While most of the readers of Street Machine would be better versed in the history of straight-line racing than the sideways malarkey, those who were at the genesis of drifting in Australia would probably remember the name Catherine Coleiro, better known as Driftcat. Not only was Cat the first female professional drifter in Australia, but she was also a pioneer in taking Aussie cars sideways.
First published in the August 2023 issue of Street Machine
“I had a 308 VK Commodore when we all started to get into drifting in 2003, so I used that, and I was the first person to enter a Holden in a national drift competition,” says Cat, whose surname is now Hewitson following her marriage. “Back then it was really basic; most tracks didn’t know what drifting was and everything we did was self-taught. All we had was Initial D to learn from!”
Cat picked up the skills for drifting very easily, and soon found herself being thrust to the forefront of the fast-growing sport. “I was approached by a Chinese company who wanted to sponsor me for an entire season of national comp, but as part of the deal, I had to sell the VK and use an S13 Silvia instead, so that’s what I did,” she says.
The deal paid off, with Cat becoming the first woman to win a championship drifting title in Australia by taking out the 2005 NSW State Championship, while also placing fourth overall in the national competition that same year. Cat has also been invited to drift cars in Beijing, Chile and at the Gatebil festival in Norway. Adding to her extensive résumé are some stunt driving jobs for big-dollar movies, including Marvel’s 2021 flick Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. “The Marvel experience was such a cool one, jumping and sliding and all that,” she says. “Seeing my name in the end credits gave me a major kick as well.”
Cat and husband Trent Hewitson opened their business, Chequered Tuning, in Melbourne in 2008. It’s a workshop dedicated to dyno tuning, with Trent in the workshop and Cat running the day-to-day. Business has been booming, but to get it off the ground, Cat had to bid farewell to the S13 and full-time driving. “We used the money from selling the S13 to get the business going, and after four years or so, my husband turned to me and said, ‘We need a workshop car; how about you get back into drifting?’ So I thought, how cool would it be to get back into drifting with the car that got me into the sport, a VK Commodore?”
The hunt for a suitable VK was on, but what the pair actually ended up with was a VL Calais Turbo manual, which they’ve used as the base for the machine you see here. The first iteration was completed in 2012, with an 858rwhp twin-turbo LS1. “That was a big deal back then, but after I drifted it, Trent wanted to change the engine, mainly because LS swaps became so common, and he also hated the noise of a turbo LS,” laughs Cat. “So we started looking at doing another unique swap, and then we found the Dodge NASCAR engine.”
Between Cat popping out two kids and the inevitable COVID-related delays, the swap and overall rebuild took around six years to sort. “There weren’t heaps of issues getting the engine in there, and all we really had done externally was the fab work and the wiring; the assembly and all that was done here,” says Cat.
Shoehorning the engine in wasn’t so bad, but Trent put the hard yards into the underpinnings to ensure the steering and suspension geometry was still bang-on for a drift car. “He spent a lot of time making sure the rack and subframe was positioned right, using an S14 steering rack and bespoke uprights and geometry,” says Cat. All four corners also feature Shockworks coil-overs, while a quick-change live-axle rear end allows gear ratio changes in as little as five minutes. It’s an important asset to have in a drift car, as correct gearing is vital.
As for the engine itself, it’s an Arrington Performance-built unit that sits at a rev-happy 358ci capacity. It’s dry-sumped, and packs a Bryant crank, Carrillo rods and JE pistons. The stick is a Comp Cams solid-roller, while heads are NASCAR-spec P7s. Other notables include the Edelbrock intake manifold, Haltech Nexus R5 brains, and E85 fuel. The mill made a best of 630rwhp on Chequered Tuning’s hub dyno through the G-Force dogbox, until the clutch started slipping. “We’ve got the new clutch in now, so it’ll hit the dyno soon and we think it should be good for 660rwhp,” says Cat. “Then we have the 200-shot of nitrous to go as well.”
Once it’s all dialled in, Cat and Trent will give the now VK-fronted VL a shakedown before it makes a proper on-track debut this year. “I’m super excited to get it out and give it a good go; I’ve been out of the seat for a while, so I’m keen for it,” says Cat. “We don’t have the time or budget to go back to running full national series stuff, so it’ll more be used for demos and special events like World Time Attack Challenge.” We also have it on good authority that the Commodore may make a proper debut at a big event at Melbourne’s Calder Park in October, so keep an eye out for that.
At this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking the car is very much a one-dimensional smoke machine, and we thought the same until Cat surprised us with this remark: “I would love to take it to next year’s Summernats, Drag Challenge, drift for fun around Australia, and then the ultimate goal would be to ship it to America and do Drag Week.” It turns out this thing has been built more as an all-purpose motorsport machine than simply a drift weapon, so it seems like we’ll be seeing a lot of Cat, Trent and the Commodore in several of forms of motorsport in the years to come.
CATHERINE HEWITSON (COLEIRO)
1986 HOLDEN VL CALAIS
Paint: Mazda RX-8 Yellow
|Haltech Nexus R5
|Comp Cams solid-roller
|Dailey dry sump
|Raceworks pump, 1180cc injectors
|C&R NASCAR radiator
|3in stainless side-exit pipes
|G-Force T101A dogbox
|DMI Bulldog quick-change
|SUSPENSION & BRAKES
|Endless discs (f), Harrop discs (r)
|WHEELS & TYRES
|Autostrada Modena; 18×10 (f), 18×13 (r)
|Nankang AR-1 235/40R18 (f), Mickey Thompson ET Street 305/35R18 (r)
Haltech for providing the right parts to do the right job on this car and every day at Chequered Tuning; Nick at LUX Racing for the front suspension; Dimi and Dan at CPG for wiring up the Haltech gear; Darryl Dickie for all the fab work; Derek Van Zelm at Motorsport Engineering Services; Craig at Whitehorse Industries; Steve at EFI Hardware