A Beast Is Born

Before the lights are turned out on this very facility, we enter the inner sanctum of HSV to follow the build of a future Aussie halo car

by LOUIS CORDONY pics ALASTAIR BROOK

USTRALIAíS fastest and most expensive car is built like most skunkworks exotica... in a shed. A really big one.

How do we know? We are putting one together. Okay, thatís a lie. But we will fit it with a badge. Briefly, for a photo.

And itís not really a shed. It only feels like one. Itís hard to grasp the HSV GTSR W1 without its symbolic importance. Which may be why Alastair, after quizzed about how he would photograph this featureís opener, revealed he was expecting the W1ís birthplace to be... different.

It sounds like he thought the W1 gravitates from a sealed lab to a secret wind tunnel by robot butler. And heíd bag a shot inside it while moving through the guts of a super factory.

Maybe itís because heís an Aussie-born pommy. Or maybe itís because this is a world-class super sedan with a warranty-backed 474kW. But I honestly thought the same. I pictured R8s that float down production lines like toys pinched by a claw crane.

We thought we could get close as they waft by, tighten a screw here, buff a badge there, smile for the camera, and call ourselves line workers for a day. And tell you that, yep, weíve built one.

Like any masterpiece, A though, things take time.

These tyre-frying monsters need at least six days in HSVís Clayton production facility.

Rather than building them from scratch, cars arrive from Holden with their main organs so they can trundle around on their own power.

Things like the interior, main body panels, and windscreen are already done.

windscreen are already done.

But a regular GTSR still has 40 per cent to go. W1s even more. So the first thing waiting at the Clayton plantís doors is nothing like an HSV. Itís a VF II Commodore, yes, but itís on yellow steelies, plugged with plastic bumpers, while grilles and vents are missing like itís been plucked at by wreckers.

It must visit 11 stations before leaving with 474kW/815Nm, suspension akin to a Supercar, semislick rubber, looks tougher than Americaís immigration policy and an equally scary $169,990 price tag. A W1 doesnít stack $67K on a GTSR for an engine tune.

The W1ís LSA is swapped here for a rabid LS9 as Holden didnít see the point in developing the tools, and process, to install them in Elizabeth. And the defunct LSA? Weíre told they go back to Holden. Just like other parts of these Ďcore vehiclesí, like Ďslaveí brakes and wheels, destined for suppliers or the tip.

This makes the first checkpoint a strip-search. On a hoist, three blokes remove bumpers, skirts and wheels

These tyre-frying monsters need six days before leaving with 474kW and Supercar suspension

before cutting the rear guards for those massive GTSR and W1 20-inchers.

Yes, theyíre the same width as the GTS, but further offset, and in W1-spec wrapped in 295/30 rubber. Some 20mm more than a GTSR.

But they donít just start waving an axle grinder. A 3D-printed jig is mounted on the bodywork before itís trimmed, sanded, galvanised into a smooth new lip, then drilled with holes for the splash guards. This unlocks 3-4mm clearance for the new bags.

Itís a challenge. There are sometimes 130 people busy on these beasts, almost double the number in late 2016. Plenty have never modified a Commodoreís guards like this before.

The cafeteria line isnít the only one trying to cope,

The LS9 is wheeled to the gutted shell as if on a platter, ready to be ingested as its new heart

cars sitting idle leapfrog to less time-intensive stations.

Some arrive at the first with steelies on the front and 20-inch wheels on the rear, as if theyíve come from Sydney Dragway. And as we frantically pinball between stations, the colours of the W1s we document change from Light My Fire orange to Heron white.

The upside to extra manpower is the more experienced can dote on the W1, like Jack Nichols in electrical, who installs lighting, the enhanced driver interface, a dial, and magnetic damper hardware for other HSVs after vehicle strip.

Because the W1 doesnít have adjustable suspension or an automatic transmission, the process is quicker than usual, freeing Nichols to select only the finest Alcantara. ďIíll go through five, 10 [steering] wheels if I have to,Ē Nichols tells me, ď[itís the] same sort of deal for the gear knob.Ē GTSRs get the scraps.

We next meet Mike Priestís baby. Well, one of them, which sits on a crate in a far-flung corner of the facility.

His name goes onto LS9 superchargers after he hand builds them in GMís Wixom Performance Build Center in Michigan, USA, almost 16,000km away.

