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555-cube blown big-block 1978 Holden LX Torana - flashback

By Craig Parker | Photos: Peter Bateman, 08 Sep 2019 Features

555-cube blown big-block 1978 Holden LX Torana - flashback

There are mind-blowing drag cars, there are flawless show cars and then there's Karl Wicht's insane LX Torana hatchback

FROM a distance, Karl Wicht’s LX hatchback looks like any other drag car — albeit with killer stance and superb paint. It’s not ’til you get up close and start to notice the myriad details that you realise this missile is in a whole other league.

This article was first published in the March 2013 issue of Street Machine

Holden Torana engine bayYes, it’s likely to run bloody fast (mid to high sixes) but merely categorising it as a fast race car is nigh-on heresy. It’s a veritable fabrication tour de force. Anybody who’s ever fashioned a custom bracket, cover, mount or lever should be in awe of the car Karl calls PRO A9X.

It’s clear somebody forget to tell Karl the old drag racing adage ‘glitter doesn’t make you go faster’ because this car is jam-packed with beautiful design, brilliant craftsmanship and superb finish — there’s even detail under the details.

While the who’s who of car crafting has been involved in the seven-year build, Karl’s main partner in crime was Paul Librio from Allyworks. Karl owns an import-wholesale fashion and jewellery business, so he has a keen eye for detail, while Paul was trained in graphic design — a match made in heaven, as they both got to indulge their passions in every single bracket and panel.

Watch next: Karl's Brock livery LX Torana hatch at the APSA Sydney drags

Holden LX Torana hatchback“Once you’ve had nice curves you can’t go back,” Karl says. “We’d speak for hours and hours over the detail on even the most insignificant piece; Telstra made a fortune out of us!”

“Karl was the best customer,” Paul agrees. “Travis Langman [another fabricator] and I would give Karl four or five options on how to make a particular piece; including cost differences. Without exception, Karl chose the nicest way every time. It was always going to be a nice car — that’s why it took so long to build.”

Paul would draw concepts up and send them to Karl, who’d reply with some suggestions. On and on it went and it didn’t stop there; once they settled on the form, there were the engineering drawings, programming, machining, polishing, plating and the fit-up — every piece went through four or five companies! However, this painstaking attention to detail really shows in the final product.

Read next: Nitrous 622-cube 1974 Holden LH Torana

Holden LX Torana hatchbackWith Karl based in Leeton, NSW, and Paul in Castlemaine, Vic, Karl racked up plenty of miles toing and froing, and along the way, Karl and Paul’s families have become the best of friends.

But while the build began with Pro Street Blown in mind, 10.5 Outlaw will now be the car’s playground.

“When the build started, the fast Pro Street guys were running mid-sevens,” Karl says, “so I thought I’d shoot for mid-sixes.”

With this in mind they booked an appointment with chassis maestro Murray Anderson — Paul’s previous employer. The original plan was to build an LC but Murray was adamant that if it had to be a Torana, “it’s an LX or nothing”. His sound reasoning was that the LX’s longer wheelbase provides greater stability and you can get the weight down lower.

Read more: 511-cube blown big-block Holden LH Torana - ONIT

Holden LX Torana hatchback parachuteFor easy adjustment of the rear shocks from the top, without having to disassemble this wing and ’chute set-up, the carbon-fibre hatch was converted into a two-piece arrangement with a separate boot lid

This is the only major change in the whole build.

Yes, plenty of parts were remade but that was more due to advances in technology or engine configuration than a change in direction.

“It didn’t really evolve,” Karl says. “It was always going to look like this. It just took a very long time to get there.”

Read next: Twin-turbo LS-powered 1977 Holden LX Torana hatch

Holden LX Torana hatchbackThe chrome-moly ’cage is very similar to one Murray built for Ben Bray’s Monaro Doorslammer. He even fitted his innovative PowerLink rear end, just like Benny’s car.

Keeping with the Doorslammer influence, the body can be unbolted from the chassis and lifted off in one piece. Speaking of the body, it’s all stock apart from the lengthened and re-profiled rear wheel arches that were necessary to clear the huge slicks.

However, that’s not to say there’s a whole lot of GM metal left. The doors, guards, nosecone, bonnet, bumpers and hatch are carbon-fibre, while the inner door pillars, rear hatch bracing and roof bracing have all been eradicated.

