Coupe 4

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents - Stu­dio im­ages: Peter Bate­man John McCoy-Lan­caster Story:

When the LS1-pow­ered Holden in your garage is an all-wheel-drive ‘all-paws’ Black Pan­ther.

Own­ing a lim­ited-build, noughties mus­cle car is a much dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion from a 1960s or ’70s ma­chine. Es­pe­cially if that modern clas­sic is a HSV Coupe 4. Just ask John McCoyLan­caster, owner of ‘Pan­ther’. Here the black beast’s mas­ter out­lines how he tracked down, caught and cares for his all-paw pet.

There’s never been any­thing quite like the Coupe 4. Not be­fore, nor af­ter it.

Holden Special Ve­hi­cles’ su­per coupe is truly unique. Af­ter all, it’s the first and only Aus­tralian de­signed and man­u­fac­tured all-wheel drive coupe. It broke cover as a near-pro­duc­tion con­cept at the Aus­tralian In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Show in Sydney in Oc­to­ber 2003, which means it’s al­ready 15 years old. To­day it stands as one of the most col­lectable modern clas­sics.

The Coupe 4 was al­ready on my wish­list 10 years ago when I started look­ing around for some­thing dif­fer­ent to put in the garage. Like most car guys, there were plenty of de­sir­able ma­chines on that list, but get­ting an Aus­tralian mus­cle car was the high­est pri­or­ity.

At the time, third gen­er­a­tion Monaro mod­els were be­tween about three and seven years old – a per­fect choice for a sec­ond owner like me seek­ing a low-kilo­me­tre car where some­one else had taken the dreaded de­pre­ci­a­tion hit. I sub­scribe to the view that buy­ing pre-loved ex­am­ples of your dream car en­ables you to put it in your garage for about 50 per­cent of the orig­i­nal pur­chase price.

I found many Monaros for sale, but with a busy work sched­ule I made the de­ci­sion to get some­thing col­lectible. It was also im­por­tant that the fam­ily could all en­joy the car and that main­te­nance costs would be low.

Luck­ily there were some smart heads around to of­fer ad­vice. One of those was AMC’s found­ing ed­i­tor Mark Oastler, who sug­gested a Coupe 4 be­cause it was rare, AWD and a car with many special fea­tures not likely to be re­peated again. He even sug­gested a black on black car – black ex­te­rior and black in­te­rior. It was an opin­ion backed up by Marc McInnes, then Holden’s NSW state man­ager.

Not know­ing how rare th­ese cars were, the search be­gan. I soon learnt that there were only 132 Coupe 4s made in both V2 and VZ form, from 2004-’05. There were only a few colours – sil­ver, black and red. What’s more, there were two shades of red and two shades of black! Only two in­te­rior colours were of­fered – An­thracite or Ochre leather – with most hav­ing the latter, lighter colour. And there were only three op­tions: Sat­nav, tyre pres­sure sen­sors and sun­roof.

So with a greater un­der­stand­ing, we re­alised the like­li­hood of nd­ing the right car with the right colours would be rea­son­ably dif­fi­cult. My pref­er­ence was for a man­ual six-speed, but as the Coupe 4 only came with the four­speed au­to­matic I ob­vi­ously had to forego this pre­req­ui­site. HSV chose this trans­mis­sion be­cause of the car’s size and the re­quire­ment to use the US-de­vel­oped trans­fer cas­ing.

As I learned more about the Coupe 4, my re­solve to nd and own one grew. As it turns out, only two weeks af­ter I’d made my mind up to only pur­sue this par­tic­u­lar model, a good ex­am­ple in the right colour and the right speci cations came up at a Holden car­yard in Sydney. The bonus was that it had one of the three op­tions – a sun­roof. Hav­ing pur­chased a VZ Holden By De­sign wagon in 2004 with a sun­roof this would give us a match­ing black and white pair.

So we went to take a look. The car for sale had been pur­chased new from Cen­tral Coast Holden at Gos­ford and had later traded in on a new car a few months prior to us see­ing it.

We were in the grip of the Global Fi­nan­cial Cri­sis so I was a bit ner­vous about the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion. An of­fer was made – and re­jected! How­ever, af­ter some fur­ther con­ver­sa­tions over the fol­low­ing days we even­tu­ally set­tled on a num­ber and the deal was on.

The taxi ride to the deal­er­ship to pick up the car couldn’t have gone fast enough. Then the rst drive was one to re­mem­ber and I have vivid rec­ol­lec­tions of por­ing over the car when I got it home. As you do.

