SOMETIMES keeping things simple and going back to basics can yield the best results, and few builds demonstrate that as plainly as Steve Metcalfe’s cheap-as-chips FE Holden project.
This article was first published in the October 2020 issue of Street Machine
Steve is no stranger to classic Holdens, with a collection of big-horsepower, show-quality rigs in his stable. But for this build, he decided to take a different approach. “I wanted to build something to show that you can do it all yourself, and you don’t need big bucks either,” he says.
The FE is still wearing its original paint, which was part of the appeal for Steve. There isn’t a single ounce of fake patina in this build, which makes the budget aspect of it all the more authentic
The other big trigger for the project was spending a few weeks in the US with the Team Enemies Everywhere crew for the Horsepower Wars $10K Drag Shootout, a challenge forcing teams to build stupidly quick cars in a small timeframe on very strict budgets. “The $10K Shootout and talking to Harry Haig a lot opened my eyes to this whole budget thing, so I decided to do one myself,” Steve says.
Steve stumbled across this FE and a much nicer FC for $1500 on Facebook Marketplace around 12 months ago. The FE was in a pretty sorry state: “It had been sitting in a paddock for at least 30 years, I reckon,” he says. “All the chassis was completely gone, and only one floorpan was semi-okay at best. It had no diff and no interior – it was a rust bucket – so I had no problem with cutting it up.”
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Being a gun fabricator for Enemies Everywhere, Steve set about building the FE into a crusty monster. It copped a whole new chassis – very similar to the one Steve made for the Camaro the team used to win the $10K Shootout. Steve also renovated the FE’s floor, trans tunnel and tubs, along with fabricating a chrome-moly rollcage.
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To keep the thing truly budget, Steve raided his spare parts bin for the suspension and driveline gear. The rear end is a standard 8.8-inch diff from a Ford Explorer. He had the Turbo 400 lying around, and the brakes, steering and suspension are a mish-mash of Torana, HQ and HZ spare parts, with some QA1 rear coil-overs added.
Steve cut out the inner guards to make room for the LS1 mill and the enormous 80mm Caterpillar turbo. There’s no ultra-pretty, shaved engine bay here – just the bare essentials to go fast on the cheap
As for the donk, Steve took a stocko LS1 and gave it a super-basic freshen-up with some ACL bearings, Precision Hypatec pistons and a Crow cam. The virtually standard LS then had an 80mm turbo strapped to it: “All I know is that it’s a turbo from a Caterpillar tractor and it was roughly the specs I needed,” Steve laughs. That, combined with a standard LS1 ECU, E85 and some 2200cc injectors, saw the FE punch out a commendable 909hp at 20psi on the hub dyno at Edge Automotive & Performance. “We knew we could’ve gone to 1000hp, but we only had a cheapo Chinese 38mm wastegate on it, so we kept it safe there,” he says.
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In keeping with the theme of using what he already had on hand, Steve turned an old beer keg into a fuel cell to feed the 900rwhp turbo LS1 delicious E85
Incredibly, the build process only took around four months, Steve whipping together the FE virtually on his own at home after hours – and on bloody jack stands! “I took it into work briefly and finished up a few small things on the hoist, but everything other than the tune was done at home by myself with the support of mates,” he says. “I still spent money where it counts; it’s got braided lines throughout and the chrome-moly ’cage – but I raided the scrap bins and used spare parts wherever I could to keep costs down.”
While Steve built 99 per cent of the car at home himself, he did finish off a couple of last-minute jobs on the hoist in the Enemies Everywhere workshop
So far the car has only had one outing since being completed, and it didn’t quite go to plan. “We took it out to Warwick for a no-prep meeting and blew pins out of two pistons,” he says. “I had to pedal it about six times during the run, which is what killed it,” says Steve. “We’ll sort a better boost control system for the next motor, and I’ve already got some forged rods and pistons for it, so it’ll hopefully hold together this time and we can well and truly get 1000hp.”
The original floor had rusted away to nothing, so Steve set about modifying virtually all of it to fit the Turbo 400 ’box as well as a set of tubs to house either 28x10 Hoosier slicks or huge 315 radials
As for more long-term plans, Steve has intentions of engineering the car and throwing some rego plates on it. “One of the things I did actually build it for was Drag Challenge,” he says. “It should run an eight at some point, and it’d be awesome to take on an event like that.
“I’ll probably sell it one day; this whole rat-rod thing isn’t really my style. But I really enjoyed building it and proving that you can do just about anything you want if you apply yourself, and it’s nice have a car I don’t have to worry about scratching!”
IN THE WARS
STEVE was a part of the crew that Enemies Everywhere head honcho Jamie Farmer took over to the US for the Horsepower Wars $10K Drag Shootout, filmed for a YouTube series by Power Automedia.
The Aussies were the first international contingent to take part in the event, which saw four teams given a dirt-cheap car, a very strict $10K budget and a tight timeframe to build a fully-fledged drag car capable of 8sec passes.
Steve has only had one hit-out in the FE so far at Warwick’s eighth-mile. Sadly, it ended prematurely with some hurt pistons, but Steve is already scheming for a comeback and will hopefully get some solid numbers out of the car very soon
The F-body Camaro the Enemies Everywhere crew built took out top spot, doing all us Aussies proud and partly inspiring Steve’s FE build.
1956 FE HOLDEN
Induction: Modified standard manifold
Turbo: 80mm diesel
Heads: Standard 241
Pistons: Precision Hypatec
Oil pump: Modified standard
Fuel system: Holley 1800 pump, 2200cc injectors
Cooling: HQ radiator
Exhaust: 5in sidepipe
Ignition: MSD leads
Gearbox: Turbo 400
Converter: Converter Shop 3800rpm
Diff: Ford Explorer 8.8in, 31-spline axles, 3.7:1 gears
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: King Springs, Monroe shocks
Rear: QA1 coil-overs
Brakes: HZ discs (f), VR Commodore discs (r)
Master cylinder: HQ PBR
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Center Line Convo Pro; 15x4 (f), 15x13 (r)
Rubber: Nankang 165/80 R15 (f), Hoosier 28x10 (r)
Harry ‘Haul’ Haig; Robby Abbott; Nathan Clarke; Nigel Alexander; Jon Hedrick; Mick at Edge Automotive & Performance for tuning and advice; Luke Kestle at Motor Fab; Scotty at Excel Panel & Paint; Jamie Farmer and Enemies Everywhere; Rick Welch for the photos