Rob Beauchamp’s iconic pro street VL Calais

Rob Beauchamp’s Pro Street VL Calais raised the bar in Australian street machining

Photographers: Tony Rabbitte

To celebrate our 21st birthday issue Street Machine went looking to see how many famous cars from our past we could dig up. Much to our astonishment we came across Rob Beauchamp’s all-conquering VL Calais looking just as good – if not better – than it did the day it won Grand Champion at Summernats 3 and we couldn’t resist a trip down memory lane.

First published in the July 2002 issue of Street Machine

Attend any big street machine show and you’re likely to spot a number of full-house Pro Streeters, so what made this particular car so memorable? From the early 80s the Pro Street theme has been the dominant force in American street machining. These highly-modified mechanical monsters feature full tube-frame chassis, gleaming metal mountains sprouting out of the bonnet and the obligatory bigs’n’littlies tyre combo. The configuration has been so popular in the US, that Mickey Thompson manufactures a specialist range of Sportsman tyres specifically for this style of vehicle. Liberal US rego laws – if it’s got wipers and lights you get rego – has allowed pro streeters to proliferate in the good ol’ US of A, and there’s nothing more jaw dropping than to witness a full-blown Pro Streeter unexpectedly rumbling through the centre of a quiet Midwest town.

Australian rego laws are far more restrictive, thus Pro Street never reached the same level here until the Summer of ’88 when Rob Beauchamp and Greg Carlson rocked up to Summernats 1 with their full-house Pro Street Commodores and blew everyone away.

Not only were these cars on another level from a construction point of view but they were detailed far better than most of their counterparts – brawn and class all in one package. As a testament to its build quality and agility, Rob’s magnificent VL Calais was crowned Summernats’ very Top Street Machine Overall (later renamed Grand Champion), a title which he and the VL would go on to win a further two more times. This famous win signalled a new era for Australian Pro Street and forced the introduction of new judging classes, such as Super Street and Real Street to quell the growing “how can I compete against that?” sentiment.

Causing all the ruckus was a near-new VL Calais featuring a Weldwell Engineering full-tubular, chrome-moly chassis, racecar cage, coil-over-strut front end and a coil-over-shock, four-link, fully-floating rear end. “It’s a race car not a street machine,” claimed many of its detractors.

But what set it apart from pure drag strip weapons was that Rob and his dedicated crew put in a tremendous amount of time and effort into making sure the VL wasn’t a temperamental pain when it came to reliability and cruising. During its construction many concessions were made to ensure it would start, stop and drive like any normal car – a fact exemplified by the VL’s strong performance in the Summernats driving events. It featured a regular alternator and charging system, all the windows still wound up an down, the boot and bonnet are still hinged, the headlights, blinkers and wipers all worked just as the factory intended.

Body wise, the VL’s virtually stock! The biggest deviation was in the rear-wheel arches and door openings to accept the porky rubber and meaty tubs. Ken Austin is responsible for this sensational piece of metal-magic along with the rest of the arrow-straight body.

Inside the cockpit it’s pure competition, with acres of stunning Col Chapman polished aluminium sheet-metal work. Other features include an airbrushed glovebox, proper demister and air vents along with reinforced fibreglass seats, covered in fire-retardant cloth.

Originally the VL was powered by a heavily set back, Kinsler-injected 302ci Chev. The baby Chev was not only grunty enough to push the VL to mid 10s but was tractable enough for some serious cruising around the Summernats complex and, of course, along Northbourne Ave for the Supercrusie. Yep, that’s right, before the crazies took over, all the top show cars at Summernats were regularly seen cruising EPIC and out on the streets of Canberra. These days the engine’s capacity has been punched out to 350 cubes and has managed a best of 9.40@146mph.

Originally the VL sported stylish dark-charcoal paintwork (shown above) but for his third – and successful – shot at Grand Champion at Summernats 3, the car was completely stripped before Ken Austin and Chris Champs resprayed it in the current eye-grabbing Peel Me A Grape over strawberry metallic base.

From the time Rob was a young apprentice mechanic, he’d been interested in fast cars with a humble HK wagon being his first real interest. It sported a 327 Chev, Saginaw four-speed, nine-inch rear end and was good for 14s down the quarter at the now-defunct Surfers Paradise Raceway. This same HK also gave him a big fright one night while trying to wind the speedo needle off the clock. Upon nearing his objective, the tailshaft decided to abandon ship, which smashed the gearbox, ripped out the back seat and nearly tore the car in half, making Rob a lot more respectful of common sense!

It was repaired and repainted then won a few trophies before making way for an HG Monaro. This killer black Monaro graced the pages of Street Machine in August/September 1982 and was a standout car at the Fifth ASMF Canberra Nationals. After collecting a swag of trophies and being developed into mid 12-second car, the rolling shell was sold to Wayne Pagel (GAS 69, SM July 2001) in preparation for the new project – the hugely-successful LX Torana that scored Rob his first Top Street Machine Overall (Grand Champion) trophy at the Seventh Street Machine Nationals and a Street Machine cover in June ’86. However, Rob wanted to build a newer, better car using a modern and sleeker body shape. Out went the Torana – which still lives – and in came the Commodore, the rest is history.

Rob Beauchamp
1988 VL Calais

Colour:Dulux (PPG) Grape
Type:350ci Chev
Heads:Brodix aluminium
Cam:Crane Roller
Induction:Kinsler fuel injection
Preferred fuel:Methanol (race), C14 (when cruising)
Grunt:Around 600hp
Best ET:9.40 @ 146mph
Gearbox:TCI Powerglide with trans brake
Converter:TCI Highstall, 5500rpm
Diff:31-spline full-floater nine-inch
Springs Fr:Weldwell coil over struts
Springs Rr:Spax Coil Overs
Shocks:Handmade Weldwell
Brakes:Handmade rotors with Katana motorcycle calipers
Seats:Fixed-back racing buckets
Wheel:Leather bound
Tunes:Open exhaust
Rims:15x 3 & 15×12 Drag Stars
Rubber:Goodyear Eagle slicks