Most people wouldn't want to lose their car to the missus. Steve Todd was more than happy to hand it over
This article on Melissa's VK was originally published in the August 2010 issue of Street Machine
TAKE a close look at Melissa Todd’s VK Calais. It’s hard to believe but when Melissa first saw this classic Commy, it was up on bricks and covered in primer.
Back then the car belonged to her boyfriend, Steve. Nowadays truck driver Steve is her husband and Melissa has a firm grip on the keys.
Instead of the factory brown over silver paint, they went with Shanghai Red, a VX Commodore colour. “We had it painted back when the VX came out,” Steve says, “so it’s held up pretty well”
“Steve had it more than 10 years,” Melissa says. “It was his drive-around car and he decided to do it up but it’d been put on hold a few times. It’s had lots of different motors and bits and pieces over the years.”
Steve takes up the story. “Yeah, I’ve had it for a long time. It’s had three rebuilds. It was a nice car when I bought it; I should never have touched it. It was an HDT Calais, it had the cold air box on it, all the spoilers.”
Even so, he took it off the road for a full rebuild and, as these things sometimes do, the rebuild stalled. “It sat in my old man’s backyard for two years in high fill; it was just a shell when we rubbed it back and painted it, and it’s held up quite well.”
He bought the car around 14 years ago, when he was a fresh-faced 20-year-old. From the factory it was 80s-spec brown over silver but thankfully that’s long gone.
Over the years a variety of powerplants have found their way into the engine bay, even a couple of strokers, the last a 355 with an Active twin-throttle set-up.
“That was a heap of shit,” Steve says. “It was a cheap bomb, just something to get on the piss and talk about.”
The VK looked the part thanks to a classy coat of Shanghai Red but the performance was nothing to write home about.
“Then I went and saw Mark Hinson at EZE-10S. I just wanted a side-mount supercharger — he twisted my arm,” he laughs.
The GT42R was barely idling at 8psi but they were planning on 16psi or more. According to Mark, Steve wanted the turbo just poking through the bonnet but it was quite a bit of work to get it this low. Don’t fret about the lack of an air filter — it runs one on the street
Mark heard what Steve wanted and made a few suggestions. The car still ran the el-cheapo 355, with a Turbo 350 and basic nine-inch but he reckoned they could do much better with a well-thought-out single turbo combination. Over the years he’s developed quite a name as the go-to guy for turbochargers, working from his St Marys-based workshop.
Mark’s got nothing against superchargers — “We’ve got a few blown cars but it’s more orientated towards race car stuff because of the exhaust noise” — and Steve was quite clear that he wanted streetability.
“I didn’t want it sitting at the lights rumbling like a big monster,” he says.
Mark reckoned that for a genuinely street-driven ride, turbocharging was the go. So Steve handed him the keys and waved goodbye to the VK for the next two years. That might seem like a long time for a turbo conversion, but Mark did a lot more than that. In fact, about the only things he didn’t touch were the bodykit and the paint.
We’ll start up front. You’d have to be blind to miss the Garrett GT42R sucking up space in the engine bay. Exhaust gases are fed through custom headers, which were crafted in-house like most of the work here.
Replacing the dodgy stroker is a Holden 355ci combo filled with all the best gear, from the Harrop crank to the Scat rods and Arias pistons, with a Comp Cams roller thrown in for good measure. The cast-iron EFI heads run Ferrea valves and Isky springs. It’s all good gear, though with only 8psi being fed through the COME intake at the moment, nothing is particularly stressed.
An Autronic SM4 ECU runs it all and with just a preliminary tune so far, the Calais is pumping out around 455hp at the treads.
“It’s not even working yet,” Mark reckons. “We’re probably going to double [the boost] at least — around 16 to 20psi. I want it above 600rwhp on pump fuel and from there we’re going to see what it’ll do.”
We didn’t want to go too over-the-top with the interior,” Melissa says. “We wanted to keep it basic so we just redid it pretty much the same colours as it was”
That kind of grunt meant the TH350 was flicked in favour of a TH400 with all the strong bits and a full-manual shift, while out the back they tipped the Strange catalogue into a freshly narrowed nine-inch. The rear tubs were widened a touch to accommodate the deep-dish 315-wide Pirellis mounted on 11in Simmons FR19s.
And it’s definitely drivable. “It’s a very quiet engine. They’ve already driven it up to Newcastle and back, and they’ve driven down to Canberra to stay the night. So it’s a very useable car,” Mark says.
Naturally, all that go demands an equal serving of whoa and the boys sorted that with a set of VE Series II GTS brakes. With six-spot calipers all ’round, on whopping great 380mm discs up front and slightly less massive 350mm discs at the rear, it’s got more than enough braking force to rattle your scone.
The B&M Pro Ratchet shifter has been beautifully integrated into the original console. Gauges are Auto Meter digitals
“I had some guys machine up brackets for me,” Mark says. “It all just kind of fell into place; I didn’t think the brakes were going to work out so easily but they actually worked out well.”
They certainly fill the recesses behind those 19in wheels, and with Strange coil-overs holding up each corner, the Calais handles just as well as it stops.
But as good as it was, the car unexpectedly changed hands midway through the build. Steve always wanted a ’57 Chev and, as luck would have it, one magically appeared in the driveway.
“Steve wanted to sell the VK,” Melissa says. “I convinced him not to. Then he said: ‘Well you have it.’”
So what does Melissa like about her new ride?
“Oh everything. It’s fast, it gets lots of attention and I like cruising with it because it’s a good car to drive. It’s a bit different too, the way Mark’s done the motor.
“It’s fine on the street but going down the quarter and stuff like that, I wouldn’t mind turning it up a bit and seeing what it can do — as long as I don’t break anything.”
1984 VK HDT CALAIS
Colour: Shanghai Red
Engine: Holden 355 stroker
Turbo: Garrett GT42R
Intake: COME EFI
Throttlebodies: COME 58mm x2
Heads: Cast EFI, ported
Rods: SCAT H-beam
Cam: Comp Cams roller
Ignition: M&W CDI
ECU: Autronic SM4
Exhaust: Custom turbo manifolds, 3.5in system
Transmission: Turbo 400, full manual
Converter: TCE 4500rpm stall
Diff: Nine-inch, 40-spline Strange axles, Strange centre, 4.11 gears, full spool
Brakes: VE GTS, six-piston calipers, 380mm discs (f), 350mm discs (r)
Shocks: Strange coil-overs all around
Rims: Simmons FR19, 19x8 (f), 19x11 (r)
Rubber: Pirelli, 225/40 (f), 315/35 (r)
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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