500-cube blown big-block Holden VL Calais – KARMA

Meet Steven Gledich's weapon of mass tyre destruction

Photographers: Jordan Leist

THIS could have been another neat and tidy VL Calais with an RB30 turbo and Convo Pros, but Perth’s Steven Gledich had other ideas. Bought as a roller out of Melbourne, the car was already set up with mini-tubs, a nine-inch, slicks, wing and even a parachute mount. “It was originally champagne gold in colour, and it was obvious it had been well looked after,” Steven says. “But I had my own vision for the VL, which meant painting it black.”

This article was first published in Street Machine Commodores magazine, 2018

Steve’s Calais was originally painted champagne gold, but he knew it would look a lot tougher in black. Mark Cook from Allbrite Panel & Paint did a stellar job getting it perfectly straight before laying on the paint

The injector hat has a story all to itself. It was sourced by George Separovich through Jim Campos, who brought his Pro Mod to our shores back in 1994 to race the Aussies in the early days of doorslammers. Jim had a friend who got it off the Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel team. “The hat was sent over from America and arrived via FedEx,” Steven says. “With the wait being well over four months, it’s something I’d most likely never do again, but I’m glad I did at the time.”

Thanks to a custom tubular IFS from Black Magic Race Cars, Steve’s VL sits perfectly over the 20×8.5 and 20×10 rims. And with those tubs, there’s definitely no dead bodies hiding in the boot!

George himself tells us that he had to show the Schumacher team photos of the car the hat was going on: “They didn’t want to sell it to us until we showed them that it was going on a street car,” he says. So what’s so different about this thing compared to a regular hat? “It’s just massive – just a really big hat, and it’s a one-off,” George says. “They designed it and all the butterflies and shaft were made in-house at Schumacher, but the actual body was made by a company that specialises in advanced composite manufacturing.”

It might not be super-low, but the stance is spot-on. The secret? Build the car around the wheels

A big hat needs a big motor, and while it is a big-block Chev, it’s actually not much larger than the biggest factory option. At 500ci and with a very oversquare bore/stroke ratio, this baby is born to rev. Screwed together by Dave ‘Guro’ McKay, it’s based around a Brodix aluminium tall-deck block and Brodix heads. Inside it’s filled with bulletproof components sourced from Blown Motorsports. A Crower billet crank, GRP aluminium rods and CP custom forged pistons sort out the rotating stuff, while a Crane solid-roller with Crower lifters and T&D billet rocker arms make sure those big valves open and shut in time.

The tubbed and four-linked rear end easily swallows the 335/20R20 rubber. Those twin 4in pipes sit up nice and high thanks to a custom tunnel and stepped-up floor

The other thing that makes this car stand out from many other VLs is its stance. It’s tough to get a set of 20s under a VL and not make it look like a door wedge on rollerskates. Those of you who have already looked at the engine bay photos and may be familiar with VLs will have noticed something is missing in there. Yeah nah, we don’t mean the RB30; we’re talking about the strut towers.

Black Magic Race Cars machined up an aluminium hub to mate the giant Wilwood brakes and six-spot calipers to the Strange struts

While that crazy engine was going together, Steve took the car down to Geoff Black at Black Magic Race Cars (BMRC) for a doorslammer-style front suspension set-up: “It’s got Strange struts in the front of it with a manual Flaming River rack that we cut down to suit,” Geoff says. “We also fabricated the suspension arms and machined aluminium hubs to adapt the biggest Wilwood brakes and six-spot calipers we could get.” That wasn’t the only work they did: “We also did the tunnel and firewall, and it’s got a raised floor around the gearbox for the exhaust. Where the seats sit and all the original mounting points are still the same.”

