YOU WILL HEAR HOLDEN’S LAST AUSSIE-MADE COMMODORE LONG BEFORE YOU SEE THE ROARING BEAST
Fear is a funny thing. It’s defined as “an unpleasant, often strong, emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of perceived danger. It causes a change in brain and organ function and in humans and animals is regulated by the process of cognition and learning.”
So the narrow strip of asphalt that winds through a grassy paddock in front of me shouldn’t be anywhere near as terrifying as it is. There are precious few trees to hit — none in any place you may run off — and no deadly drops to careen over. Just a private one-way road on a hillside.
But that does little to accurately describe the Collingrove Hillclimb, a tiny motorsport track among vineyards and wineries in South Australia’s Barossa Valley.
Although it is only 750m long and sits peacefully in that lush field, there is something utterly terrifying about Collingrove. Why? Probably because parts of it are almost vertical.
So what kind of vehicle am I driving? A tiny, ultra-nimble hillclimb special?
Nah, that’s far too sensible. How about a Holden Commodore SS-V Redline?
Let’s face it, if you’re going to drive such a ridiculous piece of road, you may as well go all or nothing. And all or nothing is what Holden have decided to do with the last Aussie-produced Commodore.
Much like Ford when it dumped the previously FPV-exclusive supercharged V8 into the standard XR8 Falcon, Holden has nicked the brawny 6.2-litre LS3 V8 from HSV for the latest incarnation of the Commodore. If you are going out, you may as well go out with the biggest bang you can.
The LS3 has serious bang — 304kW of power and 570Nm of torque propel the SS, SS-V, Calais V, Caprice V and SS-V Redline Commodores to 100km/h in a frankly unnecessary 4.9sec.
Aside from the prodigious grunt, perhaps the most important aspect of the VFII V8 upgrade is the noise. When the VF was launched, the motoring media and customers were almost unanimous in calling out its one major flaw — the V8 was far too quiet.
Holden has responded. Getting the V8 to produce belligerent sound has been one overriding factor in the car’s development, but not at the expense of refinement, drivability or federal noise restrictions.
The LS3 is fitted with Holden’s version of HSV’s switchable bi-modal exhaust system, which sees a valve open or close depending whether you want to let the neighbours sleep in or shake them out of bed.
Holden has also developed the “Baillie Tip”. Developed by — and named in honour of — Holden engineer Dr David Baillie, who died of leukemia this year, it is a unique opening in the exhaust that reverberates sound back towards the cabin, increasing the overall sound level by up to 10 per cent.
Engineers also added a “mechanical sound enhancer” to transmit more of the V8’s induction sound into the cabin.
And does it work. The SS-V Redline (in particular, the manual model) is now capable of being the roaring beast it should always have been, with a thoroughly addictive series of rattling explosions on the overrun as well.
To accommodate this extra power, noise and heat, the V8 Commodores have sprouted extra bonnet vents as well as a redesigned grille and fascia on the sports models. Other tweaks on SV6 and SS models include a new 18-inch wheel design, keyless entry and start, and new taillights. The SS-V scores a new 19-inch alloy.
The SS-V Redline also gets a new 19-inch alloy wheel as well as a revised tune of the FE3 sports suspension and a new brake package that adds Brembo stoppers on the rear to match the fronts.
The VF Commodore (particularly the SS-V Redline) has always been a damn fine steer, but does adding more grunt and more noise actually make it better? Damn right it does.
Firing the VFII SS-V Redline off the start line and up the hill at Collingrove pushes you back in the seat with all the subtlety of a gut-punch from an angry bogan, accompanied by an ungodly roar reminiscent of 10,000 of said bogan’s VB-drinking mates singing along to AC/DC as Earth’s crust cracks open.
Grabbing second on the short straight is punctuated by a booming explosion, before the rush of banging, crackling and popping as you lift for the first corner.
That’s it for shifting gears at Collingrove. Everything else is taken in second — there aren’t any straights long enough to necessitate third, and the LS3 is so powerful and torquey that dropping to first would be pointless.
With the stability control dropped into Sport, the VFII’s rear end will drift playfully wide under acceleration out of tight corners, before being competently reined in (let’s be honest; more by the electronics than the driver) and belting forward again with violent aggression.
The big Brembo stoppers feel near-bulletproof, and the chassis’ composure is staggering. This is a big car and its confidence over this tightly winding, bumpy little track is impressive.
Belting up to the top of the hill, the LS3 sounds magnificent, noise echoing off the surrounding hills, and it feels even better. The car lightens drastically as you approach the finish; crossing it slightly sideways and slightly airborne makes you feel like a true driving god. Even though the car is the real hero.
As Australian-built Commodores go, Holden certainly has left the best for last.