Blown HSV VN SVLE wagon

Want a hot car but need room for the kids? Say hello to Chad Donelly’s blown HSV SVLE

Photographers: Tony Rabbitte

Most street machiners view wagons as family trucksters, something for Bruce and Beryl Average to haul the 2.5 kids and dopey Labrador in. But what if your family hack was built by HSV, chock full of blown bent-eight grunt and slammed into the tarmac with a set of sexy big-inch rollers?

First published in the August 2005 issue of Street Machine

Then you’d have a ride similar to Chad Donnelly, the lucky sod who holds the keys to this rorty five-door rocket. The trophies collected so far include Best Performance Holden at Meguiar’s MotorEx 2003, State Champion Wagon at the Holden and Ford Nationals and Summernats Top Wagon in 2003 and 2004.

About now, everybody except HSV trainspotters will be scratching their noggins trying to pick which model it is. Well, it’s a VN HSV SVLE. One of only 80 built back in 1989, it features leather and cloth interior, sporty body kit, 180kW five-litre, Turbo 700 four-speed auto and stylish-for-the-time 16-inch SV5000 rims.

Chad’s Maranello Red beast was his parents’ family hack for years, towing the race boat all over the country to competition events. After the front-end was burnt during a service at the local mechanic’s workshop, the car was injured further when some halfwit tried to steal it but only succeeded in causing more superficial damage.

Even so, Chad had a hankering for the limited edition five-door and when it went up for grabs in 1995, his custom F100 pick-up was offloaded to make space for the Holden.

Realising it’s as rare as chicken lips and sure to be a collector’s dream in future, he resisted the urge to cut and hack at the car. Instead he carefully set about improving every area of the wagon’s performance, from the comfort of the interior to the road-holding, outright power and aesthetics.

To start with, the shell was resprayed in Maranello Red — fittingly by Scuderia Smash. While it was in the body shop, the guards were rolled to make space for a set of big-inch wheels to spin free under the five-door.

Unfortunately, SV125 was the victim of bastard vandals at Summernats 17. After winning Top Wagon in the Street Class for the second year in a row, Chad came back to find it covered in silver paint from a pressure pack that had been wielded at close range, covering the car in a mist resembling over-spray.

To remedy this low act, sections of the car had to be resprayed, new window moulds were purchased and the engine bay copped several hours of hand-polishing. We can only hope karma catches up with the culprits.

As friends don’t let friends drive stockers, the motor came in for some attention. Although the HSV-tuned 180kW V8 was tidy in its day, the Sarkis brothers were enlisted to screw together a strong combo for Donnelly.

The 304’s bottom end was rebuilt to standard specs but the heads were ported and polished for extra flow, before being filled with Yella Terra roller rockers with Crow lifters and valve springs. Before the Vortech V1 S-Trim blower was slung on the suck-side of the mill, a Crow hydraulic bumpstick was installed, as well as Bosch 38lb fuel injectors to keep up with the supercharger’s voracious appetite for premium unleaded.

“All the tuning resulted in a healthy 360hp at the treads – around 120hp more than it had at the crank when new”

Due to the expanded lung capacity of the motor, the stock ‘bunch of bananas’ intake manifold was ported, while a Bosch 600hp fuel pump supplies all the go-juice.

From there, a VT Series 1 ignition lights the mix in the combustion chamber, before a Pacemaker twin three-inch stainless exhaust removes it via the rear bar. Chad had three different sets of extractors on the car and five full exhaust systems before he settled on the current set-up.

For management, Sam’s Performance re-tuned the stock Delco ECU to handle the engine’s parameters, all of which resulted in a healthy 360hp at the treads — around 120hp more than it had at the crank when new.

Originally the grunt was transmitted through a T700 four-speed auto with a 2700rpm stall, but this set-up was replaced by a Borg Warner T5 five-speed manual, operated by a heavy-duty clutch. Chad’s not too optimistic about its lifespan as it’s already showing signs of fatigue, despite having a Davies Craig trans-cooler fitted to stop the fluid boiling. His solution revolves around the traditional fully prepped TH400 auto with big stall converter.

