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HOME-BUILT LS-POWERED SLEEPERS: CHEVROLET BEL AIR AND HOLDEN UC TORANA

By Iain Kelly | Photos: Nathan Duff, 25 Dec 2017 Features

chev bel air 3

A pair of The General's finest get LS1 heart transplants

Two home-built high-performance sleepers, equally at home and cruising the coast as smoking the track

This article on Mark's Bel Air and Torana was originally published in the 2015 issue of Street Machine LSX Tuner magazine

MARK Tralau’s gold 1961 Chev more-door is well known in the Brisbane street scene. The Powercruise regular can often be found cruising six-up in the demure land barge around Queensland Raceway in between shaming much more serious-looking competition at the drags.

Chevrolet Bel AirAlthough the Bel Air looks milder than a Darwin winter, it packs a 383-cube LS1 stroker boosted by an 80mm BorgWarner turbo. This is a car that tips the scales at over 4200lb (1900kg), yet has blazed its way to a lazy mid-10sec quarter. And it’s not even his serious car!

Twin-turbo LS-powered Chevrolet 210 sedan

Chevrolet Bel Air rear“The Chev started after my old (twin-turbo V8) Mercedes got out of hand,” Mark says. “I had just had my first child and I wanted something we could cruise in as a family.

“I found the ’61 in California, completely stock. The body had no rust and was straight, so I contacted an agent and eight weeks later I was picking it up in Brisbane.”

Chevrolet Bel Air sideThe Chev came with fresh trim and paint, and was soon refitted with a secondhand 5.7-litre LS engine fitted with a large front-mounted turbo on homemade plumbing. Unfortunately, it was soon apparent that the engine was on its last legs, which Mark took as an opportunity to build something better.

Chevrolet Bel AirDespite the setback, the Sunshine Coast local is a staunch fan of the Gen III and IV motors. “It isn’t just the power they make that makes them attractive,” says Mark. “Affordability was a big factor in going turbo LS for both my cars. To build a small-block with the same power would cost three times as much. The Chev is really easy to drive, but it comes alive when you stand on it.”

Chevrolet Bel Air engine bayThe rebuild was based around a Summit Racing kit that swung the cubes out to 383, while the weight and increased torque led Mark to rebuild the Powerglide, upgrade to a custom tailshaft and have the nine-inch diff fitted with nuclear-tough 31-spline axles and a Truetrac LSD.

Mark pieced together the bottom-end, comprising Wiseco pistons with crankshaft and conrods by K1 Technologies, and matched the stock cathedral port heads to the block. Lunati pushrods, lifters and dual valve springs were also fitted, along with a custom-spec cam.

Chevrolet Bel Air interiorOn the bottom of the motor lies an F-Gen Camaro sump, while Mellings supplied an oil pump to keep starvation at bay. Mark runs the combo on boost-friendly E85, supplied by a pair of Bosch pumps to a set of 1000cc injectors sitting in a high-rise Holley intake manifold, and fired by a reflashed stock LS1 ECU. There is a large alloy radiator up front with two 12-inch fans, and a five-inch exhaust underneath to ensure smooth passage of spent gases.

Chevrolet Bel Air dashThe old Wallace Calculator ET-mph slide-rule suggests the massive rig is making around 750hp at the treads on just 14psi. It’s certainly been enough to wreak havoc on a few torque convertors, tailshafts, Glides and diffs ...

“The Chev is pretty tame until you put your foot down and get on it,” Mark says. “I can sit in traffic through summer, drive down to Cooly with the family and it doesn’t act up or overheat. But I can also take it to Powercruise and run amok.

Chev Bel Air taillights“It has a lot more in it than the 10.5, but it’s the quickest I can legally run before being kicked off. I have driven it to Willowbank several times from the Sunshine Coast with a car full of mates and a boot full of beers, trolley jacks, slicks and tools. I actually ran the car with all the stuff in the boot.

“There is nothing better than having a six-seat, street-registered car that you can have fun in with your mates!”

