This article on Ben's VE Calais was originally published in Street Machine's LSX Tuner #8 magazine
IF YOU’RE shopping for a well-equipped large car to drive the family around in comfortably, but you still want V8 grunt to send some tyres to the recycling pile the fast way, then a late-model Calais is a pretty good thing. Funnily enough, most people go for the sporty SS or HSV models, but the top of Holden’s comfort line is a damn fine base upon which to build a fast, practical car.
Ben’s Calais shows what an awesome platform the VE Commodore is upon which to build a fast family car. I’d lay money on the fact nobody would be expecting low 11s and over 600rwhp out of this super-subtle package
With a plethora of options for cam upgrades, bolt-on supercharger kits, fuel system upgrades and good access to E85 in metro areas, you can comfortably build a killer 622rwhp daily driver sleeper… just like Nelson Bay’s Ben Hiles did!
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While it retains standard-spec suspension and brakes Ben has gone through and rebuilt or replaced pretty much everything, so he knows he has a safe car to carry his family. Nolathane front sway bar bushes are one of the few aftermarket upgrades in the handling package
“I didn’t originally intend to build a fast car; I just wanted a 6.0-litre V8 Calais,” says Ben, who transformed a gold Calais V into a Magnuson 2300-charged brute. “I owned a 5.0-litre VN Calais and have been in love with the classy muscle car ever since. So I bought a nice, straight Calais V in Sandstorm gold, as it doesn’t show the dirt. After about two months, however, I heard the dreaded LS lifter rattle.”
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Tipping the scales at 1825kg (stock), the VE Calais V is no lightweight, but it comes with niceties like a premium sound system, full leather trim, and an electric sunroof. One of the benefits to building a fast street car off a Calais or Berlina is their demure colours and lack of body kit mean they can fly under the radar compared to more outlandish SS and HSV models
While they’re generally hardy performance cars, late-model AFM-equipped V8s have a nasty reputation for prematurely wearing the lifters and flattening cam lobes due to the design of the lifters and bucket. The solution is to replace the cam and lifters, and so Ben wisely decided that this was an opportunity to upgrade.
“I asked CQ Motorsports in our then-hometown of Gladstone to put in the biggest camshaft they would recommended while retaining a stock torque converter,” he says.
CQ installed a VCM 5SC cam with valve springs and lifters, and all was going sweetly, until… “One day I slowed for a roundabout after about an hour of driving and heard a screeching, grinding noise,” Ben recalls. “One of the new lifters had dropped a roller and there were needle bearings through the motor. So out it came and in went a new cam, lifters, plus mains and big-end bearings.”
While a cammed-up 6.0-litre Calais is plenty of fun, Ben was about to escalate the situation with the addition of a four-lobe TVS air pump, otherwise known as a supercharger!
“About six months after that rebuild a second-hand Magnuson MP2300 supercharger came up and the workshop asked me if I wanted to check it out, seeing as how I already had a blower cam in my motor,” explains Ben. “From that point, I was addicted! I bought the second-hand supercharger, got it checked out, and threw it on. Roughly a week later I realised the old fuel pump was toast, and so I threw in an Aeromotive fuel pump and left alone for a while.”
Everything was going well until a ballooning torque convertor pushed the crankshaft around, bending three rods and scoring bores. By this stage I’m pretty sure the engine crane at CQ Motorsports was getting worn out!
With the VCM OTR intake and side panels, plus the Magnuson 2300 blower’s black finish, the engine bay almost looks like a GM-built car. Ben used Pacemaker long-tube headers to evacuate the boosted air through 100-cell cats, with a VF GTS mid-section and twin three-inch mufflers
“They replaced the stock bottom end with H-beam rods and forged pistons, and ARP fasteners on everything,” Ben offers. “I also upgraded the fuel system to suit E85 with a Squash Performance twin pump upgrade and, on flex fuel, it went 633rwhp… and ballooned the converter, driving the crank through the thrust bearing!”
