If you call yourself Torana-mad, you’d better have the car to back it up. Karl Draper sure does.
Karl Draper grew up rurally with three brothers, dirt bikes and a father who indulged in a bit of V8-powered jetsprint racing, surely all the ingredients for petrol-headedness appearing at an early age. The old man would toss him a spanner and say, “Fix it yourself, boy,” then walk off muttering something about not having all day to mess about with kids’ experiments.
At a younger age than most, then, Karl found himself on the road to mechanical enlightenment, and the sense of pride that comes with modifying cars.
Karl has had a strong love of Toranas from an early age. His condition was diagnosed as terminal after he painted one too many Escorts in the Torana signature black-over-anything scheme, and then started to flare the guards on them for that tough A9-Escort look. In his defence the Escorts were all he could afford at the time, and building a faker, er, replica is almost a rite of passage in the car scene.
Fast forward a few years to a work function that would provide the catalyst to start his latest build. Karl owned a Torana by then, but a chance meeting with the back end of a truck on the way to grab some ice, and the terminal outcome that resulted, meant more than just a new body was required for the next build.
A locally sourced shell soon filled the void, allowing Karl and his crew to go about the process of creating a whole new car. It has so far undergone an eight-year build, with every aspect of the vehicle given the treatment. It was originally Mandarin Red, for example, while the SL/R 5000 flares, spoilers and bonnet scoop were trial fitted and tweaked until they hugged the body.
Karl was always going to be heavily involved in the build, doing the bodywork and priming the shell ready for Mark Sutherland to lay down the coats of Toyota Echo Blue the Torana now sports.
The underside was treated to new bushes and the wheel wells were altered in anticipation of some monstrous rollers Karl had seen.
At the same time the firewall and trans tunnel were smoothed over and modified for the incoming driveline.
A covering of satin black seals the underside, keeping it looking great while not requiring a lot of maintenance ” well, it covers most of the underside until you come across the custom 100-litre stainless steel drop-tank that dominates the rear view.
The standard four-link setup was retained out back, suspended by new springs and shocks with some HSV rotors clamped by lightweight Mazda callipers doing the braking, while up front the double wishbones were treated to revalved Koni shocks, some King Springs, HQ discs and callipers and a heavy duty sway bar. The ride is superior to the original in every way. “Aside from some power-induced oversteer it turns sharp as a blade and loves the open road. It’s really only the tighter stop-start stuff that shows up the shortcomings of a blown V8 up front, but the bigger brake system helps out there,” says Karl with a grin.
Assume the Position
Inside the Torana is where you enjoy the great ride so comfort was important. The cabin is low-key and the driver isn’t overwhelmed with a barrage of different information being flung at him. The seating was retrimmed in black fabric throughout, with the standard rear bench retained and sporty recliner buckets holding the driver and shotgun rider firmly in place through the twisty stuff.
Powerplant information is relayed via some Auto Meter gauges working in conjunction with the standard instruments.
The sound install was carried out by Karl and consists of a Sony head unit and amp package powering up the full complement of 6-inch speakers.
A square-base Sportline twirler keeps things headed in the right direction, even if the Torana isn’t always pointing that way.
When the car is going where it’s supposed to be heading, Karl can be seen peering around the tower of alloy before him. The shotgun scoop and pair of boost referenced Holley carbs sit atop a GM 6/71 blower from Al’s Blower Drives, and even when the bonnet is fitted there’s more of this mountain protruding than is hidden beneath it.
The Everest of the Torana’s world is fitted atop a Steve Hunwick-built 406ci small block Chev. The guys at Otaki Automotive Reconditioners really know their stuff and this engine doesn’t bother talking the talk, it just gets right on with walking the walk.
It started out as a heavy duty 400ci block, which was cleaned up and fitted with a 4340 Eagle crank, plus twin keyways to provide some security when the boosted revs rise. H-beam rods with KB pistons swing off the crank and there’s a Crow cam and lifter set with heavy duty pushrods to round out the tough package.
Standard cast iron heads were prepped with port work and some polishing to tidy up the airflow, stainless steel triple-valve springs with heavy duty retainers were fitted around some oversize valves, which are operated by roller rockers. Everything was held captive beneath those Edelbrock Elite finned covers by screw-in studs and some trick rocker girdles.
An Edelbrock high-volume fuel pump keeps the go juice flowing through the half-inch lines from the drop tank to the Holleys, after which it’s ignited by some trick MSD gear in the form of a 6-AL control unit tied in to a Blaster 2 coil and electronic dizzy.
When the fire is burning, the custom headers and exhaust built by Pete and Willy’s garage, vent gasses to the atmosphere with a most glorious cacophony.
