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25 Years of Commodores

It's Holden's longest-running nameplate.

Courtesy of Holden

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It's been 25 years since the first Holden Commodore - the VB - rolled off the production line at the Elizabeth, South Australia, factory. Since that time there have been a dozen models released. Here's the run-down on all of them.

VB Commodore

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Released: October 1978

Base model price at release: $6513

Total produced: 95,906

Seven years and $110 million in the making, the first Commodore represented a considerable change of direction for Holden.

Developed from a GM 'world car' platform as economic rationalisation kicked in and oil price shocks began, the Commodore was appreciably smaller than previous family Holdens. This was a result of its European design heritage and a need, as Holden planners saw it, to move with the times and deliver a fuel-efficient, advanced and, better-packaged car - still large enough to carry five adults in comfort - that would trump the rival Falcon and hold its own against increasing import competition.

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The value-for-money VB Commodore's generous standard equipment specification and excellent performance and handling capabilities brought a new level of sophistication to the market, earning it top-selling status and the 1978 Wheels 'Car of the Year' award.

Under the skin the VB Commodore differed markedly from its Opel-badged German cousins. It combined world car technology with Australian-developed powertrain, suspension set-up and steering system, body strengthening and dust sealing - all the better to cope with a driving environment murderous enough to have destroyed European-built prototypes. (Proof, if any was needed, that Holden engineers knew their territory came less than 12 months later when untried Commodores finished 1-2-3 in the 19,000 km Repco Round Australia Trial.)

Commodore sedans and wagons (these launched mid-1979) were offered in base model and SL designations, and top of the range was the well-equipped SL/E sedan. Engines included a 2.85 litre six-cylinder, 3.3 litre six, and 4.2 and 5.0-litre V8s, matched to four-speed manual and three-speed automatic transmissions.

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The VB Commodore ushered in across-the-range standard features like steel-belted radial ply tyres, front disc brakes, carpets, front bucket seats, clock, radio, remote control driver's mirror and heated rear screen. While the SL added extras such as ribbed corduroy trim, T-bar auto, height-adjustable driver's seat, rear centre armrest and intermittent wipers, the standard-bearer V8 SL/E weighed in with automatic air conditioning, 15-inch alloy wheels with 60-series tyres, four wheel disc brakes, full instrumentation, burl walnut finish, Blaupunkt radio/cassette audio system with electric antenna, remote boot release and headlamp washer/wipers.

The VB Commodore reigned as Australia's most popular car in 1979, selling alongside the HZ Holden range of sedans, wagons, utes, vans and one tonners.

VC Commodore

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Released: March 1980

Base model price at release (6 cyl): $8120

Total number produced: 121,807

The VC Commodore update refined the classy Commodore concept and maintained its sales leadership. Wheels magazine said that while the VC wasn't perfect.. "that doesn't stop us declaring that it is easily the best Australian car ever."

This model was distinguished externally from its predecessor largely by a new grille treatment with centre-mounted Holden badging and a smart 'Shadowtone' dark-over-light paint finish option on the SL/E. The VC range (its base model now designated Commodore 'L') offered cruise control and electronic ignition for the first time and an upgraded suspension system further improved ride and handling.

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The big news, however, was under the bonnet. Upgraded "Blue" six and eight cylinder engines with redesigned cylinder heads, camshafts, carburettors, inlet and exhaust manifolds delivered major improvements in power output, driveability and economy. The new powerplants were up to 25 per cent more powerful and 15 per cent more fuel-efficient than before. A 1.9 litre four-cylinder model was also released.

The VC was the first Commodore to be modified by Peter Brock's newly-established Holden Dealer Team (HDT) outfit. Based on the 5.0 litre SL/E, the 500 HDT Commodores produced featured front and rear spoilers, wheel arch flares, Irmscher alloy wheels, upgraded suspension and dampers. A series of engine tweaks maximised performance. Available in red, black or white, the individually numbered HDT 'Brock' Commodores sported body striping and decals.

The VC production run included the four millionth Holden, which was driven off the line by former MD Sir Laurence Hartnett.

VH Commodore

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Released: September 1981

Base model price at release (6 cyl): $10,560

Total number produced: 141,018

The VH Commodore series was the third in four years and reflected a 'steady as she goes' policy of refinement rather than sweeping change. The original front-end sheet metal made way for an Australian-designed treatment, with subtle changes to the guards, bonnet, grille and headlights. Louvre-style sedan tail lights, seven new exterior colours and fresh interior trims also set the VH apart.

Buyers had a choice of five engines and four transmissions, among them a five-speed manual and a locally-built Trimatic auto for the 5.0 litre V8. Performance and economy improvements centred on the 1.9 litre four and 2.85 six cylinder engines.

