Holden Commodore

Holden Commodore

Holden Commodore
Overview
Manufacturer Holden (General Motors)
Production 1978–present
Body and chassis
Class Mid-size (1978–1988)
Full-size (1988–present)
Body style 2-door utility
4-door sedan
5-door station wagon
Layout Front-engine, rear-wheel drive
Platform GM V platform (1978–2006)
GM Zeta platform (2006–present)
Related Holden Statesman and Caprice
Holden Monaro
Chronology
Predecessor Holden Kingswood

The Holden Commodore is a car manufactured since 1978 by Holden. Manufacturing of the Commodore takes place in Australia and formerly in New Zealand. In the mid-1970s, Holden replaced the long-serving Kingswood and Premier nameplates with a smaller, Opel-based model re-engineered for Australian conditions. This continued until 2006 with the launch of the fourth and final generation Commodore, which employed an Australian developed platform.

Initially introduced as a single sedan body style, the range expanded in 1979 to include a station wagon. From 1984, Holden began branding the flagship Commodore model as Holden Calais, with the Commodore Berlina introduced in 1984 gaining independent Holden Berlina nomenclature in 1988. Long-wheelbase Statesman/Caprice derivatives and Commodore utility body variants followed in 1990. The third generation architecture spawned the most body styles, with a new Holden utility launched in 2000 (now officially as the Holden Ute), reborn Monaro coupé in 2001, four-door Holden Crewman utility and all-wheel drive Holden Adventra crossover in 2003.

Rivalry came predominantly from the Ford Falcon—also locally built. Prior to the 1988 second generation Commodore onwards, the Holden was positioned a full vehicle size class below the full-size Falcon. To varying degrees, competition also came from standard and wide-body mid-size offerings Toyota Australia and Chrysler, which morphed into Mitsubishi Motors Australia. Moreover, between 1989 and 1997, federal government policy saw the launch of the Toyota Lexcen, which was a rebadged version of the second generation Commodore. With the introduction of the third generation Commodore in 1997, Holden implemented its largest export programs involving Commodore and its derivatives. In the Middle East, South Africa and Brazil, the Commodore sold as a Chevrolet. High-performance export version followed in North America, sold as Pontiac and later Chevrolet, in the United Kingdom sold as Vauxhall.

In December 2013, Holden announced that it will cease production its local production by 2017 committing, however, to use long-standing Commodore nameplate on a future fully imported replacement.

Contents

  • First generation 1
    • VB (1978–1980) 1.1
    • VC (1980–1981) 1.2
    • VH (1981–1984) 1.3
    • VK (1984–1986) 1.4
    • VL (1986–1988) 1.5
  • Second generation 2
    • VN (1988–1991) 2.1
    • VP (1991–1993) 2.2
    • VR (1993–1995) 2.3
    • VS (1995–1997) 2.4
  • Third generation 3
    • VT (1997–2000) 3.1
    • VX (2000–2002) 3.2
    • VY (2002–2004) 3.3
    • VZ (2004–2006) 3.4
  • Fourth generation 4
    • VE (2006–2013) 4.1
    • VF (2013–2017) 4.2
  • Australian export models 5
  • Australian production and imports 6
    • Holden Special Vehicles 6.1
  • Sales 7
  • References 8
    • Bibliography 8.1
  • External links 9

First generation

VB (1978–1980)

Introduced in October 1978,[1] the VB Commodore development covered a period with the effects of the 1973 oil crisis still being felt.[2] Hence, when Holden decided to replace the successful full-size HZ Kingswood with a new model line, they wanted the new car to be smaller and more fuel efficient.[3] Originally, Holden looked at developing a new WA Kingswood, however, this project was later dismissed.[4] With no replacement in development, Holden looked towards Opel for providing the foundations of the VB, basing it loosely on the four-cylinder Rekord E bodyshell with the front grafted on from the Opel Senator A. This change was necessitated to accommodate the larger Holden six- and eight-cylinder engines.[5] Holden also adopted the name "Commodore" from Opel, which had been using the name since 1967.[6] Opel went on to use Holden’s Rekord-Senator hybrid as a foundation for its new generation Commodore C, slotting in between the two donor models.[7]

Using GM’s rear-wheel drive V-body platform as used by the Rekord and Senator,[8] the VB retained 96 percent of the preceding HZ Kingswood's interior space, despite being 14 percent smaller in overall dimensions, although five percent larger than the Torana.[9] With the Commodore dropping a full class below the Kingswood and its Ford Falcon competitor,[10] the smaller Commodore was predictably more fuel-efficient.[11] This downsizing was first seen as a major disadvantage for Holden, as they had effectively relinquished the potential of selling Commodores to the fleet and taxi industries.[12] These sales losses were thought to be unrecoverable; however, the 1979 energy crisis saw Australian oil prices rise by 140 percent, putting substantial strain on the automotive industry to collectively downsize, a change that Holden had already done.[2]

