Adrian Donohoe’s 1UZ-FE-swapped Holden EH ute

A Japanese heart in an Australian icon

Photographers: Cristian Brunelli

You may not think of Lexus when you’re looking for a V8 transplant. But you should: the 1UZ-FE four-litre V8 is a wondrous creation. The quad-cam, 32-valve head is ultra smooth and loves to rev, while the mega-tough six-bolt mains and all-alloy construction mean it’s not only super-strong but light too.

First published in the April 2005 issue of Street Machine

Factor in the eye-wateringly cheap asking price for a used one, add some forced induction and you’ve got the dream donk for street machiners looking for a grunty, reliable and utterly different powerplant to move their pride and joy along the blacktop at a rapid clip — as this street-sweet EH ute proves.

Wagga’s Adrian Donohoe is the bloke who carries the keys to AGR064, a car that’s no stranger to attention after popping up four years back with what’s widely considered the first Lexus-into-EH transplant.

However, it didn’t have the baby blower sitting between the rocker covers when he first delivered it to Mr Enforcer Engineering in Sydney for the swap. The well-known workshop rid the hay hauler of the tired triple-carb 179ci Holden red six and slung in the four-litre, all-alloy bent-eight, fired by a Microtech programmable ECU.

While they had the car, they added a Toyota Supra five-speed manual, shortened VN Commodore Borg-Warner diff and a front brake upgrade consisting of DBA rotors with four-piston Volvo calipers.

Adrian did some digging and found inspiration from Queensland company Bullet Supercars, which had just started building Lexus V8-powered Mazda MX-5s.

“I followed the original Bullet roadster pretty closely and did what they did. The Dellow bellhousing, the brakes and the gearbox are pretty much what was in the first Bullet,” he says.

Four years and a relocation from Grafton to Wagga later, Adrian eventually started dreaming of more modifications to his EH, again looking towards what Bullet was doing with its new supercharged SS model.

Not needing much provocation, he decided it was blower-time for the Lexus. “I wanted something different and I’d heard that Bullet had supercharged the 1UZ,” he laughs. “They were the only people I knew of who had done a supercharger kit.”

It’s beautiful; there’s more power and better fuel economy than the old red motor

As with most projects, the piggy bank wasn’t quite full enough — until Adrian performed some midnight accounting. “I had a brainwave one night when I couldn’t sleep and worked out how I could afford it. I just bit the bullet, so to speak, and went for it.”

Donohoe contacted Bullet and bought the first of its 1UZ-FE Roots-style supercharger kits. “It’s got Eaton internals but everything else was designed by them,” states Adrian. “It’s their own case, their own manifold and it’s something they do in-house for their roadsters. Totally Australian designed.” But the ute runs a slightly different set-up to how the Roadsters come from Bullet. “Apparently, my kit is a prototype as far as how the pulley mounts onto the supercharger,” Donohoe says. “Usually the pulley and the blower snout are all one piece so you have to pull it apart to change the pulley. Mine is the first with a bolt-on, bolt-off fitment to make changing pulleys easier.”

While it sounds like a slice of gateaux, getting the system fitted to the EH and working before Summernats proved to be stress-central. The ute was meant to be at the Mr Enforcer workshop in Sydney in early December but street machine builds never do run smooth and AGR064 didn’t get there until December 21.

It wasn’t all sweetness for Mr Enforcer from there either. The original EH wiper motor fouled on the engine, so a Torana unit was selected to replace it, while the remote oil filter provided headaches until salvation came in the form of a 100 Series LandCruiser adaptor. 

Compounding the problem was the fact that the workshop boys had plans to take time off after Christmas, giving everyone roughly a week to fit the blower and get the whole shebang tuned.

Amazingly, the car runs incredibly well, although there’s some final sorting needed.

“I’ve got some bugs to iron out and then I’m just going to enjoy it,” says Adrian. “It’s beautiful, it doesn’t play up, there’s more power and better fuel economy than the old red motor. It isn’t grumpy so you can drive it around town all day getting 11.5 litres per 100km.”

How’s the power? Well as the heavily worked Bullet SS makes around 320kW, the largely stock motor in the EH should produce something north of 220kW. That, combined with the light weight of the ute, gives it some serious go, though Adrian didn’t build it to race. “Before it was supercharged, it would keep a new Falcon or Commodore very honest,” smiles Donohoe. “But I haven’t gotten in any traffic light races to offer a comparison now.”

It’s not just the engine in AGR064 that makes it a head-turner. With 17×8 chromies filling the arches and the fresh wet-look Tiger Mica duco gleaming at you, it’s hard to believe the car was sprayed more than four years ago!

But the street class judges at Summernats 16 and the Goulburn V8 Brutes Ute Muster reckoned the car looks tip-top, bestowing the Runner-up Top Modified trophy at Nats and Top Ute from the muster, where it collected People’s Choice too.

As with most projects, Adrian’s determined to never let it go and has more plans in mind. “I’ve got some tidying up to do on the car,” he says. “It’ll just evolve over the years.”

1964 EH UTE 

Colour:PPG Tiger Mica
Engine:Lexus 4.0-litre, quad-cam, 32-valve 1UZ-FE
Blower:Bullet Roots-style low-blow
ECU:Microtech plug-in
Gearbox:Toyota Supra five-speed manual, Dellow bellhousing adapter
Diff:Shortened VN Commodore
Springs:Lowered King Springs
Shocks:Monroe all ’round
Steering:Shortened Commodore rack and pinion
Brakes:DBA rotors, Volvo four-pot calipers (f), VN Commodore (r), Nissan Urvan master cylinder
Rims:17×8 Speedy G-Force chrome
Rubber:225×40 Exocet
Seats:Re-trimmed Toyota MR2 buckets
Shifter:Toyota Supra