Stealth Mode: VR Commodore is not what it seems

Think this VR Commodore is rocking a good ol' five-o Holden donk? Think again...

Photographers: Chris Thorogood

TAKE a glance under the bonnet of this unassuming VR Commodore and you might think it’s packing nothing more than a well-presented 5.0-litre V8. But what if we told you that what you’re looking at is actually a stroked LS3 that makes 600hp and has propelled the car to a PB of 10.0@133mph into the nine-second zone? Now we’ve got your attention!

First published in the January 2022 issue of Street Machine

The white bullet is the creation of the Drew family, who know a thing or two about going seriously fast. Mark Drew’s turbo-LS LH Torana, nicknamed ‘Crusty’, is a seven-second belter that has successfully completed numerous campaigns, but this new car was about creating something for his sons, Wil and Jude, to learn the ropes in.

“I asked them if they wanted to build a car for Drag Challenge, so at the start of the year we found this 5.0-litre VR Executive and went from there,” Mark says.

The car turned out to be perfect for their purpose, and Jude is thankful for their quick reaction time in buying it. “We actually had a red VS V6 ready for the project, but then this 5.0-litre VR showed up and we grabbed it straight away,” Jude says.

The original iron lion was ripped out to make way for a beefed-up LS3, which Mark built himself, along with the rest of the car. He opted for an all-motor combo that guzzles PULP 98, rather than complicating things with turbos or nitrous. “I’ve never really done an aspirated LS, so we wanted to see how that’d go,” he says.

The alloy block and factory intake manifold are pretty much all that remains standard, with the cubes punched out to 417 with a Callies crank and rods. Making up the rest of the menu is a set of CP pistons, a Texas Speed hydraulic-roller stick, and a pair of CNC Higgins heads. Because Mark opted for a Holley Terminator X and tunes his cars on the fly, the new donk has never seen a dyno. “The motor should be good for 670hp, and the mile-per-hour we’ve done so far reflects that,” he says.

As for mocking up the LS3 as a 5.0-litre, it adds to the sleeper factor that helps the VR fly under the radar; only proper VR/VS nerds are going to spot anything amiss. “The rocker covers were easy because you can just get adapters to do that, but the rest required a fair bit of fiddling,” Mark says.

Backing up the LS is a transbraked Turbo 400 ’box with a Dominator 5200rpm converter. The rear end is a nine-inch using 35-spline axles and 4.11 gears, along with a minor tub job to fit the 275 radials.

Now that drag strips are back up and running, the Drew clan have wasted no time in getting test time for both the car and the drivers. They’ve been out at Heathcote’s test-and-tunes just about every weekend, developing the car and Jude’s skills behind the wheel, as well as driving the three hours to the track to make sure the VR can cope with the road miles.

The development has been going well, with the boys now eyeing off a nine-second pass. “We did that 10.0 with a headwind, so hopefully we can crack a nine soon,” says Jude.

Practice in the pits is just as important, as Mark prepares his boys for their first solo crack at Drag Challenge. “I make the boys do it all at the track – changing tyres, dropping the exhaust and all that, because when it comes to Drag Challenge, they’re going to have to do all that on their own, as I’ll be busy with my car,” he says.

When they’re not racing, Mark says he struggles to keep both of them out of the car: “They’re always in it!”

“I love it,” says Jude. “Down low it drives so well on the street, and for such a fast car, it cruises so well. I drive it as much as I can.”

“I’ve done Drag Challenge with Dad in the Torana before, so I’m so keen to get some mates and do it myself with the VR next year,” says Jude.


Since this story was first published, the VR has cracked the nine-second zone, running 9.91-seconds at 135mph at Heathcote in July 2022. This was follwed by more 9.9s at Calder in January ’23, followed by a 9.89 at 136mph at Holden Nationals – where Jude also came second in the Street Brawler class.


Class: Kool Wrap 235 Radial Aspirated
Engine: 417ci LS3
ECU: Holley Terminator X
Heads: Higgins CNC
Pistons: CP
Camshaft: Texas Speed hydraulic-roller
Conrods: CalliesCallies
Crank: Callies
Transmission: Turbo 400
Converter: Dominator 5200rpm
Diff: 9in, 35-spline, 4.11:1 gears
Previous Drag Challenge PB: N/A