Com­modore [ VT-VZ]

Unique Cars - - FAREWELL HOLDEN -

Some­time around 1992, there was men­tion in the news pages of one of the new-car magazines – was it Mo­tor Man­ual? – of a Holden Calais spot­ted at Mel­bourne Air­port. No big deal, but this par­tic­u­lar Holden Calais was in­side the se­cu­rity fence be­ing read­ied for air-freight… And it was left-hand drive. Five years later, at the mid-1997 long-lead pre­view of the all-new VT Com­modore at Holden’s Fish­er­mans Bend head of­fice, there were styling sketches of Buick and Toy­ota Lex­cen ver­sions of the VT Com­modore pinned to the walls of the styling stu­dio. The joint-ven­ture be­tween Toy­ota and Holden – where Toy­ota Corol­las and Cam­rys had been sold as Holden No­vas and Apol­los, and Com­modores as Toy­ota Lex­cens – had been dis­solved in 1996 so the VT Lex­cen didn’t make it into Toy­ota show­rooms. But there re­mained an air of an­tic­i­pa­tion about the all-Aussie Holden Com­modore be­ing exported to the USA…

Holden – for so long tucked down the bot­tom of the world, build­ing cars only for Aussies, Ki­wis and a few rich co­conut farm­ers in South-East Asia – seemed to be now well and truly ‘in the loop’ with Gen­eral Mo­tors’ in­ter­na­tional model plans.

Car man­u­fac­tur­ers are al­ways look­ing ahead but it’s rea­son­able to say the VT Com­modore pro­gram be­gan when Holden styling bloke Michael Sim­coe ar­rived home in 1992 from play­ing with pen­cils with GM in the USA. Mel­bourne-born and Royal Mel­bourne In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy trained, Sim­coe’s new job was to lead the styling team for VT.

As it had with VN, Holden had the op­tion of un­pack­ing an Opel de­sign but what the Ger­mans were work­ing on with its late-1990s Opel Omega was too short and nar­row for Aus­tralia and prob­a­bly wouldn’t have swal­lowed a V8 – or a big air­con­di­tion­ing sys­tem – too eas­ily. The VT quickly be­came an all-Aussie ef­fort: By 1993 full-sized VT styling mod­els ex­isted and with a few tweaks to make things a lit­tle less rad­i­cal (for in­stance, pics from the era show the later-model V X’s dis­tinc­tive head­lights were orig­i­nally penned for VT) the de­sign was locked-in.

From the ground-up, the VT Com­modore was al­ways go­ing to be made in right- and left-hand drive. More cor­rectly, the VT-based WH States­man/Caprice was al­ways go­ing to be made in right- and left-hand drive as Holden – with its ex­per­tise in build­ing durable rear-drive cars for use in stink­ing hot cli­mates – was tasked with cre­at­ing the new-cen­tury Chevro­let Caprice (to re­place GM’s last big, sim­ple, US-de­signed rear-drive Caprice) for Mid­dle East mar­kets.

De­signer Sim­coe was to gain leg­end sta­tus dur­ing 1998, the year af­ter the VT was launched, when the Com­modore Coupe con­cept car had the sheets pulled from it at the 1998 Syd­ney Mo­tor Show, cre­at­ing front-page news around the coun­try. Sim­coe and a team of trusted col­leagues built the show car in se­cret, af­ter-hours, with­out the knowl­edge of Holden man­age­ment, us­ing a dis­carded pro­to­type VTII LS1 sedan.

The re­sponse to the con­cept car was in­cred­i­ble and Holden had lit­tle choice but to build the ‘mod­ern Monaro’. Sim­coe was quoted at the time: “It’s a to­tally de­liv­er­able de­sign,” re­veal­ing it was more than a one-off – it could ac­tu­ally be built on Holden’s pro­duc­tion lines. Back­ing up the busi­ness case for the devel­op­ment of the Monaro was the very handy fact that GM in the USA was will­ing to im­port the car; it ended up be­ing sold as a Pon­tiac GTO in the US and a Chevro­let Lu­mina SS in the Mid­dle East.

The Monaro was just one ex­am­ple of the f lex­i­bil­ity of the VT gen­er­a­tion Com­modore. As well as left- and right-hand drive short- and long-wheel­base sedans, a wagon and a tra­di­tional Aussie ute, over the next nine years the VT ar­chi­tec­ture was mor­phed into two and four-door cab/chas­sis com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles with rear-and all-wheel-drive, an AWD wagon and a HSV’s lim­ited-build Monaro-based Coupe4.

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