Update: Dale made his debut at Kenda Radial Redemption yesterday at Willowbank Raceway. “With the test days rained out, I had to licence and test on the same same day,” says Dale. “I made few driver errors, but we ran a best of 5.72-seconds at 123mph over the eighth-mile. I’m super-stoked with it!”
First published in the April 2021 issue of Street Machine
It all started innocently enough. Dale Gridley’s modest initial goal for his AP6 Valiant ute was simply to make it a mild streeter with a 318. “Next minute, I’ve fitted a turbo LS and am trying to run eights!” he laughs. Don’t worry mate; the lure of Drag Challenge has that effect on people.
Dale’s tough AP6 actually completes a full circle for the Brisbane-based mechanical fitter’s automotive interests.
“I built a triple-Webered 186 LJ GTR Torana straight out of high school that was good for 13-flat at Willowbank; that was pretty stout for a six-cylinder street car back in the mid-90s,” he recalls. “The LJ made way for an HJ Sandman ute with a ‘Little League’ 253 – yep, built straight from the pages of the Street Machine – but the racing side of things petered out after that.”
Dale drifted away from the car scene for a number of years before testing the waters again with a bunch of Yankee-based cruisers, including a ’55 DeSoto, a ’57 F-truck and a ’63½ US Falcon Sprint two-door. Hot-lapping those was just enough to rekindle the fire and spark the need for something quicker.
“I used to love watching the Gannon brothers race their gold AP6 sedan in the late 90s,” Dale says. “For me, the AP6 is ‘the’ car of the Valiant world. So a few years ago, I started building my own AP6 sedan for the X275 series. When that class folded, I sold it all and decided to just build a cool street car.”
Dale hit up his good mate and fellow AP6 tragic Jeremy Schoch (Snap Shots, SM, Feb ’20), and a couple of goldies bought him Jeremy’s mostly complete AP6 ute. “It was flat black, which was going to stay, but I had no idea that flat black came in so many shades! It was the full patchwork quilt,” Dale laughs. “So I paint-stripped the bodyshell and just rolled it into the weather – I don’t really do paint, so the beater look is perfect for me.” Don’t let anyone tell you that Dale skimps on paint and panel though – he intends to rub not just one but two coats of a walnut oil and turps mix on it to keep the flanks looking worn but protected.
In case you’re thinking this is just some cobbled-together, yawn-inducing ‘rat rod’, rest assured that the work that’s gone on beneath the rusty exterior is nothing short of art. The chassis connectors and widened factory tubs are simple enough, but it’s the research and development into the suspension design that will play a major role in the ute running a decent number.
Being close mates with the Gazzard Brothers (Scott and Paul Cortina) is a major feather in Dale’s cap. His role as the ‘Valiant tech support’ guy for the Gazzard boys is now paying dividends with a well-specced suspension combination for the AP. “I started helping on the Valiant stuff with Scott and Paul back in 2015, initially with Scott Sharpe’s 540-cube VG Safari wagon (SM, May ’16),” he says.
The ute’s upgrade began with an HDK tubular front end running Gazzard-specced AFCO coil-over housings fitted with Gazzard springs. This, along with a forward-mounted steering rack, meant that the old torsion-bar set-up and recirculating-ball steering could be ditched altogether.
The rear is a similar melting pot of Gazzard wizardry, with a Gazzard sheet-metal nine-inch housing sprung on a pair of their split mono-leaf assemblies, which themselves have been relocated inboard of the rails and outfitted with a Gazzard anti-roll bar, rear sliders and traction bars. More Gazzard-specced AFCO shocks round out the rear, while the centre is a Strange Ultra case fitted with turbo-friendly 3.5 gears and 40-spline axles.
Ah yes, the turbo. Dale initially built a rather stout alloy-headed 318 Chrysler to power the ute, before the DC bug bit hard and he decided to step things up with LS power. “It all comes down to the dollars, plain and simple,” he says. “I initially looked at an Indy Mopar combo, but then I got the price. It’s no secret that an LS offers up cheaper horsepower capabilities, especially when you’re looking around the 850-1000rwhp mark.”
