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White Heat

A turbo Holden Commodore of a different kind - this one's a V6!

By Glenn Torrens

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"It was supposed to stay standard," laments Dean of his once-plain white 1993 VR Commodore sedan. "Because it was a five-speed rather than an old auto, I started to thrash it around a bit. One day, I got whipped by an old Commodore. But I found out later it had NOS on it..."

In Dean's own words, "And then it was on!"

Like a weak-willed junkie, Dean once again succumbed to the car modification rush. His previous car was a Commodore, tweaked with a management system tickle, dark tint and a decent set of wheels and tyres on lowered suspension.

His addiction was supposed to end when that particular car was sold. But it didn't.

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"I tracked down a turbo kit," began Dean. "It was supposed to be a properly engineered unit - bolt in and go. I wanted what they called a stage one kit with 60 percent power increase. But I don't think the shop had ever sold a kit before I bought mine. It was designed for a VN series I engine. I didn't find that out until I began bolting everything on."

Those of you not partial to the ins and outs of Commodore specs over the years won't know that the 1988 Commodore used a US-sourced front-wheel drive Buick 3.8-litre V6 engine, quickly re-engineered by Holden to suit the Commodore's rear-wheel drive fitment. By the time the VR Commodore was released in 1993, Holden had made significant changes to the Buick bits, modifying coolant pipe location and manufacturing the intake manifold in Australia to make it better suited to the Commodore engine bay. But with the never-fitted turbo kit, Dean wasn't to know this...

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"They're different. But the bloke said, 'No worries - you'll be able to put it all on yourself.' This was just before Christmas 2000 - when everybody was shutting down for the holidays. I pulled it all apart and found out everything was wrong. Wrong size, wrong length..."

"The exhaust pipe wouldn't fit - the curve was too close to the firewall. It wouldn't start..."

The no-go issue was resolved when the MAP sensor was found to be defective. But that wasn't the end of Dean's dramas. "It was running so rich it was pumping out black smoke - touch the throttle and it would stall. It was flooding. I rang the workshop up and they said, 'Oh yeah - we made it really rich so you wouldn't stuff anything! Just bring it to us and we'll fix it.'"

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Riiight.... So Dean was in his home town of Newcastle and the workshop was about 200km away in Sydney.

"They suggested I disconnect the intake pipe from the turbo and run it down there naturally aspirated." Fair enough... but after a session on the dyno, the car was still a recalcitrant pig on the road.

"The way I see it, they did all the work on the dyno. But on the road, the car was off-boost and didn't have enough get up and go to actually get on-boost..."

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The front-mount intercooler fitment is another sore point. "I thought it would be a good idea to turn the throttle body around, and run the pipe from the turbo to the front of the car, then from the cooler up the driver's side of the engine bay and into the throttle. But I ended up with what you see here. Everything's on one side. They told me, 'Oh, that would have cost another $1500,' What, to cut and weld and turn a bloody throttle around? I even gave them another manifold elbow to muck around with! And then they said to me - 'Oh, that pipe's a bit close to the turbo - you should make a heatshield or something.'" If it wasn't so serious, it'd be funny.

Shall we continue? Dented bonnet, dud injectors, wrong turbo sizing, cam, oil leaks and turbo return line. "I reckon there's about 16 grand under the bonnet of my car now," says Dean. "I feel like I've done everything twice. I forget half the dramas I've had!"

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The gearbox remains the stock Borg Warner T5 five-speeder but the clutch is a button-type that makes the car a bit of a pain in the day-to-day grind. Believe it or not, this is Dean's daily driver. The diff is the original Borg Warner live axle (these Commodores were also available with IRS on upper-spec models) but fitted with 3.71 diff gears in place of the original 3.08s. Suspension is a mix of 3-inch lowered King springs and Monroe and Koni adjustable dampers and the wheels are 18x8-inch ASA LS1. There's a strut brace, camber/caster kit and adjustable rear upper arms and Panhard rod, too. "I had it dropped four inches at first, but it was too low," recalls Dean. The brakes are upgraded, sourced from a later model VT Commodore, featuring a bigger rotor and stouter twin-piston caliper with greater pad area than the standard single-piston units. They work in tandem with the standard rear discs.

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Dean fitted the car with plenty of up-market HSV trim the first time around. "When I bought the car, the seats were stained. It was someone's family car and it had purple fruit juice spilled everywhere. So I put some ClubSport trim in it." Then Dean fitted a set of white instrument faces. But before long, Dean was inspired to go nuts in his interior. Within days, he had sold his factory HSV trim to a mate and had the car's original seats totally reshaped and re-trimmed in the blue you see here. The sunroof is an original fitment Holden unit (supplied by Hollandia) sourced second-hand and dropped in later.

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Now there are few things more boring than a plain white car. That's why Dean's is not plain white any more. Daniel Slater of Automotive Artwork in Gateshead, New South Wales - probably the only person involved in the whole build of the car that Dean feels confident in recommending - was the man who laid on the flames and graphics over many laborious hours.

"The car's original paint was in good shape, so I simply flattened it and threw some stuff on," says Daniel, making graphics sound as easy as spreading fertiliser. "It's all freehand, and took me about four days all-up."

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Dean can laugh about it now, but the flames do seem an appropriate finishing touch for a car that has burned up plenty of time and money...

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