Hell VL: 1987 VL Commodore

Posted in Cars
Published in NZV8 Issue No. 81

I can’t even remember who said it now, it was that long ago,” Lee Wilson comments on someone’s statement that Holden 308 motors couldn’t make any power. That was all it took to tip him over the edge and set him on a quest to prove them wrong… whoever they may be!

Lee had owned the car for a few years, just with a 3-litre straight-six in it, but the plan was always to drop a 308 in so it had a bit more power and street cred. If he looks back now, he would surely have noticed the signs that it was spiralling into a full-on build. One of those signs should have been when the decision was made to give the car a quick paint job before the motor was dropped in…
As you can tell, that quick paint job turned out to be a quality job, and it looks just as good now as it did all those years ago when it was first sprayed. It was around the time that the build began when Lee started hanging out with a few other guys and girls who had supercharged engines, and through helping them out with their builds, he soon met Al Shadwick from Al’s Blower Drives. Over the years Al and Lee have become good mates, helping each other out on various projects (Lee’s a fabricator by trade, so comes in handy).

As you can imagine, having a relationship with New Zealand’s top supercharger expert can come in handy when you’re trying to build a big power street motor. Al and Lee devised a plan that would see the 308 block retained, but a 304 crank installed, along with Scat H-beam rods and Wiseco pistons. While the capacity may be small in comparison, the emphasis was put on making the engine breathe efficiently to make the most of what it had to offer. To do this, Yella Terra Dash-9 CNC ported heads were chosen and fitted with roller rockers from the same catalogue. Add some Ferrea stainless valves, a blower cam and a port-matched intake and you’ve got a combo that is almost unbeatable with a Holden block. Of course, it’s what sits above all this that makes the power and makes the car into a head turner. That setup consists of a billet Blower Shop 6/71 supercharger and a pair of 650cfm Demon carbs.
Currently the blower is three percent overdriven, which should make the combo good for around 600hp. The exact figure is unknown as, since an oil pump drive failed resulting in the end being chewed off the camshaft, a new more aggressive cam has been fitted. With the old cam, it made 530hp, so it’s fair to say that Lee’s not stretching the truth at all with those numbers.

Since the plan was only ever for the car to be a streeter, plenty of care was taken to ensure the cooling system was up to the task at hand. And to this day there’s not been a problem at all, regardless of how bad the traffic Lee finds himself sitting in.
Over the course of the build, he learnt more than he ever expected to, which has led him to say he’d do much of the build differently if he could do it all again. Included in the list of things he’d change is the gearbox. A Tremec 6-speed manual is currently fitted, which is by no means a bad box, however, he’d prefer a Hollinger. For now at least, the Tremec is fitted with an Excedy twin-plate clutch and steel flywheel, which have no problems doing the job.
Further back you’ll find a 9-inch diff fitted with an LSD head and 3.5:1 ratio. The long black lines left outside the studio proving that the diff setup has no problem in getting those big 255-wide 20-inch tyres to spin into a pulp. The 20×8.5-inch rims the liquorice strips are wrapped around sit as close to the guards as practical thanks to a setup consisting of custom coilovers upfront and Bilstein shocks with Dobisport springs out rear. A Whiteline front swaybar has also been fitted. The brakes were an area where no expense was spared; instead Lee opted for Wilwood 6-piston front callipers and 14-inch rotors, along with 4-piston rear callipers and 12-inch rotors.
The effort and attention to detail isn’t just limited to the engine bay and mechanical aspects of the build, and Lee openly admits that along the way when people suggested different things, he often ran with them, which kept shifting the benchmark higher and higher.
One of those areas is the interior, where a custom instrument panel has been created and fitted with a full assortment of Auto Meter gauges. Rather than keep the stock Calais seats, which more resemble a lounge chair than a car seat, a pair of Autosport bucket seats have been installed and the rear seat re-trimmed to suit.

The build hasn’t been without drama though, the latest being the front snapping off the crank! Luckily it was just when the car was being fired up, and no major damage was done, except of course, to the crank. After plenty of design time and a bit of CNC machine work, Lee has created his own crank support and custom front cover assembly, which should ensure the same thing never happens again.
You’d think that after being in the build for so long, he’d have learned to stop playing with the car and just enjoy driving it. But it appears not. While he’s been clocking up plenty of miles on it, there’s a devious plan being formed that involves different paint, different wheels and maybe even a new blower… some people just can’t help themselves!

1987 VL Commodore Specifications
Engine: 308ci Holden V8, 304 crank, Scat H-beam rods, ARP rod bolts, Wiseco pistons, 4-bolt mains, ARP studs, Rollmaster timing chain, Yella Terra Dash–9 CNC ported heads, Yella Terra roller rockers, Crane roller lifters, Ferrea stainless steel valves, Crane blower cam, twin 650cfm Demon carbs, port-matched Newby intake, Blower Shop 6/71 supercharger, three percent overdrive, Jazz fuel cell, Russell fuel filter, Edelbrock fuel pump, Barry Grant 4-port regulator, MSD 6BTM ignition, MSD distributer, MSD leads, Mallory coil, MSD alternator, 2-inch headers, twin 3-inch exhaust, Aussie Desert Cooler radiator, twin 12-inch fans, CVR electric water pump, custom front cover and crank support
Driveline: Tremec T56 6-speed gearbox, Excedy twin-plate clutch, steel flywheel, 9-inch diff, LSD diff head, 3:5:1 gears, adjustable panhard rod
Suspension: Adjustable coilovers, Bilstein shocks, Dobisport springs, Whiteline front swaybar
Brakes: (f) Wilwood 14-inch rotors, Wilwood 6-piston callipers, (r) Wilwood 12-inch rotors, Wilwood 4-piston callipers
Wheels/Tyres: 20×8.5-inch wheels, 225/35R20 and 255/30R20 tyres
Exterior: PPG paint
Interior: Autosport race seats, re-trimmed rear seat, Momo steering wheel, Pro 5.0 shifter, Auto Meter Sport Comp gauges
Performance: 530rwhp @ 6200 rpm with a 540 Lift Camshaft,

Driver Profile

Lee Wilson 
Age: 33
Occupation: Steel fabricator
Previously owned cars: S3 RX-7, S4 RX-7
Dream car: Anything that’s cool
Why the VL? It started as a simple engine swap that got out of control
Build time: On and off for 8 years
Length of ownership: 12 years
Lee thanks: Jason and Linda Way at 2 Way Industries, Dene at STA, Al’s Blower Drives, Glendene Engine Reconditioners, Rocket Industries Ltd, Manfred at Boulevard Metalworks, Tony at Langslow Engineering, Paul Dunkley, Liz and Ryan, Steve at Steve’s Grooming, Simon at Firestone New Lynn, Vicky, Dale aka Joe Dirt, Shane at West City Holden

Words: Todd Wylie
Photos: Adam Croy