FOR Todd and Luke Foley, it all started when they were kids. “Luke and I would stay up late at night talking about all the cars we wanted to build when we were older,” Todd says. “We still ring each other every day to talk cars; if we didn’t have cars, we probably wouldn’t be as close!”
The Foley brothers are stalwarts of Melbourne’s street car scene and regular features at Street Machine Drag Challenge. For the past decade, they’ve been tinkering with their VH Commodores, resulting in two of the best-presented street-driven radial race cars in the country.
First published in the November 2021 issue of Street Machine
LUKE FOLEY – VH COMMODORE SL/E
LUKE’S VH SL/E was no stranger to the Foley household before he’d even purchased it, having belonged to Todd several owners previously. “Todd had built a pretty solid VN-headed 308ci on nitrous for the car,” Luke says. “I’d built a VH before and instantly regretted selling it, so when this one came up I jumped on it.
“I got it home and put it in the corner for around 12 months while I worked on some other projects.”.
Eventually though, the temptation to work on the SL/E became too great, so the first port of call was where any good Foley brothers build starts – cutting the tubs out and shortening the diff to give the car their signature low-slung stance over big rubber. “I put in a 5.7-litre LS1 with a Turbo 350 transmission – just a genuine street cruiser. It went 10.1@138mph!” Luke says. “I sold that combo off and put a 6.0-litre in. That’s been the way ever since – I’d build a combo, run it and sell it to fund the next one.”
Luke’s plan for the VH was always to end up with a turbocharged LS, and as far as different engine combos go, he’s just about tried them all! From stock-bottom-end deals to single-turbo alloy blocks and thumping cast-iron strokers, the car was in a constant state of evolution before Luke settled on the 440-cube combo stuffed inside a Dart block currently motivating the car.
“It was actually only supposed to be a 427ci, but we had an injector fail and it hurt a piston. The only pistons we could source on short notice took it out to 440ci. The extra cubes make it nice and streetable – plus I hate turbo lag!” Luke says.
The Dart LS Next block houses a billet centre-counterweight crank, which Luke explains rectifies the LS engine’s troublesome harmonics. The short motor is rounded out with a custom-ground hydraulic-roller cam and capped off by a set of Powerhouse Engines six-bolt cylinder heads.
For all the goodies nestled inside, the real jewellery is hanging off this motor in plain sight. “We didn’t want to risk the plastic intake breaking, and while we had a Holley Hi-Ram on it for a while, I really wanted to keep it under the bonnet,” says Luke of the switch to the Aussie-made Plazmaman billet intake manifold. Plazmaman also supplied the billet rocker covers and front-mount intercooler.
On either side of the engine is a network of turbo-related piping that Luke is incredibly proud of. His own handiwork, and it’s both neat and incredibly functional. “Every time you build a kit, you learn,” he adds with the wisdom of a man who’s built more LS turbo kits than most blokes have had hot dinners. “People get caught up in making the piping look neat and they end up being a pain to work on. With these pipes, I can change plugs in 10 minutes. Even if I have to pull the engine out of the car, I just unbolt the manifolds and slide the engine out, and the entire turbo kit stays in the bay.”
The steam-pipe manifolds snake their way towards Pulsar G42 turbos mounted under the guards, behind the front valance. “It was really important to take the heat out of the engine bay,” Luke explains. “I’d had single-turbo set-ups with freshly painted bays, and no matter how much heat shielding you use or ceramic coating you apply, you’d always end up with burnt paint and high intake temps.”
It’s worth paying attention to the time Luke has spent setting up the rear suspension. “We were having trouble with the car leaving too hard, lifting the front and unloading the rear tyres. We’ve put no more power in the car over the past couple of years; we’re just creeping up on the suspension tune,” he explains of the incredibly adjustable componentry affixed to the back of the car.
So how exactly does one tame a 1600hp street car? Luke gives the Holley engine management part of the credit, but there’s a host of other little tricks – like staging the fuel pumps and keeping it quiet with four mufflers throughout the exhaust system – that all help the car behave and fly largely under the radar.
“For Drag Challenge in Adelaide [in 2017], we cruised the car over from Geelong, raced all week, finished in the top five and then drove it all the way home – that’s how much confidence I’ve got in the car!” Luke says.
