Thirty years of grunt

SPECIAL FEATURE

by DAVID MORLEY pics CRISTIAN BRUNELLI

As HSV prepares to enter a new era, we grab six of its greatest hits and relive three decades of Aussie engineering excellence

SIX HSV HEROES FEATURED

VL Group A SS

1988 THE ugly duckling has certainly become a gold mine of a swan. Ultimately, it’s a home-grown homologation special

VS GTS-R

1996 WITH a hue so unforgettable, it’s lucky that the winged VS packed a special heart to back up its pretensions

VT Series II GTS

1999 BORN out of necessity, the Callawaypowered GTS catapulted HSV into an unheard of kilowatt realm for its day

Coupe 4

2004HSV’s version of the Monaro had all-paw traction and a grunty V8. But it was tied to an auto... and don’t call it a Monaro

W427

2008BORN into a financial crisis, the W1 precursor was sadly too expensive for its time – still a bloody epic car, though

Gen F2 GTSR

2017 OKAY, it’s not the W1, but the last hot GTS is a car befitting a swansong and one hell of a goodbye present for punters

THE GERMANS have (in no particular order) AMG, M and Audi Sport. The Japanese have Nismo and Ralliart. Over in South Korea, the letter N is shaping up and here in Australia for the past 30 years, we’ve had HSV. Holden Special Vehicles has been the dominant in-house performance brand in this country for those three decades and while Ford has tried Tickford, FPV and now Ford Performance, it has never achieved the same cut-through, nor anything like the loyalty that the HSV brand has managed to engender.

Like many good yarns, the HSV story starts with a train-wreck. When Peter Brock pulled the United Nations flag off his VL Director in February 1987, the world of Aussie performance changed forever. Within hours, Holden had torn up Brock’s contract and it seemed like nobody was playing nice. Of course, the chat at the time was all about the divorce and how messy, not to mention unnecessary, it all seemed. The folk hero had fallen on his mug and Holden had, to some observers, ankle-tapped him.

In the longer term, of course, the demise of the Brock HDT car-building empire gave Holden a headache. But it also proved to be a giant opportunity. The brain pain was all about missing out on the profits from a premium product line. The opportunity was the chance to have a crack at it from a new angle. Teaming up with Tom Walkinshaw’s TWR Group, Holden established HSV in 1987. The aim was simple: produce a range of high-end Holden-based road cars. And, as you lot know only too well, that’s pretty much what happened.

Tom Walkinshaw’s presence was very much a backroom one while HSV’s front men in the early days were the towering John Crennan (who had moved across from the role of marketing manager at Holden) and Bathurst-winning nice-guy John Harvey who, emotionally challenged by the Brock implosion, found fronting HSV to be a true tonic.

In 1987, the fledgling outfit moved into a brand-new glass and chrome facility on Ferntree Gully Road in Melbourne’s Notting Hill, but within a handful of years had outgrown that and moved into a large corner of the old Nissan plant (which had been redeveloped by Lindsay Fox) nearby in Clayton. Within three years, the operation had built its five-thousandth car.

A product- and engineering-based company to its bootstraps, some of the most important characters to have emerged from HSV over the years have been its chief engineers. There have been several, but the ones I remember most fondly start in the early days with the Hummer-driving man-mountain that is Brad Dunstan.

Dunstan has since moved on to consultancy work (among other things), but his DNA is all over those early cars. (Lord, that sounds wrong.)

Big Brad was replaced by the almost-as-physically imposing John Clarke who was probably one of the most enthusiastic car guys I’ve met. With a toothy grin and a mind like a steel trap, Clarkie (as he is known) lived and breathed HSV cars while he was in the chair and often told me things he probably shouldn’t have.

The third chief engineer I admire hugely is the bloke currently running the clipboard show, Joel Stoddart.

Stoddart has had a couple of bites at this particular cherry, the most recent coming after a stint in the caravan industry. Not too surprisingly, he found that working out where the sink goes in a four-berth poptop couldn’t quite compete with building supercharged V8 road cars, and he soon found his way back to Clayton and his old desk.

