Holden Torana L34 - Reader Resto

By: John Tyack & Scott Murray, Photography by: John James

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Bendigo's John Tyack spent a decade building himself a time machine. His 1974 Holden L34 Torana has been a labour of love

From Unique Cars #378, July 2015

I’m a dead-set Torana tragic from my youth. I did my apprenticeship at the local Holden dealership and my family have owned Toranas since 1972: SL/R 5000s, XU-1s, Hatchbacks, everything. But my love started even earlier, as a kid I was watching Bathurst and any other motor racing on the telly in the mornings. As I grew up I became even more smitten.

I tagged along with all my mates to Calder, Sandown, Phillip Island – every race meeting I could. The first time I saw an L34 on the track was at Sandown the first year they came out, in 1974. I was at Bathurst when John Goss won that year, stood in the rain all weekend watching as the L34s came second, third and fourth. I’ll never forget that angry V8 sound as they thundered across the mountain through the mist.

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I found my L34 by pure luck because a mate at work went to look at some car parts he’d found in a newspaper ad and while there he spotted this tired old Torana sitting in a shed. He came back to work on the Monday and told me the owner might be interested in selling it. That same night I got onto the owner and made him an offer. Mind you, this was going back many years before L34s were half as desirable as they are now. The bloke was shifting house and didn’t have the capacity for it.

| Video: John Tyack's L34 Torana

The biggest drama was that practically the whole car was in boxes because it’d been stripped to the bone. Basically, it was just a bare bodyshell with the rear end in it. Everything that was L34 on the car was there – twin-point distributors that you can’t buy now, the original roller rocker which the race teams would swap out when they wanted – it was complete, but in boxes. We came to an agreement and my son and I heaved out the boxes in wheelbarrows into a trailer and a van, made numerous trips back and forth and took it all home. Sadly the car sat in the shed for about twelve months until I could get the body panels done in Barbados Green by Bob Deary Panels – considering that was 13 years ago, I think I last polished it two years ago! Then it was another three or four years before I came back to do anything major. I think it was a total nine years before it was back on the road.

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Coincidentally I’m friends with Gary O’Brien from Bendigo Retro Muscle Cars and when we were doing the pin-striping and stickers etc, he brought his L34 down to the panel shop and let us copy his because we’d lost track of where everything went.

We did it as we could afford to do it. It’s not a fully resurrected car, but the big bits: engine, gearbox, diff are all restored back to life. These cars are pretty simple and my experience meant I knew what I was doing and just took my time. All the assembly I did myself, but I got Little’s Competition Services here in Bendigo, in Kangaroo Flat, to do the 308 engine and they did a fantastic job at that; it’s such a strong motor now. I never wanted a big wild engine, but having rebuilt it using the original baffled sump, windage tray, the 780 Holley high-output carby, good lifters and valve springs, we estimate a healthy 350 horsepower. For engine builders, 350’s a walk in the park now, but that’s close to what they were getting at the racetrack back in the day. The L34 M21 gearbox went to a local guy as well; my younger days doing pit crew work on a HQ Holden race car meant I had some contacts in Melbourne to help me do these jobs, like the diff. I had to put all the pieces back together here in the shed at home and it all went pretty smoothly.

One weak point is the weak Banjo diff, but I’ve kept the tyre size fairly normal to take the stress off the diff and it hasn’t had a problem. I’ve got seven-inch front wheels with 225/60s and nine inches on the back with 265/55s, and I think it’s a good balance – the tyres will turn before the diff goes.

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I took a month off work and threw a big chunk of time at getting it finished. I’d decided to take Christmas off and that kick started me to make sure I got it done by January, which I did. Time is a frustrating part of working on a car because you spend lots of small amounts of time constantly finding parts at swap meets or wrecking yards, but everything can sit idle until you put your foot down and focus hard on getting it finished. Otherwise it sits around under a tarp or car cover gathering dust.

At the moment I’m really happy with it – it’s not a show car, I drive it regularly, even in the wet. All the correct gear is in it and I’m not interested in keeping it flawless. It wasn’t all easy however. When you’re trying to slowly glide an engine into a resprayed engine bay without scratching anything, with just a block and tackle on your own, it can be exhausting. But it’s so rewarding when you fire the 308 up and give it some exercise.

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It’s an old car to drive, and people who drive old cars know what I’m talking about. But on the freeway it’s a really good cruiser, and there’s plenty of grunt available if I want it. I took the L34 to Sandown Historics a few years back and got to take it out for some ‘parade’ laps – I hung back from the pack, gave it a squirt up the main straight and it bloody goes! I saw the speedo hit 200 before I had to look up again to get ready for the first corner! God it was good. It’s such a great sound and it just feels punchy, like it belongs on a track. You can imagine what it would’ve been like to race these Toranas like Brocky did back in the 70s.

 

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