Family-heirloom twin-turbo LS-powered VH Valiant ute

Luke Novel was told to take his grandfather's VH Valiant ute to the tip. Thankfully, he didn't listen, as it's now a twin-turbo LS-powered masterpiece

Photographers: Jordan Leist

Like so many other cars of this era, Luke Novel’s VH Valiant ute could have been left to rot away at the local rubbish tip or crushed into an unrecognisable mess by a D9 dozer. But luckily, this one was saved and brought back better than ever.

First published in the January 2024 issue of Street Machine

“The ute was given to me by my late grandfather,” Luke begins. “Initially, I was told to take it to the tip and bring the battery back for the tractor, but I saw something bigger, so gave him the battery but kept the ute.”

Purchased new by his grandfather in 1971, the ute was pretty basic, with a 245 Hemi and three-on-the tree, and was put straight to work carting fruit and vegies. “I remember as a kid going with him to pick up a pig so we could make sausage,” Luke recalls. “The pig was so big and heavy that we had to keep the tailgate open so it could fit, and the car was on the bump stops all the way home.”

By the time Luke got the ute, it was pretty rough and very rusty. The only original panel left on the car now is the roof, but even that needed a fair bit of work to beat out the dents from all the crates of fruit and veg that had been dumped on it over the years. The rear quarters were especially bad, but Luke was lucky enough to find a NOS one for the driver’s side locally, and a decent one for the passenger’s side that had been unpicked from a slightly less abused ute.

At the end of the day, the condition of the floors and cargo area didn’t really matter, as Luke ended up cutting the whole lot out and starting from scratch. While the final result included mini-tubs, a flat floor and a ladder-bar rear end, there was a bit of evolution involved. “Initially, I was just going to put a 318 in it and use it as a work ute; then I got to the point of having a 440 big-block with all the plumbing done for rear-mounted turbos and an inlet pipe running down the middle of the car,” Luke explains. “But when I started looking at the cost of decent parts for a Chrysler engine, it was getting out of control, and I just happened to have an LS sitting in the corner of the garage. I looked at it and wondered if it would fit, and when we dropped it in the engine bay, I couldn’t believe how well it fit.”

When you look at the parts list of Luke’s engine – 427ci Dart LS Next block, Dart Pro1 LS3 heads, Steve Morris cam, Callies Magnum crank, Carrillo rods, CP pistons – I’m not sure he ended up saving much money in the end! Then you’ve got the twin BorgWarner S400SX3 turbos and the bulletproof driveline to add to that, the latter comprising a transbraked Powerglide from Neal Racing Transmissions, a Neal Chance Racing converter and nine-inch rear end. The brains of the operation is the FuelTech FT500 ECU, so while the bottom line still ended up rather large, Luke’s ended up with huge scope for big, reliable horsepower. Just don’t mention the cost to Luke’s wife: “She thinks the majority of the parts cost 50 bucks,” he laughs.

No matter what engine he used, Luke was adamant that it all had to fit under a stock bonnet. When you see how much hardware and plumbing he’s managed to stuff in the engine bay, you really appreciate the amount of effort that went into achieving that. Even more impressive is that the bonnet has kept all of its original bracing, with just the slightest bit of massaging to clear the inlet pipe. Luke also grabbed a few extra millimetres by machining and massaging the inlet elbow. The inlet pipe disappears into the inner guard. After leaving the turbos, the charge pipes merge and head under the car and up the inside of the left-hand guard. There’s no intercooler, so to combat inlet air temps, there is a methanol injection system that sprays into the intake charge.

While the LS sits in the bay nicely, it wasn’t exactly a bolt-in fit. Luke used a Canton 15-286A sump but also got rid of the torsion-bar front end, instead fabricating his own lower control arms and modifying the K-member to clear the sump. The tubular IFS also meant there was just enough room to fit a twin 3.5-inch exhaust, which runs all the way to the back of the car and has four mufflers fitted, making it a pretty quiet car when Luke’s not up it for the rent.

The initial panelwork was done by Kurt Bertling, and he must have done a pretty good job, because he’s now working with Luke at Novel Smash Repairs, the business his grandfather started. The beautiful paint was laid on by Caleb Tann, and it’s called Billet Silver, a classy colour that suits the build perfectly.

The interior is also pretty deluxe, with a couple of Sparco race seats, full carpet and a stock dash that has been filled with Auto Meter gauges. A substantial rollcage was crafted inside the cabin by Jamie Flynn and Brenton Lapworth, and it also picks up the suspension front and rear.

Sadly, Luke’s granddad never got to see the finished product. “My dream was to have the ute finished before my nonno passed away so he could see my vision from when he asked me to take it to the tip, but sadly that never happened,” Luke says. “I did, however, manage to get Aden Jacobi to work his magic with a fantastic drawing he did for me, so I showed Nonno that. He was in hospital after having a stroke and he wasn’t able to talk, but I showed him the artwork and he held onto it for about 10 minutes and had a smile on his face the whole time.”


Paint:Cromax Billet Silver
Type:427ci Dart LS Next
Inlet:GM single-plane
ECU:FuelTech FT500
Turbos:Twin BorgWarner S400SX3
Heads:Dart Pro1 LS3
Cam:Steve Morris
Crank:Callies Magnum
Radiator:Custom VT Commodore
Exhaust:Twin 3.5in, four mufflers
Ignition:ICE coil and leads
’Box:Powerglide by Neal’s Racing Transmissions
Converter:Neal Chance Racing
Diff:9in, 3.23:1 gears
Front:Custom tubular IFS, QA1 coil-overs, Hemi Performance rack-and-pinion steering
Rear:Ladder bars, QA1 coil-overs
Brakes:Wilwood discs and six-piston calipers (f), Wilwood discs and four-piston calipers (r)
Rims:Weld Racing Weldstar; 15×6 (f), 15×12 (r)
Rubber:Falken 215/60R15 (f), Mickey Thompson ET Street 325/50R15 (r)

Nads at FuelTech for the ECU gear; Steve Morris Engines for all his information and parts; Craig Hughes for the electrical; Craig Wallis for the engine; Jamie Flynn and Brenton Lapworth for the rollcage; spray painter Caleb Tann; Kurt Bertling for help with the panelwork.