Damien Lowe’s budget-built EFI 1983 Holden VH Commodore – flashback

Just because you're tight for time and money, doesn't mean you can't build a sweet ride

Photographers: Peter Bateman

This article on Damien’s VH Commodore was originally published in the May 2004 issue of Street Machine magazine

YOU may recall the name Damien Lowe from the drive-anywhere trophy-magnet VB Commodore known as CHU88Y. At Street Machine Summernats 21, CHU88Y won Top Overall Street, Top Engine Bay, Top Retrotech and Sponsor’s Choice. The next year he stepped it up a notch and found himself in the Elite Hall. And then the mad bugger drove it to Perth for Motorvation.

Body and paint are superb for a street car. Showwheels Streeter rims suit the ‘show car on a budget’ brief to a T

There he scored Top Street Driven, Top Sedan, Longest Distance Travelled (naturally) and a Top 10 berth, before cruising back across the red centre, taking in the Kandos Street Machine & Hot Rod Show (Grand Champion) and the SydneyMuscle Car Cruise (Top Holden) along the way. This represented a total round trip of 10,000 clicks across five Australian states and territories with nary a mechanical woe, redefining the term ‘street driven’.

But with so many goals kicked, Damo found himself wondering ‘where now?’ He decided to treat CHU88Y to a rebuild and scare the upper echelons in the Elite Hall. However, such builds are long and involved, and being a hyperactive part of the scene, not having a car to go cruising in rapidly became a pain in the backside.

“The red car was turning into a full-on rebuild and there was no real light at the end of the tunnel. I wanted to throw something together, just a quick, cheap and easy build so that I could stay involved in the scene, go to shows, and cruise on the weekends.”

At the time his daily was a beige poverty pack Trimatic and 202-powered VH, neat for its age, but bland. He sized it up and made the call to rebuild it for Summernats 25 on Sunday, 25 September!

Smoothed sheet metal, colour-coded billet bolt-ons and a few custom stainless steel items make for a superbly understated engine bay

Alongside work and an existing ground-up rebuild, most people would need three years, so setting out to complete a car from scratch in three months seemed like lunacy. But Damo’s a talented bloke with boundless enthusiasm, and being one of the most affable guys in the modified car scene he had an army of good mates, tools at the ready and keen to pitch in.

“The goal was to build a car in three months that you could take to shows without being embarrassed,” he says. “I wanted to put it together as cheaply as possible and had a budget of $20,000. Without factoring in all the nitty gritty, I managed to stay within that budget. Things like the rubbers and chrome work were already pretty good, so I saved a lot of money there.”

The budget and timeframe ruled out exotic driveline transplants but the beauty of Commodores is that their DNA is readily interchangeable between models. An injected VS 5.0-litre and 4L60E auto make the perfect cruising combo but Damien wanted a bit of mongrel about it and added flat-top pistons, a mild cam and a 90mm throttlebody. A 3.9:1, 28-spline VL Turbo arse-end was a straight bolt-up, while VS GTS brakes on all corners do an admirable job of stopping it all.

The cabin makes the most of what was already there, with standard Commodore rear seat, door cards and dash retained. Custom touches like the armrests, centre console and billet cluster combine with the billet wheel, digital gauges and B&M Magnum Grip shifter for a beautiful contemporary feel

As functional as the VS donk is, it also had to look stunning. CHU88Y is known for its clinical engine bay and Damien realised the VH had to present well in that department too, so he welded up all the holes, boxed the chassis rails and deleted unnecessary brackets.

Owning a company that specialises in engine bay dress-up parts for Holdens has its perks and he emptied his entire catalogue into it.

A billet master cylinder top and brackets plus billet strut tops all got the nod, but of particular note are the sexy billet rocker covers and timing cover.

He also made a radiator shroud and stainless steel overflow, and hid a custom washer bottle under the colour-coded Lowe Fabrications fibreglass cowl cover.

For that clean look, most of these goodies were coated either in the exterior Rio Latte colour or painted grey to match the 20in Showwheels Streeter rims.

And why the beige exterior?

“It was originally a creamy colour and I wanted a quick turnaround, so I set out to find a cream from a current model and came across this Nissan Micra colour. Sticking with a similar shade saved respraying every nook and cranny, like behind the dash and under the parcel shelf. I can be pretty fussy about stuff like that!”

Carl Simmons of Pro Image was responsible for the duco and did a sensational job, delivering elite level paint to a tight deadline.

With the car rapidly taking shape, Damien turned his attention to the cabin. “I wanted something simple because of the timeframe and budget. I sourced a set of cheap Mazda seats and basically sent the lot to Colin [Sultana, MR HT] and told him what colour I wanted.”

The centre console is a Department Of The Interior piece, while the trick custom billet instrument cluster housing Dakota Digital gauges was a joint project between Bliss Custom Machining and Lowe Fabrications. It was built to mount on the factory holes, and the good news for early Commodore fans is that a production version will be available soon.

So, did the car make that all-important Summernats deadline? Mostly. Despite weeks of hard slog, a pesky electrical gremlin prevented the otherwise complete car being driven to Canberra under its own steam, meaning Damien of all people had his car trailered to a show. Once there, however, it generated a raft of positive feedback that made all the effort worthwhile.

“I didn’t build the car to win trophies so if it does or not, it doesn’t really faze me. It’s just a budget build to enjoy while I finish off the red car. You can jump in it and cruise to Harry’s on a Saturday night with no dramas — it’s even good on fuel. It was a massive team effort and so many people put in to get the car done in time. Without everyone’s help there’s no way I could have turned the car around in just three months.”


Colour: Nissan Micra Rio Latte

Brand: Holden 304ci V8
Induction: Standard EFI with 90mm throttlebody
Heads: Standard EFI
Camshaft: 222@50
Pistons: Flat-tops
Crank: Stock
Rods: Stock
Sump: Stock
Fuel: 98-octane
Fuel system: Walbro pump, stock injectors
Cooling: Four-core radiator, stock clutch fan
Exhaust: Pacemaker headers, Hooker mufflers
Ignition: Stock

Gearbox: 4L60E
Converter: B&M 2000rpm
Diff: VL Turbo, 3.9:1 gears, LSD

Springs: King Springs (f&r)
Shocks: KYB (f&r)
Brakes: HSV VS GTS (f&r)
Master cylinder: One-inch

Seats: Mazda MX-5 (f), stock retrimmed (r)
Wheel: Intro billet
Mods: Custom centre console
Trim: Beige vinyl
Instruments: Dakota Digital, custom billet cluster
Shifter: B&M Magnum
Stereo: Clarion head unit, Alpine 6x9s

Rims: Showwheels Streeter 20×8½ (f&r)
Rubber: 235/35/20 (f&r)