The Romano WE84 is an Australian designed and built, mid-engined closed top racing car built to CAMS Group A Sports Car specifications. The car began its life as the Kaditcha K583 when it first appeared in the 1983 Australian Sports Car Championship and was built by the Queensland based Kaditcha owner and former McLaren engineer Barry Lock after he was approached by Brisbane accountant, property developer, timber mill owner and former speedway racer Bap Romano in 1981 with the idea of building a Le Mans type coupe. When the car first appeared in 1983, it was the first closed top Sports Car seen in Australia and looked like an FIA Group C Sports Car (such as the Porsche 956) rather than the open cockpit Can-Am style cars of previous years. This led to the false belief that it was built to the Group C regulations
Bap Romano's ultimate ambition was to take the car to the famous 24 Hour French classic in an All-Australian challenge. Although this did not happen, going on its qualifying performance of the car at the 1984 Sandown 1000 race as part of the 1984 World Endurance Championship held at Melbourne's Sandown Raceway against the FIA Group C Sports Cars, the Romano, with some minor modifications to bring it up to FIA specs, would not have been out of place in Group C2 at Le Mans.
Even in 2016, 33 years after its competition debut and 30 years since it was retired from competition, the Romano remains one of Australia's most iconic, fastest, and popular race cars, and is generally regarded as the second fastest Australian built sports car, behind only to the Group C and IMSA spec Veskanda C1-Chevrolet built in 1985 by K&A Engineering in Adelaide.
Bap Romano travelled to England in December 1981 and purchased a 3.0L Cosworth DFV V8 engine (engine no. DFV 088) from John Nicholson of Nicholson McLaren Engines. The engine itself had actually been used in Formula One during the 1980 season by the McLaren team in the hands of John Watson and a young Alain Prost. While in England Romano was introduced to the Works Manager at Tyrrell Racing, Neil Davis. Davis took an interest in Romano's plans for the car and the two formed a friendship that saw the K583's suspension designed around components of the 1981 Tyrrell 010 Formula One car.
Romano had chosen the Cosworth for its proven reliability in racing against the best alternative at the time, the 5.0L Chevrolet V8 Formula 5000 engine, which also carried more weight than the DFV (CAMS Group A Sports Car engines were limited to 5000cc capacity until the end of 1985). When purchased the engine was reportedly producing 406 bhp (303 kW; 412 PS) @ 9,450 rpm and was rebuilt to be able to run for 2,000 racing miles (by 1983 a rebuild of the engine had it producing approximately 430 bhp (321 kW; 436 PS)). This compared to the DFV's used in Grand Prix racing that were rated at approximately 520 bhp (388 kW; 527 PS) and required a rebuild after just 350 miles, or the equivalent of one Grand Prix weekend.
By mid-1982 the car was built with full ground effects aerodynamics and was ready for testing. The car proved quick in testing and the engine was as strong as expected, but the suspension was proving suspect, breaking numerous times under the heavy load generated by the ground effects.
By the time the Kaditcha K583 Cosworth made its debut in Round 1 of the 1983 Australian Sports Car Championship at Sandown Raceway in Melbourne, Romano had enlisted the services of former Williams and Tyrrell F1 mechanic Wayne Eckersley to help sort out the car after his faith in Lock had gradually eroded with repeated suspension failures in testing. Romano, driving in Class B (1.6 to 3 litres) suffered a crash in its first lap of practice, forcing the Kaditcha to be a non-starter for both heats on race day. Lock believed the crash was caused by Romano going too fast too soon on cold tyres, while Romano was adamant that suspension failure was the cause.
The car suffered yet another suspension failure during practice and a DNF due to a burnt out coil in Heat 1 of Round 2 of the championship at the Adelaide International Raceway. The burnt out coil was the result of its position on top of the Cosworth engine. The cars had been held on the grid for long time while the back markers took up their positions, and the heat build up was enough to cook the coil only 4 laps into the race when Romano held a 3-second lead over the Kaditcha Chevrolet of Peter Hopwood. On just the 3rd lap, Romano broke Garrie Cooper's Sports Car lap record at AIR of 52.2 (set in his self-designed Elfin MR7 Chevrolet), lowering it to 51.67, a record that still stands for the 1.6 to 3 litres category as of 2016. The coil was replaced in time for Heat 2 where Romano and the car scored their first win, coming home 5.5 seconds in front of eventual series champion Hopwood.
