Braden Smith never says no to a challenge — especially not when that challenge involves building an international-level burnout car within three months
For every sobriety badge, there is a 40-ounce waiting to be cracked; for every day clean, a substance purveyor is a text away; and for every twist of the key, a tenuous relationship between tyres and tarmac waits to be broken. The common saying advises, ‘Raise your kids with a car addiction so they won’t have money for a drug addiction’ — a philosophy that unerringly applies to Braden Smith’s life.
Braden is traction loss personified. He lives and breathes burnouts, having taken part in pretty much every North Island burnout competition worth mentioning and cleaning up at most. If it isn’t burnouts, it’s power skids. If he absolutely must retain a degree of traction, Braden’s been known to go for the odd traction-deficient blast down the drag strip. Traction loss is his drug of choice, and obscene amounts of power are his preferred means of administration. That’s why, after being asked by Liz Gracie if he’d like to be part of a New Zealand burnout team heading across the ditch to skid at Tread Cemetery and Summernats, he couldn’t put his name down quickly enough.
The only problem? Braden had recently sold his well-known Holden HQ burnout weapon, and all he had left was its supercharged 468-cube big block — oh, and the Kiwi cars would be shipping out in around three months. Whatever Braden built in those three months would not only need to be at least as tough as the HQ but would also have to look good enough to represent New Zealand on the international stage. No pressure! Anyone else would surely have caved and pulled the pin, but not Braden. He’d built his HQ in a similar — albeit self-imposed — time window, and he knew that he could get it done. So, that is exactly what he set about doing.
Braden had always wanted to build something different, in the form of a blown and injected late-model wagon. Even in Australia, the land of the burnout, station wagons aren’t too common at the professional level. So, when Aussie skidder Justen Brown built his tubbed and blown Commodore VE Sportwagon, better known as ‘STRUGLIN’, Braden knew he’d need to get in there quick smart, before cars like that became commonplace.
Braden managed to find a dirt-cheap 2015 Holden Commodore VF Sportwagon write-off from Drury Car Parts to become the foundation of his new build, which was pretty much the last anyone saw of him for the next three months. As the ‘HAUNT U’ Commodore finally neared completion in the week before the cars were due to be loaded into 40-foot shipping containers, Braden told us, “I haven’t been to bed before 2am for the last three months, and starting work at 6.30am has been a real battle, but I now see the finish line.”
It was an extremely taxing ordeal, and Braden thanks his missus, Stephanie, for putting up with it. “I am very surprised that she is still here, to be honest!” he says gratefully. “It’s been a hell of a roller-coaster ride.” Work had started as soon as the wagon had arrived, with Braden hacking out the rear end. The VF Commodore comes with a monocoque chassis and independent rear suspension, so the entire rear subframe was dropped out, and the floor and inner guards were binned. Being a fabricator by trade helped Braden immensely. Working in the shed at home, he fabricated a custom rear chassis using box-section steel, sufficiently narrowed to accommodate the enormous 20x16.5-inch Versus Whiplash rear wheels he was planning to run. This included mounting brackets for the rose-jointed triangulated ladder bars and QA1 adjustable coilovers.
That rear end has been effectively built around a severely narrowed Ford nine-inch diff, housing a range of bulletproof components. The 3.0:1 diff ratio ensures that the rear wheels will be able to reach speeds sufficient to generate maximum smoke on the burnout pad, and, with a full spool, Strange Engineering 35-spline axles, and a Strange Engineering billet diff yoke, everything here should be able to withstand whatever Braden can throw at it — no easy task.
The VF wagon’s factory fuel tank was also biffed, as it would be the first casualty on the burnout pad. To replace it, Braden installed a 60-litre fuel cell out of harm’s way in the cavernous boot cavity. The fuel cell is filled with methanol, and, when you take stock of the enormous Holley Dominator billet in-line fuel pump alongside it, you get an understanding of just why the diff needed to be built that tough.
Braden’s old 468ci big block remains, with a similarly staunch rotating assembly tucked away within, but the rest of it has undergone some sort of freakish mutation that not even Chernobyl could reproduce. What have Murray and Brad at Papakura Engine Specialists done? The first thing you will notice is the polished Enderle Big and Ugly injector hat adorning the Littlefield 6-71 huffer, and it isn’t just there for show. That Holley Dominator pump delivers methanol to a 14-litre surge tank in the engine bay, where a camshaft-driven Enderle mechanical fuel pump supplies torrents of high-octane fuel to the eight injector nozzles plumbed into the base of the injector hat. This thing is the real deal, having pumped out a crazy 1163hp on the engine dyno at Track Sport Engines — far more than enough to do everything Braden needs it to.
