Clarke Hopkins’s Torana blurs the line between show car and race car, but that doesn’t mean it’s all show and no go.
One of the driving factors (excuse the pun) behind car modification is that we are all looking for different things from our vehicles.
For some, the ultimate goal is for a car to be as fast as possible in a straight line. Others aim to turn as many heads as possible, while a select few attempt to defy the laws of physics by raising or lower their cars as much as possible.
Clarke Hopkins, however, was torn. As a result, he built a race car. He’s also ended up with a show car. It’s just that in Clarke’s case, both cars are in the one package.
Right Time, Right Place
A Holden man through and through, Clarke has owned many cool cars over the years including a genuine VL Walkinshaw, among others. His only diversion away from the lion badge was behind the wheel of a late-model Mini race car. Since the race versions are left hook and a good way to get into motorsport, we’ll forgive his choice, especially since we know what his seat time in the diminutive front wheeler has encouraged.
“I loved the racing and driving on the track, but my love for muscle cars was too much, and the Mini just didn’t cut it.” Clarke says.
“The cars in the Central Muscle Car class are awesome to watch, and I wanted part of the action. It was lucky when I met up with Rodney Heads at the A1GP in 2009, and we got talking. Rodney was part way through the build of an A9X Torana for himself, but it was for sale providing he got to see the project through to completion.”
Once a few conditions were set and the deal done, Rodney continued with the car’s construction in the same fastidious manner he had begun. Using a few key people and overseeing every step meant the quality of the build stayed at an amazing level. The outcome is a car that would fit nicely into the Australian show car scene.
Most people would be too afraid to risk dirtying such a pristine machine, let alone damaging one, but Clarke and Rodney agree it’s a race car and that’s what it was built for, no matter how damn good it looks.
With Rodney running his business, Heads Racing Supplies, from Whakatane, and Clarke being based in Pukekohe, there was potential for miscommunication or for the two to have different ideas on the direction the build should take, and the whole build to therefore grind to a halt. But that didn’t happen at all. In fact the pair have become great mates from the experience, to the point that Clarke trusts Rodney implicitly with decisions regarding the car and the people he chooses to outsource to. Now that it’s complete, Rodney is still hands on and manages the race day activities and maintenance, while Clarke focuses on business and driving. It’s a great arrangement for all concerned.
If nine months sounds like a short build period, that’s because it is. Before Clarke took ownership, Rodney had already had the team from Mitchell Race Xtreme (MRX) in Hamilton construct an impressive chromoly roll cage with a low centre of gravity, and custom adjustable suspension arms and knife edge adjustable sway bars. Mounting the massive AP Racing four-piston callipers was another of MRX’s jobs, obviously one of the important ones!
The quality fabrication work continued through to the parts such as the nine-inch diff housing that MRX has also constructed and fitted with floating hubs from Endevour Engineering.
While Rodney was working away fitting, fabricating and designing all the things a race car requires, Trevor Rodgers at Flowtech Race Engines was doing his best to encourage some serious power out of a 5.0-litre Holden-based engine. With a custom crankshaft, CP pistons and Oliver rods the motor now displaces 6.0 litres, which is enough to see it make more than 600hp and put the car amongst the front runners on the grid.
The top end of the motor now consists of Yella Terra dash-9 heads that have been Flowtech ported and fitted with titanium inlet valves along with stainless exhaust valves. A Kiwi Cams roller cam sends the orders, while a custom Flowtech intake manifold and 750cfm Holley race carb gets the job of mixing the fuel and air.
A combination of MSD ignition components and Bosch fuel pumps, and plenty of black braid and black fittings, finish off the motor package along with MRX custom headers and exhaust.
While a bit shy on the precise power figure, Clarke let slip that peak power is at 7200rpm, while peak torque — a massive 779Nm — is achieved at 5000rpm. The car weighs in at under 1000kg, so it’s no wonder it looks as if it wants to wheelstand out of the corners.
Less Weight = More Speed
The show car/race car line is blurred even further when you look at the interior. Wayne from Crosslands Composites, which shares a building with MRX, was let loose with sheets of carbon fibre. The dashboard, switch panel and fuel system cover are all finished in a high-gloss weave, as are the door trims. What you don’t see is that the doors themselves are also made from the lightweight, ultra-strong material, as is the bonnet.