In the 5 rounds and 10 races of the 1983 championship, Romano and the K583 scored 3 race wins and one round win at the tight Winton circuit. He also recorded 6 fastest laps (including 3 class lap records) and 2 pole positions. Romano actually won both heats of Round 4 at his home circuit of Lakeside in Brisbane, but both he and Hopwood were excluded from the results for dangerous driving following two clashes in heat 1.
Despite only finishing 6th in the championship, Bap Romano proved that he had the fastest Sports Car seen in Australia to that time.
In November, Romano entered the K583 in the Sports Car/GT Invitation as a support to the 1983 Australian Grand Prix at the 1.609 km (1.000 mi) Calder Park Raceway in Melbourne. Romano qualified the car second on the grid beside Australia's 1980 Formula One World Champion Alan Jones who was driving a Porsche 935 K4 GT car imported from America for the race by John Fitzpatrick Racing. Jones won the first 15 lap preliminary race from Peter Brock driving Bob Jane's Chevrolet Monza with Romano back in third place in front of the Porsche 935/78 of Momo Wheels founder, Italian Gianpiero Moretti. Jones also won main 15 lap race from Romano and Peter Brock with Moretti again finishing fourth. Despite the Kaditcha-Cosworth giving away over 300 bhp (224 kW; 304 PS) to the turbocharged Porsche and about 200 bhp (149 kW; 203 PS) to the 6.0L V8 Chevrolet Monza, Romano used the superior handling and aerodynamics of the car to finish the 15 lap race only 6.79 seconds behind Jones and 3.22 seconds clear of Brock showing that both car and driver had the potential to be a regular race winner.
Between the Australian Grand Prix meeting at Clader in late 1983 and the start of the 1984 Australian Sports Car Championship, Wayne Eckersley rebuilt the inner workings of the car, redesigning both the sidepods resulting in improved ground effect aerodynamics. He also rebuilt the suspension of the car (it was found that the Tyrrell suspension designed for a Formula One car was actually inadequate for a car that was over 200 kg heavier and produced similar loading from the ground effect aerodynamics which lead to the numerous failures through testing in 1982 and racing in 1983). During this time, the Cosworth DFV's original builder Ross Calgher of Nicholson Mclaren rebuilt the engine in late 1983 at the team's base in Slacks Creek south of Brisbane. Eckersley also redesigned the front of the car, though the Romano retained its distinctive front air scoops which were enlarged to allow more air for to the ground effect venturies and also to the brakes. With the new front end and sidepod design, the car was found to produce as much downforce as before without the use of skirts.
Under Eckersley's direction the car was transformed and Romano went on to dominate the championship. The car was renamed the Romano WE84 (WE for Wayne Eckersley) and Bap Romano won 4 of the 5 rounds, sat on pole for every round and set fastest race lap in every race he contested. The only round he did not win was the crash marred Round 1 at Calder where he was involved in a crash, running into the back of Ray Hanger's Rennmax while lapping him at the end of Calder's back straight during Heat 1 which destroyed the front of the car causing Romano to be a non-starter in Heat 2. Bap watched Heat 2 from the Channel 7 commentary box, giving television commentary alongside Evan Green, Garry Wilkinson and John Sheppard for the race.
Despite running in Class B which paid more points for a position than his main opposition Chris Clearihan (driving Hopwood's 1983 car) did for a position in Class C, the way the results of the series fell with Clearihan failing to finish Round 3 at Lakeside due to suspension failure, Romano would have still won the 1984 ASCC had they been competing for the same class points.
