A Holden Commodore in NZ Performance Car isn’t a common occurrence, so how did Jay Singh’s 1987 Holden Berlina catch our eye among hundreds of vehicles at the 2015 V 4&Rotary Nationals?
When we are at such an event, scouting for vehicles to feature, we take it very seriously — sometimes spending more than 30 minutes looking over the finer details to ensure a car’s legitimacy. It wasn’t until we popped the bonnet of Jay’s VL Commodore that we noticed it wasn’t simply just another Commodore — and more suited to our sister publication NZV8 — but rather an RB30-packing boost-snorting rear-wheel-drive monster.
The car’s debut at the Nationals was the end of a very drawn-out six-year build, so where did it start for Jay and the mighty Commodore? He has been hooked on Holdens from the tender age of eight years old, ever since his brother Rob purchased one and took him out cruising, doing skids, and other such shenanigans. So when Jay came of age, and his brother Harry offered this example to him for a steal, he couldn’t say yes fast enough.
“The car was bought by my brother as a 100-per-cent original, three-owner car from Tauranga. For most of its life it was owned by an elderly man who used it occasionally to tow his boat,” Jay said. “It only had 130,000km on the clock, and was in immaculate condition.”
Unfortunately the Commodore was destined to be a project from the get-go, as Jay purchased it from Harry with a blown head gasket.
“After buying numerous heads over six months and finding out all of them were cracked, it was decided that the easiest solution would be to buy a new engine altogether,” Jay explained.
Initially purchasing a low-kilometre Series 2 RB25DET motor from Dodson Autospares, Jay had a GT42 turbo installed along with some other bolt-ons, but this set-up wasn’t destined to be, as somebody made an offer on the package that he couldn’t refuse, and the RB30 single-cam purist urge was taking over.
With Jay’s older brother Rob on the quest for eight-second passes, he no longer needed the factory 110,000km RB30ET engine out of his VL turbo Commodore, so Jay took advantage.
“After fitting the engine, the car sat for a few months before being dropped off to a workshop — which will remain nameless — to have a new MicroTech LT16C ECU fitted and tuned. However this didn’t go to plan, and the car sat for months on end with nothing completed. I then took the VL to another workshop to have the work finished, but after letting it sit for months, they completed some very poor workmanship,” Jay said, “They even tuned the car with the handbrake on.”
After a few terrible experiences with various workshops, Jay and his brothers were over the build, and back in the shed it went — until six months later, when a good friend of Jay’s convinced him to start the build again.
“The Hypertune intake set-up that was supposed to be installed on my brother’s eight-second motor was installed, a Precision 66/67 turbo was purchased, and the car was sent down to Sinco Customs for what was only supposed to be a turbo manifold and some intercooler piping.”
A few weeks later, after talking with Mike, it was decided a simple set-up wasn’t what he was after, and they opted to go all-out with the fabrication — to make it show worthy. A black and red theme was decided upon, which gives the engine bay a somewhat underrated factory appearance, something which drew us to the vehicle in the first place.
With the engine bay now looking the part, Jay had the ECU rewired ready for a tune. Drag-racing legend Craig Dyson, from Dyson Rotaries, just happened to be in New Zealand at the time, and because Jay is a huge fan of his work, he booked his vehicle in for a tune with him at the Revolution Dyno Centre, in West Auckland.
“Unfortunately the RB30 was having a few boost issues on the dyno, so Craig decided some street pulls were needed to properly load the engine, but what we didn’t realize was there was a karate dojo a couple of buildings down — they obviously weren’t RB30 fans, judging by the looks we were getting.” Jay continued, “Craig Dyson driving my car is probably the most memorable experience building this car. Being a passenger with Craig wheel-spinning first, second, and most of third was a real experience — he can definitely pedal a car.”
Once the boost-control problems were solved, the single-cam RB30 engine made 331.7kW (444hp) at the wheels on just 20psi of boost, with the only limiting factors now being the factory internals and head.
The Commodore hasn’t been overly modified in all areas (yet), but Jay has taken serious time to make it appear as tidy as possible. Factory bumpers, door mouldings, and trims have all been resprayed in a custom grey by Shane Graham at Prima, and a set of 20-inch Simmons wheels were sourced.
“At the end of last year we ordered these Simmons for the VL, and after a month and a half of not receiving anything, we were starting to get worried. Two weeks out from Christmas we received a parcel, but it was only one of the four wheels. Luckily the other three arrived a week and a bit later — we were concerned for a while there,” Jay told us. Suspension- and driveline-wise the VL is pretty factory, as Jay explained, “The Commodore is built to go in a straight line.”
He has a few modifications planned for the VL — a full Sony sound system is set to be installed by Rapid Radio, it’ll get a new interior, and will eventually push power to 550kW at the wheels with a forged RB30 single-cam backed by a Powerglide transmission, tubs, and much larger 22-inch Simmons wheels. So what you see here is really only stage one.
We’re pretty sure by the time you read this Jay and his brothers will have torn the VL apart, ready for the next stage of the build — it’s going to be hectic.
1987 Holden Berlina (VL)
- Engine: Holden RB30ET, 3000cc six-cylinder
- Block: Factory
- Head: Factory
- Intake: Hypertune intake manifold, Hypertune 94mm throttle body, custom Sinco intake filter
- Turbo: Precision 66/67
- Wastegate: Turbosmart 60mm
- BOV: Turbosmart Megasonic
- Fuel: Bosch 044 fuel pump, Walbro 500hp fuel pump, Injector Dynamics ID1000cc injectors, Turbosmart FPR 1200 fuel-pressure regulator, two Aeromotive fuel filters, upgraded fuel lines
- Ignition: MSD ignition leads
- Exhaust: Custom Sinco exhaust manifold, 3.5-inch exhaust system, Sinco Customs dump pipe and screamer
- Cooling: HDi intercooler, custom intercooler piping, modified radiator, electric fan
- ECU: MicroTech LT-16C, 30psi map sensor, MicroTech hand controller
- Other: Turbosmart e-Boost2 boost controller, Speedflow fittings throughout, smoothed and painted engine bay, battery relocated to the boot, deloomed and hidden wiring, custom oil catch can, custom power-steering reservoir, custom radiator overflow, custom washer-fluid tank, Sinco Customs radiator cover; powder-coated alternator, alternator brackets, water pump brackets, bumper support brackets, sump guard, and thermostat covers, fuse box relocated to cabin, stainless steel hex bolts used throughout
- Struts: KYB
- Springs: King Springs
- Brakes: (F) Wilwood four-pot calipers, 330mm DBA rotors, (R) Wilwood four-pot calipers, slotted and drilled 290mm DBA rotors
- Other: Toyshop Engineering adjustable camber plates, Whiteline adjustable panhard rod, brake booster removed, Wilwood master cylinder, Wilwood proportioning valve, custom hard lines, extended wheel studs
- Gearbox: Factory five-speed
- Clutch: Heavy-duty Exedy
- Flywheel: Exedy
- Diff: Powder-coated and rebuilt factory unit
- Paint: Factory paint on body: bumpers, door mouldings, and trims painted by Shane Graham at Prima in a custom grey
- Enhancements: Aerocatch bonnet pins
- Seats: Factory
- Steering wheel Factory
- Instrumentation: Auto Meter tachometer
- Power: 331.7kW (444hp) at the wheels on 20psi of boost