Tuxedo Black HDT VK Calais Director

Rob Grbavac’s genuine HDT VK Calais Director combines classy styling with a brutal Holden-powered punch

Photographers: Ellen Dewar

There’s no denying that cars like these are dream machines. For Rob Grbavac, the dream was ingrained in him the first time he saw a VK Director at the ripe age of 14.

First published in the December 2023 issue of Street Machine

“A black VK Calais Director drove past me and a friend on a day off from school in the Melbourne CBD, and I was gobsmacked,” Rob recalls. “From that day on, I told myself I would own one some day.”

This 1985 VK Director is the fulfilment of that vow. It’s a genuine HDT machine that Rob’s added his own personal touch too. “I wanted to keep the core HDT part of the car but with a modern twist,” he says.

Rob reckons the VK was in pretty good nick when he got it. “I originally just went to the panel shop to have the front bumper done for a few stone chips,” he says. “Next thing I knew, I was stripping the car down to a shell and handing it off to the panel beaters for a full bare-metal respray!”

That job was taken care of by the team at Donburn Customs, who straightened the body to perfection and gave the VK a fresh lick of DNA’s version of the original HDT Tuxedo Black.

Rob collected every last part he could find from the Rare Spares catalogue while the bodywork was in progress, and then re-assembled the car himself. “That mostly took place during all the Melbourne COVID lockdowns, so it kept me busy,” he says. “I did learn some hard lessons along the way, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the process.”

Rob had intended to use the car’s original HDT V8, but fate had other plans. “I took [the engine] to Kanaris Engines to have a coolant leak from the cylinder head looked at. They found the engine was a bit more hurt than we thought,” he explains. Although Rob was tempted to replace the ailing mill with a force-fed LS, the appeal of an iron lion in an HDT was too great to ignore. “As with the rest of the car, I wanted to keep it true to its roots, so we stuck with the Holden V8,” he says.

Rob’s brief to Kanaris for the new mill was a fairly simple one: “I wanted it to have that old-school sound and be able to fry the tyres at 70km/h!” he chuckles.

To reach that goal, Kanaris kitted out the new 304 with a Scat crank and rods, and a set of Wiseco flat-top pistons. Capacity was pushed out to 355 cubes in that process, with compression set at 11.8:1. Chop comes from a custom-grind Comp Cams flat-tappet stick, with a pair of hand-ported 304 VN heads completing the long block. “They used a flat-tappet instead of a roller cam to help get that old-school sound I was after – it sounds mean as,” Rob enthuses.

Sucking through a Holley 750cfm carby and Edelbrock intake manifold, the mill made a peak of 601hp, but was tuned down to 592hp at 7150rpm and 492lb-ft at 5600rpm on pump 98. “It drives really nice on the street, is very snappy on the throttle, and it’ll also fry the tyres, just like I asked for,” Rob says.

That power is sent through a Precision Automotive-built, manualised Turbo 350 that uses a TCE 5250rpm converter. The nine-inch rear end employs a Truetrac centre and 3.9:1 gearing, and has been shortened to suit the big 20×10 rear wheels. “We mini-tubbed the car to the rails to get the wide wheels to fit; I love my wheels with a bit of dish,” says Rob. While you can’t see it, under those wheels is a big set of XYZ disc brakes, boasting eight-piston calipers up front and six-pot stoppers in the rear.

Inside, Rob kept true to his theme of staying mostly original with slight improvements. All the trim is new, using Cerulean blue cloth by JD Interiors. Rob also had the back bench seat moulded in the style of the front Scheel buckets, giving the Director a sportier feel for the rear passengers. “They spent a lot of time doing that, but I’m rapt with the final result,” he says.

The finished article was unveiled at MotorEx 2022 in Melbourne, an experience Rob will never forget. “It was so surreal,” he marvels. “People were coming up and asking about the car all weekend.”

The VK takes pride of place in Rob’s garage next to his other coveted Holden, a genuine VL Walkinshaw. Both get used fairly regularly, with the VK frequenting cars-and-coffee events in the northern ’burbs of Melbourne. “I take it out to our club event once a month, and with summer here, I’ll use it a bit more,” Rob says. “I’ve got a new set of custom wheels coming to help show off the brakes, but other than that, I just plan to use it and enjoy it with my family.”


Paint:DNA Tuxedo Black
Brand:355ci Holden V8
Induction:Edelbrock Victor Jr
Carby:Holley 750cfm XP
Heads:VN, hand-ported
Cam:Comp Cams custom grind
Pistons:Wiseco flat-top
Oil pump:Standard, ASR sump
Fuel system:Holley fuel pump
Cooling:Trikfab aluminium radiator
Exhaust:4in stainless, single-exit
Gearbox:Precision Automotive Turbo 350
Converter:TCE 5250rpm
Diff:9in, 31-spline Truetrac, 3.9:1 gears
Front:XYZ coil-overs
Rear:Viking coil-overs
Brakes:XYZ discs with eight-piston calipers (f), XYZ discs with six-piston calipers (r)
Master cylinder:Wilwood
Rims:Aero; 20×8.5 (f), 20×10 (r)
Rubber:Winrun; 235/30R20 (f), 285/30R20 (r)

Lenny at Donburn Customs; JD Interiors; James at Kanaris Engines; my auto-electric guy Joey; Daniel at Reidspeed; Pete at Custom Sunroofs; my good mates Steve (POINTA) and Tony (GM84VK); biggest thanks to my wife Jenni and daughters Gabrielle and Charlotte.