6 March 2018

Cop car to drag car: is this the fastest Smokey VK Commodore?

By Aaron LoftsAaron Lofts
After retirement from the force, the VK's sole purpose was for drag racing promotions at Calder Park Raceway. (image credit: Ross Vasse)

​By any mechanical diagnosis, a Smokey Commodore can mean one of two things. Either it’s a drag car or the engine is at the end of its life. But the latter is not applicable to this survivor.

You turn the key – the engine roars into life. The lumpy cam and the throaty idle spell business. Select a gear and slowly creep forward to meet the marker. Once you pass the point of no return, you slam your foot onto the throttle – your other foot holding the brake on carefully to control the skid. The engine revs clean, the tyres are smoking. You’ve just added heat into the rear tyres, ensuring you get grip when you need it most. Your heart is pumping - fast.

Rolling back into position, you take a look around. There are mixed looks in the crowd, some are of disbelief and others are smiles with fists in the air. Once you’re lined up at the starting line, you see both the staging lights lit up. There is a short moment where you can’t believe what is about to happen, you’re in a police car on a drag strip!

You lean down and flick the switch, the blue lights on top of the car spin around furiously. The crowd screams and cheers, then it’s time. One, two, three lights and then GO! Hurtling down the asphalt, eyes on the road ahead, you hear the gears change when the shift-light flashes. The V8 is screaming at the top of its lungs as you cross the finish line, giving it everything it’s got. You glance up and see 12.5s and 181km/h!

The VK's best running quarter mile time run was around 12.3 seconds. (image credit: Ross Vasse) The VK's best running quarter mile time run was around 12.3 seconds. (image credit: Ross Vasse)

You’ve just run a true BT1 police car down the drag strip!

This VK Commodore BT1 Survivor began its life in 1985 and was recruited to the Victorian Police Force. But we can now all relax as this car will no longer chase down any speeding hoon despite retaining its original blue lights, siren, dispatch radio and V8 engine grunt.

This survivor actually has a genuine thread of kinship attached to it. You see, the current owner, Brad Lighton’s father drove this very car. His dad was a member of the Victorian Police Motoring Driving School, where Police officers would be trained to drive in pursuit scenarios plus a number of other driving situations. As part of its life with the Victorian Police Force, it was used in a legal drag way program where one could race their own car against it. Yes a drag race against a genuine Police car without fear of a ticket! Its best running quarter mile time was around 12.3 seconds.

As is custom, the Police Force would move their cars on after a couple of years and replace them with a more current version. This particular car would be replaced by the new Holden VL Commodore BT1.

The next home for this ex-police VK Survivor was with Bob Jane. Its sole purpose this time around was for drag racing promotions at Calder Park Raceway. It also featured in a magazine article in 1987, making sure everyone knew about the true Police history of this drag strip Survivor. Unfortunately, the original motor kept blowing gaskets as it couldn't handle the aftermarket fitted nitrous oxide. As is often the case with drag racing vehicles, a replacement engine was installed with the original block’s whereabouts unknown. After a short period of racing, a loan to the Bathurst Car Museum in New South Wales and a few other car shows, it went into a long period of storage.

  • As part of its life with the Victorian Police Force, it was used in a legal drag way program.(image credit: Ross Vasse) As part of its life with the Victorian Police Force, it was used in a legal drag way program.(image credit: Ross Vasse)
  • The car is on display at the National Holden Museum. (image credit: Ross Vasse) The car is on display at the National Holden Museum. (image credit: Ross Vasse)
  • A smokey Commodore means it’s a drag car or the engine is at the end of its life. (image credit: Ross Vasse) A smokey Commodore means it’s a drag car or the engine is at the end of its life. (image credit: Ross Vasse)
  • Smoky and the Bandit Australia addition? (image credit: Ross Vasse) Smoky and the Bandit Australia addition? (image credit: Ross Vasse)
  • Sirens are still functioning. (image credit: Ross Vasse) Sirens are still functioning. (image credit: Ross Vasse)
  • Current owner Brad Lighton has fitted a spare Bathurst Allan Grice/George Bailey VK engine. (image credit: Ross Vasse) Current owner Brad Lighton has fitted a spare Bathurst Allan Grice/George Bailey VK engine. (image credit: Ross Vasse)
  • Very little safety for a drag car. (image credit: Ross Vasse) Very little safety for a drag car. (image credit: Ross Vasse)
  • Surprisingly few Kms on the clock. (image credit: Ross Vasse) Surprisingly few Kms on the clock. (image credit: Ross Vasse)
  • Made in Australia... sadly no more. (image credit: Ross Vasse) Made in Australia... sadly no more. (image credit: Ross Vasse)

Current owner Brad Lighton has fitted a spare Bathurst Allan Grice/George Bailey VK engine. The good news is that the car retains a period engine under the skin. Brad is a motor mechanic, so is quite astute to keeping things to detail and in working order.

When Brad took ownership from Bob Jane, the car was very dirty and parts of the inside, moldy. A lot of elbow grease brought back its gloss. The odometer reads just over 60,000 km. The car displays its original police decals, sirens, 2 way radio and flashing lights.

Brad has only driven the car minimally and vows never to sell it. He’s focused more on retaining the originality and detail rather than the driving. The car is on display at the National Holden Museum at Echuca on the NSW/Victorian border.

Source: Survivor Car Australia

Do you wish you could race against cops at the drag strip? Let us know in the comments.