Holden LX Torana hatchback engineCheck out the Wilson elbow and 110mm Holley throttlebody but don’t ignore the CNC-machined adaptor between the two or the trick two-piece firewall intake plate. Travis Langman (a long-time Perkins Engineering fabricator) introduced this scalloped theme on the wheel tubs and it was carried throughout the vehicle. Then there are the military firewall fittings, countersunk windscreen bolts and 12-point stainless fasteners for the rocker covers and the beautifully sculptured throttle bracket; 12-point nuts and bolts were used throughout the car, even inside the doors

“There are so many double and triple panels, it added more than 10kg,” Karl says. And every bit counts when you’re trying to get it all down to a race-ready 2900lb (1315kg).

Mick Reed used his talents to fine-tune the bodywork, with Waddington’s covering it all in tinter white and A9X style blackouts.

Holden Torana engine

After dialling in the current 555ci BBC and F3R 131mm ProCharger combo and sorting the chassis to run some times, Karl and the boys intend to drop in a larger billet alloy mill and a bigger (136mm) ProCharger. If some is good, more is better!

Powering the car down the track is a 555ci big-block Chev with a gear-driven F3R 131mm supercharger hanging off the front. That works in conjunction with the huge cabin-mounted water-to-air intercooler.

Developed over a number of years, Dandy Engines looked after the final build, with plenty of input from Proline Engines USA. Highlights include the Merlin III block, AFR alloy heads, Big Stuff 3 EFI, MSD 7 and a high-end AMS-1000 that provides precise boost control. This gear-driven front-mount configuration may not be common in Australia but Karl points out that US racers are posting good times with them.

Holden LX Torana hatchback roof liningBacking the brutish mill is an Extreme Monster Powerglide from Mike’s Transmissions in the States. “They’ve done a few gearboxes for me in the past and Mike’s been awesome,” Karl says.

At the rear is more of Mr Anderson’s handiwork: a Doorslammer-style fabricated housing filled with a Mark Williams full-spool, 3.5 gears and very short gun-drilled 40-spline axles. Enzo from Wollongong was recruited to wire the entire car.

With the chassis and motivation sorted, it was time for the real work — fitting it out. Which is where Karl and Paul went wild.

“Access to laser-cutters and CNC machining has opened up a world of possibilities,” Paul says. “You can think up all these nice organic shapes in your head, draw them out and get it lasered or CNC’d in no time. This allows you to incorporate extremely complex and accurate design details.”

Holden LX Torana hatchback interiorDetails abound inside; highlights include carbon-fibre dash, billet kick strips, ornate ’chute lever, ‘Torana’-embossed foot plate, fabricated pedals, Hurst shifter mount, tinwork on the seat and tunnel, beautifully finished rollcage, screen-hugging extended cowl and the billet dash panel for the Racepak and AMS displays

The front hubs are a case in point. They were custom designed and CNC machined to follow the contours of the custom designed and laser-cut brake rotors and American Racing front wheels.

Ivan Bishop from North Central Engineering is the bloke responsible for all this CNC wizardry.

Holden LX ToranaKarl calls the beautifully sculpted parts like these door hinges the jewellery. And PRO A9X has thousands more pieces of jewellery waiting to surprise you 

On board from day one, nothing was too much bother for him and he often whittled pieces overnight to keep the build moving.

Even with the CNC and laser-cut trickery, there are still mountains of hand-fabricated pieces. And to highlight all these exquisite shapes, every part was sent away for coating. Some went to Rapid Powder Coating for a gloss black finish, the rest went to Precision Plating (steel) and Electromold (aluminium) for anodising or the Showroom Nickel/Super Nickel that creates the stylish titanium/gold you can see here. Nothing was chromed.

Holden LX ToranaThe door handle on most drag cars is piece of flat aluminium bar rounded off at the end, and it’s accessed through an opening cut with a hole saw. Not in PRO A9X. This is indicative of the thought, design and quality of every single mount, bracket, adaptor, support and panel in this Torana. This handle has been designed to engage with your fingers. It was carved from billet using a custom router bit, then polished and electroplated. The access hole follows the shape of the handle. The edge left by laser cutting was polished smooth. Multiply that by a few thousand components and you start to see what this car is all about

Protecting this work of art is a fire suppression system with nozzles placed strategically around the vehicle. Ray from HIS Hose sourced all the stainless and alloy plumbing for the fire and brake systems, while the rest of the Torana’s plumbing needs were catered for by Tim at Carshop Inc (USA) using XRP HS-79 hoses and ends.

