End of the Lion

We lap Phillip Is­land in the last lim­ited edi­tion Hold­ens

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Front Page - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MOTORING EDI­TOR joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au

HOLDEN has re­vived a pair of iconic name­plates from its con­tro­ver­sial past to mark the end of the line for the homegrown Com­modore.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 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.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)

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