Ray Elia’s name may well be familiar to Street Machine readers, as his white VK Calais, KNGHDT, was featured alongside his brother Tony’s blue VK in Street Machine Commodores in 2018. But as beautiful and tough as that blown 355ci Calais was, Ray’s latest Commodore, this stunning VN known as KING GRP A, is a real game-changer.
First published in the December 2022 issue of Street Machine
“I’m really critical of the cars I build,” Ray says. “This car, however, I can’t stop looking at. It’s perfect to me; I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Ray and his brother Tony grew up car-mad in Sydney’s western suburbs, and while Ray longed for something V8-motivated, his conservative father tried to steer his sons towards ‘safer’ cars. “He wouldn’t let me buy a V8 Commodore, but he let me buy an S14 200SX,” laughs Ray of the Nissan dubbed 3KUOUT, which shot him deep into the heart of the Auto Salon scene.
And while it’s easy nowadays to dismiss the lairier-than-thou Auto Salon era, the hyper-competitive nature and rigorous judging criteria of those events did foster plenty of young, talented car builders. “It’s given me an insane attention to detail, and a love of clean engine bays,” Ray explains. “Some guys build drag cars or skid cars; I build show cars. I love everything about show cars; they’re just so ‘extra’, but my show cars always have to be useable, and they’ve got to have plenty of power for the street.”
As the amount of tough VK street cars rose exponentially over the years, Ray traded KNGHDT for a big bag of cash and tried to tell himself that he was out of the modified car game. He got behind the wheel of a VF GTS (granted, tweaked to make over 750rwhp!), but found the clinical sterility of the modern muscle car deathly boring. “It was so quiet and smooth! Nothing squeaked or rattled,” he laughs. “A month later I bought a faded blue VN from Wollongong, and the process started all over again!”
With a firm vision of what the VN was to become, Ray drove it straight to see the Godfather of custom Commodores, Damien ‘Chubby’ Lowe of Lowe Fabrications. “Damien had done some work on the second build of my VK, and I knew he could tackle everything from fabrication to powdercoating to final fit-up all in the one shop, so we could keep the quality consistently high,” Ray says.
“It was a bit of a bucket,” laughs Chubby of the VN’s condition when it arrived. “But to Ray’s credit, it had barely any rust, and he arrived with a really clear vision. Before I knew it, the car was stripped, degreased and we were cutting out the firewall.”
Ray knew he wanted the VN to be something unique, starting with the stance. To get the desired lowness – and to allow for the removal of the factory strut towers – the boys replaced the factory front end with one of Chubby’s independent front suspension set-ups. They also tubbed the front in order to tuck those huge Simmons wheels up under the guards.
In keeping with Ray’s love of clean engine bays, KING GRP A’s bay is super-smooth, with the tubs flowing seamlessly into the custom flat firewall and wrapping around at the front to meet the modified radiator support panel and boxed headlights and chassis rails.
It’s about as wild a bay as you’re ever likely to see in a second-generation Commodore, and allows your eyes to focus on the hulking chrome mass of motor that’s been pieced together to scratch Ray’s horsepower itch.
"I'm really critical of the cars I build. This car, however, I can't stop looking at. It's perfect to me"
“I was just sick of Holden 5.0-litre engines leaking oil,” he says of the 308’s notoriously porous rear main seal. “Every 355ci stroker I’ve ever built leaked oil, so we went with a 6.0-litre LS for this build. Bang-for-buck, you just can’t beat them.”
Internally, the LS2 hasn’t been overworked, with Ray briefing engine builder Matt Sims to keep it streetable, reliable and able to run on pump fuel. Aside from a set of rods and pistons, the biggest deviation from factory was the inclusion of a blower-friendly Kelford cam, mated to LS7 lifters.
The real hero is the billet 8/71 blower, topped by an Enderle hat that’s been converted to a barndoor-style butterfly by Joe Blo. “I was originally going to go carby just like the VK, but because I wanted to take my kids in the car, the carbies just blocked out too much of my view, hence the EFI,” Ray explains.
Engine management comes in the form of a Haltech Elite 2500, while the fuel system starts in the boot, where a pair of Walbro pumps hang inside a custom fuel cell and supply eight 1000cc injectors at the business end. “We added a flex-fuel sensor just in case the car got too hot and needed E85, but the radiator from South Coast Radiators keeps it so cold I’d prefer to stay on pump 98,” Ray says.
