Heathcote, near Bendigo in central Victoria, is not exactly a tourist hot spot.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s June 2007 issue
It’s probably nice enough if you like caravanning and visiting bowls clubs; so, definitely no hot spot, then. But 18 klicks north of Heathcote is a drag-strip. Again, it’s no glamour and, in the midst of the worst drought in living memory, it’s a dust-bowl punctuated by a few sheds, some dodgy-looking carports and a quarter of a mile of hotmix.
Welcome to the LS1 Drag Nationals, the annual hootenanny for anybody who reckons their Gen III-powered whatever is the fastest in the land. Black or orange VZ utes (seems like hundreds of them) prowl around the pits, their left headlight removed so the unfiltered turbo can slurp up as much of that powdery Heathcote dust as possible. But I’m not here to see VZ utes or the trackie-dacked, sweat-shirted, bum-bagged clowns that drive them.
I’m here because I’ve heard a whisper that there’s a black VE Clubsport R8 due to arrive, complete with every Walky option – including the intercooled huffer. Ain’t it funny how a car that’d stop a train in Civvy Street barely raises an eyebrow when it’s parked with a few dozen mutants like the utes I was talking about? In fact, I walked past the VE Clubby once (maybe twice, I don’t know for sure) before I clocked the sticker on the rear quarter glass.
Just as well I found it in the pits, though, because out on the track, it was the same story. You just can’t compare a fair-dinkum streeter (the Clubbie) with a bunch of thinly-disguised race-cars (those damn VZ utes). Not when the latter are pasting down low-10s and the Clubsport is in traction hell on its road tyres and struggles to make a low-13.
I’m starting to wonder why I’ve bothered with this 400km round trip through Highway Patrol County to breathe dust and watch a car I’m due to drive in two days get a walloping at the hands of people who still think all food should be yellow (or else why would they serve up the things they do at such events?).
Two days later, back in civilisation where food is different colours and some people even wear shoes that lace up, and the Walkinshaw Clubsport strikes a rather more impressive pose.
Just for starters, it’s not covered in dust and, parked in Walkinshaw Performance’s workshop, it looks the absolute bollocks. This car is, more or less, what would happen if you wheeled an R8 into the WP bunker and ticked pretty much every box. From its bonnet scoop to its suspenders to its jocks and socks, the Walkinshaw touch is evident everywhere.
Where do we start? Okay, what about the suspension? The standard R8 shocks are retained, but the coils are re-rated with plenty – and I mean plenty – of spring in their step. Ride height is 25mm lower and some new rear bump-rubbers are part of the package. Stoppers are the celebrated AP Racing calipers with six pistons up front and four out back.
The good news, though, is that on an R8, you don’t have to pay for new rotors as the APs are compatible with the OE discs. And just to make the most of the new hardware, a set of Goodrich braided steel brake hoses is also fitted to this car. Nineteens are a cinch, this time Simmons composite rims running 245 fronts and 275 rears.
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Under the lid, the big news is the positive displacement blower that sandwiches an intercooler between itself and the inlet manifold, yet is still compact enough to clear the stock bonnet.
It runs a modest seven pounds of boost and comes with its own calibration and a dyno sheet from the WP rolling-road. Keeping the air up to the LS2 is a low-restriction air filter element that is matched to the airflow needs of the blown engine. Out the noisy end, there’s a stainless-steel exhaust system from the cats back, complete with etched oval tips bearing the WP logo.
The window-dressing stuff amounts to the fog-light covers that look kind of cool, sill-plate trims with a WP badge that looks like it fell off a cheap footy trophy and that bonnet scoop that does bugger-all aside from adding weight to the bonnet. Yep, it’s a dummy. Fortunately, those dress-up bits are the only elements of the car that are hitching a ride, and everything else is there for a very specific reason.
But is it all an improvement over the standard Clubbie R8? Erm, maybe not. We’d have to take exception with the new suspension tune, for one. The rear-end is a fraction slappy over pimply little joins in the road surface but it’s the front end that really doesn’t feel right.
Hit a slightly raised bridge or clumsy join in the bitumen at the right speed and the front end crashes through the whole car. It almost feels like the cross-member is about to jump into your lap and it’s not just short, sharp bumps that upset it, either.
Despite its apparent firmness, we still found the front bump-stops a couple of times at moderate speeds through bigger dips with sharp-ish approaches. Feels to us like the new spring rates aren’t matched too well with the stock dampers, so maybe a bit of fiddling would put it right. And let’s not forget that the 19-inch tyres have about the same sidewall depth as a kid’s three-wheeler, so there’s probably a bit going on there, too.
In any case, this is all a moot point if you were simply going to leave well enough alone in the suspension department and save your dough for anchors and blowers. And in the case of the new picks, we’d have to say go for it. The pedal feel is great (the braided lines help there) and the retardation is brilliant. If you’re tempted to take your Clubbie trackside, then the APs should be high on your wish list.
