VB 1978 – 1980

STARTED THE DYNASTY, AND WAS KING FROM BIRTH

PETER ROBINSON

I SUSPECT the first time the words ‘quantum leap’ appeared in these pages was our description of the VB Commodore in an editorial devoted to the coming of Holden’s radical replacement for the Kingswood (or was it the Torana? Nobody, not least Holden, was sure).

Steve Cropley and I understood from first turning the soft-feel steering wheel, at a Lang Lang-based drive in September 1978, that the VB brought a new level of dynamic sophistication; in terms of ride and handling, no Australian car approached the refinement and driver appeal of the VB.

Our instant favourite was the top-level SL/E 5.0-litre V8. Its now amazingly modest 125kW was far better able to exploit the chassis’ balance than the ancient ‘red’ sixes (64-66kW) Commodore’s virtually car Bend by that always were the early Commodore s weakest link, drivetrains carried over virtual unchanged from the Kingswood.

Australia’s inclusion in GM’s V-ca program, headed by Opel, was forced on Fishermans Ben the Holden board’s the Holden board’s hesitancy regarding the replacement for the HQ models. Finally, the 1973 fuel crisis dictated Holden downsize one class size, though Holden claimed the VB’s interior space was 96 percent of the Kingswood, while admitting the exterior was 14 percent smaller. The Australians merged the Opel Rekord’s cabin with the longer nose of the Senator to accommodate Holden’s in-line six-cylinder and V8 engines.

Most significant among a host of local engineering changes was the replacement of the Opel’s recirculating-ball steering with a rack-andpinion set-up. With power steering, the SL/E’s agility and responsiveness – just 2.6 turns lockto- lock – had us euphoric. The VB locked in the Commodore’s first (of five) Wheels COTY awards.

As chief engineer at Opel, Chuck Chapman developed the Rekord’s excellent coil-sprung rear suspension. Now Chapman was Holden MD and, with Joe Whitesell, chassis guru Peter Hanenberger and a younger generation of keen Australian engineers, they refined it further while re-engineering the front MacPherson struts for harsh local conditions. No V-car was better engineered.

Our enthusiasm at Wheels stretched to the decision that the SL/E 5.0-litre warranted comparison with European sedans that were competitive in size, if not price: Volvo 264 GLE, Mercedes 280E and Rover 3500. Disregarding price, objectively the Commodore still won easily.

Throw value into the equation and the SL/E romped home. Quantum leap indeed.