In typical Melbourne fashion it was raining when I picked up the car – not heavily but consistently – and had been for the 24 hours prior. Clutched in my palm was the key to a vehicle that makes the bold claim of being Australia’s most powerful production car. Ever.
Dropping myself into the driver’s seat, thoughts of being ‘that guy’ who puts the press car through someone’s front yard fence plagued my mind, so I busied myself with the in-car electronics to delay the inevitable, but the Bluetooth wouldn’t accept either of my phones. Damn. Wiggle the too-far-away gear stick to ensure it’s in neutral and press the starter button; the starter motor whirls before VVVWOAR – the HSV GTS clears its throat and once again I’m wondering why I thought this was a good idea.
The vehicle that HSV (Holden Special Vehicles) has created is an undeniably fitting modern-day interpretation of the Australian muscle car. As per the formula, the base car is a relatively pedestrian large Australian sedan which has then been taken, pulled apart and reassembled with a host of new parts to boost performance to new levels.
Indeed it is HSV’s bread and butter; turning run-of-the-mill Holdens into something that the average Aussie bloke can be equally proud to roll onto the drag strip as park in front of the pub. The approach hasn’t changed much since 1987 either: add some cosmetic enhancements, a spruced up interior and most importantly a hot V8 under the bonnet.
In a way, HSV’s relationship with Holden parallels BMW’s M division and Mercedes’ AMG, but over the years HSV has never strayed far from the formulaic approach which has won as many critics as it has fans. I can already predict some popular sentiments that will no doubt appear below in the comments section… “Expensive for a taxi”, “Bogan-mobile”, “Handles like a boat”. And I must admit that these thoughts were swirling amongst a bunch of preconceptions before I drove the car. It’s only natural to speculate, right?
So after the slightly nervous start, I decided to let the road dry up and pick a nice spot near the Melbourne CBD to take a closer and more objective look at HSV’s latest creation. The car before you is the range-topping GEN-F2 GTS; not only HSV’s highest performance creation but the most powerful car to ever enter production in Australia.
430kW (575hp) of power and 740Nm (546lb-ft) of torque come thanks to the supercharged 6.2L LSA, which is as American as apple pie but is very at home in the GTS, as even the ‘standard’ Commodore can be specced with an LS3. These figures put the GTS at an on-paper advantage to the BMW M5, and the huge torque figure characteristic of a blown V8 is well into hypercar territory.
Something else the HSV shares with its European rivals is a host of TLAs (three letter acronyms) on the spec sheet. ESC, EBD, EBA, TCS, EPS, TV and MRC might leave the regular CUB (sorry, cashed-up bogan) thinking ‘WTF?’, but HSV assured me that the tech has been put to good use and lifted the Commodore chassis to new dynamic heights. I guess time will tell.
As you would expect, the hot engine is complemented with bigger brakes – 6-pot front calipers clamping 390mm AP Racing discs. The forged 20-inch wheels are unique to the GTS and actually looked small to my eye after the madness of Summernats. I think the car would fit in nicely otherwise.
Owners can be sure they aren’t mistaken for one of the regular Commodore-driving masses thanks to a comprehensive exterior redesign, conspicuous badging, and in this case a lustrous layer of HSV’s ‘Jungle Green’.
The driver’s seat is a nice place to be. There are upgraded and rather supportive seats, and nicer materials across the dash and door panels, but the humble origins are hard to forget. Overall quality and tactility is still far beyond an equivalently priced Audi or Lexus.
However, like most car enthusiasts I’d trade any amount of intricately stitched leather for a good ol’ fashioned manual ‘box, and thankfully HSV obliges; the GTS comes standard with a refreshingly uncomplicated 6-speed shifter. What a treat in 2016!Drive Experience
With the road surface drying and my torque-induced anxiety subsiding, it was time to leave the grid of Melbourne city streets and head for greener pastures. There’s plenty of driving roads around Melbourne, but one stands head and shoulders above the others as far as scenic vistas and twisted tarmac goes. Its name, The Great Ocean Road.
Skirting the Southern coastline of Victoria, The Great Ocean Road is 243km long and is itself considered a tourist attraction. That’s a fair designation too, but it does mean during fine weather weekends it’s even more clogged with tourists than Melbourne’s gentrified laneways.