During the VB’s development, Holden realised that when driven at speed over harsh Australian roads, the Rekord would effectively break in half at the firewall.[13] This forced Holden to rework the entire car for local conditions, resulting in only 35 percent commonality with the Opel. The Rekord’s MacPherson strut front suspension was accordingly modified,[14] and the recirculating ball steering was replaced with a rack and pinion type.[15] These modifications blew development costs beyond expectations to a reported A$110 million[16]—a figure close to the cost of developing a new model independently.[17] With such a large sum consumed by the VB development programme, Holden was left with insufficient finances to resource the development of a wagon variant.[18] Added that the Commodore architecture was considered an unsuitable base for utility and long-wheelbase models,[19] Holden was left with only a sedan, albeit one in three levels of luxury: a base, SL, and SL/E.[20] Desperate measures forced Holden to shape the Commodore front-end to the rear of the Rekord wagon. As the wagon-specific sheet metal had to be imported from Germany, the wagon, introduced in July 1979, suffered from inevitable component differences from the sedan.[18][21] Although infrequently criticised in the early years, quality problems were evident, with poor trim and panel fit problematic for all first generation Commodores. This coupled with mechanical dilemmas such as water pump failure and steering rack rattle ensured warranty claims were high in the first year.[22] In face of these issues, VB was praised for its value for money and sophistication, especially in regards to the steering, ride quality, handling and brakes,[23] thus securing the Wheels Car of the Year award for 1978.[24]

VC (1980–1981)

The most significant change to the VC Commodore of March 1980 was the engine upgrading to "XT5" specification. Now painted blue and thus known as the Blue straight-sixes and Holden V8s, these replaced the Red units fitted to the VB and earlier cars.[25] Changes included a new twelve-port cylinder head, re-designed combustion chambers, inlet and exhaust manifolds, a new two-barrel carburettor and a Bosch electronic ignition system for the inline sixes.[26] Tweaks and changes to the V8s surrounded the implementation of electronic ignition, revised cylinder head and inlet manifold design and the fitment of a four-barrel carburettor on the 4.2-litre variant. These changes brought improved efficiency, increased outputs and aided driveability.[27] In response to increasing oil prices, a four-cylinder variant was spawned in June 1980.[28] Displacing 1.9-litres, this powerplant known as Starfire was effectively Holden's existing straight-six with two cylinders removed. The four's peak power output of 58 kilowatts (78 hp) and torque rated at 140 newton metres (100 ft·lbf) meant its performance was compromised.[29][30] Reports indicate that the need to push the engine hard to extract performance led to real-world fuel consumption similar to the straight-sixes.[31]

Holden’s emphasis on fuel economy extended beyond powertrains, with a fuel consumption vacuum gauge replacing the tachometer throughout the range, although this could be optioned back with the sports instrumentation package.[32] Visual changes were limited: the relocation of the corporate crest to the centre of the redesigned grille, black-coloured trim applied to the tail lamp surrounds on sedans, and the embossment of model badging into the side rubbing strips. The previously undesignated base car, was now the Commodore L, opening up the range for a new unbadged sub-level car.[33] This delete option model, was de-specified and available only to fleet customers.[34] On the premium Commodore SL/E, a resurrected "Shadowtone" exterior paint option became available in a limited range of dark-over-light colour combinations.[35] According to contemporary reviews, changes made to the VC's steering produced a heavier feel and inclined understeer, while the revised suspension gave a softer ride and addressed concerns raised while riding fully laden.[36]

VH (1981–1984)

The VH series Commodore introduced in September 1981 brought moderately updated frontal bodywork, with a new bonnet and front guards to facilitate the reshaped headlamps and a horizontally slatted grille.[37][38] These front-end design changes worked to produce a longer, yet wider look. At the rear, sedans featured redesigned tail light clusters, the design of which borrowed from Mercedes-Benz models of the day, using a louvered design.[39] At the same time, the nomenclature of the range was rationalised. The SL superseded the L as the base model, with the old SL level becoming the mid-range SL/X, and the SL/E remaining as the top-of-the-line variant.[40] Wagons were restricted to the SL and SL/X trims.[41] Redesigned pentagonal alloy wheels[42]—replacing the original SL/E type used since 1978[43]—along with a black painted B-pillar, wrap-around chrome rear bumper extensions to the wheel arches,[44] and extended tail lamps that converged with the license plate alcove—distinguished the range-topping SL/E from other variants.[39] The new pentagonal wheels were initially in short supply, such that only Shadowtone option SL/E sedans received them during 1981 production.

