AS THEY approach two decades on our roads, VT-VZ Commodores are increasingly popping up with ever-wilder body and chassis modifications. And, when you look at Alex Vines’s tubbed, blown and candy-painted VX Senator, it’s no wonder!
Having said that, Alex getting his hands on the HSV was a great case of happenstance rather than good planning. “A mate wanted to go buy a set of MC Racing wheels. I had a VK SS replica that was pretty wild, so we cruised out there together,” he says. “When we got there Brian El Hassan had the Senator for sale and I got talking with him, coming to an agreement where we would clean-swap cars.
“The HSV was stock when I got it, and I didn’t really have a plan to build it up like this, but you know how the project snowball goes. My original plan was for a clean, nice luxury cruiser built off a Commodore, but I took it down to the Summernats when it had a different blower on it that wasn’t working properly, and I saw all the top guys down there were building Commodores with candy paint, tubs and big engines.”
Alex’s VX ended up going back to Sydney for a three-year build into the monster you see here today. The 5.7-litre Gen III retains a standard bottom end, but that isn’t a huge issue if you know how to set the rest of the engine package up, with plenty of cars now running hundreds more horsepower than stock on an SBE (stock bottom end).
While the core rotating assembly is standard, there has been plenty of work put into the ancillaries. A Camtech hydraulic-roller bumpstick runs 275/285 duration and required fitting Crane Cams pushrods and dual valve springs, while the oil pump was also upgraded to a high-volume Melling item to safeguard the stock crank, rods and pistons.
The Vortech V2 centrifugal side-mount blower huffs 8psi into a front-mounted air-to-air intercooler, venting through a Tial blow-off valve, before passing through a Holley 102mm throttlebody on the front of a Holley high-rise intake manifold. Part of the secret to the Senator’s grunt-fest is the choice of boost-friendly E85 fuel and associated high-flowing system comprising ID2000 injectors, twin Bosch 044 pumps, a surge tank and 1000-litre fuel cell down the back of the car.
The exhaust features custom four-into-one headers, 1000-cell cat converters and 2.75in system, while the ignition was boosted with Top Gun 8mm leads and the cooling system improved with a custom overflow tank and Meziere electric water pump. Tuned by Dale Heiler at Castle Hill Performance, the puffed-up Gen III threw down 554hp at the wheels with 8psi through the stock bottom end.
The weak 4L60E stock trans is long gone, now replaced by a Tonka-tough TH400 three-speed auto built by Hughes Performance. Sitting behind the 2500rpm Slingshot lock-up torque converter, the manualised TH400 passes the grunt to a custom two-piece tailshaft with 1350 heavy-duty universals connected to a Ford nine-inch diff.
The live-axle rear end is chockers with good gear like Moser 31-spline axles, full spool and 3.75 gears, and is located in the rear by a McDonald Brothers four-link hung off Viking coil-overs. The same coil-overs hold up the front-end, while the brakes are huge Harrop four-pot jobbies supplied as an optional accessory to HSV in the VX-VY era.
The four-link rear end and live-axle diff meant the back of the car had to cop plenty of grinder work, with a new flat floor installed along with fat tubs to house the 22x12-inch Intro Rockman billet wheels. The only other bodywork was by Savage Custom Bonnets, who added the four-inch reverse-cowl scoop, while 2SUS Custom Resprays laid down the sumptuous House Of Kolor Brandywine candy, which works to perfection on the VX’s curvy shell.
Senators were always plush affairs inside and, despite the drag-inspired rear end, Alex’s VX is no different, with super-bolstered original HSV Coulson seats wrapped in cream leather, contrasted by the B&M shifter.
All in all, the project proved fairly straightforward, despite some minor cooling system and rear end issues. “I had a problem with the aluminium radiator and fans so I went back to the factory set-up,” Alex explains. “Also, the guy who built my diff didn’t align it correctly, but Steve from Shift Right stepped in and fixed everything.
“Its best time to date down the quarter is 11.0@128mph, but it definitely has a high 10-second pass in her, and that isn’t bad for a car that weighs 1760kg!”
Despite the Senator’s wild set-up, Alex isn’t shy about using it. “I try to take it out as much as possible for a cruise; I’m not the kind of guy to leave it in a garage and appreciate it off photos.” And we are thankful for that!
ALEX VINES - HSV VX SENATOR
Type: HSV Gen III
Blower: Vortech V2
Cam: Camtech hydraulic-roller
Fuel pumps: Bosch 044s
Intake: Holley high-rise
Converter: Slingshot 2500rpm
Diff: Ford 9in, 3.75 gears, full spool, 31-spline axles
Springs: Viking coil-overs (f & r)
Brakes: Harrop-option HSV (f & r)
Rear end: McDonald Brothers four-link
Rims: Intro Rockman; 22x8.5 (f), 22x12 (r)
Rubber: 235/30 (f), 295/25 (r)
Anthony ‘HLDTYT’ Ivanovic and Daniel ‘The Bulgarian’ Hristov for helping me with pretty much everything on the build; Brent ‘Chuck’ Young for getting the boys drinks and food when needed (had to say it, sorry bro); Basser and Fuf from 2SUS Custom Resprays for the killer job; Steve Micallef from Shift Right; Marcus from Craft; Jay from Advanced Powdercoating; Dale from Castle Hill Exhaust for tuning