While it wasn’t the first car to leave HSV’s Clayton skunkworks (that honour goes to the Walkinshaw), the VL SV88 can lay claim to being the first HSV car to wear its own moniker instead of a Commodore nameplate.
First published in the November 2023 issue of Street Machine
Despite its undeniable place in the Lion’s history, Tim Laidler found his real-deal example languishing in a mate’s backyard as a rolling shell. Though he now owns seven Commodores, he admits he’d never heard of the SV88 when he stumbled over the car. “It had been sitting in a paddock and was in terrible condition,” he says. “I just fell in love with the Walkinshaw-style seats and the colour-coded bars and wheels.”
This build started in 2018, when Ultimate Metalworks fabbed up the tubs, diff and gorgeous sheet-metal engine bay over a three-year period. After some COVID-induced delays, Johnston Speed Shop in Campbelltown took over in mid-2022. “Seb, the owner, has been a friend of mine for years, and he squeezed the car in before really understanding how much work needed to happen,” Tim laughs. “The vision Seb had of what the car would be at the end is crazy for a 25-year-old. He has a huge future and no doubt he learned plenty with his first build of this size.”
Part of that vision was keeping as much rad SV88 styling as possible. The antenna and fuel filler were deleted to smooth out the lines, but the Calais mouldings, SV88 badges and OEM-type lip spoiler hammer home the high-end 80s look without distracting from the big-ticket items.
It’s also easy to miss the two-tone paint combo at a glance: sprayed by Black Widow Restorations, the top half is Dorwood Blue, while everything below the red stripe is finished in Jewel Midnight, just like the original SV88 treatment. Mascot Motor Trimmers wrapped a set of Kirkeys in perforated Scottish leather, finishing them off with embossed SV88 badges like you’d find on the original Scheel buckets. The door cards also replicate the HSV design – just louder and brighter to match the car’s amped-up vibe.
Meanwhile, the lads at Advanced Performance Machining were assembling a wild methanol-drinking powerplant. “Brad, who’s the head engine builder at the shop, is a personal friend of mine, and with owner Aaron Hambridge being the blown/injected king in Australia, once I decided on the engine combo, it was a real no-brainer on where it was getting built and tuned,” Tim says. “Aaron took the lead on the engine; he knew what I wanted to do with the car. The only real brief was a water-jacketed blown monster, so as far as the capacity, brands and quality of parts used, that was left up to Aaron and his team.”
Aaron picked out a World Products Merlin IV block, filling it with a Howards billet crank, Manley steel I-beam rods and forged RaceTec slugs. The 540 cubes are topped off with CNC-ported Brodix BB-3 Xtra heads and a custom Bullet solid-roller cam. The towering induction set-up is a high-helix PSI 14/71 blower and carbonfibre JBR Top Fuel hat, both of which were sourced from a Doorslammer team in Queensland.
Enderle mechanical injection supplies the alcohol, which is pumped up from an equally giant 180-litre fuel cell and stored in a 36-litre front tank built into the driver’s-side front guard. That means it’ll swallow more than a 200-litre drum in one go, which Tim reckons should buy him about four laps at Powercruise Sydney! A custom dry-sump tank occupies the other guard, paired to a Barnes pump.
Tim sunk many hours into working out the best ignition system possible, tossing up between a dizzy and Power Grid set-up, mag drive, or coil-on-plug. He eventually picked the latter, which is managed by a Holley Dominator ECU to offer strong monitoring and tuneability. “It’ll really come into its own on the drag-and-drive events, where we can switch the car to an EFI or carby set-up to drive between tracks, but then at the track turn it back to a fully-fledged blown drag car with all the data and tuneability to go fast – similar to what Richie Crampton and his team did with the Chevy wagon for Hot Rod Drag Week a few years ago.”
With the ability to remove the blower for the road, Tim wants to race the VL at Drag Challenge, and his plans don’t stop there. “If we have a successful campaign, then we’d like to take the car to the States, where we’ll enter Drag Week, Cleetus & Cars and possibly Rocky Mountain Race Week,” he says. “We hope to shoot for a low seven-second pass when we do eventually run the car.”
Fed 35psi and spun to 7600rpm on the APM dyno, the 540-cuber made 2105hp. With aluminium rods and some valvetrain tweaks to handle more boost, Tim and the APM boys reckon 2600hp is on the table, but the aim for now is a set-up that can do plenty of road miles.
The seven-second goal left the original fabricated diff and Panhard bar unfit for purpose, so in went a 40-spline, full chrome-moly nine-inch housing and Strange full-floater by David Bosnjak Engineering. Further up the driveline, engine plates and midplates were installed and a new transmission tunnel was fabbed with a comfortable pinion angle in mind. “Many of the big-blocks in Commodores sit at a very sharp angle, and we were determined to overcome that,” Tim explains. A Reid-cased TH400 from Coan Racing and one-piece tailshaft tie it all together.
The undercarriage is a beautiful yet practical exercise in fabrication, featuring a reinforced flat floor, a track locator and heaps of barwork by Seb and his team. Wilwood and Strange disc brakes are swallowed up by one-off 22×8 and 22×13 rollers by GT Wheels, which came late in the piece. “The plan was always to put colour-coded 22×12 Simmons rims on the car to pay homage to the original look, but as the [Summernats 35] unveiling came closer, I decided I didn’t want to unveil a Commodore with Simmons wheels,” Tim laughs. The billet centres were inspired by a set of wheels Tim spotted on a stanced Toyota 86, and were ordered just five weeks before Summernats.
Much of the big-ticket work started less than six months before the scheduled ’Nats appearance, resulting in plenty of time crunches and big efforts from Tim’s mates. “Benny [Daley] drove to Brisbane and back in 21 hours to pick up the wheels, and then in under seven days, he took the car down to Victoria to be detailed and back to Canberra for Summernats,” Tim says. “Paul [Chidgey] always helped keep the project moving forward at a good pace; it’s easy to procrastinate on certain things, but he always pulled me up when he thought deadlines were dragging.”
All the late nights and big trips paid off at Summernats, where the VL landed in the Top 60 and the Meguiar’s Great 8 after its Friday-night unveiling. Ask anybody who loitered around the Elite Hall on the ’Nats weekend and they’ll tell you it was one of the most talked-about cars onsite.
Tim’s now ready to end a year of showing the car by turning the key for the first time in a sweet blaze of paint-bubbling, tyre-smashing, show-car-desecrating glory.
1988 HSV SV88
|Dorwood Blue/Jewel Midnight
|World Products Merlin IV 540ci big-block Chev
|Indy Competition manifold, JBR Top Fuel injector hat
|Brodix BB-3 Xtra
|Manley steel I-beam
|Enderle 990 feed pump
|Barnes four-stage dry sump, Dan Olson pan
|Meziere remote-mount water pump
|2.25in custom headers, twin 4in oval pipes
|Holley Dominator coil-on-plug
|Coan Reid-cased TH400
|Coan custom bolt-together
|David Bosnjak Engineering 40-spline full-floater
|SUSPENSION & BRAKES
|Double-wishbone IFS, Viking coil-overs
|Custom four-link, track locator, Viking coil-overs
|Wilwood discs (f), Strange discs (r)
|WHEELS & TYRES
|GT Wheels three-piece; 22×8 (f), 22×13 (r)
|225/20R22 (f), 315/20R22 (r)
My mates Benny, Hinchy and Paul, who were there to lend a hand whenever I needed it; Christian and Nino, who gapped, prepped, painted and fitted the car up in under six weeks; the boys at Johnston Speed Shop for taking the car on with under six months to the ’Nats; my wife for always supporting me and the cars.