In mid-1984 Bap Romano, feeling that he had the fastest sports car in Australia (and having proved so in the 1984 ASCC), challenged then seven time Bathurst 1000 winner Peter Brock, with Brock to drive the Porsche 956 that he was to share with Larry Perkins at the 1984 24 Hours of Le Mans, to a series of races on circuits in Australia fair to both cars claiming the WE84 could beat Brock's 956. At the time Brock's Melbourne based Holden Dealer Team had taken delivery of the Porsche for repainting in the colours of team patron Bob Jane for publicity purposes and so the team could become familiar with the car after 10 years of running production based Holden V8 touring cars. Romano claimed in a Brisbane newspaper that it was 'ridiculous' for Brock to pretend that his 1984 Le Mans challenge was an 'All-Australian' effort since the Porsche was made in West Germany. However it was noted that Romano ignored the fact that his car had sourced many of its components, including the suspension and Cosworth V8 engine, from England, though the Romano WE84 was designed and built in Australia.
Romano's open challenge to Brock went unanswered.
Following the successful 1984 championship, Eckersley and Romano prepared the car for the Sandown 1000 which was a round of the 1984 World Endurance Championship where it would compete in the special AC Class for Australian-based GT and Sports cars. The preparation included adding 70 kg of ballast to the 775 kg WE84 to bring it in line with the FIA weight scale for cars with a 3.9 litre, four valves per cylinder engine (the lead weight, bringing the car to 845 kg, was placed on the passenger floor which would bring its own problems). Despite Romano purchasing a 3.9 litre Cosworth DFL V8 with the intent on putting it in before the meeting, it was only put in after the first day of practice when it became apparent the 3.0 litre DFV was past its best after Romano's co-driver, four times Australian Drivers' Champion Alfredo Costanzo (the faster of the pair by over 2 seconds despite not having driven the car previously after missing a pre-meeting sorting session at Calder Park) could not lap in better than 1:42 when it was expected that the Romano was capable of lapping around 8 seconds faster.
After changing to the larger, 590 bhp (440 kW; 598 PS) engine during practice, Romano and Costanzo were able to improve their times by around 4 seconds per lap. Following numerous gearbox and brake problems throughout practice, as well as battling a severe under-steer problem on Sandown's new, slower, infield section (a legacy of the extra 70 kg weight the car was carrying at the front, something even the ground effect aerodynamics could not overcome), Costanzo eventually qualified the car in 13th position (1st in AC) with a time of 1:38.400, some 1.9 seconds in front of Allan Grice driving his 1984 Australian GT Championship winning 6.0L Chevrolet Monza, but 6.8 seconds slower than the pole time set by eventual race winner and 1984 World Endurance Champion Stefan Bellof driving his Group C Rothmans Porsche 956B. Costanzo's time was only 0.4 seconds off the Group C2 pole time set by Englishman Gordon Spice (driving with English-based Aussie Neil Crang) in a Tiga GC84, powered by the 3.3 litre version of the same Cosworth DFL that powered the WE84. Despite the cars problems, Costanzo's time showed that the Australian designed and built car was capable of mixing it with the best Sports Cars in the world.
More gearbox and brake problems during the race, along with a collision with the Rothmans Porsche 956B of British Formula 3 champion Johnny Dumfries which broke the nose cone from the car (later retrieved by the team and put back on with race tape) saw Romano and Costanzo only complete 106 laps, 100 behind winners Bellof and Derek Bell (Dumfries shared his drive with Australia's triple Formula One World Champion Jack Brabham, marking Jack's first World Championship race since his retirement from F1 at the end of 1970). Despite still running at the end, the Romano WE84 was not classified as a finisher due to completing an insufficient number of laps. Victory in the AC Class went to the BMW 320i of JPS Team BMW drivers Jim Richards and Tony Longhurst who finished 14th after completing 178 laps.
Prior to Sandown, Romano wanted Costanzo as his co-driver for the race, but both Wayne Eckersley and team manager Bruce Ayers tried to persuade him to go with either the 1984 Australian Drivers' Champion John Bowe (who had comprehensively beaten Costanzo to that years title) or 1983 Sports Car champion Peter Hopwood for the event, reasoning that both would be easier on the car than Costanzo who although fast, had a reputation for being hard on equipment. Unfortunately their fears were to prove correct as over the course of the race meeting Costanzo broke no less than 4 gearboxes, 2 of them in the race itself. JPS Team BMW team manager Frank Gardner told Romano after the race that while standing at the back straight entry to Sandown's new infield section, he noted that Costanzo had been changing from 5th gear straight down to 2nd gear for the hairpin, missing 4th and 3rd gears completely. This was causing the rear tyres to lock up, the Cosworth engine to over-rev and had seen the Hewland FGB 400 gearbox twice stripped of 2nd gear. Gardner, a championship winning driver in his own right during the 1960s and 1970s including having raced a number of WEC races in Europe at tracks such as Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps and the Nürburgring, commented that it was an endurance race and that Alfie had 'butchered' the car by not respecting the equipment.
