THIRD TIME’S A CHARM: Matthew La Spada’s 398ci VL Commodore

12 Apr

Matthew La Spada's Holden VL Commodore


After starting a family, buying a house and owning two other V8-powered VLs, Matthew La Spada finally has the VL of his dreams
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There’s an old saying that claims ‘good things come to those who wait’ and that adage is probably best shown in the story of how Matthew La Spada came to pilot this pristine VL Group A clone. Where most people tinker with modified cars are young – indeed, many of our top feature cars are owned by people under 30 – 41-year-old mechanic Matthew was wise enough to play around with Commodores pretty casually until only recently. And his patience has paid off.

Matthew La Spada's Holden VL Commodore“I’d done all the right things first,” Matthew says. “I built my house, got married and had a child. I had even sold my other cars to fund the house, but that itch to build a car was always there.”

Matthew would find himself watching eBay every night after putting his daughter to bed, trawling through the muscle car listings and lamenting the insane prices for his unicorn car, an HQ 2-door Monaro. Still, he kept his eyes open for something he could afford. “I’ve had two other VLs in the past: a Berlina and a Calais and both V8s,” he says. “I’ve always had a soft spot for them.”

As it turned out, eBay would offer up the basis for his next project and our story would begin in earnest. Although it almost didn’t happen at all. “I spotted this VL and I kept an eye on it,” he says. “I watched the price go down over a couple of auctions and then myself, my dad and brother went out to check it out and made an offer, but the seller refused it. So, we drove off. But the next day the seller called and said ‘come pick it up’.”Matthew La Spada's Holden VL Commodore

Getting the previous owner to agree to the price was only half the battle. Half way home, a trans’ line blew, spraying fluid all over the gearbox and extractors, causing plenty of smoke, but thankfully no fire. “It must have been close to catching fire,” Matthew says.

Despite the rocky start, Matthew now had the basis of a project build. Not that a full rebuild was what Matt actually had in mind to start with. “It was in average condition when I bought it, but it was a good starting point,” he says. “I really only meant to put a set of mag wheels on it, lower it, fit a Momo steering wheel and some number plates. I just couldn’t stop.”

Perhaps one thing that forced Matthew’s hand was that he already had a stockpile of VL spare parts in the shed looking for a new home – thanks to his previous VLs. “I had a lot of spares put away for a VL build, but had pretty much used none of them on the previous two cars,” he explains. “When I stripped this one down and had parts strewn all over the floor and back yard, I knew I was in trouble.”

Matthew La Spada's Holden VL CommodoreDuring the build, Matthew must have driven his family mad with frequent misuse of the clothesline for spraying parts and more than a few late nights in the shed. However, he says the build also helped bring other family members closer. “I would do it all again,” he says. “I had great times with my family and friends building this car.”

And what a car he’s built. The 398ci stroker Holden is about as big as you’re likely to get out of a 5L. Hume Performance achieved the prodigious cubes with a 3.875in COME Racing crank and matching 5.850in H-beam rods, connected to forged Probe pistons. This rotating assembly is housed within a welded and grout-filled VN Group A SS 4-bolt block that’s had numerous improvements made for power and longevity, including deburring the valley for better oil control.

The round-port Group A SS heads were also ported, which together with the large 825cfm carb’ and single-plane intake makes breathing easy – a good thing when your cam’ boasts well over 0.600in of lift. This is all backed by a built T350 and narrowed BW rear end with 31-spline billet axles and a 4-pinion LSD centre.Matthew La Spada's Holden VL Commodore

Inside things perfectly match the HDT homage exterior, with Walkinshaw buckets and the original Berlina bench wrapped in light grey leather. The dash and plastics have been painted to match a grey plush pile carpets can be found under foot. While there is a Pioneer stereo in the car (with the rear 6x9in speakers hidden in the parcel tray and a 4-channel amp behind the rear seats), Matt tells us he prefers the sound of the V8 rumbling through the custom Hurricane headers and twin 3in stainless system any day.

