The work ute is usually something of a hulk - a 20 year old HZ Holden Kingy picked up at the auctions is a pretty typical example. Neil Serafini's VR Holden hauler, however, is a completely different kettle of fish. Neil didn't pick up this stunning vehicle on a whim - rather, he spotted it being promoted as 'Street Machine's Top 10 Commodores in 1999' and after that he was continually 'at' the owner to sell it. And the sale subsequently occurred.
So what was it that had Neil hooked? Let's begin...
Starting life as your everyday Holden VR V6 5-speed ute, the previous owner - Kit Anderson - decided to up the power level considerably. The workshop that he trusted to deliver the goods was Queensland's Speed Tech, and - after some discussion - they decided that their goal was to extract more than contemporary HSV V8 power from the SOHC 12-valve V6. A key point, however, was the bottom-end had to remain standard.
Many people in the motoring trade say this is an impossible task.
To this day, though, the lower half of the General's 3.8-litre V6 is as-factory - the rods, the pistons and everything that swings or goes up and down. Actually, the only work that's been done inside the entire motor has been in the heads department; these have been ported, polished and "taken out" to deliver a compression ratio of around 8.0:1.
In case that last point didn't tip you off, forced induction was the next item to come. Interestingly, the guys elected to install a positive displacement Opcon Autorotor supercharger - the positive displacement design being preferred over a centrifugal blower that has to take time to 'wind up' to full boost pressure. Due to the limitations of the stock bottom-end and the desire to be able to run everyday PULP, boost pressure is kept to a relatively mild 8 psi. Charge-air cooling is effectively performed by a custom water-to-air intercooler arrangement, using a K&J heat exchanger core, a 12-volt marine bilge pump, a stainless steel header tank (in the front right of the engine bay) and a large water radiator in front of the engine coolant radiator. The intake side to the blower sees an HSV over-the-radiator snorkel, a standard airbox and a genuine carbon fibre duct leading to the blower. A very effective touch of hi-tech.
Somewhat surprisingly, the VR ute still uses its stock engine management system with just a 1 Bar MAP sensor and changes to ignition timing. A Fuel Tech micro-fueller controlled 600cc extra injector is relied upon to squirt additional fuel between the blower and the manifold. Note that the standard throttle body has also been moved to pre-supercharger to avoid any pressure spiking problems under on-off throttle conditions. This negates the need for any blow-off valves.
During the initial build up, the ute was hung with a relatively ordinary exhaust system. Recognising this, Neil has since had a 2?-inch mandrel system put on with a higher flow cat and a single "sports muffler" at the rear. Up front, the custom extractors that Kit had fitted are still in service.
Neil is unsure how much power the vehicle now has after its recent exhaust swap, but he imagines that it's a tad more than the dyno figures previously seen - which were between 210 and 220 rear wheel horsepower. This output, by the way, is being channelled through the standard 5-speed manual gearbox and standard clutch. The diff is now conventional LSD, as a Detroit locker proved a little impractical for everyday business duties.
Needless to say, that Alaskan White body is far from untouched. Under the direction of the previous owner, Classic Spoilers came to the party with Magnum side skirts and rear bumpers and a contemporary Group A front bar. An adjustable rear wing was sourced elsewhere, as were the Polaris jet-ski external mirrors and the "roller door" style cargo cover. The inside of the cargo area has been fully re-skinned and the side tie-downs have also been removed. Neil has since gone further with the standout graphics that promote his Ultra Shine vehicle paint treatment business. These are not plain ol' stickers - Neil had Cruzin' Customs airbrush the whole thing! There is also a pair of Holden embossed headlight covers that go on for shows - and AutoSpeed shoots.
Under each of those guards is a Simmons F90 17-inch rim, wearing 235/45 Firestones at the front and 275 Falkens at the rear. Note that the guards needed rolling and the cargo area needed a custom re-skin in order to fit that huge 275 width. The distance separating the top of the tyres and the wheel arch has also been drastically reduced thanks to a full set of King springs and aftermarket dampers (which came as part of a kit). Neil has improved braking performance - slightly - by bolting on a set of DBA slotted and drilled front discs.
Unlike most trade utes, Neil's VR doesn't have torn vinyl seats and last week's sausage-roll bag sliding around in the passenger's foot well. Again under the direction of the previous owner, the seats and door trims have been recovered in tasteful fabric, and there's also a Momo wheel and knob, drilled pedals and white-faced dials. The 'KITS' inserts in the door trims are in reference to the previous owner's name.
Neil tells us a meaty subwoofer hides under the centre seat cushion - and "the kids" reckon the bass gives them a thorough massage (not that Neil's ever tried it himself!). A Kenwood tuner/CD, front splits and some hidden 'fill' speakers complete the audio buzz. It's all closed up nice an' tight by a remote, rolling-code central locking/alarm system that's also hooked up to the power windows. The rear "roller door" cargo cover is also remote operated.
As mentioned, Neil picked the ute up after a lot of persistence and haggling - and he hasn't looked back since. Of late, he's really starting getting into the show scene, with a couple of trophies already sitting on the home mantle piece - amongst the collection is Top Modern Ute, won at the 2001 Queensland Ute Muster. Not bad. Peter Brock has even personally signed the engine cover at one of the shows - which is a major trophy in itself!
And, despite the knockers, that stock bottom-end supercharged V6 has done a considerable number of problem-free kilometres - Neil himself has done around 40,000 in his 18 months of ownership. But the lure of having going that one step further appears to have jagged Neil in the mouth. He's thinking about "maybe in the next 12 months" a full engine build along with a completely new paint scheme. This is in addition the imminent fitment of a VN Group A bonnet, an electric sunroof and another interior re-trim!
Anybody in the Gold Coast area should call Neil out for one of his paint treatments - we're sure he'll be prepared to give you the run-down of his latest plans!