This 2004 VZ Coupe 4 was orig­i­nally pur­chased for $106,000 new. The orig­i­nal dealer in­voice that came with the car de­tailed the base cost, plus the op­tion of the sun­roof, then the on­road costs to get to this price. The books in the glove­box also de­tailed the orig­i­nal own­ers and the ser­vice records.

I’ve learnt from Holden ser­vice man­agers there is no signi cant dif­fer­ence in the ser­vic­ing of a Coupe 4 from other Com­modore-based cars, apart from the need to en­sure both front and rear diffs are main­tained prop­erly. With the in­crease in the num­ber of 4WD ve­hi­cles that have re­cently ex­panded the Holden range, new tools and more ex­pe­ri­ence with th­ese driv­e­trains has re­sulted in ser­vices be­com­ing quicker and cheaper.

One of the great things about own­ing a car like this is that you just keep learn­ing new things about them. In fact, even though the car is now al­most 15 years old, fresh sto­ries and in­for­ma­tion keep com­ing out.

The Coupe 4’s seem­ingly grow­ing signi cance in Aus­tralian mus­cle car his­tory is an­other source of ‘owner sat­is­fac­tion’. There are many Holden en­thu­si­asts who do not know that Aus­tralia ac­tu­ally pro­duced a car with all-wheel drive.

Holden Special Ve­hi­cles lost money on ev­ery one of th­ese cars, given the de­vel­op­ment costs in­volved and the cost of build­ing each ex­am­ple. But the Coupe 4 was more than just be­ing about the 132 ex­am­ples that were even­tu­ally built. The team at Holden and HSV that put the car to­gether were look­ing to lever­age the de­vel­op­ment of th­ese special cars for more ex­cit­ing things in the fu­ture – with the po­ten­tial for an ex­port model AWD in the VE.

HSV’s head of de­sign at the time, Ju­lian Quincey, said that the team set out to cre­ate an “up­mar­ket” yet “un­der­stated” look for the Coupe 4, “one that ex­pressed the un us­tered com­posed way that the ve­hi­cle puts its power down.”

Most of the Coupe 4s – like this one – ended up with ex­ec­u­tives rather than col­lec­tors with an eye on the fu­ture. As a side note, two no­table Aus­tralian rac­ing iden­ti­ties had Coupe 4s as com­pany cars. One was Mark Skaife, who had his from 2004 through to 2006. That car re­cently found new own­ers. Then there was Kees Weel from PWR Per­for­mance Prod­ucts in Queens­land (and for­mer owner of Paul Weel Rac­ing with his son). Weel Snr bought one new and has loved it ever since. Kees even put one of PWR’s un­der­bon­net su­per­charg­ers on the car!

When our Coupe 4 ar­rived home for the fam­ily to see, there were many words said in ad­mi­ra­tion of its good looks. The car quickly gained a name – Pan­ther. What else would you call a black car that had all four paws ready to pounce!

The next Christ­mas, a tai­lored black car cover was given as a gift that keeps on giv­ing. While this cover has served the car well, the Coupe 4 is, of course, bet­ter en­joyed when the cover is off and out of the garage.

Let me tell you, the Coupe 4s were built to drive, as you would ex­pect from the rst-and-only lo­cally-pro­duced high per­for­mance two-door coupe to feature all-wheel drive – the most highly-en­gi­neered mus­cle car ever made here.

For­mer Holden se­nior en­gi­neer and Aus­tralian Rally Cham­pion Bob Wat­son was in­volved in de­sign­ing and test­ing the AWD sys­tem. Although the Cross-Trac sys­tem was also fea­tured on a range of Ad­ven­tra wag­ons and Crew­man four­door utes (also known as Cross-8s), it was taken to a new level with the coupe. Build­ing the cars in­volved a special col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Holden and HSV where each of the coupe bod­ies des­tined to be a Coupe 4 was taken off the pro­duc­tion line to make modi cations to the front and rear quar­ter pan­els. A speci c work­ing area was set aside at the El­iz­a­beth plant to put each car onto a ro­tis­serie and laser cut the guards and the holes to lo­cate the cross-mem­bers. A spe­cially-de­vel­oped tool, which cost over $1 mil­lion at the time, was then used to roll the edges out­wards. Then there was some hand­fab­ri­ca­tion to en­sure the high­est lev­els of qual­ity and t. A fur­ther spe­cially pro­grammed robot was em­ployed just to t the Coupe 4 in­te­ri­ors; they cars had a unique re­wall and the nec­es­sary cross-mem­bers to ac­com­mo­date the trans­fer case and all of the driv­e­train com­po­nents. The en­gi­neers utilised CAD tech­nol­ogy and CNC ma­chines to de­sign unique bil­let parts to t sus­pen­sion com­po­nents into the small spa­ces re­main­ing for the Coupe 4 and en­sure the han­dling and per­for­mance would be at bench­mark lev­els.

