304kW SS: Holden saves the beast ítil last

Visual changes have been slight, but hefty mechanical changes mean VF II is a fitting end to three decades of SS

Whatís in a name?

A brief hissstory of SS

WHAT does SS mean anyway? Best guesses suggest Super Sports or Sports Special, but whatever it is, the badge has a long history. And not just in V8-powered Commodores. The first SS cars were built in Britain back in black-and-white days and back then, SS was short for Swallow Sidecars.

As one Adolf Hitler began to reveal his real agenda, however, it was decided that maybe SS wasnít such a hot name after all. Imagine trying to sell a Pontiac ISIS, and youíre seeing the problem (but did you know both Morris and Toyota have, indeed, built and sold a model called Isis over the years?).

In the end, SS cars became known as Jaguar, so it all turned out nice. But the SS tag was established within GM well before the Holden Commodore ever grabbed it. In fact, it goes right back to the 1961 Chevy Impala which could be had in SS trim. Closer to home, the first Holden SS was a HQ amounting to a Belmont with a 253ci V8, four-speed manual, styled wheels and some pretty shouty stripes. And Holden couldnít pump them out fast enough.

The first VH SS was kind of cynical, but the VF SS was without doubt the finest Commodore ever seen

SS: Stars and Strugglers VH to VF, the SS story's been up and down. But mostly up

1982 The first SS Commodore was not the wheels-ofglory model it has become for MY2016. In fact, it was a kind of cynical deal with Holden applying SS badges to mechanically standard 1982 4.2-litre VH Commodores in a pretty blatant attempt to grab a ride on the coat-tails of P Brock and his HDT operation (which was building the more purposeful SS Group 3). 1984 Things got more serious in 1984 with the VK model, with the destroked 308 emerging as the 4.9-litre V8 that allowed the car to compete in international Group A racing. The VK SS formed the basis of Brockís HDT weapons and the car won Bathurst in í86. These were great cars with light weight and plenty of torque, and still feel good now with a sidestep the later stuff canít match.

The VL Group A SS was a bit of a strange one, if weíre going to be completely honest. The 4.9-litre engine hadnít yet been developed to use electronic injection (the HSV Group A was the first to do that) and outputs were pretty tame. Built by the Brock Organisation, the Group A SS was still a homologation car, but word had it that Brock was playing a bit loose and fast with the specs of individual cars. This was also the time of the dreaded Polariser. But better things were to come. 1989 The VN of 1989 was that better thing. With a fuelinjected version of the 4.9 (now redubbed the 5.0-litre) and different porting, the new engine was the work of a young engineer called Warwick Bryce. Genius, that man. Yes, you could still spend a heap more on a HSV Group A version (which was a dog in six-speed VN form, I say) but suddenly, the non-homologation SS was a proper performance Commodore in its own right.

Commodores VP, VR and VS built on the formula with the same 5.0-litre engine, and various body kits and chunderous interior trim options (befitting the spirit of the time). But these were good cars to drive with proper torque where you want it and a relatively lightweight body. The independent rear suspension of the VR (and later models) was a revelation, too. 1997 The VT arrived in 1997 with an SS version that essentially used the same 5.0-litre. There were two problems with this: the VT was heavier than the VS and the all-alloy 5.7 Gen 3 V8 was waiting in the wings for the Series II VT SS. So those Series 1s are now the poor relation.

But, in truth, those early Gen 3s could be pretty horrible, too, with a lack of low-down grunt, long gearing, engine rattles and a thirst for oil.

The VX, VY and VZ continued the theme and improved every year as the Mexican factory building the motors got its act together. Outputs grew, too, and the later the build date, the better the product. And the culmination of that was the VZ Series II, which finally got the 6.0-litre V8 and banished all those earlier complaints. 2006 By now it was 2006 and the VE was ready for its close-up.

Again, it was a big, heavy car, but it was better balanced with a much nicer front end. The interior copped a few serves for a lack of quality, but the SS continued to take the fight up to the opposition which, at that point, consisted mainly of the Falcon XR8 and the XR6 Turbo.

And the VF Series 1? Without a doubt the most polished Commodore SS weíve ever seen and a truly accomplished long distance car. Which means the new Series II car will need to be a bit special if itís going to raise the bar again. M

WILL THIS BE HOLDENíS MOST SATISFYING COMMODORE? NEXT MONTH WE DRIVE IT!