BLAKE Evans built his turbo LS-powered VL Berlina with a single objective in mind: Drag Challenge 2018. “Five months out from DC 2018, I made the decision to have a crack at it myself,” he says. Having previously crewed for Todd Foley’s VH and spectated during the full five-day event, Blake knew what he was in for.
This article on Blake’s VL Commodore was first published in the May 2019 issue of Street Machine
Blake already had a stout nine-second and arrow-straight 383ci LC Torana (SM, Sep ’16) lying in wait, yet he felt the need to bolt together a different light-bodied ride as a dedicated Drag Challenge weapon.
“Instead of putting my LC Torana through the harshness of the event, I decided to set up my VL Berlina,” the 24-year-old boilermaker says.
But, unlike the LC, this time ’round Blake has prioritised speed and functionality over panel gaps and shiny paint. He’d bought the turbo RB30-powered VL three years prior, and during that time he tweaked the beast to a terrorising 496hp. Impressive stuff from a standard-bottom-end six-pot.
“The manual was harsh on the driveline and I went through a number of clutches and gearboxes,” he says. “After blowing the last ’box and tailshaft, I decided it was time for an upgrade. I wanted something faster and more reliable, and to not have to stress about the car being too nice.”
Slick black 15in Weld AlumaStars sit fore and aft, with the 8in-wide beadlocked rears shod in Mickey Thompson Radial Pros
Blake built the whole car in the shed at home with help from his dad and a few good mates.
“We tubbed it, added a new fuel system and rollcage, fabbed the cooler pipes and exhaust, rewired it all, altered the suspension, put in a new rear end, including a nine-inch, did a brake upgrade – the list goes on!” he says.
It was certainly a crazy-tight timeline, especially considering that the tired RB30 and unreliable cogbox weren’t going to be invited to Calder for Day One of DC. Instead, Blake did his part to LS the world, slotting in a moderately stock cast-iron 5.3-litre GM LM7. Of course, it is force-fed, thanks to a BorgWarner S400SX-3 turbo plumbed to a pair of KillaBoost four-into-one manifolds, a 50mm Turbosmart wastegate and four-inch stainless dump through to a single exhaust of the same size. The few internal additions consist of a VCM bumpstick and pushrods, PAC Racing springs and Mahle bearings. A Melling oil pump ensures the rotating gear is lubed both on the track and the highway, while cooling is now handled by a VL Turbo radiator paired with an FG Falcon thermo, and an Aeroflow intercooler.
“I went with the LM7 as the iron block in standard form can handle boost a lot better than the alloy 5.7L,” Blake says. “It’s not that much more expensive, either; I got it for $1600 from the wreckers as a long motor”
The VL is set up on a mixed diet of PULP – for ease of filling up between tracks – and E85 for throttle mashing. Once the LS1 ECU is advised of the ethanol content, an Aeromotive Eliminator pump feeds the Raceworks fuel rails and an octuplet of Bosch 1650cc injectors.
Behind the LM7 is the proven and sturdy drag combo of a Powerglide with a transbrake backed by a nine-inch. An Altorque 3800rpm converter keeps the car within streetable realms, while the tough third member houses a Strange Pro Iron centre, full spool, 3.5s and 35-spline axles, which all help get 603hp to the rears.
Inside, there’s a subtle race-readiness to the VL. Among the factory offerings, a Kirkey race seat with a Simpson Camlock five-point harness has been installed to hold Blake in place as he takes flight at 145mph
Keeping the entire build in-house certainly helped Blake keep to the strict timeframe, though whether he actually slept during the creation is up for debate. At least there was one area that he didn’t waste precious time on: the factory paint and panel. It’s a pity though, as he proved with the LC that he has the ability to produce the goods. Yet Blake certainly had his fair share of fabrication work to do, laying down quite a few beads during the tubbing and other upgrades.
A six-point removable AGI rollcage protects the cabin and its occupants, while a B&M Pro Stick shifter pokes neatly through the console, beside the parachute lever
“We finished it with no complaints and it was done exactly two weeks before Drag Challenge,” Blake says. “I then had a test hit at Mildura’s eighth-mile to iron out any issues and do licensing passes. It ran perfectly, but we had next to no street kays on it before leaving, just a quick test of the loaded trailer one night.
“My goal was to get the car finished in time for Drag Challenge, and if the VL went mid-to-low nines all week and survived, I’d be over the moon,” Blake continues. “And the car went until the very end! The fuel economy wasn’t the greatest, and it ran warm in the hot weather, but the VL easily ran low nines all week. On Day Four at Swan Hill it ran a 9.3@142mph, on 13psi. I started to turn it up on the last day at Calder; we only got to 15psi and went 5.7@120mph to half-track and 7.53@137mph to 1000ft before snapping the output shaft in the transmission.”
With his first Drag Challenge go-round ticked off, Blake’s not done yet. “I want to add 20psi or so and see how she reacts; it seems to love whatever we throw at it,” he says. “On paper it should run around the 8.9-second mark, and now the shaft is all fixed I’m ready to head back out to the track and run the eight-second pass that I believe it has.”
Blake plans to get the car engineered soon, and eventually wants to rebuild the motor and upgrade to an aftermarket ECU. But for now, he’s just enjoying the VL for what it is: great fun from a pretty basic combination.
BEATING THE HEAT
In an effort to reduce overheating during the Drag Challenge highway stints, Blake and crew tried a few creative fixes, including water squirters and removing the bonnet altogether, but to no avail. He’s now swapped out the eBay-special six-cylinder radiator for a copper three-core VL Turbo item. “Now it sits on 180 degrees everywhere,” he says.
1987 VL BERLINA
Paint: Alpine White
Brand: GM LM7 325ci 5.3L
Induction: Stock throttlebody and manifold, Raceworks fuel rails, Bosch 1650cc injectors
ECU: VY LS1
Turbo: BorgWarner S400SX-3, 50mm Turbosmart wastegate, Aeroflow intercooler
Camshaft: VCM Performance
Valve springs: PAC Racing
Conrods & pistons: Standard
Oil pump: Melling
Sump: Moroso, external filter pick-up
Fuel: E85 & PULP
Fuel pump: 57L fuel cell, Aeromotive Eliminator pump
Cooling: VL Turbo radiator, FG Falcon thermo
Exhaust: KillaBoost 4-into-1 manifolds, 4in stainless dump pipe to single 4in exhaust, Hooker muffler
Ignition: GM coils, MSD leads driveline
Transmission: Powerglide, transbraked
Converter: Altorque 3800rpm
Tailshaft: One-piece, Strange billet yoke, 1350 unis
Diff: 9in, Strange Pro Iron centre, full spool, 3.5:1 gears, 35-spline axles
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: VL Turbo springs and shocks, deleted sway-bar
Rear: Modified VL Turbo springs, Pro 9 control arms, KYB lowered shocks, 27mm sway-bar
Brakes: VT Commodore discs & calipers (f), VL Commodore drums (r)
Master cylinder: VL Turbo 1in
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Weld AlumaStar; 15×3.5 (f), 15×8 with CNC beadlocks (r)
Rubber: Nankang 165/80/15 (f), Mickey Thompson Radial Pro 276/60/15 (r)
My dad Paul for his help on the car; Michael Tuddenham for help throughout the build and technical support; Steve and the team from Paul Pavlou Motors for tuning the car; Jamie from Raceworks; Darcy at KillaBoost Manifolds; Carmine at CDS; my good mates Anthony, Arthur & Alex from Cobb & Co Kitchens for their support at Drag Challenge; Todd Foley for all his help with parts and advice with the build