Over the years, HSV worked its way through each generation of Commodore and Statesman, adapting each to the wants and needs of its customers. But equally, thanks to its relatively small size (by carmaking standards) and the flexibility that comes with that, it was also able to actually come up with stuff that Holden never could have. Things like the stroked Holden V8 and later supercharged LSA, all exist because HSV made them happen.

So much for the past. And while HSV is keeping its cards close to its corporate chest when it comes to what it will be offering in a post-rear-drive-Commodore world, the powers that be are adamant the brand isn’t going anywhere. There are suggestions that the Colorado ute might be in for the HSV treatment and SUVs haven’t been ruled out. In fact, a general broadening of the HSV church seems like a good bet. Maybe HSV can hit a few winners and plonk itself into another purple patch. Or maybe the golden years have passed.

THE MOST IMPORTANT CHARACTERS TO HAVE EMERGED FROM HSV OVER THE YEARS HAVE BEEN ITS CHIEF ENGINEERS

Cheers to all

STORIES like this don’t come together without the patience and enthusiasm of generous petrolheads. A big thank you to Graeme Rutgers for putting us in touch with a key group of HSV enthusiasts who donated their time and cars for this feature, specifically Justin Ellis, Andrew Quinlan, Pete Maplesden and Kevin Dennis. Equally, a big thank you to Ryan Walkinshaw and the team from HSV for the use of their VL Walkinshaw and for providing their facilities for a shoot location – on a weekend no less!

It’s a testament to the passion people have for the Holden Special Vehicles brand.

01 HSV VL Group A SS

Hindsight makes plastic very fantastic O N SA L E 1988-89 E N G I N E 4987CC V8, OHV, 16 valve 180kW 380Nm @ 5200rpm @ 4000rpm 0-100 TIME SECONDS (CLAIMED) 6.5

1340kg 1340kg $45K PRICE NEW WE KNOW it these days as the Walkinshaw. But back in the day, it was called some terrible names.

Plastic Pig, Batmobile, and there were other, less printable names for the first fair-dinkum HSV. Fact is, the Walky was the homologation car needed for Holden to go racing and, with the move to Group A a few years earlier, you couldn’t just go and build a ’roided V8 Commo with boxed guards and a killer wing. Nope, if you wanted to race that on the alleged level playing field of Group A, you had to homologate it first. And that’s where the Walkinshaw’s mad body kit came in.

But beyond the plastic, those Group A rules are also why the VL had a twin-throttle-body set-up for the 304 V8 and a bunch of other clever stuff. Clever as in the Group A rules stipulated that the exhaust was free from the first join, but had to be the stock, road-car item from the exhaust port to that first join. The spirit of the rule was to force the race cars to use stock headers. HSV had a better idea. It made a set of headers that was essentially just the flange and a few millimetres of pipe. Run what you like from there, fellas.

Still, it was the bodykit that was grabbing headlines and holding the car back, both in the showroom and at Bathurst as it turned out. The chat from Mount Panorama in 1988 was that the Walky had too much downforce and that was slowing it down Conrod. Either way, it was another two years before the car would actually go on to win the Great Race (Grice/Percy) by which time it was well and truly out of HSV showrooms.

For Gazza Public and his appetite for the sort of good-looking cars Brock had been turning out, the kit was just a splitter too far. Dealers knew it and were actually removing the body kits and even 6.5 painting the cars different colours to hide the fact that they were unsold Walkys. Got to laugh about that now as the Plastic Pig is enjoying serious collectability with stocks that don’t look like falling any time soon. That said, the body kit was way too extreme for the street and most dealers supplied the very lowest skirts and lips in a box, allowing the new owner to choose whether he or she wanted the full Group A look OR to be able to enter a service station. ’Cos you really couldn’t have it both ways.

When you look at the spec sheet for the Walky in 2017, you might just get a giggle thinking about a car with 180kW being the biggest, baddest thing on the roads back then. And while it’s true that it won’t stay with a modern HSV in a straight line, you just can’t ignore the fact that the Group A SS was one of the most tactile cars ever to roll out of HSV’s workshop.

