FAIR to say, I donít mind a road trip. So much so that when my EJ was first finished, photographer Simon Davidson and I used it as our transport to the inaugural drags at Barcaldine Airport in Queensland, a 3172km round trip from Davoís home in Bondi.
Iíve always wanted to add trips to Perth, Tassie and Alice Springs to the EJís scorecard, so when Red CentreNATS was announced, I was there! I figured there would be a few lunatics whoíd be keen to convoy to Alice Springs with me, and sure enough Jason Vandyk stuck his hand up, ready to take on the 4700km round trip.
Jason also has an EJ, though his is a ute and goes a whole lot faster than mine. Iíd met Jason and his mate Nathan Lambert many years ago out on Lake Gairdner, where Jason and Nathan were racing an evil 1980s Pontiac Trans Am, stuffed full of blown and injected small-block. That car saw 200mph and surprised some of the older hands.
The pair have always had some interesting streeters, and Jasonís EJ is no different. Despite appearing mostly stock it has had a ton of development to its 100-per-cent Holden driveline, with a Sprintex-supercharged Holden black motor doing the talking.
The fact Red CentreNATS has a drag racing element was the perfect lure for Jase Ė heíd get to prove the reliability of his concept with a mega outback drive, do some laps, then haul home.
Nathan volunteered to ride shotgun in the ute and two more of Jasonís mates decided to sign up as well, both with interesting cars. Jeff Birchfield is a spray painter by trade, and it shows with the silky smooth panels on his HJ Monaro. Under the bonnet is a unique set-up, with a little 253 V8 taking boost from a Vortech blower through a blowthrough four-barrel deal. It also runs power steering, air con, rear airbags and a big stereo Ė a damn comfy car to tackle the run to Alice!
The quartet of Holdens was rounded out by Peter Traumanisís VTII.
Packing a couple of low-mount turbos on a stock LS1, the Commodore makes some 600hp at the treads. And with a six-speed shifter and four-link rear, itís a unique combo.
The other boys had a fairly busy lead-up to the trip; Jason fitted a larger radiator and new gearbox to the ute, as well as cruise control and a new battery, while Jeff treated the Monaro to a last-minute paint job.
Pete was going to make the trip without fitting decent valve springs to his
long-suffering LS1, but Jason wasnít having any of it. He ordered a set for Pete and fitted them himself.
My preparations were mainly based around preventative maintenance, though I did replace the accessory gauges in the EJ with new items that actually worked, something Iíd been meaning to do since 2008.
Having been to the DLRA Speed Week in Lake Gairdner many times, Jason and Nathan were well-practised in covering the first half of our trip from Melbourne to Port Augusta, an 11-hour drive in one day.
Travelling at night in the bush is fraught with danger due to wildlife on the roads, so the plan was to leave as early as possible to ensure we got into Port Augusta before sundown.
After some inevitable stuffing around, we left the outskirts of Melbourne just after sunrise. Melbourne Ė of course Ė was cold and wet, but by the time we hit the Victorian/SA border things had brightened up considerably.
National Highway A8 has a few shitty sections, but the major downfall of our route was heading across the top of Adelaide, which slowed progress considerably. Our late start and frequent stops for photos meant our goal of being at Port before sundown was dashed, so we motored the last hour or so in the dark. Luckily, furry critters on the roadside were few and far between. Once in town, we checked into the Big 4 and were treated to a slap-up barbecue in the shed by some very hospitable locals.
The target for Day Two was Coober Pedy, a mere 542km away. Leaving Port Augusta, the landscape really flattens out and starts to feel like genuine outback. The roads were pretty good, and as a bonus we were greeted by scores of vintage trucks heading home from the truckiesí Hall of Fame gathering in Alice Springs. It was a beautiful section of road, and knowing that we were skirting the top of Lake Gairdner was neat.
Coober Pedy is the opal mining capital of the world and has something of a post-apocalyptic feel to it. We would have liked to spend more time checking it out, but Alice Springs was just 688km away.
We were trucking along quite nicely on Day Three and stopped at Marla Travellerís Rest roadhouse for fuel, where we met Kev from Western Australia in his AP5 sedan. The Val had a leaky carby, but with a bit of advice from our resident mechanic (Pete) he was soon on his way again and joined our convoy.
Only a couple of kilometres down the road the EJ decided to follow suit, pissing fuel out of the needle and seat. This was despite the fact Iíd rebuilt the carbies before I left! Pete spotted that one of the hard fuel lines
was loose and needed a big turn to be properly tight, so it will need some attention now that Iím home.
A couple of hours later, we crossed into Northern Territory and soon found 130km/h speed limits. Yee-ha! I cranked the grey motor up, but couldnít crack more than 122 clicks on the GPS.
The self-proclaimed first and last pub in the Territory, at Kulgera, was the next stop and itís a beauty, with a killer roadhouse and good tucker. We got the chance to check out more vintage trucks as well as perve on some other hotties bound for Red CentreNATS.
Our final fuel stop for the day was just 200 clicks from Alice at Erldunda, where PULP was nearing the two-dollar mark. The turn-off to Uluru is here, and any thoughts that we could jam in a 400km round-trip visit to Ayers Rock were dashed. It could be done, but sometimes common sense prevails. This is unusual for the SM team, but we had a big weekend ahead.
