I've always had a soft spot for VJ Valiants. My twin brother, younger sister and I spent many years of our childhood in the back of my dad’s taxi-spec Ranger as we made the six-hour trek from Kalgoorlie to Perth, thankful that the high-back bench seat meant Dad couldn’t reach over and give us a clip over the ear. Dad’s car was Hemi-powered, but unfortunately it was just the 265 six-cylinder version.
First published in the May 2023 issue of Street Machine
Mike Roycroft’s VJ, on the other hand, has a proper Hemi bent-eight. And what’s the only thing that makes a Hemi better? A blower, and this car has an absolute doozy.
But more on all that later. For now, let’s backtrack a bit, because this VJ’s got a bit more of a story to tell than what parts went into its most recent build.
Mike bought the car back in 2009 when he was still a teenager. “I spotted it online on the now defunct MoparMarket website and fell in love with it straight away,” he says. “Metallic purple paint, satin Auto Drags and a tough little 360 small-block had me booking a plane ticket to South Australia all by myself to meet the then-owner, Chris.
I was pretty much sold on the car before I even got there, but I still made Chris drive me all around Adelaide showing me how it went. A quick little powerskid clicking up to top gear and I was hooked.”
After getting the car back to Perth, Mike cruised the wheels off it, but being a young and slightly excitable bloke, he was constantly breaking stuff and pouring his non-existent apprentice’s wages into keeping it running.
Before he knew it, the car was mini-tubbed on billets and with an 8/71 Littlefield-blown, mechanically injected small-block in the engine bay. “Looking back, it’s amazing how far you can make bugger-all money go when you don’t eat, go out, buy new clothes or have a social life,” Mike says.
It was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen or heard; it was so intense I could feel it vibrate in my bones. I’ll never forget that
The car is most well-known for its spectacular blow-up at Summernats 25, which I witnessed with my own eyes while standing next to another Mopar tragic, Mark Arblaster, who commented, “He told me the motor had all the good bits in it, but he’s wrong – they’re all on the ground!”
From Mike’s point of view, it wasn’t all bad. He was impressed the car even survived until Sunday, considering he’d built the motor himself and couldn’t afford more than one set of pulleys. “It basically meant I was only able to run it super overdriven for like 25 pounds of boost,” he recalls. Clearly that was one pound too much.
That event made Mike more determined to build the car the best he could, strictly for burnouts and events. “I was still young; now I actually had some decent income but still no clue as to what I was doing, which, looking back, was really foolish,” he recalls.
“Before I knew it, I had bought the bare bones of an aluminium Hemi from the USA, a used PSI D-Series blower off a Doorslammer and a whole bunch of stuff that I had no idea how it even worked. I burned up some serious cash real quick.
“Everyone I spoke to was super encouraging, feeding me with false courage, until about a year later when I was getting to the point of actually putting it all together and making it run. That’s when the crickets started chirping and nothing actually happened. No matter what I did or how much I spent, I just hit brick wall after brick wall, which in turn frustrated me and led to the car sitting for a fair while.”
The silver lining to that story is that Mike learnt a very valuable lesson – you need to have knowledge and the right people behind you before you start. Through some mutual friends, Mike got talking to a bona fide legend of the West Aussie scene, George Separovich of Blown Motorsports. He had a look over the car and explained how many parts of the build were oh-so-wrong.
“Most people would probably cry having someone criticise their build like that, but I found it refreshing to have somebody actually tell me straight,” Mike says.
At this stage of the build, Mike started to learn a bit of patience and also grew out of wanting to do burnouts, so he decided to turn the Val into more of an all-rounder events car.
He employed Cronic Customs to do the majority of the VJ’s fabrication, which was pretty substantial: a flat firewall, smoothed engine bay, rollcage, front- and mid-engine plates, new tunnel and a centralised driveline. Cronic also handled the 2.25-inch primary headers and dual four-inch exhaust that runs all the way to the back of the car.