But traffic can pretty much be ignored when you’re packing overtaking power comparable to something like an F-22 fighter jet.
It’s no surprise that the engine absolutely dominates the driving experience in the GTS. Even before I had a chance to open it up on some proper roads, the supercharged 6.2 litres were an omnipresent entity. No upshift was subtle (the flurry of pops from the exhaust ensured as much), and the faintest hint of real throttle in first or second gear saw the rear tyres try to vaporize themselves.
The State of Victoria is renowned for its draconian traffic law enforcement, with Police who are more than happy to write a ticket for a driver cruising just 5km/h over the limit. Here drivers of modified cars consider themselves outlaws, and I must say that the HSV gave me the same feeling. Was this much power even legal? The car was sure turning plenty of heads with the bi-modal exhaust valves left open and my usage of the loud pedal becoming more and more judicial. If you don’t like to turn heads and – let’s be honest – piss people off a bit, there are plenty of other cars out there for you.
Just listen to the thing!
But to stretch the F-22 metaphor slightly further, being top gun in 2016 is not just a factor of power and manoeuvrability, but also the careful integration of electronic aids to ensure maximum performance can be delivered on demand without sacrificing day-to-day driveability.
There’s no doubting that these aids can help a car brake later, corner harder or ride better, but for us car enthusiasts it’s as important – if not more – that the character of the car remains authentic and true, unadulterated by software algorithms and augmented enhancements.
It was a pleasant surprise that the GTS has character by the bucketful, and the ‘electronic’ nannies are nothing of the sort. Rather, they improve the driving experience and bring this souped-up Commodore well up to speed with German rivals. The first standout was the traction control – non-invasive until it’s legitimately required and friendly when it eventually eases in to keep the 1800kg pointing in the right direction. Nice.
I hate to admit to bias, but I wasn’t expecting an amazing ride quality from the HSV; it’s just not something I’ve ever seen them lauded for in the past. So the second welcome discovery was that the Magnetic Ride Control system turns the GTS into a prospect for driving fast over any road surface, regardless of turn radius and surface condition. This was my first experience driving a car with active damping so I won’t claim to be an expert on the operation, but the system manages to reduce significant surface defects into barely noticeable flits without compromising firmness, which, although artificial in feel, stabilises the vehicle in ways that is simply impossible with a traditional (non-active) suspension setup.
What this all equates to is a car that manages to have its cake and eat it too in many ways; the brutal engine and tail-happy chassis have bucket loads of character, but finesse is still to be found at the far limits of the car’s abilities.Legacy
Unfortunately for us, this is likely to be the last vehicle of its type we will see from HSV. The VF Commodore upon which HSV’s range is based will be the last Australian-made Commodore when local manufacturing wraps up in 2017, and correspondingly the last large rear-wheel drive V8-powered sedan from a nameplate spanning 38 years.
Holden says the Commodore will live on through a new, imported vehicle platform, but undoubtedly the classic Australian character that defines the VF will be absent. HSV’s representative ensured me that the partnership with Holden will continue into the foreseeable future, but wouldn’t rule out similar development with other brands. This would be a seismic shift for a company that has been defined by GM V8 powerplants, but I don’t doubt their resolve.
It’s not a stretch to say that the this GTS is HSV’s swan song. They knew they had to build something very special to commemorate the end of this long road; a final punctuation point that celebrates the heritage while being genuinely good enough to demonstrate the company’s design and manufacturing expertise.
Mission success, in my opinion.
HSV’s representative joked about the GTS having ‘worst in class’ fuel efficiency, but unfortunately that’s a big reason why cars of this breed are dying out. Once upon a time the Commodore and Ford Falcon would trade places at the top of the best-seller list, but today the names are Corolla, Mazda3, and CX-3.
It’s a shame that Australia doesn’t have the volume to support a niche market for enthusiasts, like has happened in the US with the Mustang, Camaro, Charger and co.
Despite a shaky start with the GTS and a weight of expectations against it, this car ended up broadening my definition of a performance vehicle and left me with a genuine appreciation for this country’s small but expert field of automotive designers and engineers.
