Unfortunately, the legendary and ubiquitous Aussie V8 ute has been assigned to the history books for some time now. Those wanting one will be trawling through second-handers instead of showroom floors, as the market has pivoted towards the 4x4 ute.
The problem is that most of the popular utes these days are diesel-powered, and don’t really have any on-road performance or muscle bent. Other than the Ram 1500, there isn’t any V8 ute for those who still want one.
There are still some options for those more resourceful amongst us, however. And one of them involves commissioning a reputable engineering company to whisk out the factory diesel driveline, and replace it with something of the delicious bent-eight variety.
One option in this regard is Harrop Engineering, a 50-strong outfit of engineers, machinists and fabricators that turn out all kinds of specialist equipment for all kinds of applications.
It has been big in performance cars, ever since Ron Harrop’s eyebrow-raising FJ Holden was doing 11.81-second quarter-miles in 1971 with a carburetted six-cylinder still under the bonnet.
Since then, Harrop has turned its hand to just about anything that goes fast. Steering, brakes, forced induction, suspension, cooling, there isn't much this outfit doesn't do. And now it has turned its attention to the utes every man and his dog buys: 4x4 utes.
What you’re looking at here is what Harrop calls its Superado. Gone is the 147kW/500Nm 2.8-litre diesel. It’s replaced by what is effectively a Chevrolet LSA: 6.2 litres' worth of V8 topped off with a Harrop TVS2650 supercharger.
The result of all of this is stonking: 396kW at 5800rpm and 825Nm.
That’s measured at the hub on a hub dynamometer, by the way. When you take into account driveline losses, there’s likely to be 465kW at the flywheel, which is how manufacturers represent their outputs.
This engine conversion has an associated price of $44,820. You can opt for a naturally aspirated LS3 for $37,830 or a smaller TVS1900 supercharger for $43,270. In for a penny, in for a pound, I say.
From there, your list of options that Harrop Engineering can furnish you with is long and expansive. A 3-inch cat-back exhaust system with twin outlets ($1780), upgraded front brakes ($3630), Harrop ELockers ($2453 front, $2115 rear), Shockworks Suspension ($3112), leather interior ($3300), Rhino Rack ($1529) and rock sliders ($1430).
We have some nice 18-inch Method Race wheels ($2350 for four) wrapped in Toyo Open Country R/T Rubber ($1800). If off-roading gives you shivers, you can opt for a more road-oriented set-up with 20-inch Methods ($2350) and Toyo AT2s ($1700).
The force-fed V8 is mated up to a six-speed (6L80) automatic gearbox, which I think you'll agree with me has a tough job. Especially when the available traction is outstripped. And considering you’ve got some aggressive all-terrain tyres, rear-wheel drive, and not a lot of weight over the rear end, it happens a fair bit. It's no stranger to the high-power Chev V8s, at least.
Our drive began on a wet, misty and drizzling road on the rural outskirts of Melbourne. It wasn’t until the road had dried and warmed that we were able to really harness what the drivetrain is able to deliver.
Firstly, the noise is great, an easy improvement over the droning tones of a diesel. It starts with a smooth bellow and light crackle, intimating to you what’s in store. If you’re looking for something to rival a C63 AMG for pure theatre, you’ll be disappointed.
Our tester was still using the stock headers and cats from an LS3 system, all hooked up to a 2.5-inch twin system.
There’s plenty of noise, no doubt about it. However, considering you’ve got 465kW worth of force-fed, high-revving V8 engine, it would be nice to hear a little more with some additional exhaust goodies.
A nicely tuned system would likely get rid of the drone that comes and goes under light loads and fifth and sixth gears, around that 1800–2000rpm mark. If it were me, I’d add a little into the budget for some quality headers and exhaust system.
The performance, however, is stunning – provided there’s enough traction available to really get a move on. It’s unlike any other ute I’ve driven, which includes an Ecoboost Ford F-150 Raptor in the States. There’s loads of power, and it comes on with a thick, angry fury. The theatre is augmented by that whining Harrop blower as it forces 8psi of air into those 378 cubic inches.
