This article on Michael Konstandinou's VN Commodore was originally published in issue no.7 of Street Machine's LSX Tuner magazine, 2018
DRAG racing is a game of numbers, so let’s try some of these on for size: 457ci, 9500rpm, 1104hp, 738lb-ft (1000Nm), 8.5 seconds and 161mph. These are the figures Michael Konstandinou’s VN Commodore produces thanks to one of the most impressive naturally aspirated LS V8 set-ups we’ve ever seen.
“When I decided to build a car to take on the True Street drag racing class, I talked to my brother John Konstandinou, [founder and owner of CID Heads, one of the big names in super-high-performance cylinder heads and intakes] and Phil Soderstrom [of SDE Converters] about the best way to use a car to promote our products, along with some other great Aussie companies,” says Michael, the man behind ICE Ignition. “Then we spoke to Tony about building an engine that fitted within the rules. I told him the rules, talked it over and we came up with the biggest, baddest combo we could.”
Michael explains how well the whole project has gone: “The engine sat for 18 months while I finished the car, but it fired on the first shot. On its first full pass it broke the mph record in its class by 3mph and almost broke the ET record. It broke the latter at the first bracket pass”
The ‘Tony’ Michael refers to is Tony Bischoff, the top dog at BES Racing Engines in St. Leon, Indiana, and a legend of the prestigious Engine Masters Challenge, which ICE Ignition has been a big part of.
Tony and the BES team put together the donk around an iron Dart LS7 block, Bryant crank, Oliver steel conrods, custom Ross pistons, and a Comp solid-roller cam that Michael describes as “very, very large”. While the exact cam specs are a secret, Michael says he needed a stick that could handle bulk revs. “We normally try to keep it to 9200rpm,” he says, “but I’ve revved it as hard as 9800rpm and it didn’t slow down!”
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Any engine turning almost 10,000rpm needs lungs, so Michael’s brother John provided a pair of CID’s BE-LS oval-port heads. They flow a gigantic 460cfm, thanks in part to stormwater drain-size 2.275-inch intake valves with new valve angles and locations, plus custom T&D rocker arms. Tony at BES developed these heads specifically for this engine, though you can now get a set for yourself from ICE Ignition, CID’s Aussie distributor.
The intake manifold is a single-plane BE-LS7 unit from CID, topped with a two-inch spacer and a four-barrel carburettor custom-built by the gurus at Braswell from a Dominator core. Aussie Speedflow fittings sort the plumbing, while the fuel system was specced and kitted-out by Con at Pro Race Engines.
Due to the runner length and plenum shape, Michael had issues fitting the manifold to the VN, but fixing it resolved several other problems by accident!
“The manifold is quite tall, and when we put the engine in the car it stuck out the bonnet on its own, let alone with the spacer and carburettor on top of that,” Michael says. “In True Street class there is a restriction on the size of scoop you can run, so we bought spacers that sit between the crossmember and the body. Through a complete fluke, this also gave us the perfect driveline angle, and let us get the exhaust out the bottom of the car!”
The exhaust, featuring gigantic 2.25-inch primary pipes, made for huge packaging issues, as the APSA True Street class doesn’t allow any cutting of the car.
“Originally we thought there was plenty of room in the bay for the headers,” Michael says. “I had to draw the sump to fit the car and send the design to America, as they don’t have VNs, and I allowed extra space to move the motor back as far as possible. Lucky I did, as when we fitted the engine and had to put it where it is now, there was space to fit the exhaust. If we had pushed the engine all the way back, the primaries wouldn’t have fitted as they wrap behind the heads. This was done by Tony, one of the team at ICE, and nearly sent him bonkers.
“The way things have come together has been amazing; I can’t tell you how well it all worked together, a lot of it by pure luck!”
As owner of ICE Ignition, you’d expect Michael to have a pretty damn fancy box of sparks in his set-up, and that is definitely the case with an ICE front-drive distributor and 20-amp Race Series Timing Control with twin coils, plus a 24-volt booster to provide secure combustion. The 20-amp twin coils not only provide phenomenal output, but require less ignition timing than lesser units.
“The engine is showing 1060hp in the car, which is only 40hp down on what it made on the dyno,” Michael says. “I know it is the most powerful naturally aspirated inline-valve LS engine in Australia, but I think it could possibly be the most powerful inline-valve NA LS engine in the world!”
Behind the 457 monster is a fully manualised Powerglide rocking a transbrake, and a custom SDE 7800rpm eight-inch stall converter. A Mark Williams single-piece carbonfibre tailshaft sends the power rearwards.
The car is almost a piece of history in itself, having originally been built and campaigned by Aussie drag racing legend George Haddad; his original nine-inch diff is still on the car today.
“George built the car over 20 years ago and raced it a little while, but it then sat in his parents’ garage for 15 years,” Michael says. “When I was looking at doing True Street I wanted a car with good suspension and a big engine bay; I realised the VN was the best platform. George is one of my original customers from 25 years ago and we always talk, so I asked George to sell me the car. Really the only things that have changed, on top of the engine and transmission, are the wheels and class-legal suspension.”
As previously mentioned, the True Street rules mandate that bodyshells have to remain as they were produced, with no cutting allowed. “It is a full steel car, uncut, and with stock wheel tubs,” Michael says. “We run Pro9 adjustable suspension arms that bolt into stock mounting points, and double-adjustable Koni shocks all ’round, on modified struts up front.”
Given the humble chassis mods allowed, it is super-impressive that Michael’s VN has run PBs of 8.501 and 161mph, unofficially breaking both ends of the class record. But what drew Michael to the True Street class?
Michael has found returning to racing good fun, though the car recently reminded him how the sport can bite. “For the first time in my life I cut a perfect light the other week,” he says, “but then it fried the tyres and we put on a drifting display – it certainly kept me awake!”
“I like factory-style cars with big power; I see it like how Pro Stock should be,” he says. “I admire modern Pro Stock cars, but I like standard-looking cars with automatic transmissions and big horsepower.”
Let’s face it, who doesn’t?
1988 HOLDEN VN COMMODORE
PAINT Bright orange
Type: Dart iron Gen IV LS7
Intake: CID LS7 oval-port
Cylinder heads: CID BE-LS7 oval-port
Carburettor: Braswell 2.4in 4bbl
Pistons: Custom Ross
Rods: Steel Oliver
Cam: Comp solid-roller
Exhaust: Custom BES 2.125in headers
Oil pump: Peterson external
Ignition: ICE front-drive distributor, 2053TC 20A Race Series Timing Control, 2224 booster
Fuel system: MagnaFuel electric pump
Transmission: Transbraked Powerglide
Converter: Custom SDE 8in 7800rpm
Tailshaft: Mark Williams carbonfibre
Diff: Ford 9in, Strange iron centre, Moser 35-spline axles, 4.56:1 ratio
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Springs: Adjustable springs (f & r)
Shocks: Koni double-adjustable (f & r)
Brakes: Wilwood discs (f), Ford 9in drums (r)
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Weld V-Series; 17x4 (f), 15x9 (r)
Rubber: Moroso front-runner 26/5R17 (f), Mickey Thompson Radial Pro 275/60R15 (r)