LIKE a fine wine, John Urquieta’s VH Charger keeps getting better – and quicker – with age. It’s not surprising, considering he has spent the past 21 years improving and developing the car to the stage it’s at now.
This article on John's VH Charger was first published in the April 2019 issue of Street Machine
“I’m happy I can say I still have my first car!” says John of his Charger. “I’ve got some great memories and had some awesome times in it from my teenage days to now. It was a neat car to start with, but I wanted it nicer, so I stripped it and got it painted in 2000.”
Like many Aussie Mopar fans, John found it hard to go past a triple-Webered 265 Hemi and single-rail four-speed for a driveline – but that lasted about two months.
Read next: John's VH Charger at Drag Challenge 2018
“I found a 440 big-block and 727 for it, so I cruised that on my P-plates for a while before it came off the road again to put in a 318 twin-turbo set-up,” he says. “That took a while, with lots of custom fab and fitting EFI pumps and computer wiring.”
All that happened back in 2006 and it featured EFI and a Wolf ECU. Pretty trick for back then!
The Charger’s rear guards easily swallow up the 275 Mickey Thompson ET Streets. With standard leaf springs and some homemade traction bars, the car is impressively pulling 1.60s 60ft times
“There were a few guys doing it back then; Eddy Tassone from Western Australia was probably one of the first big guys to have one of those set-ups nutted out,” John says. “It was good for an 11.0@138mph and was awesome, I loved how a turbo set-up could be so docile at idle but an animal on boost.”
That engine was sold off to put a deposit on a house, but the next combination was another turbo 318, this time with a single turbo on LPG with a blow-through GasResearch carb.
The Jegs SSR Spike rims measure up at 17x7 on the front with a set of 215/50 tyres for some decent road-holding and braking
“I had a whole heap of LPG stuff lying around – I’ve always been a big fan of LPG,” John says. “I had an old 318, so I pulled it apart, re-ringed it, put a little cam in it and slammed it back together. It was a bit of an experiment and probably the simplest turbo set-up I’ve ever put together. It’s very forgiving for tuning, and because it’s got a bit more octane you can give it a bit of timing as well.”
But this combo too was sold off to help fund the latest turbo V8 incarnation: a 5.7L Hemi out of a 2008 Chrysler 300C.
Just the one 3.5in pipe for the turbocharged V8 keeps things relatively quiet on the street
“I started gathering parts for it six or seven years ago, but with a young family it took a back seat for a while until I got it going for Drag Challenge 2018,” says John.
Even though it only had 50,000km on it, John stripped it down and sent the block to Blackwell Race Engines to machine and balance the bottom end. It’s got Wiseco forged pistons, Scat I-beam rods and the standard 5.7 crank. The heads are also stock, with PSI valve springs being the only modification, although ARP head studs make sure they stay well and truly attached to the block. The factory cam was sent off to Clive Cams to be reground and an adjustable Comp Cams timing set was fitted.
While the paint on the car is almost 20 years old, John decided to tidy up the engine bay after many engine swaps over the years. The 5.7L Hemi looks factory stock on the outside, but features some internal upgrades
John once again decided to go for a single-turbo set-up, fitting a 76mm Holset HX60 that runs through a 600x300mm intercooler mounted neatly behind the grille.
“The main reason I went single turbo was because of packaging,” he says. “I could have gone twin-turbo, but a big single is easier to package than twins.”
The turbo hangs off a steampipe log manifold, then exits into a four-inch pipe and out to a single 3.5-inch system with a muffler and resonator – all done in stainless.
John opted for a single Holset HX60 turbo for ease of packaging. The boosted air is fed through an intercooler neatly mounted behind the grille and out of sight
Being a mechanic by trade, John has done everything himself, including custom-made engine mounts and modifying the Milodon oil pan to get the late-model Hemi to suit the Valiant K-frame. John has also done some pretty clever stuff with the fuel system: “It runs the factory plastic intake manifold and drive-by-wire throttlebody, but I modified the factory fuel rails to have 3/8-inch inlets with twin VF Commodore dead-head fuel pumps. The pump, filter and reg are all in the tank and are good for 350kW at the wheels, and it’s nice and quiet.”
These days, engine control is handled by a Haltech Elite 2500, and John made up a custom wiring harness to suit and does all the tuning himself as well.
It was a mad thrash for John to get the car ready for Drag Challenge, but he thought he’d make even more work for himself and repaint the engine bay to match the Ford Probe Purple on the body.
“It’s had about 65 different engines in there, and over the years it copped a few scratches so I just painted it in flat black – as you do. Earlier last year I got married, so I had to quickly put it together and get it ready for my wedding. It probably wasn’t the best time, but about a month before Drag Challenge I pulled the motor out and made it look all pretty.”
John made it to Drag Challenge and survived, but it didn’t go quite as smoothly as planned.
“I didn’t know at the time, but I hadn’t set up the knock control correctly on the Elite and it was registering knock constantly and pulling timing,” he explains. “I thought the combination of parts I put together were all wrong and it just didn’t like it. So, all week it was running five degrees after top dead centre at 10psi. It was consistent though, running 12.5s all week! I was disheartened, as I’d spent all this time and money and it was a lot slower than my previous more basic engines.”
But like all good fairy tales, the story has a happy ending. On the last day of racing at Calder, John got chatting to one of the guys at Haltech and he explained what was going on with the knock sensor, so John decided to disable the sensor and just send it!
With a Haltech Elite 2500 ECU controlling all aspects of the engine, a Racepak IQ3 dash captures the data and displays the info. It will replace the stock gauge cluster shortly
“I gave it some timing and it ran 8.9 to 1000 feet. That run made my week after stressing about it the whole time,” he says.
John’s goal now is to run a nine in street trim, and then just enjoy it, which sounds like a pretty good plan to us.
VH VALIANT CHARGER
Colour: Ford Probe Wild Orchid
Type: 5.7L Gen III Hemi
Throttlebody: Standard drive-by-wire
Turbo: Holset HX60
Heads: Standard with PSI 1511 valve springs
Valves: 2.00in (in), 1.55in (ex)
Cam: Clive Cams; 224@50 intake, 230@50 exhaust, 600thou lift
Pistons: Wiseco forged
Radiator: Modified Land Cruiser
Exhaust: Steampipe log manifolds, 4in into 3.5in single system
Converter: Converter Shop 9.5in, 3500rpm stall
Diff: 9in, 3.5 gears, full spool, 31-spline
Front end: Six-cylinder torsion bars
Shocks: Monroe (f & r)
Steering: Elko Performance rack-and-pinion
Brakes: Hoppers Stoppers 300mm discs with BA Falcon calipers (f), XA Falcon discs (r)
Rims: Jegs SSR Spike; 17x7 (f), 15x8 (r)
Rubber: 215/50R17 (f), Mickey Thompson ET Street 275/60R15 (r)
Brad Mckenzie; Jason Calleja; Mark ‘SLO360’ Ellis (RIP); Paul Norris; Valiant Spares; Elko Performance; Warick ‘Molly’ Meldrum; Andrew & Ash at Blackwell Race Engines; Lenny at Goodguys Performance Centre; Clive Cams; biggest thanks go to my wife Chantelle and kids Stella and Sebastian. Without them being so supportive, I couldn’t do what I do