1000rwhp 2JZ-swapped VL Commodore sleeper

Chris Ethell's VL Commodore makes 1000rwhp with a Japanese inline six, but there's no RB to be seen

Photographers: Steve Kelly

The Barra versus LS rivalry has been a mainstay of Australia’s modified car scene for close to two decades, but in the Japanese tuner scene, a much longer battle has been raging, with Nissan’s RB and the Toyota JZ vying for force-fed straight-six supremacy. Chris Ethell’s VL Commodore kicks that rivalry up a notch, taking one of the most revered RB-powered cars of all time and slapping 1000rwhp worthS of 2JZ under the bonnet.

First published in the August 2023 issue of Street Machine. Images by Steve Kelly

“I’d say most people aren’t that angry about it, but I have had some purists get upset at me,” Chris says. “I will admit it was on the cards to upset people with the JZ.”

If it’s any consolation to the RB faithful, Chris did initially have intentions of putting a hot RB25 turbo and manual into the VL. “I was going to replicate another VL I previously had with an RB20 that was also very unassuming, but after I bought this new VL, I decided I’d rather have the car remain an auto,” he says. “So, the RB stuff went into an S14, and then Scott Hoffman talked me into a JZ for the VL.”

A basic, non-turbo 2JZ-GE engine was duly sourced and turned into a 920rwhp weapon on the cheap, thanks to head studs, GTE head gasket and oil pump, HKS 280 cams, a Link ECU and the same GTX42 turbo it has now. “We knew it was a stock-bottom-end combo that’d work, but then we got a bad batch of fuel at Powercruise and ended up bending a rod after I ignored the ECU safety cuts,” Chris laughs.

Replacing the bent rod called for a set of Spool I-beams, along with some CP pistons to match. The crank is still standard, and the GE head and HKS sticks were carried over. The hot side uses a 6boost manifold and the GTX42 turbo, with the boost crammed through a Plazmaman intake and throttlebody. With E85 and singing to around 8000rpm, the 2J made a best of 1025rwhp at 36psi. “That’s the turbo maxxed out, but I don’t think the minister of affairs will approve the bill for another one,” laughs Chris.

The rest of the driveline comprises a transbraked Powerglide ’box and (believe it or not) the original Borgy rear end. “It has billet axles and all that, but I’m still too scared to use the transbrake,” Chris says.

The car has run a best of 9.5@145mph, making 750rwhp on a low boost setting of 23psi, which is about all the 235s will take. “This car was a nice original example when I got it, so I don’t want to cut it up to put tubs and a fancy rear end in it,” says Chris. Same goes for a rollcage, so Chris is pretty limited with how quick he can go at the strip, but he’s okay with that.

After all, Chris built the VL more as a tough streeter than a drag machine, and if you’re local to the Bundaberg region of Queensland, odds are you’ve seen it prowling the streets. “I take it out at least once a weekend,” Chris says. “It’s a great cruiser that even my wife can drive, which is more what I built it for. It’s also fully engineered for every mod it has, so it’s a perfect streeter.”

As for future plans for the VL, Chris just wants to enjoy it as-is. “It was never meant to go this far, so I won’t be spending more money on it,” he says. He did reveal that the the VR Commodore currently sitting in his paddock is slowly winning him over for a cheeky LS1 turbo combo, so the VL may not be the last sleeper we see Chris roll out of his stable!


This VL is Chris’s third car to appear in our Sleepers section, the first being his 9sec 1UZ-swapped KE20 Corolla (December 2015), and the other his properly cool 1JZ-swapped Mitsubishi L300 tradie van (September 2018). He admits he’s a real sucker for sleepers, so it’s no surprise the VL has been built in the same vein.


Paint: White Gold

Brand:Toyota 2JZ-GE
ECU:Link G4
Turbo:Garrett GTX42/94
Head:Standard GE
Camshafts:HKS 280
Conrods:Spool I-beam
Pistons:CP forged
Oil pump:GTE
Fuel system:Surge tank, 2200cc injectors
Cooling:Copper radiator, SPAL fan
Exhaust:6boost manifold, 3.5in system
Ignition:R35 coil packs
Gearbox:Kiprios Performance Powerglide
Converter:TCE 5000rpm
Diff:BorgWarner, 31-spline axles, Harrop Truetrac, 3.45:1 gears
Front:King Springs FE2 springs, Koni adjustable shocks
Rear:King Springs FE2 springs, Koni adjustable shocks
Brakes:VT discs (f), VL Turbo discs (r)
Master cylinder:VT booster, AU Falcon reservoir

Got a car that looks mild, but goes wild? Send pics, car details and contact details to: Sleepers, Street Machine, Unit 9/3-5 Gilda Court, Mulgrave, Vic 3170. Or email: [email protected].