ITS WAR VK Holden Calais

Brad Cavanagh and his gang got together to rebuild an old mate's VK Commodore

Photographers: Tony Rabbitte

When Brad Cavanagh and his friends were reminiscing about their good mate Jesse Gray’s old Calais, they thought it would be a great idea to track down the car and buy it. You see, Jesse passed away not long after selling the Commodore and the boys missed the good times they used to have with Jesse and his wild VK.

First published in the January 2007 issue of Street Machine

“We used to run amuck in that car,” says Brad. “We tracked it down. It had been through another two owners since Jesse sold it.”

Trouble was, the VK didn’t look as good as it used to: “It had been run down. It had broken spoilers; the thing had just been abused.”

Back when Jesse owned the car it was an 11sec streeter packing a stout 330ci stroker, turbo 400 and nine-inch. When Brad bought it, the stroker and T400 were gone and a “dirty old 253 with a Trimatic” sat in its place.

Still, Brad had to have it, so he ponied up the cash and took home a car that was “running like a shitter”. The crappy 253 had to go but not just to the wreckers; a sacrifice was in order. They fitted 150hp of nitrous to the little bent eight and flicked the switch.

“I think we got one good skid and a couple of donuts out of the poor old thing,” Brad recalls. Melted pistons stopped the smoke-show in its tracks, so they pulled the dead donk and started preparing the VK for a rebuild — one that would honour the memory of their good mate Jesse.

Brad was in the middle of building a VH SL/E that had been mini-tubbed, caged and fitted with a nine-inch four-link rear. That was sold off to finance the VK.

With the VH gone, the boys got stuck into the VK shell and while it was fairly straight they wanted to add mini-tubs, a four-link rear, six-point rollcage, alloy fuel cell and a whole bunch of floorpan mods to suit the new trans and tailshaft. That’s a pretty serious list of mods but Brad was serious about building the car properly.

Around the same time as the heavy-duty work was done, the engine bay was smoothed out. All the seams, welds and general lumps and bumps were removed. Check it out; you could eat off it if you were so inclined.

With all the serious body mods out of the way, the shell was sent off to Morayfield Smash Repairs & Towing for a fresh lick of paint. Straight DuPont Red tinter covers the Calais from top to bottom, cage included. You certainly couldn’t miss Brad and his mates cruising the streets in this beast. Even if that bright paintwork and HDT Calais Director bodykit didn’t grab your attention, the 20in Bonspeed Clutch wheels certainly would.

As the narrowest Clutch wheels are eight inches wide, Brad had to get the front wheels narrowed an inch for the look he wanted. Check out the dish on those back wheels — the tubs and four-link allow massive 10.5in wide jiggers on the rear. It gives the Calais a look that is somewhere between Pro Street and Pro Touring.

Originally the plan was to take the tough 400 Chev that Brad had bought for the VH and aim it at the VK’s engine bay. This is where the plan came a little unstuck.

“The car went to the so-called mechanic who was going to get the 400 all up and running. I had the 400 pulled down to check everything was okay and the mechanic gave me a list of things that had to be replaced,” says Brad.

So in went the freshened donk with the supposedly new Powerglide, and then the Calais was shipped off to Moorooka Car Electrics for rewiring. Brad, meanwhile, was suffering concerns about the mechanic, so the car was delivered to Full Race Fabrications for its start-up. He wishes he’d sent it there from the start. The engine snapped two rockers on start-up and they discovered the wrong pushrods had been used.

“The deeper we dug, the more shit we found that needed replacing,” Brad says.

James at Full Race Fabrications was given instructions to rebuild the whole thing. Run your eyes over the spec box and you’ll see that the 400 Chev now has all the right gear. If that list of goodies isn’t enough, there’s an adjustable NOS Fogger system plumbed directly into the Bowtie intake that can dump another 400hp at the flick of a switch.

The ‘new’ trans was also junk, so the ’glide went to Bob Grant Automatics. The bills piled higher when Brad decided the 4200rpm converter was wrong and had Geoff Dell from The Converter Shop build up a 5000rpm jobbie to do the engine justice. As this engine is a rev-master, the diff has been filled with a full spool, 35-spline axles and ultra-steep 4.3 gears.

