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Kai McPhee's turbo LS-powered 1981 Holden VC Commodore

By Kian Heagney | Photos: Chris Thorogoood, 05 Jul 2020 Features

Kai McPhee's Holden VC Commodore

Kai McPhee's VC Commodore proves you don't need a donk made of diamonds to run with the best

IT MIGHT be hard to believe now, but when Kai ‘Creswick Sausage’ McPhee initially took possession of his VC Commodore, he only had the intention of making it a humble club-plated cruiser. That’s a far cry from the 1300rwhp, seven-second street beast it is now.

This article was first published in the June 2020 issue of Street Machine

Holden VC Commodore side view

“I bought it for $1000 and it’s somehow just snowballed from there,” Kai says. “I by no means intended for it to turn into what it is today.”

Kai's VC Commodore at Drag Challenge 2019

Long-gone is the humble 253 thongslapper the car originally came with, with the SL/E initially undergoing a home-brewed LS1 swap before the eventual upgrade to the current 5.3-litre iron-block LS. “We got ourselves a DIY swap kit from the Castlemaine Rod Shop and did the LS1 swap ourselves at home with a mild cam and the basics,” Kai says.

Holden VC Commodore rear

In race mode, the car runs drag radials and the sleek rear wing, but for extended street hours Kai goes to the effort of swapping the bootlid for a standard one to avert prying eyes. “I just like to keep it low-key when it’s in street mode,” he says

It didn’t take long for the LS1 to get a turbo conversion, but sadly it wasn’t all gravy. “I got a workshop to do the work for the turbo and it wasn’t done very well, so that engine lunched itself and I was done with it,” says Kai. “I had actually been interested in the 5.3s for a while before the LS1 let go, so when it shit the bed I already knew what I wanted to do next.”

Terry Seng's seven-second VC Commodore at Drag Challenge 

The 5.3-litre was given a makeover with a bunch of fruit by fellow Drag Challenge combatant (and now good mate) Mark Drew. “I’ve always had the philosophy of doing things once and doing them right, but it hasn’t worked!” Kai says.

Holden VC Commodore

Drag Challenge 2019 was Kai’s second crack at the event, and he did a lot more than just survive. His efforts resulted in the Quickest LS-Powered car, second in the hotly contested Haltech Radial Blown class and fourth overall for the event

“After a few dramas with previous engines I finally got in with Drewy and haven’t looked back since.”

1000rwhp twin-turbo 427-powered VC Commodore - ISFAIR

The highlights package includes a DragonSlayer crank, Carrillo rods, CP Bullet pistons and Higgins heads with Holley Dominator EFI – and a GTX55 turbo force-feeding the whole shebang, running on E85. “I didn’t really have a huge horsepower goal in mind when we built it; I just wanted it to run eights and work,” Kai explains. “But we’ve kept pushing it and the pace and power have just got better.”

Holden VC Commodore engine bay

While the car wasn’t originally intended to house over 1300rwhp of force-fed LS, the GTX55 hairdryer slapped to the side of the cast-iron 5.3 is a brutally beautiful sight to behold, with lots of custom-fabricated parts, including the intake and exhaust manifolds by the Drew brothers

Currently the VC puts out 1330rwhp and has run a PB of 7.86@180mph with the standard block. “I always wanted to push the 5.3 as far as we could. I didn’t want to spend the coin on a Dart block, and so far it’s been great to run with the big boys,” Kai says.

Blown 355-cube 1981 Holden VC Commodore - FROM HELL

Backing up the iron mill is a Turbo 400 ’box from MDT, sporting a PTC 3500rpm stall converter sending power to the 275 M/T Radials through a nine-inch diff.

Holden VC Commodore engine bay

The red rocket certainly doesn’t shy away from track time, with Kai hitting up just about every event he can, including Jamboree, Grudge Kings, No Excuses and, of course, Drag Challenge.

Luke Foley's twin-turbo alloy 6.0L VH Commodore runs 8.51

“Drag Challenge 2018 was my first proper hit-out with the car, and we had a few struggles, so I learnt a lot that year,” he says.

Holden VC Commodore boot

Skip forward to DC 2019 and Kai’s fortunes had improved massively, taking out the Quickest LS-Powered award, Runner-Up in the Haltech Radial Blown class, and, critically, fourth overall thanks to the car’s blistering pace. “It was a like a dream come true, that week,” he says. “I was blown away when they called out my name for fourth overall; it was surreal.”

Holden VC Commodore parachute lever

The real highlight of the week came when Kai set the quickest time of the entire field on Day Two at Mildura’s eighth-mile, with a 5.11 just edging out Brendan Cherry’s and Harry Haig’s beefy big-block machines. “It was amazing driving back through the return road; I had no idea, and people were just going off,” he says. “I nearly had tears in my eyes. It was a pretty special moment.”

Holden VC Commodore interior front

The cagework inside was taken care of by the boys at Marshall Speed Shop, with a cheeky bottle of CO2 hiding in the rear passenger footwell and a Holley dash up front feeding Kai all the info he needs to keep more than 1300 horses in line

Kai didn’t slow down after Drag Challenge either, winning his class at the No Excuses heads-up drag racing at Ballarat and running his 7.86 PB at Sydney Jamboree before the temporary shutdown of events in Australia. It’s not just racing miles either; Kai makes sure the VC does its fair share of street duties as well.

“When I do take it out, I always get looks and messages, even though I try and keep it as discreet as possible,” he says. “I even change the boot to get rid of the wing!”

Holden VC Commodore dash

As for what’s next for ‘the Creswick Sausage’ and his VC, the 5.3 is coming out for a refresh during the coronavirus-enforced break. “It’s done just about every racing event around since Drag Challenge 2018, so we’ll give it a health check over the break and maybe bump the power up a touch when it gets thrown back together,” he says.

“It’s a better eighth-mile car, so I’m keen to chase a four-second slip when we can all get back out there.” 

Holden VC Commodore rear seat

BETTER OFF RED

WHILE it may look the goods now, Kai was less than impressed when he first came to know his VC. “I showed up to buy it and it was nothing like what I had been told; it looked like it’d been painted with a brush,” he laughs.

Kai is a house painter by trade, so both he and good mate Corie Pring did some research and gave the bodywork a crack themselves before Corie laid down the colour. They retained the Sting Red the car was painted in when Kai first got it, this time making sure the looks matched the performance.

Kai McPhee

KAI McPHEE
1981 VC HOLDEN COMMODORE

Paint: Sting Red

ENGINE
Brand: 360ci Chev LS iron block
Induction: Custom manifold
ECU: Holley Dominator
Turbo: Garrett GTX55
Heads: Higgins
Camshaft: Custom grind
Conrods: Carrillo
Pistons: CP Bullet
Crank: DragonSlayer
Oil pump: Melling
Fuel system: Three Walbro pumps
Exhaust: 4in stainless

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox: Turbo 400
Converter: PTC 3500rpm
Diff: 9in, 3.5:1 gears

SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Suspension: Viking coil-overs (f & r)
Brakes: Wilwood (f & r)

WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Weld Racing Magnum; 17x4 (f), 15x10 (r)
Rubber: Mickey Thompson 275/60 R15 (r)

THANKS
Streetbuilt Racing; Marshall Speed Shop; Race Parts Melbourne; TJM Detailing; Holley EFI; Mark Drew; Tim Bailey;
Corie Pring; my wife Nat and my kids Taj and Indi, who are my biggest fans

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