Mechanical specifications carried over, except for a new five-speed manual transmission, optional on the 1.9-litre four-cylinder and 2.85-litre six-cylinder versions.[45] In an attempt to improve sales figures of the inline-four engine, Holden spent considerable time improving its performance and efficiency. Modifications were also made to the 2.85-litre six to lift economy, and the powerplants managed to reduce fuel consumption by as much as 12.5 and 14 percent, correspondingly.[39][46] Holden released the sports-oriented Commodore SS sedan in September 1982[47]—reintroducing a nameplate used briefly ten years prior with the HQ series.[48] Provisioned with a choice of 4.2- or optional 5.0-litre V8 engines, both versions of the VH SS were teamed with a four-speed manual transmission.[47] Racing driver Peter Brock's HDT Special Vehicles business produced three upgrade versions, known as Group One, Group Two and Group Three, the latter version available in either 4.2-litre or more commonly 5.0-litre V8 configuration.[49]

By the time of the VH series, Commodore sales were beginning to decline. Holden's six-cylinder engine, which was carried over from the Kingswood, could trace its roots back to 1963 and was no longer competitive.[18] Continual improvements made to Commodore's Ford Falcon rival meant the VH was not significantly more fuel-efficient or better performing despite the smaller size.[18][50] This was curtailed by the absence of any major powertrain revisions by the time of the VH and the lack of visual departure from the original VB.[51] Holden also had to deal with the influx of their own mid-size Camira from 1982, which presented comparable interior volume with lower fuel consumption, and for less than the Commodore pricing point. Camira sales were strong initially, but as fuel prices had stabilised, buyers gravitated away from Camira and Commodore towards the larger Falcon, which overtook the Commodore as Australia's bestselling car for the first time in 1982.[18][52][53]

VK (1984–1986)

Representing the first major change since the VB original, the VK model of 1984 introduced a six-window glasshouse, as opposed to the previous four-window design, to make the Commodore appear larger.[54] The revised design helped stimulate sales, which totalled 135,000 in two years. This did not put an end to Holden’s monetary woes. Sales of the initially popular Camira slumped due to unforeseen quality issues,[55] while the Holden WB series commercial vehicle range and the Statesman WB luxury models were starting to show their age; their 1971 origins compared unfavourably with Ford’s more modern Falcon and Fairlane models.[56]

New names for the trim levels were also introduced, such as Commodore Executive (an SL with air conditioning and automatic transmission), Commodore Berlina (replacing SL/X) and Calais (replacing SL/E).[57] The 3.3-litre Blue straight-six engine was replaced by the Black specification, gaining computer-controlled ignition system on the carburettor versions and optional electronic fuel injection boosting power output to 106 kilowatts (142 hp).[58] The 5.0-litre V8 engine continued to power high specification variants, but was shrunk from 5044 cc to 4987 cc in 1985 due to new Group A racing homologation rules. The new unit cut its predecessor's weight by 75 kilograms (165 lb) and models were fitted with an upgraded braking system. As high oil prices became a thing of the past, Holden decided to drop the 2.85- six and 4.2-litre V8,[54] while the 1.9-litre four-cylinder was limited to New Zealand.[59]

VL (1986–1988)

Marking a high point in terms of sales, the last-of-the-series VL Commodore sold in record numbers, finally managing to outsell the Ford Falcon in the private sector.[60] The 1986 VL represented a substantial makeover of the VK and would be the last of the mid-size Commodores. Designers distanced the Commodore further away from its Opel origins, by smoothing the lines of the outer body and incorporating a subtle tail spoiler. A thorough redesign of the nose saw the Commodore gain sleek, narrow headlamps and a shallower grille, while the Calais specification employed unique partially concealed headlamps.[61]

By this stage, Holden’s 24‑year‑old six-cylinder was thoroughly outmoded and would have been difficult to re-engineer to comply with pending emission standards and the introduction of unleaded fuel. This led Holden to sign a deal with Nissan of Japan to import their RB30E engine.[62] This seemed a good idea in 1983 when the Australian dollar was strong; however by 1986 the once viable prospect became rather expensive.[63] The public quickly accepted what was at first a controversial move, as reports emerged of the improvements in refinement, 33 percent gain in power and 15 percent better economy over the carburettor version of the VK's Black straight-six.[60] An optional turbocharger appeared six months later and lifted power output to 150 kilowatts (200 hp).[64][65] In October 1986, an unleaded edition of Holden’s carburettored V8 engine was publicised.[60][66] Holden had originally planned to discontinue the V8 to spare the engineering expense of converting to unleaded. However, public outcry persuaded them to relent. VLs in New Zealand were also available with the 2.0-litre six-cylinder RB20E engine.[67]

The VL suffered from some common build quality problems, such as poor windshield sealing, that can lead to water leakages and corrosion. Awkward packaging under the low bonnet coupled with Holden's decision to utilise a cross-flow radiator (as opposed to the up-down flow radiator installed to the equivalent Nissan Skyline) meant the six-cylinder engine was especially susceptible to cracked cylinder heads, a problem not displayed on the Nissan Skyline with which it shares the RB30E engine.[68] The Used Car Safety Ratings, published in 2008 by the Monash University Accident Research Centre, found that first generation Commodores (VB–VL) provide a "worse than average" level of occupant safety protection in the event of an accident.[69]

Second generation

VN (1988–1991)

