As car enthusiasts, our first rides hold a special place in our hearts and we love to look back on our time with them. But the sad truth is they often weren’t in great condition, or suffered plenty of ill-advised mods as questionable as our fashion choices when we were teenagers.
This article on Joel's VL Calais was originally publsihed in issue no.4 of Street Machine LSX Tuner magazine
However this immaculate VL Calais is the exception to that rule. Joel Burgess has owned his ’88 Calais since he was 19, buying it from his dad’s mate as a tidy streeter, but he’s turned it into a capable all-rounder that doesn’t overcompensate in one area over another. From the worked LS6 under the bonnet to the pro touring suspension and brake package, to the slick paint and subtle interior, it’s all class.
“One of my dad’s mates had it for 10 years and I always wanted it,” Joel says. “One day he called Dad and said: ‘If he still wants it he can buy it.’ It was a standard 308 manual Calais and was kind of done up for drags. I loved driving it, but it didn’t really feel like my own car.
“I was 22 and decided to go the LS route, so I bought an LS1 engine. I eventually sold that and decided to build up a motor myself, with an LS6 block.”
The LS-into-VL swap is now popular, but there's conjecture over the best combination of parts to use to get the late-model motor in the first-gen Commie.
“I researched heavily before I actually started the swap, plus I trial-fitted my first LS1 into the car when it was all in bare metal,” Joel explains. “I used a VL V8 K-frame with engine and transmission mounts by Tuff Mounts, Pacemaker tri-Y headers, and cut up a VY-VZ LS1 sump and welded in some aluminium extrusion, so I’ve lost 250ml of capacity, but gained 20mm of clearance all around the K-frame. I realised I didn’t need power steering so I used a manual VL steering rack but modified the ratio to 1:1. Finally, I shaved all the casting lugs off the transmission so it fitted nicely in the tunnel, and scalloped the firewall and recessed it slightly for more clearance.”
The LS6 is a good thing from the factory (see breakout), but Joel has upgraded his further. Up top is a seriously killer Harrop Hurricane individual-throttlebody (ITB) manifold, while the stock #243 heads have copped a hand-port job and use Iskenderian valve springs and pushrods, plus a conversion to LS7 roller trunnions. The bottom end received Mahle pistons and an Isky cam running 224/230-114 LSA specs.
Joel then ported the LS6 oil pump for more consistent operation, while fuel comes via an Aeromotive in-tank pump to F6 FPV injectors, and the spent gases blow out through a home-made exhaust.
The transmission is a rebuilt Tremec T56 six-speed manual out of a VX ClubSport, paired with an exotic triple-plate OS Giken ceramic clutch from Japan, and a custom driveshaft. Down the back, an alloy-centre nine-inch got stuffed full of 31-spline axles, 4.11 final-drive gears and an Eaton Truetrac LSD. It’s a simple combo but one that has proven itself countless times in America’s pro touring holy grail, the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational.
Joel actually entered his classic Holden in Australia’s version of that iconic event, the 2016 Harrop Ultimate Street Car Invitational. As he was up against worked Porsches and late-model HSVs, he had to ensure the VL could not just go like hell, but stop and steer.
To this end, KSport coil-over struts got the nod at each corner, the bushes have been upgraded from stock squishy rubber to stiffer Nolathane, beefy sway-bars now live under the front and rear ends, and the brakes copped a later-model work-over. A VX ClubSport donated both its master cylinder and rear disc set-up, while the fronts now boast a Harrop four-piston upgrade, which, while far bigger than anything around on a Holden in the 80s, still fit under the Weld S77 18x8 and 18x9 wheels.
Joel admits the body wasn’t the best to start with, but Transport Bodyworks got it silky smooth before laying down the PPG custom blue.
Inside is a lesson in tasteful upgrades, as the factory VL Calais trim is already pretty damn good. The carpet is the stock item the Calais left the factory with, but Joel went with Scheel Group A seats, a MOMO Cobra steering wheel and a Mal Wood short-shifter for his manual transmission, with the trim upgrades by C&N Vehicle Trimming.
To monitor the angry LS up front, Joel has opted for a custom Auto Meter gauge cluster, including a new centre console designed to look almost factory.
Just like all the other upgrades on YPLAY, Joel exercised restraint when modifying the classic Calais; many of his alterations are very subtle and factory-style. For instance, you’d be hard-pressed to pick the VY Commodore power window switches as it all looks like it was meant to be there.
Joel plans to add a supercharger to the VL soon, having landed a Harrop HTV1900 blower on the shelf at home. “The ITBs on the street are great, but the part-throttle driveability just isn’t good, so hopefully the blower fixes that,” he says.
Those Mustangs and HSVs will need to bring a lot more to the Harrop competition if they want to keep up with this Calais!