This article on Steve Labroad’s VY Tonner was originally published in issue #6 of Street Machine’s LSX Tuner magazine, 2017
Sometimes it takes us a while to settle on the right combo for our cars, and Newcastle’s Steve Labroad knows that all too well. While this 700rwhp turbo 408cui VY Tonner is a super-cool rig it’s also not his first tough snail-fed Holden. Steve previously had a stout VL Turbo, however the early girl got to an uneconomical phase of its life.
“It got to the stage where I’d done everything I could without pulling the VL apart to rebuild it again, and that would have been expensive, so I got rid of that,” Steve says. “Initially I wanted a vehicle I could drive to work all week and have a bit of fun with on days off. I’d always wanted a Tonner – ideally an older one – but I ended up buying this VY version [in around 2010].”
Steve’s mate Dean Beattie is the man responsible for the sweet low-height custom tray on the back of the VY, plus he also had a hand in the full-house sheet-metal 9in diff and Wilwood rear brakes. It is a shame Holden didn’t continue with the One Tonner program into the VE-era, as they’re a great basis for tough street/strip cars and 1970s H-series Tonners are only getting rarer and rustier!
“The bloke I bought it from had owned it since new. I sort of knew him from the building industry, as we all know each other! To be honest I wasn’t going to touch it; I was just going to leave it the way it was, and put an exhaust on it. Then that became heads and cam and I ran it around [as a work truck] for a while. It had 480 horsepower at the wheels and that wasn’t bad! Then it got a little Harrop 112 Eaton blower…”
Can you see where this is going?
Twin bonnet vents help pump out excess heat from the engine bay
The engine that’s in the VY now was bought as a built 6.0-litre package, complete with the ASE single turbo set-up, from a car in Sydney. “It was like a show car down there and it had this ASE T1000 intercooled turbo kit on it,” says Steve. “It was in my car for two or three weeks and then we discovered it had a cracked bore. These engines are bit weak in that area, so everything was transferred to a new LSX block.”
While HQ-WB Tonners became super-popular at the strip Steve admits his is no quarter-horse. “It isn’t set-up for drag racing like my VL was. This thing is set-up for long, loose powerskids at any speed, and that’s how I love it. Perfect for events like Powercruise!”
The engine had plenty of other quality hardware including a Callies crank and rods, CP pistons and a set of CNC-ported Higgins heads, and these were retained for the new block meaning it swings 408ci. “The LSX is an expensive block,” says Steve. “But it’s a thicker casting so it’s a better foundation for big power.”
Two for turnin’ and two for burnin’: The VY is shod with staggered-pattern Weld 20×8-inch RTS (front) and 15x10in Alumastar (rear). “Stephen Bree from Tanilba Tyres & Mechanical imported the Weld RTS back in 2013 when no one had seen them,” explains Steve
Pryce Engines (in Newcastle, NSW) was given the job of machining the new block, double-checking the carry-over internals and buttoning the motor back together. Once the engine had been reinstalled into the two-door, the VY was tuned up using the standard VY PCM and threw out 700hp at the tyres, though this is limited by the 76mm Garrett turbo. “The ASE T1000 [turbo] kit is a good package but it’s only a T51R-sized turbo.”
PSI valve springs, Trend pushrods and Morel lifters work with the reverse-pattern ‘turbo-spec’ cam to hold boost in the Higgins heads’ combustion chambers, while a Turbosmart eBoost2 regulates the charge air before it hits the 408ci iron monster, having already been compressed by the 76mm turbo, then chilled by the front-mounted intercooler and passed through the 90mm BBK throttle body
While the turbo kit integrates nicely into the VY, with a huge 4in dump pipe running through the engine bay the VY’s ECU has been relocated from its factory-fitted site on the passenger strut tower to the passenger footwell. However, even though space is tight, the factory air-con has been kept in place, too.
