WE SEE all kinds of engine swaps into all kinds of rigs, but Chuck Jifkins’s 1JZ-powered VS Commodore is really outside the box. Even aside from the fact that this featherweight 1190kg rocket ship ran an 8.5 at the recent Summernats Slam on its first full pass, the many serious driveline changes make it an unusually awesome ride.
This article was first published in the February 2020 issue of Street Machine. Photos: Tim McCormack
“It’s interesting how I got to this point,” Chuck muses. “A few years back, I wanted an eight-second street car, and ended up buying Kristian Goleby’s 1J-powered, 1978 K38 Corolla van from Queensland, with the idea of racing it and getting it regoed. Well, it was never going to be an easy task to get rego, and the first time I took it to the track, someone said: ‘Hey, that’s Goleby’s old car,’ so I kinda cracked the shits and said: ‘It’s gotta go.’ I yanked the motor, turbo and ECU, sold the rest back to Goleby, and picked up a nice VS Commodore ute. I liked them as a car, having owned one previously with an LS in it.
“It had a lot more going for it than the Corolla; the engine bay was a lot bigger, and the car was a better fit for me physically. It had a better wheelbase, the capacity to be a lot lighter – as the Corolla was actually quite heavy – and getting a 275 under the rear was a lot easier.”
After getting the ute, Chuck stripped the driveline and fitted a Powerglide gearbox supplied by Mr Transmissions on the Gold Coast. As he was using the Dellow bellhousing, he went with a six-cylinder case that takes a bolt-on front bellhousing, with a stock GM V8 planetary set. It’s a pretty low-dollar deal with a stock top gear drum and an aftermarket valvebody.
“With the Dellow housing, I still run the 1J flexplate and starter motor with an eight-inch TCE converter, which they seemed to have got pretty spot-on,” Chuck says.
The 1JZ engine is pretty close to stock; it essentially has rod bolts, main studs and head studs with upgraded cams and valve springs. However, it has benefited from some expensive extras like a Plazmaman inlet manifold and intercooler, fitted by Castle Hill Performance. The engine already had a 6boost hot side, with a 50mm wastegate and Turbosmart blow-off valve.
In the Corolla, the 1JZ made 750rwhp with a Precision 68/70 turbo running 39psi and the engine buzzing to 8500rpm. Dale Heiler from Castle Hill Performance then retuned the combo and tidied up the low- and mid-range. At the track, on around 35psi of boost, the 8.5sec ET and the Commodore’s race weight indicate that the little 2.5-litre is making around 900hp at the flywheel.
“Initially I ran with the standard rear suspension, which meant the stock BorgWarner diff with coil springs,” Chuck says. “I wanted to do a few hits with the car even though it didn’t have a ’cage, so I took it to Queensland for one of the Kenda meetings. The car wouldn’t come up on boost, but otherwise went good to the eighth with a horrible ET, but still went 112 mph. I got booted for running too fast, so I brought the car back home with the intention of fitting a rollcage.”
While waiting to get the car into HBR Race Cages, Chuck decided to slip a set of mini-tubs into the ute and ditch the rear coil suspension and diff set-up. “I went down to the local wreckers and bought a set of $120 leaf springs from a HiLux, picked up a Ford Explorer diff for $200, and went home to measure up,” he says. “I ended up cutting down the longer axle tube on the diff to end up with two even tubes, bought a Strange spool with a set of Altra 9 35-spline axles and started putting it all together.
“Naturally, I had to make front and rear mounts for the springs and saddles for the diff housing, and even made a set of my own traction bars.
“I used an inclinometer to set up the engine and driveline in the car; the engine actually sits totally level and the pinion yolk is at the exact right angle to the engine line.
Apart from the dyno session with Dale and a trip to get the rollcage done, Chuck built the whole car in his shed out in the bush. “I’m not a drag racer and have no real experience with this kind of thing, so I gotta say, it was quite a job to get through.”
Inside is a single Velo seat, while the dash cluster has been replaced with a MicroTech dash hooked up to the Haltech PS2000 ECU.
After getting the ’cage installed, Chuck went back to Kenda, where the car ran a 6.1 over the eighth on a 1.45sec 60-foot and backing off early. After the meeting, he got the car tech-inspected and decided to put it on a diet to get it down from 3080lb (with driver). After swapping the steelies to AlumaStars front and rear and the two-piece tailshaft to a one-piece moly item, and adding Strange front brakes, a carbon bonnet, a fibreglass tailgate, and a bunch of other weight saving tune-ups, the car was 300lb lighter and race-ready at a cost of roughly $9000.
To help the car get up on boost, Chuck added a small shot of nitrous thanks to a Holley Sniper kit. It is only on for 0.8sec between 3000-4000rpm, and it works mint.
With the car now weighing in at 2650lb, Chuck headed to the inaugural Summernats Slam at Sydney Dragway and belted off one pass only over the quarter, which saw the car run an incredible 8.59.
“I am pretty stoked,” Chuck laughs. “I don’t know what I’m going to do for the rest of the year – it was my goal to develop the car this year to get it to run an eight-second pass, and it did it the first time out. Dale has already added a bit more boost, so I’m going to try and work my way towards a bottom eight.
“I’m not sure how long this engine will last; it’s only a 2.5-litre six-cylinder,” Chuck continues. “At the moment, the converter is too tight, the gearing is too tall and a there’s a bunch of other issues. I will just deal with them for now, as the long-term plan is to fit a 2J and all those issues won’t apply. For now, I’m just going to enjoy tinkering.”
SOMETHING HE EIGHT:
It’s fair to say Chuck was pretty chuffed after his ute’s first-ever crack at the quarter-mile. With an ET of 8.59, he’s already achieved his 2021 goal of getting the VS into the eights! The best part is, there’s still more in it.