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Brawling belle: 1977 Holden Torana

12 June 2015


Built to dominate racetracks across New Zealand, Sean Fowler’s stunning Torana is a lesson in being both the meanest and the cleanest

The Enzed Central Muscle Cars series delivers as close to perfect racing as one can hope for in this day and age — what’s not to like about old-school muscle cars powered by cranky V8s slugging it out around New Zealand circuits, but blessed with grip, handling, and stopping power that just didn’t exist in the ’60s and ’70s? Unfortunately, not all of us are able to partake in such activities, but there are those amongst us who can. If you can, then you may as well go all out — that was the attitude taken by Sean Fowler, and his beautiful Torana sedan is the result. 

The Holden Torana is the stuff of legend, held in the highest regard by Australasian motorsports fans, regardless of which side of the Holden-Ford fence they sit on — it truly is up there with the Falcon XY GT-HOs and VJ Valiant R/Ts of the world. The name “Torana” is derived from an Aboriginal word meaning “to fly”, which is rather fitting, as the Torana forged its legend by dominating Australian racing in the 1970s with the astonishing speed that its high power and low weight yielded. 

Fast forward to present-day New Zealand, and Clarke Hopkins is widely regarded as one of the faster drivers on the CMC grid, his stunning gunmetal-grey Torana hatch never far from the head of the pack. Sean was one of the Hopkins Torana’s sponsors for some time and, after Clarke took him for a hot lap in the car, he just knew he had to get in on the action. We all know those plans that come to life over a box of beer, most of which, fortunately, will never see the light of day. Sean’s idea to enter CMC came developed over a few bottles of the good stuff, as he was persuaded into joining what can be described as more of a friendship featuring awesome cars than a racing series. 

Being a fan of old Holdens, and Clarke’s nifty little Torana, Sean began the hunt for a suitable vehicle. As luck would have it, a Torana shell was found in a Morrinsville cowshed and was sent off to Heads Racing Supplies, for the magic touch that Rodney Heads had brought to Clarke’s car. The Torana’s body was stripped, and strengthening work was commenced, in pursuit of capability through the twisty bits. Rodney completely redesigned the front end and suspension, as well as fabricated an enlarged transmission tunnel. Whilst he was at it, he built up a roll cage to suit the Torana and seamlessly grafted it into the Torana’s tidy bodyshell.

With the car’s body looking like something resembling a track-ready car, some intensive work went into mounting the engine, as Rodney began to think of the “go” side of the equation. That “go” would be provided by a very serious bit of kit. Following a recent CMC rule amendment allowing the use of (some) LS-series engines in Holden cars, Rodney began designing a reliable, high-horsepower engine combo based on an LS. The engine was to start with a cast-iron Dart LS Next block, handed over to Ray Neilson for assembly, and filled with forged JE pistons, Oliver rods, and Callies crankshaft, all held together by ARP fasteners, displacing an almighty 393ci.

The heads are CNC ported items courtesy of AFR, dressed with Jesel rockers and PAC valve springs and retainers. An Edelbrock Super Victor manifold, Holley Ultra HP 850 carb, custom headers, and three-inch exhaust all pull together to help the powerplant breathe. An MSD front-mount distributor was installed, and a very serious fuel delivery system found its way into the boot. Two VDO lift pumps reside within the 60-litre fuel cell, with a MagnaFuel main pump ensuring that the engine is never left wanting for fuel. 

The end result of this is a phenomenal 718hp at the flywheel, which translates to 630hp at the rears, once it’s been channelled through the G-Force 101A dog-engagement gearbox. The very trick gearbox is about as tough as they come, and has REM polished gears, with a Quartermaster 7¼-inch triple plate clutch chosen to harness every last ounce of the LSX’s fury. This is sent rearwards through a Regal Automotive Reconditioners custom driveshaft, featuring billet yokes, to an equally tough nine inch, comprising Heads Racing custom housing, Strange alloy carrier, Truetrac centre, and Endeavour Engineering & Tooling fully floating hubs. With a driveline this tough, it’s going to take quite some abuse before anything gives up the ghost. 

With the Torana now capable of reaching stratospheric speeds with ease, it was up to Rodney to sort out a way to guide it around a circuit smoothly and reliably. This meant some intensive suspension and brake work, and the resultant handling package is capable of out-driving anything this side of a V8 Supercar. The redesigned suspension geometry was complemented with custom Heads Racing coilovers, made up of Bilstein shocks and King springs up front, and Integra Racing springs at the rear, working in conjunction with a custom three-link set-up. 

Keeping the Torana flat around corners came down to custom knife blade sway bars front and rear, developed between Heads Racing and Endeavour Engineering — these ultra-serious pieces are of chromoly construction, with 4340 steel blades, and keep everything in place under even the most demanding of track conditions. 

The all-or-nothing nature of this build saw the braking system designed as seriously as everything else in the car. Billet AP Racing calipers, with six pistons in the front and four in the back, clamp down on enormous AP rotors under the instruction of a Tilton floor-mounted pedal box. 

