This article first appeared in the November 2018 issue of Street Machine
CAST your mind back to 1992; those with long memories will remember a story we ran called Hot Tuner, about a young Queenslander making waves with EFI. Well, a quarter of a century later, that same quietly spoken, goodhumoured and very personable bloke, Jeff Pye of J&J Fuel Injection, hasn’t looked back. We spoke with Jeff as he celebrates 30 years in business as J&J, reminiscing about his early days and delving into his latest build.
How did your passion for cars and tinkering with mechanical stuff begin?
I started pumping gas at the local garage when I was 12 years old and was taken on as an apprentice there at 14. It was the Total service station at Mansfield in Brisbane, which was owned by a bloke called Barry Wraith; he was well-known in 1970s racing circles for his hot Minis and plenty of tough six-cylinders. His pre-crossflow Falcon six-powered 105E Anglia was awesome.
What was your first car?
It was an AP5 Valiant station wagon with a slant-six donk and Torqueflite automatic that had the push-buttons on the dash. I paid $200 for that car, which doesn’t sound like much, but it was decent coin when you were only earning $46.10 a week [laughs].
Did you get into drag racing wholly and solely, or have you competed in other types of motorsport?
No, it has always been drag racing. I finished my apprenticeship at Eagers Holden in Woolloongabba and the service manager there was a bloke called Kenny Holtz. He and his brother drag-raced a tough FJ called Dixie Chicken that ran a hot grey motor – that thing ran flat 13s, which was really moving for a sideplate sedan. I raced my own rail powered by a 138-cube grey with methanol-fed triple SUs, which ran through an HT three-speed and 3.89-geared FC diff; it ran in the 11.80s at Surfers, and that feeling of the power-toweight was incredible. It was called Satan’s Sideplate [laughs].
I’ve seen your J&J Fuel Injection name around for years; when did you kick things off?
My wife Jenny and I are the ‘J&J’ and we opened for business back in 1987, so it’s been 31 years. We’re always busy and I think it’s because we do all of our work to a high standard and have a solid customer base. Versatility is also the key – J&J does everything from general servicing and mechanical work to injector reconditioning and performance engine building and tuning.
Jeff is looking at using a Link G4 Xtreme ECU and dash on the 365-cube Holden V8, after being impressed by the Link plug-and-play unit that son Jake runs on his R33 Skyline. For spark, Jeff runs LS3 coils with trick Noonan covers and a custom billet distributor
What was the appeal of EFI and how did you get so involved with it at such an early stage?
In the mid-1980s EFI was becoming the big thing with VK Commodores and XF Falcons. I was impressed by the torque of these EFI engines, how sweet they ran and their throttle response. This new technology timed nicely with opening J&J and I knew it was going to be the way of the future.
That must have been a steep learning curve compared to the information that’s available today.
Most definitely, but we were all in the same boat; I went back to school and did a heap of EFI courses to get me started, then got busy tinkering and learning on the job. My claim to fame is that I pioneered some of the first EFI methanol engines and street cars to run down Willowbank back in the day, firstly using screwdriver-adjustable ECUs before moving on to digital ECUs.
That Holden V8 motor is a pretty wildlooking bit of gear; do you have a preference for Holden engines or is just something you’ve decided to develop?
I’ve been a GM/Holden guy all of my life, firstly with grey motors then red six-cylinders and of course the early-headed 308s. Anything with multiple butterflies has always been my passion, so I am happy to adapt that knowledge to any engine really. I’ve built a number of crossflow Ford six-cylinders too with great success, so I enjoy the challenge. This current engine is a personal project for me and is a 365-cube based around a VT Commodore Series I block and –11 Dave Bennett alloy heads (read more, below).
And what’s the plan? What will you be fitting it to?
I’m building an HZ Holden ute as a street/strip/show car. It’s running a six-speed manual and four-link rear, so should be a great all-rounder with plenty of usable power. I think it will be perfect for events like Street Machine Drag Challenge, and it’s been great to immerse myself in a personal project again.
What would be your most memorable or favourite project?
The current HZ ute; the engineering involved with both the motor and the car itself has been both challenging and satisfying in one, and I look forward to getting it finished and enjoying it.
Do you have a favourite car or builder that inspired you as a young bloke, or even now?
Peter Brock. No question. What he achieved as a driver and innovator throughout his career is legendary, and his success with the six-cylinder LC and LJ Toranas in the early 70s inspired me to go down that path as a young bloke. I’ve owned heaps of hot rod six-cylinders and still rate the Holden six as one of my favourite engines.
So what's next?
Pretty much just to keep on doing what we’re doing here at J&J. I’ll keep building a few engines each year and we’re hoping to install a dyno in the near future; in fact we’re probably one of the last places that still do old-school distributor regraphing as well, so are happy to cater for both new and old technologies. My son, Jake, is involved in the business too and is my right hand man; he’s pretty much a chip off the old block, so I know the place will be in safe hands when the time comes for me to take a step back. He has the right initial too for the J&J name, which will make the transition even smoother!
Form and function spring to mind when you eyeball Jeff’s latest work (above). Not only will this 365ci Holden V8 pump out around 700 naturally aspirated horses for his HZ ute, but it’s just so beautiful to look at!
“It’s been a 20-year project.” Jeff explains. “I bought the block off GM as a brand-new stroker casting originally destined for the last of the VT Series I Commodores, and was going to build it to power an SV5000 drag car project. It was around that time I also bought the Dave Bennett –11-casting alloy heads, which are a pretty rare bit of gear – Perfectune only made 100 pairs. This allowed us to fit bigger valves than their –9 castings and flow around 330cfm.”
The engine’s 365 cubes begin with a 4.030in bore and 6in Oliver Chevy rods. The factory GM stroker casting meant no clearancing of the block was required to fit a custom knife-edge 3.580in Chevjournal crankshaft from Crankshaft Rebuilders, which spins a Camtech solid-roller cam specced with more than 0.700in lift. That’s sure to make best use of the boutique cylinder heads’ breathing capabilities.
An 11.5:1 compression ratio and a diet of E85 will fuel the fire, with the short motor rounded out by a Commodore Cup-spec ASR sump. The good oil will be circulated by a Peterson belt-driven pump – one of the only non-local products on Jeff’s engine.
That droolworthy intake is a custom piece from Bliss Custom Machining, one of a number of local suppliers that have had a hand in this build. “I’ve tried to use as many Australian engineering companies as possible and have to thank Andrew at Bliss, Steve Jack at Jack Bros, John Noonan from NRE and Gonzo from Gonzo’s Racing Pipes,” Jeff says.
“It’s been quite a few years in the build but it’s getting close to dyno time now, so we’ll see how it goes,” he continues. “I’m not looking to break national records or the like; this project has just been about having some fun for myself.”