Of course, Braden couldn’t drop an engine looking as good as this into any old engine bay, and that’s where his talents as a fabricator came into play once again. The entire engine bay was seam-welded, with the joins flushed and smoothed, and a custom sheet-metal firewall grafted into place before the whole body was rolled down to Absolute Panel and Paint 2010 Ltd for a flawless serving of a custom-tinted pearlescent orange. Also helping to get it looking fresh were brand-new replacement parts sourced from BE Car Parts — remember, the car originally sourced by Braden was a write-off. With the wagon back from the painters and looking better than ever, Braden could drop the motor into the hole, and things finally began to look as if they were coming together.
Backing the rowdy 468 now is an equally tough transmission — a fully built manual valve–bodied GM TH400 — and there was only one guy Braden was going to have build it. “Tony at Otahuhu Automatics is an awesome guy I’d totally recommend to anyone,” he says. “He has done around 10 transmissions for me and mates in various projects.” Braden opted for a tried and tested B&M Quicksilver ratchet shifter to go with the TH400 — not that you’d know it from inside the car. The shifter was modified and installed within the centre console, using the VF’s factory automatic shift lever.
When a car leaves the factory with an interior as well sorted as the VF Commodore, what more do you need? Not much! The bulk of the interior is straight off the assembly line, with the obvious exception of the row of toggle switches and two Auto Meter gauges for oil pressure and water temperature, tucked away in the centre console. What people may not notice, though, is the modified rear seat, which has been customized, retrimmed to look factory, and pulled forwards to get around the enormous rear tubs. While Braden could take the car out for skids five-deep, anyone keen had better get in quick, as Braden isn’t finished with the interior just yet, telling us that, “[a] roll cage is definitely coming, once the car gets back from Oz.”
Age: Still the same
Previous cars: VN Calais (long-term build), four VK Commodores, Holden Gemini, supercharged Hilux 4x4, Holden EH station wagon, VL Commodore, Holden HQ
Dream car: My VN Group A Commodore
Why the Commodore? I wanted something different
Length of ownership: Not long
Build time: Even less
Braden thanks: Murray and Brad at Papakura Engine Specialists; Tony at Otahuhu Automatic Transmission Specialists; Paul and Heidi at Absolute Panel and Paint 2010 Ltd; Phil at Track Sport Engines; Worx Engineering; my partner, Stephanie, for putting up with all of the late nights in the shed
2015 Holden Commodore VF
Engine: 468ci big block Chev, four-bolt mains, steel main caps, ARP fasteners, Scat Pro forged-steel crankshaft, Callies Ultra I-beam rods, JE forged pistons, billet chromoly crank hub, modified RCD crank support, World Products Merlin heads, Ferrea valves, custom-ground hydraulic roller camshaft, Comp Cams stainless-steel roller rockers, Isky Racing triple-valve springs, Weiand big-port intake manifold, port-matched intake, Littlefield 6-71 supercharger, Enderle Big and Ugly injector hat, 200-gallon-per-hour Holley Dominator billet in-line fuel pump, 60-litre fuel cell, 9.2-gallon-per-minute Enderle 600 mechanical fuel pump, 14-litre methanol tank, eight injectors, K-valve, MSD 6AL-2 ignition, MSD distributor, MSD Blaster SS ignition coil, MSD ignition leads, custom headers, 2½-inch primary pipes, removable collectors, doorslammer-style side exits, 3½-inch full exhaust, two Flowmaster mufflers, Griffin high-flow radiator, 16-inch thermo fan, external transmission oil cooler, eight-inch thermo fan, PWR external engine oil cooler, eight-inch thermo fan
Driveline: GM TH400, full manual valve body, TCI SFI flexplate, 3000rpm custom 10-inch stall converter, Strange Engineering billet transmission yoke, narrowed Ford nine-inch diff, 35-spline full spool, 3.0:1 diff ratio, Strange Engineering 35-spline axles, Strange Engineering billet diff yoke, custom two-piece driveshaft, 1350 universal joints
Suspension: D2 front coilovers, QA1 rear coilovers, 250-pound rear springs, rear ladder bars, rose-jointed linkages, standard front sway bar, Nolathane bushes
Brakes: Un-boosted, standard front brakes, removed rear brakes, Wilwood under-dash pedal box
Wheels/Tyres: 20x9-inch and 20x16.5-inch Versus Whiplash wheels, 235/30R20 front tyres, Mickey Thompson Sportsman SR 29x18-20 rear tyres (Mickey Thompson 29x15-20s as photographed)
Exterior: Seam-welded and smoothed engine bay, sheet-metal firewall, de-badged exterior, shaved fuel filler cap, custom orange paint
Chassis: Custom box-section rear, rear ladder bars
Interior: Factory VF interior, B&M Quicksilver ratchet shifter, factory VF shift lever, factory VF dash cluster, two Auto Meter gauges, modified factory VF rear seat
Performance: 1163hp (at the crank)
This article originally appeared in NZV8 issue No. 140 — to get your grubby mitts on a print copy, click the cover below