Mark Arblaster’s 1970 Chrysler VG Valiant hardtop WAR440 – flashback

Looking back to when Mark Arblaster's WAR440 VG Valiant was reborn with more cubes, more power and a brand new look

Photographers: Peter Bateman

FEW rides have made such a long-lasting impression on the scene as Mark Arblaster’s WAR440 — it’s certainly the best-known Mopar in the land. For the best part of 15 years the big Valiant has been haunting dragstrips and burnout shows everywhere, and scored a place in our Top 60 Street Machines Of All Time.

This article was first published in the August 2011 issue of Street Machine

But recent times haven’t been as kind to the old girl after Arby pulled the donk to power his Coronet drag car. The Val posted an 8.76@163mph in the Top 10 lists with that engine.

“The Val would’ve gone into the 8.40s if I’d persevered but because of the weight of the car I gave up,” Mark says. “The Coronet went 8.55 off the trailer — it was 600lb lighter — but you couldn’t do anything with it except drag race.”

With the Coronet and the old motor sold, Mark turned his attention to WAR440 again and started talking to legendary car builder Howard Astill about giving the old girl a total makeover.

“I knew that it needed a massive birthday but I was scared of what it was going to cost. And now I know why I was scared!”

Then Bob Kotmel called and changed everything. “We were having a bullshit about Drag Week, and he said: ‘You should take your car.’”

That was the trigger that set off the high-velocity build and Arby delivered the car to Richard Wallace at Sumo Fab in the ACT before Summernats 24.

“Richard started on it just after Summernats, so the entire build happened in just four and a half months.”

Although the car only needed an engine to get going again, everything was oriented towards ‘go’ rather than ‘show’ and that had to change.

“We took down bonnets and scoops, and Howard came down and had a look just to discuss what was cosmetically the best thing for the car.’”

Once they’d agreed on how it was going to be laid out, Richard didn’t stuff around: “He did the whole lot in three and a half weeks. Tanks, radiator, the box for the a/c evaporator, everything. He basically did all the fabrication stuff in the car.”

From there the car went to Astill Design at Wollongong, which served as HQ for the rest of the build. The next job was to make sure it would all fit.

The air con system is a work of art, designed by Brett Piltz, with fabrication by Sumo Fab. The compressor is fitted down low on the driver’s side of the bay, with the evaporator in the boot and the condenser in front of the radiator. On race day the a/c automatically cuts off at 30 per cent throttle or more than 4000rpm and switches back on after the go-pedal is released

“Even if it wasn’t functioning, we mounted everything where it was going to be. Then we pulled the whole thing apart and sent it out for detailing.”

For Drag Week, Mark needed a streetable car and air con was top of the list. “I want to be able to sit in the staging lanes and turn the air on. You can laugh but I’m serious.”

How do you fit an air conditioning system into an eight-second street, strip and show car? With a lot of planning. The evaporator is mounted in the boot and blasts cool air into the cabin through the rear firewall, where the back seat would normally be. The condenser is in front of the massive Sumo Fab alloy radiator, while the receiver-drier sits under one front guard. It’s not alone — the front guards are also home to the blow-off valves, brake booster, fuel pump, overflow tanks and more. Keeping things out of sight makes it tidy but it’s a packaging nightmare.

“What makes it amazing is not what you can see but what you can’t,” Mark says.

Phil Kerjean from Fuelworx was called in to sort out the fuel and brake lines along with myriad fittings.

“There’s close to $13,000 in braided lines and fittings in that car. I knew it was going to be complicated and Phil probably put more than 200 hours into the build.”

That’s 1728hp sitting right there, but the details in the fully seam-welded engine bay are impressive too. Mods include a flat firewall, deleted bonnet hinges, satin finish duco and super-neat braided line with black fittings

The shell was cleaned of old paint by Quickstrip then passed to Kingpins Kustom Paint & Panel for fresh ink. While it wasn’t bad for rust, the body had been subjected to 20 years of abuse on top of 25 years as everyday transport and needed good loving.

The driver-side rear quarter was replaced and everything unnecessary was filled, welded and smoothed, including the fuel filler, firewall and plenum vents. The paint was created just for this car by PPG from its new Vibrance range. Dubbed Sinister Violet it looks at home on a Mopar.

Even with the tanks up in the boot there’s not much room under the rear with twin 41/2in mufflers taking up most of the real estate, plus something you don’t usually see on an 8sec ride — a towbar

“My entire life I’ve wanted a purple Valiant — before it was trendy to have a purple car. But it was Howard’s idea to go with the matt purple on the wheels, bonnet and engine bay. I think I’m more excited about the paintjob than anything else. The work is just amazing.”

With WAR440 looking better than ever, naturally it needed a special powerplant.

“The previous engine would have served my purposes well but spending the extra money is good insurance,” Mark says.

The cabin makeover was by Eastside Kustom Trim. The water-to-air intercooler has been rotated up under the dash for more passenger space and the pipes rerouted to suit the new set-up

Sam Fenech and the team at Westend Performance handled the machining and gave Arby a hand putting the engine together. Using a Mopar Performance siamese-bore block, Callies crank and Crower rods with JE pistons, the bottom end displaces 500ci. High-flowing Indy 572-12 heads top off the core package, with a sheet-metal EFI intake running twin 1100cfm throttlebodies. The engine is good for 770hp — before you throw the massive F3R ProCharger into the mix.

