It doesn’t necessarily require a fortune to build a ¨Commodore, just an understanding wife
You don’t see many mean-looking VH Commodores any more.” Pete North, the owner of the VH in front of you, has a point. I’ve had a good look round since chatting with Pete and he’s right, there just aren’t that many around. There was a time when a hot early Commodore was on every street corner; chances are you or one of your mates has owned one at some point or another. I remember spending the odd afternoon or two painting the road black and smoking out the neighbourhood in my mate’s VH. That was back in the days when the law didn’t take the car off you for sustained loss of traction. For low-dollar, skid-for-ya-buck fun, you really can’t go past an early Commodore V8. Throw a five-speed, tweaked diff and a few suspension mods into the mix and it’s all on. Just ask Pete¦
Pete’s Commy started life as a stock-as-a-rock SL model complete with a 1900cc boat anchor and five-speed. A nice little family car, something mum could drop the kids off to school in. Once in Pete’s hands it was never going to stay like that for long. The entire build took only 10 months, and in true DIY fashion it was mostly done by Pete. Being a coachbuilder certainly came in handy when time came to lay on the Holden Seal Grey paint; it’s a stand-out effort when you consider both panel and paint were done in the driveway at home. [I bet the neighbours like you — Ed.] The body remains mostly stock, with only the addition of SLE bumpers and tail lights to give a subtle lift to the exterior. While DIY will save you some dollars, the smart guys among us know our limits and pay the pros to do the bits we don’t have the expertise for. So when the time came to get the engine sorted, Pete gave Doug Smith at Concept Motors the go-ahead on the machine work and assembly. A Holden 5047cc (308ci) block has been filled with ACL slugs on A9X-style heavy-duty rods held in check with ARP rod bolts, with the rotating mass all fully balanced by Ian at Franklin Engineering. Buttoning up the bottom end is a Holden Group A sump and pick-up. A ‘top secret’ solid cam (can’t let the boys find out) with a decent lift gives the bump to the Comp Cams pushrods. A set of fully ported and polished heads (port matched to the tunnel ram) are filled with Manley stainless valves and roller rockers, all hidden away under the mandatory chrome rocker covers. A polished Redline twin tunnel ram fills the space between the heads, while twin 450cfm Holleys gulp the good stuff and inhale deeply through the polished Hilborn air scoop.
All this is connected via a Castlemaine Rod Shop bellhousing kit to a five-speed Toyota Supra ’box. Neil at Autoclutch helped Pete piece together a clutch featuring a lightened steel flywheel, with a six-puck brass button Kevlar clutch plate and heavy duty pressure plate. It also now features a custom-made release bearing holder after the original got toasted at the recent GM enthusiast drags. Pete has had a few issues at the drag strip, blowing a head gasket at the Mondiale Freight Drags earlier this year; he threw a powersteer belt in the burnout comp at the recent Fathers’ Day Drags, and now this latest effort. But he’s never down for long, and always back out there giving it death within a week or two.
A VN Calais driveshaft turned out to be the perfect length to tie the gearbox to the diff; the only mods Pete had to make were relocating the hanger bearing mounting point and fitting a couple of driveshaft loops to keep the certifier happy.
To put the twist into the rear tyres there’s a VL Borg Warner diff. Along with the mini spool and 3.23 gears, the “Caution — often sideways” sticker on the back window lends a few hints as to Pete’s driving style. The personalised plate, which was a Father’s Day gift a couple of cars back, also starts to make sense, as it doesn’t take much to tempt him into making the window sticker come true.
Sideways is one thing, but when you get busted you need to be able to slow down. Pete has taken care of stopping duties by fitting VL V8 finned front callipers clamping onto 290mm rotors with metallic pads up the front. Out the rear a VN Calais has donated discs and callipers with standard pads. All the factory bushes have been replaced with Nolathane, including the adjustable front strut tops. Controlling the body roll is left to a set of larger factory V8 sway bars. To keep the belly from rubbing the road there’s a set of Lovells super-low springs damped by Monroe short travel gas shocks. Rolling stock is a set of ROH Drift Rs with 245/35R19 rubber all round.