There is that beautiful, natural and effortless torque off-idle, which only a big engine can really do. Push the pedal down harder, and that willingness grows into a tsunami of furious acceleration, provided there’s enough traction.
I have to take my hat off to the 285/55R18 Toyo Rugged Terrain tyres, which do an impressive job of holding onto the road.
The Colorado’s tachometer only runs to 5000rpm, which the original 2.8-litre diesel only uses part of. Its range is outstripped by the LSA engine conversion, which bellows its way up to 5800rpm.
You probably won’t notice, because your eyes will be absolutely glued to the road, intent on keeping the Colorado’s nose pointed in the right direction.
Dropping this kind of power straight into a 4x4 ute without any other mods would likely be a bit of a mess.
Thankfully, the Harrop Colorado’s suspension has been tuned nicely using custom springs and especially tuned Shockworks dampers to handle the power much better than a stock set-up, and deliver a reasonably smooth and nicely controlled ride.
The good thing about the suspension tune is that it’s not too firm or harsh, especially on the rebound. It’s not the same as that deliciously soft and silky ride that comes from a flash bypass set-up like the Ranger Raptor, but it’s still very good. Think of a Colorado, which is a good thing to start with, and just make it a little better and more controlled.
The brakes have been upgraded, and boy-oh-boy does it need them. There are still stock-as-a-rock drum brakes at the rear end, but Harrop brakes and rotors replace the factory fronts with 356mm worth of diameter.
Considering you can build up plenty more speed in this Colorado, and you’ve got a bit more tyre diameter to handle, braking performance is adequate without being impressive. I’d love to feel it with a stronger brake booster, which I think would do the trick to improve the responsiveness and pedal feel.
Steering stays the same, which is an electric-over-hydraulic set-up. It’s a strange feeling to have all of this incredible grunt loaded into what is ostensibly a 4x4 ute. The Colorado doesn’t steer or handle like a sports car, and nor should it.
If you want that, go and buy a second-hand V8 Benz, or one of the last HSV or FPV examples. You’ll have all of that forced-induction goodness in a package that handles, steers and brakes better.
What those supercharged utes, wagons and sedans cannot do, however, is go off-road. The good news with this Harrop Superado is that the supercharged 6.2-litre V8 and six-speed automatic gearbox bolt up directly to the factory Colorado transfer case.
That means this fettled unit has the same drive system as normal: part-time 4x4, with shift-on-the-fly 4x4 and a low-range reduction. There is a 2.62:1 reduction in the transfer case, which isn’t particularly low. First gear is relatively short in the gearbox, however, and the engine feels incredibly happy to idle along at the lowest speed.
That not-too-firm suspension is good off-road, as well. Other than what can be unleashed via your right foot, the experience from behind the wheel feels mostly like a Colorado with better tyres and a quality aftermarket suspension kit. The geometry is overall the same as a stock Colorado.
The fact that you have more grip from the bigger and more aggressive Toyo rubber, which combines with the suspension lift for additional clearance, makes this Colorado a better off-road proposition than a stocker. The supercharged engine is cool as a cucumber at low speeds, but we would love to see a locking rear differential in lieu of the limited-slip differential, which is an option.
While the LSD works well on-road and off-road in stock format, it doesn’t feel like the helical unit can do the job as well when trying to rein in as much engine as we have here.
And if you’re in a situation like mud or sand, where plenty of throttle and wheel speed are the order of the day, the Superado would be an absolute pleasure to pilot.
This Harrop Colorado will be downright expensive and pointless to many people out there. When you add in however much you pay for the donor vehicle and some of the important options, there’s a good chance you’ve broken into six-figure territory.
However, it does something pretty special. And it does something that nothing else on the market can really do: pull off proper muscle car vibes and performance, while staying true to its original off-road capability. It’s an intoxicating mix, and something that I can't help but find very alluring, despite the big price tag.
Note: our testing was cut short because of some unfortunate mechanical problems. While reversing in low-range with the steering on full lock (unavoidably), the driver’s side CV joint decided it had had enough of life and began to completely disassemble itself.
We’re putting it down to the kind of driving this Colorado has been doing since the engine conversion, but it would be worth considering some kind of upgraded-strength CV joints to make things a little more reliable.