Lion’s last lap
There are mixed emotions as the final hot Holdens take on Phillip Island
HOLDEN has revived a pair of iconic nameplates from its controversial past to mark the end of the line for the homegrown Commodore.
The Director luxury sedan and Magnum ute were coined by late racing legend Peter Brock in the lead-up to his ugly split with Holden in the 1980s.
The use of the names has the blessings of the Brock family, says Holden, as the cars would be a fitting tribute to him.
The Motorsport edition — based on the SS Redline sedan — was supposed to be called Bathurst, according to Holden insiders, as another nod to Brocky, who notched up nine wins on Australian motorsport’s sacred site.
Even the code on the build plate starts with “KOM”, for King of the Mountain.
However, the marketing types at new-age conservative Holden, trying to remodel itself in a European glow as it prepares to switch solely to importing from the end of this year, deemed Bathurst too blokey.
Holden fans ought not to hyperventilate for too long. These three limited editions — the final high point for the homegrown Commodore badge — are all but sold out.
Dealers have received their allocation numbers for the balance of the year and most cars already have customer names against them, say Holden insiders.
Holden will keep selling its regular V8 range. For the limited editions there are just 240 Magnums, 360 Directors, and 1200 Motorsport models.
Holden didn’t have the budget to make any styling changes, sadly, and went to the paint shop instead. There are flashes of red or black where there was once chrome or another colour.
The budget also didn’t cover a new set of badges (with the exception of the letters to spell Director across the bootlid) so the special editions also have unique stickers.
For those who plan to store their cars as collector items and not register them, there is a special code for ordering your limited edition — NOPD, or no pre-delivery — so it gets delivered with manufacturing and consignment stickers still on the windows, and plastic covers on the seats.
It is unclear how many of these cars won’t be driven but there’s a decent incentive to take them out of the wrapper.
There’s no more power from the Corvette-sourced LS3 6.2litre V8 but there are plenty of other go-fast goodies under the skin, foraged from the GM performance catalogue.
The cross-drilled front brake discs and aluminium centres (the Brembo calipers carry over) came from Opel in Germany and the rear discs were modified to match.
The extra oil coolers for the engine and transmission were developed for the Chevrolet SS and US police cars, the latter also the donor of the Motorsport edition’s rear suspension bushes.
All the cars sit on lower “FE3” suspension but only the
Director and Motorsport gain adjustable Magnetic Ride Control suspension, adapted from the Chevrolet SS and linked to bimodal exhaust, throttle response and steering settings — from ‘Touring’, ‘Sport’, to ‘Performance’.
These multiple personalities can be chosen via a dial in the centre console, as in HSV cars.
The magnetic suspension couldn’t be adapted to the ute for reasons of space.
With “regular” FE3 suspension from the sedan, the ute’s payload is trimmed from 620kg to 540kg.
To keep the bosses happy, Holden conducted a 24-hour torture test of the upgrades at its proving ground near Detroit. A sedan with all the extras was run at race pace around the clock to see that nothing broke.
Several sets of tyres, a couple of brake pad changes and dozens of tanks of fuel later, the car was given the green light for production.
This is presumably why Holden felt confident in letting a handful of media behind the wheel of its limited editions at one of Australia’s fastest race tracks, Phillip Island, with safety warnings that were sterner than usual.
This is the only chance we would get to drive these cars; there would be no road tests later.
And with that we start to do hot laps in what Holden calls “the most capable Commodore ever”. First up, I’m in the ute. Full disclosure: I’ve owned four of them. This one fit like a glove but the styling changes are too bogan, even for me.
All is quickly forgiven once the LS3 is off the leash, snorting loudly through the plastic pipe that pumps induction noise directly into the cabin.
I’m quickly reminded of the phenomenal grip from these Bridgestone tyres (the rear pair wider than the front), and how forgiving the brakes are when punished.
Next is the Director (automatic transmission only). It too benefits from lowered, retuned suspension. The shorter wheelbase of the sedan versus the ute and the better weight balance makes handling the circuit an easier task.
The paddle-shifters on the wheel help but can only do so much when it’s time to change gears up or down.
Time for a manual.
This is more
like it. The Motorsport edition was built for this track, sitting flat in the long sweeping corners as the suspension sensors measure the car’s movements 1000 times per second.
To be frank, the only time I could genuinely feel the effects of the new rear end was under extremely hard braking from high speed. The tail didn’t wag in the air as much.
What’s most intoxicating is the sound. You could easily kid yourself thinking you’re behind the wheel of a V8 Supercar.
It sounds even better outside the car, the roar from the quad pipes bouncing off the concrete wall of the pits as each car passes at more than 200km/h.
Which brings me to the optional extra Holden hadn’t factored in: mixed emotions.
The exhilaration of these cars is dampened by the reality that once they’re gone, that’s it forever for affordable V8 power in this country.
At least there’s a consolation. I reckon Peter Brock — the man who transformed the Commodore from family sedan to V8 legend — would have been proud of this legacy.
Collector’s editions: Director luxury sedan, Magnum ute and Motorsport (which was nearly badged the Bathurst)