And whether you’re a race-track junkie or just somebody who likes to pedal a quick car, then you want the supercharger, you really do. The installation is neat, looks factory and has the added bonus of some exposed spinning bits to keep the pub factor sky-high.
The set-up uses the standard system of a serpentine belt running everything from the front of the engine. But the blower is driven from the rear of its housing, so there’s an exposed layshaft that takes drive from the front of the engine bay to the rear, complete with polished shaft and beautifully crafted aluminium bearing housings. Lovely.
The big surprise is not the engine’s outright power (although there’s plenty of it) it’s the sheer torque of the thing. It’s brutal. First gear is largely irrelevant but for the fidgety paddle clutch that this particular car was fitted with. Clog on in fifth and it feels like you’re in fourth. Fourth feels like third and so on... you get the idea. And bear in mind that we’re talking about a car that is hardly lacking in the goolies department in the first place.
The gearshift is still a bit baulky and the clutch needs to be all the way home to avoid extra clunks, but you can potter around all day in third gear, running the mill down to about 1250rpm before it gets grumpy on you. Even then, it’s only a bit of a rumble through the chairs that tells you to change down and more throttle fixes it anyway.
But it’s not all about grunt; this is a motor that never ever gives up on you. Wind it out in third or fourth and it feels like it’ll never stop accelerating. It bashes into the limiter with enough force to unbalance the chassis (so don’t do it mid-corner) and grabbing another gear just starts the show all over again.
For all that, it’s not the least bit peaky or temperamental and the only observation from the jump seat was that the car seemed a bit aggressive on the throttle. Sorry pal, but that’s what happens when near enough to 380kW hooks up through sticky tyres.
That’s a good number by anybody’s standard, but the truth is, you’d probably stump up for the blower, purely for the soundtrack.
I’ve driven plenty of supercharged cars before; some blowers have contributed nothing to the soundscape, others have made the right sort of noise. But I can’t remember a single one that has given me the tingles like this one.
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Gas it up at idle and you’ll hear a cheeky little squeak. Blip it between downshifts and there’s a manic yelp that could be the artist formerly known as Prince caught in a rip.
But the best bit is when you let the LS2 off its leash big time. It starts to yodel proper at about 2000rpm and from there it builds and builds in both pitch and urgency till it’s a whiny, nasally message of mechanical hatred and evil.
It reminds me of my recurring-fantasy-noise of having Pauline Hanson’s head in a wood-vice while Mother Theresa hammers six-inch nails through the bloodnut’s arms and legs. Pleeeaaaassseeeee eeeeexplaaaaaaaiiiiinnn. (Was that out loud?) Anyway, take it as read that getting up the blown Clubbie is an aural treat of major proportions.
There’s a bit more yap from the big-bore exhaust and even the odd bang and pop on the over-run, but I just know I’d never get sick of that blower whine. And because at legal speeds in top gear you’re below the warble-threshold, it won’t do your head in on long trips.
The WP-modded R8 is more than just a quick car. It has the brakes to match the mill and the VE Commodore’s essential smarts to make such a powerplant a viable way to go. Force-feeding a six-litre V8 would have seemed like crazy-talk a few years ago. Maybe it still is, but if this is crazy, give me a key to the asylum.
No school like old school on classic MOTOR
2007 Walkinshaw Clubsport R8
BODY: 4-door, 5-seat sedan
DRIVE: rear wheels
ENGINE: 5967cc 90-degree V8, OHV, 16v
BORE x STROKE: 101.6 x 92.0mm
POWER: 380kW @ 6500rpm
TORQUE: 695Nm @ 4300rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
SUSPENSION: struts, A-arms, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
TRACKS (f/r): 1592/1590mm
BRAKES: AP Racing 365mm ventilated discs, six-piston calipers (f); 350mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers (r), ABS, EBD, ESP
TYRES: Bridgestone Potenza RE050A; 245/40R19 (f), 275/35R19 (r)
LIKES: Tremendous torque, fantastic soundtrack and awesome brakes
DISLIKES: Suspension not matched well, but HSV spec is decent enough
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
Not everybody wants the full body-kitted HSV experience. In fact, with an engine like the blown six-litre, we’d be inclined to make the end product as stealth as possible. The shot then, would be to start with a plain-wrapper V8-equipped VE Commodore. And the cheapest of those is, let’s see, the Berlina at $44,990, although a manual SS is the same money, so it’s your call.
Either way, you’d spec it with the AP calipers (which would require replacement discs and 19-inch wheels of some sort, but you could keep it discreet). As far as the blower goes, the L98 in the Commodore uses a different intake manifold to the HSV engine, so the blower itself is slightly different.
According to Walkinshaw Performance, though, there’s not as much in it as you might think and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the L98’s cylinder head design.
The Holden camshaft would be the limiting factor, say the blokes in the know, but a replacement cam tailored to the pump’s characteristics would soon have it breathing like a good ’un and for not much more than $60k, you’d have yourself a real giant killer.