Before I ever started writing about or photographing performance cars, I’d always dreamed of designing them. It’s a tragedy that for the next generation of Australian enthusiasts, it’s unclear if that will ever be a dream that can feasibly be achieved in Australia. Time will tell whether the GTS goes down as a classic or merely fades away into irrelevance, but it’s undoubtable that HSV has perfected that old formula and created a very worthy end piece. I can’t wait to see what’s next, whatever that may be.
Hi @Blake Jones ,
The motor industry of Australia will continue to live on and evolve into another different form maintaining it's Aussie-ness. Appreciate this very well written piece emphasizing our gifted engineers and car designers although through the downsizing of this industry (diminishing decade) some of the talents have transgressed into other auto-related industries, moving the whole culture and community forward.
Our next half decade will be interesting with the introduction of more foreign makers and elements into the local market. How we, the car crazy people, respond to this by making a triumph over this tragedy may one day revive the automotive production industry once again. Keep the faith Blake, we may even see the GTS engine inside an Austalian RWB.
Not gonna lie, this really caught my attention. Looks great and sounds fantastic, a shame to see it go.
@KarlMuth i think you mean "im the kind of douche to scoff at anything that isn't european"
@KarlMuth @Schwaglet ok but the one thing you can never get with a new european car these days other than a cheap BMW is a manual transmission. that's the thing that makes me stay away from new european cars. unless they will put a manual in a german car, either from factory or a small charge, then i will not buy their cars. it just went down after the e39 m5
Beautiful car and beautifully shot. Love the green - reminiscent of the Torana green of the 70's. If I was a betting man I would say future classic Blake. Enjoyed the read.
'Farewell'? 30 years too late! Holden and that other has been Ford Australia have made shit cars, subsidized by the bogan tax-payer for the privilege for nearly 40 years. The main reason both FoMoCo and GM are shutting shop in Aus is because the government has had enough of grandiose local manufacturers claiming they can make something 'world class' for export.
The only local firm that even came close was Mitsubishi who somehow managed to make one model that was mildly successful in Japan. You can count the Mercury Crapi in there too I suppose, and the Pontiac Monaro. Interested to hear the bogan view on how many of these actually sold. Was there a more successful export?
The flow-on to firms like ROH and other suppliers though will be bad, as some indeed managed to make world class product, and may even survive past the loss of 'RTS' and 'EFI'...
@Kuroneko An interesting perspective. Most reviews I've seen from many motoring journalists in the UK and US have given very positive reviews to VX-onwards HSVs/Commodores and their derivatives, while obviously noting their lack of refinement. Sure, they're about as subtle as Donald Trump and as refined as a coal shovel, but they do what they're designed to do very well indeed. The trouble comes when people start comparing them to AMGs, Ms and RSs, when HSVs are really just cheap speed with a few chintzy add-ons.
I consider the GTS to be the ultimate CUB toy, which is quick but can still be maintained largely by the home mechanic (with the notable exception of all the pointless tack like infotainment systems etc) due to the low-tech mechanicals. Personally I'd like to see a GTS-R final model that dispenses with anything that dilutes the driving experience, or distracts the driver from focusing on the main aim of a performance vehicle, but we both know marketing will kill that stone dead and reduce it to a stickers-'n'-spoilers farce.
I agree it's a shame the flow-on effect to the supply industry will be so huge, and I hope they can evolve to survive. I also agree the government carried Ford and Holden for far too long, and maybe if their respective world HQs had paid enough attention to what was being produced in Australia they may have just invested enough to make them viable propositions rather than constantly endangered niche products.
@mandeepchase glad you enjoyed it! Thanks!
Genuinely surprised to read that the MRC dampers hadn't taken a dump and leaked incredibly expensive fluid all over the rear end....
@DonJohnWilson Really appreciate the support! Thanks!
Ooooohhh! Great article, and a great car! I lived in New Zealand almost 8 years ago, 1 year, and I was constantly mesmerized by the Holdens, especially the UTE's. So, one of my ultimate goals is to import a 2010 HSV Maloo from Australia to Sweden, where I live now.
Sad to see them closing shop! Both HSV and FSV.
@SeBaBunea you mean FPV?
@SeBaBunea Did you mean FPV?
"Claimed" most powerful Aussie built production car.