Despite the lack of modified wheel tubs, the VL boasts a nice amount of backspacing on the 19x9in Simmons FR rims, which is made possible by the previously mentioned narrowed Borg Warner diff’ housing. The Simmons hide some nice detailing on the larger brakes and in the interests of saving finger and knuckle skin, the inner wheel hoops have been painted silver to prevent the need for constant polishing.

A Holden-friendly family, the La Spada clan plays host to several more nice Holden rides, including Matthew’s former daily VU SS that boasts the usual bolt-on mods and his brother Peter’s immaculate VL Calais. Together, they’ve got another early girl Commodore in the build and we can’t wait to see how that turns out. If it’s anything like this tough and tasty Berlina, it’ll be something to behold.

Owner: Matthew La Spada
Model: 1987 VL Berlina
Bodywork: HDT Group A, modified wheel arches, modified rear bumper moulds
Colour: Venetian red/custom mix
Block: VN Group A SS 4-bolt
Engine Mods: Welded and grout-filled block, COME Racing crank and H-beam rods (398ci), Probe forged pistons (11:1-comp’), Diamond rings, King bearings, ported cast VN Group A heads, Ferrea 6000-series valves, Isky valve springs and retainers, custom catch can, Camtech billet cam’ (0.653/666in lift, 255/261° duration, 108° LSA), 1.65:1 roller rockers, head and mains studs, Rollmaster timing chain, JP oil pump, High Energy sump, heavy-duty water pump, SPAL 16in thermo, PWR alloy radiator, 200A alternator, custom 6-rib pulleys, Romac harmonic balancer, 825cfm Holley Pro Series carb’, Torque Power single-plane intake manifold (match-ported), K&N filter, MSD Pro Billet dizzy, MSD Blaster, MSD 6AL, Holley billet FPR, dash-6 fuel lines, Aeroflow fuel log and throttle linkage, billet power steering reservoir
Power: 466rwhp (347rwkW)
Exhaust: Custom Hurricane tri-Y headers (1-7/8in primaries), twin 3in stainless system
Gearbox: T350, 4000rpm stall, reverse-pattern valve body, manualised
Diff: Borg Warner, 3.9:1 final drive, LSD, 4-pinion centre, Moser 31-spline billet axles, custom two-piece tail shaft
Brakes: 296mm front rotors, twin-piston front calipers, 279mm rear rotors, VL V8 rear calipers, Bendix pads, modified VT booster, VT master cylinder, hidden braided brake lines, stainless fittings
Suspension: Custom Jumbo springs, Monroe GT gas shocks, Pedders sway bars, Whiteline adjustable panhard, Nolathane bushings, boxed rear trailing arms, adjustable top rear trailing arms, adjustable camber/castor strut tops
Wheels/Tyres: 19in Simmons FR19 (8in front, 9in rear), Khumo Ecsta SPT tyres
Interior: Scheel seats, light grey leather trim, Momo Race steering wheel, painted dash and plastics, suede roof lining, HDT cluster, Autometer ancillary gauges, NOS seat belt buttons, grey carpets, trimmed and panelled boot
Stereo: Pioneer CD head unit, 4-channel power amp’, 6x9in Pioneer rear speakers in parcel tray, Gold Series cabling, electric aerial
Build period: 4 years
Cost: Undisclosed
Contacts: On Track Auto Electrical, Hume Performance, Abruzzi Race Transmissions, Terry Diffs & Chassis, Smithfield Diff & Gears, Race Brakes, Alfa Motorsport Fibreglass, All Trim, Anthony Coronna (paint, engine bay), Alex Vella (undercarriage, interior plastics), Hume Mufflers, Lowe Fabrications, Daryl (custom pulleys/brackets), Tempe Tyres, Liverpool Trans, Ricky (tail shaft), Peps Auto Parts – Hoxton Park, Anthony Fonti, my father Phil and my brother Peter (endless help and advice), “And last but not least my darling wife Ana-Maria and my daughter Veronica for all their patience, love and support”

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