The VN Commodore of 1988 and subsequent second generation models took their bodywork from the larger Opel Senator B and new Opel Omega A. However, this time, the floor plan was widened and stretched; now matching the rival Ford Falcon for size. Continuing financial woes at Holden meant the wider VN body was underpinned by narrow, carry-over VL chassis components in a bid to save development costs.[70] In the VN and succeeding models, the Commodore Berlina became known simply as the Berlina.[71] The range expanded in 1990 to include a utility variant, given the model designation VG. This was built on a longer-wheelbase platform that it shared with the station wagon and luxury VQ Statesman sedans released earlier in the year.[72] During this time, the rival Ford EA Falcon was plagued with initial quality issues which tarnished its reputation.[73] Buyers embraced the VN Commodore, helping Holden to recover and post an operating profit of A$157.3 million for 1989. The team at Wheels magazine awarded the VN Car of the Year in 1988: the second Commodore model to receive this award.[72]

Changes in the relative values of the manual.[76] A Series II update of the VN appeared in September 1989, featuring a revised V6 engine known internally as the EV6.[74] With the update came a power hike of rising to 127 kilowatts (170 hp) from 125 kilowatts (168 hp).[74]

Under an unsuccessful model sharing arrangement that was part of the Hawke Labor government reforms in 1989, which saw the formation of the United Australian Automobile Industries alliance between Holden and Toyota Australia, the latter began selling badge engineered versions of the VN Commodore manufactured by Holden.[77] The rebadged Commodores were sold as the Toyota Lexcen, named after Ben Lexcen who was the designer of Australia II yacht that won the 1983 America's Cup. The original T1 Lexcen offered sedan and station wagon body forms in three levels of trim: base, GL and GLX. Moreover, they were only available with 3.8-litre V6 engine and automatic transmission combination.[78]

VP (1991–1993)

Bronze sedan automobile
VP Commodore Executive sedan

The VP update of 1991 featured cosmetic changes and mechanical however most were not visible unless you were to pull the motor down; and a very similar revised 3.8-litre V6 and 5.0-litre V8 engines from the VN were carried over. The 2.0-litre straight-four engine previously available in New Zealand was discontinued.[79] Exterior cosmetic changes included a translucent acrylic grille on the base level Executive[80] and Berlina, with a colour-coded grille for the S and SS, and a chrome grille for Calais. Updated tail lights and boot garnishes were also a part of the changes, which were different for each model, with the Berlina having grey stripes and the Calais chrome stripes. Semi-trailing arm independent rear suspension became standard on the Calais and SS, but was made an option on lower-end models in lieu of the live rear axle, improving ride and handling.[79]

A new wider front track was introduced to address issues with the previous carried-over VL chassis components.[81] In August 1992, anti-lock brakes were introduced as an option on the Calais and SS trim levels, later becoming optional on all Series II variants. This January 1993 update also included a colour-coded grille for the Executive and alloy wheels for the Commodore S.[80]

Toyota's pattern of updating their Lexcen model tended to follow Commodore’s model cycle. The T2 (VP) Lexcen from 1991 pioneered new specification designations: CSi, VXi and Newport. All future updates (T3 (VR), T4 (VS) and T5 (VS II) Lexcens) made use of the new naming system until 1997, when the badge engineering scheme ceased. To give further differentiation to the Lexcen from the Commodore, the Lexcens from the VP model onwards had unique front-end styling treatments.[82]

VR (1993–1995)

The 1993 VR Commodore represented a major facelift of the second generation architecture leaving only the doors and roof untouched.[83] Approximately 80 percent of car was new in comparison to the preceding model. Exterior changes brought an overall smoother body, semicircular wheel arches and the "twin-kidney" grille—a Commodore styling trait which remained until the VY model of 2002 and remains a permanent staple on the HSV variants to this day.[84] The rear-end treatment saw raised tail lights, implemented for safety reasons, and a driver's side airbag was introduced as an option: a first for an Australian-built car.[85] Other safety features such as anti-lock brakes and independent rear suspension were only available with the new electronic GM 4L60-E automatic transmission.[83] Along with a driver's airbag and cruise control, these features were packaged into a new Acclaim specification level: a family-oriented safety spec above the entry-level Executive.[86] Holden's strong focus on safety can be seen in the Used Car Safety Ratings. The findings show that in an accident, VN/VP Commodores provide a "worse than average" level of occupant protection. However, the updated VR/VS models were found to provide a "better than average" level of safety protection.[69] Holden issued a Series II revision in September 1994 bringing audible warning chimes for the handbrake and fuel level among other changes.[83]

The latest revision of the Buick 3.8-litre V6 engine was fitted to the VR Commodore, featuring rolling-element bearings in the valve rocker arms and increased compression ratios.[87] These changes combined to deliver an increase in power to 130 kilowatts (170 hp) and further improvement in noise, vibration, and harshness levels.[84] Wheels magazine awarded the VR Commodore Car of the Year in 1993.[88]

VS (1995–1997)

