PULL up a pew with burnout stalwart Phil Kerjean in his backyard bar, ‘The Smokin’ Roo’, and you quickly begin to realise that he and his VC Commodore wagon have a hell of a story to tell. And he’ll happily tell it to you too – right after he fixes you a bourbon.
First published in the June 2021 issue of Street Machine
The walls are adorned with photos, magazine covers, trophies and the odd busted component, all of which speak to memories he’s made over 25 years of building, breaking, skidding, racing, showing and swearing at the car.
“I bought it in 1995 off a uni student in Wollongong for $2500,” Phil begins. “It was a VC SL wagon with a 253, air and steer, and it was pretty ratty. I always wanted a wagon just for something different; there was one that sat around the corner from my uncle’s place that I always thought looked really cool. It was the first car my wife Nat and I bought together as a couple.”
Soon thereafter, the wagon began to evolve, but the first major overhaul involved a VN-headed nitrous 304, which ended up running 10.90s over the quarter. Still very much a street car at the time, it first saw a burnout pad at Summernats 15, before getting logged for running too quick at the track without a rollcage. Rather than hack up and ’cage the wagon (a decision he quite clearly would later go back on), Phil instead bought an HB Torana he dubbed GASSED, which we featured in the May 2006 issue of Street Machine.
The HB met the wall at Powercruise Sydney (though it’s soon to make a reappearance), so Phil again turned his attention to the wagon and decided to reinvent it as an event car. It was tubbed, ’caged, fitted with a VK front end, stuffed full of aspirated small-block Chev and painted silver, before a subsequent rebuild saw it cop a blower, bigger billet rollers and a red-over-silver two-tone paintjob.
Then, and only then, did Phil go all-out and fashion the wagon into the completely off-its-rocker example you see before you. Like I said, they’ve been through a bit together.
There have been some pretty impressive accolades along the way too, not least of which being a Summernats Burnout Championship win in 2018 and two Summernats Tuff Street outright wins (2009 and 2011). In fact, the first of those wins provided the inspiration for the theme for the car’s most recent rebuild.
“For me, Tuff Street epitomises the pro street and burnout scenes,” Phil explains. “That first Tuff Street win was a big one, because I built the car to win that award and chased after it for years. When we did the rebuild, we came up with the razor graphics to separate the two-tone, with all the past Tuff Street winners ghosted in. There are some iconic cars in there, like MINCER, Mark Hayes’s Torana, Arby’s WAR440 and Rod Waters’s KRANKY HQ. It ties in well with the TUFFST plates and theme.”
Aside from the flash new duco with paint by Glenn Coburn at Exclusive Customs and graphics by Adrian Marchio, the rebuild encompassed a suicide front door conversion, revised rear end with Fox Racing ShockWave airbags and massive 20×12 KWC Thrashstar wheels, and a comprehensive interior refurbishment from Trims By Bec, which houses an enormous audio fitout. Phil likes his tunes, after all.
Mechanically, the wagon has run the same Westend Performance-built 377ci small-block Chev for years, and it’s been impressively reliable given the enthusiasm and regularity with which Phil likes to wring its neck. Aside from regular oil changes and lash adjustments, he has hardly had to put a spanner on it. It runs an Eagle 4340 crank, Callies rods and CP pistons, topped with Racer Pro 23-degree heads and boosted by a TBS 8/71 pump and mechanical injector hat. There’s a Dailey Engineering dry sump system and Haltech’s trick new VMS managing the ignition side of the equation, but it turns to 8000rpm and makes north of 1000hp (not to mention some damn fine noises) reliably, with off-the-shelf bits. “It loves it,” grins Phil.
As one might expect of a high-end skid car, the driveline is all weapons-grade hardware, with a full-house Powerglide by Al’s Race Glides funnelling grunt south to a shortened and braced nine-inch diff with 3.55:1 gears and 31-spline Moser axles.
It’s a set-up that Phil has refined over the years, and the results have kept coming, with a second-place finish in the recent Rockynats burnout comp scoring him and the wagon another Burnout Masters berth. It begs the question: what’s been the highlight from the past 25 years of ownership?
“The first Tuff Street win was an emotional one, because I’d chased it for six or seven years, so when it finally happened it blew me away,” Phil says. “Winning the Summernats Burnout Championship was awesome too, but I think my favourite experience with the car was cruising it with my young bloke at Red CentreNATS. It’s a long haul to get out to Alice for that event, but it was absolutely worth it; he loved it, I loved it – I’m really not sure who was happier!”
Indeed, cars are very much a family affair for the Kerjeans; they’re a package deal, and when you spot one at an event the others usually aren’t too far behind. And with Phil’s business, Fuelworx, keeping him well and truly occupied plumbing customers’ cars through the week, he really does eat, sleep, live, breathe and work cars.
“It’s all there is, isn’t it?” he grins. “People ask, ‘Is that your hobby?’ But it isn’t; it’s your whole life. We’re not into cars like people are into footy or any other sport; our lives completely revolve around it. Sure, our family might go to the Gold Coast and do the theme parks, but only if it’s a stopover on the way to Rockynats!”
But for now at least, it seems like the wagon’s process of constant evolution might be slowing up a bit. “I’m a big fan of not fixing things that aren’t broken,” Phil said. “It’s about having fun, and I’m really enjoying the car at the moment – it’s way better than working on it. That being said, I’ve got a VC HDT tribute to tidy up, and some changes to make to the tow truck. And of course I’ve got to get the HB out of storage and finish that off, too.”
Idle hands are the devil’s playthings, eh Phil?
PHIL & NATHALIE KERJEAN
1981 VC COMMODORE WAGON
|Paint:||PPG Obsession over black|
|Brand:||377ci small-block Chev|
|Induction:||TBS blower inlet manifold, mechanical injection|
|Blower:||The Blower Shop 8/71|
|Heads:||Racer Pro 23-degree|
|Ignition:||MSD Pro Mag 12|
|Oil pump:||Three-stage Dailey Engineering|
|Fuel system:||Kinsler 700|
|Cooling:||Custom LCW radiator, Davies Craig water pump|
|Exhaust:||Custom 4-into-1 headers|
|Ignition:||MSD Pro Mag 12|
|Diff:||9in, 31-spline Moser axles, 3.55:1 gears|
|SUSPENSION & BRAKES|
|Rear:||Ladder-bar, Fox ShockWave airbags|
|Brakes:||The Brake Man USA discs and calipers (f), none (r)|
|WHEELS & TYRES|
|Rims:||KWC Thrashstar; 20×7.5 (f), 20×12 (r)|
|Rubber:||Achilles; 315/35/20 (f), 225/35/20 (r)|
PPG; Haltech; Glenn & Jason Coburn at Exclusive Customs; Sam Fenech at Westend Performance; LCW for the original tubs and ’cage; Al’s Race Glides; Motorsport Connections (MSCN), Speedflow; Luke Demain at Elite Custom Wiring; Danics Auto & Tyre Service Centre; CompCoat; Mothers; Nulon