The making of the lastever V8 Commodore

COVER STORY VF Series II SS Commodore

by DAVID MORLEY pics ELLEN DEWAR

304kW SS: The Inside Story

Holden's still keeping a few cards close to its chest, but its engineers couldn't help let slip a few details about their new baby

In the old days, you couldnít get a parking spot within cooee of the front office at Holdenís Fisherman s Bend HQ. But this morning, I can take my pick of spots in the staff carpark, even though itís just gone nine on a Monday. This is what happens when a manufacturer starts winding up its operation. But Iím not here to place flowers on a grave or cry into anyoneís beer. Nope, Iím here to talk turkey with a couple of Holden engineers about the next Ė and last Ė Commodore SS, the VF Series II.

Forget that itís the last of the line and instead celebrate that itíll probably be the best of its breed

MOTOR has been granted an audience with part of the team charged with giving the Commodore a proper send-off, and Iím here to find out if she goes out with a bang or a whimper. From fairly humble beginnings as a taxi-pack HQ sedan with stripes and a V8 engine, the SS badge has loomed large in Holden folklore. The Commodore story wouldnít be half as exciting without the SS, either, and with more than 3.13 million Commys sold in the modelís 37-year run (including no less than five Wheels Car Of The Year awards and 22 Bathurst wins) a new halo model like the SS is always news.

While there was doubtless a temptation to stick with the L77 6.0-litre V8 and save a few bickies, Holden took the decision to fit the last Commodore SS with the 6.2-litre LS3 engine that has been powering HSVís line-up for the last few years. Exact figures are 304kW and 570Nm, up from the 270kW and 530Nm of the 6.0-litre it replaces and the 6.2 is good to 6600rpm.

Those peak numbers are not exactly what HSV claims, but theyíre close, suggesting that not too much has been altered in the pass-it-along process from HSV to Holden. Unlike the L77, the Active Fuel Management system that shut the engine down to four-cylinders (on automatics) for light-throttle fuel economy has been binned this time around. These moves, of course, make the VF Series II the most powerful Commodore ever, and the new V8 will be common to all V8-powered variants including the Calais, Calais V and Caprice, as well as the SS and SS V. Holden admits this has been one of the worst-kept secrets in Aussie automotive history, but itís still nice to sit in a conference room and have the rumours confirmed by the people who made the decisions. But why? Why go to the cost and effort of developing, packaging and certifying a brand-new driveline that will run until just 2017?

According to Holdenís vehicle chief engineer, Andrew Holmes, itís about making the most of what was on offer, regardless of time-frames into the future. ďI have a personal opinion; build it and they will come. Look at the Redline model (launched in 2010 in VE form). Nobody said: ĎCould you do this?í But we did it and itís gone ahead and ahead and ahead,Ē Holmes says. ďSo why the LS3? Because we can. If you want to give people a really desirable product, then that is the right engine to choose. Letís put a Corvette engine in a Commodore and letís go.Ē Itís also worth mentioning that about 58 per cent of

Commodore sales lately have been the Sports models; thatís SV6, SS and SSV, so clearly, thatís where the market has steered Holdenís engineers and product planners as well.

So what else has changed mechanically? The move to the bigger engine hasnít forced any driveline changes apart from a revision to the final-drive ratio.

Itís gone from the 3.45:1 of the VF Series 1 manual to an eight per cent shorter 3.73:1. The auto diff shortens from 2.92:1 to 3.27:1 for around the same percentage change. Interestingly, this makes the VF Series II one of the very few cars of the last decade that has gone backwards on fuel economy, and owners can expect to use about a litre more per 100km than a VF Series 1 car driven the same (so, about 12.6L/100km for the new manual). Some will call this a major backward step, but given the expectations of owners, I reckon itís more a case of knowing your market.

Andrew Holmes agrees, because the pay-off is a big boost to acceleration and driveability. Holdenís own claims (which weíll be putting to the test as soon as we can) give the auto SS a 0-100km/h time of five seconds dead and the manual a storming 4.9. But more than that is the added flexibility of the new model.