Wander down the back and the first thing that strikes you is the owner-built polished alloy drop tank. To pump the fuel up to the motor there’s a Pro Comp 140gph electric fuel pump, and a Holley regulator controls the flow. A VL electronic distributor puts the punch of an MSD coil through Top Gun 9.0mm leads, with NGK plugs putting the fire in the hole. The exhaust is taken care of by a set of Pacemaker Tri-Y headers with 42mm primaries, while twin 2.5-inch pipes direct the gases into a pair of Forzaflow mufflers, which end in twin three-inch dump pipes. Cooling duties are assigned to a Holden V8 radiator assisted by VT Commodore twin electric fans that have been modified to fit by Pete. While he was at it all the wiring in the engine bay was re-run to keep it out of sight, and the battery was relocated to the boot.
Moving inside, we find a functional VK Commodore interior with SAAS supplying the steering wheel and gearshift knob. A 5-inch Autogauge tacho and shift light mounted off the dash tell Pete what the revs are doing. Also from Autogauge are the cowl mounted 2.5-inch water, oil and fuel pressure gauges to keep an eye on the vital signs. He tells me the Alpine stereo and speakers are not hooked up and are just there to fill the holes, “You couldn’t hear it over the engine anyway.”
Pete’s VH is proof you don’t need a big-dollar budget or a 10-grand paint job to have fun. With a good old bit of Kiwi do it ya-self, money spent in the right places with the right people, a good bunch of mates and an understanding wife, anyone can build a great little Commodore in their driveway. What do you reckon, are you TEMTED?
1983 VH Holden – Specifications
Engine: Holden 5047cc (308ci), ACL pistons, A9X Rods with ARP rod bolts, fully balanced, Group A sump and pick-up, ported and flowed heads, oversized Manley stainless valves and roller rockers, solid cam, Comp Cams pushrods, VL electric distributor, MSD coil, Top Gun Leads, ported and polished Redline twin tunnel ram, two 450cfm Holley carbs, Holley electric fuel pump and regulator, Hilborn scoop, Pacemaker headers, twin 2.5-inch exhaust, Forza Flow mufflers, twin three-inch dumped tailpipes, Holden V8 radiator, VT Commodore twin electric fans, custom alloy drop tank.
Driveline: Five-speed Supra gearbox, CRS bellhousing kit, lightened steel flywheel, six-puck brass button Kevlar clutch, heavy duty clutch plate, VN driveshaft, 3.23 ratio Borg Warner diff, mini spool
Suspension: Monroe short travel gas shocks, Lovells super-low springs, Nolathane bushes all round and V8 sway bars, front adjustable Nolathane strut tops
Brakes: Front — VL V8 finned callipers, 290mm rotors, metallic pads. Rear — VN Calais rear discs and callipers with std pads
Wheels/tyres: 19×8-inch ROH Drift Rs 235x40x19 Goodyears (front) and 235x40x19 Yokohama (rear)
Exterior: Painted Seal Grey, standard body with SLE bumpers and tail lights
Interior: VK Commodore seats, SAAS steering wheel and gear knob, 127mm Autogauge tacho, 67mm Autogauge fuel/oil/ water gauges, Alpine CD player, speakers
Peter North – Driver Profile
Previously owned cars: ’75 GT Falcon, ’78 Trans Am, T-Buckets, ’78 Torana V8, ’67 Falcon V8, big-block HQ, small-block HQs (x3), ’88 VL Calais V8, ’85 VK V8 Commodore to name a few and many more ” 38 altogether
Dream Car: HQ Kingswood or a Dodge Viper for a Sunday skid car
Why the VH?: ’Cause you don’t see many mean-looking VH Commodores any more
Build time: 10 months
Length of ownership: 12 months
Peter thanks: Keri, Cameron and Briana for family support, Doug Smith at Concept Motors, Lee at Diffs R Us, Sachin and Richard for helping and all the late nights, Steve Vincent at Supreme Auto Electrical, Jared Rule at Repco, Kim ” Sachin’s wife ” for letting him out late, and anyone else who helped along the way.
Words: Karl C Photos: Dan Wakelin