What’s the secret? No secret at all... just a question of kilograms. At just 1340kg, it was a good 400 or 500 kegs lighter than the current stuff. Throw in gear ratios in the five-speed that were realistic and you had a car that felt fast and fun. And still does.

Oh, and here’s another thing. Even though it was relatively low-tech with a live rear axle and such, the Walkinshaw was streets ahead of the standard VL Commodore on which it was based. Where the latter could be relied upon to fall over in corners and spin an inside-rear in the Macca’s drive-through, the VL Group A SS was a much tidier, responsive thing. In fact – and it’s a big statement – the Walky might just be the HSV that represents the biggest improvement over the donor dunger in the brand’s history.

Did you know?

The very first prototype of the Walkinshaw was rushed through to be done in time for the press launch at Oran Park. How rushed?

Well, the slats in the bonnet scoop were, on close inspection, made from balsa wood. How do I know? Because I drove that car from Melbourne to Sydney overnight for the launch.

WITH THE MOVE TO GROUP A, THE WALKY WAS THE HOMOLOGATION CAR NEEDED FOR HOLDEN TO GO RACING

02 HSV VS GTS-R

Stroker motor switches on a bright light O N SA L E 1995 E N G I N E 5737CC V8, OHV, 16 valve 215kW 475Nm @ 4800rpm @ 3600rpm 0-100 TIME SECONDS (TESTED) 6.2

1619kg $76K PRICE NEW HSV HAD always tweaked the V8 engines in its cars to eke out a little more performance and a lot more bragging rights. But the Series 2 VS GTS-R of 1996 changed all that. See, instead of just fitting headers and a bigger exhaust or throwing a bigger throttlebody at it, HSV went for the doctor with the GTS-R, and that meant producing a higher-output engine.

With the 5.0-litre kind of at the end of its development road at 195kW, the decision was taken to go for extra cubes. And the best way to do that?

A stroker crank. Local engineering gurus Harrop Engineering were contacted partly because it had the means to produce such a thing, but also because company boss Ron Harrop had built a 5.7-litre stroker Commodore for his personal use a handful of years earlier. And given the time frame HSV was operating within, a Harrop crank kit was perfect.

Rather than cut-and-shut a Chevy 350 crank (as had been the time-honoured way) Harrop specified 6.2 a nodular-iron crank blank which it then machined to suit. ACL was talked into making a specific piston with a shorter skirt and standard rods completed the four-bolt bottom end.

Other changes included thinner exhaust valve stems, some polishing of the ports and a smoothed inlet tract even though the 5.7 used a standard 5.0-litre manifold. All up, power jumped to 215kW at 4800rpm while torque maxxed out at a very handy 475Nm at 3600rpm. Compare those figures with the bread-and-butter 185kW HSV engine of the time and you can see that the peaks are the same, but torque had grown by a full 75Nm. And if that wasn’t special enough, you could also tick the $10,000 box for the engine optimisation package.

That amounted to a blueprint job which smoothed the engine and, depending on who you talked to, netted another 10 or 15kW.

Beyond the 5.7-litre engine, the GTS-R also got the

locally-made Hydratrak LSD and a six-speed manual was the only gearbox available. But HSV worked out a nifty little way to convert the old cable-clutch actuator to part-hydraulic. By adapting a hydraulic slave unit to the clutch and joining that to the existing cable from the clutch pedal, the hybrid set-up worked beautifully and, suddenly, cruise-control could be fitted to a manual HSV.

Visually, the GTS-R hasn’t really aged too gracefully.

The three-spoke wheels in charcoal seem kind of geeky now and the body kit, even back then, was considered a bit OTT with the rear wing that looked like it came off a V8 Supercar. But the use of external carbon-fibre panels on the GTS-R was an Aussie first and the interior with its yellow cloth inserts and baseball-stitching certainly made a statement. Then there was the colour – XU-3 Yellah, which was about as subtle as a Trump tweet.