This model also benefited from refinements that delivered a smoother, quieter ride and from the introduction of advanced electronics systems, highlighted by a seven-function digital trip computer on the SL/E model. On the comfort and convenience front, VH introduced central locking and all-new leather trim.

In early '82 the first Commodore SS made its debut with the VH series, which also saw the former Commodore L model designated SL, the former SL become the SL/X and the SL/E remain unchanged. The Commodore SS sports package formed the basis for HDT's Group 1, Group 2 and Group 3 SS performance variants.

VK Commodore

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Released: February 1984

Base model price at release: $11,152

Total produced: 135,705

Keenly priced and radically upgraded, the VK range introduced a raft of major changes. Its sleek and strikingly different look came courtesy of a new six-window profile, distinctive louvred grille, deep polycarbonate bumpers and wraparound side mouldings.

Performance was boosted with an enhanced version of the 3.3 litre six, now the base engine, which benefited from an electronic spark timing system. Standard on the newly designated Calais flagship (the Berlina name also made its first appearance with VK) and optional on other models was a 3.3 litre electronic fuel injection (EFI) six, which raised power output without sacrificing fuel efficiency.

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Lower-priced than the VH models it superseded and much improved in terms of operating refinement, the VK delivered upgraded sound, security and air conditioning systems and a cruise control option. The stylish Calais, set apart by silver side mouldings and bumpers, central locking, power windows, digital/analog electronic instrument displays, cruise control and velour or optional leather trim.

A new SL-based 'Executive' package, incorporating air conditioning, power steering and auto transmission, was aimed largely at fleet buyers. High-performance HDT versions included the SS, SS Group 3 and the 'sporting evolution' SS Group A.

VL Commodore

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Released: March 1986

Base model price at release: $15,400

Total number produced: 151,801

More like an entirely new model than a makeover, the VL series raised the bar in terms of performance and technology. Although an initially controversial choice, its sophisticated Nissan-sourced powertrain proved silk-smooth, sensationally powerful and remarkably fuel-saving. The completely new high-tech 3.0 litre engine, running on lower octane unleaded fuel, lifted SL base model power output by 33 percent and improved fuel economy by 15 per cent. It could be matched to a five-speed manual or an equally efficient and economical four-speed electronic auto transmission.

The competitively-priced VL Commodore also looked the goods, benefiting from comprehensive front end sheet metal changes, highlighted by a compact grille and slim 'homofocal' headlamps that on Calais were given an individual, semi-concealed treatment. In profile, the longer VL nose was balanced at the rear by an integral bootlid lip. Upgraded interiors had an all-new dash facia and instrument panel layout with binnacle-mounted touch controls.

Mid-1986 saw the introduction of a 150kW turbocharged version of the 3.0 six - an engine with more power on tap than Holden's standard 5.0 litre V8.

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The VL series also introduced Holden's first 'unleaded' V8 engine, a limited edition Calais wagon and two SS Group A entries: - an HDT model and one of the most famous Commodore sporting evolutions, the outrageously styled 'plastic fantastic' 180kW SS Group A, first of a new dynasty to be created by the newly-formed Holden Special Vehicles (HSV).

VN Commodore

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Released: August 1988

Base model price at release: $20,014

Total number produced: 215,180

In 1978 Holden had introduced a Commodore that was perceptibly smaller than its rival in response to economic woes and fuel crises. By the early 1980s, however, these concerns had largely passed and it was obvious to Holden planners that Australian family car buyers would prefer their next generation Commodore to be bigger all round.

Using the Omega model platform developed by German GM affiliate Opel, Holden designers and engineers came up with a unique vehicle, wide-bodied and radically redesigned for Australia, that made the landmark VN Commodore model a winner from day one.

It introduced a totally new 'aero look' body, featuring a raked windscreen and large areas of flush-fitting glass. The standard powerplant - a torquey, Buick-sourced 3.8 litre V6 with a locally developed engine management system - was as powerful as the old carburetted V8. The VN also introduced a refined 165kW fuel-injected V8, the most powerful mass-produced Aussie engine so far, which was standard on the SS and optional across the range. Buyers could choose an Australian-made five-speed manual transmission or US-sourced four-speed overdrive automatic.

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Four wheel disc brakes and power steering were standard on all models. While the rear track was widened by 50mm, suspension and steering systems carried over from the VL.

VN's roomy, totally new interior included a one-piece dash facia, wide centre console and binnacle-mounted 'fingertip' controls on either side of the instrument panel.

The VN wagon sat on a 91mm longer wheelbase and could accommodate seven with the addition of an optional rear seating. (The stretched wagon platform also heralded the extremely successful return, two years later, of Holden's luxury long-wheelbase Statesman and Caprice models and the legendary Ute.)

The VN Commodore scooped all the major 1988 'Car of the Year' awards and zoomed up the sales charts with the help of a memorable advertising campaign -"Like it? I love it!"- to claim the title of Australia's most popular car by the end of 1989.

