This article on Romano's FX Holden gasser was originally published in the October 2011 issue of Street Machine magazine
THE SHE’S Ace tribute rumbled into the Adelaide International Raceway (AIR) for the Street Machine shoot, the sun gleaming off the fresh paint adorning pristine bodywork that was crafted to take you back to the 70s and its hey day on this very quarter mile.
Those with a keen eye will notice the Chop Top by Romano graphic. The genuine graphic was Chopped by Romano Crash, a local crash shop of the time – no relation
At the wheel is Romano Puntin who built the car as an exact replica of the one he saw dominate the track from when it first opened in 1972 until the engine blew up three years later.
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“When I was 17 or 18 years old, I handed out the time cards here cos if you had a job, you got in for free,” Romano laughs. “I loved to watch the Humpy drag cars like Peter Hines and Chris Parry’s She’s Ace, Max Bowman’s Turtle, Harry White’s Dirty Harry and all of those guys.”
This passion for cars led him into the world of hot rods, and he’s turned his hand to building them with his son Michael, in their business All Car Restorations. When it came to consider his latest project, Romano decided on a change of tack.
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“I wanted to do something different, nostalgic and it needed to be an Aussie car. I was looking through photos of custom FJs in old Street Machine mags and noticed She’s Ace,” Romano says.
Scott from Leepoo Chassis added an extra rail from the front to rear suspension to add rigidity to a notoriously twisty car. He also lent a hand with the driveline fitment and the disc brake front end
Romano decided to track down the original car and remembered his old mate Pat Fay of FJ hearse fame, had come into possession of the old racer shortly after the engine had blown and it was sold off all those years ago.
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“So 30 years later, I called Pat to ask about the old FX from Adelaide. He said, ‘I’ve still got it and it’s not for sale. I’m going to do it up.’ Pat’s about 70 years old, so the shell is sitting in a paddock in Canberra.”
With that door closed, Romano embarked on building an exact replica. And the best way to build a replica is to know the history, so Romano tracked down the original owners and drivers.
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“I looked up Peter Hines and called him. We met up and he gave me his old photos and said I should also chat with Chris Parry,” Romano says.
Chris happily handed over his book on She’s Ace history, providing Romano with all the nostalgic specs. Now all he needed was a car to build.
She’s Ace vs Max Bowman’s Turtle at AIR during the ’72 Nationals. The original Turtle is currently being restored
“I located the FX in Murray Bridge, but it was in a million bits,” Romano says.
Not an issue for a bloke with a car resto business and the FX was methodically bolted together, with the body and panels altered to She’s Ace spec.
Mods included the dramatic four-inch roof chop and a louvered parcel shelf. After the panels took the desired shape, white 2-pack was laid over the fresh shell. Painting continued underneath, with the diff and front end colour matched purple from an original photo.
“Everything, apart from the shifter, is the same as the old photos,” Romano says. Peter and Chris ran a three-speed V8 synchro ’box before later changing to the Aussie four-speed
The nostalgically accurate graphics were then added and Romano’s quest for historic perfection continued in the cockpit “The seats are Morris Minor, covered in black vinyl,” he says. “The drivers’ lower seat cushion is removable, as Peter and Chris had their own, to suit their varying heights. I even sourced the chrome moulds above the black vinyl door trims, and used the same type of Stuart Warner instruments.”
The tiller is an old-school sports wooden wheel, up above is cream velour roof lining, though there’s no carpet and no stereo, just bare-bones drag-car cool.
The original She’s Ace ran triple Webers on a hot 202 and so does the replica. “Everything has been replicated from original, including the accelerator linkage. I’ve even twisted the fuel lines toward the fuel block the same way.” Romano says
Under the pinned bonnet, Romano remained steadfast on authenticity. Between the chassis rails sits a 202ci Holden Red with Yella Terra Stage 3 heads, Lynx manifold and triple Webers hangin’ off the side.
Inside is a solid Waggot cam with 40 thou over, flat top slugs, and a high volume JP Engineering pump oiling it all, while a Holley Blue delivers the juice. Cooling is thanks to a four-core with FX tanks, with the addition of a thermo being a sensible break from nostalgia. Behind it all sits an M21 Aussie four-speed pumping the horses to the Salisbury 10-bolt with 3.9s up the back.