Finishing off the Torana’s corner-carving set-up are a set of Simmons FR17 three-piece rims wrapped in CMC-standard Hankook Ventus tyres and controlled by a Nascar-spec Woodward collapsible steering column. Rodney being New Zealand’s official Simmons distributor would no doubt have helped here, and, though Simmons FR-series rims are actually quite a common sight in the CMC series, they look absolutely perfect on the Torana. That just-right stance so reminiscent of the toughest race cars of yesteryear can’t be beaten, and this Torana absolutely nails it. 

Though a vehicle could be the most immaculately presented race car of the year, exterior aesthetics don’t mean much when you’re strapped into the driver’s seat, fanging around Hampton Downs, as Sean was planning to be. Fortunately, Rodney’s attention to detail did not end outside the car and, for a race car, the Torana’s interior is a superb place to spend any amount of time — but preferably 10 flat-out laps with the LSX near limiter. Sean is held firmly in place by a Racetech seat, with another in the shotgun position, which means that others can also experience the racer in full flight. AccuTech gauges monitor the LSX’s vitals, and a long-reach shifter sitting on the expertly pumped-up transmission tunnel not only looks the part but has been designed to work with the driver’s seating position, which is set farther back than the Torana’s original armchair of a seat. 

The attention to detail really is that good, especially for a race car, and includes neatly hidden wiring leading to a fuse box stashed in the glovebox. However, the icing on the cake is the pair of beautiful custom dimple-died floor plates — they didn’t need to be of such a high standard, but they are, and they set off the whole interior. 

Incredibly, all the work was performed in house at Heads Racing Supplies, with the sole exception of the panel and paint work, which was outsourced to Moselle Panel and Paint, where the Torana was expertly lathered in PPG’s finest arctic white hue. 

The sum of all of the work that has been poured into this Torana equals a truly stunning car, on a par with cars built solely for show duties — the only difference is that those cars get trailered to sit on display, whilst this one gets trailered to get the living hell flogged out of it. Clarke Hopkins, whose own Torana is no slouch, took Sean’s around the track for a shakedown run, and was more than impressed with the car’s power delivery and road holding, announcing, “I’ve got to get me one of these [LSX]!” 

If a racer as experienced as Clarke can be wowed by this car, then Sean’s maiden CMC season is going to be some serious fun with the seriously heavy artillery the Torana’s packing. Keep your eyes on this one — a perfectly presented Torana, more than 700 horses on tap, and a driver who’s eager to get out there and make some noise; sounds like a perfect recipe to us!

Old Holdens, new motors 
CMC rules state that “the engine block must be the same style and material as used in the production vehicle”. This has opened Chevrolet and Ford vehicles up to Nascar engines that still utilize the fundamental small-block design. It was the lack of an aftermarket Holden 308/304 block that prompted the CMC committee to allow the use of alloy GM LSX blocks or cast-iron Dart LS Next blocks in Holden vehicles. This decision has solved the problem of sourcing the increasingly scarce Holden small block, allowing Holden vehicles to remain competitive against the growing field of Nascar-powered monsters.

Sean’s Torana was featured in NZV8 Issue No. 117 (February 2015). You can grab a copy here


  • Vehicle: 1977 Holden Torana SLR5000
  • Engine: 393ci LSX, Dart block, JE forged pistons, Oliver rods, Callies crankshaft, ARP fasteners, CNC ported AFR heads, Jesel rockers, PAC springs, PAC retainers, Holley Ultra HP 850 carb, Edelbrock Super Victor manifold, MSD front-mount distributor, MSD 6AL ignition control, custom headers. three-inch exhaust and muffler, alloy radiator, dry sump, twin VDO in-tank lift pumps, MagnaFuel main pump
  • Driveline: G-Force 101A four-speed dog box, REM polished gears, Quartermaster 7¼-inch triple plate clutch, Heads Racing 9-inch diff housing, Strange alloy carrier, Truetrac centre, Endeavour Engineering & Tooling fully floating hubs, Regal Automotive Reconditioners custom driveshaft, billet yokes
  • Suspension: Custom Heads Racing coilovers, Bilstein shocks, King springs (front), Integra Racing springs (rear), custom blade sway bars
  • Brakes: Tilton floor-mounted pedal box, billet AP Racing six-piston calipers (front), billet AP Racing four-piston calipers (rear), AP Racing 325mm rotors (front), Wilwood 298mm rotors (rear)
  • Wheels/Tyres: 17×10½-inch Simmons FR 17 three-piece rims, Hankook Ventus 275/40 ZR17 tyres
  • Exterior: PPG arctic white, fibreglass splitter, fibreglass guard extensions
  • Chassis: Custom chassis, enlarged transmission tunnel, Heads Racing front end
  • Interior: Racetech bucket seats, Woodward collapsible steering column, Heads Racing roll cage, Torana dash, AccuTech gauges, hidden fuse box, custom floor plates, custom gear lever
  • Performance: 630hp (at the wheels) at 6800rpm