WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T IMPROVE ON A GOOD THING? JAMES ENGLAND’S VK IS A NEW TAKE ON A MODERN CLASSIC
HIS car has been reborn more than once. It started life as a white VK Calais V8 – the luxury model favoured by wellto- do retirees. At some stage it was reborn as a racer, with a solid-cam, nitrous-sniffing heart transplant. And then it was given the Brocky replica look with a bodykit and Formula Blue paint. That’s the state it was in when James England got hold of it five years ago.
“It was a 308 ‘Blue Meanie’ replica that I bought off a guy that used to race it,” the West Australian says. “I just buffed it up and made it look pretty – lowered it, put some wheels and tint on it, and drove it every weekend.”
The catalyst for this latest incarnation started with a very public failure. “I did a burnout at Motorvation two years ago and blew the engine up,” James says. “So I decided to pull the motor out and give the car to my best mate who owns a panel shop.” That mate was Mitchell Franks from Leighton Panel & Paint. “I was going on holiday,” James says, “so I said: ‘Here’s the cash, shave my engine bay’. When I got back, he’d stripped the whole car and painted it, which was a great surprise!” And so, like many before him, what started as a simple engine swap became a full-blown odyssey for James.
He built the VK at home in his shed, doing the majority of the work himself. He calls the car a ‘custom replica’; rather than making an exact copy of the original, James instead wanted to expand on its tradition and history. He’s quite pleased with how it turned out. ”I just envision things and know what I want before I do it,” he says.
By his own admission, James can get a bit OCD about things; his tendency is to strive for perfection. It’s not a bad trait in a car detailer though, and the results speak for themselves.
In the engine bay, everything that could be removed has been – even to the point of converting the car back to manual steering.
The subframe rails were boxed, the firewall smoothed, the battery moved to the boot and all unnecessary holes welded and filled – even the brake lines were re-routed for better aesthetics.
When it came to replacing the engine, James picked up a good second-hand five-litre Holden stroker from a friend in the local scene. The plan was for a quick freshen-up and lick of paint, but James’s perfectionist streak kicked in again and he ended up stripping it down and completely rebuilding it.
The four-bolt-mains block has been bored 20thou over and runs a Harrop crank to boost capacity to a more impressive 355 cubes.
A set of ACL race bearings keeps the stroker crank turning, and it pushes a set of Arias forged pistons attached to Scat H-beam rods. Heads are VN-sourced items that have received some mild port work and also boast a set of Yella Terra roller rockers for more reliability at high revs. The Crane solid cam, lifters and dual valve-spring package makes for a bulletproof top end. A 750cfm Holley sucks fuel from a Holley Blue pump and spits it into a Torque-Power manifold.
Spark comes courtesy of an MSD ignition package, while a set of Pacemaker headers feed waste gases through to a three-inch mild-steel exhaust sporting stainless-steel mufflers.
Backing up the stroker is a fully manualised Trimatic running a Dominator 4500rpm high-stall converter. The three-speed slushbox feeds through to a large-type Salisbury diff running a red-light-friendly 4.44:1 ratio. The diff gears are a legacy from the car’s former quarter-pounding career, and when combined with all the torque a healthy 355 can provide, they allow James to destroy tyres far quicker than he can make the money to pay for them.
Not surprisingly for someone who details cars for a living, James is big on aesthetics. “Stance and wheels are very important,” he says. “It’s all about the appearance. Power is good, but to me it’s not a necessity.” In this particular case, that perfect stance is achieved with a set of Koni adjustable shocks and King Springs all ’round, in tandem with the 19-inch HDT Aero wheels sourced from a VE Commodore, running 225/35/19 Achilles ATR Sports tyres “for a bit of a stretch look”.
On the inside, the front and rear seats have been re-trimmed in black leather with a diamond-pleat pattern and embroidered HDT logo. The door trims feature the same treatment, while James replaced the hoodlining with black velour and installed new carpet on the floors. The dash and centre console were revived with a coat of rattle-can paint and James created a custom flat panel for the suite of Auto Meter gauges. An HDT steering wheel keeps the retro-tribute theme going and an Alpine head unit pumps out the tunes.
In the tradition of street machining pioneers before him, James has a real can-do attitude and isn’t scared of giving new things a go. “I just enjoy doing stuff myself,” he says. “I get great satisfaction in seeing the outcome.” Who can blame him when the results are this good? Plus he gets to have a ball driving the thing. “It’s a street car, I drive it all the time,” he says. “As long as it’s not raining, I’ll turn the tyres on it.” s
Colour: Formula Blue
Engine: Holden 355ci Inlet manifold: Torque-Power Carb: Holley 750cfm Air filter: K&N Heads: VN Commodore Roller rockers: Yella Terra Pistons: Arias forged Crank: Harrop stroker Rods: Scat H-beam Cam: Crane solid Fuel system: Holley Blue pump, Auto Meter regulator Ignition: MSD Exhaust: Pacemaker extractors, 3in exhaust, stainless mufflers
Transmission: Trimatic Converter: Dominator 4500 high-stall Diff: Salisbury 4.44:1 ratio
Brakes: Stock (f & r) Springs: King (f & r) Shocks: Koni (f & r) Bushes: Nolathane (f & r)
Rims: HDT Aero, 19in (f & r) Rubber: Achilles ATR Sports 225/35/19 (f & r)
Seats: VK Calais (f & r) Trim: Black leather Hoodlining: Black velour Steering wheel: HDT Gauges: Auto Meter Shifter: B&M Pro Stick
Head unit: Alpine Speakers: Alpine Type-S
Mitch and the boys at Leighton Panel & Paint; Vault Leather; Rory from RS Installations for the wiring; my best mates that have helped along the way; and my fiancée Jess for putting up with me and my pride and joy