SO, I’M about to do a track day in a parent-spec daily driver. It’s the first late-model, family-oriented machine I’ve had the opportunity to punt around a track – a VF Calais V Sportwagon with leather and chrome and automated things that go ding.
It’s got the Bluetooth and remote start. It can play songs off my phone and reverse parallel park for me. It not only tells me when I’ve backed too close to another object but shows me on closed-circuit television. It’s dark green with a charcoal interior. Compared to the 1978-model car I last raced, it’s a miracle of modern motoring. Troublingly though, it has baby seats in the back. BABY SEATS. I never thought I’d have babies, let alone the seats that carry them, yet when I turn around, there they are.
Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on their mood), the kids aren’t actually strapped in there right now. But why bother taking the seats out? The thing already weighs 1800kg, with another 100 added when I get in. It’s no lightweight, but with no other machines in the shed more appropriate, will it track?
Dave modelling Street Machine’s latest range of GoPro protective covers. Find them under ‘Stubby Holders’ on our merch page
Whether the Wagon Queen Family Truckster is the right car for the job is dubious, but the engine bay has been liberally sprinkled with 6.0 litres of L77 V8 joy, so it won’t get scared by mites and ticks emerging from the arid Tailem Bend tundra. My mate’s M3-swapped BMW 325i wagon might give it a fright, though. We shall see.
Easing out onto the wide Bend Motorsport Park track, all sense of speed is devalued; without the constant swooshing of close-set trees and the white-line constraints of a standard-width lane, it’s all academic. Just go as fast as possible, then try to wash off as much speed as I can before the next corner. Use the whole track, keep it nailed as much as possible, don’t indicate on the corners. Simple.
Some hours later, my palms are sweaty and my brake pedal spongy. I’ve visited at least one sand trap but powered through; emerging unscathed, I’d swiftly returned to the track, bringing Wayne Gardner-levels of debris along for the ride, as is the tradition. The uber-quick, Autobahn-storming BMW wagon has turned out to not be a threat; while my mate was ‘exploring the limits carefully’, I was flogging past like Hunter S Thompson, hollering, hooting and skidding broadside in a cloud of smoke – thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming: “Wow! What a ride!”
I find myself in a clutch of final-run VF Commodores, specifically a Spitfire Green Motorsport Edition and a Calais Director in Son Of A Gun Grey. My wagon isn’t losing them either, leading me to wonder which part of the track their extra 200cc fell onto.
When we pull behind the pits to cool our steeds, I ditch my Europhile friend to go chat to the Holden boys. I’m relieved when they both confess that it’s their first track day; I felt like a total n00b out there, but their candour puts me at ease.
The VF Calais Director can be identified by a plethora of sporty blackouts. Just don’t look at the side gills, as owner Callum Anderson pointed out.
Ray Camburn, the owner of the Motorsport Edition, chats with me about lines and power and corners and camber, but naturally I gravitate to his special-edition Holden. “I worked in Quality Control in General Assembly at Elizabeth,” he explains. “So I’ve got photos of it from the VIN stamping right through to me driving it off the line.” Impressive stuff; not many can claim to have followed their new car from its very gestation.
Ray Camburn isn’t afraid to throw his VF Motorsport Edition at The Bend’s big, wide track. After all, that’s what it was built for; cosseting it in a dustproof car-coon isn’t going to bring anyone any joy. Callum Anderson holds a similar attitude towards his Calais Director, though he’s no doubt thankful for its more luxurious cockpit.
“I off-lined it for half an hour to get all the dust out of the paint before it went through base coat,” Ray continues. “And it still ended up with a blemish! So we changed one of the doors; it’s actually off an HSV the same colour that we swapped out in the paint shop!” Yep, if you’ve got a Spitfire Green Clubby with an invisible imperfection in the door, Ray’s your culprit.
Sensing my glee in his factory faux pas, he offers more. “I took the car to Lang Lang back in November. It was unreal. They put us in the speed bowl and said we weren’t allowed to go above 130. So naturally I saw 180, with plenty more in it, obviously.”
Callum Anderson, the owner of the Director, hasn’t quite the same insider knowledge as Ray, but still has an interesting titbit about his Calais. “The VF side gills were supposed to be black in the Director,” he says, gesturing to the very obviously chrome appointments. “When they moulded them, the pieces curved outwards, with the chroming process correcting this. Painting them didn’t automatically sort that out, so when they tried to fit them to the Directors, they were all misshapen.” He goes on to explain that his car was delivered to Sales three times before they gave up and fitted a chrome set to his and the other 359 built. I love stories like this, which unfortunately we’ll come across less and less as the Aussie motoring industry becomes a distant memory.
You never know what friendly faces you’ll spot on the way home from The Bend.
I thank them for hanging out with me and hop into the cosseting surrounds of my Calais V, patting the dashboard with affable glee. How many cars can be thrown at the Goodstart Early Learning Centre in the morning, driven through the foggy highlands to a desert driving wonderland, then thrashed around at a speed that would make Picard spit out his Earl Grey? Not many, I’ll bank.
I glance at the fuel consumption. Trackside, I had filled up with some of Dr Shahin’s finest E85 and reset the average economy dooflicky accordingly. Now, after 51.4km of brain-bending, mad-driving debauchery, it sits at... 57.3 litres per 100km! F**k me swinging sideways! Maybe a Tesla isn’t such a dumb idea. Still, that LS sound is intoxicating, even if it’s muffled by a tonne of sound deadening.
I am silently grateful for the likes of Ray Camburn, who helped make these cars what they are. And please, don’t read this as a love letter to Holden; to me, this is acknowledgement of all those boffins at Holden AND Ford who had the passion to screw together a proper Aussie car – one with four-doors, adequate brakes and enough power to track. Thanks people, it’s been a pleasure.