Of course, once you were inside, it didn’t matter how the thing looked, especially when you selected first in the slightly baulky six-speed, slid the clutch home and started surfing that big torque wave. Even a few years later, when HSV had made the switch to the LS1 and was screwing 250kW out of it, that alloy motor couldn’t match the 5.7 Holden stroker for either torque (473Nm played 475) or where it was produced (4000rpm for the LS1, 3600rpm for the stroker). So, yeah, the GTS-R definitely felt perky.

It wasn’t the smoothest engine you’ll ever sit behind (although HSV did engineer out a lot of the rough edges of Ron Harrop’s original version) but it got going and it felt fast. It was also at least a couple of hundred kilos lighter than an LS1-powered HSV. And being the last of the bodyshell pioneered by the VN, the VS was a lot more refined and better put together generally. It mightn’t quite look like it, but the GTS-R represents possibly HSV’s deepest engineering dive in the company’s history.

THE VS GTS-R REPRESENTS POSSIBLY HSV’S DEEPEST ENGINEERING DIVE EVER

Did you know?

You may have wondered how HSV arrived at the particular shade of yellow for the VS GTS-R. Word is, it didn’t have much say in it. This was the point in history when water-based paints were taking over and without lead, this was about the only shade of yellow the paint makers could come up with. Only problem was, Victoria began to paint its taxi fleet the same colour right about the same time.

03 HSV VT Series II GTS

Problem solving produces one hell of a solution O N SA L E 1999-00 E N G I N E 5665CC V8, OHV, 16 valve 300kW 510Nm @ 6000rpm @ 4800-6000rpm 0-100 TIME SECONDS (CLAIMED) 5.1

1740kg $95K PRICE NEW THE VT Commodore is the model that took the big Holden to the world stage. Exports far and wide and grown-up stuff like an independent rear-end across the board served notice that the Commodore had ‘arrived’. But over at HSV, the new VT was throwing up at least as many questions as it was answering.

Prime among those was what the hell was HSV going to do for a tier 2 powerplant.

Sure, it had the 250kW version of the LS1, but ever since the 5.7-litre stroker version of the Iron Lion in the VS GTS-R, it had also been able to serve up a power-up. That was fine while ever it could tap into Holden Engine Company’s catalogue, but since the arrival of the LS1, HEC was no longer responsible for assembling the V8. So what to do?

First thoughts were to tap into TWR’s arsenal (Tom Walkinshaw himself was a shareholder of HSV after all) but eventually, the road led HSV management Stateside, to Reeves Callaway’s bunker in Connecticut. Things were starting to fall into place; Callaway had history with the GM operation in general and the Gen III V8 in particular (Callaway was already squeezing big numbers out of the alloy bent-eight).

A deal was done with a brief to get 300kW out of the thing with Callaway handling the hardware and HSV and Holden’s drivetrain team handling the electronics after GM poured water on the notion of any outside supplier, even one as embedded as Callaway, fiddling with the OBD2 brain. So, Callaway’s contribution was to leave the tough, six-bolt-main bottom-end alone and concentrate on getting air in and out. A new throttle body was developed, a new camshaft brewed up and the mass-flow sensor was deemed 5.1 too restrictive, so a MAFless tune was developed. But the real magic lay in the cylinder heads which were virtually hand-made (albeit with CNC machining processes) and then fitted with bigger valves and cool bits like titanium springs.

And it wasn’t just the engine that made the GTS special. It was also a manual-only deal thanks to the lack of a slusher able to cope with the grunt.

In the end, the drive wasn’t as dramatically different as it might have been. Maybe because the bread and butter HSV 250kW tune was pretty good; maybe because an already relatively peaky power curve had been shifted even higher. But there’s no doubt that the basic premise was right. If, that is, you were comfortable with the idea of spinning 5.7 litres all the way to 6000rpm for maximum power. Mind you, the engine itself was fairly happy to oblige with its ignition cut upped to 6500rpm. It was tuned to run on PULP, too, although Holden’s own durability rules dictated it had to be able to cop 91 if that’s all that was available. Twin knock sensors looked after that.