The 1995 VS Commodore served as a mechanical update of the VR, destined to maintain sales momentum before the arrival of an all-new VT model. The extent of exterior changes amounted to little more than a redesigned Holden logo and wheel trims.[89] An overhauled Ecotec (Emissions and Consumption Optimisation through TEChnology) version of the Buick V6 engine coincided with changes to the engine in the United States. The Ecotec engine packed 13 percent more power for a total of 147 kilowatts (197 hp), cut fuel consumption by 5 percent, increased the compression ratio from 9.0:1 to 9.4:1 and improved on the engine's previous rough characteristics. Holden mated the new engine with a modified version of the GM 4L60-E automatic transmission, improving throttle response and smoothing gear changes.[89] The Series II update of June 1996 included elliptical side turn signals, interior tweaks and the introduction of a supercharged V6 engine for selected trim levels, and the introduction of a new Getrag manual transmission.[89] The new supercharged engine slotted between the existing V6 and V8 engines in the lineup and was officially rated at 165 kilowatts (221 hp), just 3 kilowatts (4.0 hp) below the V8.[90]

The VS Commodore was the last of which to be sold as Toyota Lexcens, as Holden and Toyota ended their model-sharing scheme.[91] The last Lexcens were built during 1997.[92] This model was also sold as the VS Commodore Royale in New Zealand. Similar in specification to the Calais also sold in New Zealand, the Royale featured a standard VS Commodore body with the front end from the VS Caprice and an Opel 2.6-litre 54-Degree V6 engine. The Royale was also sold between 1995 and 1997 in small numbers to Malaysia and Singapore as the Opel Calais.[93]

Third generation

VT (1997–2000)

With the VT Commodore of 1997, Holden looked again to Opel in Germany for a donor platform. The proposal was to take the Opel Omega B and broaden the vehicle’s width and mechanical setup for local conditions. In the early days, Holden considered adopting the Omega as is, save for the engines and transmissions, and even investigated reskinning the existing VR/VS architecture.[94] Later on, the VT bodywork spawned a new generation of Statesman and Caprice (again based on the long-wheelbase wagons),[55] and even went as far as resurrecting the iconic Monaro coupé of the 1960s and 1970s[95] via a prototype presented at the 1998 Sydney Motor Show.

The VT heralded the fitment of semi-trailing arm independent rear suspension as standard across the range, a significant selling point over the rival Falcon,[96] along with increased electronics such as Traction Control. However, in terms of suspension, the original Opel design was simplified by removing the toe control links[55] that was standard equipment on the European Omega since 1987.[55] Consequently, this afflicted the VT with excessive tyre wear due to distortions to the suspension camber angle and toe under heavy load, such as heavy towing or when travelling over undulated surfaces.

Notably, Holden's performance arm HSV re-added the toe control link on the flagship GTS 300 model.[55] The 1999 Series II update replaced the venerable Holden 5.0-litre V8 engine with a new 5.7-litre Generation III V8 sourced from the United States.[55] The V8 was detuned to 220 kilowatts (300 hp) from the original US version, but would receive incremental power upgrades to 250 kilowatts (340 hp) throughout its time in the Commodore,[97] before finally being replaced by the related Generation 4 in the VZ.[98] The supercharged V6 was uprated to 171 kilowatts (229 hp) from the VS.[99] Safety wise, side airbags became an option for the Acclaim and higher models, a first for Holden.[100]

From the onset, parent company General Motors was interested in incorporating a left-hand drive Commodore in its Buick lineup, as manifested by the unveiling of the Buick XP2000 concept car in 1996.[101] Although this idea was ultimately abandoned (due to pressures by the North American automotive trade unions to retain local production), the GM-funded project allowed Holden to enter into a range of left-hand export markets.[102] Thus began the Commodore's rapid expansion into parts of Indochina, the Middle East and South Africa badged as the Chevrolet Lumina and Brazil as the Chevrolet Omega 3.8 V6.[103] In its home market, the VT series was awarded the 1997 Wheels Car of the Year award, the fourth such award in Commodore's history.[104] It found ready acceptance in the market as many buyers steered away from the slow selling Ford AU Falcon, becoming the best selling Commodore to date and cementing its place as number one in Australian sales.[55]

The sedan and wagon range comprised: Commodore Executive (base and fleet package); Commodore Acclaim (family and safety package); Berlina (luxury package) and Calais (sedan-only sport luxury package). Limited editions included a "Sydney 2000" Olympic version and Holden 50th Anniversary based on better equipped Executive models (e.g. Berlina alloy wheels on the former but no climate control).

VX (2000–2002)

Silver sedan automobile
VX II Commodore Lumina sedan

The VX update from 2000 featured a revised headlamp design.[105] The VT's rear tail lamp panel was replaced by two separate light assemblies. Conversely, the luxury-oriented Berlina and Calais sedans continued using a full-width boot-lid panel incorporating the registration plate and tail lamps.[106]

The VX series also formed the basis for a new Holden Ute, designated the VU-series. Earlier utility models were instead entitled "Commodore utility".[107] An updated Series II was launched in early 2002, featuring revised rear suspension system now equipped with toe control links to address the VT's issues.[108] The VX series also spawned the production version of the re-launched Holden Monaro (allowing Holden to commence exports to the United States, with this coupé sold as the Pontiac GTO).[103] An updated Series II was launched in early 2002, featuring revised rear suspension system now equipped with toe control links to address the VT's issues.[108]

