Father-son projects can either be an amazing bonding experience or a one-way ticket to frustration and frayed tempers. For Leo Mortakis and his dad Steve, this ’76 LX Torana fortunately proved to be the former.
First published in the February 2023 issue of Street Machine
“We got the car in 2013, when I was 21,” says Leo. “I was looking for a project, but I didn’t have enough money at the time to buy something of my own, so Dad bought the car to do a restoration together and have a bit of fun with.”
As the bossman at Muscle Car Restorations in Campbelltown and the owner of an epic big-block VF Valiant coupe (SM, Sep ’21), Leo isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty. Just as well, as this Torana was definitely no glamour model to start with. “It was in primer half-done, and I advised Dad not to buy it because it was pretty rough,” Leo says. “But he went ahead and bought it, and 10 years later, here we are. We started on it and realised it needed to be fully stripped down, blasted and started again; we kind of bought a lemon.”
Someone had previously begun the process of turning this four-door LX into an SL/R clone, and this meant it was a blank canvas for Leo, Steve, and the Muscle Car Restorations crew to build upon.
“It’s a bit hard to say when it became this car; it kind of just happened,” Leo laughs. “My dad always wanted an iconic Torana with the bright colour, flares and V8, and I wanted a highly detailed car but never had any set idea for it. I always wanted something to take to shows to show off my work, and as it progressed, it evolved into the car it is now.”
All the hard work has resulted in a Torana finished better than any that rolled off the Dandenong line in the 70s. Glass-smooth panelwork up top is continued underneath with the smoothed and painted undercarriage, with colour-matched shock absorbers, tailshaft and fittings contrasted by gloss-black crossmembers and diff.
Dad always wanted an iconic Torana with the bright colour, flares and V8, and I wanted a highly detailed car to take to shows
The LX was painted Persian Sand from the factory, but that rich copper-brown didn’t hit Steve’s brief for a screaming SL/R 5000 tribute. However, the retina-punching yellow it now wears is somewhat unusual. “Jasmine Yellow was chosen, as there are already a lot of orange, white, Absinth or Chrome Yellow Toranas around, but there aren’t too many Jasmine Yellow ones,” Leo explains. “We tried to do things a little bit different to the norm and really put a lot of effort into the finishing details. I think the detail work on the car is where it stands out.”
MYSLR is more than just a pretty face, though, thanks to the staunch powerplant up front. However, the carby bent-eight sitting under the reverse-cowl is no iron lion or LS.
“I really don’t know how we ended up with the small-block Chev,” Leo laughs. “I think the price factor had a bit to do with it, and they make great power. We bought it as a complete crate motor from America, but as the build moved along, we discovered it needed a rebuild, so we decided to stroke it.”
Robz Mechanical took the sad 350 SBC and added a steel crank, JE Pro Series slugs and shot-peened forged rods to push the capacity up to 408ci. A custom-grind cam, CNC-ported alloy heads, dual-plane Edelbrock manifold and Quick Fuel 750cfm carburettor round out a stout combo, which stomps out 490hp at 5600rpm and 491ft-lb at 4400rpm.
Steve’s desire for an 80s-style build meant he and Leo would be rowing their own gears in the LX, so a heavy-duty Mal Wood clutch and beefy Tremec TKO manual handle all the grunt from the angry mouse motor. Out back, the stock banjo diff was yeeted in favour of a built nine-inch packing street-friendly 3.5:1 gears.
With Pedders springs, Bilstein shocks and all-new suspension bushes underneath, the little Torry is set to be a sweet drive, and now that the car’s Summernats 35 unveiling is out of the way, Leo and Steve can get on with registering the four-door and enjoying it on the open road. “So far we’ve only taken it for a few test drives,” Leo says. “We got it finished about a week before Summernats, and the first time I drove it was just around the block. It sits a little bit too low at the moment, but it handles, stops and goes so well.”
In much the same vein as the shell and drivetrain, the cabin has come in for a huge amount of work. However, the mods have been carefully integrated with the Torry’s 70s heritage so that nothing clashes or seems out of place. Recaro LX buckets have been trimmed in lush Nappa leather and Alcantara, highlighted with yellow stitching, with the rear seat and boot trimmed to match.
An original SL/R tiller was also wrapped in Alcantara, while a Momo gear knob, retro-style stereo, courtesy lighting and custom gauge cluster all help make the Torry’s cabin a killer place to spend time. And that’s something Leo and Steve plan to do a lot of.
“Now the Torana is done, my dad and I can enjoy both the Valiant and Torana together at a show,” Leo says. “My dad, my brother and I are all into cars, and we’re lucky we’re all with good partners who support our hobby.”
With such a killer support network, it’s no wonder Leo and the Muscle Car Restorations crew keep turning out amazing rides. We can’t wait to see what rolls out of the Mortakis shed next!
Leo & Steve Mortakis
1976 Holden LX Torana
|Paint:||PPG Jasmine Yellow|
|Type:||408ci small-block Chev|
|Carburettor:||Quick Fuel 750cfm four-barrel|
|Pistons:||JE Pro Series|
|Rods: Forged||JE Pro Series|
|Oil system:||Dyna Race Gear pump, baffled oil pan|
|Fuel system:||Holley pump|
|Cooling:||Custom alloy radiator, twin thermo fans|
|Exhaust:||Custom manifolds, twin custom 3in exhaust system|
|Ignition:||MSD distributor, DMS coil|
|Gearbox:||Tremec TKO five-speed manual|
|Clutch:||Mal Wood heavy-duty|
|Diff:||Ford 9in, 3.55:1 gears|
|SUSPENSION & BRAKES|
|Front:||Pedders springs, Bilstein shocks|
|Rear:||Pedders springs, Bilstein shocks|
|Brakes:||HSV discs and VN V8 calipers (f & r)|
|WHEELS & TYRES|
|Rims:||OS Formula Star; 17x7 (f), 17x10 (r)|
|Rubber:||Kumho Ecsta; 225/45ZR17 (f), 275/40ZR17 (r)|
Muscle Car Restorations; Robz Mechanical; Just Upholstery; Steve at SR Performance; Mark at Trackside Auto Electrical; last but not least, our family and partners.