Ser­mon on them

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story - PAUL POT­TINGER paul.pot­tinger@cars­guide.com.au

We­push the bib­li­cal best from HSV and FPV on a pil­grim­age to the Great Race sum­mit Cometh Oc­to­ber and ver­ily did the pil­grims con­verge upon the sa­cred Mount where on was preached the ser­mon of the bent eights. Con­gre­gate did the dis­ci­ples of the Blue Oval and Red Lion sects at this holy place; there to cast empty drink ves­sels at the un­be­liev­ers and to light pyres of sac­ri­fi­cial char­i­ots. And at day’s end, when one tribe’s cham­pion had smote might­ily the other, the be­liev­ers and philistines all did trail away in a long mourn­ful pro­ces­sion across the western plain . . . SO MIGHT read some scrap of scroll un­earthed by a fu­ture ar­chae­ol­o­gist re­count­ing the an­nual sec­u­lar rite that is the Bathurst 1000.

This week­end’s edi­tion might be one of the last to fea­ture only the the clans of Ford and Holden, as the end of the two-make con­test is nigh. The need for new blood is widely recog­nised— not least by in­com­ing V8 Su­per­cars com­mis­sioner Mark Skaife—– even in the form of mar­ques from dis­tant lands that your flat-earth Aussie V8 believer can scarcely en­vis­age.

That though, like the day of reck­on­ing, is a prospect best not dwelt upon. To­day’s our day for mak­ing a pil­grim­age to the Mount in two of the best V8s from the Holden and Ford sta­bles.

In sales terms, the fight be­tween the Cruze and the Fo­cus shapes as far more mean­ing­ful, but the mus­cle cars cho­sen for our ex­cur­sion show this per­pet­ual heavy­weight ti­tle fight is far from de­cided.

Ford Per­for­mance Ve­hi­cles is rep­re­sented by its GT-P, es­sen­tially a life sup­port sys­tem for the stun­ning new su­per­charged all-al­loy Boss 5.0-litre V8. The fruit of an es­ti­mated $40 mil­lion in­vest­ment, it obliges by re­turn­ing 335kW at 5750rpm and a gut-punch­ing 570Nm from 2200-5500rpm.

That over­whelm­ing (lit­er­ally as it turns out) off-the-line per­for­mance is un­der­writ­ten by su­perb Brembo brakes. Vis­ually — de­spite its sober, deeply dark blue paint, sil­ver ac­cents and grey stripes— it’s as sub­tle as a cop­ping a half-full can of VB on the scone, with a vast spoiler ris­ing from the rear deck and a moun­tain­ous pro­trud­ing bulge on the bon­net.

The vis­ual cues of Holden Spe­cial Ve­hi­cle’s Clubsport R8 Black Edi­tion em­pha­sise that, although this is a close com­peti­tor, the re­spec­tive cars are about as dif­fer­ent as two sim­i­lar things can be. Ours is lu­mi­nous white with mat­tblack ac­cents— even the HSV badges— sug­gest­ing noth­ing so much as a Star Wars stormtrooper hel­met. (Lord of the Fully Sith, any­one?)

On its V8, FPV has down­sized and used forced in­duc­tion while the Club­bie is all about ca­pac­ity and nat­u­ral as­pi­ra­tion in the form of that res­o­nant 6.2-litre V8. For all its size, its out­put is less than the FPV’s— 317kW at 6000rpm and 550Nm at a higher 4600rpm.

The ClubSport’s brakes are equally im­pres­sive for their pro­gres­sion through the pedal and the as­sertive bite. There’s also an HSV-be­spoke lim­it­ed­slip dif­fer­en­tial to keep it in shape. With this and the wider rub­ber around the 19-inch al­loys at the rear, the elec­tronic safety mea­sures are less fre­quently aroused.

Es­cap­ing Syd­ney’s ev­er­ex­pand­ing sprawl, our 16-cylin­der pro­ces­sion aban­dons the (not so) Grea Western High­way, cut­ting across coun­try via Hamp­ton Oberon andO’Con­nell to Bathurst, soak­ing up the spr rain, sleet, hail and sin­gle-d tem­per­a­ture with which the NSW cen­tral west is apt to bush­whack the un­wary.

The FPV soon re­veals its twitchy, manic man­ner. Thi the one you’d reckon on

Mount

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on, pring digit e s his is win­ning any traf­fic light derby, or would be if ac­cel­er­a­tion off the line and out of cor­ners didn’t need a sen­si­tive foot. Punch it too hard in any con­di­tions, es­pe­cially wet ones, and a su­perb en­gine— one you’d be happy to find in a topend Jaguar— is too much for the chas­sis to han­dle and the sta­bil­ity pro­gram to rein in.

Ini­tial dis­com­fort isn’t helped by the most awk­ward driv­ing po­si­tion since the old Alfa Romeos. As ever in Fal­cons, you’re perched as though on an orange crate and any­one taller than 185cm has the wheel in his or her lap.

But . . . Suck all this up, breathe out and what a weapon you wield. You might un­der­cook your cor­ner en­try speed, yet if you pick your mo­ment you’ll power out with supreme au­thor­ity ac­com­pa­nied by the charger’s whine. For all the moder­nity of what’s un­der the bon­net, the char­ac­ter of this pack­age feels more like an older-school mus­cle car, one that re­quires your best to get its best.

The Clubsport, by con­trast, is more, well club­bable, as in a club to which you have to be elected. More lin­ear than the FPV in al­most all re­spects— ac­cel­er­a­tion, steer­ing and han­dling— it fills the grand tour­ing re­mit with lux­u­ri­ant ease, barely touch­ing 2000rpm at the le­gal limit in sixth gear.

A man­ual gear shifter (which ini­tially brings to mind a piece of gym equip­ment in its ac­tion) feels al­most but­tery af­ter ex­po­sure to the tight-gate rigid­ity of the FPV’s stick.

The HSV’s seats are not nearly so sup­port­ive as the Ford’s big, ribbed sports pews but they are more com­fort­able over dis­tance, while en­hanc­ing the im­pres­sion that the Club­bie shrinks around the driver as you push through the curves. And it’s an in­te­rior that at least ap­prox­i­mates the spend— hardly lush, it is recog­nis­ably that of a lux­ury car with a stan­dard fea­tures list that’s as full as its ri­val’s is spar­tan. And, at 80 big ones, the FPV’s in­nards are too like that of a Fal­con of half that price.

The cur­rent HSV se­ries is the one that most con­vinc­ingly an­swer that age-old ques­tion,

Is it worth the ex­tra spend over an SS?’’ with an em­phatic bloody oath’’. It also speaks to the man of means who wants to cel­e­brate his suc­cess, not with the ob­vi­ous Ger­man de­vice, but a bulging bi­cep of Aus­traliana that he (or, yes, pos­si­bly she) can drive com­fort­ably ev­ery day.

None of this is to write off the GT-P. It’s an en­gine in search of a more de­serv­ingly con­tem­po­rary and ca­pa­ble car, yet it pro­vides a rous­ing con­trast, some­thing per­haps for the driver who re­tains more fire in his ex­pand­ing belly.

What you pre­fer not to imag­ine is some am­bi­tious and abil­ity-shy youth get­ting hold of a well-worn ex­am­ple a decade from now.

And as we end our ser­mon from freez­ing, dark­en­ing Sky­line at Mount Panorama days be­fore the great race, both cars prove that Blue Oval/Red Lion ri­valry is as alive on the road as on the track.

‘‘

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Peak per­form­ers: The pure ca­pac­ity 6.2-litre Clubsport R8

and the su­per­charged 5.0-litre GT-P

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