Long Road Home
1 November 2022
Can't see the light at the end of your project's tunnel? Don't lose hope - Lindsay Smith took 34 years to get his Torana just the way he wanted it.
Words: Connal Grace Photos: Rod Dunn
Remember when Aussie cars weren't worth the paint over their rust? Remember when American car owners looked down their noses at them? How times change! Lindsay Smith's LX Torana hatch is something most petrolheads would kill to own - and that's before you get to the guts of what really makes it tick.
It's been a project 34 years in the making, purchased in about 1987 when Lindsay had two young kids and no money to build it the way he really wanted to. "It had a 308 and three-stage auto, and was always a good and reliable car," he remembers, "but it didn't handle skids and racing down Carlyle Street, so unfortunately that  ended up with a hole in the side of the block." On top of the opened-up engine, the Torana also worked its way through three gearboxes and six 3.08:1 diff heads.
"Rare Spares loved me at the time!" Lindsay laughs.
Acknowledging the slippery slope he was on with the Torana, though, Lindsay bought a Japanese car for the family so he could pull the Torana off the road and take it to bits.
"It sat on the front lawn for about six years, and I eventually had to move it because I started to have people knock on the door to see if I wanted to sell it. The answer was always no," he says. "I still remember the day I had a knock on the door, and there was a big Māori fella who wanted to purchase it. I told him it wasn't for sale, but told him I could show him around it anyway. We talked about cars for ages, as he was a panel beater, and to this day Rob is still one of my best mates."
After a garage was built to move the Torana off the lawn, it was more of the same. The Torana sat for a few more years - albeit undercover - as Lindsay raised two more kids. He always intended to get back into it, though. The process started slowly; Lindsay buying bits and pieces off Trade Me, with the intention of building it into his ultimate Torana. This began with a set of billet Boyd Coddingtons; the same 20x9-inch and 20x10-inch Junkyard Dogs are on it today, as Lindsay planned to build the car around the wheels. Then came a 396 big block, tunnel ram, and NOS kit, to spearhead its transformation into the street machine you see here.
"I then happened to be driving through Sydenham one day and saw the coolest metallic blue Sunbird hatch. I stopped to have a look and couldn't believe the workmanship - the body was so straight and clean, and when I looked underneath, the underside was built like a race car." Lindsay managed to track down its owner, Hayden at HR Engineering, and once he got in touch with him he knew he'd found the right person to build his car. "I hassled Hayden for about two months, and he finally came around home and had a look at the Torana for me and said he could definitely help me out," Lindsay says. A few weeks later it was in Hayden's workshop, with the directive for the build being simple: a tough street car running nitrous.
"Hayden said he would like to change some things so I could get the car I wanted," Lindsay recalls. "| went back a couple weeks later and he'd removed all the bits he thought wouldn't work, which was pretty much everything I'd bought for it: the 396 big block, the four-speed manual, and the nine-inch rear."
Feeling a bit deflated, Lindsay nevertheless kept his faith in Hayden's vision. He listed the now-redundant gear on Trade Me and let Hayden do the shopping. That's where the Torana's current 454ci big block comes into the picture. It's no low-compression truck engine, though; having been built at Engine Reconditioning Services around a brand-new block, with forged guts and Edelbrock alloy heads, the little Torana's now got balls big enough to justify its monster tunnel ram and twin Holley double pumpers - 580hp before the nitrous even comes into play. The engine sits inside a slick engine bay, with smoothed and widened front tubs and a smoothed firewall. In addition to the time-consuming metalwork Hayden put into the sheet steel, he also welded up that trick set of long-tube headers, going off a photo Lindsay showed him of how he wanted them to look.
At the other end, the tubs have been widened to allow for an impressive stance by tucking those huge dished rims right up into the guard. This has been achieved thanks also to a pair of QA1 adjustable coilovers and narrowed nine-inch diff filled with suitably tough Truetrac centre, 4.11:1 gears, and 31-spline axles.
When Lindsay trusted Hayden to do the shopping, it didn't end at getting the Torana to go fast and look good - a full suite of Wilwood stopping gear works double duty in filling the cavernous void behind the 20-inch billets, and counteracting the ample performance on tap. Likewise, the under-dash booster and brake master cylinder keep the firewall clean and clear the way for the monstrous header primaries. Hayden's brother, Blue, finished off the project, taking care of the electrical and tuning work.
Lindsay took his dream car back some two years after handing it over, and couldn't have been happier.
"Hayden rang me and said, 'Come in, we're about to start your car for the first time - it's all finished," Lindsay recounts. "It was a Friday and I told him I wanted to take it to the drags on the Sunday, so we put a roll cage in it on the Saturday and I picked it up and took it to the drags." But, as these things tend to go, it wasn't quite done ... On its first time out of the shed, the Torana pulled mid 11s all day long with no problems, which Lindsay was understandably stoked about after his past experiences in trying to achieve consistent 11s with a four-speed manual. However, after a season of drag racing, the transmission began to show metal fragments in the oil, and it was back in the shed again.
Lindsay's wife, Tarnia, and son, Marshall, shouted him a street and strip TH350, and, with everything falling into place, he decided it was time to bite the bullet and finish the car for good.
"I called Steve Allan to see if he was interested in my build, so he came around and looked at it, and said he would," Lindsay explains. "I took it to his workshop and he widened the body - he cut and widened the rear quarters and front guards, tidied up all the bodywork, and painted the car in a custom PG Holden Orange. I remember the day I picked the car up; I couldn't believe how good it looked; I felt privileged having my car in a shop like Steve's - the bodywork was perfect!"
Taking it to Muscle Car Madness for its debut show, Lindsay couldn't resist the call of the burnout pad, where there were a few casualties - a bit of paint damage, and one fender flare blown off. After the huge build process, the repair was nothing too demanding. Returning to Steve's for a paint touch-up, Lindsay also requested steel inserts to protect the flares in the future. With the Torana looking a million bucks again, and the big block proven to do what it was built to, the next stop was Harman Motors to run the nitrous on the dyno.
"We couldn't get a horsepower reading as he was struggling with it getting traction when they hit the NOS, due to the tyres I had on. I remember hearing it was another 250hp, though. It was awesome!" Lindsay says. Since he was so close to having everything the way he wanted, he didn't stop there.
With a vision of a completely overhauled but factory-styled interior, he began searching for someone to make it happen, ending up with Cover It in Christchurch. The whole interior - including the nitrous bottles - has been retrimmed in an understated factory style, accented by the digital gauges, Hurst pistol-grip shifter, and Momo wheel with GTS horn button. A full 34 years down the track, Lindsay was finally able to call Rod Dunn to organise the photo shoot you've been looking at.
"I'm stoked they wanted to run my car in a magazine, and put it on the cover," he says. Of course, that's all testament to his vision and hard graft. So, if you're reading this and have a project of your own collecting dust under a cover, don't lose hope - as Lindsay has shown us, it may be a long road home, but if you keep slogging away, you'll get there in the end.
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