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.