It never ceases to amaze me how the best intentions in life can go entirely astray when self-improvement opportunities surface. And by self-improvement, I mean aftermarket automotive enhancements, insanely swift straight-line speeds, and the need for a fresh pair of bombachas after each pass.
When Ernest “Charles” Robinson first picked up his 2015 Chevy SS at Hall Chevrolet in Chesapeake, VA, it was so new that it was still a showroom floor model with next to nothing on the odometer. Nevertheless, the culmination of a month-long search for the ideal SS had led Charles to the moment where he would fall in love at first sight and forget all about his import car inclinations and alternative GM platform options.
However, the original plan was never to own a Chevy, but to find a gently used Pontiac GTO or a G8 and then mildly modify it for daily use. But after coming across one wicked SS after another online, Charles decided to add the stubby little sedan to his search options. The reason for this search was simple: The man needed a “family car” with a dash of power, and in the process, to make the transition from Japanese imports to American muscle a reality.
For a guy who believes that automobiles are like pets, in that they often extend a person’s character, choosing the suitable machine was crucial beyond words. If you’ve never tried to detect the likeness between a person and the type of car they drive, you should give it a shot. Matching vehicles with their owners can be incredibly revealing, like looking at a toy poodle in a little cardigan and seeing a granny with a fresh perm and a Pall Mall in hand holding his leash.
Like many millennial automotive enthusiasts, Charles became inspired to turn wrenches by watching the Fast and Furious franchise. Despite all of their facepalm-inducing pitfalls, cheesy acting, and over-the-top antics, these films have cultivated an entire generation of tuning enthusiasts, with quite a few of them turning out to be brilliant. As for Charles, all he needed was a hefty serving of automotive-oriented online videos, a variety of social media savvy aftermarket car influencer follows, and a dash of encouragement from friends and family for him to become 100-percent hooked on car culture.
But it wasn’t always Holden badges and fire-breathing American V8 engines for Ernest “Charles” Robinson. Like most of his generation, the influence of Japanese tuner cars was undeniably appealing, which in many ways, would help prepare the man for all of the challenges and rewards that he would someday encounter.
Mr. Robinson is a bit of an anomaly in the automotive enthusiast arena in that the 35-year-old has only owned three cars his entire life, including the vehicle you see in front of you today. That said, when you look at what he was driving before this beast, it’s easy to understand why this jump to American muscle is so remarkable.
It was the early 2000s, and Charles had just bought his first car. A 2003 Nissan Sentra GXE, with a measly little motor, a lame automatic slush-box, and all of the visual appeal of a Thermos container. It didn’t take long for Charles to realize that swapping in the slightly more lithe engine out of the 2.5-liter Sentra SER would bring with it a modest bump in power, along with a five-speed manual gearbox.
Unfortunately, like many beginner tuner guys, Charles foolishly dropped the Sentra as low as it could go on coilover suspension. In the process, it made the vehicle incredibly impractical to drive. However, mistakes such as these would ultimately provide the spark that would ignite a series of events that would change Charles’ life forever.
Being unable to cross a set of railroad tracks confidently and throttling an anemic naturally-aspirated Nissan motor eventually began to grow tiresome. So Charles relinquished his first car in favor of something a tad more practical and peppy. It was a 2013 Mazdaspeed 3 hatchback, and after a full bolt-on build, complete with exterior mods and sturdier suspension. It turned into a fun 350 horsepower daily beater.
It was the feeling of owning a commuter car with plenty of performance “pep” that would cause Charles to begin searching for the ultimate GM beater. And while the GTO and G8 4-door from Pontiac was definitely toward the top of his wish list, the smaller, snub-nosed aesthetics of the SS quickly won Charles’ import tuner side over. But what would begin as a fun daily driver would soon escalate into a very different entity, something that even Charles could never have envisioned.
As for Charles’ wife, rumor has it that she was under the impression that the SS was being purchased purely because it was a reliable family sedan. But all of those glossy images of cushy and quiet family cruises to the grocery store and relaxing weekend road trips to granny’s house quickly went up in smoke one day, when Charles’ brother-in-law accidentally mentioned the tuning potential crammed beneath the bonnet of the vehicle.
