This article on Mark's Rodeo was originally published in issue #6 of Street Machine's LSX Tuner magazine
The world of burnouts is like no other in motorsport. Almighty V8s held screaming at maximum revs, starved of cool air, tortured and spanked for minutes on end, only to turn around and do it again, time after time. Circuit racing, rally and drags have nothing on this level of abuse.
Of course, Mark Johnson loves it, which is fortunate as the sport attracts its fair share of characters; the kinda guys who think nothing of dumping a tuned V8 into a pink Excel body shell and ripping skids until both bags go ‘bang’.
Mark built such a car in 2011; the WHYNOT Motorsport Excel was a hit from Melbourne to Cairns and everywhere in between. “We did skids in Sydney, Powercruise in Queensland; event after event, up and down the East coast!” he says proudly.
Buying unfinished projects can be fraught with danger, but for Mark it was a lucky strike. “Even though I found the Rodeo on Gumtree it was set up for an LS2 and Turbo 400 combo!” Unbelievable! But that’s not all, “It even had the correct length driveshaft and exhaust!”
Standing in the wintery chill of a nondescript workshop in Sydney’s south-west 'burbs, I sense the story is heating up; Mark is about to address the LS in the room.
“Someone made an offer on the Excel that was too good to knock back,” he admits, as an occupied hoist whirrs downwards. “But it went without the motor and box.”
As the red-over-silver Rodeo makes touchdown, settling gently on its suspension, I grab a whiff of rubber; like durry smoke, it’s hard to get out. “We had Burnout Outlaws a couple of weeks ago,” Mark says, explaining the pungent aroma.
Circling around to the business end, Mark pulls the bonnet, lifting it over the twin Aeroflow throttle bodies and enormous filters. “We had a leaky gasket, so I had to get the heads serviced in a hurry; I took them to Harris Engines.” Mark clarifies, “I’d normally get them sent back up to Hi-Torque Performance in Queensland; Chris and the boys there know their stuff.”
Although built by Chris at Hi-Torque Performance in Queensland, both Mark and the LS Rodeo live in Sydney. Matty at Hi-Tech Modifications handles local maintenance duties having been there right from the start
He’s not wrong; they built the 6-litre LS2 for the WHYNOT Excel and it’s that same motor handling duties in the Rodeo. Querying Mark as to what it takes to create a solid burnout LS, my jaw hits the floor; the secret is… almost nothing!
It was Matty who sourced the Rodeo’s tub and gave Mark a hand installing all the under-tray fuel equipment and fabricating a lift-up access panel
OK, that’s not strictly true, but the guts of this regularly smashed 6-litre are as the General intended, hencho en Mexico, bro. “Hi-Torque set it all up before we started smashing tyres.” That was six years ago and the development hasn’t stopped. The LS2 runs a double-row timing chain, big cam and a high-volume oil pump, but remarkably, the pistons have never been out of it.
“I keep getting presents in the post with a note, ‘you’ll need these’!” Mark laughs. The latest gift box is a set of 1000cc injectors, “It was leaning out a bit since the conversion to E85, so I’ll fit them soon, then take it back to Hi-Torque before the Burnout Allstars at Queensland Raceway.”
The high-rise manifold is a fancy bit of gear, standing the air filters well-proud of the Rodeo’s bonnet line. “I really wanted something that stood out and Chris from Hi-Torque encouraged it; it makes more power and torque this way anyway. Chris is good at encouraging my addiction!”
Amazingly, this LS2 uses only a single Bosch 044 fuel pump, although not wanting to miss the smoky burnout action over something so trivial, Mark has installed another one next door; if one dies, it’s a five-minute job to change over the wiring and fuel lines and he’s back on the pad.
Said fuel pump gives a clatter before Mark fires the Rodeo into life. The lumpy cam and open exhaust result in all the right noises. Allowing the V8 to warm up, he describes the maintenance process that enables him to limiter-bash the LS Rodeo until the cows come home.