The car still felt big and it still, like all VT-VZ Commodores, relied pretty heavily on its front end when turning in. You could feel it loading the outside front tyre when you got serious and, eventually, that’s what limited its pace on a track. And while the T56 transmission was improving all the time in terms of its shift speed and accuracy, many would-be buyers would have preferred an auto had it been available.

Of course, in 2017 when HSVs are packing 6.2 litres and blowers for good measure, 300kW doesn’t seem so crazy. But let me tell you, back at the turn of the century, this was a headline grabber of the highest order – and deservedly so.

Did you know?

Seems like a no-brainer, but each HSV Grange sold since the VS model of 1996 has come with a numbered bottle of Penfold’s Grange in the boot. Not sure how many owners gurgled their bottle away and how many stashed them in the cellar, but chances are the bottle wasn’t included when the car was traded-in.

AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY, THIS WAS A HEADLINE GRABBER OF THE HIGHEST ORDER

04 HSV Coupe 4

Sexy two-door works best without four paws O N SA L E 2004-06 E N G I N E 5665CC V8, OHV, 16 valve 270kW 475Nm @ 5700rpm @ 4000rpm 0-100 TIME SECONDS (CLAIMED) 6.1

1830kg $90K PRICE NEW HERE was an Olympic-standard no-brainer. When Holden finally realised it had to build the Monaro in 2001 (to avoid angry mobs of wannabe Monaroowners storming dealerships) it became equally obvious that HSV would want in on it, too. After all, if HSV could turn Commodores into such objects of desire, the sky was clearly the limit if it could get its hands on a car that didn’t look like the taxi meter was standard equipment. And so the Coupe GTO, GTS and, sometime later, the Coupe 4 were born.

The Coupe GTO was first with the stock-in-trade 255kW version of the LS1. Then came the Coupe GTS with the 300kW version of the engine with all the Callaway bits and pieces (and a $20K premium over the GTO with them). Like other early versions of the Callaway-engined models, the GTS couldn’t be had with an automatic transmission until 2003.

Interestingly, the HSV versions were both released more or less at the same time as the Holden Monaro version, but they were priced high enough that Monaro sales weren’t really impacted.

As well as the engine and suspension tweaks common to other HSV models, the GTO and GTS got specific body-kits to differentiate them from mere Monaros. Most noticeable was a deep, aggressive front spoiler which incorporated a new grille and gave the thing a pretty tough look. Many a Monaro grew a HSV front clip in the ensuing years. But the most controversial aspect of the body kit was the rear spoiler. Holden’s then design boss, Mike Simcoe, who had designed the original Monaro concept in his spare time, was very keen on maintaining the purity of line that his big two-door had displayed from the very start. But, of course, Simcoe was not HSV’s styling meister, and HSV was worried that its customers would not relate to a coupe without the batmobile treatment. So the GTO and GTS got rear spoilers (and many other plastic bits) but not before Simcoe – allegedly – had chucked Teddy out of the cot.

Driving the big HSV coupes was always good fun.

They had plenty of poke and with the other changes Holden had wrought on the basic Monaro platform – most notably a slower steering rack to make the front end point a bit more precisely – it was all fun and games. The interiors were plush and even with that damned rear wing, they looked the goods. The switch to V3 specification for the 2004 model-year mean that the GTO entry-level model got an upgrade to 285kW (in line with HSV’s other models) making the expensive Callaway engine option largely pointless.

So, at that point, the GTS was dumped and the GTO went it alone for a little while.

It wasn’t until 2004 that the Coupe 4 hit showrooms.