One mem­ber of the build team was for­mer Jaguar Rac­ing F1 en­gi­neer and then HSV sus­pen­sion spe­cial­ist, Dave Slater. “We tried to de­sign a nice, bal­anced pack­age, so when you turn into a cor­ner the whole car turns in at once, not the front fol­lowed by the back end,” Dave said.

With its wider plat­form (by 60mm front and rear), the car re­quired spe­cially-de­vel­oped wheel arch flares, which harked back to the A9X To­ranas. The de­sign also re­spected Mike Simcoe’s orig­i­nal wishes for an un­clut­tered look, us­ing the orig­i­nal bon­net shape with­out the nos­trils of the VZ Monaro, mated to the Sen­a­tor front spoiler with built-in high in­ten­sity Xenon driv­ing lights.

And so to the driv­ing! Liv­ing in outer Sydney has pro­vided many op­por­tu­ni­ties to take the car for drives that stretch its legs. There was much joy in find­ing the car’s strengths up the Putty Road, the drive to Bathurst, the run up the old Pa­cific High­way, and a few runs down to Can­berra (with the manda­tory run over the Monaro High­way). There’s a sure-foot­ed­ness about driv­ing this car un­like any other late-model Monaro. You can feel all four wheels grip­ping the road. The sus­pen­sion is set with per­for­mance in mind, and yet it is more com­pli­ant than ei­ther its GTS or GTO sib­lings. Re­gard­less of the weather con­di­tions, there is noth­ing quite like the con­fi­dence and the as­sured grip that height­ens the ca­pa­bil­ity of th­ese cars.

Few cars have the same level of per­for­mance, with 270kW in play. When it was of­fi­cially launched in mid 2004, Phil Hard­ing, HSV’s di­rec­tor of en­gi­neer­ing at the time, said that, “Per­for­mance is not just about kilo­watts, it’s about get­ting the avail­able power to the ground.” The HSV en­gi­neer­ing team recog­nised that the Coupe 4 was the quick­est point-to-point car they had around the Lang Lang ride and han­dling cir­cuit at the Holden prov­ing grounds in Vic­to­ria.

When I take Pan­ther to events, it’s al­ways in­ter­est­ing to note how the car is per­ceived and what com­ments she brings. There are those who view the car as just be­ing an­other Monaro and, con­versely, those in-the-know who are al­ways ea­ger to chat and hear Pan­ther’s story. For in­stance, at the Monaro Na­tion­als in 2016 she was one of two Coupe 4s en­tered and there was plenty of knowl­edge shared with those who didn’t know that they were pro­duced, plus a re­quest to park her next to a CV8Z and then a VZ GTO so that the phys­i­cal dif­fer­ences could be seen more eas­ily. Then there were the sto­ries from those who worked on the line, so you con­tin­u­ally learn new facts and hear fresh anec­dotes.

One of the longer jour­neys we had to­gether was cruis­ing down the Hume High­way for the car’s 10th birth­day in 2014 for a visit to HSV and the Mo­torEx Cruise of Char­ity in Mel­bourne. The re­cep­tion Pan­ther re­ceived at her birth­place was quite sur­pris­ing. All of the se­nior man­age­ment came out to take a look. MD Hard­ing wanted to go for a spin and com­mented that HSV has not been able to make a car that han­dled as well as the Coupe 4 since it was built. Holden de­sign chief Richard Fer­lazzo was there on the day and called it “the ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of the Monaro”. Then, at the Cruise for Char­ity, many of the crowd, again, were not even aware this AWD car had been pro­duced. So it was funny to watch peo­ple get on their hands and knees look­ing un­der it to ver­ify the truth – as if they don’t be­lieve it when you tell them!

Have there been any down­sides? Well, some tell you that the power is not enough. Com­pared to the last of the cars from HSV, you could say that’s the case. But we are talk­ing about a car that’s ar­guably a de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing mas­ter­piece. Is the turn­ing cir­cle a bit wider than oth­ers? Well, yes, but it just means you fac­tor that in when driv­ing around the streets. But when run­ning at full noise down Brab­ham Straight at Sydney Mo­tor­sport Park and head­ing into Turn 1 at over 200km/h, a lit­tle less move­ment of the wheel to take the cor­ner was a def­i­nite plus.

