Ever since his teenage years as a panel-beating apprentice watching Bathurst on the telly, Brad Kelling had an urge to get itnvolved in motorsport. His first introduction to the sharp end of the motor racing stick was through the father of a good friend, who raced RX-7s in the South Island. Aussie Touring Cars was where it was at for Brad, though, and he knew he had to fly the blue flag or the red. As you will be able to tell by looking at his mean Group C replica VK Commodore here, he chose the red.
Years on, and now with his own successful panel shop, he sold up and headed overseas to work in the States. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the necessary work visa, so he moved instead to Australia, where by chance got a job with a Touring Car team in 1999 on the Gold Coast.
Unbeknown to Brad, this was when the seed was planted for what would eventually grow into the car you see here – for he met ‘the King of the Mountain’ Peter Brock, who was mentoring the driver of the team Brad was working for. Brad decided he would like to build a race replica of Brocky’s legendary Bathurst-winning ‘Big Banger’ orange and white Marlboro VK Group A Commodore. Through his ongoing association with Brocky, he was introduced to the family who owned the moulds for the Marlboro bodykit, and they agreed to make him a kit exclusively, as long as it wasn’t copied or sold to anybody else.
So how did the car you see here come about? The Kelling family returned to Nelson to open Brad’s Smash Repairs, and in September 2006 Peter Brock tragically died while doing what he loved best. Brad and his daughter Tegan, who had lived, eaten and breathed Brocky since she was three years old, decided it was time to get back into the race car build. A four-cylinder five-speed VK Royale was bought to use as a donor for the Marlboro and a Walkinshaw also under construction. Upon further inspection, the Royale was far too nice to use as a parts car, and over a few beers one night it was decided they would build up the Royale as a tribute to Brocky and use it as a tow vehicle for the race car. So when you are already currently building a Group A replica race car and a Walkinshaw replica, what do you build next?
The year the VK ‘Big Banger’ orange and white Marlboro car was raced was the year the VK Group A SS was brought out in a run of 500 to homologate it. But that was the de-tuned version in Formula Blue with a very simple body kit. Brad desired something wilder, and decided upon a concept that had not been done – properly, anyway – a Group C road version of the race car. He wanted to make a car that looked and felt in every way what Holden would have/should have produced back in the day. As often happens, what started as a tow car very quickly became too full-on and turned into a daily driver, but then went completely crazy and ended up as the over-the-top Sunday driver you see here.
From start to finish it only took Brad nine months to complete the basic build, including the copious amount of custom fabrication needed to turn a race-spec body kit into something usable on a road-going vehicle. It then took another six months for all the detailing – including the wheels, exhaust, tuning, etc. Fortunately, Brad already had the 304ci big-valve Brock-headed engine as the first engine for the race car, and just had to de-tune it a little to make it more street-friendly. If only the wheels were that easy.
It is a well-known fact that the wheels can make or break a car, and Brad wanted his wheels to not only look great but also plausibly be something Holden would have put on the road-going version of its race car in the mid-'80s. To fit in the huge flares and look the part he decided that 18-inch gold Simmons wheels would be perfect, but unfortunately, Simmons had shut up shop three months prior. It looked as if it’d be impossible to find another wheel big enough that still looked like a retro ’80s wheel. Finally, Brad found a Japanese wheel manufacturer that agreed to custom make a set of wheels for him – if he gave it absolutely every dimension, paid up front and took responsibility if they did not fit! Well, it took five months after he had handed over the dosh for the wheels to arrive, but we think you will agree they were well worth the wait and extra effort.
Brad has made a conscious effort to carry a race car theme throughout with great touches, including the large aluminium drop tank and trick cold air tray, which he custom made from carbon fibre when he decided the factory one just wasn’t big enough. With its huge flares, gold wheels and Formula Blue paint, this VK Group C replica road car stands out in any crowd, but what doesn’t stand out is the hours of custom fabrication that went into making the body look so ‘factory’ special. This VK Commodore has gone from something that Brad’s wife Marney dubbed “the ugly car” to a true work of art that reeks 1980s muscle car. So much so that after watching Brad take it to work for its maiden voyage, she promptly rang her husband and said: “you’re never selling that car, eh.” Two things are for sure — Marney will never call this car ‘the ugly car’ again, and it’ll never be used as a tow car …
1985 VK Commodore
- Engine: LV2, big valve, 304ci (5.0-litre) V8, bored 0.030, decked, deburred and polished, flat top pistons, forged rods, multi-key adjustable two row timing set, high volume oil pump, Romac balancer, Kelford H70 billet hydraulic cam and lifters, baffled sump, ACL hardened race series big end and main bearings, fully balanced and blueprinted from balancer to clutch cover, Yella Terra 1.65:1 adjustable roller rockers, #5955 Brock type inlet manifold with thermal port filled, Holley 650 spreadbore vacuum secondaries carb, carbon fibre cold air tray, high volume fuel pump, Holley adjustable fuel regulator, engine built by Precision Regrinds and Auto Parts Nelson
- Driveline: 1996 T5 world class five-speed trans, carbon fibre blocking rings, short throw shifter, lightened flywheel, Group A heavy duty clutch kit, custom release bearing carrier and fork and hydraulic slave cylinder
- Suspension: Front: OEM struts modified with custom threaded adjustable platforms, Rear: OEM type five-link with custom springs and platforms, externally adjustable Koni front and rear shocks – custom valved and droop control fitted, race series springs 500lb front and 400lb rear
- Brakes: VT V8 1-inch master cylinder with triple diaphragm booster, 330mm front rotors with VY twin pot callipers, braided brake lines, VL V8 rear discs
- and callipers
- Wheels/ tyres: 18x9.5-and 18x11-inch Work VS-XX lightweight wheels, Dunlop 265/35R18 front and Pirelli P-Zero 315/30R18 rear tyres
- Exterior: Group C body conversion and MDHT VK Group C race body kit modified for road use, flanged and reinforced. Fuel filler relocated, SS Group 3 hood scoop, modified rear bumper to suit Group C flares, rear bumper smoothed and new exhaust relief formed, spare wheel well removed and new floor panel made to house relocated rear muffler, aluminium 110-litre drop tank, custom Group C decal kit and HDT headlight covers. custom grille, VK SS Group A HDT Formula Blue in basecoat /clearcoat HS 2K, underbody sandblasted, etched, seam sealed and coated in Würth water-based chip coat and painted in 2K Formula Blue
- Interior: OEM seats with matching headrests
- added with custom monograms, Momo steering wheel, HDT shift knob, OE factory V8 VDO gauges, custom boot fit-out and trim, custom composite rear parcel shelf panel, full replacement rubber and seal kit, OE tinted electric windows
- Driver/owner: Brad Kelling
- Age: 45
- Occupation: Company director — Brad’s Smash Repairs
- Previously owned cars: 1956 Chev, 1975 Corvette, SLR 5000, three V8 Toranas, XB Fairmont coupe, 351 XA sedan, 911 Porsche, 1997 Camaro etc
- Dream car: Lamborghini Murciélago
- Why this car: Wanted to build the car that never was but should have been
- Build time: One year
- Length of ownership: Two years
- Brad thanks: bradssmashrepairs.co.nz, Joe Calarafi, Mark Ryan, Precision Regrinds, Steve at Brad’s Smash Repairs, Jason at Orange Dog Int, Dale at Sayers Auto Spares, Brendon at Top Town Wheels, Kelvin Weir and Millsy, and of course Marney, Trey and Tegan
This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of NZV8 (Issue No. 70). Grab a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below to add to your collection.