With the cat officially out of the bag and his spouse oddly alright with the purchase, Charles met with longtime gearhead buddy Johnny Smith. The two brainstormed a plan of attack with fabricator and tuner Rick Crawford of Rick Crawford Racing. With a budget and build list in place, parts started rolling in, and before long, Charles had one vicious SS on his hands. The Great Drag Show
Around this time, the whole drag racing side of the story came into play when Johnny, who coincidentally bought a similar SS from the same dealership, introduced Charles to straight-line adrenaline. You could say that Johnny was Charles’ drag racing coach during those early days, as he helped the beginner crack his first 10-second 1/4-mile pass and taught him that it’s alright to snap a few engine internals in the process.
Together, the two men would attend events like the East Coast Extravaganza, where various east coast G8, GTO, SS, and Police Pursuit Vehicle (PPV) vehicles would gather to drag race, autocross, and conduct multiple car show shenanigans. To this day, both men remain close friends, as Charles unabashedly conveys his appreciation for the support offered during those early days and even today.
But the fun did not last long, as the first block was quickly turned into a coffee table, all courtesy of a gaping hole being placed on the passenger side by a compromised bottom-end component. This marked the first and only time in his life that Charles would blow up an engine, a surprising truth, considering that his previous vehicle’s engine was notorious for grenading at a moment’s notice.
Rebuilding Upon a Bed of Broken Dreams
This unexpected and expensive setback would only further strengthen Charles’ resolve, as he tells us that destroying an engine only encouraged him to rebuild. And rebuild he did, with JE pistons, Lunati connecting rods, and a short block from Crawford Racing laying the foundation. With the LS3 block reinforced, it was then topped with a Rick Crawford Racing blower cam and a pair of freshly CNC’d LS9 cylinder heads. The heads have also been packed with titanium intake valves, sodium-filled exhaust valves, and Brian Tooley Racing platinum dual-valve springs.
Other mods included the installation of a Squash Performance dual fuel pump return system, 1400cc AUS Injection fuel injectors, a Prometh Injection LSA five jet kit within both the supercharger lid and the intake. Exhaust-wise, the SS now expels fumes via a set of American Racing Headers 1–7/8-inch headers and 3-inch X-pipe before hitting a Borla Type S axle-back exhaust.
Forced induction duties are handled by a Jokerz Performance hand-ported LSA supercharger, outfitted with a blower spacer plate and a 20mm lid spacer plate. The setup runs a 2.35-inch upper pulley and an 8.650-inch lower crank pulley, accompanied by a brand-new DSX triple pulley setup. Altogether, this setup allows Charles to safely secure 14–17-pounds of boost, as the onboard Afco heat exchanger keeps temps within the 5–gallon ice tank in the trunk under control next to an equally proportioned 5–gallon methanol tank.
I have had people follow me to various places, like stores, work, and my house just to ask me about the car.
Despite running well over 800 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels, and 67,000 miles on the odometer, the stock 6L80 transmission in this SS continues to hold up beautifully after all the years. So naturally, this drivetrain has been upgraded with a few external enhancements, including a Rick Crawford Racing spec Circle D converter, a GM LSA flexplate, one of DriveShaft Shop’s carbon-fiber driveshafts, a BMR driveshaft loop, and a Chevrolet Camaro SS rear differential.
Suspension-wise, this car is all about simplicity, with Strange pro-valve coilovers, Eibach lowering springs handling bounce, and a combo of a Whiteline rear sway bar and subframe bushings keeping body roll in check. Charles also made the vehicle’s stock Magride control system obsolete via a delete kit and slapped in a set of 17×4.5-inch Forgestar F14 front runners, with matching 15×10-inch beadlocks in the back and then wrapped them all in Mickey Thompson Radial Pro 275/60/15 tires. And while it may seem impossible to get 15-inch wheels on the rear of a stock Chevy SS, BMR Suspension makes a conversion kit for the car allowing the smaller diameter wheels to bolt-on. The SS comes to a halt via stock four-pot Brembo front brakes and Strange Engineering four-piston drag calipers with steel vented rotors in the rear.
While the body of the SS came into Charles’ possession in stock form, it has been upgraded with a genuine Holden Commodore HSV Clubsport bumper conversion. A Maverick Man carbon-fiber hood, Holden VF II high rise carbon-fiber spoiler from Bodykits Kingdom and a Mars Performance HSV Clubsport front lip kit from Australia were also installed. Bodywork complete, Charles decided to ditch the original Heron White paint for a Viper Green wrap, garnering attention everywhere it goes.