With all the fabrication completed, it was time to fit up the freshly built engine that George had put together, still with the D-Series PSI screw blower. With a tune-up and some fresh methanol in the tank, they fired it up one afternoon. “It was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen or heard; it was so intense I could feel it vibrate in my bones – I’ll never forget that,” Mike says. “From there, my mind was made up. I swiftly sold the PSI blower and George sourced me a beautiful billet-case 14/71 – still absolutely overkill, but much more useable.”
The new blower required some last-minute modifications to the firewall to clear its enormous set-back, so the car went off to another legend in the WA scene, Matt James at Unwanted Automotive. Mike loves how it looks with the blower cut into the firewall – kind of ridiculous, but perfect at the same time.
With the car ready for paint, Mike stripped it down and sent it off to Vince Ilarda at Pro-Spray. There was a lot of pressure from Valiant restorers and other concerned citizens to restore the VJ back to its factory Sherwood Green glory, but that wasn’t the path Mike followed. “The colour is called black; George picked it for me,” he says simply. “It turned out great.”
One of the last jobs to tackle was the wiring, which was done by Mat Lloyd, whose Charger we featured in SM, Aug ’22. “He fell in love with my car as soon as he saw it. To be honest, I think he was more excited about the car than I was at that point, and you can see that reflected in his work, as it is flawless,” says Mike.
The last piece of the puzzle was the interior, and Mike is very fortunate to have a phenomenal trimmer as a mate. “Rob Sellen was the man for the job, coming over for many cups of tea over the course of a week or two to get the trim done,” he explains.
“Rob pretty much trimmed everything, including the handmade carpet to suit the floorpan, dash pad and roofliner – everything except the NOS door cards, which I opened from their original 50-year-old packaging specially to upset the TAVOs.”
Mike admits he never really had one clear vision of what he wanted from his VJ. “I might take it to a few events or shows, but that’s about it. There’s no real point to the car; I don’t want to do burnouts, it’s not engineered to be any kind of race car, and I definitely can’t street-drive it.” So that explains the POINTLESS number plates, in case you were wondering. If you ask me, though, I reckon the car is right on point.
1975 VJ VALIANT RANGER
|Type:||470ci Indy Maxx Hemi V8|
|Injection:||Joe Blo Speed Shop|
|Blower:||PSI 14/71 billet|
|Fuel pump:||Waterman Li’l Bertha (f), MagnaFuel 500 (r)|
|Heads:||Indy 1RA6 Legend CNC|
|Valves:||Titanium 2.40in (in), 1.94in (ex)|
|Cam:||Ray Barton solid-roller|
|Pistons:||CP with DLC heavy-duty pins|
|Conrods:||Crower billet steel|
|Exhaust:||2.25in headers into dual 4in system|
|Ignition:||MSD Pro Mag 44|
|Gearbox:||Paul Rogers Powerglide|
|Converter:||SCE billet bolt-together|
|Diff:||Sheet-metal 9in, Moser 35-spline axles, full spool|
|Front:||Control Freak tubular IFS, Viking coil-overs|
|Rear:||Ladders bars, Strange coil-overs|
|Steering:||Flaming River billet rack-and-pinion|
|Brakes:||Wilwood discs and six-piston calipers (f & r)|
|Rims:||Weld RTS S71; 18x8 (f), 20x12 (r)|
|Rubber:||235/40R18 (f), 315/35ZR20 (r)|
Mum and Dad for not questioning me building the car when I was younger; George Separovich at Blown Motorsports; Terry Napoli at Shift Transmissions; Justen Brown at Fordhold Wreckers; Matt James at Unwanted Automotive; Rob Sellen at Rob Sellen Motor Trimming; Mat Lloyd for the awesome wiring job; Nelg Taylor at Nelg’s Ali Mods; Adam Spiteri at Cronic Customs; Vince Ilarda at Pro-Spray