Roman Auto-Tek VS Commodore ute

Italian style and Aussie guile makes a super slammed showstopper

Roman Auto-Tek VS Commodore ute
Photographers: Mark Bean

When it gets to building tough engines, cruisin’ and hanging out on a fine autumn night, there’s no place like Oz. And there’s no other place on this planet where a man can buy a V8-cranking ute and then muck about in the garage doing stuff.

First published in the June 1997 issue of Street Machine

There’s a point here that speaks for itself; we think the kangaroo and emu should be replaced by the ute as Australia’s national symbol. Even the Yanks have nothing equal to a good ute – it’s as Aussie as a B&S Ball. As national icons go, the ute is a damn sight better than a bullseye and a long cue stick.

Pauline Hanson got it half right when she said we need to bring back national service to make men out of your youth. Nationals service may not do it, but give a boy a ute and you’ll make a man. Then give the man a big garage, $100,000 and access to a MOMO catalogue and he’ll build a ute like this.

Don’t get hung up on the cost and say, “I could never build something like that.” We couldn’t either, but Roman Autotek in Sydney and guys like John Taverna at Taverna Chassis in Melbourne can and don’t mind letting us have a look. “It’s a promotional car for us,” says Paul Roman. “We’ll do 16 shows with it starting with Brisbane and ending with the burnout competition at Summernats 11.” Buliding the car is only half the equation; Roman Autotek will spend more than $6000 to attend each show – that will cost another $100,000.

Think of it as a big-dollar business card or a 600+hp showroom. It’s more than money driving this project. There’s a lot of personal pride and ideas put into the ute. And, of course, those massive 20×8 ½ inch MOMO Status rims all round reprove the rule that obese wheels look fabulous, especially with ultra fat 255/35 Pirelli skins.

“And we’re gonna bag ‘em up at talking big-dollar smoke – $1250 per tyre and $1500 per wheel.

“The rear end, right now, is set up to break traction,” he says, as if the blown, alcohol-sniffing, Chev 502ci big block needs help cooking the carcasses. When you have a squiz under the ute’s body shell, you understand what all the fuss is about. John Taverna did a sensational job fabricating a light-weight tube-steel chassis similar to a sprintcar chassis, but longer. He’s slung the chassis under the nine inch axle housing which gives the ute a lot of squat travel on launch.

He’s then four-linked the rear end with the upper control arms located near the centre and splayed outward to the chassis rails. The lower arms run parallel to the rails. A set of Aldan shocks with coil-over springs can be quickly pulled and re-rated to suit changing track conditions.

The bodyshell is basically just dropped over the chassis with a new sheet steel floor fabricated to fit. What’s left of the standard bits are the dash pad and the power windows. Even though the foot wells are carpet coated, this is no street car.

The VS ute may be set up for burnouts, but we’ll see it working T320 feet in around 8 seconds. Squeezed into the V5 ute’s engine bay is a Mark V 502ci big block mounted rigidly to the frame rails. That way the driver can feel, vibe for vibe, at one with the crankshaft. The engine may have come over here in a crate but it’s no longer a crate motor. First off, to convert it to forced induction and alcohol, compression is up from 8.75:1 to 9.0:1.

The standard bottom end with forged steel crank and four-bolt mains is as stout as anything offered through the aftermarket. Maurice Fabietti hung the Chev crank and forged con rods knowing that he’d be reworking the top end by porting a set of iron heads and tuning the Crow valvetrain with Yella Terra roller rockers and Enderle mechanical fuel injection to the 6/71 Weiand blower. An MSD 6AL ignition system powers up an Accel lightning pack distributor, and if all is tuned right, the big block will deliver like a conscientious postman.

One more thing worth checking out is the twin exhaust system. The exterior bodywork you expect to be perfect, and the attention to detail reaches right down to the clinically fabricated stainless exhausts, tube steel front suspension A-arms and all-round disc brakes.

When you’re building something capable of 600+hp and turning low 8s, you’re not going to re-invent the gearbox. There’s no surprise in it being a Powerglide. The engine’s got a torque band as weide as the Nullabor, so two forward gears are all it gets. RaceGlide using a Dedenbear Supercase, Raybestos clutches, a Vasco Tuf input shaft and a 3000rpm converter. It will spin a tyre before it slips a gear.

For all the hardware, the ute isn’t visually overpowered. That says a lot when you see it really isn’t much different externally from a standard ute – overlooking the blower and wheels. The red with thin blue graphics match the mechanical package impact for impact.

But the big punch has gotta be those 20-inch wheels. Those, beyond the smooth steel ute tray and one-off Prospeed steering wheel, are something truly unique.

Where is it now?

The ute went on to have quite a life after its feature in Street Machine, including being skidded by Peter Brock at Summernants #12 and making a cameo in the budget Aussie car flick, In the Red.

Last we heard, the ute was in the care of burnout legend James Scarlett, along with the ex-Mark Sanders Monaro and Darryl McBeth Commodore delivery. James drove it like he stole it on a number of occassions, including at Summernats #23.