ďThere are three of four guys that do all of themĒ, Dave Reid tells us, after we undress an LS9 from its plastic cover. He oversees this section dedicated solely to the W1ís engine swap, which hasnít existed since HSV last installed the W427ís powertrain itself in 2008.

As he takes us through whatís involved, I can see why Holden shook its head at helping. The LS9 is ordered two weeks in advance from Holdenís Spare Parts Operation, then fitted with custom pulleys, airconditioning pump, and new headers with catalytic converters. The old pipes end ďin the rubbish, mateĒ, he says with a laugh. Itís then shrouded in a labyrinth of cooling lines and t-pieces, plumbed to the sumpís own oil cooler and the blower intercooler radiator.

A removed sub-frame and TR6060 six-speed manual await the LS9. The íbox arrives custom-built from Tremec in America with special gears strong enough for 815Nm. Theyíre married by four people, including Alex, a tall, softly spoken Spaniard who joined the W1 program after acing an aptitude test building a wheel, brake and suspension assembly. He tells me he left motoring journalism at home in search of more dough Down Under.

Alongside his crew, another buzz around the W1 to drop the LSA powertrain and anything that might get in the way. When the project started this took three hours, now it takes less than one. After both teams finish, and a mid-arvo smoko break, the LS9 is wheeled to the gutted shell as if on a platter, ready to be ingested. Itís lined up by eye, tightened by hand, before voila: Australiaís brawniest muscle car has a heart.

Next, they wedge a carbon-fibre intake between the radiator and its support, before the engineís flooded with oil and started for first checks. With more power than Kim Jong Un, the engine now seriously outguns the rest of the package.

Next, the suspensionís standard ZF units are swapped for Supashock engineered coilovers, which are built on site. Body bits, including those pumped front wings made from ketchup-lid plastic, are painted separately

before being fitted, with the W1ís matte skirts done last.

Now there arenít many times a Honda owner (ahem, me) gets to accuse a W1 of looking quirky, but those brightly coloured steelies donít match that broad front jaw, furrowed head lights, and lowered stance.

Thatís soon corrected at station five, to the chagrin of long-timer Rodney Patterson. While Pirelli Trofeo Rs make those Superalloy wheels look like they could stick to the roof, he says the rear semi-slicks donít wrap around the 20-inch wheels as easy as the standard Continentals. I offer a stiffer sidewall as the culprit.

ďTheyíre actually softer in the sidewall, itís stiffer in the tread,Ē he corrects. His team saves them until the afternoon once theyíve warmed in a fan-forced chute to make it easier. Luckily, only three to four sets of Pirellis come a day, compared to 20 to 30 sets in total.

I also notice beefier tyre-pressure monitors on the W1 wheels. ďI believe itís got to do with the speed rating, because when we used to do the Vauxhalls they used to get them with a [higher] speed-rated tyre,Ē he says.

Gleaming four- and six-piston calipers await next.

While our road testers think the GTSRís AP Racing brakes, which clamp discs an inch bigger than the wheels on my 1.8-litre Integra Type R, were complete overkill, they make more sense up against 636 horsepower. The setup is so big, line workers canít tend to the brakes unless the steeringís turned.

Once finished, itís fired over speed-bumps to set the suspension. With spring rates like these, they make the bumps in Woolies car parks feel like catís eyes.

Next, at wheel alignment, the W1 is set with more aggressive camber and toe settings. But thereís no point if the ABS and stability havenít been informed.

The W1 is hooked to a computer at the second-last station and downloads new modules so it can talk to its harder-working heart, feet, and legs before itís looked over by the two most experienced blokes in the building. They run the final, and most thorough, inspection, checking everything against a documented process. Not that they need instructions. Iím told they can sub-in anywhere along the line.

The compliance plate, build plate, and DataDot markings come last, but everything pales to what Iím about to hear. People are waiting for me back at body line where I can plant a badge on the nose of a Heron White W1. As it turns out, though, no oneís waiting for me. The badges sleep in their heated draws, hiding as if they know my clumsy fingers could wipe tens of thousands dollars off the W1ís price.

Unfortunately timeís running out, and Alastair and I concentrate on shooting a finished car before calling it a day. But many here will be staying back to work overtime. As I shake hands with everyone at HSV, I remember what tyre man Rodney told me earlier: ďYouíll be running out of doing things like this soon.Ē

And while heís right, I feel blessed to have seen the most evolved version of Australiaís four-wheeled species pieced together. Badge or not. M

The brakes clamp discs an inch bigger than the wheels on my Integra Type R