HOLDEN ON

The Com­modore has evolved with its mar­ket since its launch 30 years ago, which is why it will stay on fam­ily shop­ping lists, writes PAUL GOVER

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Special Report -

FUEL crises, an eco­nomic slump and dras­tic down­siz­ing across the car world. Does that sound fa­mil­iar? It should — and not just be­cause it is what we are liv­ing through in the sec­ond half of this year.

Those are the con­di­tions that led to the cre­ation of the first Holden Com­modore in the 1970s.

The ar­rival of the VB Com­modore in 1978 sig­nalled a big change in di­rec­tion for Holden, when the hulk­ing Kingswood was ditched in favour of a new-age ‘‘com­pact’’ fam­ily car based on a Euro­pean de­sign.

The Com­modore looked dif­fer­ent from any­thing pre­vi­ously pitched at Aus­tralian fam­i­lies, but it was the right car for the time. And a 1-2-3 steam­roller of the make-or-break Repco Reli­a­bil­ity Trial in 1979 re­moved any po­ten­tial doubts about the car’s abil­ity to cope with the worst con­di­tions in this wide, brown land.

Even though Ford hit back hard with an XD Fal­con that be­came a best­seller, the Com­modore was an in­stant show­room hit and the Holden star has been do­ing the job ever since.

Sales have slipped in the past 18 months as the price of petrol punches holes in many Aus­tralian wal­lets, but the Com­modore has still had a 12-year run as the coun­try’s best-sell­ing car, de­spite the best ef­forts of Ford with the Fal­con and, more re­cently, Toy­ota with Corolla.

It is im­pos­si­ble to un­der­es­ti­mate the im­por­tance of the Com­modore.

For a start, more than 2.5 mil­lion have been built. ND the Com­modore has be­come an ex­port suc­cess with big sales to the US as the Pon­tiac G8, as well as a motorsport spear­head. It has given Holden fol­low­ers brag­ging rights with 18 Bathurst 1000 wins and nine vic­to­ries in the Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship.

But all that was way in the fu­ture when the first VB Com­modore rolled off the pro­duc­tion line at Page­wood in Syd­ney — a fac­tory long since closed and turned into hous­ing— on Oc­to­ber 25, 1978.

The start­ing price for an SL Com­modore was $6513. To­day a VE Com­modore Omega costs $36,790.

‘‘I think for years Holden has been known as the Com­modore car com­pany. It’s still our most sig­nif­i­cant model,’’ says Tony Stolfo, who has clear mem­o­ries of the orig­i­nal VB but is bet­ter known as the head of Holden De­sign at the time of the VE.

‘‘It’s the thor­ough­bred of the cars we sell, the back­bone of our busi­ness.

AIt tells us where we’ve been, where we are and where we are go­ing.’’

In 1978 the new Com­modore said Holden was looking to the fu­ture. And there was a global tie-up in one of GM’s first world car pro­grams, even if the orig­i­nals from a Ger­man de­sign by Opel changed a lot to en­sure space for five Aussie adults and an in-line six or V8 en­gine un­der the bon­net. ‘‘I thought the car was right for its time. The Com­modore took us into the fu­ture and had a ma­jor im­pact,’’ Stolfo says.

It was also sur­pris­ingly sporty, though a tail-happy sus­pen­sion tune — set on the gru­elling roads at Holden’s Lang Lang prov­ing ground — was wound back for more fam­ilystyle travel in the VC and be­yond.

There are too many Com­modore land­marks to track in any­thing short of a multi-vol­ume book, but it was the car that launched Peter Brock’s fast­car em­pire at the Holden Dealer Team, as well as the Holden Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles op­er­a­tion, which has just cel­e­brated its 20th birth­day.

And there was the Com­modore with the Nis­san in-line six in the nose. And a turbo model for per­for­mance.

And the Com­modore with the ‘‘Starfire’’ four cylin­der un­der the bon­net, lop­ping two cylin­ders off its six-cylin­der. For econ­omy.

Holden came close to killing its V8 en­gine in the 1980s but even­tu­ally re­versed the death sen­tence and to­day sells more V8-pow­ered Com­modores than be­fore.

There have been 14 in­di­vid­ual Com­modore mod­els from the VB to the VE, and ma­jor body changes for the VN in 1988, the VT in 1997 and the VE in 2006. The name­plate has won more than 60 awards, in­clud­ing a cars­Guide Car of the Year crown.

The Com­modore has be­come an in­ter­na­tional suc­cess, first as the Pon­tiac G8 sedan and more re­cently as a left-hand-drive ute and the build­ing block for the born-again Chevro­let Ca­maro whose body sits over the top of the VE me­chan­i­cal pack­age.

There is clear po­ten­tial for over­seas sales of the lat­est Sport­wagon. ALES of large cars have def­i­nitely dropped, but Stolfo, who is al­ready looking at fu­ture de­vel­op­ments of the Com­modore, says the ba­sics will not change.

‘‘Large cars will con­tinue to be part of the mix into the fu­ture. But they have to stay rel­e­vant,’’ he says.

‘‘It’s tough. You have to con­sider where the con­sumer is, as well as the po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions.

‘‘We have to re­tain the DNA of the Com­modore, which means five pas­sen­gers and a big boot. The over­all size may change, with a smaller and more ef­fi­cient pow­er­train, but the tech­nol­ogy will al­low us to make the car safer and qui­eter and re­duce its out­side di­men­sions without af­fect­ing what peo­ple ex­pect from a Com­modore.’’

S

Golden years: Holden is cel­e­brat­ing 30 years of the Com­modore, which started with the VB Com­modore (left) in 1978. The new-age ‘‘com­pact’’ fam­ily car looked dif­fer­ent from any­thing pre­vi­ously pitched at Aus­tralian fam­i­lies.

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