Com­modore [ VN-VS]

Unique Cars - - FAREWELL HOLDEN -

By early 1983, over four years af­ter the launch of the Com­modore and three years af­ter the Kingswood had been killed, Holden was in a bit of strife… and it knew it. A big fuel cri­sis had, a decade be­fore, spurred Holden into build­ing a smaller fam­ily car for Aus­tralia… But larger cars were now cool again, leav­ing Holden’s fam­ily car in the shadow of the Ford Fal­con with which it com­peted for the Aussie f leet and fam­ily car buy­ers’ bucks.

As it had done for the VB Com­modore, Holden could have co-de­vel­oped the Opel Se­na­tor that was un­der devel­op­ment for a 1987 launch but it wanted to re­turn to a big­ger, Kingswood (and Ford Fal­con) sized fam­ily car by the late 1980s. So Holden went alone with the devel­op­ment of the VN, tak­ing just the side-body ar­chi­tec­ture of the Opel (the doors and f lush-fit­ting win­dow frames) and splic­ing it to a widened ver­sion of the VL f loor and sus­pen­sion to cre­ate a uniquely Aus­tralian car.

This pro­vided the re­quired in­te­rior size – three bums across the back seat. This vir­tu­ally new body also al­lowed Holden to vastly im­prove the per­for­mance of the ven­ti­la­tion and air­con­di­tion­ing sys­tems for VN. The higher aero-styled body line also al­lowed a big­ger boot.

Es­sen­tial for the suc­cess of the VN was an im­prove­ment in qual­ity. Three decades later, it’s easy to laugh but it re­ally was a step for­ward at the time. The VN was in­tended to be built in just one assem­bly plant, rather than the four Aussie fac­to­ries that the first-gen VB-VL Com­modores were var­i­ously as­sem­bled in (with kit-packs to NZ) – en­abling Holden to work on the assem­bly tech­niques and qual­ity of VN. In­spired by Opel, Holden de­vel­oped a new mo­du­lar dash­board assem­bly: the fire­wall, dash, steer­ing col­umn, ped­als, fuse box and wiring har­ness were pre-as­sem­bled out­side the car be­fore be­ing dropped-in and glued into place. Then the f lush-fit­ting wind­screen was glued in – the VN used far more poly­mer ad­he­sives for its con­struc­tion.

At first, the VN was to have been pow­ered by the Nis­san 3.0 in-line six car­ried-over from the VL Com­modore and much of the VN’s devel­op­ment was per­formed us­ing Nis­san-pow­ered pro­to­types. But since the Nis­san/Holden sup­ply deal had been signed in 1983, the cost of the Nis­san en­gine had stacked-up due to the in­crease in the value of the Ja­panese cur­rency. Holden’s US af­fil­i­ate Buick had re­cently launched a new fuel-in­jected 3.8-litre V6 mo­tor so it was de­cided this would power the VN. De­spite be­ing all-iron and push-rod-op­er­ated (rather than al­loy-headed and over­head cam like the Nis­san) the Buick’s torque and power out­put pro­vided ter­rific per­for­mance at ‘real world’ speeds (it had more power than the VL’s car­bu­ret­tor-fed V8) and was sur­pris­ingly fuel ef­fi­cient. The three-cylin­der length of the Buick V-mo­tor meant it was also rea­son­ably light and sat back in the en­gine bay.

Work­ing with an al­most all-new de­sign – and the fac­tory to build it in – al­lowed Holden to de­velop a new long wheel­base States­man and Caprice, bring­ing Holden back into the lux­ury mar­ket it had handed to Ford’s Fair­lane and LTD with the end of WB States­man/Caprice pro­duc­tion. The same pro­duc­tion f lex­i­bil­ity meant a new proper Holden ute, too.

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