This article on Ash's Rodeo was originally published in issue no.7 of Street Machine's LSX Tuner magazine, 2018
WHEN your day job involves sorting all manner of electronic trickery at LsXtreme.com.au, it is safe to say you’re probably going to wind up with some form of LS V8-powered car in your driveway. It certainly worked out that way for Ballarat’s Ash Jones, the owner of this ’98 TF Rodeo sleeper.
Packing a cammed 5.7-litre Gen III LS1, Ash’s ’Deo blends all the practicality of a leaf-sprung work truck with plenty of tyre-frying grunt when he wants it to boogie.
“The idea was that I wanted a V8 ute, but also a semi-practical minitruck,” Ash says. “The only other Rodeos I had seen with LS swaps were all burnout pigs, nothing really legally driven on the street, or practical.
Ash got Matty from LsXtreme to give the ute a road tune and estimates the power at 270rwkW. With only 1500kg to shift, this is one TF Rodeo you won’t be stuck behind going up hills!
“This spacecab was bought from out the back of a wrecking yard and spray-painting business. It had been sitting there for nine months with the windows down, getting covered in overspray and god knows what else, so needless to say a good clean was in order!”
Ash cleaned up the truck and drove it around for approximately eight months before he found a perfect donor car to serve his LS-swap aspirations.
Read next: Slammed and chopped LS1-powered Holden Rodeo
The sump Ash used to fit the LS1 into the Rodeo was from a GM-made Hummer, but is the same unit found on F-body (fourth-generation) Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds, and most truck fitments (Chevy Silverado, GMC Denali and the like). The Hummer/truck oil pan is also used on LS swaps into HQ-WB Kingswoods, as they can often be found cheaper than the F-body unit for some unknown reason
“I came across a smashed VX SS Commodore with no interior on Facebook,” he explains. “I pounced on it as it had everything I needed, including the engine, gearbox, wiring loom and ECU, so the build all started from that point.”
The V8s seem to fit nicely into Rodeo frames, and Ash had no problems getting his 5.7-litre sitting right once he swapped the sump for a common Hummer item and bolted on some cast Hooker exhaust manifolds. Along with Dave and Matty from LsXtreme, he adapted the Rodeo engine mounts to fit the LS block, and got it all bolted together.
Read next: Blown L98-powered Chevrolet Tahoe
Ash chose to upgrade the lifters to heavy-duty LS7 items, with Crow 7.4-inch pushrods and a Crow 219/227 cam running 112° LSA, while the oil pump was also ported for flow. The rest of the LS1 remained standard, though an aluminium radiator to fit a VN V8 Commodore was installed to help keep everything cool.
The wiring and re-flash of the stock LS1 PCM was probably the easiest part of the build, given LsXtreme specialise in custom wiring looms and modifications to Commodores (they did the loom in the Carnage MX5.7, and we featured their HSV EDI upgrade in LSX Tuner #6). The boys even discovered the stock Rodeo tailshaft fitted straight into the back of the VX’s 4L60E transmission!
Different states have different capacity limits for commercial vehicles like the full-chassis Rodeo. The TF’s classification as a commercial vehicle meant the stock disc brakes were deemed big enough for Ash’s engineer to sign off on, though the fact the rears were the 11in drums off the Colorado diff helped sway that argument, too
“All in all, the build went really well,” Ash says. “There were a few smaller issues, like grabbing a VE starter motor that sat vertical [rather than on an angle] when installed to clear the headers, and dealing with rubbish radiator fans I had bought off eBay. We found dual fans off a Ford Territory EcoBoost that now keep everything cool.
“Once it was all together and ready for road tuning, we discovered the gearbox was missing fourth gear, so the Rodeo went back on the hoist. Now that I think about it, this was possibly a good thing, as the truck now sports a shift kit and an upgraded 2600rpm stall converter.”
While it looks bog-stock, Ash says the cammy idle does give the game away a little bit. “The car definitely has a good sound to it with the cam and the twin 2.5in custom exhaust, with no balance pipe, dumped out behind the cab,” he says. “It makes a few people look twice at the lights and servos, and it is nice to show up the young blokes on their P-plates that think it’s just a work ute”
Down the back is a 2014 Holden Colorado diff, sitting on reset leaf springs, while the front has copped two-inch drop spindles courtesy of Mex’s Garage in Queensland.
“It drives really nice with the drop spindles, and is not rough as guts,” Ash says. “The car is only 1500kg, so the V8 is efficient in pulling it around town and can still get close to 600km per tank on the highway!”
Stock Rodeo cabins aren’t the flashiest places to spend time, so Ash has upgraded his with fresh carpet in place of stock rubber flooring. Replacing the factory plastic hoodlining is tartan fabric Ash cut and glued in place himself
As Ash’s only car, the Rodeo sees action almost every day, so he had to make sure the interior would be a nice place to spend time. It definitely wasn’t when he first got his hands on it, so plenty of cleaning up was required.
“The previous owners of the car had done some questionable mods to it, like blue LED lights everywhere and some sort of custom wooden centre console smashed full of LED-lit missile switches that were connected to god knows what in the past. The only things I kept from the last owner were the rolled rear valance and the aftermarket power windows; everything else went in the bin!”
Ash got busy installing fresh carpet from Knox Auto Carpet, along with cream tartan trim highlights he whipped up. Gears are shifted through a B&M MegaShifter, tunes come from a Kenwood media player, and engine vitals are displayed on digital gauges bought off eBay that Ash describes as knock-offs of popular Japanese brand Defi. The result is a low-buck, high-impact place to park your rump, remembering this is also a work truck.
While we’re used to seeing Auto Meters, Smiths or VDO accessory dials in the V8 scene, Defi electronic gauges are hugely popular in the Japanese tuning scene thanks to their high-quality and range of displays
“In the end the LS swap into the Rodeo was the best project I have ever undertaken with friends and family,” Ash reckons. “My wife was not so impressed at the start of it all, but it has definitely grown on her – apart from when I start it in the garage in the morning and it makes the house rattle! It’s the kind of car she can still jump in and take to the shops if she needs to. My wife often tells me: ‘I shouldn’t drive your ute too often as I find myself speeding because it sounds good!’”
Ash’s cabin has copped an upgrade with this B&M shifter. It was required in order to mate up to the new transmission, but the TF Rodeo also had one of the worst-looking stock gear levers in GM’s long history
While it sounds like Ash has found his perfect street car, he is already thinking of other cars he’d like to build.
“If the price is right this will be up for sale to fund my next project. I’d like to do something from the 60s, like an FC or FB with a turbo 202, although I have also always been keen to see an LS V8 in a ’01 Subaru Forester GT!”
Hopefully we see him build the latter!
1998 HOLDEN TF RODEO
Type: GM Gen III LS1
ECU: Stock PCM
Heads: 241 cast cathedral-port
Camshaft: Crow 219/227/112
Valve springs: PAC single
Pushrods: Crow 7.4in
Fuel system: Bosch 044 pump
Sump: GM Hummer
Oil pump: Standard, ported
Cooling: VN V8 alloy, Ford Territory thermo fans
Exhaust: Hooker cast manifolds, twin exhaust
Gearbox: GM 4L60E electronic
Diff: 2014 Holden Colorado 3.4:1
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: 2in drop spindles, Monroe shocks
Rear: Reset leaves, Monroe shocks
Brakes: Stock (f), Colorado 11in drums (r)
Master cylinder: Standard
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Steel; 17x6.5 (f), 17x9 (r)
Rubber: 205/50 (f), 235/50(r)