Technically, it was killer stuff; all-wheel drive was big news but, in reality, the car was a bit of a victim of its own excess. See, the driveshafts and such required to drive the front axle made packaging the powertrain quite difficult. In the end, a compromised header design lopped quite a few horsepower off the top. In fact, at a time in history when the GTO had grown to a full 6.0 litres (as the Z Series) the Coupe 4 was still selling alongside it with 5.7 litres and 270kW versus the GTO’s 297. Also, the wider track of the allwheel- drive front axle (which owed a bit to Hummer, apparently) meant that the Coupe 4 had to wear little wheelarch extensions which didn’t really work for us visually – but each to their own.

The Coupe 4 was also something like 150kg heavier than the GTO, understeered more and was only available in automatic form. Which was fine if you wanted a pushy, hefty, less-powerful car with funny wheelarches and no manual gearbox. If not, you bought the GTO with its 6.0-litre engine and got more than $10,000 change. Another no-brainer.

IF HSV COULD TURN THE COMMODORE INTO AN OBJECT OF DESIRE, WHY NOT THE MONARO?

Did you know?

To this day, the most favoured of HSV’s engineering test loops takes in southern Gippsland east of Melbourne. Is it because of the wide range of surfaces and road conditions? Is it because the roads are all but empty most of the time? Partly. But mainly it’s because there’s a pie shop in one of the little towns that absolutely rocks.

O N SA L E 2008-09 E N G I N E 7008CC V8, OHV, 16 valve 375kW 640Nm @ 6500rpm @ 5000rpm 0-100 TIME SECONDS (CLAIMED) 4.7

1874kg $155K PRICE NEW

THOSE WHO DRIVE A W427 REMAIN WIDE-EYED FOR QUITE A WHILE AFTERWARDS

05 HSV W427

Greatness stifl ed by global fi nancial crisis IF THE W1 has a grand-daddy, it’s this car, the W427.

No, the W427 of 2008 didn’t have a blower, but it was a genuine attempt at taking things to new heights, just as the W1 does. And the 427 didn’t need forced induction because, as the name suggests, it had 427 cubic-inches of alloy V8 to shunt it around. At a full 7.0 litres, the LS7 engine cranked out 375kW and 640Nm. But don’t be thinking it was a big lazy lump of a thing; power peaked at 6500rpm and the torque was jammed way up high at 5000rpm, making it a fair old monster of a thing with its 11.0:1 compression ratio.

Transmission was the same TR6060 Tremec that’s found in the W1 and, like that car, there was no automatic option. And that’s purely because there was no slusher in the GM warehouse that would cop that sort of torque figure. Well, none that don’t need a truck-sized trans tunnel to physically get them into the car, anyway.

Fact is, everything about the W427 was huge. The wheels and tyres are a good starting point. Measuring 20 inches, the rims were clad in a 245/35 front hoop and a 275 rear. And you can probably guess that a 265/295 combo would have been preferable but just wouldn’t fit. And suddenly the extra wide front guards on the W1 start to make sense.

Staying with the big theme, the official fuel economy number for the combined-cycle test was a frightening 17.2 litres per 100km (the current GTS uses about 15L/100km). And a lot of that will be down to the kerb mass, which was a man-sized 1874kg. For all that bigness, the W427 didn’t drive like a B-double; it was actually quite nimble and really demanded to be driven hard thanks to the way that big lump was cammed and tuned to deliver the goods way up high. That said, we are still dealing with 427 cubes here, so even if the engine wasn’t completely revved up, it still packed a fair wallop pretty much from idle onwards. And when you did give it the berries, it was seriously impressive. The sort of supercharged grunt HSV is currently serving up is one thing, but a big-inch, high-comp atmo thrasher is another altogether.

Those who drive a W427 remain wide-eyed for quite a while afterwards and those who actually bought the things fell in love with them. Former HSV chief engineer Brad Dunstan owned one long after he’d departed HSV and, when the time came to trade-up and renew his lease, he couldn’t think of a suitable replacement and actually went looking for a another W427. Part of the attraction was surely that the 427 didn’t look half as lairy as some of the cars it shared showrooms with. In fact, once you got past once you got past that huge, deep air intake, the W427 was more E-Series Senator than Clubsport in terms of its relatively restrained look.