The VY runs 14psi worth of boost, which is a decent amount of air through a 76mm snail and on regular 98RON pump fuel. Static compression runs at a boost-friendly 10:1, with the iron LSX block allowing higher compression and boost numbers than the production alloy LS blocks. With a bigger turbo, injectors and E85 fuel the results would likely go into four-figures
You don’t feed this much fire with a standard fuel system. The in-tank (lift) pump is a Walbro and there’s a pair of Bosch 044s feeding the 60lb (630cc) injectors from a three-litre surge tank.
Although many people would opt for a tough auto ’box, Steve prefers a manual so the factory Tremec T56 six-speed remains in the tunnel, though it operates off a heavy duty 2700lb sintered iron Direct Clutch set-up.
“The T56 has only just been rebuilt,” says the Novocastrian. “Until about three months ago it was just about the only original part remaining on the whole car as everything around it has been replaced. I couldn’t tell you how much abuse it’s copped… hundreds and hundreds of skids, lots of fourth gear starts!”
Unlike the VU-on utes which used an independent rear-end like the passenger cars, the VY One Tonner and Crewman were intended as commercial vehicles so they scored leaf springs. While Steve found issues with tramping when he had around 400rwhp, he fixed it by adding another 300rwhp and reports he has no issues with wheel hop now!
Steve says the VY One Tonner (and the Crewman) leaf-spring live-axle diff differed from sedans and wagons by being a super-tough Dana 60-series, rather than a BorgWarner unit. While the Dana 60s are legendary in Mopar muscle cars and 4x4s, Steve replaced it with a Competition Warehouse-supplied sheet metal nine-inch packed with Strange 35-spline axles, a spool, and 3.5 gears. The leaf springs are off-the-shelf Pedder’s gear though Steve says he’s not considering an upgrade to a four-link and coilovers.
“It tramped when it had 400hp,” recalls Steve. “But with a stiffer spring and a lot more power it hazes tyres anywhere, anytime and at any speed!” As you can clearly see in our photos!
The cabin has been kept largely factory fresh and no-frills, as Steve’s original intention was to have a work and play toy. Darren Balwdin from Stitched Up Custom Trim at Tuggerah on the NSW Central Coast gave the cab a lick of leather, and the carbonfibre dash cluster trim is a nice touch, but otherwise it is as the General intended
As it is still a street car the brakes are upgraded with bigger Harrop-made HSV-spec front rotors and callipers, followed by a set of Willwoods on the rear-end.
While the tray was built by Dean Beattie the Sting Red paint on the cab is straight from Holden’s Elizabeth paint shop. “It’s never even been polished,” laughs Steve. “I hate polishing cars and I’m a bit time poor.”
What Newcastle lad with a tough V8 doesn’t like sending it from time to time? 700hp at the bags makes quick work of the 15x10in Mickey Thompson rubber, though Steve admits he only recently had the stock T56 six-speed manual rebuilt – that’s one stout ‘box!
He did wrap the roof in a carbon fibre-look for some contrast, and added what he describes as “speed holes” to the bonnet for better thermal efficiency. Steve also had the interior pimped with a re-trim in leather and tweed by Darren Baldwin at Stitched Up Custom Trim.
“It was my work truck for a while, but now it’s not really even a Sunday driver; it’s more something I take out for events such as Powercruise,” Steve says. “I’ve done everything I want to do with the Tonner. It’s won powerskid trophies at Powercruise and it’s even been on the T-shirt!”
STEVE LABROAD 2004
HOLDEN VY ONE TONNER
PAINT: Sting Red
Type: Chevrolet Performance LSX iron block
Turbo: 76mm Garrett GT42
ECU: Standard VY PCM
Gearbox: Tremec T56 six-speed manual
Clutch: Direct Clutch 2700lb HD
Driveshaft: Custom Gibson 3-inch two-piece
Diff: Comp Engineering sheet-metal 9-inch, Strange 35-spline axles, full spool, Strange 3.5 final drive
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Springs: Pedders coil springs & shocks (f), Pedders leaf springs & shocks (r)
Brakes: Harrop HSV four-piston (f), four-piston Wilwood (r)
WHEELS & TYRES
Wheels: Weld RTS 20×8 (f), Weld Alumastar 15×10 (r)
Tyres: Achillies 235/45 (f), Mickey Thompson Sportsman 295/50 (r)