Last trip to the mount


BE­ING fol­lowed into ser­vice sta­tions and ap­proached by strangers would nor­mally be nerve wrack­ing in such an ex­pen­sive car. But you soon get used to it in HSV’s GTSR W1 — the $170,000 Holden.

Ev­ery­one wants to get a closer look at the fastest, most pow­er­ful and prici­est car Aus­tralia has ever built.

“Mate, is that re­ally a W1? I’d never thought I’d see one,” says HSV owner Mitch Miller (bot­tom right), a farm­hand from Temora, when he spots us at the ser­vice sta­tion on the Hume High­way near Yass.

“I just fig­ured most of these would get locked up and no one would drive them.”

As with many Holden diehards across Aus­tralia, Miller bought his V8 sedan “be­fore it was too late”.

“I had a LandCruiser be­fore this, and that’s more prac­ti­cal for what I do, but I just had to buy one be­fore we don’t have a car in­dus­try any­more.”

We’re not sure if he’s jus­ti­fy­ing this to us or girl­friend Mandy Turner.

He’s not alone. Holden has all but sold out of its V8s as the shut­down of the Com­modore assem­bly line in El­iz­a­beth South Aus­tralia looms on Oc­to­ber 20.

The 2018 Com­modore will have four-cylin­der or V6 power — and no V8.

The W1 is no or­di­nary Holden. It has a race-bred su­per­charged V8, the biggest brakes fit­ted to a lo­cal pro­duc­tion car and the widest, stick­i­est tyres.

We’re mak­ing a sen­ti­men­tal jour­ney, driv­ing from HSV head­quar­ters in Melbourne, to Sydney via Can­berra — which many car en­thu­si­asts blame for killing the lo­cal car in­dus­try — with a de­tour to Bathurst’s Mount Panorama, the mecca of Aus­tralian mo­tor­sport.

It was there that Holden and Ford built their rep­u­ta­tions since the 1960s.

Head­ing north on the Hume High­way, we pass a con­voy of trucks car­ry­ing Aus­tralian­made Toy­ota Camry sedans. They’ll be gone too, soon. Toy­ota shuts its Al­tona fa­cil­ity two weeks and three days be­fore Holden. Cam­rys will be im­ported from Ja­pan.

The Yass fuel stop is our first re­minder this is not your av­er­age V8, slurp­ing 13L/100km at cruising speeds — about 30 per cent more than other V8s and twice as thirsty as a small car, not that buy­ers will care.

That’s the trade-off for fu­elling the most re­spon­sive en­gine to be fit­ted un­der an Aus­tralian bon­net. Floor the throt­tle and the ex­haust sounds gen­uinely like a V8 Su­per­car.

The ac­cel­er­a­tion is mind­bog­gling for what is al­most a two-tonne sedan.

We match HSV’s claim of 0-100km/h in 4.2 sec­onds, al­though it takes sev­eral at­tempts to get the launch right on warm tyres.

The race-ready “semi slick” rub­ber, great in the dry, can be dicey in the wet. But it’s these tyres and the race-tuned sus­pen­sion that en­dow the W1’s steer­ing with the re­flexes of a lighter and smaller hot hatch.

In­cred­i­bly, it’s not bone­jar­ring over bumps.

It’s ap­par­ent on our jour­ney Aus­tralia has changed a lot since Holden and Ford ac­counted for half the cars on our roads. Now, fewer than one in 10 new cars sold is a Holden or a Ford.

Coun­try towns have boarded up shops. Small petrol sta­tions have dis­ap­peared, leav­ing only con­crete plinths where bowsers once stood.

We do a sym­bolic lap of Par­lia­ment House in Can­berra and pon­der what might have been if, in De­cem­ber 2013, then trea­surer Joe Hockey had not goaded Gen­eral Mo­tors into shut­ting down Holden’s fac­tory with his in­fa­mous “ei­ther you’re here or you’re not” speech.

Spooked, Holden an­nounced its shut­down the next day, trig­ger­ing Toy­ota to shut its fac­tory, and with it an en­tire in­dus­try.

Tax­pay­ers had tipped more than $2 bil­lion into Holden over the past 10 years alone. And still it strug­gled to make a profit.

On the way out of Can­berra we’re stopped for a ran­dom breath test. De­spite driv­ing Fords, the boys in blue are ad­mir­ing the W1 — and are as sad as we are about the loss of the best priced per­for­mance sedans in the world.

Po­lice de­part­ments across the coun­try are still grap­pling with what will re­place their high­way pa­trol cars.

We me­an­der over the Great Di­vid­ing Range then head to Bathurst, for decades the des­ti­na­tion for road tests of im­por­tant new Holden and Ford mod­els and, now, the last of their breed.

Our sole sym­bolic lap of the moun­tain is at the 60km/h speed limit. The sound of the su­per­charged LS9 V8 and the loud­est ex­haust we’ve ever heard on an Aussie car echo­ing off the con­crete walls make the trip worth­while.

With mixed emo­tions, I pon­der why Holden Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles saved the best un­til last. Would more cars like this have saved the in­dus­try? Sadly not. Cars like this ex­isted be­cause, his­tor­i­cally, fleets and fam­i­lies bought so many of the reg­u­lar mod­els. Those cars were the blank can­vas for the Holden and Ford fast-car di­vi­sions.

But that all came to an end as our tastes moved to small cars, SUVs and utes.

Soon, cars like this will be gone for­ever. RIP Aus­tralian car in­dus­try.

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