The piece de resistance is She’s Ace’s cool Gasser rake. The three-inch lift is thanks to EH stub axles and a one-inch raising block sitting on standard FX springs and Monroe shocks. Brakes have also had an upgrade, with Romano opting for the safety of a pair of P76 discs with PBR calipers up front, with FX drums down back.
The original rims on She’s Ace were made by Bernie Fitzner Engineering for $1ooo back in ’72! To mimic the look, Romano used Center Line Autodrags with black decals. Clever!
She’s Ace rolls on 15-inch Center Line Autodrags, with fives on the front and eights on the back. Finishing off the replica, Romano creatively used black stickers to mimic the genuine Fitzner three-piece rims.
“Once it was finished, I called Peter to tell him I needed to visit and ask a few more questions,” Romano says. “You should’ve seen his face when I rocked up in She’s Ace! He kept talking about it as if it were the original. It took him back 40 years.”
Chris’ reaction was similar. “It blew me away, it’s so close to original it’s amazing. I’m so proud of Romano choosing to make a replica of our car.”
Before She’s Ace came Peter Hines’s Munster, raced by both Peter and Chris at Brooksfield. “The Wynn’s sponsorship was the first outside of the US, coming about due to Peter’s Wynn’s sales from his Mobil servo at Taperoo,” Chris says. Romano pipes in, “I remember the Munster sitting out front of the servo.” Perth’s Gary Shipp also saw the car at the time, spurring him to build this replica
Peter and Chris’s nostalgic journey continues when they respectively take the helm of the Wynn’s Munster and She’s Ace replicas to race one another at the Whyalla 1/8th mile in October 2011. Though She’s Ace will be upgraded to a Chevy 10-bolt with 4.85s and a Saginaw four-speed ’box for the run.
For all of the painstaking nostalgic accuracy that you see in She’s Ace, the secret ingredient is the friendship that Romano’s formed with both Chris and Peter. There’s a mutual respect and a common love, which is She’s Ace.
Chris Parry suited up and sitting in an exact replica of his old car. If only AIR was open for business!
“I want to thank Peter Hines, Chris Parry, and Gary Thomas (then mechanic) for building a car worthy of a tribute,” Romano says. Yet it’s Romano who chose to build the car, inspiring a new generation with an iconic Aussie Gasser.
SHE’S ACE VERSION 1.0
“It cost us $4000 and took 16 months to build ready for the opening day at AIR,” says Chris Parry. “Then in October of ’72, I ran a CMP (C-class Modified Production) record of 13.184 @ 98.79mph, which was the car’s quickest time. Peter ran She’s Ace in Stock Eliminator, while I ran in CMP. One class ran in the morning and the other in the arvo. As the car rarely broke, we usually both got to run. The car had a 70 per cent win/loss ratio, and it even won the Adelaide Hot Rod Show in ’73.
She’s Ace ran a five-inch lift in the day. Romano kept the replica to three inches for safety reasons. As for stopping, the FX ran all drums in the 70s, using the hand brake for staging
“In ’75, we blew up the 202. We’d sunk a lot of money into it, so we decided to sell the car. I went on to a successful off-road racing career and Peter went fishing. Fellow racers Greg Flaherty and Claus Maluszczak bought She’s Ace, though tragically, they died in a road accident a week later.”
1953 FX HOLDEN SEDAN
Donk: 202 Holden Red
Induction: Triple Webers, Lynx manifold
Heads: Yella Terra Stage 3
Pistons: Flat-top 40 thou
Fuel: PULP, Holley Blue pump
Cooling: Standard FX tanks, four-core, thermo
Exhaust: 15/8in, tuned length
Gearbox: M21 Aussie 4-speed
Diff: Salisbury 10 bolt, 3.9s
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Springs: Std FX (f&r)
Shocks: Monroe (f&r)
Steering: Std, shortened shaft
Brakes: P76 discs, PBR rotors (f), FX drum (r)
Master Cylinder: EH Holden, VH44 booster
Wheel: Old-school wood
Dash: FX, Stuart Warner gauges
Seats: Morris Minor, black vinyl
Stereo: No way!
Rubber: Hankook 165/80/15 (f), Goodyear 225/70/15 (r)
Rims: Center Line Autodrag 15x5 (f), 15x8 (r)