Holden 355-powered 1985 VK Calais Group A replica

Everyone loves a Blue Meanie VK Group A, and although this replica tested Steve Barnes more than once, brotherly love got him through

Photographers: Nathan Duff

THERE are a million reasons to love the Blue Meanie: the colour, the boxy goodness, the letterbox grille and the notion that Peter Brock himself smashed Bathurst a couple of times in one. For Steve Barnes and his brother Wayne Cole, it’s about Holden’s toughest shape, nothing more.

This article was first published in the July 2019 issue of Street Machine

The street machining gene is strong within Steve and Wayne’s family. “My brother Darren has an XA GT replica, while my father-in-law John has an absolutely beautiful XA coupe,” Steve explains. “My dad Ron used to be into his Yank tanks, having owned Chev Impalas and Dodges, as well as a Valiant Pacer.”

Steve cites older brother Wayne as his primary influence, though. “I remember him working on an XC he raced at Willowbank,” he says. “He pulled the vinyl roof, did a respray, built a 351 and ’caged it. It was good for 13s, which was okay at the time, although he kept blowing gearboxes. He swapped it for a VB SL/E that he painted Formula Blue.”

Unfortunately for Wayne, the street machining gene wasn’t the only strong one within that side of the family. “Wayne’s father also had the bowel cancer gene, which took his life many years ago,” Steve says. “It’s affected that whole side of the family; I was just a young fella when Wayne was diagnosed. He was only about 20 years old himself at the time.”

Wayne beat cancer on that occasion, but around 2007 the dreaded C came back again, and more aggressively. “He’ll never be cured; it’s now about control,” Steve says. “Wayne had a few operations and had a bunch of parts removed, so he can’t work full-time. His main outlet is playing with cars.” Not working full-time also means there’s a definite lack of frivolous coin to throw at cool cars; that’s where Steve and wife Tabitha decided to step in.

What appears to be a straightforward Blue Meanie replica is really anything but, with shaved door locks, shaved aerial hole and the deletion of the fuel filler. “Being a Calais, we had to remove the body mouldings, so the glue and gunk had to be sorted out,” Steve explains. The big HDT Aeros have just come out in directionals, so Steve plans to flog the current wheels. “Blame my OCD!” he laughs

“The VK has always been our favourite shape of Commodore,” Steve says. Pictures of Wayne’s old VB whetted their appetite for some Blue Meanie action, but of course, they didn’t have $120-large sitting around to source a genuine one. Besides, where’s the fun in that? Steve went to Tabitha with a proposal; he’d sell his mint VE ClubSport to fund a proper build that he and Wayne could do together, their own way. It was an offer she couldn’t refuse.

They found a VK Calais for sale not far from home. It was a runner with a stout 308 and VN heads, so old mate took Steve out for a test-drive. “It was raining, and it turned out this guy was a lunatic. I remember we were just gutter-to-gutter in the thing,” Steve laughs.

“It did need a bit of a tidy-up; the paint had humidity blisters and the rest was a little bit ‘how ya goin’?’, so it entered the in-laws’ shed on Thursday, and by Sunday morning it was stripped and at the panel shop.”

The COME stroker is good for around 350rwhp. “It’s not a cranker, but a good cruiser,” Steve says. “The point was just so Wayne and I could jump in it and go for a run.” It is peaky though: “The single-plane manifold is better for top-end grunt, so with a 3500rpm stally the revs have to be up before it takes off”

Given that father-in-law John also seam-welded the shell and tidied up the engine bay in that time, the process was like a Grease-style montage on fast-forward. “He just smashed it out in two massive days,” Steve says.

Steve’s mate Shane Atkinson had just opened a new panel shop in Murwillumbah, Imagine Color, and had painted a few of Wayne’s previous cars. “The VK was one of the first through his new shop,” Steve says. “While it was there, he did some more work to the engine bay, then sorted out the body.”

What started out as a simple paintjob saw Wayne get a bit carried away. “When the car was on the hoist, Wayne checked up underneath. Next thing I know, he’s wire-wheeled all the deadener off!” Steve laughs. “I knew we were getting carried away when that happened.”

