Holden’s Commodore has become an iconic Aussie classic since the model’s introduction in late 1978 with the VB.
It was initially equipped with the powertrains used in the LH-UC Torana range, comprising GMH’s 1.9 ‘gem’ of a four-cylinder (yeah right), the 2.8 and 3.3 in-line sixes, and Holden’s two home-grown V8s, the 4.2 and 5.0. They sold extremely well, and Peter Brock worked his magic on the HDT Commodore range, breathing life back into the almost moribund Aussie muscle car market.
The VC, VH, and VK Commodores came and went, then the last of the first series, the VL, was released in Australia in March 1986. As usual, on this side of the Tasman punters had to wait until 1987 for the new model to reach our shores. The big news, however, was under the hood. The Aussies, faced with the introduction of unleaded petrol, had — shock, horror — ditched the faithful 3.3-litre six in favour of an ohc 3.0 Nissan in-line six out of the Skyline. The Jap mill, four-stage auto and five-speed manual were a vast improvement over the previous powertrains. NZ, when it finally got the VL, had a 2.0-litre ohc Skyline six as the base engine (a unit the Aussies didn’t get), as the four banger had sold so well over here. The Aussies well and truly made up for this glaring omission by offering a quick turbo 3.0 that GMH NZ sadly didn’t have the nous to sell here.
Dinkum Mill over the Hill
While purists collectively gnashed their teeth at the loss of the dinkum Aussie mill, the motoring press danced for joy. The old Holden six had been around since the late 1963 introduction of the EH. Despite the VK 3.3 getting electronic fuel injection, available with automatic only, this engine was never going to cut it on ULP, and already had a horrendous thirst, with gas mileage barely above that of the 5.0-litre V8. The 4.2 was discontinued, and the 5.0 was redesigned in ’87 for ULP, developing an “earth- shattering” 122kW. The only transmission on offer was Holden’s uninspiring Trimatic (traumatic!) three-stage auto, which was
recalibrated to attempt to bring it up to the task in hand.
HDT V8s had the T5 manual and 137kW for starters, with much more available for those with larger wallets.
Meanwhile Peter Brock and HDT were heading inexorably towards a messy divorce from Holden, which duly happened on February 9,
1987. HDT’s red Group A was a damn good car, but Holden was getting bent out of shape with Brock’s Energy Polariser, a dubious device with no proven merit whatsoever.
HSV Takes Control
Tom Walkinshaw, a burly Scotsman, was eventually asked to fill the gap and duly formed HSV, taking 75 per cent of the company, with
Holden owning the other 25 per cent. His company, TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing), was headquartered in Pommieland, where it
successfully campaigned the factory Jaguar race team.
In due course the first HSV was announced, the HSV VL Group A, which was, like so many Aussie muscle cars before it, built for one
purpose, to win at Bathurst. The Group A, or ‘Walkinshaw’ Commodore, as it came to be known to the unwashed masses, did precisely that two years after its introduction, with Alan Grice and Win Percy taking victory in the 1990 Bathurst 1000 for HSV’s racing arm, HRT.
Scarin’ Them Senseless
The road-going cars looked like nothing else, with one of
the wildest body kits fitted to a Holden. Group A racing rules required the cars be competitive in ‘showroom stock’ form. The “Walkie” was just that, with a front dam that had to be cautiously edged up driveways given that it was so low, being designed to suck the car down to the tarmac. The rear wing was wild and wonderful, capable of scaring small children senseless in its own right. HSV raised the rear deck height by building a massive wing over the entire boot. Aerodynamics were excellent, with the road cars rated at a Cd of 0.34. The C-pillar’s trim enhanced the wild look. The factory cars were all painted in Panorama Silver, a colour named for Mt. Panorama, the fabled Bathurst track.
0-100 In 6.9 Seconds
A revised suspension, with stiffer springs and dampers, helped HSV tune the oversteer out of the car, and with the introduction of Holden’s first fuel injected 5.0-litre V8, with a four- bolt mains and twin throttle body direct port injection, it went like the clappers. The T5 transmission was standard, so was a slippery diff, and the mill was rated at 180kW, good for 230kph, and 0-100kph in 6.9 seconds (courtesy of Wheels magazine, April ’88) HSV built an initial run of 500 VL Group A Commodores to qualify the model for racing.
Despite the fact they were priced at A$45,000 (at the time a new Calais V8 was circa A$30,000) they sold quickly, and HSV decided to crank out another 250. These sat around a lot longer, and some were still on dealers’ yards when the all-new VN Commodore was introduced in late ’88. These days a low mileage
original Walkinshaw Group A is hot property, a highly collectable classic ride.
Check your Pulse
Hot property is also a damn good term to describe the VL owned by Steve Conder (or Conda, as he is known to all and sundry). I can
see the purists reaching for their Prozac, but anyone who wanted a car which seriously hauls arse would pick Conda’s replica Walkie over the real thing any day. Automotive heresy indeed, but if 373kW of supercharged, intercooled, injected V8 doesn’t ring your bells, check your pulse, you may be dead!
