AUSTRALIAN MOTORING history is scattered with mystery models. Some were intended for production but aborted (think Torana GTR-X or Falcon XA GT Phase IV); some made it to the showroom in tiny numbers (such as Holden’s VC Commodore SL/E wagon) while others, such as the Ford-built 429ci Falcon GT (known as the Bill Bourke special), were simply ‘what if?’ toys for car company engineers and executives.
So when some pics popped up about a ‘factory’ VL Holden Commodore Formula Group E Turbo, I was interested.
The pics showed a neat white Commodore sitting over aftermarket alloys. Backing the boast was a pic of a pop-riveted plate engraved with SPECIAL PRODUCTION and V.L. FORMULA GROUP ‘E’ followed by a few numbers that apparently matched Holden’s factory fitted compliance and body plates.
Build plates are important: with Holden’s blessing in the 1980s, Peter Brock’s HDT (Holden Dealer Team) Special Vehicles installed build plates and later, HSV (Holden Special Vehicles) did the same: the Holden approved build plate is part of these vehicles’ provenance. Tickford/FPV also featured build plates, as have other manufacturers world-wide.
The trouble is, this build plate looked about as legit as a toy-shop sheriff badge: it was engraved (not stamped like HDT/HSV) and had punctuation-fail full-stops between the V and the L and quote marks around the E. And would Holden (or HDT or HSV) not have included some printed or stamped branding – such as the HDT logo or a Holden lion – or include the words SPECIAL PRODUCTION on a build plate? Really?
What’s made things even more smelly is the fact that instead of providing acceptable evidence of the ‘factory’ special VL Turbo (such as a unique model number, information from Holden, owners’ manuals supplements, dealer service bulletins, magazine articles, brochures, ads or press releases, or mentioning any extra hardware – such as bigger brakes or extra oil coolers – that differ from a standard Commodore Turbo) the owner of this ‘factory’ car reckons the car in his driveway is ‘proof’ and seems to have made the (oh-so-Gen Y!) challenge for someone to “prove him wrong”!
A quick google search revealed a decade of incidences of only a couple of people asking, on various Commodore enthusiast web pages, for more information about the VL Formula Group E Turbo that they’d just bought… with no success. Sure, Google can’t magically access books or official factory service manuals from the 1980s but you’d think that somebody, somewhere, sometime on a Commodore enthusiasts’ forum would be able to provide some information/facts about this car if it was a legitimate production model.
I know a few blokes who spun spanners on, and sold, Holdens in the 1980s and 1990s and they have no recollection of a SPECIAL PRODUCTION Formula Group E VL Turbo. These are blokes who are cluey enough to know about weird stuff such as SS V6 Commodores – yes, really – but can’t recall any Holden mentions of service/dealer paperwork or inclusion in price lists or advertising. Even Morley’s face went blank!
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The closest to legitimate information I could find about the maybe of this ‘factory’ model was from an acquaintance, Jim, who in the late 1980s bought a VL Commodore Turbo that had been raced in Group E. Jim returned this strippedout and caged ex-track car to road trim using Holden Formula – a range of dealer-supplied dress-up accessories – bought new as Holden spare parts. Jim – who is a fount of knowledge about early Commodores, especially HDT ones - says his ex-track VL Turbo didn’t have a SPECIAL PRODUCTION alloy build plate. So… the chat with Jim confirmed this ex-track car, apparently raced with Holden co-operation, was nothing more (or less) than a track-prepped stocker.
These days any VL Turbo is a cool car; worth treasuring. If you know something, let us know but with not a mention from anywhere or anyone over three decades about this allegedly ‘SPECIAL PRODUCTION’, ‘factory’ model, I reckon that little engine bay plaque is likely to have been riveted on by a kid looking for wow-gee-whiz carpark cred.