Dean Gianginis’s 850hp aspirated LS-powered VK Calais

Dean Gianginis’s VK Calais harbours a screaming, 9000rpm, 850hp aspirated LS that we could listen to all day long

Photographers: Ellen Dewar

Those who’re down with the Melbourne street-car scene will likely recognise Dean Gianginis’s 1985 VK Calais, thanks to its killer stance and orgasmic V8 soundtrack.

That mechanical symphony comes courtesy of an LS, but it’s unlike most you’d find stuffed into an early Commodore. There are no turbos, blower or even injection to be seen. Instead, the Adicted Performance-built 430ci LSX is an all-motor, carby-fed deal that screams to 9000rpm. “It doesn’t sound like any other LS out there; you just cannot beat the sound of an engine like this,” says Dean. “I grew up around angry aspo V8s, so it was the only way for me.”

First published in the January 2024 issue of Street Machine

Dean also grew up with this very VK, having owned it since he was 15 years old. It was originally a 202 car, but Dean jumped straight into the LS platform and has stuck with it ever since. “I wanted to build a tough street and drag car, so the LS just made sense,” he says. “The first swap we did was to a 515 crate motor, and then a few others before the current one Danko [Knezevic of Adicted Performance] built for us.”

Starting with a 427ci LSX, Danko went to work to create the atmo monster Dean was after. A Callies Magnum crank, Oliver rods and custom JE pistons make up the bottom-end rotating assembly, while a custom-specced solid-roller camshaft works the valves. Compression is set at a lofty 14:1, so the combo runs exclusively on E85. Air and fuel are sucked through a pair of Higgins big-port LS7 heads and a Higgins split-port manifold, topped by a Quick Fuel FX-4710 1100cfm E85 carby. In the engine lab at Adicted Performance, the mill made a best of 850hp, with more to play with. “We hit an ignition issue during that session, but it was climbing for sure,” says Dean.

Behind the angry LS is a Shotgun Performance Turbo 400, with a 6800rpm converter to suit the high rpm. The diff is a 35-spline nine-inch with 4.5:1 gearing, all tucked in a sheet-metal housing made by Dean’s business, Dean G Fabrications.

Owning your own fab shop has its benefits, which is why under the VK’s skin you’ll find acres of customised metal. In the rear, a full tube clip has been used, with connecting rails and a triangular track locator. A pair of round-edged mini-tubs give space for the 325 rear meats, and an anti-roll bar keeps Dean straight at the strip.

Inside, there’s a pair of Kirkey buckets that’ve been cut and modified to nicely integrate with the Calais interior, along with an extensive rollcage. The seats match the side intrusion bar profiles, and Dean even went as far as modifying the hole in the headrests to match the original Calais rears. “It’s all about the details; that’s why we had the trimmer add the map pockets to the back of the Kirkeys as well!” he laughs.

During its evolution, the VK has made something of a name for itself both at the drag strip and in the powerskids at Powercruise events. More recently, though, the Calais has become known to a worldwide audience when Dean was invited to race at the recent Street Outlaws vs The World TV show shoot at Calder Park. He also took part in Hoonigan’s THIS vs THAT YouTube drag racing series at Cootamundra Airport. “They were really cool experiences; the Yanks were super nice and it was loads of fun,” says Dean. “Beating the Capri during the Hoonigan shoot was a highlight for sure.”

Being so busy meant Dean did give our recent 2023 Drag Challenge a miss, but he plans to remedy that next year. “I’ve done it twice in the VK; I’m hanging to come back next year,” he says. “I partly built this thing as a drag-and-drive car. That’s why it has things like the 90-litre fuel cell – it bloody chews the E85!”

Street duties aren’t just restricted to drag-and-drive events, though, with Dean regularly burling around south-east Melbourne in the VK. “You get busy running your own business, but whenever we can, we get it out for a cruise,” he says. “I kept all the interior true to Calais for the street stuff. It’s a bit of an animal to drive at times with the high-stall converter, but that’s the game you play if you want rpm.”

On track, the VK’s PB over the quarter is a 9.50@140mph, and Dean has ambitions to knock that down as soon as he can. “We’ve got some new rockers coming, so once we get those on and we give it a tickle with the tune, I’m heading straight to the strip to run a low nine,” he says. “We’re always doing something with it! It’s a great all-rounder; it’s just such a fun party car.”


Paint:Holden Nutmeg Metallic
Brand:430ci LSX
Induction:Higgins split-port
Carby:Quick Fuel FX-4710 1100cfm
Heads:Higgins big-port LS7
Camshaft:Comp solid-roller
Pistons:Custom JE
Crank:Callies Magnum
Oil pump:Melling
Fuel system:Walbro 525 pumps
Cooling:Dean G custom radiator
Exhaust:Twin 3in, stainless
Gearbox:Shotgun Performance TH400
Converter:Shotgun Performance 6800rpm
Diff:Dean G 9in, 35-spline, 4.5:1 gears
Front:Afco shocks
Rear:Custom four-link, anti-roll bar, triangulated track locator, Menscer shocks
Brakes:Wilwood discs (f & r)
Master cylinder:Wilwood
Rims:Weld Magnum; 15×4 (f), 15×11 (r)
Rubber:Hankook 165/80R15 (f), Mickey Thompson 325/50R15 (r)

My team at Dean G Fab; Danko at Adicted Performance for the killer engine; Higgins Race Heads, Jason at Shotgun Performance; GJ Drivelines; Tim at Sew Fine Auto Interiors; Speed Pro; Tom from European Auto Refinishing; Will McCallum; Nathan Higgins; Jess Levett; my mum Vicki; my late dad Theo.