HSV: Fast facts from the Commodore years

The company responsible for turning Commodores into special performance cars has just finished that job. Here are 10 facts from that period.


HOLDEN Special Vehicles’ resulted from Holden’s famous fall-out with Peter Brock.

When the racing legend and Holden split acrimoniously in 1987 over the HDT Director - and its polarizer, a hokum device that supposedly made the car go better - the General Motors’ maker was left without a performance partner.

Holden Special Vehicles (HSV), a joint venture established by GM Holden and Tom Walkinshaw Racing, came into being later that year.

The racing group was quickly up to pace with its road car development. Job one was to develop the VL Commodore SS Group A for 1988 as a homologation model for Holden to race.

On December 29 HSV turned the last page in the Book of Commodore.

The last car was an edition of its farewell celebration, the VF2-based GTS-R W1, packing a 473kW LS9. Finished in ‘light my fire’ orange, the 90,114th and final vehicle produced in HSV's Clayton, Melbourne facility – and also No.275 of 275 - will join the company's heritage fleet alongside the first W1 produced. HSV built 298 GTS-R W1s, 275 for Australia, 20 for New Zealand, and three "final engineering" models.

Switching off the lights on HSV's current business model brings the conclusive end of local manufacturing in Australia. That GTS-R W1 also represents the end of General Motors' Zeta Global RWD Platform.

HSV is not being given a chance to tweak the new Opel Insignia-based Commodore; any performance editions will come from Germany and only be sold as Holdens. Assuming there are any: Opel’s sale to PSA has cast a shadow over the long-term future of this fifth-generation car; there’s talk what we see now might lose its Opel platform and engines by 2021 in favour of Peugeot hardware.

Regardless, HSV intends to truck on … quite literally. It’s first post-Commodore will be the SportsCat, a tarted (but not revved) up edition of this country’s third most popular one-tonne utility, the Colorado.

Longer term, it plans to convert Chevrolet Camaro coupes and Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD traydecks to right-hand drive. HSV intends to sell these here too and is undeterred that NZ already has a healthy population of ex-America left-hook Camaros (and probably more than a few Silverados, too).

The outfit reckons Kiwiland still offers potential for Aussified fare that, it accepts, will undoubtedly carry quite a premium over the ex-Stateside direct imports simply because HSV is a brand they trust.

Anyway, all that’s to come. For now, let’s look back at what HSV has been until now, with 10 facts from its history.

The plastic pig


THAT limited edition 1988 VL packed 171kW – nothing to get excited about these days, but back then a relatively kapow output – but more of a talking point was its styling. As a homologation model, the car was utterly honed for circuit duty. That pronounced rear spoiler and wild body kit divided opinion, with nicknames ranging from the ‘Batmobile’ to the more derogatory ‘plastic pig’. The jeers died down after victory at the 1990 Bathurst 1000. The first purely road-fettled vehicles from HSV also appeared in ’88; the SV88 that was based on the Calais and featured a 136kW 5.0-litre V8.

The numbers game

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'GET ‘em while they’re hot’ seems to carry credence with HSV faithful; that last blast GTSR that reset the game for grunt even in general issue format was easily the biggest volume product that rolled out of Clayton: Disregarding the W1, the sedan count ran to 1270 units while the Maloo utility edition struck off at 606. Collectability-wise it’s still hard to say which HSV cars will ultimately be the best keepers. HSV will say all its cars are special, yet arguably some that were popular all the way through - ClubSports being a good example - might be too common to command strong residuals yet, whereas others that took a deep dive from the start - the Avalanche, pictured here, being one - might ultimately present better long-term investment. Rarity certainly comes into it: Take note that just two road-tuned 427 Coupes were built and one of those already commands the highest price ever paid for a used HSV, a cool $A1.1 million.  Anyway, it you’re looking for a stash car (or just have a deep-seated geek interest) and those with the lowest build count might ultimately become most valuable, then consider these official build run numbers: VL Grp A, 750, VL SV88, 150; VN SV3800, 491, VN SV89, 200, VN SV5000, 359, VN ClubSport, 410; VG Maloo, 132; VP GTS, 130; VS GTSR, 85; GTS Coupe, 423; Coupe 4, 132; W427, 137; 25th Anniversary GTS, 140; GTS Maloo, 255; GTSR (MY17 sedan), 1270; GTSR Maloo, 606; GTSR W1, 298.

Aussie, Aussie ... erm USA, USA


HSV might tout as the ultimate all-Aussie icons, but that’s a bit of a myth. Setting aside the original Commodore had Opel genes, HSVs lost their Aussie hearts after 1999, when the XU8 195, right, became the last model to feature a locally built V8. Henceforth, V8s were imported in various guises from General Motors – with mostly modified versions of engines that appeared in cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette and Cadillac CTS-V.