While not a flat-out 24/7 build, it was a very intense seven years and Karl says he couldn’t have done it without the support of his partner, Terri, as well as his family and friends.

Holden LX Torana hatchbackNo boring flat mounting panels for this beast. The mount for the MSD Digital-7 and MSD Power Grid System Controller was laser-cut from plate, then folded and welded into place. It sports perfectly aligned bolt holes and same ‘swoosh’ pattern you’ll find elsewhere in the car, including the door trims, interior trim panels, various levers and even the brake rotors! Note the lack of seams and spot welds in the door jamb; it’s smoothed and finished like a high-end elite show car

But after pouring so much time and effort into the Torrie and it turning out to be such a beauty, you might wonder if Karl will ever use it.

“I’m hanging to go racing!” he says. “That’s what we built it for. Now she’s finished, I just want to treat her mean.”

IN THE BUILD:

Holden Torana LX hatchback in the build1. The donor hatchback was relatively clean but once the guys finished cutting out the floor and firewall in readiness for the chassis there wasn’t a whole lot left. Starting at this point gave them the ability to engineer the body to lift off in one piece.

 

Holden Torana build2. The Murray Anderson chrome-moly full chassis is certainly world class and forms the ideal foundation for running those six-second passes the team is shooting for.

 

Holden LX Torana hatchback3. The sexy machined billet, polished and anodised mount for the thermo fans is a prime example of the thought, planning and attention to detail that has gone into every facet of this ballistic hatchback.

 

Holden Torana build4. Not only does laser cutting allow you to create intricately detailed bracketry like this, it also makes it straightforward to engineer weight-minimisation into every component. Every little helps.

 

Holden Torana build5. The Outlaw 10.5 tyre is a big ol’ doughnut of rubber, isn’t it? Given the height of the rear shock mounts, you can see why it was imperative to create the two-piece hatch to allow easy top access for dialling things in.

 

Holden Torana build6. Note the scalloped edge around the periphery of this firewall panel. “This panel was one of the first components to be fashioned and it’s just as nice as any other piece,” Paul says. This stylistic signature flows right through the car.

KARL WICHT
1978 HOLDEN TORANA

Colour: White/A9X blackouts

MAKIN’ IT MOVE
Engine: Chev big-block 555ci
Block: Merlin III, cast iron
Intake: Edelbrock Super Victor with EFI
Heads: AFR 365cc Magnum
Cam: Dandy/Proline solid roller
Springs: Nex-Tek
Crank & rods: Crower Billet
Pistons: Arias
Sump: Moroso/Allyworks
Ignition: MSD Digital-7 Plus,
Dizzy: Front
Throttlebody: Holley 110mm
Injectors: Moran 325lb billet
ECU: Big Stuff 3
Fuel pump: Aeromotive Atomic, belt drive
Blower: F3R 131mm ProCharger
Blower drive: Supercharger Store gear drive
Blow-off valves: ProCharger
Boost controller: AMS-1000
Oil pump: Peterson R4
Radiator: Allyworks/Race Radiators
Exhaust: Stepped 2¼in-2½in with five-inch collectors
Fuel: VP Racing Roo 16

UNDERNEATH
Gearbox: Extreme Powerglide
Converter: ProTorque USA
Diff: Anderson chrome-moly housing, Mark Williams full spool, gun-drilled 40-spline axles

STOP & GO
Bumps: QA-1 Pro-Coil (f), Koni adjustable (r)
Suspension: CRS 2in drop spindles (f), Murray Anderson Power-Link (r)
Brakes: Allyworks/Strange (f), Mark Williams (r)

ROLLING STOCK
Rims: American Racing Torque-Thrust Pro one-piece, 15x3½ (f), American Racing Trakstar with double bead-lock 16x16 (r)
Rubber: Mickey Thompson 22½x4½-15 (f), 33x10½-16W (r)

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