The surge and sound
The big, booming V8 in the performance Commodores signalled an era of change
LAUNCHING the VE in 2006, Holden claimed the model would save its bacon. It didn’t.
As Holden, like Ford and Toyota, plans to abandon local manufacturing in favour of marketing imported cars, so buyers have abandoned the likes of the Commodore and Falcon and voted with their feet for smaller cars and SUVs.
But then, as now, there was much to like about the large cars, particularly hero models like Holden’s big booming V8 SS and SS-V.
The lusty 6.0-litre pounding away under the hood blew away any idea of fuel frugality but there remains something appealing about the surge and sound of the hot Commodore.
If thirst was no concern and you wanted old-school grunt, the SS and (new for the VE series) up-spec SS-V would be for you. A sleek Sportwagon launched in 2008 expanded the appeal.
The SS badge dates back to the early ’70s when it was attached to HQ performance model. In the VE, the V8 underscored its credentials with outputs of 270kW and 530Nm.
Transmissions were six-speeders, both manual and auto, the latter the most likely choice for today’s buyers.
The VE was a roomy and comfortable car to drive, the big V8 comfortable for lazily cruising along the highway, with plenty of punch to overtake when needed.
The SS is popular with, let’s say, enthusiasts. It’s important then that you check any car under consideration for signs of having been owned by a hoon — look for modified engines, tricked-up transmissions, lowered suspension and aftermarket wheels.
A modified engine might give you stronger performance but it’s likely to be at the cost of fuel consumption and driveability, and possibly durability.
Tweaking the transmission can sharpen the shifting but make it harsher to drive.
Lowered suspension is likely to be uncomfortable and to bottom out over speed bumps and across gutters as you drive out of your driveway.
Aftermarket wheels can be inferior to the genuine factory wheels. They are often easily chipped and cracked, and knocked out of round by the smallest of bumps against a kerb.
The best thing to do if you suspect a car has been modified or had a hard life, walk away and keep shopping.
The alloy V8 is much improved over the 5.7-litre engine that preceded it and there isn’t much that goes wrong with it.
But it is important to listen for any ticking coming from the engine, and inspect it closely for oil leaks. Particularly check for leaks around the seal between the engine and transmission.
The six-speed auto also seems to be largely trouble-free but make sure it selects gears without hesitation and it doesn’t clunk or bang when engaging Drive or Reverse.
A knock in the driveline could be from the limited-slip differential. It could also be a sign of being driven hard. There have been reports of the diff failing and it’s quite expensive to replace.
Regular servicing is important to keep the SS running smoothly, so check for a service record.
Glenys Russell I owned an SS until April. I bought it with 17,000km on it. It was very responsive, very easy to drive. The previous owner had lowered it, so I had difficulty with some driveways. It was automatic, which was definitely not for me. I have traded up to a manual SS-V, which hopefully will be my car for a very long time.
Gar y Elliott I have owned my SS-V for six months and I love it. It hasn’t given me any problems so far and the fuel consumption has surprised me — it wasn’t what I expected from a V8. The interior isn’t bad and the boot is huge.
Rob Grove I own a 2009 SSV Sportwagon. After 45,000km and 18 months of ownership I still love it. It still looks fresh, the interior is roomy and comfortable and there’s plenty of room for luggage. The engine is strong and quiet and fuel consumption is great.
Chris Tyson My 2009 VE SS manual is a pleasure to drive. The handling is spot-on and you don’t have to rev it to get anywhere, you can just lug along. It’s spacious inside and the boot is great.
For some it’s a dinosaur, for others it’s V8 heaven.