L IKE CONAN the Barbarian, the Commodore died three times: Once when it was announced back in 2013 that Holden was going to cease manufacturing, once early in 2017 when they put a firm date on it; and most cruelly of all, now.
Sure, the Commodore nameplate will live on, but it’s just not the same, in exactly the same way that The Commodores may still have the same name, but without Lionel Richie they are, at most, just two times a lady.
The 2018 ZB Commodore may well be a very good car, but no matter how closely you sniff the upholstery, you won’t be able to detect the phantom traces of meat pies from the Adelaide Oval kiosk. Although I do take some comfort knowing the ZB will be assembled in Russellsheim – if you had to pick one place in Germany to make Commodores, it would be the one named after some bloke called Russell.
But the pain is more than just the death of the iconic Commo – it’s the passing of an era, of a particular vision of Australia as the little engine that could, or in the case of most of the Commodore line-up, the crazy big engine that could.
The Australian car industry was a little ray of proud sunshine, proof that we could take on the world and punch above our weight. And then, suddenly, it turned out we couldn’t – not without government assistance – and so a piece of our identity died alongside the chance to buy a ute and haul 1200 litres of air around at 180km/h.
And so here we are, dearly beloved, gathered today to pay tribute to the Commodore, as the tools fall silent at the Elizabeth plant. (Oh, and the Camry plant in Altona too. But that one has made less of an impact on the national psyche. The death of the Camry is like the chauffeur who died alongside Princess Diana – just as tragic, really, but Elton John didn’t write a song about it.)
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, prevent the dog from barking in the back of the tradie’s ute. The tits at Summernats will droop just a little lower to the ground, averting their nipples in grief.
But really, it doesn’t need to be a totally downcast affair – not like a middle-class WASP wake, where someone plays Wind Beneath My Wings on repeat and everyone weeps quietly about how the dear departed has gone too soon.
In reality, it should be a lot more like a rowdy New York Irish wake, where everyone gets drunk and laughs until they spit black-and-tan out their noses retelling the story about how the dear departed lost his pants and had to run six blocks home wrapped in paper towels.
I’ll always think of Melbourne’s Commodore design labs like Wonka’s chocolate factory, a wondrous dream-forge powered by giggling enthusiasm and rivers of obnoxious Spitfire Green paint. I’ll always remember the Commodore, not by its sales figures or its P&L spreadsheets, but by the cheek-cramping grin it could give you firing up an LS3 V8 on a cold morning, or by the date-tightening surge it delivered when you kicked it in the ribs.
Don Bradman was bowled for a duck in his last innings; Usain Bolt was outpaced by a grandmother with a walking frame in his final race; but that’s not what we remember them for. Let’s remember the locally built Commodore the way it should be remembered: Not how it went out, but how it lived, tearing up the Mountain with Brocky’s mullet flowing majestically behind, or blowing plumes of tyre smoke to celebrate generations of Aussies getting their P-plates and their first used car.
The Commodore is dead. Long live the Commodore.
Oh, and the Camry, I suppose. M