We always hoped it would never come to this – the final shutdown of local production from Ford last year and Toyota and Holden in 2017. But it has.
Awful though that prospect is, there is also a great deal to celebrate, namely decades of industrial and social history.
Over the last 10 months, we’ve been featuring icons from the Holden catalogue, beginning with the 48-215 back in January this year. Last issue we produced a Monaro special and the one before a Torana celebration.
This time around it’s the turn of Commodore, the factory’s longest-running nameplate. Glenn Torrens, our resident Commodore nut, has done the history, while we celebrate the wider legend with owners.
To the many people who helped put this together, many thanks, and may your engines always start first time!
This is the car that started the legend. A hybrid American-Australian design effort, the 48-in tagged as the when was given updated suspension) was famously welcomed off the production line by then Prime Minister Ben Chifley. While Australia already had a long automotive industry history, this was seen as a significant raising of the stakes: complete manufacture of a vehicle and its components in serious volume.
“We bought it in 1984,” explains owner Dominic Lentini. “My wife Grace and I were in Rosebud and we saw this tired looking old car in a front yard with a for sale sign.
I just fell in love with it. My father’s first car was an FJ, which I remember, so maybe that has something to do with it. I took out a personal loan from Westpac. The car cost me $1170 and I paid it off in 12 instalments.”
A 1952 model, the car was first registered to a Mr Ludwig Holzer, who owned Inkerman Panels in St Kilda. The family still runs the business.
After spending some time in storage while a house and new garage were built, it underwent a complete restoration. “We were beginning with a complete stock vehicle, including the numberplates.,” says Lentini.
And the result? “You need to adapt your driving to suit a car of that age. It’s quite economical and has plenty of room in it. The difference between this and a modern car is enormous.” th 48 215 (i 1953 t d th ‘FX’ h it i d t d FJ i )
If you were silly enough to hesitate, you would have missed out on buying this car new. Holden originally planned to make only 1500 of these beauties, but a mad rush through the dealerships saw them having to pump out a second batch of 1300.
Why such demand? We reckon it was the looks. As then GMH designer Leo Pruneau revealed to us, this was a cheap and cheerful model done with next to no budget.
Essentially a dressed-up Belmont, you got a V8 in riotous colours (Ultra Violet, Infra Red or Lettuce Alone green) for just $3500 on the road. A bargain, even then.
“They were so hard to get,” recalls owner Hayden Pilgrim. “You really didn’t get a choice of colour – you couldn’t go to your dealer and say I want a red one, because the dealer got what he got.”
Actually, the spec wasn’t half bad: GMH’s 253 V8 was never the most powerful thing out there, but it sounded good, had tons of low-end urge and was famously bulletproof. That was mated to an M20 four-speed manual transmission, plus a Monaro 3.36 differential. It was a bit leisurely across the quarter at around 17.5 seconds.
Inside the first batch of cars you scored distinctive hounds-tooth upholstery, while the stripes and SS badging (the first time the now famous monicker was used) was supplied by 3M. General appointments were sparse in some areas. If you wanted an interior light, armrests or power steering, there were all extra cost.
You may have seen this car before. It’s owned by Hayden and Margaret Pilgrim, who bought it from a GMH employee when the car was but a pup. A tribe of kids have been brought up in it, though these days it’s more of a pet than family transport. The couple administers a club for the model.
You can thank unleaded petrol for the VL Turbo. Specifically, the fact that Holden just could not see a way to make the old faithful 202 six run successfully on the new brew. So rather than tear up otherwise useful money banging its corporate scone against a brick wall, Holden simply went shopping and what it found was the Nissan RB30, three-litre, SOHC six-cylinder which was also being fitted to locally-made Nissan Skylines. A deal was done and the VL Commodore of 1986 was the first full-sized six-cylinder Holden since the EJ of 1963 not to use what was effectively the old red motor.
And then a strange thing happened. Nissan of Nippon was also building a turbocharged version of the RB30 three-litre, but Nissan Australia wasn’t interested in it. Holden was, however. The results spoke for themselves: 150kW, 296Nm a standing quarter-mile in a low-15 and a top whack of 220 or 230 klicks.
For many, this was a hugely controversial car. There was some resentment among diehards about the imported engine, but there’s no doubt VLs – and particularly the turbos – have a legion of fans. For many, this was the generation Commodore that picked up some serious sophisitcation.
This example appeared in Unique Cars number 389 in June last year – in full police spec – as one of five Holdens we reckoned were a top used buy. Owner Turhan Peker has done a stunning job with the car, which regularly appears at shows. So why choose the VL Turbo? “I think it’s one of the best things Holden did,” he says. “That’s why these cars are still as popular as when they came out.”
Save your best effort till last – is that the theory? We’d defy anyone who’s driven million dollar machinery. Why buy this car? Owner Ian Janetzki sums it up this “The HSV the year before was like that, and then Holden put it in the off-the-shelf $60k “Without exception, it’s the best Holden I’ve owned, going back to the 68 HK Premier! tight BMW handling and steering, yet with 300-plus kW. If you think of what you’d buy an SS-V Redline to walk away with any conclusion other than this: How come they’re stopping when the product has become so damned good? And no, that’s not jingoism talking – well, not completely. The fact is the Commodore developed into something that not only claimed to be a world-standard car, but could actually back up those claims in the real world. Plus, we’re not talking way: “Because it was the last of them and has the 6.2 LS3 motor. car. They did a few other things – the bimodal exhaust is great, it delivers genuine growl.
“It’s that brute acceleration, but dressed in a European standard of driving feel. That in a European stable that comes close to it, it might be the C63 Benz, which is pushing $160,000.
“My first Holden was an HD and I’m in that situation where I have a soft spot for them.”