Errol Smith and his twin brother have taken a humble 1976 LX Torana and restored it into a jaw-dropping SL/R 5000 L34 tribute. Not bad for some old bush mechanics.
Few cars speak to 1970s Aussie excess quite like a Holden Torana SL/R 5000 L34 sedan. Bolt-on flares, fat tyres, aggressive rear wing, and a shiny drop tank feeding a thirsty, rumbling V8.
Fifty years since its introduction as an option pack on the already venerable SL/R 5000, the L34 – of which only 268 were produced – was the homologation special to wow petrolheads and impressionable kids alike.
One such teenager was Errol Smith, now 65 years old and talking to me beside his incredibly clean SL/R 5000 L34 tribute. No, it’s not a real one. But when these Torana muscle cars are fetching $250,000 it’s little wonder they’ve become the prize of collectors or die-hard enthusiasts that got in early when prices were sensible.
Either way, good luck spotting one carving up the street or race track as its designers intended. I remember there were a few driven hard on weekends near my Sydney unit back in the late 90s, but now I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen one on the road. Shame.
“When I was a young fella and they brought these out, my job didn’t allow me enough money to buy one,” Errol says. “I worked through the years and ended up in the mines driving a dump truck, and the mining money meant I could afford this car to turn into an SL/R 5000.”
B1 and B2
He has a twin brother, Glenn, and the pair have worked together to restore, rebuild, and modify this 1976 LX Torana, stickered up to look like the earlier LH cars. Errol talks about their teamwork for the build, and modestly hands most credit to his twin.
“We work together alright,” he says.
“He yells at me, and I listen! We have our disagreements but we’re still mates afterwards. He used to hate it when we’d work on the car and I’d get something right and he’d have got it wrong.”
There’s strong mechanical history in the family. Glenn has built an SL/R 5000 L34 tribute too, his in a more flamboyant Barbados green. He’s also got an HDT VC Brock Commodore – bought new by the twins’ uncle – which is another homegrown special that’s easily moved into the six-figure value category.
Growing up, the family had a dairy farm near Gympie in rural Queensland, where bush mechanics was alive and well.
“Dad had an old FJ panel van as a farm truck, and we were always pulling the gearbox out of the thing and fixing the brakes,” Errol says. “Driving up and down those hills every day was hard on it.”
There wasn’t the luxury of towing it back to the workshop, either.
“We had a big wire rope we’d throw over a limb on a Moreton Bay fig tree,” Errol says. “We’d pull it up with a tractor and put a 44-gallon drum under it. Those were our jacks and ramps.”
Health and safety? Wasn’t so much of a thing in the early 1970s.
Field of dreams
Despite promising he’d never rebuild another car after previously completing an XD Falcon, Errol was committed to his Torana dream. He bought this car in Ballina in 2010 for $10,000. The previous owner had added bolt-on arches, hinting at its future transformation.
“I’d always liked the square shape of the Torana, but the SL/R 5000 with the V8 was way more appealing than the six-cylinder jobs,” Errol says.
It still had the original motor installed, which the twins ditched in favour of a 308 V8 from a Commodore.
“We built it, put a bigger cam in and fitted it into the Torana’s bay,” Errol says. “It still had the banjo diff in so it could snap at any time. My brother shortened a 10-bolt Salisbury diff from an HQ tonner, we added a Commodore rear axle, and the gearbox is the M21 four-speed.”
Prior to this they’d stripped down the Torana and tagged all the parts in boxes. There was rust in the usual spots – bonnet hinges, under the windscreen, and around the back window – which was cleaned ahead of sandblasting to bare metal.
Errol opted for a subtle Polaris white finish with SL/R black bonnet, contrasting with the less-than-subtle new bolt-on replica L34 flares and alloy drop tank hanging below the gloriously aggressive rear end. It was built locally to original Brown Davis specifications, handily provided by the Torana Club.
The 14-inch-deep dish alloys are a striking 10-inch fat in the rear (and eight inches up front), while the stance looks so good due to lower, stiffer springs and adjustable shocks. Rear brakes are from a Commodore with an HQ stud pattern, while inside the cabin has been retrimmed in black with houndstooth seat inserts.
Everywhere you look, the finish and style are first class, and when fired up, that V8 doesn’t half sound good too.
When you’ve got a minute…
Errol says maintenance isn’t hard at all – just the usual fluid changes and greasing. He suggests for mechanics bored with their day job, tackling a build like his Torana can be very rewarding.
“If you’ve got the mindset, and the patience, they’re pretty simple mechanically,” he says. “But you’ve got to want to work on cars like this. Go and see an old bloke first and pick his brains before doing anything. You’ve got to have the mechanical knowledge.”
When results look this good, it’s an appealing thought. With this Torana’s bulging bonnet up, seeing the space there is to work in the engine bay makes even the lowest-spec modern Toyota Corolla look like a stuffed maze of plastics, wiring, lines, hoses, and bottles.
The antidote? Grab yourself a classic like this and revel in a time when Aussies created enviably impressive muscle cars.