IT HAS been a long time coming, but in 2005 the ever-popular Holden Commodore crashed through into the pinnacle of our sport. Zoltan Bodo’s VP Senator not only won a place in the Elite Top 10 at the Street Machine Summernats 18 but was nominated as a Meguiar’s Showcar Superstars Finalist and claimed the prestigious PPG Supreme award. Zoltan also came away with trophies for Top Super-Tech, Top Engine Bay (post ’86) and Second Undercarriage. That’s an incredible achievement for a late-model car, especially up against competition of the calibre of Gary Myers, Dave Ritchie, Darryl McBeth and Anthony Sant.
This article was first published in the April 2005 issue of Street Machine
Having retired the VP from the show scene, Zoltan was keen to reap the fruits of his labour and has put plenty of cruising kilometres on the car. One year, he and his son even road-tripped down to Melbourne for Cruise For Charity - a 1300km round trip from his home in Canberra!
That’s not to say there haven’t been Commodores in the Top 10 before. Rob Beauchamp and Greg Carlson had huge successes with their Pro Street creations in the late 80s, as did Darryl McBeth with his XPLOD wagon. The difference was that these masterpieces were radically re-engineered, with all-new drivelines, firewalls and floors.
Read next: Callaway C4B-powered 2000 HSV VTII GTS
Zoltan and the VP returned to Summerants for the landmark 30th event, proudly displaying the Grand Champion sword and trophy. Keen eyes would have noticed that the bonnet remained shut through, fuelling rumours that Zoltan has been hard at work in the engine bay, improving on perfection
Zoltan has trodden a different path. He built his car in essentially the same way as thousands of Commodore lovers have done over the past decade – great paint, slammed stance, big rims, great trim, more muscle and plenty of audio. What has elevated his far above the pack is that he has managed to turn the factory-ugly engine bay and undercarriage into something incredible. Under the bonnet, the custom engine cover and extensive metal work to the engine bay are highlights. Underneath, a moulded false floor and extensive detail are the order of the day.
The build began nearly a decade ago following an altercation with a rock.
Read next: Blown 1995 HSV VR Senator
Since its debut, Zoltan has kept the VP in a constant state of transformation. At Summernats 20, where the car won Grand Champion, Zoltan showed off a tweaked version of its famous engine bay, bearing a tribute to his hero Peter Brock. The car also sported new Budnik billet wheels, which it wears to this day
“I was driving along and I heard a bang,” explains Zoltan. “It hit the rear quarter panel above the fuel filler and smashed in the bootlid.” Of course, the damage required fixing. “My mate Jason is a panel-beater so I asked him what a respray was worth. I was going to do it the original colour, then I thought I might as well do the inside of the doors. Then I figured we should do the engine bay. Jason said that to do it properly we should pull the engine out. Before I knew it, I had a bare shell on a rotisserie!”
Read next: LSX 454-powered 1993 HSV VR Senator
Metro Car Care was a big help with the build – it let Zoltan go to work in a corner of the workshop with a wire wheel and a screwdriver, to get the factory soundproofing off the underside. Then three months were spent welding all redundant holes before a brake specialist was commissioned to install hidden brake lines. As requested, the brake lines couldn’t be seen, but a line of pop rivets gave away the secret. Zoltan laughs at the situation now, but he didn’t at the time – welding up another bunch of holes was the last thing he needed. All smoothed, the Volvo Saffron paint went on – a colour that was originally considered for the whole car.
The Senator’s body is the standard HSV gear with the rear spoiler removed. In addition to removing the factory panel wobbles, a few tricks and tweaks help smooth it all out – there are no aerial, side repeater or boot lock holes, nor a fuel filler – that’s behind a rear light. Like the bulgy bonnet? It’s built from two.
The paint was applied at Canberra TAFE. Loading the gun with House Of Kolor Candy Burple over a Gamma Gold base was TAFE instructor Carlos Nunes, who knows the House Of Kolor product well.
The engine bay dress is impressive. It’s a collection of exhaust donuts, lengths of pipe and steel, all shaped, twisted, welded, ground, hammered and tweaked into symmetrical and harmonious shapes. It’s the work of Zoltan and Jason, his long-time mate and now business partner.
“We were working on bits in Jason’s family room while we were watching TV,” says Zoltan. “I was holding panels while he was smacking them with the hammer and dolly. There’s a lot of swearing in there, too!” he laughs.
