The fi­nal act

Likely the last Aussie-made Chevy shows the Yanks how to do a mus­cle car

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - JOSHUA DOWLING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING ED­I­TOR joshua.dowling@news.com.au Twit­ter: @JoshuaDowl­ing

THIS is the car that could have saved Holden.

As the fate of Holden’s fac­tory was sealed this week, fol­low­ing un­prece­dented at­tacks from a fed­eral gov­ern­ment that ap­peared in­tent on shut­ting it down, the maker has pro­duced ar­guably its best car yet.

It’s the lat­est ex­port ver­sion of the home-grown Com­modore, re­turn­ing to the US as a Chevro­let af­ter last be­ing shipped there four years ago as a Pon­tiac.

When the Pon­tiac deal was done, the Aus­tralian dol­lar was weaker and the US econ­omy was stronger and the Yanks bought 38,000 Pon­tiac-badged ex­am­ples of the Com­modore — more than an en­tire year’s worth of Com­modore sales in Aus­tralia at cur­rent rates.

At the me­dia pre­view drive in the US, how­ever, it was re­vealed the an­nual tar­get is now closer to 4500 sales. That’s still only a dec­i­mal point fig­ure in the world’s sec­ond big­gest car mar­ket and barely 5 per cent of Holden’s an­nual pro­duc­tion.

The Gov­ern­ment says Holden must ex­port at least 30 per cent of the cars in re­turn for an in­crease in tax­payer fund­ing. Fat chance.

The high Aus­tralian dol­lar means the Chevro­let SS is priced about $45,000 in the US. That might seem rea­son­able to buy­ers here but cars are much cheaper in North Amer­ica.

Nor does GM want to sell too many SS sedans. The US gov­ern­ment has set an av­er­age fleet fuel econ­omy tar­get for car brands, so the more V8 sedans are sold the more econ­omy cars GM has to move to bal­ance its cor­po­rate av­er­age fuel econ­omy.

So with the bad news out of the way, we get be­hind the wheel of the Chevro­let SS, which also hap­pens to be this year’s Nas­car cham­pion. The Chevy has a few sub­tle but im­por­tant dif­fer­ences from the Holden Com­modore — apart from the Chevro­let “bow tie” badges that will ap­pear on al­most ev­ery Holden ute be­fore too long.

Un­der the hood is the Corvette-sourced 6.2-litre V8 (re­served for Holden Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles), not the reg­u­lar truck-sourced 6.0-litre V8 found in the Com­modore SS.

For us ano­raks, it also gets dif­fer­ent stitch­ing in the seats and in­te­rior pan­els, shift pad­dles on the steer­ing wheel (awe­some, when do we get th­ese?), a driver’s knee airbag, a “shark fin” aerial for satel­lite ra­dio (equally awe­some, when do we get more than 100 ra­dio chan­nels?), a louder ex­haust and a seat cool­ing fan. Aus­tralia, one of the hottest con­ti­nents on Earth, per­versely, gets only a seat heater (why not seat cool­ers?)

Per­haps the coolest fea­ture is the re­cal­i­bra­tion of the en­gine man­age­ment com­puter that gives the Chevro­let SS a “blip” of the throt­tle on start-up, just like Ger­man sports sedans. Holden didn’t do this to the Com­modore be­cause our noise rules are stricter, and the ex­haust is so quiet that ap­par­ently you couldn’t tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween a blip and a nor­mal start.

The US ex­haust note is arous­ing. From the out­side it sounds like a V8 Su­per­car; the GM parts cat­a­logue will gar­ner a lot of in­ter­est among Aus­tralian fans.

The Chevro­let SS has al­ready im­pressed the lo­cals. Car and Driver mag­a­zine de­scribed it as the “gifted off­spring of a BMW M5 and a

Chevy Ca­maro SS”. Au­to­mo­bile mag­a­zine said it will go “toe-to­toe with a $US65,000 BMW 550i” — a car that costs $160,000 in Aus­tralia thanks in no small part to the puni­tive lux­ury car tax.

The US jour­nal­ists were im­pressed with the han­dling, some­thing we take for granted in Aus­tralia.

It must be said, the car I drove was a par­tic­u­larly fine ex­am­ple. It’s the best Com­modore I’ve ever driven, and I’ve driven more than a cou­ple of hun­dred over the years. And I’ve owned four in the past 10 years.

This red one was built tighter than any VF Com­modore I’ve driven, too. Most cars used on me­dia pre­views are spe­cially pre­pared by engineering de­part­ments. GM says some of the cars in this group were reg­u­lar cus­tomer cars di­verted be­cause of a ship­ping de­lay with the me­dia eval­u­a­tion ve­hi­cles.

There was no way of know­ing whether the one I drove was a cus­tomer car or one that had gone through a spe­cial workshop, but it was bril­liant. The steer­ing, body, chas­sis and brakes all felt tight and pre­cise, un­like any pre­vio­suly driven.

It was a rev­e­la­tion. From Palm Springs to Los An­ge­les — in­clud­ing my oblig­a­tory trip to the Hol­ly­wood sign ev­ery time a Holden gets shipped to North Amer­ica — the SS feels like a Euro thor­ough­bred. If only ev­ery car that came off the Holden pro­duc­tion line was this good — I’ve had a few duds.

It’s with mixed emo­tions that I hand back the keys to the GM minder be­fore leav­ing the Chevro­let SS be­hind. I am so proud that Aus­tralia can build a world-class car but saddened that the op­por­tu­nity no longer ex­ists. At least the Yanks got to see our best work.

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