A small automotive company not far from Holden’s soon to close Elizabeth plant in Adelaide is helping to revive the fortunes of a classic engine from the 1980s.
Bullet Race Engineering has just launched billet aluminium RB30 engine block – the motor that powered Nissan Skylines and Patrols in the 1980s and was used under licence by Holden in the VL Commodore in 1986.
Machined from solid 6061 aircraft-grade aluminium, the Bullet block is lighter, stronger and more rigid than the original cast block. This allows it to withstand outputs of up to 2500HP compared with the 153HP output of the original VL Commodore or a touch over 200 HP in the turbo model.
Bullett Race Engineering made its first RB prototype in late 2015, did a redesign in May and launched the RB30 this week. They have already sold 50 and can’t keep up with demand.
The RB30 can be ordered in wet or dry deck configuration to suit circuit racing, time attack or drag applications.
Bullet founder and managing director Darren Palumbo said the block’s dual application for racing and for everyday Commodore and Nissan enthusiasts allowed it to “make the market as large as it could be”.
“They mainly go into Nissan Skylines and VL Commodores but then we have some purpose-built drag cars,” Palumbo said.
“It’s the same product in a car that basically would run a world record drag quarter mile but people can also have it in a car that they drive on the weekend or they go on car cruises in,” Palumbo said.
“I’ve got one going out to Germany next week for a dragster, there’s another one in Malta in a dragster so they’ve just chosen to use the RB engine and they are just suffering from the same problem as everyone else with the longevity of the iron block when they push the power levels so they change to ours.”
Bullet also manufactures blocks to suit the all-wheel-drive Nissan GTR, Nissan Silvia/200SX, and Mitsubishi EVO and exports to to a number of European countries, North America, New Zealand and has also recently begun distributing in Japan.
Well known in the 1980s and 1990s, the Nissan RB30 engines are still widely celebrated in Australia. And with an address of Dundee Avenue, Holden Hill, Bullett Engineering reckons it can’t get more Australian than that.
Palumbo said nostalgia for Nissan Skylines and VL Commodores in Australia had played a big part in creating the opportunity.
“That’s what creates the enthusiasts in the first place – there wouldn’t be a market if people didn’t still feel that way,” he said.
“There’s the 4WD scene that’s probably come from Jim Richards in the Skylines at Bathurst but the VL scene is a whole separate deal where the guys maybe when they were younger always wanted a VL Turbo and then it just becomes how long is a piece of string.
“Then there’s the performance shops that run a VL Turbo as their vehicle of choice for promoting their capabilities and they’re the guys that say we want to buy a billet block and put it in our race car and then their customer base follows suit and says ‘I want you to build me a billet engine for my car now’.”
Holden will close its South Australian assembly plant at Elizabeth in Adelaide’s northern suburbs in October, bringing an end to the state’s long history of large-scale car production.
But Palumbo said there was still a future for niche automotive manufacturers.
“It isn’t dead but what we’re doing is the only way to survive, otherwise you are just competing with the Chinese,” he said.
“It’s got to be super hi-tech, difficult to do and relatively small volume – a large company will say they are not interested if they are not doing 1000 or more units.”
Bullett is planning to expand its operations in the near future to cope with the growing demand.
“We’ve already done 50 (RB blocks) and at the moment I can’t make them fast enough,” Palumbo said.
“Before we’ve finished them they are already sold so we are trying to put stock in but we can’t at this point.
“If that’s all we did with nothing else we could probably do 100 a year but we’ve got other products and this is where the expansion and moving to another premises and adding more equipment comes in.”