KEEP­ING IT SIM­PLE

TOUGH VK ON A WEAK BUD­GET

NZV8 - - CONTENTS - WORDS: CON­NAL GRACE

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.

PHO­TOS: ADAM CROY

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