It was some 15 years ago now that Braden Smith bought his first V8 — a VN Commodore that he owns to this day. This was to be one of many eight-cylinder vehicles he would own over the next few years. We guess it’s pretty safe to say that he’s been bitten well and truly by the V8 bug, and that’s fine by us. There are probably a few tyre companies out there that are thankful for that, as well!

Some 10 years later, Braden was looking at moving on one of his many V8s and, while trawling Trade Me (as you do), this particular HQ caught his eye. While the HQ was a completely stripped roller, it did come with all the necessary bits and pieces to put it back together and have a little fun. But, more importantly, it had potential.

You can only see so much from online photos, but it was something Braden spied in one of these photos that really grabbed his attention — sitting in a cardboard box next to the car was a bright and shiny 383 small block and a 6-71 blower. Braden contacted the seller, asked a few questions, and enquired whether the seller would be keen on a swap for his VL. The seller was more than interested and, to sweeten the deal for Braden, the guy was an upholsterer and offered to install the brand-new interior that also came with the car.

Two weeks after seeing the car for the first time, Braden finally had it in his shed. True to his word, the previous owner had done a ripper job of fitting the custom-trimmed front and rear bench seats. The brand-new hood liner was wrinkle free, as were the carpets and door skins. All that was left for Braden to do was, well, everything else.

Now, when it comes to builds, you can tackle the task a couple of different ways. Option one is to set a realistic goal, take things slowly and methodically, and not stress out and kill yourself in the process. Option two is to set an unrealistic goal and decree that, as it’s only three months until Christmas, come hell or high water, you will be out cruising the streets behind the wheel of a blown small-block HQ Holden by then, end of story.

For the next three months, no one saw or heard from Braden unless he needed a hand or needed to scab some parts from someone. He was in the shed every spare minute he had. Towards the end of the initial build, there were nights when he would drag himself out of the shed at 5.30 in the morning and fall into bed for a power nap only to get up for work half an hour later. Many times he asked himself why he even bothered with sleep.

Somehow, and despite the serious lack of sleep, Braden met the unrealistic deadline he had set for himself. When he turned the key for the first time, all the long nights finishing at stupid o’clock in the morning became but distant memories. That wonderful exhaust note and unmistakable blower whine made the hard slog of the past three months all worth it. It was at this point that Braden thought that everything was finished, and he could sit back and enjoy his creation; he couldn’t have been more wrong.

Around 18 months later, while Braden was on the drag strip cutting 12-second quarters in full street trim, the blown ex-jetboat 383 cried “Enough!” and made a noise that it wasn’t really supposed to make. Once Braden got it home and out of the hole, the damage was surveyed and it was found that nothing short of a full rebuild would make the unwanted noise disappear.

Thankfully, the Holden HQ is blessed with a rather cavernous space under the bonnet, so Braden thought, “What the hell! I’ve got a massive engine bay, so let’s go bigger.” It just so happened that Braden’s good mate Sambo had a tunnel-rammed 454 big block sitting surplus to requirements in his shed. The block was delivered to Murray Smith at Papakura Engine Specialists for them to build up something that Braden could thrash without the fear of mass destruction — and, more specifically, that the blower could bolt to.

The block was cleaned up and bored out to displace 468 cubes, and a crack-tested and balanced crank was securely clamped to the bowels of the four-bolt mains block. Now, forged Wiseco pistons slide up and down the bores on top of Scat H-beam rods and explosions take place in Merlin heads stuffed with triple-sprung stainless Ferrea valves, which in turn are opened and closed by a custom-ground roller cam. Twin 750cfm double pumpers sit atop the 6-71 blower from the grenaded 383. Mating the block with the huffer is a Weiand big-port drag intake manifold. All this makes for just a smidge under 600 horses at the treads on a mild ‘safe’ tune, running a sedate nine pounds of boost.

While the engine was away getting built, Braden decided to give the rest of the car a thorough going-over in anticipation of the increased horsepower. The standard rear suspension had fared fairly well over the years — the only things needing replacement were the lower arms. Braden decided to fit a plated-up set, as the standard ones he removed were bent like bananas.

Up front, the inner guards were removed for ease of maintenance, the firewall was smoothed, and the heater box taken out. To help keep the heat that the big block would produce firmly under control, a 26-inch two-row Griffin radiator was mounted behind the custom grille. On the front of the giant cooler now sits a 14-inch fan, while on the back is a 16-inch version — no chance of things overheating with that amount of airflow. For good measure, a trans cooler with its own 12-inch fan was also mounted to keep the heat created in the Otahuhu Automatic Transmission–built TH350 trans in check.

With the freshly rebuilt big block securely bolted back in the hole and reconnected to the three-and-a-half–inch driveshaft and Salisbury diff, it was finally time to take the big black monster out and see what she would do.

First time out at Fram, and with a set of too-small 10-year-old Hoosiers on the back, the big HQ cut a respectable time of 10.92 seconds at 112mph. The speed was way down, due to Braden running out of revs and banging on the limiter for the last 70–80 metres. With the right diff ratio and correct-size tyres, he thinks a low 10 is achievable. Without a roll cage, though, the car’s not allowed back on the strip.

Braden openly admits that he never built the car specifically to burn rubber, but sometimes he just can’t help himself. Over the years he’s sacrificed enough rear tyres to put several holes in many ozone layers, and had great success in the process. He also never had any intention of putting gloss paint on the car, as matte black was “easier to maintain” — that was, until Powercruise 2010.

Braden entered the burnout comp and put on what he and his mates thought was a stout performance. Given that a set of rear 235/35R19 Sagitars that are spun up to 330kph last only one minute and 40 seconds, you have to make things spectacular really quickly, and Braden thought he had. Sadly, the judges didn’t see things his way and he wasn’t even placed in the top 10. Feeling somewhat disheartened, the general consensus of Braden and his mates for the poor result was that the car didn’t really stand out, and that perhaps the judges had frowned upon the not-so-shiny matte-black paint.

Over the following winter months, Braden spent time in his shed stripping off all the offending paint and coating the HQ’s flanks in bright and shiny PPG red and black. The following year at Powercruise, he laid down what he felt was an identical performance and took out Top Judged Overall in the burnouts. He’s not sure if that’s a coincidence or not, but it does make you wonder.

The Powercruise burnout comp isn’t the only one in which Braden has taken home the prize money, as he’s become a regular at the pointy end of competitions all around the upper North Island. By our estimation, he has won, or ranked in the top three, at more comps than any other car and driver combo.

Braden said he’s quite keen to let the HQ go to a new home now, and, who knows, maybe over the upcoming cold winter months he may set himself another stupid deadline and reappear next year with something even tougher. We’ve seen what else is hiding in his shed, and can only hope that’s the case! 

Shane Wishnowsky

My first experience of the V8 engine was not a good one. Picture a white-haired young boy bawling his eyes out when an un-muffled sprintcar was fired up. My Dad, who had been car mad all his life, thought I was broken and he’d produced a dud! He persevered though and a few years later took me to Thunder Park; it was here that I fell in love with the V8 engine and I was hooked! Since then I have been a regular on both sides of the fence at drag strips in the North Island, both as a spectator and a crew member. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that 40 years down the track I would end up photographing and writing about them, not that I’m complaining!