WhichCar
Powered by
  • WheelsWheels
  • MOTORMOTOR
  • 4X4 Australia4X4 Australia
  • Street MachineStreet Machine
  • Trade Unique CarsTrade Unique Cars

L98-powered 1986 Holden VK Commodore

By Ben Hosking - Story & Photos, 17 Nov 2019 Features

L98-powered 1986 Holden VK Commodore

When recurring engine troubles and a devastating accident turned his dream machine into a nightmare, Paul Knowles didn't give up. He just built something even better

TOUGH VK Commodore. That’s been 37-year-old Canberran Paul Knowles’s dream ever since he can remember – specifically, a tubbed and dumped sedan with a big Holden V8 rattling the panels and shaking the ground.

This article was first published in the November 2019 issue of Street Machine 

Holden VK Commodore rear

Paul’s first step to making that dream a reality came in 2016, when he sourced a donor VK in Dapto, south of Sydney. “By the end of that year I had built what I thought was everything I’d ever wanted in a car,” he says. “My best mate had painted it a custom candy blue-over-silver, and it had a second-hand cream leather interior and a 355ci Holden stroker. The motor was mean and I couldn’t have been happier.”

Read next: Blown LS3-powered 1985 HDT VK SS Commodore

But while the engine was a stout combo, it had constant problems, and no one seemed able to determine what was wrong. “It didn’t matter what I did or who I took the car to, the niggly issues just couldn’t be sorted,” Paul says.

Read next: Supercharged LS3-powered Holden VK Commodore

Holden VK Commodore wheel

Thanks to a pair of mini-tubs, the VK can squeeze 12in-wide Simmons FR20s under the arse-end, with bulk dish made possible by the sheet-metal 9in housing and short 35-spline axles

As frustrating as that would have been, considering the cost of a typical performance engine, the worst was yet to come. “The last straw was when I drove the car five kays down the road and all five of the rear wheel studs snapped, sending me and some mates into a culvert on the side of the road!”

Read next: Turbo LS-powered VK Commodore Brock replica

Holden VK Commodore engine bay

The engine bay in Paul’s VK is on-point, with the high-contrast black-on-white aesthetic and that murdered-out, 403ci L98-based combo from Warspeed that makes a solid 640hp at the flywheel. LS the world, indeed!

Thankfully everyone inside was okay, but the VK was toast. Most would have forgiven Paul for throwing in the towel at this stage, but he was determined to rebuild. “I decided to start from scratch and rebuild the car from the ground up,” he says. “I think the only thing left the same from the first build is the steering wheel!”

Holden VK Commodore engine bay

Paul says he sought “a new mechanic, new engine, new parts, new colour”, and he hasn’t looked back.

Once all the bodywork was repaired, Paul switched from the original blue-over-silver combination for an on-trend all-white theme, with everything else coated in contrasting black. The straight white is a bold and bright choice and suits the car’s snake’s-belly stance and all-black genuine Simmons FR20s. “The Simmons rims were powdercoated in a combination of gloss and satin black,” Paul says of the large hoops that measure a whopping 12 inches wide at the rear, accommodated by mini-tubs and a narrow sheet-metal nine-inch diff housing.

Holden VK Commodore engine

This same black-and-white colour palette (‘tonal palette’ might be a more appropriate term in this case) continues in the smoothed engine bay, where a ballistic engine combo from Warspeed replaces the troublesome Holden stroker. “I did some research and called Troy at Warspeed,” Paul says. “This was the best move I ever made. He built my engine, but also provided sound advice on where else to take the car. It hasn’t missed a beat since.”

Holden VK Commodore rear end

It looks all business under here; the VK is running a serious rear end featuring tubular control arms, Watt’s link and Viking coil-overs

The mill is based around a six-litre L98, but about all that Troy kept was the original block. Cubic capacity was expanded to 403ci with a Callies crank and rods, CP Bullet pistons and a pair of CNC-ported Higgins heads. Twin 750cfm Holley carbs mix the air and fuel into a Holley Hi-Ram intake manifold, and the combustion process is controlled by a custom Warspeed 246/254 camshaft. Dressed all in black, it looks as good as it goes, making 640hp at the flywheel.

Holden VK Commodore boot

Power is fed rearward through a Hughes-built manualised TH400, down a one-piece tailshaft and into the aforementioned sheet-metal nine-inch that houses 4.11:1 gears and 35-spline axles. It’s a bulletproof recipe that has already proven itself worthy of ‘dream machine’ status by surviving treks to Powercruise and Summernats, as well as weekend cruising with the family.

In keeping with the black-and-white theme in the engine bay, Paul’s VK now runs an all-black leather and suede interior that boasts Coulson front buckets and a re-shaped rear bench, covered dash and centre console, Auto Meter gauges, SAAS wheel and a half-’cage that extends into the boot

While the original cream leather interior would have looked pretty sweet inside the now-white VK, Paul was adamant that he needed fresh energy in the car and that included getting new upholstery. A combination of black leather and suede covers everything, including the dash, door trims and centre console – all featuring tasteful white diamond-stitching.

Holden VK Commodore door trim

“I have to give a massive thanks to my wife and kids for allowing me to build this car twice from the ground up,” Paul says. “And for not divorcing me through all the engine troubles at the start of the project!”

Holden VK Commodore dash

PAUL KNOWLES
1986 HOLDEN VK COMMODORE

Paint: Baslac 2K white

ENGINE
Brand: GM L98 403ci
Induction: Holley Hi-Ram
Heads: L98 Higgins CNC-ported
Camshaft: Warspeed 246/254, LS7 lifters
Conrods: Callies 6.125in
Pistons: CP Bullet
Crank: Callies 4in
Oil pump: Melling Select
Fuel system: Two 750cfm Holley carbs, Holley billet pump, Aeroflow fuel cell, Teflon braided lines
Cooling: South Coast Radiators alloy radiator, twin thermo fans
Exhaust: Headers, twin 3in stainless system (dumped at diff), Magnaflow mufflers
Ignition: MSD 6LS, MSD leads, LS coils

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox: Hughes manualised TH400
Converter: 4800rpm stall
Diff: Sheet-metal 9in, 4:11 gears, 35-spline axles, one-piece tailshaft

SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: XYZ coil-overs
Rear: Viking coil-overs, tube control arms, anti-roll bar, Watt’s link, mini-tubs
Brakes: Wilwood calipers (f), VT discs (r)

WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Simmons FR20 three-piece; 20x8 (f), 20x12 (r)
Rubber: Pirelli P-Zero (f & r)

THANKS
Warspeed Industries; South Coast Radiators; Hume Performance; Nathan Welfare; Chris and Jason Rourke; Bitch’n Stitch’n; Capital Precision Coating; Jax Tyres Fyshwick; Reflections Detailing; most of all, my wife and kids

Sign-up here for your free weekly report on the world of Street Machine

Holden VK Commodore interior