he’s already got one hell of a story, so imagine where he’ll be after another 18 years of memories.
Unfortunately, over in the Marsh camp, things weren’t going so well. Marshy passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, and the Torana build came to a complete halt. A few months passed before Dave found the motivation to complete the car, for Marshy as much as for himself. The small block Chev and TH400 were rebuilt — while he was at it, the engine was toned down to be more street friendly — and the diff gained a Trac-Lok LSD head.
Every night that winter, Dave toiled away in the garage, putting the Torana back together to a standard that would do him, and Marshy, proud. Come spring 2007, all the running gear was back in the car, and by summer it was ready for its first road test.
“It was an emotional and exciting day when I took it out, and I know my dad would have been over the moon to be there for the first test drive,” Dave claims. From there, Dave has continued to upgrade the car to the way it is today, knowing that it would have given Marshy the greatest pleasure. We’re sure he’d love to see it now, looking like something plucked off Conrod Straight in the mid ’70s. Those bulging flares, rear ducktail spoiler, and aggressive bonnet all look great, but it’s what you can’t see — the passion that Dave poured into the build — that really marks this car as something special.
The end result of the dedication that both Daves have put into both their Toranas is evident. They both love to get out there with their families and make the most out of their sweet cars. So, the next time you see, or hear, a pair of vibrant Toranas causing a racket down the road, don’t be confused — it’s just some good mates reaping the fruits of many years of labour.
- Vehicle: 1979 Holden Torana UC
- Engine: 350ci small block Chev, 9:1 compression ratio, JP gear drive, Crower blower-grind camshaft, Edelbrock E-Street cylinder heads, TBS 6–71 billet supercharger, twin Edelbrock 500cfm carburettors, Edelbrock mechanical fuel pump, Edelbrock fuel pressure regulator, MSD distributor, MSD coil, MSD leads, stainless block-hugger headers, twin 2½-inch stainless exhaust, Alco alloy radiator, electric fan, transmission cooler
- Driveline: GM TH350 transmission, shift kit, 2500rpm high stall converter, nine-inch diff, LSD head, 2.5:1 ratio, 28-spline axles
- Suspension: King Springs, Nolathane bushes, uprated sway bars
- Brakes: Standard booster, Holden HQ front calipers, Holden HQ vented and slotted rotors, Holden HQ rear drums
- Wheels/Tyres: 17×7-inch and 17×8-inch Arrow Wheels custom wheels, 235/45R17 Goodyear tyres
- Exterior: PPG Blueprint Blue, fibreglass bonnet, rolled guards, narrowed bumpers
- Interior: Autosport fixed-back bucket seats, Momo steering wheel, Auto Meter gauges, Pioneer head unit, Pioneer 6×9-inch speakers
- Performance: Untested
- Vehicle: 1975 Holden Torana LH
- Engine: 355ci small block Chev, forged alloy pistons, forged steel crankshaft, four-bolt mains, standard heads, hardened valve seats, double valve springs, roller rockers with guide plates and screw-in studs, high-lift camshaft, Weiand single-plane intake manifold, 670cfm Holley Street Avenger carburettor, Holley fuel pump, Holley fuel regulator, MSD distributor, MSD 6A ignition, MSD leads, Hurricane headers, 2½-inch exhaust, Flowmaster mufflers, custom alloy radiator, 16-inch puller fan, 10-inch pusher fan, transmission cooler
- Driveline: GM TH400 transmission, upgraded clutches, shift kit, 2500rpm stall converter, nine-inch diff, Trac-Lok LSD, 3:1 ratio, 31-spline axles
- Suspension: King Springs Super Low springs, Monroe GT shocks (front), Koni shocks (rear), Nolathane bushes, uprated sway bars
- Brakes: Holden HQ booster, Holden HQ master cylinder, Holden HQ front calipers, Holden HQ vented and slotted discs, Ford rear drums
- Wheels/Tyres: 14×8-inch Cheviot Hotwire wheels, 245/50R14 and 265/50R14 Yokohama tyres
- Interior: Custom retrim, Sportline steering wheel, B&M shifter, Auto Meter gauges, Panasonic head unit, six speakers, Fusion amp, Pioneer sub
- Performance: Untested
This article was originally published in NZV8 Issue No. 126. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: