Commodore [ VE-VF]
All of which leads us to the VE Commodore, Holden’s billion dollar baby; the last and the best. Once again conceived – as was VT – as a left- and right-hand-drive car, Holden had even more freedom with the design as it was tasked with creating a car that would be at home any where on the planet. From the bitter cold of the US north-west and Canada to the stinking heat of Australia and the Middle East – where by early 2001, when VE mules began circulating Holden’s Lang Lang proving grounds, Chev-badged Holdens had been sold for several years – the VE was engineered as a large car for international markets – later the foundation for the Chevrolet Camaro.
So Holden’s aims for VE had to be higher than for the previous series: in fact, with an obvious view to future US market sporting sedans, Holden bench-marked the VE against acknowledged European premiums such as BMW’s 5-series.
Australia has always had reasonably high safety standards but VE had to be ready for every market on earth including the notorious US market. Systems such as stability control had to be designed-in as world-class from the outset. With North America’s and China’s cold winter climate in mind, the car’s heating system needed to be created to be far better than that expected and accepted by the average Aussie buyer… And of course the air-con’s hot-weather performance – for so long a source of pride for Holden – needed to be up to scratch too.
It was all wrapped in a new bodyshell that approached international best-practice for safety and body integrity/ durability. The wheelbase was longer and the engine moved rear ward in relation to the front axle line. The front chassis rails were a larger cross-section than the VT-VZ to better absorb front crash forces. The front cross-member was installed on break-away mounts for the same reason. The VE’s characteristically large A-pillar was also designed to resist deformation in head-on crashes. The car’s B-pillar was now a sandwich with a tough high-boron steel centre laminate and the front seats mounted on box-section cross-car rails – not simply the f loor – for better T-bone safety. The rear chassis rails were designed to be deformable too, and the fuel tank was shifted forward to within the wheelbase – to allow the VE and its WM derivatives to meet stringent crash regulations.
Under it, VE was laid-out with a sophisticated multi-link rear end and a double ball-joint strut front end for terrific handling. The suspension was crafted from large, durable components (right down to large wheel studs) that all pointed to GM/Holden planning big power for the design.
Holden also paid special attention to ease of manufacturing and crash repair with VE, with ideas such as a bolt-on nose section that was installed at the factory as a module, pre-assembled with the radiators and cooling fans. In service, it’s able to be easily removed and replaced after the common urban nose-to-tail shunts. The doors’ wiring harnesses could be easily unplugged with trim panels in place.
Proudly, VE made it to the USA first as a Pontiac G8 and later as the VF-based Chevrolet SS and a bitch-black government-only Statesman/Caprice-based PPV – police patrol vehicle. But there was to have been so much more… The planned-and-prototyped high-riding all-wheel drive Adventra – this time with a proper SUV-type body – died. The Holden styling team also penned a Monaro-type coupe and an El Camino type ute, the two cars sharing a pair of doors that were longer than the sedan’s. Few people realise that GM/Holden’s Elizabeth factory was mirrored in China and for a few years the plant produced the Caprice-based Buick Park Avenue.