Young Gun VE Valiant ute

We ran into Nikolas Karanovic and his rough-and-ready looking VE Valiant ute in the staging lanes of Alice Springs Inland Dragway at Red CentreNATS 7 last year

Photographers: Ashleigh Wilson

It may not have appeared too flash on the outside, but Nikolas’s Val had been rebuilt front-to-back and was running some pretty decent numbers at Red CentreNATS 7.

South Aussie readers are probably aware of the Karanovic name. Nik’s dad Ned has owned a staunch ’57 Chev since he was just 19 years old, and these days it’s handy for 8.81@155mph. It’s no surprise, then, that Nik is a pretty keen racer, and when we called him for a chat, he was at the drag strip yet again, his time in his mum’s 340-powered ’69 Barracuda.

First published in the May 2022 issue of Street Machine

Where are you right now?

Dad and I are in Mildura racing the Summit Racing Equipment Sportsman Series this weekend. We both raced the Top Fuel meeting here last weekend and just left everything up here.

Were you racing against each other?

Last weekend we raced against each other in the Super Street Big Bucks; we actually drew each other in the second round.

As soon as we found out we were racing each other, the banter and the arguments started in the pits.

Who won that round?

I ended up getting the win and got runner-up for the meeting. I won’t let him forget it!

Were you racing the ute?

No, I’ve had a few dramas with the ute. I was hoping to have it here but ran out of time, so for last weekend and this weekend I was in the Barracuda. I’m hoping to have my ute ready for the Easter meeting.

Tell us how you got hold of the ute.

A friend’s sister owned it; they had it sitting in a paddock for about six years, and I was just pestering her. I wanted something to build with a rollcage and a bit more power, and we didn’t want to go chopping up the Barracuda. I ended up making a deal with her for the car as a rolling shell with no driveline or interior, and two years to the day we had it in Alice Springs.

What kind of condition was it in?

I had to replace the passenger floor because it looked like swiss cheese. The two rocker panels were the same, so I had a mate of mine bend some up because you couldn’t buy them at the time. The engine bay was home to a family of rats, so I cut the majority of it out, smoothed everything out, filled all the holes we weren’t going to use and made a nice flat firewall. I did all the welding and installation myself.

Looks like you’ve got a set of tubs in the back, too.

It’s tubbed to the rails, so I can actually fit a 325 under it. Down the road, if I end up doing a bigger engine or go blown, I’ve always got the room for more tyre size. Rod-Tech did the diff, and I had Michael and Paul Jennings help me with the CalTracs, shocks and the rollcage. My dad and I did the majority of the rest of it.

I noticed at RCN that there’s a bracket for nitrous in the tray, but no bottle.

It’s got the nitrous on it now, but at that time, we only had two weeks to get the engine built, in the car, dyno it and get it up to Alice Springs, so time was against us the whole way.

Tell us a bit about the motor.

It’s a 360 that’s been stroked out to 410. It’s got Edelbrock Performer RPM heads, a Victor intake and an 830cfm carb.

The only thing we didn’t do was the machining. We did all the measuring ourselves, the pre-assembly, the assembly, checking everything. I know I’m going to be around the sport for many years to come, so if I can learn to do it myself, it’s an added bonus, and an extra skill behind you as well.

What kind of times were you running at RCN?

The best at Alice was 11.2@120mph, but there I didn’t have the real converter in it, and the trans wasn’t finished so I didn’t have a transbrake, so those times were off the foot brake. I just wanted to make sure the car was safe and went straight before really going for it.

So what times are you expecting after the changes?

If I could get into the 10s naturally aspirated, I’d be stoked, because that would easily get me into the field for Super Sedan. With the spray, if it went into the nines, that would top the cake off. The main goal was to build it to run Super Sedan and come up against the old man, so hopefully it’s an achievable goal.

How much will you spray it?

I’ll start off with a 150-shot and then see what the air-fuel ratios are doing, and progressively keep ramping it up and see how fast it goes. The plan is to do it on a 275 radial, but if I can get it all working nicely on that, I’ll put a 255 on it and see how I go with that, just to set myself a bit of a challenge of getting down the track with the same power on a smaller tyre.

You’ve done pretty well in Super Street; any plans to get more serious?

The previous couple of seasons I’ve finished runner-up in Australia for Super Street. The dream for me has always been to have a full-chassis car, whether that’s a Top Sportsman or a Pro Mod sort of deal, but at this stage I’m content with what I’ve got.

Your family is obviously very involved in the scene.

Without Mum and Dad and the sponsors I’ve got, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing. Dad and I are both entered for Drag Challenge from last year, so if we could do that, it would be such an awesome event. I’ve heard so many good things about it.

Aged around 21 or younger and have a neat ride? Send some pics and info to: Young Guns, Street Machine, Locked Bag 12, Oakleigh, Vic 3166 or email us at: [email protected].