Blown 1986 Holden VL Calais – flashback

Not content with an HQ daily driver and a tough Torana race car, Richard Tuthill created this red hot VL

Photographers: Simon Davidson

THERE are car guys and there are street machine guys. Richard Tuthill is the latter. The Wheels Inc club member prides himself on the fact that he doesn’t drive a Japanese vehicle and it’s this that elevates Richard’s interest from the Joe Average car guy to a hardcore enthusiast. Living in West Auckland, among some of NZ’s toughest streeters, he couldn’t avoid developing a passion for serious street machinery.

This article was first published in the May 2009 issue of Street Machine

A case in point is his daily driver, an HQ sedan. It’s silver with a red interior, white walls, wheel trims and hub caps and Venetians. It’s slammed but still runs a six — on propane for economy.

“It’s the real classic look I like — it’s cool and sure beats driving those rice cars,” says Richard. In addition to the HQ, he’s building a street and strip LX Torana with mini-tubs and a roller-cammed nitrous small-block Chev. That’s a couple of years away, however, as Richard’s current focus is having fun on the street with his VL.

He’s had the VL for about six years. He bought it as a cheap skid car when he was sick of being in the garage with the Torana.

“I’ve liked the VL Calais since it first came out. My old boss had one from new, complete with tan leather trim,” Richard says. That starts to explain how obsessed with Holdens he is: his car, his boss’s car … anyone’s. The Calais of his former boss was the greatest influence on this car but it came about almost literally by accident.

A crazy Torana called LITRE 8, with a Keith Black alloy big-block and Doug Nash five-speed ’box, got Richard all excited about Toranas in the early 90s after he went to Summernats 6 and saw that car up close.

“I had a Torana hatchback then and put a small-block in it but had a whopper of a crash and destroyed it big time,” he says. So a new build was on the cards and Richard went out and found a damaged factory five-litre VL Calais.

“For a couple of grand I got a car with a mint donor body.” Remember the ‘cheap skid car’? Well initially it was going to be a quick engine swap. But inevitably one thing led to another until the VL was getting a bare metal respray following a full-on panel massage and a total drivetrain rebuild. Two years and 20 grand later, Richard was finally ready to do a skid. With the five-litre rebuilt by Rob Penman Motorsport and backed by a T5 ’box it could really skid too! There was a whole lot of fun had in the VL but after a while Richard thought he needed something else.

One night, while drinking in the spa alone (life’s tough, eh?), Richard called his mate Mike Bari and told him that he needed a pump in the form of a 6/71 supercharger. Mike, best known for his nine-second street-legal Ford Capri, came up with the goods in just three days — the sparkling new 6/71 as ordered, along with an intake manifold from Newby Engineering in Australia.

Meanwhile Richard found a mint one-owner Calais with his dream tan leather trim. This Calais was gutted and the cars’ interiors were swapped over before it was re-sold. Richard, a tool and die maker by trade, machined all the parts for the supercharger installation himself. It was a big push to finish the transformation on time but he was determined that the 2005 Kumeu Hot Rod Festival would be the debut for the car in its new guise. And like so many cars built to a deadline, that meant being at the engine shop until midnight the night before, sorting out last-minute bugs.

Since then, the plan has simply been to “drive the wheels off it” which Richard has given a pretty nudge. But you won’t be surprised to learn that there are plans under way to improve an already good thing. Richard calls the current engine a learner and has a VN-style engine underway. This features 8.5:1 forged blower pistons, a blower cam and ported EFI heads. A new intake manifold will also be sourced to suit the EFI heads. In an effort to enhance the VL’s braking performance, some 330mm rotors and huge calipers are being fitted. The 4.11 gears are being replaced with 3.45s and Richard is also thinking about an auto with a 3500 stall converter. For the exterior, a set of 19-inch wheels — either HSV or Simmons — are coming this summer.

Over the past year the VL has been to numerous events and has always impressed with its presentation and sound. The three-lobe Roots-type blower is 23 per cent under-driven producing 11 pounds of boost and it lets you know that it’s there, as does the Flowmaster and three-inch exhaust system.

You could say this car shows the ‘less is more’ build philosophy. It’s got enough show and go factors but never too much; the engine bay is highly detailed for a true street driven beast, and it’s extremely tidy inside and out but it’s also rather understated. The interior is simply clean, the engine bay is uncluttered and the exterior sports some classy 18-inch wheels.

Richard has high praise for Rob Penman who screwed the current engine together. It features the best of everything but again in an understated way. There isn’t a great deal of roller this and forged that; it’s just the right parts bolted together with care. Rob was also responsible for heavily reworking the twin Demon carburettors. Carl Jensen at C&M Performance provided invaluable information regarding the blower set-up and ignition combination. Aside from the blower sticking through the hood, the only other go-fast shiny pieces are the cowl-mounted Auto Meter Ultra Lite gauges monitoring fuel pressure and boost. Richard also thanks good mates Stu, Wayne, Mike and Jeff.

Now we’ve seen the VL, we’re eager to see what Richard has in store with the Torana — but we’ll have to wait until he finally finishes playing with this.


THERE’S no doubt that the blown Holden V8 sticking through the hood of Richard’s VL can boil the hides. If you need proof, Richard’s club, Wheels Inc, put on a car display for the opening of a Super Cheap Auto store and it turned into a skid fest.

“Car after car, it was a continuous burnout show,” says Richard. He went crazy doing donuts and figure eights, destroying two tyres while sitting on the rev limiter. “What an awesome day!”

But there can be a downside, as Richard found when he was trying to impress a couple of lovely ladies. He was cruising along a quiet street when these two lovelies yelled: “Nice Holden.”

Eager to impress, Richard mashed the loud pedal, spinning the tyres and swinging sideways … followed by the biggest backfire you’ve ever heard.

After blowing the burst-plate and spitting the O-ring, it all stopped dead, Richard’s face lit up as red as the car, and the lovelies? They kept on walking!

Richard Tuthill
1986 VL Holden Calais

Paint: HSV Sting Red

Block: Holden 304
Bottom end: Forged pistons, stock rods and crank
Heads: VL big-valve heads
Valvetrain: LT1 springs, Yella Terra rockers
Camshaft: Crow hydraulic, 292/495
Induction: Weiand 6/71 supercharger, Newby intake manifold
Carburation: Twin 625cfm Demon vac sec, BDS scoop
Ignition: MSD 6AL, stock electronic ignition
Exhaust: Motorvator headers, Flowmaster, three-inch system

Gearbox: Borg Warner T5 gearbox, heavy-duty 2300lb clutch
Diff: Borg Warner four-spider, LSD, 4.11
Brakes: Stock V8 brakes

Steering wheel: Momo leather grip
Trim: Calais V8 tan leather
Shifter: Short-throw T5

Suspension: Lowered, Bilstein shocks, King springs, Lovell sway bars
Wheels: HSV R8 18-inch all ’round
Tyres: 245/40/18 GT radials