While they’ve got enough headroom to get into the 7.30s, Luke’s reluctant to betray what he reckons is the ultimate street car. “The love is lost when you go too far,” he says. “Sure, I enjoy racing it with my mates at the track, but being able to enjoy it as a street car with my family is even more important.”
WEEKS before Drag Challenge 2017, Luke joined a host of southerners and made the epic road trip to Red CentreNATS, towing his VH to the centre of the country for some racing and street cruising around Alice Springs.
Combatting extreme temperature conditions, the VH overpowered the local track but still managed to squeeze into the mid-eights, and after relentlessly beating on the car for the weekend, the boys loaded up to head home.
Somewhere near Coober Pedy, disaster struck. The boys hit a cow at 110km/h, laying waste to their tow car. Weighing up their options on the side of the road, they decided their best move was to unstrap the VH from the car trailer and hit the highway in search of phone reception.
That plan quickly evolved to them loading up the VH and finishing the remaining 1700km journey home in the SL/E! “Even after we got it home after that trip, I was still without a daily because my tow car was written off, so I drove the VH to work and back for another week or so!” beams Luke. Now that’s a genuine street car!
TODD FOLEY – VH COMMODORE SL
BEING the last of the chrome-bumper Commodores, the VH has always occupied a special place in Todd Foley’s heart. His journey with this particular piece of GM-H metal began with a humble $600 outlay and a promise to his wife that it was only going to need a quick engine swap!
To his credit, he delivered on the engine swap. You may remember the previous iteration of this car, smothered in a handsome grey paint scheme, rolling on Weld wheels and with a thumping 383-cube Holden V8 heart.
“I loved the grey, but three or four popped up in a similar colour with the same wheel combo, so it was time to reinvent the car,” Todd explains.
“I wanted to go faster, but we’d really maxxed out the Holden V8, Trimatic and BorgWarner combo that was in the car. I got offered really good money for the running gear, so that prompted me to make the switch to the LS engine.” The car copped a Magnuson-blown LS3 combo in time for Drag Challenge 2016, where it dipped into the eights and finished in the Top 10.
“The blower was great for linear power; it drove a lot like the naturally aspirated combo, but once again we’d maxxed everything out. The engine needed a crank and rods, so we were back to square one,” explains Todd, who jumped online and started doing a little research.
“I was looking for a centre-counterweight crank to really lean on the alloy block, and a bloke I was talking to mentioned that the LT engines run one. I found a company in America that had fitted an LT crank to an LS. It needed a custom piston to suit it, but they were already manufacturing them too, so we just specced the compression ratio with my tuner and it was a done deal!”
The resultant 389-cube L98 block is capped by LS3 heads, CNC-ported by Higgins and finished by Troy at Warspeed, then dressed with Holley hardware including a Race Sniper intake manifold and a 90mm throttlebody, and wired up with a Holley Terminator X ECU.
“I knew from the outset that Jeff Johnson from Streetbuilt was going to tune this combo, and he’s one of the top Holley tuners in the country,” says Todd of the decision to run with a Holley EFI system.
Building the car for Drag Challenge, Todd had reliability at the forefront of his mind, which was one of the reasons he tossed his pricy custom alloy radiator in favour of a factory-style ADRAD unit. “We could also drop the diff gears down from 3.7s to 3.25s, and the converter is a lot smaller, which makes it so much smoother to drive,” he says.
Like Luke’s car, Todd’s VH uses some fairly basic hardware in the underbelly, until you get to the rear end. Everything is adjustable, with a view to being able to fine-tune the movement of the diff and rear suspension to help with weight transfer and traction on a radial tyre. “The separation in the suspension is crucial for a radial car to hook,” explains Todd of the time they invested in honing the rear suspension. “To go from low eights and into the sevens is another huge jump again – if you look at Luke’s car compared to mine, he’s been through it, but I just couldn’t justify it.”
However, before he got to torture the car once more at the country’s coolest street car event, Todd sold the VH to another racer, so he’ll be watching the car achieve its full potential with someone else behind the wheel.
