With a workshop packed full, Brisbane’s GT Auto Garage is a treasure trove of exceptional performance and race machines.
You enter the workshop and can feel the horsepower in the air. Eyes are drawn to a modified oldschool Fiat 124 Sport Coupe and purposefullooking Toyota AE86, then a glut of Lotuses in various stages of build. But it’s the Japanese (JDM) racers brimming with mad aerodynamics that blow your mind.
Impossibly big wings, front splitters, canards, rear diffusers and side skirts – mainly of the expensive carbon fibre stuff – adorn these World Time Attack Challenge racers. The premise is simple: lap a track as quickly as possible from a rolling start, and that leads to these epic performance builds.
The race cars have recently returned to Brisbane’s GT Auto Garage after a Time Attack event at Sydney Motorsport Park – the first event in over two years after Covid and floods. David Lenthall, owner of GT Auto Garage, looks to have had a busy weekend. In front of 15,000 passionate fans he’s given trackside support to the dramatically modified cars he’s helped create. As with all competitive motorsport, that means long days and a decent helping of stress.
“They’re back getting ready for the next event,” David explains. “They get their full body work taken off, full servicing and full going over. If they’ve had issues we’re looking to find what caused it and how to fix it.”
Make no mistake, this is serious, high value motorsport. I’m shown an HKS motor sitting on a stand, ready to go into an R35 Nissan GT-R for street and track use. “That’s a $100,000 motor, plus the gearbox is another $50,000,” David explains. “We’ve got one PRO level build in the works, then another one or maybe two PRO levels to follow, and they’ll be in the half-million-plus range to build.”
GT Auto Garage performs minor performance upgrades for daily drivers right up to next-level bespoke race car builds. David comes from a background in tarmac rally, preparing cars for the likes of Targa Tasmania. In 2005 he established GT Auto and work is positively booming.
“We have about 1500 active customers and most are long-term, especially the Time Attack ones” he says. “It’s not just full race builds. We do basic servicing as that’s always your bread and butter. It’s quick turnover and easy work.”
This proves smart business practice, and ensures there’s constant revenue coming in while major projects are underway. It’s a massive workshop of over 500m³ featuring four hoists, a 1400hp Dynapack dyno and custom fabrication area. “We’ve got Tig, Mig, folders, benders and cutters for doing literally everything modified,” David explains. Some 33 cars can fit inside so there’s always plenty for the four full-time staff, contractor mechanic and contractor fabricator to get busy on. And practically every vehicle in there is performance eye-candy.
David and GT Auto have built up an enviable reputation – you don’t keep 1500 customers on your books otherwise. “For Time Attack, the cars I build aren’t onelappers,” he explains. “I never tune it to the edge; I always have safety on it. It depends on what the customer wants of course, but even then I won’t go to the edge because for me it’s about reliability. Finish an event, put it on a trailer and say: ‘I had a great weekend’.”
For race events David has to bring GT Auto Garage’s skills on location. Once there, his expertise and equipment are a racer’s best friend. “I do the data analysis; make sure the motor is running right, paddle shifters are working right and looking at what the suspension’s doing,” he says. “We’re always looking where we can improve on the laps.”
It’s high stress, not least due to the mighty value of these race cars. So does it daunt him? “Not really as it’s part and parcel of the game,” David says. “Like any motorsport you plan to have no issues, but you can literally have a part fail that’s way out of your control. You plan best to eliminate human errors and the mechanical side of things. It’s project management on a one-off custom build where you go through every part in the motor, transmission and suspension. But look at Formula One. Even with their billions, a simple sensor can end Max Verstappen’s race.”
COVID’s had a huge impact on parts supply, but David says business is thriving and customers are very understanding about what’s happening globally. “There’s way more people spending money on their cars now. During Covid, our sales of aftermarket ECUs has gone silly. Many want a MoTeC ECU in their weekend car for extra data and to try and push it to the next level. The whole global chip shortages run through into all the aftermarket ECUs we supply, and some have up to a 20-week wait.”
Be it a giant like Toyota or a bespoke car tuner, having a car 99 percent complete but just one chip holding things off is frustrating to the extreme. For GT Auto Garage’s longterm customers it’s all part of the scene: their cars in the build may be a second, third or dedicated race car, and David says there’s always a contingency. “You always, always need backup plans,” he says.
After so many years performing such complex work, does he still enjoy it? “There’s always something new to learn and that keeps it exciting,” David says. “Our new builds coming through are a perfect example. Many think it’s a cool thing to be at the track with such cars, but there’s stress, a lot of work and you don’t get your hour’s lunch or half hour smoko!”
As for the future, David says he’d love to build an electric Time Attack car, despite the “haters who’d be hating about it.” One customer has already showed interest and David’s trying to convince him. “The instant torque and the packaging for the aero side – no ducting to get in the way and coolers only for the battery.”
Even if a future electric motor build may be silent, it’s clear this performance-filled workshop’s not about to quieten down any time soon.