With the mechanicals and exterior sorted, next port of call was Outrage Motor Trimming, where Nik executed a bang-up job on the interior. A herd of cattle gave up their hides to cover those VL Calais seats and refurbish the door-trims. The pleated inserts and the tan leather match the Calais’s personality perfectly. There’s a Billet Specialties tiller, Auto Meter gauges and a polished B&M Pro Ratchet shifter completing the details, with tan carpet, hood-lining and Sparco harnesses rounding out the package.

Open the boot and you find a Toxic Image Interior & Audio installation that features a prominently mounted nitrous bottle and floor hatches that cover the battery and tool storage. As good as it all looks, it’s going to be changed to make way for two nitrous bottles, for maximum horsepower.

While Brad hasn’t hit the track yet, he has been getting the Calais around a few shows. The VK won Top Interior Show Class, Top Judged Show Class and Top ’48–’86 Show Class at Powercruise 7, so it definitely hits the mark with the judges.

“The car has only been running properly for about four months so I’m now trying to get it to as many shows as I can,” says Brad. He’s also hoping for some good numbers when the car hits the dyno. Then the Calais will sprint down the quarter-mile, where Brad is hoping for a low 10sec pass.

So what do you reckon Jesse would say about his old car now, if he was still with us?

“I’d think he’d have a big smile on his face. I think he’d love it,” says Brad.

He’s not finished with the VK, however; there’s a new 8/71-blown, methanol-injected 400 Chev being built. If the nitrous and avgas-sniffing small-block doesn’t excite you, the blown donk surely will.

You’d think that with the problems in this build Brad would’ve had enough. Nope; he’s planning a two-door pillarless ’57 Chev with a blown 572cube big-block. And he’s got the old man’s 350 Chevpowered EH to finish off too.

“It’s all about finding the right person to do the job on time and with no bullshit. When I start the build on my ’57 I know the right guys to go to.”

Baby got back

Bolting some 20×10.5 rims under the back of your early-girl Commodore isn’t as easy as it looks. Brad had the rear tubs of the VK taken all the way in to the chassis rails. And that’s just the start.

“I can actually fit a much wider rim under there — a 12.5-inch Convo Pro,” he says.

Because of the square-shouldered profile of such large diameter/low profile rubber, you have to narrow the wheel track to miss the rounded outside shoulders of the factory tubs. Alternatively, you could cut the entire wheel tub out.

Then you need to deal with the factory suspension arms, especially the lower trailing arms, which will interfere with your plans to fit ultra-wide rubber. This is why Brad had a four-link rear welded in place. The chrome-moly bars of the four-link sit much further in than the factory trailing arms, avoiding the clearance issues of the factory suspension, but it’s not a bolt-in modification. You need to weld in completely new suspension points and bracketry — not a job for the faint-hearted. Check with an accredited engineer before firing up the angle grinder and welder because these mods are not legal in some states.


Colour:DuPont Red
Engine:Chev 400
Carb:Dominator 1050
Nitrous:NOS Fogger, adjustable to 400hp
Heads:Brodix Alloy
Pistons:CP 12.5:1
Crank:Eagle Billet
Rods:Manley I-beams
Cam:Reed roller
Fuel pump:BG400
Exhaust:17/8in primary Tri-Y Gonzo headers, twin 3.5in twin mandrel system, Gonzo mufflers
Transmission:Powerglide, transbrake
Converter:The Converter Shop, 5000rpm
Diff:Nine-inch, 35-spline Moser axles, 4.3 gears, full spool
Brakes:DBA 390mm discs, Outlaw calipers (f), DBA discs, Outlaw calipers (r)
Springs:King (f), coil-over (r)
Shocks:90/10 (f), AVO coil-over (r)
Rims:Bonspeed Clutch, 20×7 (f), 20×10.5 (r)
Rubber:Bridgestone, 225/35 (f), 295/30 (r)
Tiller:Billet Specialties Psycho
Seats:VL Calais, tan leather (f&r)
Gauges:Auto Meter
Stereo:Eclipse CD, Eclipse 6in speakers (f&r)
Shifter:B&M Pro Ratchet

James, Full Race Fabrication; Stew & Blair, Toxic Image; Ando, Morayfield Smash Repairs & Towing; Nik, Outrage Motor Trimming; Raf, Moorooka Car Electrics; Keith, Keith For Wheels; Dad, Mitch and all the boys (Stew, Blair, Phil, Ryan, Foski & Scotty); Allan & Mark for keeping the beer cold The crappy 253 had to go but not just to the wreckers; a sacrifice was in order.