With the fabrication and driveline sorted, the boys got to work hanging the intricate bodykit necessary to give the VN some Group A attitude. “I was debating whether to go with a Group A or an Aero kit, but I decided that the Group A would be more timeless and give it a broader appeal,” Ray explains.
“I’d tossed up the idea of doing it black like the Tooheys 1000 giveaway VNs, but I’m pedantic with my cars being clean, and black is just too hard to maintain,” he continues. The only other colour any sane street machiner would consider is the Group A’s factory Durif Red hue, so the VN arrived at 2SUS Custom Resprays to have said colour applied.
“When the car arrived on the tow truck and backed up the driveway, I thought to myself, ‘This is just another day with Ray,’” laughs Basser from 2SUS. “Ray is always getting bored and buying things, but the VN was easily the biggest project he’s ever dropped on me.
We shortlisted about five or six colours and did some spray-outs, but when Ray told me he was set on Durif Red I wanted to kill him! To his credit, it was the safe choice, and it keeps it looking factory.”
"I debated whether to go with a Group A or an Aero kit, but I decided the Group A would be more timeless"
Departing from the OE theme set by the bodykit and paint, the bright red trim glowing behind the glass is another throwback to Ray’s roots in the Sex-Spec era.
“Trim makes a car, and I’d been keeping my eyes on what hot rodders in the States were doing with their interiors,” says Ray of how the wild custom cabin came to be. “I’d used the Devonish seats in a VS GTS-R replica I’d built and I knew they were comfortable, while some things like the leather floors we just chose for the ‘wow’ factor. The thought of putting standard Group A-style trim in it never even crossed my mind.”
The longer you look at the interior, the more you see the subtle custom touches bubbling to the surface. The full-length centre console is an easy one to spot, but how many of you noticed the satellite switches shaved off the gauge binnacle? Or the billet armrests and speaker grilles in the door trim?
Ray debuted the VN at the Hot Rod & Custom Auto Expo in Sydney in May this year. “If we didn’t show it there, we’d have to wait until Street Machine Summernats, and I wanted to start driving the thing,” he laughs.
“It’ll be at Summernats 35, though. We’ll be entering the Elite class and trying out for Grand Champion, but then it’s back to street duties where it belongs, cruising with the family.”
1989 HOLDEN VN COMMODORE
|Paint:||PPG Durif Red|
|Induction:||Joe Blo barndoor-converted Enderle hat|
|Blower:||The Blower Shop billet 8/71|
|Camshaft:||Kelford blower cam, LS7 lifters|
|Conrods:||Callies Compstar 6.125in|
|Pistons:||CP-Carrillo 11cc dished|
|Fuel system:||Joe Blo EFI fuel rails, eight 1000cc injectors, custom fuel tank, Shaun’s Custom Alloy pump hanger, two Walbro pumps|
|Management:||Haltech Elite 2500|
|Cooling:||Custom South Coast Radiators brass-core radiator, CVR electric water pump|
|Exhaust:||CAE 17 /8in headers, mandrel-bent 3in system, Hooker mufflers|
|Ignition:||Relocated LS2 coils, custom leads|
|Diff:||BorgWarner housing, 3.9:1 gears, billet axles, billet hat|
|SUSPENSION & BRAKES|
|Front:||QA1 coil-overs, custom twin A-arm independent front suspension|
|Rear:||QA1 coil-overs, adjustable four-link, custom Panhard bar|
|Brakes:||365mm PBR rotors and four-piston AP Racing calipers (f), 350mm PBR rotors and four-piston AP Racing calipers (r)|
|Master cylinder:||Wilwood pedal box|
|Rims:||Simmons FR; 22x8 (f), 22x11 (r)|
|Rubber:||Winrun; 225/30R22 (f), 295/25R22 (r)|
Basser at 2SUS Custom Resprays; Damien at Lowe Fabrications/Chubby’s Garage; Darren at Advanced Custom Interiors; my brother Tony; Dean’s Auto Electrical; Matty Sims at Hitech; Callum at Adept Metal Polishing; Aaron at Memphis Metal Craft; my amazing wife for all the running around; the boys that worked late nights to make it happen.