RECENTLY I got a text from a mate giving me a phone number for an unfinished VH LS1 Commodore project in Townsville. So I rang the number and had a yarn with the fella.
Now I have been a mechanic for 26 years and a street machiner for over 30, and there are a few terms in the industry that have always made my skin crawl, such as ‘unfinished project’, ‘adapter’, or ‘conversion’. Whether it’s a 13B rotary into a B-model Mack, or a HID headlight conversion, I generally damn my good manners to hell when involved with any of them. And as with most unfinished projects, the seller in this case used all the usual poetic advertising jargon: “will run nines with 35psi boost” (read: will not run nines); “paint is new, just needs a cut-back/polish/clear coat” (read: it was painted with a pineapple); “wiring needs a tidy-up” (won’t start).
Still, I got his address and went around for a look. Old mate showed me a box full of receipts, the paint and panel was fairly nice and the car was entirely rust-free. The interior was really good; in fact one of the best I had seen. Underneath, the old Commodore was jammed full of sway-bars, powdercoated suspension geometry and a late-model disc and caliper package. But unfortunately it had a filthy Ford diff in it; I would rather walk and hum a V8 noise than put a Ford part in one of my Lions.
And the LS1 conversion was terrible. The wiring looked like Bombay-spec, and when the bloke finally got it to fire up it sounded as rough as hessian undies. He shut it off and told me the ECM was set up for E85, and therefore it was running rough on pump fuel. I thought it sounded like it was running on Liquid Paper and was amazed it actually started. The extractors were leaking at the cylinder heads, the thermo fans had been thrown in the boot, and the entire fuel system looked like a Salvador Dali painting.
As I poked around I saw the engine had a leaking sump gasket and there were stripped bolts in the timing case. The starter had been notched with a grinder rather than relocated. I came to the conclusion that whoever built the car hadn’t done the LS1 conversion, as the car itself was very well-built.
So then I thought, maybe I could get rid of the LS1? I could buy the car as-is and do an LS1-to-308 conversion. After all, my brother Rob and nephew Bull had a 308 of mine almost built. They build all of our engines, as I myself am well past the stage of torque-wrench and micrometer work.
The LS1-to-308 conversion had immense appeal. The fuel system is a half-inch hose from tank to engine bay, then a 14psi L34 mechanical fuel pump – done. The wiring should take me two hours, with 25 minutes of that spent ripping out the old EFI harness. The tune is easy to sort out on a 308 (the only laptop in my shed is the one I get when I sit down for pizza). The engine mounts, tranny mounts, radiator hoses and sundries are plentiful and cheap. I hate noisy thermo fans, so a crank fan and OEM radiator and shroud would be used. My aim would be around 350hp at the flywheel. Let’s not forget that Brock won Bathurst with a 380hp 308.
So I rang Rob and he agreed it sounded like a good plan. So I gave the fella my offer and now we’ll just wait and see.
I could be a pioneer – one of the first guys to do a LS1-to-308 conversion on an early Commodore!
While Robert, Bull and I were yarning we had a bench race on wanna-do street car conversions or mods. We came up with things like an HR X2 interior into a ClubSport, or a triple-Weber-fed 208 stroker Holden red six in an early Skyline.