Commodore [ VN-VS]
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.