Safety played a substantial role in the development of the VX model. Bosch 5.3 anti-lock brakes were made standard on all variants, a first for an Australian manufactured car; and traction control was made available on vehicles equipped with manual transmission. Extensive research was undertaken to reduce the effects from a side-impact collision through modification of the B-pillars. The risk presented by a side-impact collision in a VX fitted without side airbags is reduced by 50 percent when compared to a similarly specified VT model.[109]

VY (2002–2004)

The A$250 million VY mid-cycle update of 2002 represented the first major styling shift since the 1997 VT. Designers discarded the rounded front and rear styling of the VT and VX models, adopting more aggressive, angular lines.[110] The same approach was applied to the interior, whereby the curvaceous dashboard design was orphaned in favour of an angular, symmetrical design. Satin chrome plastic now dominated the façade of the centre console stack, and high-end models received fold-out cup holders borrowed from fellow GM subsidiary Saab.[111] Leaving Eurovox behind, Holden turned towards German electronics manufacturer Blaupunkt to source audio systems—an arrangement that remains in place today.[112]

Engineering wise, Holden kept the changes low key. A revised steering system and tweaked suspension tuning were among some of the changes to sharpen handling precision. Further improvements were made to the Generation III V8 engine to produce peak power of 235 kilowatts (315 hp) for sports variants.[113] In a bid to recapture the market for low-cost, high-performance cars, Holden created a new SV8 specification level. Based on the entry-level Executive, the SV8 inherited the V8 mechanical package from the SS but made do without the luxury appointments and was sold at a correspondingly lower price.[114] Holden also experimented by releasing a limited edition wagon version of its high-performance SS variant, of which only 850 were built.[115] The Series II update added a front strut bar as standard to the SS, which was claimed to increase rigidity and hence handling. As became the trend, the update raised V8 power, now up 10 kilowatts (13 hp).[116] Amendments in the remaining models were confined to new wheels, trims and decals, however, the Calais has taken on a sports-luxury persona as opposed to the discrete luxury character seen in previous models. This repositioning in turn affected the Berlina’s standing. The once second-tier model now became the sole luxury model, only overshadowed by the more expensive Calais.[117] Coinciding with the VY II models was the first four-door utility model dubbed the Holden Crewman. Crewman’s underpinnings and body structure while somewhat unique, shared a fair amount in common with the Statesman/Caprice, One tonner and the two-door Ute.[118]

Sensing a new potential market, Holden developed an electronically controlled all-wheel drive system for the VY platform dubbed Cross Trac at a cost of A$125 million.[119] Unveiled after the Series II changes in 2003, the first application of the new system was the Holden Adventra, a raised VY wagon crossover. The system was only available in combination with the V8 and automatic transmission. Holden chose not to spend extra engineering resources on adapting the all-wheel drive system to the V6, due to be replaced in the upcoming VZ model. Unfortunately for Holden, the Adventra fell well short of expected sales, despite modest targets.[120]

VZ (2004–2006)

The final chapter of the third generation series was the VZ Commodore. Debuting in 2004 with a new series of V6 engines known as the Alloytec V6, both 175 kilowatts (235 hp) and 190 kilowatts (250 hp) versions of the 3.6-litre engine were offered.[121] These were later upgraded to 180 and 195 kilowatts (241 and 261 hp) respectively in the VE model.[122] When compared to the previous Ecotec engines, the Alloytec benefits from increased power output, responsiveness and fuel efficiency.[121] The new engines were mated to a new five-speed 5L40E automatic transmission on the luxury V6 variants, and a new six-speed Aisin AY6 manual transmission on the six-cylinder SV6 sports variant.[121] However, the long serving four-speed automatic carried on in other variants, albeit with further tweaks in an attempt to address complaints about refinement. A new 6.0-litre Generation 4 V8 engine was added to the range in January 2006 to comply with Euro III emission standards. Compared to the American version, both Active Fuel Management and variable valve timing were removed.[98] The Alloytec V6 was also affected by the new standards, which saw the peak output reduced to 172 kilowatts (231 hp).[123]

Along with the new powertrain, Holden also introduced new safety features such as electronic stability control and brake assist.[121] The Used Car Safety Ratings evaluation found that VT/VX Commodores provide a "better than average" level of occupant protection in the event of an accident, with VY/VZ models uprated to "significantly better than average".[69] Interestingly, ANCAP crash test results rate the fourth generation VE lower in the offset frontal impact test than the third generation VY/VZ Commodore. The overall crash score was marginally higher than the outgoing model due to improved side impact protection.[124][125]

Fourth generation

VE (2006–2013)

Launched in 2006 after GM's 2003 abandonment of their last European rear-drive sedan, the Opel Omega, the VE is the first Commodore model designed entirely in Australia, as opposed to being based on an adapted Opel-sourced platform.[126] Given this and high public expectations of quality, the budget in developing the car reportedly exceeded A$1 billion.[127] Underpinned by the new Holden developed GM Zeta platform, the VE features more sophisticated independent suspension all round and near-even 50:50 weight distribution, leading to improved handling.[128] Engines and transmissions are largely carried over from the previous VZ model.[129] However, a new six-speed GM 6L80-E automatic transmission was introduced for V8 variants, replacing the old four-speed automatic now relegated to base models.[130] The design of this new model included innovative features to help minimise export costs, such as a symmetrical centre console that houses a flush-fitting hand brake lever to facilitate its conversion to left-hand drive.[131] Internationally, the Commodore is again badge engineered as the Chevrolet Lumina and Chevrolet Omega, along with its new export market in the United States as the Pontiac G8 (discontinued as of 2010 along with the Pontiac brand).[132]