Oth­ers point to the size of the boot. The Coupe 4s were based on the ex­port body for the Pon­tiac GTO and have the fuel tank be­hind the back­seat. This was done to also pro­vide for the quad ex­hausts, amongst other things. There is also a space-saver spare un­der the floor of the boot. The smaller boot space has never caused us an is­sue.

Some peo­ple buy a modern mus­cle car, put it in the shed, throw the cover on and only take it out on sunny days for short trips stay­ing within the post­code. Each to their own, but this is not for me. Pan­ther is in her el­e­ment in the wet, even if that puts her in dan­ger of cop­ping a hit from less able ‘crea­tures’.

Should the un­think­able hap­pen, that’s where my for­ward plan­ning will pay off. While get­ting ser­vices done we have taken up op­por­tu­ni­ties to pur­chase some of the rare or unique parts that may be needed at some point in the fu­ture. We have a few very special parts stored away in the shed: front spoiler, rear spoiler, a full set of flares, front sus­pen­sion pieces, spare front and rear brakes, badges, floor mats, re­place­ment in­te­rior

and a set of spare wheels and cen­tre caps. All of th­ese items, and a few more, have been col­lected from a range of sources. I have a special shelf where all the parts sit to­gether so they can’t be con­fused with other car parts.

We’ve tried to iden­tify and find the parts we might need one day. Even a car as young as 10-15 years old can present chal­lenges when it comes time to se­cur­ing low-vol­ume mus­cle car parts. And as time goes on it will get harder and of­ten more ex­pen­sive to find the New-Old-Stock re­quired. Ad­vice on parts has come from deal­ers, other own­ers and clubs. Monaro own­ers around the coun­try have con­tin­ued to be a friendly and help­ful group that con­tinue to share info.

There are still a few more items we would like to col­lect, but they aren’t avail­able from the lo­cal Holden dealer any­more. They in­clude one of the unique grilles and a set of re­place­ment sill pan­els with ‘Coupe 4’ etched into the alu­minium. We’re also look­ing for an­other set of those Xenon head­lamps and will prob­a­bly set aside a roof spoiler and side skirts. Stor­ing a re­place­ment fire­wall, along with a

re­place­ment driv­e­train, may be seen to be go­ing too far, but we’ll keep our ears to the ground.

Part of the en­joy­ment of a car like this comes from re­search­ing old sto­ries in mag­a­zines and on the in­ter­net. Th­ese of­ten de­tail the special pieces that will make all the dif­fer­ence when it comes time for re­pairs or restora­tions. For in­stance, I’ve learnt that the soft­ware to run the sys­tem is from the Hum­mer H2. As the Coupe 4 in­volved a great deal of en­gi­neer­ing and a high de­gree of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Holden and HSV it was treated as a new ve­hi­cle and re­quired full crash test­ing and ADR com­pli­ance. Six cars were crash-tested, the coupe be­ing the rst of the new-gen­er­a­tion mus­cle cars to un­dergo this – and the rst to do so with al­loy wheels.

The re­sults of the test changed the de­sign of ev­ery mus­cle car that fol­lowed as the wheels were de­signed with light­ness and strength in mind and there­fore didn’t dis­in­te­grate – in­stead, they came right through the cabin! The front end con­se­quently needed to be reengi­neered and the new safety el­e­ments were then in­cor­po­rated across all Holden and Ford mus­cle cars from that point on. As I un­der­stand it, this par­tic­u­lar el­e­ment is quite signi cant be­cause even though cus­tom wheels have been avail­able since the 1970s, no car had been tested with them in a crash sit­u­a­tion un­til the Coupe 4. And that wouldn’t have been done un­less the cars were demon­strat­ing signi cant en­gi­neer­ing changes. So what’s the here-and-now for Pan­ther? The car con­tin­ues to be a joy to own. There is much plea­sure in ad­mir­ing the shape, in clean­ing and pol­ish­ing, with ser­vic­ing and with driv­ing. It is a rare oc­cur­rence to see an­other one of its type – and we have only ever en­coun­tered one other black Coupe 4 in our trav­els.

If given a choice to drive to Bathurst on a wet week­end we would still choose the Coupe 4 as this is what it was built for. With re­cent ad­di­tions to the Holden model line-up also be­ing all-wheel drive, and the in­creased use of this driv­e­train ar­chi­tec­ture in Audi, Subaru and oth­ers, it is only now that the con dence and ca­pa­bil­ity, let alone the en­gi­neer­ing of the Coupe 4, is be­ing ap­pre­ci­ated. This car was made in Aus­tralia, by Aus­tralians for the lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. We are proud to own such a great car and such an in­no­va­tive one at that.

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