Also Black Spur kills the great ocean road, but otherwise not bad good to see Aussie content even if it is a bit one eyed
+1 for Aussie stuff.
-1 for no one who reads this from overseas even knowing we have Fords too.
I don't drive either but it'd be nice to see some other local cars on here too.
Especially with the xr6 turbo being such a hit here for all those years and also with FPV and stuff.
It's good to see the Aussie rotors and summernats and Aussie drifting etc but I don't think I've ever seen an xr6 turbo or an FPV GT on here. I could be wrong but it seems lopsided.
"thoughts of being ‘that guy’ who puts the press car through someone’s front yard fence plagued my mind"
-Don't worry Blake Jones. You wouldn't be the first nor the last V8 Commodore driver to do that.
@B to the Ruce haha it seems to be a fairly regular occurrence on the news, but not something I want on my resume!
The colour is truly sublime, if I could afford to rock a car like this I definitely would but since the insurance companies here already get enough of my money it'll have to stay on the lot.
I get the feeling that the design needs to be more refined and less "in your face" most people buy second hand m5's and m3's instead of a new one of these because of BMW's reputation for performance and they don't look to lairy, if there were more of these winning race series over seas I imagine people would buy them.
I guess there's the other thing with it in the UK being an expensive Vauxhall. If it had a different brand...
@JakWhite An expensive Vauxhall owning Brit here. I love this damn car. 15000 miles in the last year in it :)
I also compared a C63 AMG interior to the VXR8 on Sunday, the C63 was horrendous in comparison!
Great article and a fitting tribute to 'the last man standing'. It's a real shame that it never took off in the export markets. The 'not made here' syndrome seems so myopic when Americans are climbing over each other for Hellcats and CTS-Vs and the same time be-moaning the lack of big displacement V8/MT/RWD cars available. Great moody shots, although being a local I can only imagine how frustrating the drive would have been - speed cameras galore and HWP hiding in the grass around every corner.....it's a reminder how irrelevant these cars have become in the day to day.
Well in the Americans' defense both the Hellcat Charger and the CTS-V are no longer available with a manual transmission. The only V8 MT sedan we have over here is the SS, and it's going to be out of production soon.
man considering the states never got a supercharged rear wheel sports sedan, this would be amazing. if only they sold something like this in america.
@awesomefearwave what about the last generation CTSV?? It was v8, supercharged and available with a manual transmission.
@t_schouwenaars well i see the cadillac as more luxury and i feel like it's out of reach for any young car enthusiast. maybe for an older one, but maybe a commodore would be a cheaper option.
Pretty cool seeing it like this, beautiful shots.
As an Australian, I've never really aspired to owning one of these for whatever reason. But I've always thought, if I had to live overseas, this is what I'd love to drive, and most people wouldn't probably know what the hell it is (especially Japan where I think the sound of a V8 is quite rare haha).
@i23sonny I'm a Kiwi and agree with you. Would never own one in NZ, but would absolutely rock one anywhere else in the world.
@i23sonny I saw a relatively new Commodore in Japan once, completely out of the blue. I'd really like to know how that happened!
First up, fabulous article, and love the photos - thank you!
@i23sonny@Peter_Kelly I'd have one of these yesterday if my funds were up to it...which they're not - a standard SS has to do (although that's no great hardship). The way I see it, in a few years a large displacement V8 will be rare here in Oz too (sadly) so I've decided to get mine whilst I still can.
What about the falcon? Why do people think the Falcon is not an Aussie car? It is arguably more Australian than the commodore (maybe not but that is not the point). Please Something on the Falcon!
@ROYFZ cause the author is on the GM nozzle. Falcon actually use a Aus only platform unlike the zeta under the commo
How is zeta not Australian as the falcon platform?!?!? Because it was good enough to be exported? Sounds like a shit reason to me.
@Chop still on the gm nozzle have you read one article where he mentions the falcon beyond a passing comment about how it exists
@gunbunny @ROYFZ Uumm. What does having an Aus only platform have to do with anything? It's not like Holden Grabbed a platform used by their parent company. The Zeta platform was designed in Aus for the VE..... and GM decided to use it for the Camaro as well.
What has that got to do with what I'm talking about. No one is on a nozzle. But you are honking the bo bo.