Where are they now? Ben Bray’s 2000hp VY Commodore ute

Look what happens when Australia's favourite drag racers build a street-styled burnout beast!

Photographers: Peter Bateman

Stop, look and listen. Those words have been drilled into school-age kiddies learning to cross the road for generations. It’s also the message of marketing to grown-ups — the art/science of making people lust after, think they can’t live without, and most importantly, spend their money on, out-of-reach consumer goods. Goods like fast new cars.

First published in the April 2004 issue of Street Machine

So what makes a bunch of 20- and 30-something car enthusiasts corralled at a racetrack stop, look and listen? Here’s a hint. Blood-bright red, enormous engine, torches, tyres…

Victor Bray and son Ben need little introduction to performance car enthusiasts in Australia, having been involved in drag racing for aeons and burnout demonstrations with a clone of Victor’s Castrol ’57 Chev racer for six or seven years. The lessons Victor and Ben have learnt with that car — and drag racing at the top level — have been put to good use in building this new Holden burnout weapon.

For more than a year, Victor and Ben discussed the idea of building a promotional/demonstration vehicle with Holden. Holden agreed to the pair’s proposal and delivered a brand-new VY Ute shell straight from the production line to the Brays’ Queensland workshop early last year. Believe it or not, most of the work in turning it from unpainted tin to something worthy of the Summernats judging hall was done in a five-week flurry of activity. “We didn’t have a lot of time,” explains Victor. “We devoted some weeks to it in the off-season and everybody got into it at a hundred miles an hour.”

“Our original idea was to make a replica out of fibreglass, so if I ever hit a wall, I could replace panels, just like a full-chassis car,” says Ben. “But I got onto a ‘thing’ where I started liking tough street cars. That’s what Holden was angling at, too — they wanted it to be a Holden, not just a collection of Holden panels on a chassis. Dad sat down and thought about it and figured ‘yeah, we can make this thing look good’.”

Most cars — street or race — are planned around the wheels and tyres, or the rear axle, or the engine. Not this one. Its unique purpose in life required planning around an enormous 200-litre fuel tank. That, in the old money, is a 44-gallon drum. It’s behind the rear axle. “That’s where you need to put them in these burnout cars to get them to react properly,” explains Victor. Being far larger than a small, quarter-mile tank means that there are solid real estate/packaging motives for having the tank mounted out back, too — there’s no room anywhere else!

The tank’s weight was also something that needed careful consideration. “We had to make the structure of the car strong enough to hold the weight of the fuel — that’s why it has that skeletal frame going over the top [in the tray].”

The chassis-work results from the efforts of Peter Morris, who now works for V8 Supercar constructors Stone Brothers Racing, and another young-gun tradesman, James Horan of JD Welding, who, surprisingly, the Brays met only recently.

“I went around to one of Dad’s mate’s houses to get a steering rack,” recalls Ben. “The guy next door just happened to be a fabricator. I met him and asked him if he was interested in doing some work? He said, oh yeah, so he turned up and took a look.”

The result is evidence that James knows how to handle a glue gun. “He’s as skilful as any chassis-builder in the country,” reckons Victor. “He’s got a shop up here, doing street car stuff. Very good tradesman — as good as anyone I’ve met.” Other willing hands on deck included Chock and new bloke Andy.

As with the fuel tank, this car’s intended purpose made the chassis-work challenging. “We wanted to put in as much chassis as possible — and there’s lots there — but keep it all tucked out of the way so the car looks standard,” says Victor. “We tried to keep the visual impact of the roll cage to a minimum, too, for the same reason. We started out trying not to put bars through the back window. But we didn’t have a choice — it wouldn’t have been strong enough if we didn’t.”

Similarly, strength took priority over weight for the wheel tubs. “When a tyre explodes, it can destroy the car,” says Victor. “You have to have a pretty serious tub, strength-wise; they can get torn to pieces. These tyres are big and when they break — and I’ve popped a few — they can do a lot of damage.”

The front end of the car — from firewall to radiator panel — is basically standard, with just a few tweaks to some welds in the engine bay. Surely, 2000-odd horsepower let loose to do burnouts would pretzel a standard engine bay? “The main stress [is applied by] the engine plate, at the flywheel-end,” explains Victor. “So, basically all the strength is built from there to the rear of the car.”

With the chassis and tin work sorted, Matt Zietsch at Strathpine Crash (07 3285 4058) loaded the gun and shot on the Sting Red — yep, the standard Holden colour — using Glasurit product. “Holden were keen for us to paint it in a factory colour,” says Ben. “I had no problem with that! Red ones go faster!” And the paint certainly makes the old man proud.

“The job he did…” mumbles Victor, of Matt’s efforts. “I figured, oh, it’s just a standard colour on a standard-looking car and it’ll look like all the other ones running around. But it doesn’t!

It’s sensational.”

