Harrop-blown Top 60 VL Calais

Marcus Nikolic envisaged his VL Calais as the ultimate supercharged street cruiser, and wound up in the Summernats Top 60

Photographers: Ben Hosking

Holden released its V8 VL Calais in 1986 as an emissions-stifled stumble in the otherwise great legacy of the Iron Lion. The only thing more shameful than the factory power output of the black motor was the fact that the controversial turbocharged Nissan six-cylinder available in some models ran rings around it in every performance metric.

First published in the May 2022 issue of Street Machine

It led to a slump in popularity for V8 VLs. Before the recent surge in Aussie muscle car prices, a typical V8-powered VL could be had for up to half the asking price of an RB30ET-equipped equivalent. But recently there’s been something of a resurgence of love for the eight-cylinder VL, which has seemed to emanate from the Illawarra region south of Sydney.

Which, as it happens, is where Marcus Nikolic hails from. Bitten by the VL bug before he’d even learned to drive, Marcus spied this car for sale locally and knew it would make a great base for his goals of VL stardom.

“It’s a genuine Calais,” he begins. “The car was immaculate to begin with; the previous owner had done an LS2 conversion and it had black Simmons wheels.”

Marcus wasted absolutely no time in upsizing the Yeah Buds and installing some springs to further lower the car. “That was all that was meant to happen!” he laughs. However, after cruising the car in this state for a while, the siren song of more horsepower became too strong for him.

“My cousin was getting an engine built by the team at Russo Performance, so we took a trip up to see Christian and Justin,” Marcus explains. “While we were there, my cousin mentioned that he was thinking of taking another direction with his build, so I stepped in and grabbed his combo for my car.”

The VL’s LS2 was plucked out of the bay and sold, and while the Russo crew wrenched on the new LS combo, the car was rolled into Yes Smash Repairs to be tubbed before being stripped back to bare metal and resprayed in Quicksilver.

“The car had two tiny marks on it, and we knew that we wanted to try and get in the Top 60 at Summernats 34,” Marcus explains. “Mind you, this was only a few months out from the ’Nats, but the guys at Yes swore it could be done.”

All the while, Marcus was collecting driveline components to one day unite with the Russo powerhouse. A Turbo 400 fills the trans tunnel, while strung between the rear wheels is a nine-inch hanging off a custom-built four-link boasting whopping 35-spline axles.

Under the tastefully moulded XR8 Falcon bonnet bulge is the real eye candy, though. Based on an LS2, the team at Russo have screwed together a stout 408-cube stroker capped with Higgins heads, with a Harrop TVS2650 blower in the valley. “We worked closely with the Russo boys in terms of what parts we chose, and together we opted to use the best parts we could source,” Marcus says of the combo. “I actually wanted to put a 4.5-litre Whipple on it, but the Russo crew steered me towards the Harrop, and it worked out being easier to keep that blower under the bonnet.”

One of the few boxes left to tick on the Top 60 checklist was addressing the VL’s trim. However, Marcus and the crew of family and friends that were massing to finish the car in time for Canberra caught a break when a custom trim popped up for sale online. “This trim was already out of a VL and had plenty of nice custom touches, so we grabbed that,” he says. “But we’ve got our own trim underway at the moment incorporating four Scheel bucket seats, which I’m just as excited about.”

The current trim is a striking blend of classic VL styling and tasteful customisation – take the billet armrests modelled after the original VL units, for example. Another great touch is the removal of the handbrake from the centre console, replaced instead with a foot-operated brake mounted where the clutch pedal would otherwise live.

With just weeks left on the calendar and the Christmas shutdown fast approaching, Marcus and his entourage finished final assembly and got the VL rolling on those mammoth 22-inch Simmons FR wheels. With the four-link adjusted and the car aligned, it was just a matter of giving it a thorough detail and hoping they’d done enough to earn their ticket into the Top 60.

When the Friday of Summernats rolled around, the crew found out that their hard work had paid off. Not only were they mixing it with some of the best cars from around the country, but, to their surprise, they also finished the weekend with the coveted People’s Choice award. The gong certainly put wind in the sails of Marcus’s dad, Goran, who had showed his Torana at Summernats in the 90s and helped Marcus build the VL. The experience of building the car together has inspired them to embark on another father-son project – an LS-powered VK to thrash at events like Powercruise. We can’t wait to see it!


Paint: Quicksilver
Brand: GM LS2
Induction: Harrop TVS2650 supercharger
Heads: Higgins
Camshaft: Russo Performance custom-ground
Conrods: Callies Compstar
Pistons: CP Bullet Series
Crank: Manley stroker crank
Oil pump: High-flow oil pump, modified factory sump
Fuel system: Three Bosch 040 in-tank pumps, 1000cc injectors
Cooling: Custom alloy radiator, 12in Spal fan
Exhaust: Custom four-into-one headers, Aeroflow 3.5in cats, MagnaFlow mufflers
Gearbox: Turbo 400, reverse-pattern, transbrake
Converter: 3500rpm
Diff: 9in housing, Strange centre, 35-spline axles
Front: KSport coil-overs, adjustable lower arms
Rear: Viking coil-overs, four-link
Brakes: KSport 405mm discs and eight-piston calipers (f), KSport 380mm discs and
six-piston calipers (r)
Master cylinder: VT Commodore
Rims: Simmons FR; 22×8 (f), 22×12 (r)
Rubber: 225/30R22 (f), 315/25R22 (r)

My dad Goran Nikolic; Anthony Vella; the team at Russo Performance; Yes Smash Repairs; Peter Drivas at Pitstop; Joe at J Performance; Matt at JNT Performance; Andrew at Leisure Coast Auto Electrics; Adam at Hammertime; South Coast Radiators; the team at Wollongong Auto Supplies; Shane at Precision Suspension; Bobby at Muscle Car Mafia; Stav at South Coast Muscle Car Garage; Michael and Jai at Auto Paint Rejuvenations