The drive from Melbourne to Alice is one that I can recommend to anyone.
There are enough fuel stops and accommodation options to make planning easy, the roads are good and the landscape is epic. Thereís bugger-all mobile coverage outside of the towns, which was all right by me.
You can check out our full Red CentreNATS coverage on page 74, but rest assured, we had fun. Peter, Jason and I all had a lash at the drags, and while the heat and altitude meant we didnít set any records, we had a fat time on what is one of the best regional quarter-mile tracks in the land. Pete also had a go at the dyno and not only pulled 607 ponies at the treads, but took out the competition as well.
On the way home, we decided to tackle the trip back to Melbourne in two days. We were all weary from a big weekend, but the cars were in good nick Ė even if the inside of the EJ resembled a particularly untidy brothel. Our plan was to get to Port Augusta in one hit and then make it to Melbourne the next day. Getting it done meant leaving before sunrise and demanded quick fuel stops Ė no time for sit-down feeds or long chin-wags this time.
It was hard yakka in the EJ and we didnít arrive at Port until well after dark.
The other boys went out on a shed crawl, but after a steak and a lemon squash, we were done for the day. The final leg was more of the same, though we did stop in Adelaide to visit the Auto Transformers boys. We also checked out a cool FX Holden survivor in a country Holden dealership and got the mandatory photo with the unspeakably evil Giant Koala.
Soon after our meeting with that particularly unappealing marsupial, the sun went down and so did the rain. Driving the EJ in the wet and in the dark on some fairly average roads takes a bit of attention, so I slowed down and let the other guys go ahead. In fact, the Monaro smashed us all
on the way home and was back in Warragul before nightfall.
Photographer Nathan and I didnít make it until nine-ish, but we were glad weíd shaved a whole day off our itinerary.
Now, after all that, you could have excused the boys if they took a few weeks off cars, but not this crew. To round the trip off, Jason and Pete took their rides to the opening meet at Calder Park the very next weekend and smashed out new PBs Ė a great testament to a couple of very well-sorted street cars. Naturally, both lads are both keen to go faster Ė Jasonís ute will soon cop a tougher motor (still a Holden six, of course) and Peteís Commodore needs a new clutch.
What did we learn from all of this? Well, I learned that photographer Jacobs is a ninja at packing a car. Despite having to fit an extra spare tyre, heaps of fuel, spares, Esky and photography gear, he managed to squeeze everything in with room to spare. He says it comes from being a drummer, but I was impressed Ė it is a big thing to let another man pack your car!
We also learned that driving is a great way to get to know your own country, and that an all-sausage-roll diet is not good for you. The old adage Ďif you pack plenty of spares, tools and fuel youíll be unlikely to need themí also proved true. Most of all, it confirmed that road trips in street machines rule, and are even better in good company. See you on the road next year! s
JEFFíS home-brewed Monaro is a thing of beauty. While it is dressed with an HQ Statesman grille, it is actually an HJ. The driveline consists of a 253 Holden V8, with a T5 five-speed and 3.08:1 10-bolt diff. Giving the little thong-slapper a bit of a kick-along is a Vortech supercharger, pumping 8psi into a plenum that holds a single 750DP carb. It may not be a rocket ship, but it gets along well and returned a respectable 10.5 litres per 100 clicks on our trip. Jeff gave it heaps too, but it never missed a beat. Down the track, Jeff plans to upgrade to a 308-based combo for some extra legs. Air con, power steer and a big stereo make for comfy cruising.
MY EJ is unashamedly all show and no go.
Instead of pouring my cash into making it faster, I concentrated on flash paint, custom trim and going through it mechanically from top to bottom. The driveline remains a mild grey motor, with a three-speed crash-box and unboosted drums all íround. And you know what? If kept in good nick, that is all you need for daily commuting duties and epic road trips. Sure, it isnít fast (or economical Ė it used only slightly less fuel than Jasonís blown black motor), but it is reliable as hell and lots of fun. There is a decent stereo hidden under the front seat for tunes and the bench seat makes a great desk for photo editing.
THE newest car in our pack is every inch a street machine, with plenty of old-school tricks under the skin. The car started life as an HBD Exec with an LS1 six-speed, but Pete has tarted it up with lots of goodies from a VTII Clubby. The engine remains the factory LS1, with a new set of valve springs.
The power-adder is a low-mount AVO twinturbo system, with an air-to-air intercooler and an Aquamist water injection system.
The six-speed remains Ė purely for the fun factor Ė with an uprated clutch and a 3.25:1 nine-inch diff suspended by a four-link designed by Pete and mate Mick Zahra. The VT ticks over at just 1380rpm at 110km/h, and returns 8.57L/100km.
JASONíS EJ ute (yes, it is an EJ, but with an EH front end) is a rolling testbed for his Holden six supercharger kit. His aim was to retain a basic Holden driveline from front to back, with a mild black motor, columnshift Trimatic auto and 3.08:1 BorgWarner diff, and create a car with excellent street manners, decent economy and lots of grunt!
The result is a 300hp engine that idles around town like a Camry, runs 12.7s over the quarter and returns 14L/100km on the highway. The kit is based around a Sprintex supercharger, pumping 8psi boost into a ported VK Commodore EFI inlet manifold, with an Autronic ECU, LS1 injectors and fuel rail and a well-massaged 12-port head.