He did manage to secure a particularly neat VH SL/E as part of the deal though, continuing the legacy of these Melbourne brothers and their insanely tough Commodores.
|1983 VH COMMODORE SL
|Custom-mix blue over silver
|PPG Deep Impact Blue
|440ci Dart LS Next
|389ci GM L98
|Plazmaman billet intake manifold and throttlebody
|Holley Race Sniper intake manifold, Holley 90mm throttlebody
|Holley Terminator X
|Twin Pulsar G42, 1.15 rear housing
|Twin Pulsar GTX-3584RS, 1.01 rear housing
|Powerhouse Engines six-bolt
|Custom-grind hydraulic-roller, 0.620in lift
|Custom Cam Motion hydraulic-roller
|Howards Race I-beam
|Forged JE asymmetrical, 9.2:1 compression
|Custom RaceTec forged
|Billet Dart centre-counterweight
|2020 Silverado factory L8T CCW
|Four Walbro 525 fuel pumps, Siemens 2433cc injectors
|Three TI Automotive 525 fuel pumps, Bosch Motorsport 1650cc injectors
|Custom alloy radiator, Ford Mondeo thermo fans
|Factory-style ADRAD radiator
|Four-into-one steam-pipe turbo manifolds, dual 3.5in stainless-steel
system, four GROWL mufflers
|KillaBoost four-into-one turbo manifolds, dual 3.5in stainless-steel
system, four GROWL mufflers
|LS1 coils, custom ICE ignition leads
|Factory coils, Hurricane Automotive ignition leads
|Transbraked Turbo 400
|DTM FTI Powerglide
|Shotgun Performance 10.5in converter, 3200rpm stall
|FTI 3800rpm billet bolt-together
|Competition Engineering sheet-metal housing, 35-spline axles, 3.25:1
|9in housing, 35-spline axles, 3.25:1 gears
|Viking 300lb springs, Viking Crusader shocks
|Viking 125lb springs, Viking Crusader shocks
|125lb Strange springs, Gazzard Brothers AFCO shocks
|VT Commodore (f), EL Falcon (r)
|VL Turbo discs with RDA calipers (f), factory drums (r)
|WHEELS & TYRES
|Billet Specialties Street Lite; 15×4 (f), 15×9 (r)
|RC Components 15×3.5 (f), Belak Industries 15×8 (r)
|Mickey Thompson Sportsman 26×6 (f), Nitto 325/50R15 (r)
|Nankang 185/60R15 (f), MT Sportsman (r)
Johnny at Johnny Dyno; Jason at Shotgun Performance Transmissions; Matthew
DeSpirt at MDT Transmissions; Raceworks for all their support; Plazmaman;
Adam at MPW; Martini Racing Products; Matt Petrovic for the paint; Geelong
Diffs; A1 Tailshafts; Pulsar Turbos Australia; Turbosmart; McDonald Brothers
Racing; Shane at Marshall Speed Shop for all his help setting up the
suspension; Alfa Motorsport Fibreglass; Powerhouse Engines; Tony at TDR
Engines & Race Parts; Josh at Black Diamond Finish Detailing; my boys
Josh O’Brien, Michael Sellars and Jesse; Todd Foley; my family Kristy, Chase
and Macklan; Jeff Johnson; Race Coatings
|My brother Luke for all his help; my wife Saara and daughters Zahlia and
Layla; Aaron and Craig at DTM Automatics; Greg at Blakes Body Repairs; Tim at
Breakwater Panels; James at MCE; Tready; Matt O’Connor; Jay Jeffries; Jeff
‘The Rock’ Johnson for the tuning; Jason and Amanda at Tuff Mounts; Matt at
GJ Drivelines; Troy Worsley at Warspeed; Shaun and Chris at Precision
Reconditioners; Matt at Custom Craft Fabrications; Darcy at KillaBoost
Manifolds; Hayden Johns; AFS Industries; Wayne Cartledge; Blake Evans; Ryan
for the engine block; Fraser and Michelle at Alfa Motorsport Fibreglass;
Aaron at Scoggin-Dickey Parts Centre; Jamie at Enemies Racing; Scott and
Jamie at Premier Auto Trade; Raceworks; Daniel at Reidspeed; Pulsar
Turbochargers Australia; Ryan at Race Coatings; Steve Thomas; Chubby at Lowe
Fabrications; Benny Leat; Matt at Geelong Diffs; Moolap Mufflers