HAVING owned plenty of strip-only weapons, John Huysmans thought it was about time he built himself a registered one. That’s how this tough-as-nails, XY-fronted XW ute came about.
“Nobody suspects it’s packing 1200hp,” says John, from Orange, NSW. “I can pull up at the servo and just putt around without attracting too much attention.”
The 50-year-old has been playing around with race cars since he was 15. “I just love racing; it started with an 11-second LJ – I was very young and it was way too quick,” John laughs.
A few other cars followed, before John moved onto a 351 Windsor-powered Capri that won a lot of races, running a best of 10.1@134mph. Then John got busy with other stuff, and after not running the car for years, he ended up selling it. But as the Street Machine faithful know all too well, once it’s in the blood, Racer’s Disease is all but incurable.
“Five or six years ago I started following Hot Rod Drag Week in the US,” John says. “I thought: ‘Now that’s a challenge.’”
So shortly after adding ‘Compete in Drag Week’ to his bucket list, a reasonably clean-looking XW ute came along. It was the perfect basis for a Drag Week challenger – a street car he could race!
Back then only a handful of cars at Drag Week were in the sevens; any car running consistent eights was class-competitive, so that’s what John set his sights on.
A twin-turbo, EFI, 429-cube small-block was deemed to be the combo to run the number. Kim Baker from Baker Precision Engines looked after the specs and all the machine work, while John screwed the formidable mill together himself at home in the shed.
On one of his trips to the States (including one with Ross Preen when he went over to cackle his FED, Banshee, at the Bakersfield 20th Anniversary), John and his brother Tony dropped into Turbonetics to pick up a pair of 67mm hairdryers. They also swung by Hogan’s Racing Manifolds to collect a custom intake – a high-flow unit that kept everything under the bonnet.
Mr Hogan was feeling particularly hospitable, giving Tony and John the grand tour of the normally topsecret premises.
John is very hands-on, preferring to tackle as much as possible himself. He’s taught himself to be a pretty handy fabricator; he’s even learnt EFI programming. But one area where things didn’t
Colour: Vermillion Fire
Engine: 429ci small-block Block: World Man O’ War 9.5 block Intake: Hogan Heads: AFR 225 Turbos: Turbonetics 67mm Cam/lifters: Crow Cams solid-roller Valve springs: PAC Pushrods: Crow Cams Crank/rods: Scat Pistons: CP forged Rings: CP ECU: Autronic Cam angle sensor: AEM Injectors: Bosch 100lb/hr Fuel pump: Aeromotive Ignition: Individual coils under the dash Radiator: PWR Turbo manifolds: Steampipe Exhaust: 3in twin system Pref fuel: PULP 98 Power: 1150hp at 13.9psi
Gearbox: Reid two-speed Converter: Dominator 3500rpm stall Diff: Sheet-metal 9in, Strange centre, MW 35-spline axles Tailshaft: 3in custom
Front suspension: RRS struts, adjustable shock inserts Rear suspension: CalTracs monoleaf, adjustable CalTracs shocks Brakes: RRS Phase III discs (f), GT drums (r) Master cylinder: XY PBR with PBR booster
Trim: Factory Seats: Race buckets Wheel: Autotechnica Harness: Five-point Shifter: B&M Pro Ratchet Gauges: Auto Meter Cobalt digital
Road rims: Weld Racing; 15x5 (f), 15x8 (r) Road rubber: Mastercraft; 235/60R15 (f), 245/60R15 (r) Race rubber: Moroso frontrunners (f), M/T ET Radial X275/60R15 (r)
Kim & Justin at Baker Precision Engines; Sticky & Claude at Rocket Industries; Stuart (helper and racing opponent); Tony (brother and helper); Rob (welding); Adam Cope at ACM Mechanical; Timmy R & Timmy H (all-rounders); Jimmy H (datalogging); Garry Rosser (pit crew); my grandsons Toby & Hunter (two little kids that are future racers and already car-obsessed); my very supportive wife, Lee
work out as planned was the turbo manifolds.
After unsuccessfully attempting to weld the steampipe himself, John enlisted an expert welder to get ’em right.
To fit all the turbo plumbing and help the handling, the ute was outfitted with RRS struts and the company’s optional tower-notching kit.
John’s also pretty happy about the improved braking from the beefy RRS stoppers.
John’s brother Tony was a tremendous help throughout the build, especially on all the hard stuff like the intercooler plumbing. With engine and plumbing finalised, the ute was stripped and sent to the sand blasters.
“What a mistake,” John says. “Almost nothing came back. It was all chicken wire and bog. If I’d known how bad it was, I would’ve got another shell instead of putting so much into this one.”
In the end, John pretty much replaced the entire lower six inches of the ute.
“At least I know it’s right now,” he says. “I also added a bit more chassis strength while it was on the rotisserie.”
After spending every weekend and every night for 12 months cutting out rust, it was over to Stu and the crew at SB Smash for panel ’n’ paint.
In just three short weeks they massaged John’s repairs, knocked the panels into shape and laid on the Vermillion Fire duco.
Unfortunately, a host of nasty problems plagued the ute’s early track outings.
“More stuff went wrong than you can possibly imagine,” John says. “There were oil leaks, it threw belts, popped a head gasket, bent then broke a conrod – so all new rods and pistons, plus cleaning up a bore. Now that’s sorted, it’s running good and proving to be rock-solid reliable.”
Along the way the stock leaf springs were ditched in favour of a full CalTracs system that includes traction bars, adjustable mono-leaf springs and adjustable shocks. Picking up a full three-tenths with the CalTracs set-up put a pretty big smile on John’s face. The ute’s best run so far is a 9.14@147mph.
During the build, John’s life changed, including buying a new business, so his US Drag Week aspirations had to go on hold. On the bright side, Street Machine’s Drag Challenge is alive and well, with John already signing to be on the startline at Adelaide International Raceway this November.
“I’m really looking forward to Drag Challenge,” John enthuses. “Rather than push it, I just want to run consistent low nines.”
That doesn’t mean he’s not still looking for eights in the long run, though. “It launches hard, 60-footing at 1.35,” John says of the ute. “When Frank Marchese was running high sevens [in the Dandy Engines XW] he was 60-footing at 1.30.
So I’m in the hunt. With the new barrel intercooler sorted, the boost dialled up, and E85 or race fuel in the tank, it should run something like an 8.8.”
For Drag Challenge though, the number one key to staying reliable is keeping heat out of the engine bay. With this in mind, John is happy to sacrifice ET and keep it on 98 so he can have fun and get to every track. But if all goes well this year, John’s talking about having another crack in 2018 with the wick turned up. That’ll definitely be something worth watching. s
“IT’S A work-in-progress,” John says of his XW. “I don’t think they’re ever finished.” Indeed, when these photos were taken the intercooler plumbing was missing.
The original configuration relied on a front-mount air-to-air intercooler.
“On Baker’s dyno, the boost peaked at 13.9psi,” John says. “Although that was good for 1150hp, the intercooling and plumbing was only rated at 1000hp – it’d reached its maximum flow capacity and was limiting boost. So I’m in the middle of swapping to a water-to-air barrel ’cooler (pictured below) rated at 1400hp, which should see the ute drop into the eights once we turn the engine up.”