VP Commodore

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Released: September, 1991

Base model price at release $23,535

Total number produced: 111,949

While design changes to the VP Commodore were low-key, this series was characterised by significant engineering refinements and equipment upgrades that improved ride quality, refinement, comfort and safety.

For the first time, independent rear suspension (IRS) was offered - standard on Calais and SS models, optional on Berlina and Executive - and anti-lock braking (ABS) was made available.

All models came equipped with remote control central locking, power mirrors, a sophisticated anti-theft system and bonnet gas struts. Berlina picked up such items as a tachometer and cruise control, while the Calais had a body computer which controlled a range of functions including Variotronic speed-sensitive power steering and automatic headlights-off.

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Externally, the VP received new front guards to accommodate larger turn indicators, as well as new bumpers, a new grille treatment, new boot panel garnish and a striped tail lamp finish.

A HSV-enhanced 180kW V8 engine became optional across the range in early 1992. Further models included the luxurious limited edition Calais International, Berlina LX sedans and wagons and value-added pack Vacationer sedans and wagons. The VP range also saw the introduction of the Series II concept and a no-cost, three-year roadside service package, with Calais models.

VR Commodore

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Released: July 1993

Base model price at release: $25,933

Total number produced: 165,262

Strikingly different in appearance from its predecessors and with a strong emphasis on occupant safety, the VR Commodore was the first Australian-manufactured car to offer a driver's airbag.

Changes to more than 80 per cent of its exterior included new sheet metal front and rear and flared, rounded wheel arches. The range was characterised by a new 'twin port' grille above a large central air intake

The safety-orientated Commodore Acclaim made its debut with VR and was an immediate hit. It combined more safety features than any car in the family price bracket, including a unique, Holden-designed driver airbag, anti-lock brakes, independent rear suspension and other across-the-range items such as seatbelt webbing clamps and sedan centre rear lap/sash seat belt.

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Inside, there was a completely new 'soft form' dash fascia, a new steering wheel and adjustable steering column and an extended comfort and convenience features listing. VR's upgraded air conditioning system ran free of ozone-depleting chemicals and all models were equipped with a body computer and smart electronic security with remote key and central locking.

Engine modifications produced more power, refinement and fuel economy, while a wider front track and major revisions to suspension geometry further improved ride and handling characteristics.

VS Commodore

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Released: April 1995

Base model price at release: $28,170

Total number produced: 277,774

An advancement on the successful formula that won the VR number one sales status, the VS was powered by the 3800 ECOTEC V6 that delivered 13 per cent more power and improved fuel economy.

Continuing Holden's leadership in safety technology, it was the first locally-built vehicle to offer driver and front passenger airbags.

The comprehensively upgraded ECOTEC V6 benefited from low friction technology and included a new cylinder block design, lightweight, high-compression pistons, lighter cylinder heads, new Bosch throttle body and sequential fuel injection. Complementing these changes, the re-engineered automatic transmission had its computing power doubled and revised shift changes improved throttle response and fuel efficiency.

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While the VS wore the dynamic new-look Holden Lion symbol on its bonnet and interior treatments were more luxurious, design changes were relatively few.

A Series II upgrade in 1996 brought in a new five speed Getrag manual transmission for V6 models and later that year a Supercharged V6 was introduced as an option on the top-range Calais.

VT Commodore

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Released: August 1997

Base model price at release: $29,760

Total Number produced: 303,895

The VT Commodore reinforced Holden's position as an automotive manufacturer of world standard. It was totally new from the ground up - the all-Australian result of a $600 million investment and the largest and most advanced new vehicle engineering program Holden had ever undertaken.

This range was characterised by powerfully sculpted exterior styling, more spacious and luxuriously equipped interiors, class-leading vehicle dynamics and significant strides in safety performance. The design integrity of its substantially stronger body structure was reflected in appreciably higher levels of build quality and driving refinement, and many of VT's high-technology features were 'firsts' for an Australian car.

With its wider track and longer wheelbase, the VT was the largest Commodore so far and with export markets in mind, the first to be designed to suit left- and right-hand drive configurations. The level of standard equipment offered - it included a driver airbag, electric driver's seat adjustment, trip computer, advanced security and remote boot release - was higher than in any other car in its class.

Designed to help protect occupants from injury in the widest possible range of crash situations, the VT also offered higher levels of primary and secondary safety. Initiatives included computer-designed, crash energy-absorbing body structures, computer optimised restraint systems, pyrotechnic seat belt buckle pre-tensioners and anti-submarining ramps. Side impact airbags were also made available later in this model's life.

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The all-new heavy duty braking system used four-wheel large diameter discs and high-performance calipers and worked in tandem with an 'Australian first' traction control system. VT ride and handling attributes set a benchmark in 'driver's car' chassis dynamics and independent rear suspension was fitted across the range.