A touch of four play?

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MORE about that V8 bloodline. Four is a number that also has resonance with HSV. As early as 1988 it flirted with smaller, four-cylinder models; in that year there was the Astra-based SV1800. Only 65 were built. It tried again in 2006 with the VXR, a turbocharged hot-hatch that again used a Holden Astra as its basis. This did better, lasting three years, but you’re just as unlikely to see one at a club rally.

HSV’s four-play also hit the road as all-wheel-drive. The first flirtation was a short-lived, cosmetically tweaked version of the Holden Jackeroo; a decade later came the Avalanche station wagon, based on Holden’s elevated all-paw Adventra LX8, and the XUV variant (for X-treme Utility Vehicle) created off the Crewman Cross 8 four-door ute. A year later, the 2004 Coupe 4 became the brand’s first all-wheel-drive car. Like the others, it struggled for success. Maybe they should have applied Quattro badges.


Showing up the Euros, mate

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HSV also did luxury. The Calais was the basis for its first road car, the SV88. The Senator dates from 1992 and, for a while, HSV gave its attention to the long-wheelbase Caprice and Statesman, these being variously badged HSV Statesman models – 5000i, SV93, 215i and, ultimately, the fine-wine-inspired Grange.

That extra-mumbo Monaro

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IN case you were wondering … HSV borrowed the famous Pontiac ‘GTO’ badge for its lesser-powered Coupe variant of the revived Holden Monaro, which was (somewhat ironically) retained by the US brand when it imported the Monaro from Australia in 2004. The GTO also found a niche in England, where it was badged the Monaro VXR by Holden’s British sister brand Vauxhall.

That's a phwoar-two-seven cobber!

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AS in the HRT 487 and W457. Two giantkillers humbled by reality. The first, a Monaro on steroids, died before it was even born; in 2003, Holden and HSV were forced to return paid customer deposits on realising a profit wouldn’t be achievable even on a car set to cost $A215,000. Five years on, the number returned with a sedan, a celebration of HSV’s 20th anniversary packing a 7.0-litre Corvette V8. Incredibly expensive, it nonetheless got off to a good start, with lots of orders … but then the global financial crisis struck, reducing the planned run of 427 units to just 137.

Party, party, party ...


HSV loves a birthday celebration. The ‘anniversary’ model trend started in 1998 with a fifth anniversary product; more have landed every five years from thereon. Confusingly, in 2007 HSV decided its anniversaries should be based on 1987, because even though the VL SS Group A Walkinshaw wasn’t on sale until 1988, the car was first shown to the public at the previous year’s Sydney motor show.

Getta load of this America ...


OFFICIALLY it’s a ‘performance coupe utility’. But everyone just calls it the Maloo. Anyway, HSV started knocking out increasingly terrifying traydecks since October 1990. All versions of the Maloo have been based on the mainstream Holden Utes, but have featured high-performance V8 engines and body kits. In June 2006, a regular production item Z-series Maloo R8 broke the record for the world's fastest production utility/pickup truck, at 271kmh, beating the previous record holder, a Dodge Ram SRT-10 by 22kmh. 

All guns blazing

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THE farewell-to-arms GTSR is more than simply a change of alloys and a new badge: This model represents the end result of two years’ hard graft and no small amount of spend.

The biggest excitement comes from the engine. Chevrolet's 'LS9', a supercharged 6.2-litre V8, is the same engine found in the sixth-generation Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, the fastest of that breed. Boasting more than 474kW of power and 815Nm of torque and featuring a racecar-style dry sump lubrication system, the engine was actually out of production before the W1 came on stream. HSV had to negotiate with General Motors in Detroit to free up some of its spare supplies.

To tame all that power HSV completely redesigned the suspension, brakes, wheels and tyres. Suspension is from Supashock, the same Adelaide company that develops suspension for Walkinshaw Racing. The goal was to provide a similar suspension set-up to a Supercar on a street circuit. Spring rates are more than two times higher than the standard GTS. It has the biggest brakes fitted to a production car.

The W1 was a $189,990 spend and the 20 earmarked for NZ were snapped up quick smart. The highest price paid for one is $269,000, this being fetched at an auction

Postscript: Enter ‘HSV facts’ as a search term on Google and you’re in for a big and rather nasty surprise, one that reminds that this brand's strongest standing is rather, well, regional. To the rest of the big wide world, HSV stands for something no-one surely wants ... herpes simplex virus.