FEW of us forget the moment we fell in love with cars. For Justin Schmidt, it came while doing work experience, helping a builder on the roof of a local McDonald’s store. “I saw a VL skating up the street in the wet, and that prompted me to start researching,” Justin recalls. “I found internet forums dedicated to VL Turbos, and the rest was history.”
First published in the February 2022 issue of Street Machine
Justin bought his first VL when he was just 16 years old. “It had some rust and a damaged quarter panel,” he says. “My uncle had tough cars in the past, so he showed me how to repair the paint on my VL. That taught me that you can just do things yourself.”
Like all good VL tragics of the early 2000s, Justin had owned a series of increasingly more powerful RB30 six-cylinders in his VLs, culminating in a forged engine with a high-mount turbo that made over 600hp to the tyres through a manual gearbox. However, given Justin’s heavy right foot and waning levels of mechanical sympathy, the engine and ’box were often separated from the car. “If I wasn’t changing clutches, I was replacing gearboxes, and every so often, an engine,” he says.
During one such driveline excursion, Justin seized the opportunity to give the car a lick of paint himself. “While the car was apart, I broke my ankle. LS conversions were just starting to get popular, so I listed my RB driveline for sale and thought I’d build a mild, naturally aspirated LS combo instead. Obviously, that plan went to shit,” he laughs.
Justin initially snapped up an LS1 and T56 six-speed manual combination. “I wanted to try NA after having VL Turbos for so long, so I started pricing up 400-cube stroker kits,” he says. But it wasn’t long before he took the snail-bait once more.
“The more I looked into it, I knew that it would be cheaper and easier to make the power with a turbo,” he says. “But if I’m honest with myself, I knew that with a turbo I’d want more power than a stock LS1 bottom end could make, so I found a 6.0-litre block and bought that instead.”
The engine in the car now is a displacement-on-demand (DOD) L77 V8 that Justin picked up for a song. “There aren’t many differences with the DOD engines, especially if you’re going to build them – there are some oil passages to seal up in the block, and the DOD lifters and cam come out, but other than that, they’re basically an L98,” he explains.
Justin is proud to have built the engine himself, using a clever mix of factory and aftermarket parts to satisfy his budget. A factory alloy block and stock crank are matched with Spool rods and CP forged pistons, while the heads benefit from little more than a warmed-over valvetrain.
“We didn’t even port the heads,” he says. “In a naturally aspirated car, that might be important, but with boost on your side at mild power levels, it’s just not necessary.”
Justin originally had a T51R turbo from his VL days, but when the car copped the 6.0-litre conversion, he made the leap to a larger-frame BorgWarner S400 and hung it off the engine on manifolds that he pieced together in the garage at home. “We ended up going eights on that combo,” adds Justin, who in the same breath admits that there were elements of this build that were flawed.
“I wanted to change the turbo manifolds. The first set I made came too far out from the engine and they ended up burning the paint in the engine bay. I wanted to make new manifolds that hugged the block a bit more, but then obviously you’ve got to be conscious about sparkplug and lead clearance,” says Justin, highlighting the difficulty of squeezing a boosted LS into a Commodore engine bay.
The new combo boasts a pair of GTX3584 turbos hung off four-into-one, stainless-steel steampipe manifolds, and lives in a beautifully smoothed bay that was recently painted by a mate of Justin’s.
“It’s the only time I’ve ever sent my car to a shop, and it’s about the only work I haven’t done on the car myself – I was freaking out!” Justin laughs. But the results are hard to argue with: a shaved engine bay, the understated style of an HDT LE bodykit, and a beautiful custom-mixed silver emulating the factory Silver Slate hue.
Even so, Justin’s still not satisfied. “Every time I look at the car, there’s something I’d change,” he admits. The one thing he wouldn’t change is the fact that he’s done it all himself. “Whenever someone looks at the car and asks who did the work, it’s really satisfying to say that I did it.” Hear, hear!
1987 HOLDEN VL CALAIS
|Custom Spies Hecker Silver mix
|GM L77 6.0L V8
|Shaun’s Custom Alloy billet intake manifold, GM fly-by-wire throttlebody
|Haltech Elite 2500
|228/232-duration, 600/600-lift hydraulic-roller
|Three Walbro 525 in-tank pumps, custom fuel cell, 1550cc injectors
|PWR alloy radiator, Spal 16in fan
|PSI FAB custom turbo manifolds, stainless-steel dump pipes, custom
|Factory coils, custom MSD leads
|Dominator 3500rpm stall
|BorgWarner housing, billet 31-spline axles, full spool, 3.23:1 ratio
|MacPherson struts, Pedders springs, Pedders shocks
|Adjustable coil-overs, four-link
|VT Commodores rotors and calipers (f), VL Commodore rotors and calipers
|WHEELS & TYRES
|Weld AlumaStar; 17×4.5 (f), 15×9 (r)
|M&H 185/55R17 (f), Mickey Thompson ET Street 275/60R15 (r)
My wife for putting up with my VLs over the years; Steve at Shift Right; Jasen at Lewd Automotive; Dean and the team at Diverse Garage; Protilt Towing; Adam at Kevin Waters Towing; Clint at Gingerbread Man Racing