The combination of carbon fibre and Glasurit gunmetal paint — applied by Profile Autobody — works well, the finish accentuated by the black bonnet, which was sprayed by Barberry Paint in Tauranga.
Of course now the car is competing, sponsor stickers from Roofing Industries, Colourcote, Chesters Plumbing, Marley, Bremick Fasteners, Ardex, Solasafe, Revolution Coffee (mmm, coffee would be great about now), Skyrise Hire and C&A Hopkins Roofing adorn various panels.
Traction and Results
Although the car looks good sitting still, Clarke is more interested in the on-track results. With just a few meetings under his belt so far, he’s proved he will soon be one to watch. Because the car runs a Tex racing 101 gearbox out of a Nascar, there is no fear of gearbox failure, even when he’s pushing the limits of those 315-width Kumho V700A tyres. The 10.5-inch wide Simmons rims are a big wheel on a little car, but with Central Muscle Cars’ weight-to-tyre rule, it’s all above board and on a competitive footing with the other vehicles in the class.
After missing the beginning of the current race season (the Torana was still under construction), Clarke and Rodney have a good idea of what to expect when they tackle the full series next time around. Assuming they approach it with the same amount of effort and determination they have put into the build, there’s no doubt the results will be as impressive as the car. Make sure you get there to check it out in person, You won’t be disappointed. You’ll see not only a fast race car, but a top-level show car — and a great example of fantastic teamwork, too.
1977 Holden Torana SS – Specifications
Engine: 5.0-litre bored to 6.0 litres (304ci to 367ci), Holden VT block, CP Pistons, Oliver rods, ARP fasteners, Heads Racing belt drive, custom crank, customised Yella Terra heads, Kiwi Cams roller cam, titanium inlet valves, stainless exhaust valves, custom intake manifold, 750cfm Holley race carb, Bosch in-tank fuel pump, Holley Blue fuel pump, Holley regulator, MSD 7AL ignition, MSD leads, MSD Pro-billet distributor, Mitchell Race Xtreme exhaust and headers, Griffen alloy radiator, Mizer billet water pump, Setrab oil cooler, dry sump
Driveline: Tex 101 racing straight cut dog box, Tilton 184mm clutch, MRX Ford nine-inch diff, gun drilled axles, floating hubs
Suspension: Bilstein coil-over shocks, King springs, adjustable knife blade sway bars, MRX adjustable swingarms
Brakes: AP Racing four-piston monoblock callipers, 328mm rotors (front) AP Racing four-piston callipers, 305mm rotors (rear)
Wheels/ tyres: 17×10.5-inch Simmons FR17 rims, 315/35R17 Kumho V700A tyres
Exterior: Carbon fibre doors and bonnet, custom Glasurit gunmetal grey paint
Interior: Racetech seats, Momo steering wheel, custom shifter, Auto Meter gauges, chromoly cage, carbon fibre dash, carbon door panels
Performance: 600hp-plus (447kW-plus), 779Nm at 5000rpm
Clarke Hopkins – Owner Profile
Occupation: Company director
Previously owned cars: Where do I start? All Holdens
Dream car: This one, and an SS/RS Camaro
Why the Torana: Always loved the A9X hatch from the Brocky days, plus they are a unique car with few around now
Build Time: Nine months
Length of ownership: Nine months
Sponsors: Dave at Roofing Industries, Tim at Colourcote, Grant at Chesters Plumbing, Duane at Marley, Bremick Fasteners, Ardex NZ, Solasafe NZ, Revolution Coffee, Ross at Skyrise Hire, C&A Hopkins Roofing
Clarke thanks: “Derek at Mitchell Race Xtreme, Trevor Rodgers at Flowtech Engines, Allen at Endevour Engineering, Kevin at Barberry Paint Tauranga, my dad Warren, and Dave for keeping the car looking good for the sponsors. “A huge thanks to my best mate Rodney Heads from Heads Racing Supplies — you have done an outstanding job, mate. And of course my beautiful wife Angela and my girls Chloe and Danielle for allowing me to build the car.”
Words: Todd Wylie Photos: Adam Croy