Those that doubt the mighty LS, behold; Mark’s LS2 has never been stripped down and still runs original pistons and rings
“Once a year, we pull the motor, stick it on a stand, turn it upside down, pull the caps and put another set of ARP rod bolts in it; then we’re good to go!” Simple as that? Well, it turns out the secret to Mark’s success is not a shopping list of fandangled engine innards; the LS takes care of itself.
The true secret to burnout reliability is cooling. “It’s got a four-core radiator; a fair bit bigger than standard,” he explains. “And get this, it came with car! All we had to do was change the inlet and outlet pipes!” Geez, talk about lucky find!
Besides the obvious intake and exhaust modifications, the LS has copped LS3 heads and runs two separate ECUs; one for E85 and one for 98RON. “For Red CentreNATS and other rural events we run 98, but E85 isn’t a problem in the big centres on the East Coast.” The best of both worlds!
The LS now up to operating temperature, Mark invites me to start squeezing his tubes. “This has got Evans Waterless Coolant in it; it doesn’t build pressure.” I grab the Rodeo’s top hose and he’s right; it’s still pliant. “You can put this stuff in a jug; it’ll hit 190 degrees Celsius before it boils.”
He pauses; “It’s brilliant! If there’s ever a problem, you call them and they help out; ‘do this or do that and you’ll be right.’” Mark continues. “I have undone the cap literally straight off the burnout pad; I was shitting myself but they told me they could do it.”
At once, Mark grabs the radiator cap and gives it a twist; there’s less pssht than a bottle of Coke.
So that’s the secret? A well-breathing LS combined with a top-notch coolant? “Pretty much. With my Excel, I had a bunch of people telling me how I should do it. This time, I built it my way.”
The testimony is in the reliability. Mark backs the Rodeo out of the shed and around to a private yard behind the workshop. Without warning, he tromps it and the big six-litre LS2 is immediately banging off the 7600rpm limiter. Keeping it vaguely sensible, he fills the yard with red smoke, then shuts it off to prevent complaints from neighbours.
Hopping out to inspect his handywork, he nonchalantly scuffs a toe across the blackened concrete. Removing his WHYNOT Motorsport baseball cap and scratching his head, Mark continues, “Next thing is to set it up for drags; my partner Michele is really keen to race it.”
Steve Micallef at Shift Right in Richmond screwed together the stout Turbo 400 trans. He runs the white 632ci One Tonner you saw in Street Machine back in February. He knows his way around auto transmissions, having built them for both drags and burnouts; this is not his first rodeo, so to speak!
He checks over some fittings on the softy tinking engine. “I gave it a crack at REDCentre Nats; pulling a 12.8 on the 22s, but I got in strife warming the tyres; I treated it like a normal skid!” he laughs. “Then we loaded it up with boys for the Street Parade. It’s just an all-round party car!”
1996 HOLDEN TF RODEO SPACE CAB
Colour: DNA Candy Apple Red over VE SSV Silver
Engine: 6.0 litre LS2
Intake: Holley Hi-rise with twin Aeroflow throttle bodies
Cam: Hi-Torque special blend
Lifters: stock LS2
Valve Springs: stock LS2
Valves: Manley stainless
Sump: VE SSV
Oil pump: Manley high volume
Ignition: standard LS coils with MSD leads
Fuel pump: Bosch 044
Exhaust: custom headers with twin 3in exhaust
Transmission: Shift Right Turbo 400
Converter: 3500rpm high-stall
Brakes: (f) L300 rotors and Rodeo calipers (r) gone!
Springs: (f) Pedders Airbags (r) Q1 coilovers
Shocks: (f) Pedders Sports Ryder (r) Q1 coilovers
Steering: standard Rodeo
Rear end: Hilux with mini-spool and 31 spline axles
Differential: Speedy Diffs 3.58:1 Hilux
Tailshaft: two-piece Commodore tailshaft
Rims: MC Lace by Top Class Tyres (f) 22x8.5 (r) 22x9.5
Rubber: (f) Mayrun 245/30 R22 (r) Pace 265/35 R22
Steering Wheel: 2002 TF Rodeo
Seats: Black race seats
Carpets: black loop pile
Shifter: B&M Magnum Pro Stick