Ben wasn’t prepared to muck around this time and installed a forged Scat crank, SRP pistons, and Scat forged H-beam rods, while retaining the VCM-5SC 224/232 reverse-pattern cam. The L98 rectangle-port heads have been cleaned up and port-matched to suit the blower manifold, but otherwise left as GM intended. Given they flow 320cfm out of the box, there is unlikely to be any restriction there as the Calais’ dyno sheets show!
Ben wisely chose to upgrade the stock 6L80E six-speed auto with a toughened-up unit from Craig’s Autos built to handle 800hp, while a Dominator lock-up 2800rpm convertor shouldn’t move around and cause any issues. The drivetrain is rounded out by a VE HSV GTS 3.25 diff in the stock cradle.
The Magnuson 2300 supercharger uses an Eaton TVS core and four-lobe rotor pack for a compact, efficient set-up that makes big power with the right camshaft grind. Luckily, Ben’s Calais runs a reverse-pattern 224/232 VCM-5SC that has a solid 114-degree LSA for a slightly choppy idle but broad power band
“After all this work, we then moved from Queensland to Nelson Bay NSW, about a 15-hour drive, and the car didn’t miss a beat,” says Ben, who was now looking for a new mechanic. “I found Corey out at Coretuned in Thornton, Newcastle and he advised me that I needed to go bigger on the injectors, so he fitted a set of Bosch 1000cc items and the car went back on the dyno. Corey tidied up the trans tune and tuned the car to run on 98RON PULP, and he also repaired some wiring issues.”
So far the Sandstorm sleeper has made a best run of 622rwhp (464rwkW) and 1007Nm of torque on 98 PULP, pushing 11psi through the blower. While the factory Siemens E38 ECU has been set up to run E85, Ben hasn’t had it tuned on the boost-friendly juice just yet – the Calais retains the standard driveshafts in the rear still!
Ben swapped the Series 1 VE head unit for a 2012 Series 2 iQ touch-screen, featuring navigation, USB audio, reverse camera and park assist, and dual-zone air con and heating. He also added SAAS boost and voltage gauges in an SS Inductions pod to the dash top
“Corey made the same power on 98 as we made previously on E85,” laughs Ben.
While the suspension and brakes are stock items, they aren’t the 200,000 kilometre-old units the car was sold with.
Ben used 3M vinyl wrap through the interior to give a classy finish. “I carbon-wrapped as many things as I could to get rid of some of the plastic trims that Holden uses,” says Ben. “I have a tendency of not leaving things well enough alone and, as I didn’t like the factory shifter, I also replaced it with a universal MOMO unit”
I have rebuilt the brakes, plus I replaced struts and suspension bushes, but left the car at factory ride height. I also installed factory 19-inch HSVi Veloce wheels as they suit the understated, classy lines of the car.”
Having run a PB of 11.2@121mph so far, while also managing to do 10L/100km fuel economy on the open road, Ben has built a fast but practical family car. And he hasn’t finished with the Calais yet!
“I will continue to tinker over time as I really have fallen in love with the understated looks, and the shocked stares of other motorists,” Ben says.
With a retune on E85 impending, we can’t wait to see power outputs starting with a seven, and 10-second time slips!
2007 HOLDEN VE CALAIS V
Brand: GM Gen IV L98
Blower: Magnuson MP2300
ECU: Siemens E38
Pistons: JE forged
Rods: Scat 4340 forged H-beam
Cam: VCM-5SC 224/232/114
Crank: Forged Scat
Lifters: GM LS7
Oil system: Melling high-volume
Fuel system: Bosch 1000cc injectors, Squash Performance twin in-tank pumps, flex fuel sensor
Exhaust: Pacemaker long-tube headers, 100-cell cats, VF GTS mid-section
Gearbox: GM 6L80E 6-speed auto
Converter: Dominator 2800rpm lock-up
Diff: VE HSV GTS IRS centre, 3.25:1 gears
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Master cylinder: Stock
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: HSV Veloce 19x8in (f & r)
Rubber: Achilles 245/40 (f & r)
I would like to thank CQ Motorsport Gladstone for all their hard work on the build, and my needing everything checked and rechecked. I would also like to make a huge shout-out to Corey at Coretuned; I have not met another mechanic who is more passionate with his work and genuinely cares