ďThis car feels so much more responsive. The throttle response is outstanding; the passing performance is incredible,Ē Holmes says. ďAs soon as youíve got an extra 600rpm to play with, you can go chasing quarter-mile times.Ē

Top speed? Same as before with tyre-load ratings forcing an electronic lid to be lowered at 230km/h in the auto and 240 in the manual. And while overall gearing is shorter, the SS will still be turning just 1800rpm or so at a freeway-legal 110km/h.

Other changes include a switch to Brembo brakes all 'round for the Redline sedan, and what was previously called the Police Brake Package (Copper Stoppers where I live) becomes optional on other V8s.

The move to a monobloc Brembo caliper for the rear has also allowed the rear suspension to be tweaked (combined with other fiddles, but we canít talk about them just yet).

Appearance-wise, you probably wonít get the neighbours falling off their porches when you wheel home in your VF Series II for the first time. Even Andrew Holmes admits: ďWe spent the money under the bonnet.Ē In fact, the interior is strictly carry-over, including Ė a little oddly Ė the tachometer thatís redlined at 6000rpm when the new donk is safe to 6600rpm. The Holden guys just twitched a bit when I mentioned that.

Externally, thereís a new fascia and some other changes aimed at managing air-flow and heat extraction. The headlight units are carry-overs, but the openings in the front fascia are now bigger and feed into a series of ducts that then blow the air out past the front wheels and on to the carís flanks in an attempt to get the air sticking to the side of the car

again as quickly as possible. This reduces turbulence and is free horsepower in an nth-degree kind of way.

Youíll also notice bonnet vents in the lid of V8 models Ė which are actually functional. Well, three of the five slots are, but they do extract hot air (which needs to get out) while directing rain water (which wants to get in) to areas where it canít do any damage.

New tail-lights for the sedans now feature clear lenses and a faintly Camaro flavour, while the Sportwagon, attacked in VF Series 1 guise for not looking any different from the rear, now gets new taillights.

There are a couple of new colours (a metallic blue and a bronze), new 18 and 19-inch alloys, and an LS3 badge on the front of V8s. Bigger tail-pipes are another new feature but, again, I promised to stay mum on the exact details of the new exhaust system.

But I can tell you that Holden has also spent a bit of time and money improving the soundtrack. Thereís now a bi-model exhaust which, with a simple but effective piece of induction noise hardware, channels a better quality of noise to the driver. Again, I canít go into specifics at this point (Iím sworn to secrecy and if I blab, Iíll never get another insider interview with Holden) but I did manage to grab an earful of the new car, after a bit of arm-twisting.

Having just spent an hour listening to the engineersí tales of driving the car across Australiaís alpine regions for thousands of kays, and cracking out 100 laps of Philip Island with just four fuel stops and one set of tyres, I figured there must have been the odd prototype lying around Fishermans Bend somewhere.

So I innocently asked if I could listen to it start up and hear for myself how good it sounded. There was a split-second of wide eyes across the table and then a grin from Andrew and a ďweíll see what we can doĒ.

After a minute or two on the phone, we all stood up, left the conference room and headed for the rooftop car-park. I offered to be blindfolded, but apparently there was no need. Turns out there wasnít, either, because the green prototype was fully masked up and debadged, but the one thing these guys were so proud of was, indeed, possible to sample; the glorious racket of baby horsepowers being born.

The door of the car was opened for me and I was invited to sit in the driverís seat. I was actually waiting for somebody to put a hand on my head like you see on US cop shows, but that didnít happen. And then I hit the starter button, the V8 cranked about three times and erupted into a blurt and then a lovely gurgling idle.

ďThis thing legal?Ē I asked, being cheeky.

ďOh, itís absolutely legal,Ē said Holdenís lead development engineer, Amelinda Watt, who is now just about hopping from one foot to the other.

And I swear, we all stood around this idling Commodore for a good three minutes, blipping the throttle, making it pop and grinning at each other like moderately-high-functioning dribblers. And thatís the magic of cars like this; they make you feel good. Forget that itís the last of the line and instead celebrate the fact that itíll probably be the best of its breed. Ever.

And when Holden finally lets us scribblers loose in it, MOTOR will be there to test the claims and report back. Stay tuned. M

So that's the nitty gritty, let's take a look at the new 304kW SS...

It's time for Holden's most powerful-ever Commodore to do the full monty