The Calais’ original interior was brown, which wasn’t going to work with Formula Blue. Steve upgraded to a mint VL Calais interior, but it was Wayne who suggested giving it a birthday before May In The Wide Bay in mid-2018. “Greg at Mascot Motor Trimmers was the only bloke I could find who could just supply a VK Group A interior without me sourcing all the bits first,” Steve says. Wayne then sanded off all the crinkles on the dash and switchgear before changing the colour to Cerulean Blue to match the new trim

No build would be complete without some disappointments; in the case of the Commodore, it was the sparky. “What should have been two weeks saw the car sit for six months,” Steve says. “I pulled it out half-finished and got Kappa from 12 Volt Performance to complete the job. He ended up redoing some of the work, including the ICE Ignition set-up.”

Without decent facilities at home to get the mechanical work done, Matt at Mermaid Motors was happy to lend the boys a hoist-equipped bay. Steve and Wayne got stuck in, scraping the sound deadener off the floor, upgrading the brakes, hiding the brake lines and revising the fuel system. When Matt got busy and needed to reclaim the space, the boys brought the car home and upgraded the garage.

Steve explains: “We bought ourselves an engine crane and compressor, and I ran air lines all throughout the shed. We did all the remaining work there, fitting everything to the car; bumpers, headlights, absolutely every single last nut and bolt.”

With the aforementioned gutter-to-gutter action meaning the 308 was pretty lively, the boys pulled the engine so Wayne could strip it for painting, high-fill it, sand it, high-fill it again, then paint it Formula Blue. “Then we sold it,” Steve laughs. An LS conversion was under consideration when a 355 COME stroker came up for sale.

Steve grins when he thinks of the 355’s first start-up. “I live in a residential area, so I went and knocked on all the neighbours’ doors to warn them that I had to start it and run in the cam. It was only for 15 minutes, but at 3000rpm and straight off the headers, the windows were shaking!”

After four years and another trip to Imagine Color, the VK was finished – a testament to brotherly love. “I set up a gazebo out the front just to extend our space when we were working,” Steve says. “And the only time we worked on it was when we could work on it together. We’re both busy so sometimes it would sit there for a couple of weeks between sessions. We had the 80s music cranked and just chipped away at it,” Steve smiles. “The time we’ve spent together is something you can’t put a price on.”

And, we’ll add, they have an awesome 355ci stroker-powered VK Commodore Group A replica to show for it.


Paint: Two-pack Formula Blue

Type: Factory Holden
Capacity: 355ci
Intake: Torque Power single-plane manifold
Induction: Quick Fuel 750cfm double-pumper
Heads: Ported VN Commodore
Pistons: ACL flat-top
Rings: ACL
Crank: COME Racing 355 stroker
Rods: COME Racing
Cam: Crane H286
Pushrods: Yella Terra
Lifters: Crane
Valve springs: Crane double-row
Valves: Standard
Oil pump: Holden High Volume
Ignition: ICE Ignition two-step ECU, distributor and leads
Fuel pump: Holley Blue
Exhaust: Pacemaker extractors into twin 3in exhaust with Hooker mufflers

Transmission: Shift-kitted Turbo 400
Converter: 3500rpm high-stall
Shifter: B&M Pro Ratchet
Diff: 10-bolt Salisbury with 3.9:1 LSD
Tailshaft: Shortened two-piece to suit Turbo 400

Front: King Super Low springs, Monroe Super Low shocks
Rear: King Super Low springs, Monroe Super Low shocks, adjustable Panhard rod
Steering: Standard
Brakes: VT Commodore rotors, PBR VT Commodore upgrade calipers (f & r)

Rims: HDT Aero 19×8.5 (f & r)
Rubber: Bridgestone; 225/35 R19 (f), 235/35 R19 (r)

Shane Atkinson at Imagine Color; Jack Bros Engineering; Greg Whittaker; Matt at Mermaid Motors; Craig Mitchelson at Enterprise Towing; Greg at Mascot Motor Trimmers; Dom at NuCom Parts; Chris Paton aka Kappa at 12 Volt Auto Electrical; my father-in-law John Noffke; my wife Tabitha for her unconditional support – without you, it wouldn’t have been possible; my brother Wayne Cole – time spent together like this is something you can’t put a price on. Love you, bro