The engine is a big-block Indy Maxx, which is a water-cooled, 511-cube version of a Hemi. It’s a massive motor and the Brays expected dramas fitting it into the Commodore’s engine bay. “We thought, how the hell are we going to fit THAT into THERE? But it just fit straight in,” says Victor, obviously still surprised. Ben elaborates: “We mocked it up on some crates,” he says. “And it basically fit straight in on the standard crossmember.”

Standing exceptionally tall, that PSI blower is a monster in more ways than one. “Because it’s so big, with a lot of momentum,” relates Victor, “they don’t back off as quick as a Roots. That is a problem when you’re doing donuts and you want to stop quickly.”

With runs measured in seconds, drag cars don’t require cooling but with burnouts lasting minutes, meltdown can be a real problem. With the coolant-filled block and a giant alloy PWR radiator stashed up front, there will be no issues with keeping race fans happy.

“It’ll run until it runs out of fuel,” reckons Victor. “It won’t even remotely get warm — we rarely see more than 120, 130 degrees (F) on the other car, which you can almost swim in. Methanol helps, too. It’s a cool-running fuel — it certainly helps when you’re trying to keep things under control.”

The exhaust system just kinda fell into place. “We didn’t have a clue!” laughs Victor. “We didn’t know what the hell we wanted but we wanted something different, so we just turned it all over to Gonzo’s Pipes.” Gonzo is well-respected for his competition systems for street and race cars, including some V8 Supercar stuff. “It came back with the wildest exhaust I’ve ever seen in my friggin’ life!” exclaims Victor.

The Ute debuted at Bathurst and has since been displayed at Indycar, at the first Queensland Powercruise and at a Doorslammer meet in West Oz, but hadn’t yet been fired up by the boys. The mechanicals are a work in progress, with Victor and Ben yet to settle on a trans combo — for now, the car is fitted with a Lencodrive — although the Anderson/Mark Williams rear end will remain.

“We’re sick of it not running!” says Victor. “We’re not even going to have time to test it! We’re on a really tight schedule — it’s got something on every weekend. The truck gets back here from Perth tomorrow and we’ll get it going and load it for the run back to the Sydney Car Festival. Eventually, we want it to be turnkey. Fuel up, jump in and go.”

Cost? Somewhere around $150 gorillas. Power? Victor reckons about 2200hp, enough to run maybe 6.50s down the quarter.

“With the PSI blower and the twin magnetos, it is pretty close to the race set-up, but with less overdrive than the race cars. It will be running about 60-70 per cent, so it should make about 35-40psi boost. We could put more boost in it and make more power, but the block wouldn’t be strong enough,” he says.

Tubular Suspensions Systems’ James Cloake, supplier to SM’s VU FOR U, assisted in building the suspension. The front uses TSS’s standard-style Commodore strut, fitted with standard brakes. Out back is a custom-fab’d single-bag system. Victor is full of praise. “The airbags on it are great. It’s great to be able to lift it up off the ground and load it onto the truck. Mate, they’re a dream.”

Victor and Ben aren’t sure what an airbag will behave like with 2500hp unleashed — no-one knows — so, initially at least, the rear suspension will be fixed solid for demos, taking the load off the bag and reducing the chance of axle-tramp and tyre-shake.

“It’s not just a business project for us, it’s a fun thing,” explains Victor. “It’s gotta stay fun. There’s so much stress associated with going racing, we want the burnout thing to be a separate entity. We want to be able to say, ‘What are we doing this weekend — oh beauty! Burnouts!’ We don’t want the burnouts being as stress-filled as the racing. That would really hurt.

“We built this with no hard plans, so we were versatile in what we could change,” says Victor with a successful racer’s characteristic logic. “Some stuff was harder than we thought and some was easier. We went into this with a concept, and although we’d built a burnout car before, we learnt a lot. We’ve been eyes wide-open!”

You’re not the only ones!


Colour:Sting Red
Type:Indy Maxx 511ci Hemi
Heads:Dart Alcohol
Crank:Brant Racing
Injection:PSI ‘deep throat’
Rods:Brooks alloy
Radiator:PWR alloy
Exhaust:Gonzo Pipes
Tailshaft:Two-piece Mark Williams
Diff:Anderson Race Cars housing, Mark Williams centre
Brakes:Holden VY Commodore (front), Mark Williams (rear)
Master cylinder:Strange
Front dampers/springs:Tubular Suspension Systems airbag struts
Rear dampers/springs:Fabricated with TSS airbag
Wheels:14×8 Dragways (front), 15×15 Weld (rear)
Rubber:Michelin (front), Micky Thompson 33×21.5×15 (rear)

Where is it now?

Ben’s old ute is these days known as GONUTS and is owned by Sydney lad James Souvleris. These days, it runs a 14/71-blown Hemi and is looked after by the lads at Pro Flo Performance. The ute had an altercation with a fence at Powercruise a couple of years ago, but is now looking better than ever!