But such adulation was not industry-wide, it seems.

When the car was officially launched in August 2008, the original plan was to build 427 examples. But by the middle of the following year, the announcement was made that production would be capped at 137 (138 if you count the original motor show car).

What happened? Well, it wasn’t that the car was a dud, but at $155,000, neither was it exactly a bargain.

You could also factor in that this is the point in history when financial markets decided to melt-down one more time, creating the GFC and turning last week’s millionaires into next week’s Centrelink customers.

Either way, you can see why HSV has capped W1 production at closer to 300.

Did you know?

HSV’s Calais SV88 of 1988 was aimed at the businessman in a hurry. And what option did the wheeler-dealer need in the late-80s?

Yep, a portable fax machine. I borrowed one of these cars in the day and asked about the press kit. “Don’t worry,” said HSV boss John Crennan, “I’ll fax it to you in the car”. The fax machine option was a staggering $3300 at the time.

It is unknown whether the Calais also came with a wind-up gramophone in the boot, too.

06 HSV Gen-F2 GTSR

This is one hell of a way to exit the building O N SA L E 2017 E N G I N E 6162CC V8, OHV, 16 valve supercharged 435kW @ 6150rpm 740Nm @ 3850rpm 0-100 TIME SECONDS (CLAIMED) 4.4

1886kg $109.5K

PRICE NEW THE LATTER-day GTSR is more than just a nod to the GTS-R of 1995. In fact, it’s a love letter to the whole rear-drive, V8 HSV dynasty which, as you would know already, ends right about now. Oh sure, the W1 is the attention seeker of the family, but since it’s actually based on this car, that whole GTSR mob stands as the pinnacle of what could be done, not to mention an anthemic way to bow out.

The reality, too, is that you couldn’t buy a W1 now, even if you had the gold. They’re all gone; spoken for before they’d even been built. And that means that the GTSR models are where you should be aiming if you want to salt away a slice of the best this country could do. And you have choices.

Within the F2 GTSR line-up, there’s a choice of either the GTSR sedan or the Maloo GTSR ute and either of them gets the good bits. Those include the wide-body front guards and apron which allow for bigger brakes and give the car a meaner, harder look when it looms up in your mirrors. But there are also specific fascias, fender vents, rear diffuser and exhaust tips and inside, there’s alcantara aplenty.

But there’s also a fair bit going on mechanically, too, and that starts with the blown 6.2-litre LSA engine which comes in for a slight tweak to liberate another five kilowatts courtesy of a revised air filter. Torque remains as it was at 740Nm. As it stands, it’s the braking package that has come in for the most attention. The monster front rotors are a two-piece design and are fully floating. Next-generation AP calipers are now a Monobloc design and run to six pistons at the front while the rear gets four-potters.

While there’s no doubting the appeal of the W1 big-hitter, I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that if you actually want a HSV you can live with and maybe 4.4 even drive on the road (god forbid!) then the GTSR is a better bet. For starters, you’ll drive home from the dealership with an extra $60K (at least).

You do miss out on the full alcantara interior of the W1, but in the real world, that mightn’t be a tragedy.

And anyway, you do still get the lush diamondstitching in the leather/alcantara mix. And should you desire an automatic transmission, then the W1 is ruled out again, because it’s manual-only. And the auto GTSR has paddle shifters.

You don’t get the W1’s Supashock, V8 Supercarspec dampers in the GTSR, but the Magnetic Ride Control adaptive arrangement is possibly a better bet when bumps and speed humps come into the reckoning. As it is, the springs on the W1 are almost as hard as a V8 Supercar’s set-up for a street circuit.

Ouch. And those semi-slicks on the W1? Don’t make us larf. They’ll be horrible in the wet, they’ll wear out fast and most W1 owners intending to actually drive their car will be up for a second set of wheels and another four tyres. Likely they’ll choose something like the ContiSportContact 5Ps that the GTSR already has as standard.

