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Dave J's Chev Powered Gemini

Owner: Dave J
Car: Holden TD Gemini sedan
Year: 1978
Colour: VZ Commodore Blue
Specs: 350 Chev, Turbo350 gearbox, welded diff, custom firewall, custom fuel tank, BM Mega-shifter, Autometer gauges, Skyline seat & race harness

It’s a very simple and very familiar story really. Little car, BIG engine! That was the theory. Almost a year ago now, I started out on this journey of intrigue and despair. An epic adventure to discover just how fast you can go for very little cash. I really wanted to race at the club drag day last year, but with only ten weeks to the event, I still didn’t have a car to race. And so, this mess started. 12’s for $2000.

I borrowed the money to buy a car, a lovely little grandma spec TD Gemini sedan. Within two hours of towing the car home, the stock engine and gearbox was removed and there was a 350 Chev sitting on a block of wood in its place. A work of art. A TH350 gearbox was sourced from another mate who had left it sitting out in the open under a tree in the backyard for three years. Bolted together, the combo was mounted in the car using a custom fabricated engine plate at the front and a welded up standard Gemini transmission mount at the rear. Some minor (hee hee….) trimming of the transmission tunnel was required to accommodate the new gearbox. A set of really crappy rusted extractors were also sourced. These were promptly cut into about twenty pieces before being put back together in the Gemini. A tight fit on the driver’s side, but the passenger side was mint. A six-cylinder commodore radiator was forced into place where the tiny Gemini item used to live. Once again, this required some minor trimming. It was all starting to look like it was going to work at this stage.

The next big step was to build the engine, as up until now, it was just a bare block. Every last cent I had went into buying new standard pistons, rings, bearings, gaskets and oil pump. Gords organised the block to be cleaned and the crank linished, so assembly could begin. I already had a dodgy backyard style honing stone set, so I gave it a try and the bores came up looking pretty good. No measurements of course, I just knew it would be bad and accepted it as such. The price you pay when you’re on an extreme budget. Cleaned up and in went the crank, once again no checking of clearances, standard bearings will be fine. The rest of the short motor went together nicely, including the second hand cam and lifters donated by Mark. On with a set of ‘ported by Dave’ second hand fuellie heads with stock crappy valves. No proper reconditioning here, but they did get a fresh set of valve springs. Manifold, oil pan and water pump fitted, the engine was ready for a coat of paint and in it went.

Engine and gearbox back in the car, the arduous task of plumbing, wiring and fitting up all the other little items to make it drive, begins. One of the lucky items that was re-used from the standard driveline was the tailshaft. Many people shudder when I tell them the car has a standard Gemini tailshaft with a 6 cylinder slip yoke on the end, mated to a welded up stock Gemini diff. Definitely a weak link in the vehicle!

With crossed fingers I hit the key for the very first time. Joy, the sweet sound of a Chevy small block, “It’s alive!”. Still with one week till the drag day, I decided to give the car a little bit of a spruce up. A fresh coat of colour made a massive difference. A total of $48 was spent on materials for the spray job and only one litre of colour was used to paint the whole car. It looked pretty darn good.

Total investment of $1850 dollars. With four days till the drag day I went to warm the car up so I could reset the rockers, hit the key………….Nothing. The starter motor had died. CRAP! Out it comes, off to Chris for a rebuild, then back in the car. All good……..for two hours, then it died again. This time, it wasn’t re-buildable. With no money at all and three days till the drag day, I borrowed a starter motor and got the car running again.


Super keen and super early to the track, I was set to race. Ideas of babying the engine for a couple of passes to run it in were abandoned in about three seconds. 6000rpm, top gear, lots of smoke. A couple of runs in the high 13’s, I was pretty happy. Bloody hot, but happy. A best time of 13.10@109 was my best for the day. Right before that borrowed starter died. Oh well these are the things that test us. Still a cracker number for straight off the trailer with a brand new engine.

At the drag day I raced on stock 185/65/14 Kelly charger tyres. Which provided less than adequate grip. I manage to get my hands on a pair of 235/60/14 tyres and made up some rims to fit them to. A very tight squeeze to fit them under the car, it sure did look tuff though. Plans were in place to race the car Friday night at Calder. Tuesday night the car cracked the shits with me, and didn’t want to run. In my stuffing around, I managed to start the car in gear, and drive it into a pole on the side of my carport. Lovely! Fixed with a day to go. The new tyres worked better than poxy old 185’s but the new tyres were nicknamed ‘concrete radials’, as they were as hard as concrete. A best time of 12.42@114mph was achieved. WOOHOO! Objective achieved. 12 seconds ¼’s for $2000. Just for some fun, I entered the burnout comp as well. Having never competed in a skid comp before, I was nervous as hell. To make things worse and add some additional pressure, I was competing against Paul in his Ute and Gords in his wagon, both seasoned burnout competitors. I sort of got a little carried away and enthusiastic. 7500rpm in top gear makes a bit of smoke apparently. I walked away with the first place trophy, a timeslip for 12.42 and some seriously second had paint. One happy camper.

Faced with the decision to fix the damage or respray the car a different colour and straighten up the panels a bit, I just had to take the harder option and respray the car. Over a couple of weeks I prepped the panels and Gords laid on a shiny new coat or ten of VZ commodore Blue. Matched with an interior revamp, the car didn’t look quite so bad any more. Pretty nice actually. Just in time for Spring Car Nationals.

Springcar came and went, without a drama. Definitely my best Springcar ever. Many many tires gave up their tread for the greater good that weekend. But now I want more. A new pair of slicks have been purchased and fitted. On my first run back at Calder, 12.26@108. Second run, 12.10@109. Very happy! With any luck, next time out I will run an 11 second pass. That would be awesome, 11’s for $3500.

A massive thanks to almost every Eastside member for all your help along the way. I am pretty sure that just about everyone has helped at some stage.

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