Dusan Zec’s budget-built, award-winning VH Commodore

An award-winning Commodore, built on a budget and driven on the street

Photographers: Cristian Brunelli

It’s up there. Top Judged Streeter and Top Retrotech/Street at Summernats 16 and a trio of seconds in Paint, Body and Sedan categories since then all confirm the yellow VH Commodore of Dusan ‘Duke’ Zec as being a car any Commodore-crafter should look to for inspiration. All this isn’t bad for a home-crafted streeter built with more hard yakka than cold, hard cash.

First published in the April 2004 issue of Street Machine

Duke bought the car about four years ago as a daily flogbox for getting to and from his work as an apprentice mechanic. “It was a Vacationer, so I ripped off all the pinstripes and dumped it on its bumpstops,” says Duke, laughing at the memory. “It stayed like that for a year, tripping around here [Canberra, where Duke lives] and taking trips to Sydney and being used for trips to Bathurst.” Then, one day, Duke lent it to a mate…

“He crashed it. It was just one of those things — I look back on it now and find it kinda funny! It’s only metal; we got it fixed and we’re still mates.” It was, however, the prod that Duke needed to start on the car. “If that never happened, I doubt if I would have built it like this. It certainly wouldn’t be this quality.”

Stripped to nothing, the panel work began. Brandishing the hammers was George Papadogianis, an ex-tradesman who squeezed smoothing sessions in between lectures and assignments while studying industrial design at uni. “It took a year,” says Duke. “It was a lot of late nights and a lot of coffee at his house!”

There’s no ground-breaking innovation in the body, just plenty of attention in the right places to make it clean and classy without going too nuts. The strut towers have been smoothed and a handful of daggy holes filled and filed. Outside, the doors — later model, with the more secure locks — are gapped properly to the straightened shell.

After George completed his part of the deal, Simon Custidio applied the paint in a borrowed spray booth. The knockout colour is BMW Phoenix Yellow, its combination with those stark white Compomotive wheels making this an altogether more arresting spectacle.

Other eye-candy includes the fitting of VH SL/E tail lights (with the extra lens sections next to the number plate) and a full wrap-around SL/E rear bumper. The front and rear lights’ factory chrome-edging was binned but a hint of shine remains around the window line. And you don’t fit side rub-mouldings to a car like this, do you?

The engine is an injected five-litre that was originally fitted to a VN. Not surprisingly, Duke wasn’t much in love with the VH’s stocky 253 and with the rest of the car looking great, he was keen to match the pose with performance. Working on Holden EFI V8s as a mechanic (these days, Duke’s a builder) meant the solution to the old carby 253’s lack of go was staring him in the face every day. “I just wanted a nice turnkey, jump-in-and-go daily driver with plenty of stick. I only wish I’d known the Gen III was coming out — I might have put in one of those!”

Installed three years ago with a standard Holden bananas EFI manifold, Duke recently upgraded his willing little five-litre engine with a new manifold. It’s recognisable as being from a VL Group A, but the top and sides of the plenum have been machined flat and it’s been smoothed, detailed and painted to match the car’s exterior.

“Getting that piping done cost me a bomb!” says Duke of his sharp-looking intake plumbing. “The throttle bodies are an odd size, so everything had to be made to suit.”

So, with twin throttles and all the right internals, it should romp through the ratios, right? “Actually, it’s upset the motor a bit,” explains Duke of the new intake. “The cam is now wrong for the combo — different airflow — and it doesn’t have as much mumbo down low, but up top it’s good.”

Duke has a solution: a big stroker-crank. “Time for an upgrade!” he reckons. “The guys at Gentech reckon I should just go for a 383 (6.3-litre) crank. There should be at least another 100kW potential in that manifold. You always want more, don’t you?”

But there’s more work to be done before Duke cranks his engine. The four-speed auto transmission — bought second-hand and given little more than a wash — is on its way out. “It’s done alright so far, but it’s slipping and sliding at the moment. It’s done 25,000 kays and has copped a pasting! Some people have said ‘stick a Turbo 400 in it’ but I like the tall fourth gear. It’s really good on the highway.” Pulling it all up is a set of bigger VX front rotors and twin-piston calipers working with early Commodore rear discs and a VL one-inch master cylinder.

Duke went for a clean theme inside. “They’re the standard seats re-trimmed. I wanted the interior to be simple and look like an SL/E. Everything inside the car was renewed.”

But whilst happy with the interior, with three Summernats under its tyres, Duke feels it’s time for a freshen-up. “I’d like to fit some HSV seats — the wrap-around leather ones, from a VT or a VX — and shape the back seat to match them.”

He’s keen to see how he’d fare in Street classes at other shows. “I’ve wanted to go to the South Coast Nationals, but every time it’s been on I’ve had a wedding or a birthday party or something.

“But I absolutely want to go to the Holden/Ford show in Melbourne and Sydney,” says Duke. “I reckon I’d do alright!”


“I got the engine from a car that had its interior burnt out,” explains Duke. “Well, that’s what I was told. When I got it here, it looked screwed — obviously the engine bay had burned, too. So we pulled the valley off to inspect it and there was about an inch of sludge in it — Vegemite, from not changing the oil. I was pretty pissed-off, because I paid top dollar for it. But I thought, oh well, better bite the bullet.”

The engine was disassembled at Gen-Tech and shipped to COME in Melbourne. “I went for a 220kW COME package of heads, cam and chip, along with a freshened bottom end.”

Everything was machined and prepared, before being delivered back to Gen-Tech as a kit of parts, which was assembled and dropped into the engine bay.


Colour:BMW Phoenix Yellow
Type:Holden 304
Heads:Holden VN, ported
Crank:Stock, prepared by COME
Intake manifold:VL Group A twin-throttle
Management system:COME memcal
Pistons:9.5:1 flat-tops
Rods:Holden V8
Cam:COME hydraulic
Exhaust:3in with custom mufflers
Type:Holden TH700 four-speed auto
Convertor:2500rpm TCE
Tailshaft:Standard two-piece
Type:Holden 10-bolt Salisbury
Diff centre:LSD
Brakes:VX discs front, VH discs rear, VL V8 master cylinder
Rear:VH Commodore discs
Front dampers/springs:2½in lowered Pedders
Rear dampers/springs:3½in lowered Pedders
Other stuff:Adjustable Panhard rod
Wheels:17x8in Compomotives
Tyres:235/45 Firestones