Take note, fellow street machiners: although it was inspired by what Zoltan saw in hot rod magazines, work-wise this engine bay is basically a DIY effort. Even so, it’s like a stun-gun at 50 feet.
The Metro-built engine is a good compromise between budget and balls. “I built it to drive and after I’ve shown it for a year, that’s what I’ll do,” says Zoltan. “I would’ve liked a 383 crank and all the gear but I had to draw the line somewhere!” Power is around 250kW thanks to a freshen-up with forged pistons, a Crow cam, some headwork and a tweak to the ECU.
Most of the driveline is stunningly detailed factory fare but the brakes are a bit more ambitious. The rears are Nissan calipers biting 365mm rotors; the fronts also use 365s (nearly 15 inches), with four-piston AP Racing clampers – anything smaller looks insignificant inside the 20-inch wheels. The hubs were specially machined for the car. The master cylinder has been relocated and there’s adjustable front/rear bias.
Those 20-inch Lexani Crystal wheels didn’t fit without fiddling, despite what Zoltan was first told.
“We took out the plastic guard liners and kept lowering the car, cutting out sections on the inside of the rear guards until it all fitted,” explains Zoltan. “The car sits as low as possible without doing something Pro Street.” Helping make that possible is airbag suspension all ’round. The bags are Firestone units supplied by Gus at Custom Mechanix in Mitchell.
Leather covers the dash and doors. Unlike most, it looks as tight and smooth as factory. “I took the layer of factory plastic off,” says Zoltan, sharing his secret. “That came about by accident, really. We tried trimming the dash in leather, but the thickness of the leather made it look tacky - like a riced-up Honda. As we pulled the leather off, it lifted some of the surface plastic from the dash.” From adversity comes opportunity – removing the dash’s original skin allowed more clearance for the leather.
“I considered having dual bucket seats in the rear too,” says Zoltan. “But a few mates said that was what everyone was doing and suggested I leave it looking standard.” They were right on the money.
The door pods were trial-trimmed in leather but it didn’t give a particularly good effect. The paint looks much better. Thanks to a wiring harness stretch, the climate control panel has been relocated to the centre console, freeing up space for a screen.
Zoltan planned to debut his Senator at Summernats 17, the one before last, and thought he was on-time – until the last minute.
“We’d worked two weeks straight and I was still bolting things onto it while Matt, the towie, was waiting for us to finish. Finally, we dropped our tools and faced reality. We weren’t going that year.”
That was a black day but thankfully they’ve been few and far between.
“As I was building this car, I bumped into some really good blokes,” says Zoltan. “Man, I’m just a nobody. Some people knew me as a brickie, or just Zoltan, but when I was doing this car, I’d walk into places and tell them what I wanted to do and they were just brilliant. Only a couple of people told me I was dreamin’.”
The Senator shows he wasn’t.
IT’S always cool when a street machine excels at a number of different disciplines at the highest level. So it was for Zoltan. Still reeling from his Top 10 placing on Saturday, he was doubly pleased to brain the competition in the Sound-Off on Sunday as well. The installation was performed by Patrick Fowley at Imagination Installations. Hardware includes a roof-mounted JVC DVD head unit, JVC six-stack CD, SoundStream Da Vinci seven-channel amp (gold-plated, worth $7000), Focal 5in V2 dash speakers, 8in Focals in the front doors, 5in Focals in rear doors, three 11in subs in the boot and a Playstation II. Highlights of the job include the sculpted fibreglass boot install and the swooping ’glass dash panel.
1992 VP HSV SENATOR
Colour: HOK Candy Burple over Gamma Gold base
Engine: Holden 5.0L
Heads: Ported, decked 30thou
Valves: Over-size Ferrea
Pistons: TRW forged
Cam: Crow Stage 3
Valve springs: Crow
Management: Factory with Crow memcal
Radiator: Aussie Desert Cooler
Gearbox: TH700 four-speed auto
Converter: 2800rpm Dominator
Diff: Factory IRS
Suspension: Firestone airbags, Bilstein adjustable dampers, Nolathane bushes
Brakes: AP Racing 365mm rotors with custom hubs and AP Racing four-piston calipers (f); AP Racing 365mm rotors, custom hubs and Nissan calipers (r)
Wheels: Lexani 20x9 Crystals
Tyres: Falken 225/35 (f), 285/30 (r)
The wives; Matt at ALT Towing; Roger at Integrity Signs; Owen Webb; Capital Auto Paints; GenTech