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Drive South to revive iconic 70s muscle car

QLD builder to revive Aussie muscle car scene starting with Drive South Hatch

3 Jul 2024

TORANA, the legendary Australian nameplate of the 1970s, Holden muscle car hero, and five-time Bathurst winning champion, is set to make a comeback – albeit in a thoroughly modern format.


But we can’t mention the ‘T’ word here for fear of reprisal from General Motors… so we’ll call this car exactly what it is, the Drive South Hatch.


Small series vehicle manufacturer Drive South, the brainchild of car fanatic Andrew South, plans to build the ‘Drive South Hatch’, a brand-new vehicle with present-day GM-sourced running gear and a locally produced composite-over-aluminium body.


Mr South already owns several classic cars, including an original Holden Torana LX hatch built for road rallying, and said the new-generation Hatch is to be built in southern Queensland from Australian components as far as reasonably possible.


The idea was born from a love of motorsport, a desire to showcase Australian manufacturing and to produce a fantastic product that will give people a lot of pleasure.


Drive South neatly combines all three aspects in what could be described as a “passion project”.


“I’ve been involved in motorsport since I was 10 when I started racing minibikes. I moved up through bigger bikes and into open-wheeler racing, and was a data acquisition engineer for 20 years,” Mr South told GoAuto.


“It was at that stage my wife and I decided we wanted some sort of home-based business, and on a road trip to get some Torana parts it was decided to combine my love of the car with my experience in Formula 3.


“I thought, ‘I could build a car using all the technology that is out there now’.


“That was four-and-a-half years ago, just after the Australian car industry folded. I discovered the Australian government had this low-volume manufacturing provision and I thought, ‘why not try and work that out a bit’,” he surmised.


Initially, the Hatch was to be a steel-bodied vehicle pressed in Thailand and exported back to Australia. But Mr South said the costs involved were unviable and too far removed from the ideal of an all-Aussie-made car.


“I went overseas and started looking into presses and stamping, and it was just out of control from a price point. It was going to have to be done in Thailand, which really didn’t suit the direction I wanted for the car – and the price was going to be way too difficult to amortise,” he said.


“We also thought, ‘this is just a replica of a 1977 car’, and while a lot of people may want that, we need to stress that this isn’t a GM product – this is a Drive South Hatch.”


The Hatch will run an extruded and bonded aluminium platform with integrated chrome-molybdenum roll cage clad with glass-fibre panels.


Power is sourced from a fuel-injected GM Performance LS3 producing 320kW and 580Nm – or 156kW and 174Nm more than the most-powerful Torana SS A9X original – driving a choice of Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual or GM 6L80 six-speed automatic transmissions to the rear wheels.


“The last VFII-series Commodore with the LS3 engine produced similar numbers, and the Hatch is around 700kg lighter. It’s going to be a fair rocket ship,” he chuckled.


The Hatch will feature a nine-inch differential with 35-spline axles and is suspended by a tubular independent rear-end, the front-end utilising a double wishbone arrangement with tubular A arms and coil overs – all computer optimised to the car’s dimensions and weight before a single piece of aluminium is cut.


Steering arrives care of an electro-hydraulic rack while braking duties fall to 320mm discs with four-piston callipers front and rear under 18-inch forged aluminium wheels measuring 8.0 inches wide up front and 9.0 inches at the rear.


“Building from scratch opens up a whole lot of scope, because you’re not trying to match something,” added Mr South.


“I approached a local supplier and after extensive 3D scanning – some 300 individual components in all – they agreed to produce the chassis. That chassis has been in design for 12 months now with every component incorporated into the CAD model.


“We now know that every component fits – components from 50-odd suppliers – everything from the suspension to the interior light. Effectively all we have to do now is assemble the final product.”


But it’s not just the Hatch’s mechanicals that take a modern turn.


Mr South said the vehicle will combine the best of the new with classic 1970s styling, running an LED dash on a carbon-fibre-trimmed dashboard with CanBus connection, 11.0-inch infotainment array – with obligatory Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity – a reversing camera, sat nav, and even a wireless device charging pad.


Other mod cons include a push-button ignition, air-conditioning and power windows, the Recaro-sourced front seats upholstered in high-grade leather – a far better option than the original 70’s sticky vinyl trim.


It is important to acknowledge that under the skin, this bears little resemblance to the 1977 design.


“There were some risks identified, and GM initially expressed some concern, but that relationship is on a much better footing now and we’re working through what that will look like,” he detailed.


“It might change over time, but at this stage they are happy with it being a Drive South Hatch. There are some body changes and hundreds upon hundreds of other differences from the original car, meaning the Drive South Hatch is a unique car.”


Mr South aims to have a prototype example of the Hatch ready for compliance before the end of 2024.


Under Low-Volume Manufacturer legislation, he hopes to produce up to 100 units per annum, all of which will be sold as fully road-compliant, registerable cars with a manufacturer’s warranty.


At this stage, it is estimated the price of the Drive South Hatch will run close to $250,000 – or less than one-third that of the most recently auctioned original which fetched $775,000 in June of 2021.


And it’s also possible the Hatch model could lend itself to other muscle car revivals in the future, Mr South telling GoAuto there are at least four other classis Aussie muscle cars on the wish list.


“There was always a consideration to do other models, and the way the platform has been designed means we are able to shorten or lengthen the dimensions, almost like a modular setup,” he detailed.


“The top piece that supports the body is chrome-moly and we can change the shape of that quite easily.”


Drive South’s build process uses rivets as locators when manufacturing the chassis to ensure each section is accurately aligned before they are bonded together, the self-jigging process of the individual chassis components allowing everything to be joined with absolute accuracy.


“There has been a lot of interest in this (project) and overwhelmingly people want to see other iconic designs from Australia’s other manufacturers including Ford and Chrysler,” he stated.


We can’t wait to see the project progress and will bring you more information on the Drive South Hatch – and others – as it comes to hand.


More detailed of the Drive South Hatch is available at www.drivesouth.com.au

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