BUILDING a home for your family is a very satisfying thing to do. However, when your ‘Grand Design’ gets stalled at the council approval stage, and you’re looking for something to keep you busy, what do you do? Build a street machine, of course!
This article was first published in the July 2019 issue of Street Machine
That’s what Chris Campbell did. “I needed to keep tinkering,” he says. “I thought I’d get back into cars, as I’d been out of the scene for a long time. I took my old LJ to Summernats 10 – that’s the last time I went.”
VOTE for Chris's LJ Torana as Valvoline Street Machine of the Year 2019
Preferring the look of hard lines over flexible braid, Chris spent painstaking hours bending 15NUTZ’s myriad fluid lines to the perfect length and contour
When weighing up his build options, Chris decided to go with familiarity. An unfinished LJ project popped up that was pretty much perfect. It had been bare-metal resprayed and came with a brand-new 355 stroker, rollcage, sheet-metal nine-inch and the rear end. “It had been off the road, sitting in a shed for 20 years,” says Chris, “and hadn’t been touched in at least 10 years.”
Read next: Holden 355-powered LJ Torana GTR
“We ummed and ahhed about blacking out the trim for a long time,” says Chris. “We were worried that it would go out of date. In the end I wanted it; it ties in with the engine bay and rest of the car. The windscreen surround is pretty much the only chrome on the car”
Part of the initial teardown and inspection included removal of the rollcage, as Chris was building a tough cruiser, not a drag car. With thoughts of selling the ’cage, Chris began carefully cutting individual welds. “I was cutting out one of the roof bars and accidently sliced right through the roof skin,” Chris says. “Pissed off, I ditched the salvage idea and had the rest out in about three minutes flat – never to be sold. Everyone ribbed me for a long time about ‘cutting for a sunroof’!”
Read next: LS1-powered Holden LJ Torana sleeper
The eye-catching colour is not a candy. It’s a custom PPG mix the boys came up with that they’ve named Brake Light Red
Originally built by Grants Performance, the 355 Holden stroker had never been started! Based around a Harrop crank, the motor was topped with a dual-plane Harrop intake.
To beef things up, the latter was replaced with a gorgeous Bain Racing sheet-metal intake, which pushed the two APD billet carbies out through the bonnet. “I didn’t want a reverse-cowl,” Chris says. “I reckon things out the bonnet look good, so we’ve left it that way. It looks tough.”
Chris is impressed with the whole set-up. The stout 350 Chev in his old LJ made 550hp, but was grumpy and had a tendency to overheat. “The 355 doesn’t quite make 500hp; however, 1200kg and near 500hp is still a lot of fun,” he says. “Besides, it does everything it’s supposed to: starts, idles, drives nice – and turns the rears with ease. Also, thanks to the fan and core combo from Rick at South Coast Radiators, peak-hour traffic is a non-issue.”
As well as dynoing the engine, Ned Sassine at Hercules Competition Engines added one of his Hemi oil pump conversions to solve the Holden V8’s notorious low oil pressure problems. Chris at Best Mufflers then retained the existing pipes and built a new exhaust system from there back.
“Ned at Hercules Competition Engines is a legend and such a gentleman,” says Chris. “He dynoed and tuned the 355 stroker, plus added one of his Hemi oil pump conversions. Oil pressure is now spot-on, no matter what”
One thing Chris prides himself on is doing his research before tackling a job – with the notable exception of the rear quarters! “Back in the day, everyone ran 29-inch tall tyres,” Chris says. “So early in the build I went ahead and hacked the wheelarches to suit 29s. With 28s being the better option, I had to get Exclusive Customs to remake new quarters so they didn’t look too big.”
Chris was a lot more careful when it came to plumbing 15NUTZ, as all the brake and fuel hard lines are his handiwork. “Braid is easy – hard lines are tricky,” he says.
“The fuel lines on the carbies was one of the most time-consuming jobs I had to do, and also one of the most satisfying. Stuff like this – plus the countless hours getting bits ready for powdercoating – is the part of the build I enjoyed the most!”
After redoing the rear quarters, Jason and Glenn at Exclusive Customs set about fettling the rest of the body into shape. This included smoothing out the engine bay, fixing up previous dodgy, cracking work, and relocating the wiper motor under the dash.
“These guys were great; they went above and beyond,” says Chris. “Even the colour was down to them. I had a picture of a Harley from Sturgis – I knew what I wanted.
