Sedate drives to the golf course, grocery hunting with a little luxury, and maybe a nice family drive to grandma’s place on the weekend. This is the typical luxo barge lifestyle Toyota envisioned for the Toyota Cresta.
Benny Neal’s Ford Barra-powered 1985 Cresta (X70) is anything but typical – with the exception of the occasional game of golf, of course. I can’t imagine 8-second scoots down the drag strip, burnouts, massive turbos, or triple-digit horsepower figures entered any of the vehicle’s development conversations, let alone the idea of someone retrofitting an Australian engine at some point. But all these things make Ben’s Toyota sedan the unique machine it is.
Of course, he never intended it to be like this. “I bought it in Tokyo and had it shipped to Sapporo for a road trip with Marty [Mighty Car Mods] and Al [now of The Skid Factory],” says Ben. “Originally had a carby 1G-EU engine that had about 80hp and it was the slowest thing in the world. It was tough trying to chase cars down on the highway when they were doing the speed limit. We drove it all over Japan and had an awesome time in it.”
Ben’s plan was to bring the Cresta back to Australia and sell it locally, but somewhere between the car leaving the Land of the Rising Sun and arriving in the Land Down Under, that changed. “We discussed building a 1,000hp Toyota 1GZ V12 or a turbo 1UZ V8 [for the car], but both those cost way too much money,” Ben recalls. “I think it was Woody [from TSF] who suggested swapping in a Barra.”
For the Barra uninitiated, this is an engine built by Ford Australia – not to be confused with the Canadian Barra V8 – which was used in Falcon and Territory models from 2012 to 2016. The Barra came in various guises with different outputs, but at their core they’re all 4.0L inline-six units featuring a DOHC 24-valve cylinder head with VCT. In the performance world, it’s the petrol turbocharged variants that are revered – and for good reason. These motors not only make good power in stock form, by design they have the ability to produce and handle a lot more. So they’re a lot like Toyota’s venerable 2JZ-GTE, but newer and with a larger displacement, hence why they’ve become such a popular engine swap for horsepower-hungry Aussies.
As you’d have likely deduced already from the Bogart Racing wheels – skinny 15x4s up front and staunch 15x10s out back – Ben’s Cresta has been built for drag duty, but not to the point of being completely gutted in a bid to save weight, because it’s street driven too – just not in Hawaii as the licence plates suggest.
The full interior is one of the things that makes this car so great. This ’80s relic retains all of its velvety maroon plushness inside, save for the driver’s seat which has been replaced with a Kirkey aluminium item. There’s also a mandatory ANDRA-approved roll cage, harnesses and everything else you’d expect to find in a full-chassis sedan capable of 8-second quarter-mile ETs and trap speeds nearing the 170mph (273km/h) mark.
Surprisingly, the initial build came together as it happened, rather than by any predetermined means, and in less than two short weeks no less. “My mate Paulie and I did all the rear-end chassis work with the ladder bar and cage before we had even measured the engine bay to see if the Barra was going to fit. It was pretty tense seeing if the bonnet was going to close for the first time,” says Ben.
In the first instance, a Barra 270T engine (362hp factory) from a Falcon FG-X XR6 Turbo found it way in the Cresta’s bay. “The original build was so rushed, and it was never intended to run bottom 8s; we were shooting for 10s and to maybe try for a 9. Then we went to the first built engine from Empire Mechanical which we updated after Drag Week 2019 with further upgrades and more power,” says Ben. “That newer engine was the one that made 1,265rwhp at Summernats 33 in the Horsepower Heroes finals.”
As you’d expect, there’s some serious engine hardware in play to achieve that number. The fire-ringed FG1 block features Spool-spec CP forged pistons, Spool forged rods and a heat-treated factory crank, while the Empire-ported FG1 cylinder head uses Kelford 280-degree camshafts and valve springs, Empire lifters and 14mm head studs, and has had its VCT functionality deleted. Ben says the compression ratio sits around 9.5:1.
The appetite for fuel is large, and satisfying the needs is an E85-based system comprising of a 55L cell, three 525lph Ti Automotive pumps, 10AN feed and 8AN return lines, a Hypertune rail and Raceworks 2,400cc injectors.
The turbo is hard to miss – a big single Garrett G42-series unit sitting on a Hypertune tubular exhaust manifold and running a GFB 50mm wastegate. There’s also a large front-mount intercooler, Hypertune forward-facing plenum with FG drive-by-wire throttle body and R35 GT-R VR38DETT ignition coils. In the exhaust department you’ll find a Hypertune 4-inch dump pipe running into a BCW cat-back system – it’s street driven, remember.
A HP Junky billet oil pump, BA Turbo baffled sump and Silvia alloy radiator round out the rest of the main engine upgrades, with the whole package managed by an Australian-designed Haltech Elite 2500T.
“The 1,265rwhp at Summernats is the highest power it’s ever done, as it normally makes around 1,100rwhp on the hub dyno I use,” says Ben, adding “I can run it as low as 26psi and I step up to around 38 to 40psi when it’s set to kill. I do have a 45psi map there, but I haven’t used it yet.
Of course, power is one thing, but being able to use it – reliably – is another, hence the bulletproof driveline in play. Once upon a time this Cresta made lazy shifts through its factory slushbox; today it’s using a Hughes Performance TH400 transmission with transbrake, Hughes Performance custom torque converter, and out back a 9-inch Moser aluminium centre-section full spool diff with 35-spline axles and a 3.23:1 ratio.
“The real trick is making the car go down the track, so we put a lot of work into new shocks [Shockworks coilovers up front and Strange double-adjustable coilovers in the rear] and getting it all set up right,” says Ben. The car ran its best ET to date – an 8.18 at 168mph (270km/h) – using cheap OEM replacement shocks in the front, so there’s further gains to be made just in that respect.
As it sits though, the package has already proven itself, and not just with its 8-second ET. Ben came in runner-up in the XR6 Turbo Developments Six-Cylinder Class at Drag Challenge Weekend 2019 and 13th overall, with a monster wheel-stand to round out the weekend. At DCW 2020, Ben took out the Speed Pro Six-Cylinder Class, Furthest Driven – he drove from Mittagong, NSW to Ipswich, QLD and back – approximately 1,000km (621mi) each way – 4th Outright, and Quickest Six-Cylinder.
He’ll be back for more, too. “I’d definitely like to do another trip, as we’ve never really run the car to its full potential,” Ben says. “Ultimately, I’d love to do Drag Week in the USA and Drag Challenge here in Australia in the same year.”
From Japan’s highways to Australia’s drag strips, it’s pretty hard to imagine a Cresta more removed from its original purpose than Benny Neal’s example, and there’s nothing not love about that.