Conda started out three years ago, buying an ’87 VL Berlina 2.0 auto that had a Walkinshaw kit fitted to it. It was painted in red, a colour he hates, so Conda threw a sack over his head to avoid getting seen and headed home.
Gladiator Gold gets the Nod
First up was the purchase of a late model 5.0 and T5 trannie from Bathurst Performance. This mill gave sterling service over the next two-and-a-half years as Conda and his mates cruised around, baking up the 18-inch tyres that sat on a set of Simmons FR18 alloys.
The paintwork was swiftly dealt to, with Toyota’s Gladiator Gold gettin’ the nod. The interior was changed from the crappy beige the car came out with to a tasty-looking black, with front Recaro buckets, and the boot was retrimmed to match. Holden emblems were embroidered onto the seats, and the steering wheel was upgraded to a Momo. A Sony CD headeck and Sony 6×9 Explod speakers perform when Conda wants a change from listening to the music coming out of the pipes.
And with a chromed system comprising VN headers with a custom Y pipe going into a twin system that spits the spent gas back through two 2.5 Flowmasters, this car sounds as good as it looks.
Stopping this machine is accomplished by two 330mm DBA cross-drilled rotors, with Wilwood four-pot callipers upfront and 280mm DBA cross-drilled discs at the rear.
Big Mill Mumbo
The big deal lies under the hood. After 25,000 faithful kays the 5.0 was sold, and replaced with something Conda had been eyeballing for quite some time. A year and three quarters, to be precise, had elapsed from the time Conda first cast eyes on his new mill, sitting for sale, on behalf, at Etchell Race Parts. He went about saving up his money and finally made an offer to the motor’s owner, which was accepted. Conda then found himself the proud new owner of a 5.0 bored out to 5.4 litres, intercooled, with a Brennan Racing duplicate of a Powerflow supercharger bolted on. High flow injectors, with a 522kW (700hp) rated fuel pump and a rising rate fuel regulator, pump the gas into a pair of ported and flowed heads with solid lifters and Lunati rockers, among other goodies. With a Harrop crank, Lunati rods, dished SRP pistons
and a high volume oil pump and extended sump, this “Walkie” is tough enough.
A Microtech LTX-8 engine management computer does the thinking for the mill, and while it can be adjusted from within the car, Conda’s more than happy to leave it to think for itself! The dyno reading was impressive, 350kW (470 horsepower) at the rear wheels, and it’s more impressive given the fact the engine’s original
builder hadn’t quite sorted out the roller rockers. A quick trip to Trev at Flowtech Racing Engines dealt to that problem. Conda hasn’t returned his ride to the dyno, but the general consensus is 373kW (500hp) at the wheels.
Eat Ya’ Lunch
Under the hood the mill looks sharp, with chrome and carbon fibre abounding, and the engine bay has been de-loomed, de-holed, and looks like you could eat ya’ lunch off it, if you’re into that sort of thing. Conda’s car has a flaw though, one he is in the process of correcting. You see, the standard Holden diff won’t quite handle such rapacious power, and has a bad habit of spitting axles out, a feat he achieved on the photo shoot for NZV8 whilst doing what comes naturally to this car, big skids. A Ford nine-inch diff housing has just been procured as I write this, but he is still looking for a LSD head.
Any reader who can help out, please contact NZV8 and we will put you in touch with him. Still, the lack of a tough rear end didn’t stop Conda putting the VL sideways in three gears when taking two of us for a blast! It owes Conda over $48k, more than he would have shelled out on an original Walkinshaw, but for the pleasure gained from stabbing the throttle, this truly is a VL like no other!
304 stroked to 327, Harrop crank, Lunati rods, roller
cam, solid lifters, Lunati rockers, double row Rollmaster
timing chain, Romac harmonic balancer, ported and
flowed heads, high flow injectors, rising rate fuel regula-
tor, Microtech LTX-8 engine management, VN headers,
custom Y-pipe into twin exhaust, 2 1â„2 inch Flowmasters,
Brennan Racing supercharger.
T5 manual box, steel flywheel, Haynes street/strip pres-
sure plate, 10 button faced clutch plate, factory LSD
Front: 330mm DBA crossdrilled rotors, Willwood four pot
callipers, Monroe gas shocks
Rear: 280mm DBA crossdrilled rotors, standard suspension
Front: Simmons FR18 18×8, 225/45/18
Rear Simmons FR18 18×8, 235/45/18
500hp at the wheels
Previously owned cars:
Blown VK plus what I have got already
Length of ownership:
1 year for car and 6 months for this engine
Insane Customs, Holden Haven, Torque Performance, AJS electricals, Bathurst Performance, Etchells Race Parts, Painter – Andrew (aka Kitson), Metal Polisher Grant Kitson, King Street Motorbodies, Brake and Clutch services, Ebbett Holden, Flowtech Race Engines, Mitchell Motorsport, A1 Autotrim, Plus all the boys who have helped out!!
Words: Bruce Simpson – Photos: Jared Clark