Mark Tralau Chevrolet Bel AirMARK TRALAU
1961 Chevrolet Bel Air

ENGINE
Type: Gen III LS1
Capacity: 383ci
Turbo: 80mm BorgWarner
Crank: K1 Technologies
Conrods: K1 H-beam
Pistons: Wiseco
Injectors: Bosch 1000cc
Exhaust: Five-inch turbo-back

BENEATH
Box: Powerglide
Converter: Custom PTC
Diff: Nine-inch, Truetrac, 31-spline axles, 3.5:1 gears
Tailshaft: Custom two-piece
Brakes: HQ Kingswood (f), EA Falcon (r)

ROLLING STOCK
Rims: Weld 18x7in (f), 20x8in (r)
Rubber: Nankang 235/40 (f), 275/30 (r)

Chevrolet Bel air Holden Torana

MARK'S HOLDEN UC TORANA

WHILE some would consider it game, set and match to have Mark’s Chev in their garage, our man sees it somewhat differently. Idle hands make mischief, and it wasn’t long after he had the Bel Air dialed in that another project popped up.

Holden UC Torana“We were on holiday and I was up early while the rest of the family slept,” Mark says. “I was perusing Gumtree on my phone, looking at projects, and came across a picture of an LX Torana hatchback. A further read of the ad revealed that it was a UC hatch but came with most of the parts to convert it to LX, plus an LS1 and T56 gearbox. The car was near Noosa so when I got back, I picked it up and got stuck straight into it.”

LS1-powered Holden LJ Torana sleeper

Holden UC ToranaMark unstitched the front guards and radiator support, then welded on the sharper-looking LX front end. He cut off the entire rear tail-light panel, grafting in its place the slimmer LX section from a sedan. The UC dash was also ditched for a complete LX unit. Every step has been taken to ensure it looks exactly like an LX as it might have left the factory, right down to small details like the gauges, wiper controls and handbrake assembly.

Mark then smoothed the engine bay, shaving brake line holes and recesses in the inner guards, before cleaving the chrome window trims and all badges from the shell. While the MIG was out, Mark also fabricated mini-tubs under the bum to make space for the 275/60 Mickey Thompsons without having to fit A9X-style flares.

Holden Torana sideHe then rubbed back the shell and laid down the slick BMW Sepang Bronze two-pack paint. Inside, classic black carpet and tan leather seats follow a minimalist theme and work well with the car’s sleeper vibe. But just because it all looks simple, doesn’t mean it was.

“The biggest problem was it took too long,” Mark says. “The build took me just over a year and it was a massive job; I am not interested in doing the panel work side of a build ever again! Basically everything on this car I did myself at home, except for the bonnet scoop.”

Holden Torana engine bayPowering the hatch is an even simpler engine than the Chev. Mark threw a set of PAC 1218 valve springs and 800cc fuel injectors onto an otherwise-stock 5.7-litre LS1, to which he added a 76mm BorgWarner turbo, three-inch exhaust and custom-tuned ECU. But the lower weight of the Torana means he doesn’t have to lean as hard on this combo to go even faster.

Rather than equipping the Torrie with another Glide, Mark went for a trusty TH400. He built this at home, just as he did the narrowed and reinforced nine-inch diff fitted with a Truetrac centre and 31-spline axles.

Holden Torana interior“The first time I took it to the drags was after a full day at Powerplay,” he says. "With a trans I built, brakes I set up, a diff I shortened and built along with everything else, it performed almost flawlessly, except for the converter that I had half-expected to be an issue.”

It ran an 11.1 at 121mph off the trailer, with a 1.5-sec 60ft and a missed gear change! While it was built as a streeter, the drag strip was definitely on Mark’s mind throughout its build.

Holden Torana seats“The Torana was done more in the style of a drag car with the coil-overs, wheels, tubs and diff, so when it comes time to sell, it will have more appeal. Like the Chev, anyone can get in this one too, drop the kids at school then go on a cruise.

“I’d love to have a drag car but it’s just not feasible. As much as I love tough cars, I wouldn’t last six months around here without annoying all my neighbours. Both my cars look pretty tame and they’ve got full exhausts. I love to drive them so this is really important to me.”

MARK TRALAU
1978 HOLDEN UC TORANA

DONK
Type: Gen III LS1
Capacity: 346ci
Turbo: 76mm BorgWarner
Injectors: Seimans 800cc
Valve springs: PAC 1218
Exhaust: Three-inch turbo-back

BENEATH
Box: Turbo 400
Converter: 2800rpm
Diff: Nine-inch, Truetrac, 31-spline axles, 3.5:1 gears
Tailshaft: Custom with 1350 unis
Brakes: S15 200SX Nissan calipers on HQ (front) and VN (rear) rotors

ROLLING STOCK
Rims: Billet Specialties Streetlites 15x4 (f), 15x8 (r)
Rubber: Nankang 165/50 R15 (f), MT ET Street 275/50 (r)