Adam from Just Engine Management worked his magic on the Haltech ECU and an early pull on Westend’s dyno gave 1750hp at just 6800rpm and 25psi boost but maxed out the injectors. With no suitable replacement injectors available at short notice, a proper tune with 19psi delivered an amazing 1728hp at 7500rpm and Mark’s confident that with the right injectors it’d go past 2000hp.

So how is he going to drive it on the street with that much power? Simple — he’s not: “No-one in their right mind is going to try and punt 1700hp around on the street every day.”

The induction path is easy to see here: the blower draws air from the cowl-induction bonnet, then pushes through the pipework inside the left guard (complete with twin Racegates), into the intercooler in the cabin, then out through the scuttle panel and into the throttlebodies

Instead the car has been set up so it can sing a few different tunes. Among the hidden details are two complete fuel systems, so besides the E85 race tune there will be a low-boost PULP tune, plus a naturally aspirated tune with the blower belt removed.

That should be handy for Oz, where the noise of the ProCharger might attract unwanted attention but 770hp aspirated means it won’t struggle to turn a tyre.

For Drag Week, the car had to be brought up to NHRA safety specs for 8.50sec passes.

“My goal was to build an all-steel car on leaf springs that could be road driven and run mid-eights. I don’t think it’s ever going to be a seven-second car because it’s too heavy but if it can run bottom eights towards 180mph I’d be stoked.”

As you read this, the car should be on its way to the US. But it isn’t. Unable to get out at Sydney Dragway to test due to a major track upgrade, Mark decided he couldn’t risk an untested car on such a tough event. Of course he’s disappointed but he had no choice.

“Everything on this car has been an absolute thrash. I haven’t worked for 10 weeks; I’ve been on this from 9am to midnight every day. The commitment from the whole team was amazing. Brett Piltz would knock off work, drive from Wagga to Howard’s place in Wollongong, work all night, then drive home and go back to work. Everyone who has touched that car has done an amazing job — if I did it all again, I’d use exactly the same people. It’s Mopar perfection. I don’t care if it never wins a trophy, I’m over the moon.”


“THE scariest thing was the non-budgeted items,” Arby says. “Strange Ultracase diff centre — $2500; a new set of brakes, another $2500. It’s got a $3000 bonnet.”

“Re-chroming the bumpers was $1300, polishing the stainless around the front and rear windscreens, the front bonnet mould and the eyebrow moulds was $1400. You know what your paint is going to cost, you know what your trim will be, but it’s the little things that get you.”


WAR440 runs two fuel systems, controlled by a switch in the glovebox and two ball-valves in the engine bay. The race system has two Bosch 044 pumps feeding a 12-litre header tank. Another 044 supplies the E85 to the engine at start-up, after which an Enderle 80A-1 mechanical pump takes over.

  • Battery box
  • Ice box for water/air intercooler
  • Twin filters and Bosch 044 pumps (race)
  • 57-litre tank for PULP (street)
  • 29-litre tank for E85 (race)
  • Box for tools & rags needed in staging lanes


Colour: PPG Sinister Violet

Engine: Chrysler 500ci big-block
Block: Mopar Mega-Block, siamese bore, cross-bolted mains
Throttlebodies: Kinsler 1100cfm x2
Blower: F3R ProCharger
Intake: Custom sheet alloy
Heads: Indy 572-12
Pistons: JE blower, tapered pins
Crank: Callies 4.5in
Rods: Crower
Cam: Kinetic solid roller, 276@50
Ignition: Custom ICE VT Commodore dizzy, LS1 coils x8, ICE leads
ECU: Haltech Platinum, dual-band AFR
Injectors: 1600cfm x8
Fuel: 98 octane (street); E85 (race)
Exhaust: Custom stepped headers, 4.5in collectors, twin 4.5in system, four mufflers

Transmission: Powerglide, ATI supercase, Mike’s planetary, Neales ringless input shaft & pump, Pro Brake valvebody & 10-clutch top-gear drum
Converter: Neil Chance 10in alloy, adjustable stall
Diff: Braced nine-inch, Strange Ultra case, 3.5 gears, full spool, Strange 35-spline axles, 5/8in studs

Brakes: Wilwood four-spot (f), Wilwood four-spot, internal handbrake (r)
Brake booster: VH44, remote-mounted
Springs: Mopar Performance (f), heavy duty moved inboard, custom Caltracs (r)
Shocks: Pedders 90/10 (f), Strange double adjustable (r)
Bushes: Rubber (f), solid alloy (r)

Rims: American Republic, 18×7 (f), 20×10 (r)
Rubber: Federal, 235/35 (f), 315/30 (r)

Seats: MOMO carbon fibre (f)
Trim: Black & grey leather,
Gauges: Auto Meter & Haltech Racepac Dash
Rollcage: AHRA-spec 10-point
Shifter: B&M Pro Bandit

American Republic Wheels; APSA; Howard Astill, Astill Design; Brett Piltz, Custom Electrical & Air Conditioning; Earls; Eastside Kustom Trim; Federal Tyres; Phil Kerjean, Fuelworx; Haltech; ICE Ignition; JAS Oceania; JE pistons; Just Engine Management; Kinetic Cams; Kingpins Kustom Paint & Panel; Leisure Coast Welding; Northmead Auto Centre; Pro Fab; Performance Wholesale; PPG; Richard Wallace, Sumo Fab; Westend Performance; Matt ‘Jimbo’ Wilson; Dale; Simon Kryger; Astill family; Mark Diesel; Phil Matthews, PRGS (glass); Castrol; Shannons; Geoff Ramsay Engineering