IF YOU want to cause a commotion with your street car, you really need something with bulk horsepower these days. But how do you stand out when nearly every boosted and injected motor seems to be able to make top-gear-frying grunt? You go big, like Robert Maggio did with his VL Calais.
This article was originally published in Street Machine LSX Tuner #5
Mini-tubbed and coated in retina-bashing Mazda Celestial Blue, Robert built the tough sedan with the king of LS motors between the shock towers: GM’s mental LSX454R crate motor. A head-stomping 776hp 7.4-litre race-only donk it isn’t for the faint of heart, and what makes this application even crazier is that Robert wanted to build an all-’round tough street car!
While he has had a couple of big-hitting rotaries and an HDT VK Commodore, Robert is an unashamed VL fan and, in his three-year ownership, decided to build the Calais to be able to do shows, race it and take it on street cruises.
“The car is a factory Calais that my brother-in-law TJ had as a rolling shell and was already painted in the Mazda 3 blue, but needed to be put back together,” Robert explains. “I bought it off him and bought a cammed LS1 and TH400 transmission package off my mate George from his VL. After I blew the LS1 up I stripped the car and went all-out on it – we tried to be different and be the first to put an LSX454R in a street car.”
Rated at 776hp, the LSX454R is claimed by GM to be the most powerful crate motor it has have ever offered, with an iron block filled with 4340 forged steel crank and rods, 4032 forged aluminium pistons and a big 250/270 mechanical roller camshaft in the bottom end. Up top are six-bolt race-style aluminium heads fitted with shaft-mounted 1.9:1-ratio rockers and huge valves spanning 2.25in on the intake and 1.625in on the exhaust, squeezing the bores with a gigantic 13.1:1 compression ratio.
“It is a little bit of a pig on the street with the huge cam and it really is a huge engine for the street,” Robert admits, “but you couldn’t get near the power from any other engine for the price I paid for the LSX454R.
“At 9am on the Monday after MotorEx two years ago, I rang Eagle Auto Parts down at Padstow and ordered the motor. It was the last one he had and he rang me back asking for a bigger deposit, as heaps of people had called in wanting that engine!”
Mick Turbo set the engine and transmission up, while JT Performance did the fuel system, braided lines, brake set-up and attention to detail on the car and ancillaries. JT Performance also made a full custom twin 3.5-inch exhaust and four-into-one 2.5-inch headers, with Hooker mufflers trying to keep the noise down, and modified a standard LS1 sump to fit the VL K-frame.
The monster donk is hung on Tuff Mounts engine mounts, with cooling handled by a PWR radiator, while fuel is provided by a Holley Dominator HP pump via an Aeromotive regulator and Teflon-coated braided fuel line, from a 75-litre fuel cell holding E85. Sparks are contained in an MSD ignition box and leads, with big-hitting LS7 coils. Justin from ProWire joined it all together with a custom wiring loom.
The TH400 was ditched in favour of a two-speed Powerglide built by Al’s Race Glides with a 5000rpm converter swinging off the back of the LSX454’s eight-bolt crank. Along with a custom tailshaft, Robert decided to go for nuclear-grade hardware down the rear end, speccing a nine-inch with 3.9 gears and a Truetrac centre through Michael at Street Cred Fabrication.
Street Cred also mini-tubbed the rear and reinforced the chassis, allowing the 20x10 in Simmons rims to spin freely, and added Strange coil-overs, while the front has Muscle Garage coil-overs and a K-Mac sway-bar.
With a proven 800hp on the engine dyno, the two-tone Calais ran a best of 10.1@135mph at Sydney Dragway. While that is plenty quick, it was also on the wrong-size tyres and out of legs in the top end, and Robert was booted for not having a ’cage before he could have another crack at a quicker time.
“The best thing about it has to be the engine, as no one else has one and it is hard to be different today,” Robert says. Even so, it wasn’t all free beer and high-fives during the build, with the LSX454R’s rarity proving to be a bit of a problem when it came to sourcing aftermarket parts.
“I had a bit of stress trying to find parts to suit the engine and ended up having to buy everything in from the States; finding header flanges in the USA was a mission!” Robert says.
“But the most memorable part of the build was the first start-up on the engine dyno and tuning it, and the most enjoyable part of the whole process was taking it for its first drive with my daughter, Savanna. I also love seeing people’s reactions with that engine in the car.”
Robert reckons the only things he’d do differently if he had his time over would be to go with full tubs and put a rollcage in it. But that won’t happen, as he has now moved the VL on to a new home.
Robert Maggio - 1986 Holden VL Calais
Type: GM Performance LSX454R
Fuel pump: Holley Dominator HP
Exhaust: Custom four-into-one headers, 3.5in twin system
Cooling: PWR radiator
Diff: Ford 9in, 3.9 gears, Truetrac centre
Springs: Muscle Garage coil-overs (f),
Strange coil-overs (r)
Brakes: VY SS (f), VL Turbo (r)
Rims: Simmons FR; 20x8 (f), 20x10 (r)
Rubber: 225/30 (f), 275/20 (r)
JT Performance for all the work on the car; Mick Turbo for mounting the engine and ’box and tuning the car; Justin from ProWire; Tempe Tyres; Kerry for all the bodywork; Michael at Street Cred Fabrication; John and TJ for always helping me out; Heasman Suspension; Mr Mifsud Auto Detailing; Scott at Oxytech Powdercoating; BK Race Engines; my dad Roy for always being by my side and helping with my cars; my wife Katrina and kids Savanna, Sienna and RJ for putting up with my addiction
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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