I’M ALL TOO familiar with the reputation of the standard Chevy Lumina Ute in Super Sport guise. Brawny, rear-wheel drive, intolerant of nannying – especially from its own traction and stability systems. That’s the spirit of the Oz-built bakkie defined.
The standard machine generates 270kW and twists of 530Nm from the 6.0-litre LS1 V8 it shares with the Corvette. Competent in a straight line, lairy on the bends, the Ute lost some favour after two horror accidents when a pair of modified examples were pushed hard two years ago on the Gydo Hill Climb in Ceres. Another more recent wipeout by a Lumina SS sedan occurred at the Kynsna Hill Climb.
More power was obviously not required. Yet thanks to tuning old hand Michele Lupini and his LupiniPower venture, that’s precisely what the Ute has received – thanks notably to a bolt-in Magnuson Magna Charger and software upgrade. The blower pumps up the power output figure to a claimed 400kW and twist up to a tarmac-shredding 785Nm. Add in a free-flow exhaust and the SuperUte sticker starts making sense. Given Lupini’s unrelenting passion for power, and those heady numbers, I could be sitting in the surprise performer of the year – or a ballistic time bomb. Green wire? Red wire? Let’s see which one sets off the big bad bomb.
Fire up the V8 and its forced induction whine immediately gatecrashes the party. So, power from the off. Even at idle, the sound that pierces the eardrums is thin and piercing, in perfect contrast to the bassy bellow emanating from the pipes. Every punch at the throttle emits a wonderful bark, while an eerie howl chases the needle as it hunts the red line. The car doesn’t shake. It literally convulses with each rev. The neighbours are visibly annoyed and so I’m thinking its time to shift location. First is swapped for second with a meaty notch into the gate. The clutch is firm and grabby, but not hard to modulate as I move from trundle to amble, threading out of the suburbs towards the adjacent industrial zone. Its derelict tar ribbons lend well to a bit of pace.
Common courtesy. Mechanical sympathy. Both part of my repertoire, especially on public roads. But all alien to the SuperUte. It goads, pushes boundaries. Traction control engaged, just 2200rpm on the dial, the ebony jack hammer thumps down. Tyre smoke! A whip-crack race to the limiter! A few rampant degrees of steering lock are hastily unwound as the big Chev launches, head-butt style, into the darkness. It’s visceral this thing, a wild child.
A 130kg lead weight, dubbed the ‘Traction Bar’, is bolted transversely into the rear of the load bin, over the rear axle. I surmise that while this aids my launch it does little to the rear end’s mid-corner slides. Gears are quickly dispatched, tarmac quickly gobbled and transferred to my rear view mirror. The entire experience is reminiscent of playing Gran Turismo with all the power modifications tacked on to a car that has no business having them. That might sound like a bad thing, but my sweaty palms indicate something else. It’s exciting. I’m charging through my course as quickly as I dare, pushing the limits – of my nerves and the car’s – to a regular reminder as the words ‘Stability CTRL assistance’ flash on the screen nestled in the driver’s binnacle.
While the gearchange action is heavy, I’m finding the steering a bit too light, almost glassy at the centre. Stopping power could be sharper, despite bigger discs up front and four-pot AP Racing callipers. Progressive rate H&R coil springs and a 35mm drop in ride height are making for firm progress too. Clearly public roads are not the place for an unrestrained animal, and after a few turns only just made, the track beckons for a full assault. Zero to hundred is obliterated in 5.1 seconds, nearly a full second less than the standard set-up. Back to zero takes just 2.72 seconds which is impressive in a hot hatch, and in a 1.7-tonne bakkie is remarkable. The quarter-mile is blitzed in 13.51 seconds. So, while the power claim seems ambitious, there is enough thump in the back here to light up the 20-inch Bridgestone Potenza rubber (285/50 rear) that’s been wrapped around those striking multi-spoke TSW Donington alloys in first and second gear. Poke it with a stick and it will break traction in third too. If you’re brave or stupid enough to attempt something similar in fourth then you deserve full well any punishment the laws of physics deems appropriate. Suddenly, the bolts holding that lead bar in the back look puny, and I’m coming up with macabre scenes from a lost ‘Final Destination’ reel. It doesn’t take too many turns before the SuperUte’s Achilles heel is revealed. Yes there’s some chassis flex, but the absence of proper bucket seats means most of the drifting you’ll be doing will be from the driver’s perch into the passenger’s lap.
It’s a charming car, this. It’s endearingly old school, and so distanced from the current spate of Chevrolet econoboxes you’d forgive it for not knowing where Korea even was. While the SuperUte may be flawed and rudimentary, I enjoyed my time with it. I swear I can feel my neck getting redder and my cousin prettier the longer I drive it. Be warned, should you acquire a SuperUte of your own, you’ll need just on R640 000 versus the R413 000 of the standard unit. You’ll also find yourself modifying your usual routes to include tunnels, low bridges, rock faces and other acousticallyenhanced areas in order to amplify that aural carnage. I went into this drive asking ‘how could you afford to drive a car like this?’ Now I’m saying: ‘How can you afford not to … at least once.’