Yes, that is a giant hat, and there’s a reason for that. It was built by a specialist composite manufacturing company to the Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel team’s design

It’s all pretty tidy inside as well, with a set of Kirkey race seats trimmed in velour and stitched in a diamond pattern. That theme carries on to the door panels and the token rear seat, which is really only for the brave of heart or feeble of mind. At least there’s a six-point ’cage, complete with ‘Jesus bar’ – because if you’re in the back seat you’ll be holding on for dear life and screaming: “Jesus!” when Steve sinks the boot in. This was already in the car when purchased. Being a top-of-the-range Calais, it’s got electric windows, and yes, the signature pop-up headlights do still work.

Underneath the Top Fuel hat and 14/71 Littlefield blower are aluminium Brodix block and heads measuring up at 500ci, with a very oversquare bore/stroke ratio for lots of revs. Notice the lack of strut towers; that’s because there’s a custom tube front end based around Strange doorslammer struts

A Racepak dash and datalogger keep track of things, and a B&M Pro Ratchet shifter picks the gears in a Dedenbear-cased Powerglide that’s been fully manualised and fitted with a transbrake. Fremantle Torque Converters supplied a 4800rpm stall converter to make sure the methanol-fuelled monster gets on the noise quick-smart.

The car already came with a nine-inch and four-link, although BMRC did change a few things to get the four-inch pipes right through to the back. Phil Purser from Final Drive upgraded the diff with 40-spline axles and there’s a full spool and a set of 3.5:1 gears.

To finish the car off, Steve wanted to replace the original champagne gold colour with something a little tougher, so it was sent off to Mark Cook at Allbrite Panel & Paint. He smoothed the body to perfection before laying on the Jet Black finish. The body mouldings and bumpers also got the Jet Black treatment, and while it’s all as smooth as a baby’s proverbial, the classy Calais badges went back on the nose and front fenders.

Holden VL Calais interiorThere’s a fair bit of the original Calais interior left, but the stock gauges have made way for a Racepak dash and quartet of Auto Meter gauges to keep an eye on the vitals

Steve admits that he may have gone a little overboard with the engine, but we won’t hold that against him. “I built the car for burnouts, but burnouts wreck a car. Fair enough doing laps around Powercruise or West Coast Nats and doing powerskids; I love doing that,” he says. “We went that wild with it, I said to George: ‘I want that much power that I don’t know what to do with it – I want to be scared of it.’” On the Blown Motorsports chassis dyno the car made 1450hp on light throttle – it refused to stay planted at wide open throttle. George reckons the engine is probably worth 1800hp at the flywheel. Mission accomplished!

Holden VL Calais interior


Paint: Jet Black

Type: Brodix aluminium 500ci BBC
Inlet: Schumacher Top Fuel carbon hat
Blower: Littlefield 14/71, RCD crank support
Intake: Indy
Heads: Brodix
Valves: Titanium
Cam: Crane solid-roller
Pistons: CP forged
Crank: Crower billet
Conrods: GRP aluminium
Fuel pump: Enderle
Radiator: Custom aluminium
Exhaust: Twin 4in with Gonzo muffler
Ignition: MSD Pro Mag 12, Pioneer mag drive

’Box: Dedenbear-cased Powerglide, transbrake, fully manualised
Converter: FTC 4800rpm stall
Diff: 9in, 40-spline axles, 3.5:1 gears

Front end: Tubular IFS by Black Magic Race Cars, Strange struts
Shocks: Strange coil-overs
Steering: Custom rack-and-pinion
Brakes: Wilwood

Rims: Pro Drag Forged; 20×8.5 (f), 20×10 (r)
Rubber: Bridgestone; 245/20R20 (f), 335/20R20 (r)

My partner Jennie for putting up with the build; Dave ‘Guro’ McKay for building the engine and tuning it; George Separovich at Blown Motorsports; Brad Basire at Blackknd Customs for always helping at events; Cookie at Allbrite Panel & Paint; Todd at Pro Street Polishing; Geoff Black at Black Magic Race Cars; Cheeky at Lost Racing Products for all the hoses and fittings