The accommodating interior offered a completely new instrument panel layout, new seating and richer soft trims.

Few changes were made to the recently upgraded 3.8 litre ECOTEC V6 powerplant, Supercharged V6 power output was raised to 171 kW. Revisions to the standard 5.0 litre V8 also increased power output and a high-performance 195kW V8 was also offered, before the VT Series II introduction of a 5.7 litre Gen III V8.

Calais came complete with dual zone climate control, a personal PowerKey system which 'remembers' individual settings at start-up and a twilight sentinel that automatically turns headlamps on and off.

The VT Commodore claimed more than 15 major awards in 1997/1998, among them the 1997 Wheels Car of the Year and the 1997 Australian Design Award. Several limited edition VT models commemorated Holden's 50th Anniversary in 1998.

VX Commodore

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Released: September 2000

Base model price at release: $28,330

Total number produced: 207,339

While retaining the key attributes that won the VT such emphatic market acceptance, the VX Commodore range offered a higher degree of refinement, achieved through a series of design, engineering, safety and feature upgrades.

Faced with the challenge of taking an extremely successful design and freshening it retaining its huge appeal, Holden designers introduced graphic cues, accented by new headlamps, grilles, bumpers and rear treatments, that made each model in the range more distinctive.

Safety advancements included an advanced structural design for improved protection in side impact crashes, across-the-range fitment of ABS anti-lock braking and the availability of traction control with manual transmissions.

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Driveline improvements, recalibrated and more powerful electronics, suspension changes and noise isolation measures combined to deliver smoother, more responsive ECOTEC V6 and GEN III V8 performance, a three-to-four per cent improvement in fuel economy and a quieter ride. To complement the improved ride quality, Holden engineers also focused on reducing cabin noise.

Steering wheel-mounted audio system controls, CD player and retracting power antenna became standard fitment and Executive and Acclaim buyers could now choose the Supercharged V6 engine option.

The Series II VX introduced Control-Link IRS, which offered even greater stability, control and handling precision, and the Holden Assist in-car communications system was made optional on Calais.

VY Commodore

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Released: October, 2002 Price at release: $28,330 Still in production at time of publication

With the VY model, Holden continues to finesse the formula. Expanded to include a new SV8 sports sedan, the VY series sets a strong new styling direction with harder-edged, angular lines, a more aggressive 'face' and a sharper rear end which improves aerodynamic performance.

Inside is a totally re-designed instrument panel, featuring a binnacle-style instrument cluster and multi-function digital displays, a new centre console and steering wheel.

The VY series introduced upgraded high feature Blaupunkt audio systems, automatic headlamps, road-speed sensitive intermittent wipers, headlamps off programmable time delay and passenger airbags across the range - and such options as Rear Park Assist on sedans and a six-stack in dash CD player (where not standard). VY Series II models add cruise control, passenger seat lumbar support, sunglasses holder and rear reading lamps across the range and introduce active front seat head restraints on Acclaim and Calais models, 'memory' seats and heated exterior mirrors on Calais.

Bits and Pieces
  • The Holden Commodore has topped the Australian passenger car market for seven consecutive years - 1996-2002 - and remains the number one seller as at July 2003.
  • The current VY model is number 12 of the Commodore series. Model designations are: VB (1978); (VC) 1980; VH (1981); VK (1984); VL (1986); VN (1988); VP (1991); VR (1993); VS (1995); VT (1997); VX (2000); (VY 2002). Major model changes occurred in 1988 with the introduction of the VN Commodore and in 1997 with the introduction of the VT Commodore.
  • The most popular models have been:
    • VT Commodore (1997-2000) 303,895 units produced
    • VS Commodore (1995-1997) 277,774 units produced
    • VN Commodore (1988-1991) 215,180 units produced
    • VX Commodore (2000-2002) 207,339 units produced
  • Commodore sedans and wagons are produced in left- and right-hand drive configurations at Holden Vehicle Manufacturing Operations in Elizabeth, South Australia. In earlier years, Commodores were also produced at Holden plants in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.
  • Total Number Built - 2,126,453 (to 31 July 2003)
  • More than 180,000 Commodore sedans and wagons have been exported since 1978. In 2003, Holden forecasts a Commodore export total of 21,237 units. Current Commodore export markets are the Middle East, Brazil, Southern Africa (badged Chevrolet, left-hand drive), New Zealand, Brunei and Fiji (badged Commodore, right-hand drive).
  • 53 per cent of Commodore buyers replace an existing Holden - and 43 per cent of Commodore buyers did not consider another car in their purchase decision
  • Since the 1978 introduction of the Holden Commodore, the application of fuel-saving technologies has resulted in a fuel efficiency improvement of more than 37 per cent.

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