Bap Romano's previous challenge had gone unanswered by Peter Brock. However, the 956 that Brock and co-driver Larry Perkins were to drive at the Sandown 1000 was upgraded to the new 962 model and was driven by the versatile Colin Bond and open wheel racer Andrew Miedecke after Brock and Perkins became unavailable. In a car neither had driven before, and with approximately 200-300 more horsepower than either was used to, Bond qualified the 650 bhp (485 kW; 659 PS) Porsche 962 in 11th place with a time of 1:36.000, 2.4 seconds faster than Costanzo qualified the Romano, while Bap Romano was able to set a time in the high 1:39's. Bond and Miedecke ran a steady race and finished 6th, 8 laps behind the winning Rothmans Porsche.
Due to reliability problems with the car and engine (the 3.9L DFL was known to have vibration issues and proved more unreliable than the 3.3L version) Romano only contested 3 rounds of the 1985 Australian Championship. That plus the appearance of other specially built cars such as a 5.0L Lola T610-Chevrolet for Terry Hook (2nd), and the Mazda 13B powered JWS C2 of Jeff Harris (3rd in 1984 & 1985), saw Romano only finish 6th in his title defence. The series was won by 1982 champion Chris Clearihan driving the Steve Webb owned Kaditcha Chev he had driven to the runner up spot in 1984.
Romano only contested two rounds of the 1986 Australian Sports Car Championship, while also contesting the 1986 Australian Drivers' Championship in a Ralt RT4. The 1985 Sports Car title had seen the debut of the John Bowe driven Veskanda Chevrolet built by former ASCC competitor Brenie Van Elsen (the Veskanda, unlike the Romano, had been built to conform not only to CAMS Group A Sports Car rules, but was also FIA Group C and IMSA compliant). Bowe and the Veskanda, now complete with a 5.8 litre Chevrolet due to a lifting of the engine capacity limit from 5000 to 6000cc, dominated the 1986 series, claiming pole at every round (like the Romano in 1984), winning every race and setting fastest laps in all (including many outright circuit lap records).
The WE84 suffered a bad crash at Amaroo Park in Sydney when the throttle stuck open as the car drove over Bitupave Hill at the end of the main straight, the fastest section of the tight 1.9 km circuit where the faster cars reached over 220 km/h (137 mph). Going into the left hander before the right hand Dunlop Loop after the hill, Romano couldn't slow the car and it drove straight through the infield. The car hit a dip and bounced across the track at speed, hitting an earth bank front on which not only destroyed the front of the WE84 but also resulted in two broken legs for Romano. Emergency crew's took over an hour to remove Romano from his car where, despite his injuries, a conscious Romano instructed rescuers where to cut the front of the car so the front wouldn't collapse on top of him. After three and a bit seasons of sports car racing in Australia, Romano retired the car following the crash, and once recovered he concentrated on racing open wheelers in the Australian Drivers' Championship.
Bap Romano retained the car and commissioned the cars original builder Barry Lock to build a replacement chassis to replace the one written off in the 1986 Amaroo crash. This was done by 2001 and by 2010 the WE84 had been completely rebuilt and track tested at Queensland Raceway by Romano himself. Currently Bap Romano drives the car in historic events including returning to Lakeside Park in Brisbane 26 years after it last competed there, at the Festival of Sports Cars on 22–24 July. The car now runs a 600 bhp (447 kW; 608 PS), 3.5L Cosworth DFZ V8 engine developed for Formula One that Romano had intended to put the car after 1986, but didn't due to the rebuild needed after his Amaroo Park crash, and his move into open wheelers in pursuit of the Australian Drivers' Championship.Australian Sports Car Championship - 1983 (x3), 1984 (x4), 1985 (x1)
Australian Sports Car Championship - 1984