After serving as the tow vehicle for a racing boat that criss-crossed the nation, the original diff was in need of a rebuild. It now features a 3.7:1 ratio and tightened LSD centre to handle all Chad can throw at it.

Improving the road holding is mostly down to Pedders equipment. Chad had a set of custom coils made up for the front end, dropping it three-inches under stock, while Pedders Superlow springs sink the rear 2.5-inches closer to terra firma. To control compression and rebound and still offer decent ride quality, Pedders gas dampers were installed all ’round. While the undercarriage was centre-stage, HSV stabiliser bars were added to the chassis and a Whiteline adjustable Panhard rod was bolted in. Its job is to centre the diff in the tunnel and prevent tyre scrub from the 19-inch XHP rims.

Adjustable upper and lower control arms, Nolathane bushes and a Nolathane adjustable camber kit were also fitted to improve the handling of the wagon over the HSV set-up.

After the engine was finished, Chad quickly realised SV125 needed better brakes than it was born with. A call to Hoppers Stoppers and a VT Commodore stud adapter kit was in the post. With that in place, it was a snack to install the VT one-inch master cylinder, VT ClubSport R8 slotted discs and calipers and DBA slotted rotors out back.

The uprated brakes are all hidden behind slick 19-inch rollers. Donnelly went through his fair share of rims, progressing from 16-inch Walkinshaw items to 17-inch Antera 123s before finally settling on the XHP Scorch, finished in tasty shadow chrome.

Although it was tidy, the cabin needed a freshen-up to suit Donnelly’s high expectations of the car. The seats were re-trimmed in leather and cloth, while the HSV-issue MOMO tiller was left on the steering column.

Keeping an eye on engine vital signs is the job of Spitfire boost and volt gauges, while the occupants now get their cruising tunes delivered via a Clarion sound system installed by Chad.

He fitted the Clarion source unit, the six-inch Boston Acoustic splits front and rear and the 10-inch Rockford Fosgate subs, all powered by a triple treat of amplifiers (from Zapco, Rockford Fosgate and Audio Control EQX) in a custom surround.

What does the future hold? Well the wagon will be staying in the Donnelly family. Chad’s plans include a stroker crank, more boost, heavy duty internals, larger inlet and intercooler, rollcage and mini-tubs. Should make light work of towing any boat this side of the QEII when it’s done!

Loose units

So what the hell is a VN HSV SVLE and how come it’s not better known? Well, back in the late 80s and early 90s, HSV was a much smaller company which had a habit of turning out limited edition models that sat outside the normal product lines. Think SV89, LE, Plus 8, SV-T30 and SV91 to name just a few.

The SVLE was just such a unit. Launched in August 1989 and offered as sedan or wagon, it featured the 180kW, 304ci (five-litre) donk, four-speed auto, 16-inch SV5000 wheels, lower suspension and body additions from the SV89 and SV3800 to sex-up the suburban housewife exterior. Some trick bits on the interior finished the package off.

In the model hierarchy, the SVLE sat below the ClubSport, the legendary SV5000 and top-dog SS Group A, but above the rest of the line-up, which included the SV89, SV3800 and LE Sedan.

In the end Holden Special Vehicles only built 100 sedans and 80 wagons, making it the five-door with the rarest HSV tag.


Colour:Maranello Red
Pump:Vortech V1 S-trim
Heads:Factory, ported and flowed
Cam:Crow hydraulic
Power:360hp at the wheels
Gearbox:Borg Warner T5, five-speed manual
Clutch:Heavy duty
Diff:LSD 3.7:1
Springs:Pedders, custom three-inch lowered (f), Pedders Superlow 2.5-inch lowered (r)
Shocks:Pedders Sports Ryder gas (f), Pedders Comfort gas (r)
Other:HSV stabiliser bars, Whiteline adjustable upper and lower control arms, Whiteline adjustable Panhard rod, Nolathane bushes, Nolathane adjustable camber kit, Hoppers Stoppers VT stud adapter kit
Brakes:VT ClubSport R8 slotted discs and calipers (f), DBA slotted rotors rear, one-inch VT master cylinder
Rims:XHP Scorch, shadow chrome, 19-inch all ’round
Rubber:245/35 Falken