Variants by Holden's performance arm, HSV, were released soon after the sedan's debut, followed by the long-wheelbase WM Statesman/Caprice models.[133] The VE Ute did not enter production until 2007 whilst the Sportwagon began production in July 2008.[134][135] Since its release, the VE has been awarded Wheels Car of the Year, being the fifth Commodore model to do so.[136]

In late 2008 Holden made changes to the VE Commodore, including the addition of a passenger seatbelt-reminder system. The rollout of such modifications allowed the VE range to be upgraded in stages (dependent on model) to the five-star ANCAP safety rating during 2008 and 2009.

The September 2009 MY10 update to the VE Commodore platform introduces a new standard engine–a 3.0-litre Spark Ignition Direct Injection (SIDI) V6 on the Omega and Berlina, with a 3.6-litre version of the same reserved for all other V6 variants.[137] The standard transmission is now a six-speed GM 6L50 automatic, replacing the four-speed in Omega and Berlina models and the five-speed in higher luxury levels. A six-speed manual is still available in sport models.[138] Holden claims the new powertrains will provide better fuel economy than some smaller four-cylinder cars; the 3.0-litre version is rated at 9.3 L/100 km (25 mpg-US; 30 mpg-imp).[139] However, economy tests performed by various motoring organisations have yielded varying results.

In mid-2010 Holden released the VE Series 2 (VEII). The major difference saw the introduction of the Holden iQ system, a centre-mounted LCD display that provides navigation, bluetooth, and controls to the stereo. There were also small alterations to the styling and other minor changes.

VF (2013–2017)

VF Commodore SS V Sportwagon
2015 Holden Commodore SS V Redline sedan

The VF Commodore, a major overhaul of the VE, was officially revealed on 10 February 2013 in Melbourne. The body shell, suspension and electrics of the GM Zeta platform have been thoroughly reworked to reduce weight, improving handling and fuel efficiency. Changes to the model line-up see the deletion of the Berlina nameplate (which was merged with the standard Calais variant, represented the smallest share of sales in Commodore's line-up) and the base model renamed from Omega to Evoke.

Standard features across the Commodore range includes front and rear parking sensors, reverse camera and auto park assist, whereas high specifications models such as the Calais-V and SS-V redline models also feature, as standard, forward and reverse collision alert system and a colour heads-up display - all possible thanks to the VF's electronics now being compatible with those of more developed GM cars, resulting in the new Commodore being cheaper to manufacture. Indeed, recommended retail pricing have been reduced across the range, from A$5,000 for the base model and up to A$10,000 for the Calais V V8 and SS V Redline.[140]

A day after the Australian range reveal and in the lead up to the Daytona 500 weekend, a more powerful and better equipped export version of the VF Commodore SS also made its debut in Daytona, Florida, as the MY14 Chevrolet SS.[141] To maximise the SS's profile in the United States, GM also replaced in NASCAR the silhouette of the Chevrolet Impala with that of the SS.

Australian export models

2000–2001 Chevrolet Lumina SS sedan

Since the late 1990s, Commodores have been sent abroad as the Chevrolet Lumina in the Middle East until 2011 and South Africa until 2012, and as the Chevrolet Omega in Brazil until 2008 and, then again, in 2010. Vauxhall VXR8 sales began in 2007. Versions have also been previously exported in the mid-1990s to Southeast Asia as the Opel Calais and to North America from 2007 to 2009 as the Pontiac G8. As of June 2014, the VF Commodore is sold in North America as the Chevrolet SS.

Chevrolet Lumina

Since 1998, the Holden Commodore has been sold as the Chevrolet Lumina in the Middle East and South Africa, and previously in South East Asia.

A coupe version based on the Holden Monaro was also sold in the Middle East as the Chevrolet Lumina Coupe. In Arabia, the Lumina was offered in four different trims: LS (Omega), LTZ (Berlina), S (SV6) and SS (SS). The LTZ and S comes standard with a 3.6L Alloytec V6 and a 6-speed automatic transmission for the S and 4-speed for the LTZ, while the SS comes standard with 6.0L Alloytec V8 with the option of Active Fuel management. A 6-speed manual is standard with the option of a 6-speed Automatic on SS. The LTZ was the luxury model, while the S and SS models focused on sportiness. Exports to the Middle East ceased in 2011.[142]

Lumina models sold in South Africa received updates for the 2011 model year. These changes were introduced to coincide with the release of the VE Series II Commodore. Changes include revised bumpers, these is a chrome moulding above the number plate on the boot lid, refreshed alloy wheel designs and the Holden IQ system. Also the SSV model was introduced.[143] The Holden Ute is sold as the Lumina Ute in South Africa.

