Ian Granger’s Top Retrotech VK Commodore

The family that builds a car together will go far together. This award-winning retrotech VK is proof

Photographers: Tony Rabbitte

For some, owning a V8 is just not enough. Karen and Ian Granger had a warmed-over ex-chaser VP in the driveway – which they happily admit was a great car – but they felt it lacked character and feel. They wanted something with more soul. However, there were many things to consider when choosing a replacement. At the top of the list was the ability to accommodate their trio of rug rats and the inevitably large quantity of cargo when they set out on holidays.

First published in the January 2002 issue of Street Machine

But what to choose? Previous to the VP, a cherished VH Commodore had served as the family truckster, so another Commodore was the obvious solution. But which one? Ever since parting with the VH, Ian had a hankering to get his bum back into an early girl and deep down he always felt the VK was most appealing of all the models, so the decision was made.

With the model settled upon, it was off to the newsagent for an armful of trader mags. After a million and one phone calls and many disappointed episodes, Ian and Karen had almost given up on the whole idea but gave the Trading Post one more try. That’s when Ian spied an ad that sounded just right – that’s if you call having a blown motor and being undriveable just right!

Minor details like these didn’t faze Ian, he was looking for something to build on and was only too happy to buy an unfinished project, although not everything went according to plan.

Although the VT Tiger Gold VK would eventually make its way onto the hallowed pages of Street Machine, lan wished he’d stuck by the golden rule of never examining potential projects in the dark.

“In hindsight, I should not have relied on a late-night torch inspection,” he says. “Now, all that remains is the exterior paint; virtually everything else had to be rebuilt!”

Actually, that’s not entirely correct. For starters, Welsh’s Highway Smash Repairs in Bathurst repainted the engine bay, Group A front bar, grille and bonnet. Later on both rear quarters needed a fresh coat after they were pumped in an attempt to stop those Bridgestone SO-1 235/45 VR17 and Pirelli P-7001 235/45 V17 tyres on fat 17×8 ClubSports from barking on the guards. Holding the rear bags apart is a VL diff, fitted with a 3.45:1 LSD centre.

But not even pumping the guards stopped the tyres rubbing, so a Watt’s Linkage (replacing the original Panhard Bar) adapted from an XF Falcon was fitted to solve the problem. The fact the springs were 50mm shorter also didn’t help matters much, but hell, if the tyres don’t rub, your skids are too skinny or your ride’s simply not low enough!

Whoever originally laid on the Tiger Gold wasn’t too concerned about overspray and a lot of time was spent buffing it off. All the black body highlights then received some glossy new paint.

Pulling the catch and popping the hood reveals a sweetly detailed new-generation VN 304ci (5.0-litre) built by The Engine Works at Londonderry NSW, and while far from being an all-out race engine, it does feature some sensible mods. With the Street Machine Summernats Top Retrotech trophy sitting up on the mantle, you would confidently bet your last dollar that there’s no carburettor under the VK’s bonnet. Instead there’s a set of high-flowing VN Group A injectors, modified throttle-body, ACL race-series flat-top pistons and lumpy CamTec cam all fed a continuous diet of Optimax by a CAPA Stage-1 supercharger EFI fuel pump. Handing out the management orders is a Haltech E6GM aftermarket ECU.

Once fired the unwanted exhaust gasses are whisked away through a pair of stainless steel extractors feeding a 2.5-inch mild steel system containing a Super Turbo Muffler and Walker resonator. It sounds — and feels — plenty tough when fired up, but doesn’t need to be followed around by a petrol tanker full of exotic race fuel whenever it hits the streets. In fact the bronzed Aussie manages 16mpg around town and a credible 26mpg out on the highway.

Fuel consumption numbers like these are a breath of fresh air for a ballsy streeter, but they didn’t come about completely painlessly. It was only after endless hours of toil and frustration that the Hit Man in Penrith finally got the tune of the Holden/Haltech combination purring like a kitten. Actually a kitten is a bit of an understatement considering the combo managed to punch out 233hp@5500rpm at the treads – enough to keep all but a high-strung strip-only-special in its place.

Hanging off the back of the injected five-O is a lightened flywheel and brass button clutch (soon to go) hooked to a Borg Warner T5. Mating the T5 to the VN donk is a Dellow bellhousing.

Every VN that rolled off the production line was fitted with power steering but this VK had the poverty-pack ‘armstrong’ steering. This compatibility problem was solved using a power VK rack mated to a later model VS pump with custom piping and hoses. An unusual combo that works a treat!

Poking your head through the window reveals genuine Brock Group A chairs (which retain their standard livery), swanky leather steering wheel, VR speaker pods, blackout cut-pile carpets and a VN shifter boot wrapped around a stock VN shifter. A neat touch is the HDT emblem just in front of the shifter. For cruisin’ tunes there are two pairs of owner-installed Pioneer three-way 6x9s – one on the parcel tray, the other in the front doors – powered by an Audio Sonic amp.

It’s a family affair with wife Karen involved in all of the key decisions concerning the car, particularly colour co-ordination and boot layout, and Ash (8), Adam (6) and Angus (4) keen on the car shows. Many of these outings have been quite fruitful with the car picking up Top Over All at Bathurst, Lithgow and Orange last year, along with Best Sedan at Kandos, Meguiar’s Car of the Day at the NSW All Holden Day and Top Street Machine at the 2001 South Coast Nationals.

The VK is an excellent promotional piece for Ian’s Prestige Vehicle detailing business and he would love to develop the car further. Well, if someone was kind enough to donate a suitcase full of money he would, with Mrs Granger’s blessing, although that’s not to say Karen was adverse to the project. In fact she was all for the build as long as it was a family thing and Ian wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Karen & Ian Granger
1984 VK Commodore

Colour: VT Tiger Gold

Type:VN injected 5.0-litre
Induction:Modified throttle body
Computer:Haltech E6GM
Gearbox:Borg Warner T5
Clutch:Brass-button, single-plate
Diff:VL Turbo
Springs:Lowered 50mm
Shocks:Monroe Sensa-Trac
Tunes:Pioneer, Audio Sonic
Rims:Genuine HSV 17×8 ClubSport
Rubber:Bridgestone S0-1/Pirelli P-7002