Glenn tried talking me into adding a bit of bling to it. With visions of heavily metal-flaked ski boats, I was: ‘No, no, no.’ But Glenn zoomed in on the Harley pic and showed me it had flake in it. We did a few spray-outs and that was it – no way we could ever go back to the old colour.”
Inside, it’s wall-to-wall premium Nappa leather. Thanks to Simon Judd at Elite Custom Interiors, almost no original LJ remains. The front buckets were originally from a VE ute, but you’d never tell. And check out the sanitary Haltech IQ3 digital dash installation
Another standout feature of 15NUTZ is the interior. ‘Refined and contemporary’ was the brief given to Simon Judd at Elite Custom Interiors. Simon reshaped a pair of VE ute buckets to better suit the LJ, then built a new rear seat and boxed-out side panels to get around the mini-tubs. Other examples of his incredible craftsmanship include one-off door trims, suede-covered dash, one-piece hoodlining, shaved ashtray, fully lined boot, custom carpets and more. The billet steering wheel even has that GTR look – especially after Chris had the GTR logo laser-etched into the horn button. “Like the paint, Simon blew it out of the park,” says Chris.
All up, the build took two years, and Chris is adamant that having good people around him made everything run quite smoothly. That said, it was still a big push to get it done in time for the Great Meguiar’s Uncover at Summernats 32.
“Getting unveiled was a great start to having a car,” Chris says. “Hats off to everyone who helped; it was an awesome feeling when the covers came off. I got lots of positive feedback, and everyone who looked at it was stoked. I reckon every Torana fan must have been there, as we got a massive applause.
“My wife Prue, daughter Tyla and son Jyle are revheads at heart,” Chris continues. “I think they love the car more than I do. We take it out at least once a week for a run and a bit of fun. But as good as it is and as nice as it’s turned out, I’d be keen to sell. Originally, I was tossing up between a Torana and a hot rod, and as much as I love the Torana, I really want to do a hot rod. Besides, now that I’ve got such a great team around me, the next build will be much easier!”
After making a cardboard template of the new dash insert, Chris had a mate laser-cut it out of sheet. It was then bent and TIG-welded before being bogged, smoothed and painted. The insert and the IQ3 almost look factory
With Chris having blown the cobwebs off his car-building skills, a hot rod would undoubtedly be something pretty special. Mind you, 15NUTZ has set a pretty high benchmark. Watch this space – once the new family home is finished, that is.
JOLTED TO A STOP
LOOKING at the lone master cylinder on the firewall, you could be forgiven for thinking 15NUTZ runs manual brakes. Not so; it runs an electrically assisted system from Crusin Automotive.
Mounted under the dash is a high-pressure electric pump and an accumulator. They feed high-pressure brake fluid directly into the master cylinder. Being completely independent of engine vacuum, the system is ideal for engines with monster cams, as well as supercharged and turbocharged applications – without the need for a noisy vacuum pump.
“It’s a great set-up,” says Chris. “Manual brakes may have been fine for me, but my wife Prue drives the car, so it had to be easy and safe for her. The brakes are awesome; it stops as good as a new Commodore. The next car I build, it will be the first thing I put into it.”
1972 HOLDEN LJ TORANA
Colour: PPG Brake Light Red
Brand: Holden 355ci
Inlet manifold: Bain Racing
Carbies: Twin 650 APD billet
Heads: Ported VN cast-iron
Oil pump: Hercules Hemi conversion
Fuel system: DeatschWerks submersible
Cooling: South Coast Radiators, twin Spal fans
Exhaust: Custom headers and MagnaFlow 3in system
Gearbox: Protrans Trimatic
Converter: Dominator 3500
Diff: Sheet-metal 9in, MW axles, Eaton Truetrac centre, 3.55:1 gears
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: Standard, Pedders shocks
Rear: Four-link, Strange coil-overs
Brakes: Four-piston Wilwood (f & r), Cruisin Automotive electric master cylinder
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Weld; 17x3.5 (f), 15x10 (r)
Rubber: M/T Sportsman S/R; 26x6.00R17LT (f), 28x10.00R15LT (r)
Exclusive Customs; Elite Custom Interiors; South Coast Radiators; Crusin Automotive; good mate Peter Lovering for his ongoing help throughout the build; my wife Prue and kids Tyla and Jyle