KEEPING IT SIMPLE
TOUGH VK ON A WEAK BUDGET
Sachin Balu bought his first V8 in 2004. Although he didn’t hold on to the VT Commodore SS for too long, the seed had been sown, so it wasn’t long before he began hunting for something else. With V8 nut Peter North as a brother-in-law and having seen many of the early Commodores Pete had built over the years, Sachin’s thought process naturally veered in that direction. With his wedding approaching, Sachin knew that getting the idea of a project car past his wife-to-be, Kim, was going to be a bit of a long shot. He managed to get her across the line by promising that the build wouldn’t exceed $10K, and he kept his word … kinda. The wedding came and went without a hitch, but the honeymoon had to be postponed when a family member became extremely sick. Making the best of a bad situation, Sachin’s Trade Me explorations revealed a tidy-looking VK Commodore. The injected 202-powered beast looked like just what Sachin was after. As the car had already been lowered on 17-inch Advanti Stalker wheels and came complete with a mint interior, Sachin knew he could save a fair bit on build costs. “The cheque was written on the side of the road, and the car was mine,” Sachin recalls. The strip-down started the following week, revealing the solid base Sachin was hoping to find, allowing his plans to become a reality. “The plan was for the car to be a five-litre V8 with a five-speed manual,” Sachin says. “Everything else was still to be decided, bearing in mind the low budget.” With the 202 and auto box sold, the immediate focus
was on sorting a presentable body into which a V8 could be dropped. Knowing he wanted a Group A bodykit, Sachin couldn’t bring himself around to the Formula Blue colour that traditionally goes hand in hand with the kit. As the original brown interior was too good not to use, a process of elimination ensued to find a colour he liked that would also work with the brown interior. Despite his aversion to red paint, he soon found that it was the only colour that made sense for him, and, with Kim’s help, he settled on the Holden Infra Red hue. As the body was relatively straight and free of rust, not much was required in the way of panel work; however, Peter was on hand to help in the few areas where Sachin found himself in over his head. Peter’s help really came in handy when it came to painting the car, considering the job was done in Sachin’s garage — despite being laid down at home, the paint still looks great after more than 10 years. While Sachin was trying his hardest not to ruin the bodywork, the team at Franklin Engineering were working their magic on a Holden 308 he’d purchased with a TH350 from the same guy he’d bought the car from. The recipe was kept reasonably simple, as Sachin wasn’t chasing stupid amounts of power, and reliability was paramount, due to the build’s budget nature. The factory crank and rods were retained, with money splurged on ACL flat tops, new bearings, timing chain, ARP fasteners, and a Franklin Cam Services camshaft. The factory cast-iron heads were crack tested and refreshed, while an Edelbrock Performer intake and 600cfm Holley — later swapped for a 650cfm Double Pumper — rounded off the mechanical package.
THE MOST FRUSTRATING BREAKAGES CONCERNED THE SUPRA GEARBOX
As luck would have it, Sachin found another Trade Me bargain in the form of a Toyota Supra W55 five-speed box, complete with bellhousing, clutch, flywheel, and driveshaft to suit. He’d also found a disc-braked VL Calais rear end on Trade Me, and, to keep things cheap, temporarily fitted a mini-spool to ensure that traction wouldn’t be an issue. With new Nolathane bushes and KYB shocks assisting the existing Dobi springs and a set of 18-inch Koya Rush wheels, the Commodore drove better than Sachin had hoped and looked better than he’d ever expected. He neglected to tell Kim that he’d exceeded the optimistic initial budget — although not by much. But he’d be spending a little more on the Commodore over the next nine years … It only took a few months before the heads were sent off to Doug’s Engineering, being machined to accept larger L34 valves. The pursuit of extra power saw an H-20 camshaft purchased from Franklin Cam Services, along with a full MSD ignition system. Despite the street-driven nature of the Commodore, breakages were not uncommon. After a few axles cried enough, the mini-spool was pulled in favour of a four-spider LSD centre, while two broken driveshafts meant a beefier item was soon sourced from Driveshaft Specialists NZ. The most frustrating string of breakages concerned the W55 gearbox. After the second one called it quits, Sachin had had enough, and began looking for an alternative. A BorgWarner T5 was the logical replacement, but Sachin didn’t want to risk another expensive breakage and decided that if he had to go through the rigmarole of replacing the gearbox, he’d do it properly. A Tremec TKO 600 five-speed and full conversion kit was sourced from Mal Wood Automotive in Australia, and has since ended Sachin’s driveline woes. One of the most noticeable changes is the most recent. After many years of happy motoring with the family, Sachin felt the need for a bit more power. The trusty 308 was pulled out with the intention of
installing another camshaft and bumping the compression up. As it had been a while since the engine last left the hole, Sachin couldn’t help but look at the engine bay with a more critical eye and decided to tidy things up even further. With the battery already relocated to the boot, any unused brackets were removed, unused holes were filled, all bumps were smoothed, and all wiring was hidden. With help from Mike Clark, Paddy and the boys at Independent Truck Spray (ITS) spent hours welding, grinding, and smoothing everything that could be welded, ground, or smoothed. As a finishing touch, Sachin fabricated a pair of custom covers for the front chassis rails, before the whole lot was given a thorough respray. On the electrical front, the large VK fuse box was chopped up and relocated under the dashboard, along with the MSD 6AL ignition box and coil, with all wiring modified to suit. The wiring for the headlights, thermo fans, and horn was run underneath the fenders, and the end result is an engine bay with only about two wires visible — if you look for them. While these changes were happening, Sachin decided to upgrade to a VY brake booster and master cylinder, taking the opportunity to re-engineer the brake hard lines, running the passenger side line underneath the radiator support panel to keep it inconspicuous. After all of that, though, the decision to buy some land and build a new house meant Sachin couldn’t go ahead with his original plan to rebuild the engine. He did manage to hustle a few dollars to get the cosmetic side of things up to scratch, at least, with the headers, intake manifold, and several brackets getting the Pro Coat treatment and polished rocker covers topping off the underbonnet bling. The natural progression of Sachin’s build sounds just like that of many others, and that’s because it is. There is nothing particularly remarkable about a car being built over the course of a decade by a bloke and his mates in the garage, and that is exactly what makes Sachin’s Commodore so special — it is relatable: a car built by a regular guy, taken to a level beyond the ordinary. Sachin knows there are cars out there that are more powerful, better finished, and built with a far bigger budget, but that doesn’t matter; his Commodore project has given him everything he ever wanted from it, and, to him, that is more than enough.