Steve Bartie`s 1994 Holden VR Commodore SS
It isn’t often we’ll feature a plastic-bumper ’90s taxi, so when we do you know it’s going to be something special. They’re not yet old enough for the nostalgia of being a classic, and not modern enough to be new and exciting. Everything is just a little too familiar, and in the world of modifying cars familiarity is boring. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, and here’s one. V8 Commodores aren’t exactly thin on the ground, and, although they’re more desirable than ever thanks to the death of Australian automotive manufacturing, you’ll find few worth a magazine feature and even fewer like Steve Bartie’s VR SS.
So, why did Steve go this far with a VR Commodore? Read on and find out …
A Holden man through and through, starting at the age of 16 when he bought his first car — a ’73 Holden HQ Commonwealth Kingswood, and one of only 26 brought into the country for the 1974 Commonwealth Games — Steve naturally gravitated to bigger, better, and faster things, succumbing to the drag racing bug and racing at Bay Park as and when he could.
As tends to happen, family eventually came and, with more pressing priorities, he made the hard call to sell the HQ. However, even without anything special in the garage he kept going to car events and keeping up to speed with the local scene.
As his family got older, Steve found himself with more time for drag racing, so the Bartie fleet evolved from a VN to a V6-powered VR Commodore, which didn’t last long before he traded up to a VR SS.
That was back in 2001. Now, nearly two decades later, this is that very same car, albeit with a few minor adjustments from standard. It’s endured over the years because, as Steve tells us, he got sick of trading cars inand sick of paying them off, so he simply decided to make this his last one.
“Plus, I’d taken a liking to the sleekness and style of this model,” he mentions. “I started modifying it once the kids left home and I had time and money to put into the car.” The build began — as many others have — with a visit to Al Shadwick at Als Blower Drives.
“I put a small TBS [The Blower Shop] 192 blower on — a baby blower — and customized the manifold on a standard 304 motor. At the time this was a good start but not where I wanted to be, so I had The Toy Shed stroke the motor to 355 cubes, which was good for a quartermile time of 12.1 seconds.”
However, what you see on these pages — the one Steve calls the “big build” — might still be an idea in his head if he hadn’t come down with pancreatic cancer.
“I made it a priority to build a new motor and do the car the way I wanted it to be,” he says. “My family were very supportive of this build, which was carried out by The Toy Shed.”
Steve calls it the “big build” for a reason, starting with the big-cube Holden motor built by Reece Fish at Fish Family Racing.
As 383 cubes are a lot to get out of a Holden-cast block, Reece built it around a VT Commodore block, which comes with notches for stroker clearance and is equipped with a roller cam from factory. Reece also machined it for billet steel four-bolt main caps, holding a C.O.M.E. Racing gear billet stroker crank, 4340 H-beam rods, and Racetech forged pistons. Topping the package off is a pair of C.O.M.E Racing 600 Series alloy heads and a monster roller cam coming in with 0.590-inch valve lift and 253/258 degrees of intake/exhaust duration at 0.050-inch lift.
Back at The Toy Shed, the Newby blower manifold wasmodified for injection, ready for a billet case TBS highhelix Teflon-tipped 6-71 blower and 1375cfm throttle body, and the goodies extended to a billet timing cover, thanks to the decision to run a radiator-mounted Meziere electric water pump.
Those Toy Shed boys might be hot rodders at heart, but they aren’t afraid of new technology, plugging in a Link Xtreme ECU to run the fuel and spark side of things. As Steve’s end goal with the Commodore was to be able to drive it to and from the track and car shows, it still needed some semblance of road manners. The Linkcontrolled EFI was a huge step in the right direction, and has been backed up by an overdriven 4L80E auto built by Chuck Mann, run by a TCI transmission controller. The rear-end treatment also straddles the line between drag racer and show car. Steve had ordered a set of Intro Pentia wheels measuring up at 19x8 and 20x12 inches, and it was The Toy Shed’s job to make them fit. The solution? Bin the standard independent rear subframe, cut out a shitload of panel steel, and align and weld in a McDonald Brothers four-link rear clip off which a narrowed nine-inch has been suspended by QA1 doubleadjustable coilovers. Above it, a McDonald Brothers tub kit has been modified to fit and worked into the sheet metal, between which the fuel system has been seated on a fabricated drip tray.
There’s a 60-litre fuel tank to give Steve the driving range he wanted, a Carter electric lift pump supplying a surge tank containing twin Bosch 044s, and an Aeroflow return regulator. It’s a simple set-up that works, and easily keeps up with the supercharged 383’s appetite.
It’s also a good-looking arrangement — all business and nothing superfluous, which is a theme continued across the build.
Although Steve wanted to put his own touch on the Commodore, nothing has been modified for the sake of it. Everything that has been done has been done for a reason, and the overall finish is as tasteful and understated as it can be, aside from the obvious chrome out the bonnet and steamrollers under the back.
Thanks to the boot-mounted fuel cell freeing up space underneath, the rear bumper has been neatly notched for twin three-inch exhaust dumps, while the interior is all ’90s Commodore, bar the Momo steering wheel and flush-mounted B&M ratchet shifter.
“There are a couple more things to do, like redesigning the back-seat area, as the original rear seat doesn’t fit around the tubs, but I’m happy with it,” Steve says. “As far as cars go, they are obviously an ongoing affair and we never say never, cause the work is never done!”
The Commodore’s done what Steve wanted, though, running an 11-second pass and 125mph quarter on a soft tune at this year’s Father’s Day Drags — quick enough to get his adrenaline flowing without needing to install a roll cage. While Steve knows that cars are never done, this one is as close to it as it’s ever been. It isn’t the only one, though. Since Steve’s handed down to his son all the original parts that were replaced during the build, there will be another Bartie family VR SS following in Steve’s wide, smoky footprints — and if the young fella is anything like his old man, we’ve got a fair idea of what to expect.
ENGINE: Fish Family Racing–built 383ci Holden V8, VT roller cam block, billet four-bolt main caps, C.O.M.E. Racing billet stroker crank, C.O.M.E. Racing 4340 H-beam rods, Racetech forged pistons, C.O.M.E. 600 Series alloy heads, Newby blower manifold (EFI converted), TBS highhelix Teflon-tipped 6-71 supercharger, 1375cfm throttle body, water-methanol injection, 60-litre fuel cell, Carter lift pump, two Bosch 044 fuel pumps, surge tank, Aeroflow return-style regulator, dual-sync distributor, MSD 6AL-2, MSD coil, custom sequential port injection, Link Xtreme ECU, 1ѕ-inch header primaries, three-inch exhaust, Flowmaster mufflers, custom radiator, Meziere radiator-mounted electric water pump
DRIVELINE: GM 4L80E transmission, shift kit, 3000rpm high-stall, TCI computer control, nine-inch diff, 31-spline axles, custom onepiece driveshaft
SUSPENSION: (F) Standard; ® McDonald Brothers four-link, doubleadjustable QA1 coilovers
BRAKES: (F) Wilwood Superlite fourpiston calipers, 12-inch discs; ® Wilwood four-piston calipers, Wilwood discs
WHEELS/TYRES: (F) 19x8-inch Intro Pentia, 245/35R19 Michelin; ® 20x12- inch Intro Pentia, 345/30R20 Michelin
EXTERIOR: De-badged, rear bumper modified for twin exhaust
CHASSIS: Tubbed rear, McDonald Brothers four-link rear subframe
INTERIOR: Concealed B&M shifter
PERFORMANCE: 500hp (rear wheels); 11.02s at 125mph (soft tune)