And let’s not lose sight of the fact that the GTSR remains a 6.2-litre, supercharged V8 with straightline performance that would send a supercar of just a few years ago running away in tears. It stops hard, it goes round corners on that fat rubber and it will always be a memorable chunk of Aussie motoring lore. And if real-world useability and practicality hasn’t been a cornerstone of local muscle over the years, then we don’t know jack. M

Did you know?

The polypropylene front guards on the GTSR are 12mm wider each side and have been on the wishlist of HSV chief designer Julian Quincey since the Coupe 4 of 2004, no doubt in an attempt to avoid those tacked-on wheelarch extensions

LET’S NOT LOSE SIGHT OF THE FACT THAT THE GTSR REMAINS A 6.2-LITRE, SUPERCHARGED V8

THE AVALANCHE WAS TOO HEAVY, AUTO ONLY AND ABOUT AS SPORTY AS CHAMPIONSHIP DARTS

5 Forgettable HSVs

Birthdays aren’t complete without some embarrassing memories...

01 Jackaroo

This thing was so embarrassing, it didn’t even get full HSV billing. Instead it was a Holden Jackaroo HSV and even in 1993, it was standing joke material. HSV threw air-con and an LSD at it and you got some lower body mouldings which reduced its off-road potential to just about zilch. Come to think of it, maybe in that regard it was way ahead of its time. Nah… The engine was the 3.2-litre V6 and the only mechanical change was a switch to alloy wheels. It wasn’t until the Hummer H3 of 2007 that Holden would again scale such heights of irrelevance.

02 SV1800 Astra

The Astra SV1800 of 1988 wasn’t the last time the brand played around with a four-cylinder car. But it could have been. Actually, it wasn’t as though the SV1800 was a bad car, it just wasn’t HSV material. Built by Nissan as a Pulsar and model-shared with Holden as an Astra, the car was a piece of the Button Car Plan jigsaw that aimed to get volumes of individual models above 40,000 units per year and into the black. So it made sense for Holden to do whatever it could with the car. But, somehow, dumping a batch of them on HSV was probably not the wise decision it seemed at the time. Stickers, wheels and some plastic, folks.

03 Commodore LE

HSV was pretty keen on doing limited runs of cars to coincide with major events like the, um, Canberra Motor Show. There was the Commodore DMG and the Commodore Challenger and, for the Sydney Motor Show of 1989, there was a run of 100 Commodore LEs. Don’t remember them? No surprise there: it was a stock VN Commodore V6 complete with 125kW and all the driveline harshness you could eat. Maybe there was something in this approach back then (although I can’t think what) but these days, not even the HSV badge can infer any real merit.

04 Avalanche

A full-sized station-wagon with all-wheel drive and a big engine: sounds all right, doesn’t it?

Makes you wonder then how the HSV Avalanche of 2003 managed to be such a turkey. Well wonder no more, because here’s the deal. It was fat – at 2026kg it definitely weighed too much – and that hurt everything from pace to fuel economy. The AWD set-up made for a too-wide front axle and the system forced HSV into a compromised header design that robbed power. It was auto only and about as sporty as championship darts. More mud-slide than Avalanche.

05 Calais SV88

It wasn’t that the Calais SV88 of 1988 was a terrible thing, but it sure as hell wasn’t anything special, either. These were the days before the injected version of the Holden 5.0-litre, so the Calais got lumbered with the carburetted engine that struggled against a decent head-wind.

Even with its price-tag north of $40K, you were stuck with 136kW and the old three-speed Traumatic auto was the only tranny on offer. Not even the hectares of fuzzy velour trim could save it. Actually, finding one now would be the trick.

Did you know?

REMEMBER the SV6000? It was on the cover of MOTOR in April 2005, but we won’t blame you if you’ve forgotten, as it was a mechanically standard VZ Clubsport R8 that came with a Palm Pilot in the centre console. This was essentially an early smartphone that also doubled as a data logger. Did anyone bother using it?

Unlikely, and we’d love to know how many of the 50 SV6000s still have the unit.

Still, it morphed into the Enhanced Driver Interface available in today’s HSVs.