Aside from the Commodore V8 master cylinder and booster, the hardware contained within the superbly presented engine bay is kept at a healthy operating temperature by a three-core radiator with a pair of electric fans mounted up front.
Recalling the nights spent setting up the engine bay, Karl rubs his back and tells of lugging a cast block in and out of the engine bay and over the panels without a hitch a hundred times to get the driveline angles and engine mounts spot on. “And I wonder why I’ve got a sore back; I look back at those nights and think how the hell did I move the block ” it weighed as much as I did.”
Out back of that engine bay is the thing that divides more car fans than any manufacturer ever could. Swimming against the tide of convention, Karl went with a Hurst shifted manual box to give him the control he likes; it’s a heavy duty Saginaw four-speed fronted by a race-type Exedy 5 paddle clutch.
“The car drives great, whether open road or around town, wet or fine but within reason of course. I mean, if I put the power down it doesn’t really matter what the conditions are, it likes to break traction,” says Karl as he reflects on the joys of a manual.
Big Power, Bigger Wheels
A venerable nine-inch diff transfers that drive firstly through a limited slip centre surrounded by 3.55:1 gearing, then out through some tough 31-spline axles to those wheels and tyres. Yep, they’re wheels and tyres all right. With specially massaged wheel arches to fill, Karl chose Riversides, a modern interpretation on the classic five-spoke theme. The width of the wheel/tyre combo forced a return to the guards and wheel tubs.
More space was sought to fit the 18x10s shod with 255/35R18 tyres up front, and the 18x12s wrapped in 285/30R18 Nankang liquorice straps out back, thus ensuring the guards copped a full rework inside and out. The stance is tough. Not just big engine tough or fat rubber tough, but staunch tough; kia kaha tough.
The road to mechanical enlightenment is littered with failures and unfinished projects. Karl’s Torana has travelled the long and winding road to its own enlightenment, and it’s finished for now, with no failures evident. The effort put into this car shines through from the initial impact, to the superb finish and the well-thought-out functionality of the overall package. Because of that it deserves to be ranked as one of New Zealand’s top Toranas.
1977 Holden Torana LX – Specifications
Driveline: 406ci (6.7-litre) small block Chev, 400 block, Eagle 4340 forged steel crank, H-beam rods, KB blower pistons, Crow blower cam, Crow lifters and heavy duty pushrods, cast heads, heat wrapped custom headers, stainless steel supercharger spec triple valve springs, screw-in studs and girdle plates, roller rockers, Edelbrock Elite rocker covers, MSD 6-AL, MSD Blaster 2 coil, MSD electronic dizzy, MSD 8mm leads, Al’s Blower Drives 6/71 GM supercharger, twin 600cfm boost referenced Holley carbs, shotgun intake scoop, 100-litre stainless steel drop tank, 1/2inch custom fuel lines, 3-inch twin pipe exhaust system, twin Flowmaster mufflers
Driveline: Exedy 5 paddle clutch, Saginaw four-speed gearbox, nine-inch diff, 3.55:1-ratio LSD
Suspension: Koni shocks and King Springs all round
Brakes: HQ rotors and callipers (front) HSV rotors and Mazda callipers (rear)
Wheels/tyres: 18×10 and 18×12-inch Riverside rims, 255/35R18 and 285/30R18 Nankang tyres
Exterior: Wheel arches modified, SL/R 5000 bodykit, modified flares, A9X mirrors, Toyota Echo Blue, debadged
Inside: Reclining race buckets up front, retrimmed bench rear, Auto Meter gauges, Hurst shifter, Sportline steering wheel, Sony CD player, amp and 6-inch speakers
Karl Draper – Owner Profile
Occupation: Heavy earthworks and subdivision earthmoving
Previously owned cars: Morris 1300, some Escorts, Walkinshaw replica, SL/R 5000 replica, SS Torana hatch, several Skylines and many other cars through the years
Dream car: The Torana, though I would like to build a 1938 Chevrolet coupe to keep it company through the long, cold winter months.
Build time: Eight years
Length of ownership: Eight years
Karl thanks: My partner Maree, Steve Hunwick of Otaki Automotive Reconditioners, Pete and Willy of Pete and Willy’s Garage in Upper Hutt for all the fabrication work, Pro Parts for lots of information and parts, Mark Sutherland, Brian Howatt of Howatt Engineering for the driveline work and engineering, Mark at Junior’s Custom Rides in Lower Hutt for the steering work and certification prep work, Tony at Steelie Gears, Gary Cawthra and my friends and family who have helped out along the way
Words: Kim Murray Photos: Slotmedia.co.nz
This article is from NZV8 issue 65. Click here to check it out.