Culprit Racing pro street VL Calais

You’d be forgiven for thinking this VL Calais is Rob Beauchamp’s trailblazing pro streeter from the late 80s, but all is not as it seems

Photographers: Ashleigh Wilson

If you’re partial to a wager, you might bet a fair a chunk of change that the stunning VL Calais before you is the one made famous by Summernats legend Rob Beauchamp – in other words, one of the most iconic Aussie pro street cars of the 1980s (SM, Apr-May ’88).

First published in Street Machine‘s Yearbook 2023

Well, looks can be deceiving. This Calais might be near-identical to Rob’s car, but it’s actually a different beast altogether, purchased by Queenslander Tony ‘Webby’ Webb as a new drive for his 17-year-old son, Connor. “You’d really need to have those two cars side by side to spot the differences,” Webby says.

Some might think Webby needs to do nothing more in his career after beating US racer Kye Kelley at the recent Street Outlaws Australian tour, but that’s just not how the Webb family rolls. With a monster rebuild currently underway on the LX hatchback that vanquished Kelley’s Camaro, Webby figured it was time to get his young fella, Connor, into something new following the latter’s graduation from Junior Dragster.

“I put a post up a while back looking for a roller that we could bang a turbo LS into; we know turbo stuff, and an LS keeps it simple,” Webby explains. “Not long after, we got a call from a guy in Sydney who basically said, ‘I’ve got a car in my shed. It’s too much for me; it’s been there for 12 years and I’m looking to move it on.’ We got the pics and I swore it was Rob’s car, but George [the owner] said it wasn’t.”

George had rebuilt his Calais over many years, and had been following Webby’s exploits via social media. He promised to sell the car to him for a red-hot price. “It wasn’t really what we wanted; it was a big-tyre, small-block Chev car with a carby on alcohol and nitrous, but the price was too good,” Webby says. The car was built so well that the Webbs couldn’t say no, and they figured they could always yank the driveline and go LS at a later stage.

The Calais is a full tube-chassis car that has run into the 8.40s with its 421ci, 23-degree-headed small-block Chev. The combination was originally packaged by Big H Racing using a Motown block with a steel crank and rods, solid-roller cam and Brodix heads. It could cop a 300-shot of nitrous out of the hole back when it was running 15×15 rear rims and big tyres, and the big engine setback means you can literally stand in the engine bay to work on it!

Power is passed through a stock-case Powerglide back to a sheet-metal nine-inch with a four-link and single adjustable Strange shocks.

“We did some research on the car with people who had worked on it, and it can take a lot of power, so it will work for us,” Webby says.

“The first thing we ditched were the big sneakers, as Connor is keen to do some Kenda stuff, so we went with some 315 radials. It’s a nice simple car that will be good for Connor to learn with, and the 315s stretched over the 15×13 rims look tough.”

To iron out any bugs, Webby decided to make a few passes in the car himself before Connor jumped in it. “We made a few four-bar adjustments, but after taking it down the track a few times, we worked out that it had 16mm of rear steer. We’re not sure if this was because of the big tyres it was running or that George was a really big man!”

As the Calais needed to drive between the track and the pits, the front 15-litre header tank was changed to a 25-litre one. It gravity-feeds the Enderle 80A mechanical pump, which in turn supplies the Dominator carb.

Apart from the fibreglass bonnet and polycarbonate widows, the VL is all steel, but it weighs just 2700lb (1225kg).

Under the old man’s guidance, Connor will debut the car in the Radial Renegade (5.50sec index) class at Kenda, and while success is important, it’s more about having fun and not getting hurt. “We need some track time at the moment,” Webby says. “Once we can see that the car runs straight, we will turn the bottle on, probably with a 150-shot. It’s pretty easy to dial the tune in between rounds, so Connor can play with the launch, timing and shock settings to get a handle on how the car works.

“We have updated the ’chute, seat and safety equipment on board, so now he can get his licence, and he’s keen to make some passes.”

We’re looking forward to seeing Connor in the VL’s pilot seat when he makes his debut. If he’s anything like his dad, he’ll be giving it the full beans.