Robby Abbott from Abbott Engine Reconditioning on the Gold Coast is no stranger to building big-horsepower combos, and was entrusted with the build of Dale’s ex-HSV LS3.
The 6.2-litre block was grout-filled to the water pump (an engine oil cooler and Moroso accumulator will be added to help with street cooling) while the stock LS3 crank has been treated to a Torrington bearing conversion and will swing Callies Compstar rods and SRP pistons. A Camtech hydraulic-roller stick and LS7 lifters work in conjunction with CNC-ported LS3 heads, topped with billet intake runners and a Shaun’s Custom Alloy sheet-metal intake.
The throttlebody is a Wilson 102mm item, while the 88mm Proboost turbo mounts a 60mm Turbosmart wastegate. The intake side will run sans intercooler; instead, boost-controlled methanol injectors will cool the intake charge. The methanol is for strip duties, but the AP6 will run E85 on the street, both delivered via Raceworks injectors: eight 2200cc items for the meth and another eight 1100cc injectors for the corn juice.
A Holley Dominator system sorts the ECU, dash and ignition coil needs, while the current single dump-pipe exhaust will be expanded to include a removable full exhaust system.
The LS combo is backed by a transbraked Turbo 400 auto featuring a reverse-pattern manual valvebody and fronted by an ASNU 3500 stall, while a B&M Stealth shifter selects gears.
Inside is a business-focused interior of Kirkey race seats and a six-point chrome-moly rollcage with bolt-in intrusion bars. Dale also cut away the parcel shelf assembly and shifted the rear cabin wall backwards to better fit his six-foot-two frame. A Joes custom quick-release steering wheel atop a Billet Works steering column rounds out the creature comforts, with Kirkey padded covers the only real consolation for street legs.
There’s still more work to do, but Dale is on a mission. “I’m really hoping to make the next Drag Challenge full-week event, but should another Drag Challenge Weekend option become a reality, I’ll push hard to make that,” he says. “The plan is to run in the 275-tyre class, but to be honest I’m not really too worried about placing anywhere significant. I’ll be happy just to finish the event, and to do it without towing a trailer would be even better. Okay, racing a ute is kind of cheating in that respect I guess, but I’d be stoked anyway!”
1965 AP6 VALIANT UTE
Colour: 50 shades of brown
- Make: HSV LS3 6.2L
- Block: Factory alloy
- Crank: Stock LS3, Torrington conversion
- Rods: Callies Compstar
- Pistons: SRP forged pistons
- Camshaft: Camtech 629/626 263@50 hydraulic-roller
- Lifters: LS7
- Heads: LS3 CNC-ported
- Intake: Shaun’s Custom Alloy sheet metal, billet runners
- Throttlebody: Wilson 102mm, 60mm
- Turbo: Proboost 88mm, Turbosmart wastegate
- Injectors: Raceworks 1100cc (E85); Raceworks 2200cc (methanol)
- Exhaust: Custom 17/8in primaries, 4in dump single-outlet
- Ignition: Holley Dominator ECU with 12.3in Pro Dash, Holley coils
- Transmission: Turbo 400, reverse-pattern valvebody, transbrake
- Converter: ASNU 3500rpm stall
- Diff: Gazzard sheet-metal 9in, Strange case, 3.5:1 gears, 40-spline axles
- Front: HDK tubular control arms, Gazzard coil-overs
- Rear: Gazzard shocks, anti-roll bar, split mono-leaf springs, traction bars
- Brakes: Wilwood discs and calipers (f & r), Wilwood master cylinder, TBM linelock
- Rims: Billet RC Hurricane 17×4 (f), double-beadlock ET Pro 15×12 (r) (Street Pros for mock-up)
- Tyres: Mickey Thompson radial front-runners (f), Mickey Thompson ET Street 275/60 (r)
Scott and Paul Cortina at Gazzard Brothers; Robby and Brett at Abbott Engine Reconditioning; my good mate Nobby; Gypsi