Regarding the overtly obvious Australian portion of this SS build, Charles tells us that while the styling of these Aussie-exclusive automobiles held heavy influence over his actions, there were some ulterior motives at work, as well. One of these is that despite their obscurity, Holden automobiles retain a respectable following in North America and that the camaraderie felt at Holden events is undeniably authentic.
Success Breeds Satisfaction
As for time invested in this build, Charles admits that it took about five years to complete this machine, constantly debating what class he wanted the chassis to race. Ultimately, Charles would make the vehicle a drag-racing-oriented build, with minimal street use to-and-from car shows and events being its secondary purpose. That being said, this current setup has done nothing but demonstrate the performance quality, unwavering reliability, and unrefined power possible when you have the right parts and people behind a build.
To date, Charles has done precisely what he intended to do with his Holden converted SS. He sticks with drag racing, hits up meets and car shows when his time and interest permit. The guy has even racked up a trophy with this most recent rebuild, landing a second quickest E.T. average at LS Fest West 2019 in the True Street Class. This win was a challenge, though, as controlling this SS has become more focused on keeping things tidy than anything else. Yet countless passes later, Charles remains amazed by what this venomous machine can do when that tree goes green. And like any talented rookie driver, Charles admits that regardless of the outcome of the race, he gains a little more confidence and knowledge with each completed pass.
When asked why this particular SS… um… we mean Holden, still gets Charles all “twitterpated” when he heads out for a drive, his answer is simple. “I like the attention that it gets no matter where I go,” he admits. “I also like the fact that the SS is becoming more of a collector’s item and that the Holden brand is starting to become widely known as it gains more exposure.”
- 376 ci
- Bore/Stroke: 4.065-inch / 3.622-inch
- LSA crankshaft
- JE Diamond pistons
- Lunati connecting rods
- 11:1 compression ratio
- Short Block built by Rick Crawford of Rick Crawford Racing
- Rick Crawford Racing blower cam 219/235 .625/.626 114+1 LSA
- GM Performance CNC’d LS9 cylinder heads, titanium intake valves, sodium-filled exhaust valves, BTR Platinum dual valve springs
- Tuned by Rick Crawford Racing
- 1400cc AUS injectors
- Squash Performance dual fuel pump return system
- Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator
- Custom-built 5-inch intake
- Nick Williams 102mm throttle body
- Prometh injection system
- American Racing Headers 1 7/8-inch headers and 3-inch x-pipe
- Borla Type S axle-back exhaust
- Jokerz Performance LSA supercharger with Forced Induction blower spacer plate and 20mm lid spacer plate
- 2.35-inch upper pulley and 8.650-inch lower crank pulley with DSX new triple pulley setup
- 14-17pounds of boost
- Afco heat exchanger with -12 AN lines and five-gallon ice trunk tank and 5-gallon methanol tank PNR Combo
- Stock 6L80
- Rick Crawford Racing / Circle D converter
- GM LSA flexplate
- 2400 RPM stall speed
- Driveshaft Shop carbon-fiber driveshaft
- BMR driveshaft loop
- Billet motor mounts from HoldenpartsUSA
- Stock Chevrolet SS cradle with Chevrolet Camaro SS differential
- Gears: 3.45
- Axles: Stock
- Eibach lowering springs
- No front sway bar
- Magride control delete kit
- Strange pro-valve coilovers front and rear
- Whiteline rear sway bar
- Whiteline subframe bushings
- BMR 15-inch conversion drag kit
- 17×4.5 Forgestar F14 front runners, 15×10 Forgestar F14 beadlocks on rear
- Mickey Thompson 26/6/17 fronts
- Mickey Thompson Radial Pro 275/60/15 rears
- Stock four-piston Brembos fronts
- Strange Engineering four-piston drag brakes with steel vented rotor rears
- Viper Green wrap by Creative Wraps
- Holden Commodore HSV Clubsport bumper conversion
- Maverick Man carbon-fiber cowl hood
- Bodykitkingdoms Holden VF II high rise carbon-fiber spoiler
- Mars Performance HSV Clubsport front lip (Australia)
- Holden Commodore HSV Clubsport bumper conversion
- Best 1/4-mile ET: 10.127
- MPH: 139
- 60ft. time: 1.61
- Lap time/track
- Horsepower: 827 horsepower
- Torque: 810 lb-ft of torque