Big-block 1970 Valiant VG Pacer – flashback

Simon Lazarevskis VG Pacer was built to race

Photographers: Guy Bowden

DRAG racing is a bloody popular sport in Australia. Some love to race their cars while many more of us are happy just to watch from the sidelines.

This article on Simon’s VG Pacer was first published in the July 2007 issue of Street Machine

Unfortunately, drag racing in Australia has a couple of problems: Melbourne and Adelaide. Melbourne’s Calder Park only runs street meetings and Adelaide’s AIR has shut its gates completely.

You could argue the whys and wherefores long into the night but suffice to say that drag racers in the southern regions of Australia are doing it tough at the moment. Which means that competition drag racers like Simon Lazarevski have to travel thousands of kilometres just to have a go.

Simon loves his Mopars and he loves to race so it’s only natural that he would combine those two passions into a slick Mopar race machine. This isn’t his first heavy metal hauler though; he used to do laps with a rare VJ Hardtop but that was starting to get a little too fast considering it had no ’cage. Nowadays the VJ Hardtop is a treasured family heirloom — “I remember going with Dad to pick it up when I was four years old,” Simon says — so he wasn’t about to cut something like that up.

However, he knew where there was a fairly rough old Pacer Hardtop shell with no motor or ’box so he snapped it up. Now, before we get flooded with hate mail from the Mopar faithful preparing to lynch Simon for cutting into a genuine Pacer, you might want to hear him out.

“The car was a mess when I got it. It was on its way to the bin and I’d like to think that I saved it,” he explains. Better to be reborn as a racer then recycled into scrap.

“I just love the Pro Street look and I thought that one of these would look great built in that style. They’ve got that American look but they’re still Australian and people can relate to them.”

Originally white with a red stripe, the Pacer shell was dragged into Simon’s shed for extensive metalwork that was begun by cutting out the wheel tubs and removing the cart-spring rear suspension.

Simon, with the help of good mate Marino Prodan, did everything on the car in the shed except the paint and the rollcage. That included welding in wheel tubs big enough to take 30×12 slicks, extending the forward edge of the rear wheel openings and fitting a ladder-bar suspension set-up along with Strange/AVO coil-overs.

Frame connectors were also installed and then the shell was sent to Zagari Engineering for the 10-point mild steel ’cage that ties it all together. From there the Hardtop made its way to John Walker Crash Repairs to sort out the paint. The guys there coated the long angular panels in Protec Chrysler Mercury Silver.

“They looked after me, big time,” Simon says of John Walker and Protec Paints. “Big thanks should go out to them.” The same guys also smoothed out the engine bay and welded up the unnecessary holes, which means there’s nothing to distract you from the 470-cube centrepiece.

Simon built the engine himself. He builds a lot of engines (mostly GM stuff) with a little sideline business he calls Hippo Race Engineering. The Hippo name came from the old VJ Hardtop and now it’s stuck.

With the aim of running in ANDRA’s Super Stock bracket, under the Modified Sedan sub-class, Simon built the engine within the narrow confines of the rulebook. That meant a flat tappet cam, factory block and heads, and a single carb with no nitrous, blower or turbo.

470 cubes of Mopar’s finest — don’t be fooled by the Indy Cylinder Heads rocker covers; Simon uses them because they don’t leak

“Ford guys have SVO blocks; Chevy guys have got Bowties; I’ve got 1967 Mopar,” Simon jokes. “It’ll make winning even sweeter.”

That ’67 440 block runs an offset-ground factory steel crank and Eagle rods to yield 470 cubes. Simon did most of his machining at home — the only thing he couldn’t do was bore the block and grind the crank but he fly-cut the Ross pistons and ported the Mopar Stage-VI heads in his home garage and machine shop. Having a lathe, milling machine and plenty of other goodies is handy, huh?

The MSD 7AL2 came from the late Scott Geoffrion’s Pro Stock Dodge Daytona after Simon helped out the car’s current owner, Matt Sawyer. “I’ve got some 7sec material in the car,” Simon says. “I’m shooting for Mars but if I only make it to the moon I’ll be happy.”

Those heads are full of the good stuff: titanium valves, Manley springs and titanium 10-degree retainers and locks, with Crane and Indy rocker gear working it all. Built for competition, Simon’s obviously not going to hand out the cam specifications but we can tell you it’s a big solid unit and the engine runs on Sunoco race fuel. All up, it’s making 720hp at the crank. Breathing in is taken care of by a Mopar M1 intake and an HP-series 1050 Dominator carb that sucks through a large bonnet-mounted scoop, while feeding the beast are two Holley blue pumps modified to handle the 16v Turbostart battery in the boot. There’s also a 12v battery to drive the accessories.

Most people reckon Simon is mad for running a pair of relatively inexpensive pumps but he reckons they’ve been well up to the job so far. However, he does have a monster Product Engineering pump sitting on the shelf, just waiting to go in. But surprisingly, Simon doesn’t reckon the engine is all that flash.

“This engine to me is just a very good bracket engine,” he says. There’s a smaller-capacity big-block planned, which will use better heads and aluminium rods and should rev harder to make more power. The added benefit of a smaller donk is that he’ll be able to pull the 120lb of lead out of the car that he currently has to run to make the weight break (7.5lb/ci) with the 470ci donk.

So the question you’re gagging to ask is what it’s run. How does 9.82@137mph grab you? Not bad for an engine that doesn’t need its rocker covers pulled after every run and makes its best power at just 6400rpm. And that’s launching off the footbrake!

Interesting looking shifter, isn’t it? The Turbo Action SCS Cheetah was available from the Mopar Performance catalogue and Simon loves it. “I’ve been using these shifters since ’94; they’re awesome. If you buy one, it’ll be the last shifter you’ll ever buy.”

The big Hardtop runs a full manual 727 Torqueflite with a transbrake but with only minimal laps under the tyres, the converter still needs setting up — the button-operated launch is shocking the tyres too hard. Considering he’s already running just under the current class index (A/MSA index is 9.84sec) Simon is looking to shave off a couple extra tenths. Once he gets the converter sorted and the wheelie bars bolted on, he’ll be able to start cranking out some real numbers.

That is, when he gets a track to race at.

Simon Lazarevski


Colour: Protec Mercury Silver

Engine: Chrysler big-block 470ci
Carb: 1050 HP Dominator
Manifold: Mopar M1
Heads: Mopar Stage VI ported
Pistons: Ross 12.9:1 forged
Crank: 4340 steel factory, offset ground, 3.88in stroke
Rods: Eagle 7.1in
Cam: Secret Squirrel
Ignition: 7AL2, HVC coil, 8.8mm leads
Exhaust: Four-into-one headers, two-inch primary

Transmission: Torqueflite727, full-manual, reverse pattern
Converter: TCI eight-inch
Diff: Nine-inch, 4.11 gears, 35-spline axles, full spool

Brakes: Valiant discs & calipers (f), Commodore discs & calipers (r)
Springs: Standard (f), Strange (r)
Shocks: 90/10 (f), AVO adjustable (r)
Suspension: Standard (f), ladder bar (r)

Rims: Center Line Convo Pro, 15×4(f), 15×10(r)
Rubber: Moroso 175 (f), Goodyear 30×12 slicks (r)

Tiller: Woodgrain
Seats: Jaz race, vinyl covers
Gauges: Auto Meter Ultralight
Stereo: Pioneer, four-inch speakers
Rollcage: 10-point mild steel
Shifter: Turbo Action SCS Cheetah