Australian production and imports

Australian production of the first Commodore launched in 1978 was initially spread between Holden's Pagewood (NSW) and Dandenong (Vic) plants. In August 1978, Holden announced a $6.7 million program to enable assembly of the Commodore range at the Elizabeth (SA) plant, which resulted in the closure of the Pagewood plant a year later.[144] The Australian production of the Commodore was consolidated at Elizabeth in 1988, coinciding with the launch of the then new VN Commodore.

In December 2013, Holden announced that it will cease production of the Commodore in Australia in 2017.[145]

Initial speculation in 2013 suggested that Commodore's fully imported replacement would be based on a GM vehicle built in China for the Chinese market.[146] In 2015, however, speculation turned to the future Commodore being a local adaptation of the next generation Opel Insignia imported from Europe.[147]

The Commodore and its derivatives have been the basis of modified variants by companies separate to Holden. Officially, Holden's modification partner is Holden Special Vehicles (HSV), although prominent aftermarket tuners include HDT Special Vehicles, Corsa Specialized Vehicles (CSV), and Walkinshaw Performance (WP).

Holden Special Vehicles

Since 1987, Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) established its operations as an independent manufacturer by producing high performance variants of the Commodore and its derivatives, under its own HSV brand and using unique nameplate since 1987. This began with the VL series.

Sales

Graph of large car and Commodore sales 1991–2011
Sales in Australia
1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995
[148]
1996
[148]
1997
[148]
1998
[148]
1999
[148]
50,820 57,641 62,663 75,330 80,452 83,001 76,849 94,642 85,648
2000
[148]
2001
[148]
2002
[148]
2003
[148]
2004
[148]
2005
[149]
2006
[150]
2007
[151]
2008
[152]
2009
[153]
83,610 85,422 88,478 86,553 79,170 66,794 56,531 57,307 51,093 44,387
2010
[154]
2011
[155]
2012
[156]
2013
[157]
2014
[158]
45,956 40,617 30,532 27,766 30,203

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  3. ^ Whelan (1978), p. 22. "It had to be a family car, which meant it needed similar interior dimensions to the Holden Kingswood, but it had to be fuel- and space efficient, which meant it had to be smaller and sleeker overall."
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  5. ^ Robinson (2006), p. 22. "It accepted Opel’s Rekord, knowing the four-cylinder required re-engineering to [...] accommodate the local in-line six-cylinder and V8 engines. [...] The VB mixed the nose of the longer six-cylinder Opel Senator, [...] to the cabin and rearward of the cheaper Rekord."
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Bibliography

Books

  • Bebbington, Terry (1998). 50 Years of Holden.  
  • Bebbington, Terry (2009). 60 Years of Holden.  
  • Davis, Tony; Wright, John (1994). Holden Commodore: 1978–1988 including HSV and Statesman WB.  
  • Earl, Peter (2002). Information, Opportunism and Economic Coordination.  
  • Jeeves, Kay, ed. (July 2008). The Holden Heritage 14th Edition.  
  • Norton, Eric (2009). 60 Fabulous Years of Holden: as told by passionate Holden owners.  
  • Robinson, Peter (2006). AutoBiography: The inside story of Holden's all-new VE Commodore.  
  • Tuckey, Bill (1999). Commodore Lion King: Celebrating 21 Years.  
  • Wright, John (1998). Heart of the Lion: The 50 Year History of Australia's Holden.  

Internet

  • Davis, Tony; Kennedy, Alistair; Kennedy, Ewan (February 2007). "The Holden Heritage – 13th Edition".  
  • Part One, Part Two, Part Three (PDF).

Journals

  • Bulmer, Ged; Carey, John; McCarthy, Mike (October 2002). "VY Commodore: Reinventing Australia's top seller".  
  • Butler, Glenn; Dowling, Joshua; Hagon, Toby; Newton, Bruce (12 September 2006). "VE Commodore eMag" (PDF).  
  • Carey, John (September 2003). "Mid Tweak".  
  • Carey, John (September 2003). "The Crewman Show".  
  • Gribble, Chris (April 1980). "Honing the edge".  
  • Lake, Barry (June 1980). "Giant step sideways".  
  • Lord, Philip (October 2000). "New Edge".  
  • McCarthy, Mike (October 2002). "VY SV8: A no-frills hi-po Commodore V8".  
  • McCarthy, Mike; McKay, Peter; Newton, Bruce; Robinson, Peter (October 2006). "2006 Collector's Edition VE Commodore: The Full Story".  
  • McKay, Peter (October 1981). "VH Commodore: Australia's Own Goes High-Tech".  
  • Robinson, Peter (July 1980). "Bridging the gap".  
  • Segal, David, ed. (December 1978). "All new Holden Commodore".  
  • Whelan, Matt, ed. (December 1978). "The "I can’t believe it’s a Holden" Holden".  

External links

  • Official websites for Australia, New Zealand, US
  • Holden Model History – Holden Commodore
  • Holden Commodore at Unique Cars and Parts
  • The Unofficial Holden Commodore Archive