Jeff Briffa’s Holden 355 stroker-powered VL Calais – flashback

Jeff Briffa ruled the street machine roost in the late 90s with his immaculate, groundbreaking VL Calais

Photographers: Tony Rabbitte

WHEN Jeff Briffa’s radical VL Commodore exploded off the July/August 1999 cover of Street Machine, it was a revelation, demonstrating that it was possible to turn a late-model car into a head-turning showstopper.

First published in the May 2021 issue of Street Machine

Keep in mind that the VL was still a comparatively new car back then; Jeff’s 1986 V8 Calais was only 13 years old. Sure, others had built Commodores by the late 90s – Anthony Fabris’s screaming, Horsepower Heroes-winning Walkinshaw comes to mind – but what set Jeff’s car apart was the show-quality level of detail involved. This was a groundbreaking achievement on such a new car.

Jeff is a spray painter by trade, which explains why the body and paint were easily the Commodore’s most eye-catching feature. If you’re thinking the colour is HSV Tiger Mica, you’d be mistaken – Jeff painted his VL prior to the release of that iconic hue. It’s actually Saffron Pearl – a Volvo colour, of all things.

Another standout feature was the engine bay. With masses of wiring and hoses, 90s EFI bays tended to be something of an eyesore. Not so this VL. It was completely de-cluttered and all the factory lumps and bumps in the sheet metal were smoothed out, while a plethora of beautifully polished alloy parts contrasted nicely against the gold. Quite simply, this VL’s engine bay was stunning, and really set the standard for all Commodore bays that followed.

The engine itself wasn’t only about show-winning looks, though; it also had plenty of mumbo. It was a stout 355 stroker screwed together by ProFlo Performance and filled with top-shelf parts. Taking pride of place was an SS Group A twin-throttlebody intake, which has since become a highly collectible piece of Aussie muscle car history. Back in the 90s, though, it was simply one of the best performance pieces available. With the original 304 V8 being carby-fed, switching to the EFI intake required the fitment of an aftermarket EMS computer to control fuel metering.

More than 500 flywheel horses made their way rearwards via a T5 five-speed and nine-inch diff.

Rounding out the exterior was a ground-scraping ride height and a set of iconic 18×8.5 BBS RK one-piece wheels.

On the inside, Master Trim gave the VL the full leather treatment, including the Recaro front buckets, re-bolstered rear seat, custom door trims and fully trimmed boot.

Another 90s stalwart was a monster stereo, and Jeff’s Calais didn’t disappoint in this regard, packing a Pioneer CD/tuner, Soundstream and Orion amps and a pair of 12-inch subwoofers.

In its day, there were few Commodores that could match Jeff’s VL for neck-snapping appeal, and it was one of the first full ground-up builds. Best of all, it still looks a million dollars, and is now owned by one of Jeff’s mates. In fact, Jeff’s business, Briffa Customs, recently gave it a freshen-up to address a few minor stone chips, scratches and door dings. While the car is essentially still the same, a set of mini-tubs have been added in preparation for larger-diameter wheels and fatter rubber. It will soon be back on Sydney’s streets, turning just as many heads as it did back in 1999.


DESPITE selling the VL more than 10 years ago, Jeff has retained his hot-car passion. Through his business, Briffa Customs, he’s been involved in a number of show-winning machines and magazine cover cars.

His own VE GTS made the Summernats Top 60 Hall three years in a row, as well as taking out Top Custom Interior (Trimming) at ’Nats 28.

This was followed by an immaculate, blown HT GTS (above) that came third in the Street Tuff category at Summernats 32. Not happy to rest on his laurels, Jeff’s nearly finished overhauling the HT; it now has a much angrier persona.


Colour: Saffron Pearl

Type: 355ci Holden stroker V8
Crank: Harrop
Heads: Ported Group A
Intake: SS Group A twin-throttlebody

Gearbox: T5 five-speed
Diff: 9in, mini-spool, 3.9:1 gears, 31-spline axles

Rims: BBS RK one-piece 18×8.5 (f & r)
Rubber: Falken 235/40R18 (f & r)