A few years ago in Australia, my dad and I rented a Holden Cruze. It wasn’t too bad really, but it did have a few downsides — namely its blunt inability to convert any mashing of the accelerator into forward motion. But something tells me that this deliciously insane Holden Cruze hatch is a little bit different …
Maybe it’s the rear wing, which is probably one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. The wing was designed by a former NASA aeronautical designer, which is ironic since it can probably be seen from space. Another of its distinctive descriptors could be the fact that it’s only got two doors. Have you ever seen a two-door Holden Cruze before? I didn’t think so.
Of course, the reality of it all is that once you peel away the fibreglass panels, this isn’t really a Holden Cruze at all. In fact, the only portions of the car ported directly from the Cruze are its windscreen, headlights, and tail lights. This car is something far, far cooler than just a Cruze — it’s a space-frame, purpose-built, touring car on steroids.
The story begins at the 2014 CRC Speedshow, where Nick Mitchell, Derek Mitchell, and their Hamilton-based Mitchell Race Xtreme (MRX) outfit were displaying their then-new Saker to the public, as well as their Nissan Altima TLX. Their engineering attracted the interest of John Wadsworth, Warren Croft, and David Clark from Blenheim, who soon wanted a V8-propelled racer of their own for competition in the South Island Endurance Series.
John and Warren were no strangers to big, powerful, rear-wheel drive race cars, having owned and campaigned two Commodores in the past — their last one derived from an ex-Team Kiwi Racing Holden VY Commodore V8 Supercar. But, long in the tooth, the Commodore was getting a bit tired, and the pairing wanted something new; something that could utilize some of the parts from the Commodore — including its GM power plant. Being an ex-Holden dealer, John plucked a brand new Holden Cruze hatchback off the factory production line, which he and Warren had simply intended to kit out with parts scavenged from their V8 Supercar. But, upon meeting Nick, that plan escalated into something far more comprehensive.
Indeed, the car that the two parties would concoct was going to be one capable of taking down any other domestic V8 touring car on a racetrack. Not bound by the regulatory rule books found in our domestic V8 categories, the Cruze was planned to be quicker and better equipped than any NZV8 TLX or NZ SuperTourer across the board; with more horsepower, more aerodynamic aid, larger brakes, and less weight than anything else in its spiritual class — an idea MRX followed through to the end.
It was decided that the project would start with MRX’s 000 NZV8 chassis. This had debuted in 2012 as the prototype chassis for the next generation of the NZV8 Touring Car Championship. After the concept had been given the thumbs up from NZV8 competitors, but for a few minor changes, the 000 chassis was pulled aside and rested, until it was ultimately sold to John and Warren.
“The build was easily the most extensive we have ever had to do,” explains Nick. “Especially considering that we started from literally nothing! A stack of tube of the floor to build the chassis, and the car drove out of our workshop. Everything was custom built. It probably ranks as MRX’s wildest build.” And when Nick says ‘everything’, he means everything. With so many custom parts, Nick found himself fabricating and creating custom parts for every portion of the car.
The 430ci small block Chevrolet V8 from the old Commodore eventually found its home under the bonnet of the Cruze, mated to an RD6S Holinger sequential gearbox. With the team holding its cards close to its chest, the amount of horsepower that the engine produces remains a secret. But we expect the figure to exceed the 650hp marker.
Underneath, custom-fabricated chromoly uprights and arms produced by MRX, supported by Penske three-way shocks, will ensure that the shorter, more nuggety Cruze will be able to handle its power through the corners. This is complemented by an AP Racing brake package, and MRX’s own knife-blade sway-bar system, which works via cockpit controls that connect to a cable that rotates the blade, allowing the driver to adjust the sway bars from hard to soft while on track. Inside, the spartan floorpan resembles a V8 Supercar, with most of the present technology based around the driver’s seat.
But despite all of the custom work that’s gone into the innards of the Cruze, Nick lists the exterior as the most finicky and time-consuming process on the car. One of the issues he recognized early in the modification process was the limited space that the driver would have to get in and out of the car — something particularly important in an endurance-racing setting, where races can be won and lost in pit lane due to poor pit stops. The only solution was to begin the long process of deleting the rear doors, and subsequently increasing the length of the front doors by 200mm a piece. We’re glad they did, as it’s made the Cruze quite the looker, with proportions, fins, and lines eerily similar to those from the likes of the Seat Leon Supercopa.
While numerous other projects have come and gone from the MRX workshop in the last 365 days, Nick chipped away at the little Cruze. And on August 15, it saw its first short shakedown undertaken at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, in the cool late afternoon. While it will eventually be knocking on the door of Porsche 911 GT3s and the like for pace, none of that knocking took place at the shakedown, with its drivers simply looking to get a feel for the car on a track that they were both relatively new to. The only reported problem? Chatter from the front splitter, so nothing major.
After a final tally, Nick figures that over 1200 hours of labour have gone into the Cruze, making it somewhat sad that it is now off to the South Island, where it will debut at round one of the South Island Endurance Series on September 19. But, should it be successful, the Cruze is likely to make a North Island cameo in 2016, for the scheduled dual endurance series, which will comprise of the best entries from both the North and South Island endurance classes.
For me, the MRX Cruze is a car that epitomizes Kiwi circuit culture as a weird, but cool, example of a group of people coming together with a charmingly odd concept and making it happen. We wish them the very best, and we look forward to following their 2015 campaign with interest.
2014 MRX Holden Cruze
- Engine: 430ci small block Chev V8, full alloy aftermarket carburetted race motor
- Gearbox/driveline: RD6S Holinger sequential gearbox, Tilton 7.25-inch triple-plate clutch. MRX-fabricated full floating nine-inch diff. Cambered floating hubs. Three link with adjustable watts linkage.
- Suspension: MRX-fabricated chromoly uprights and chromoly arms. MRX knife-blade sway-bar system. Penske three-way shocks.
- Brakes: Front; 378mm rotors with AP Racing six-piston calipers. Rear; 330mm AP Racing rotors and AP Racing four-piston calipers. Tilton 600 Series floor-mounted pedal box, with tilton 75 Series master cylinders
- Wheels: AUTOart three-piece rims. 18x11-inch at the front, 18x12-inch at the rear
- Interior: RaceTech seat and harness, Motec C185 colour-display dash with data logging, Motec PDM, and Motec CAN keypad. MRX cockpit sway-bar controls. MRX custom split 110-litre alloy fuel cell with dry-break fill system. Twin-intank lift pumps, twin Mallory pressure pumps.
- Exterior: Two-door conversion, front doors stretched by 200mm, deleted rear door, pumped front and rear guards 80mm each side, steel converted door shuts, fibreglass body panels. All body mods carried out by MRX. Custom front splitter, alloy rear diffuser, MRX monster rear wing
- Exhaust: tri-Y system, 1⅞-inch primaries, 2⅛-inch secondaries into three-inch Y pipe, and MRX muffler