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Holden Commodore

Generation 1

The Holden VB Commodore was officially launched on 26 October 1978 with show rooms receiving the first examples on 13 November 1978. Production of the VB only lasted seventeen months, the shortest reign of any Commodore. The VB Commodore was effectively the successor of the Holden HZ, although most models in that series continued to be produced until the introduction of the facelifted Holden VC Commodore on 30 March 1980.

Holden Commodore

95,906 units of the VB Commodore were manufactured during the car's lifespan, and during 1979 the VB became Australia's number one selling car. Also in 1979, the VB won the first of Holden Commodore's five Wheels magazine Car of the Year awards, with the car being praised in the media for its value for money and engineering sophistication.

The VB Commodore was loosely based on the 1977 Opel Rekord E bodyshell but with the front grafted on from the Opel Senator to accommodate the larger Holden six-cylinder and V8 engines, giving it a similar appearance to the Opel Commodore. Overall, the body was strengthened substantially to withstand the harsh conditions of the Australian outback. Total cost of development is reported to be over A$110 million.

The Commodore represented a major shift in thinking for Holden since it was significantly smaller than the previous full-size family car, the Holden Kingswood, but visually similar in size to the mid-size Torana / Sunbird sedans. It essentially came about in response to the 1973 oil crisis and the need to produce more fuel-efficient cars. Holden, hedging their bets, initially built the Commodore alongside the other two established bodystyles, until the Torana was dropped in mid-1979, with only the Sunbird surviving into mid-1980 following release of the updated VC Commodore. The VB was available in three specification levels: Commodore, Commodore SL, and Commodore SL/E. A station wagon variant - not available in SL/E form - was released on 24 July 1979, hitting show rooms on 6 August 1979. It featured a large cargo area and an easy access one-piece lift-up tailgate. As the wagon-specific sheet metal had to be imported from Germany (from the Rekord), the wagon, introduced in July 1979, suffered from inevitable component differences from the sedan, confirmed by the separate keys for the ignition system and tailgate.

Holden Commodore

The OHV engines were largely carried over from the Kingswood: a 2.85 litre 64 kilowatt (86 hp) straight-six, 3.3 litre 71 kilowatt (96 hp) straight-six, 4.2 litre 87 kilowatt (117 hp) V8, which was also available with dual exhausts to produce 96 kilowatts (129 hp) of power, and a 5.0 litre 114 kilowatt (153 hp) V8, which in dual exhaust form was rated at 125 kilowatts (168 hp). The engine blocks on these motors were painted red and are therefore commonly referred to as the Red motors. The VB was also available with either a four-speed manual transmission or a three-speed Trimatic automatic transmission, or the Turbo-Hydramatic 350/400 automatic transmission with the 5.0 litre V8.

The VC series brought many improvements over the VB Commodore and maintained the Commodore's place as the best selling car in Australia.

The improvements included revised suspension to improve ride and handling, a few cosmetic changes and the availability of new options such as cruise control.

However, one of the biggest changes were a series of engine upgrades which included redesigned cylinder heads, now with a single intake and exhaust port for every cylinder, improved intake/exhaust manifolds, new camshafts and pistons and an all-new carburettor called the Rochester Varijet, as well as the fitment of electronic ignition. In total, these upgrades brought up to 25% more power and 15% better fuel efficiency. The engine block on these motors were painted a blue colour (as opposed to the previous red) and were known as the XT5 versions, although are commonly referred to as the 'Blue' motors.

Holden Commodore

As well as changes to the existing engines, a new 1.9 litre 4-cylinder engine was introduced. Known as the 'Starfire Four,' the new engine was the 2.85 litre (173 ci) blue six-cylinder engine with two cylinders removed. Also used in the Holden Sunbird, this engine was fitted to the Commodore in response to increasing pressure from the 1979 oil crisis. This new engine was not a complete success however, as its lack of power meant the engine needed to be pushed hard to deliver acceptable performance, negating any fuel saving benefits.

Holden Commodore

The engines used in this generation were Holden's own, and were not shared with the equivalent Opel Rekord or Vauxhall Carlton.

A new spec level was added to the range: the L. Thus the Commodore lineup was L, SL and SL/E. Transmission choices remained the same as the VB Commodore. A total of 121,807 VC Commodores were produced.

With the discontinuation of the Holden HZ models in 1980, the Commodore was complemented by a range of Holden WB commercial vehicles and the Statesman WB luxury models. All of these also utilised the "Blue" motors.

In 1980, when the Holden Dealer Team (HDT) was under the new direction of Peter Brock, funding was needed to continue racing and development. This led to the creation of a modified VC Commodore, tuned and styled under the direction of Peter Brock. The result was a luxury-performance version of the VC Commodore, to be sold through select Holden dealers throughout Australia. The HDT VC Commodore was powered by an HDT tuned 5 litre engine, producing 160 kW at 4500rpm. The HDT VC Commodore was a limited edition vehicle, with exactly 500 production models produced. These only sold with a choice of three colours (Palais White, Firethorn Red or Tuxedo Black) to pay homage to Marlboro, HDT's main sponsor at the time.

Holden Commodore

The Holden VH Commodore, an evolution of the previous Holden Commodore VC model, was released in October 1981. The frontal appearance was mildly facelifted with a new horizontal-slat grille and new lighting components designed to give a lower, wider look, and for interest of aerodynamics. It continued to be available as sedan and station wagon, with new tail light clusters utilized on sedan models.

Holden Commodore

The engines were carried over but revisions were made to the 1.9 L and 2.85 L engines to improve fuel economy. Gains of 12.5% and 14% respectively were made to the city cycle fuel economy figures.

Mechanical specifications were as before, except for an additional 5-speed manual transmission which was an option only (due to the limits of the transmission-box) on the 1.9 L 4-cylinder and 2.85 L straight six versions.

At the same time a reshuffle was made to the range - SL was now the base model and SL/X was introduced as the mid-range car, with SL/E remaining the top-of-the-line sedan. The SL/E also came available with optional cruise control and a trip computer. The trip computer measured average speed and fuel consumption. Wagons were available in SL and SL/X variants.

In 1982 the "SS" sports model was released, a model that has been a Commodore mainstay ever since. The abbreviation stands for "Sports Sedan". Offered with Holden's 4.2 L V8 as standard, three up-spec versions of SS, known as 'Group One', 'Group Two' and 'Group Three' ( the latter also featuring the Holden 5.0 L V8) were produced by the late Peter Brock's HDT facility. The SS sedans were initially exclusively Maranello Red in color, but were later also made available in Alabaster White. To this day, Brock modified VH SS Commodores are considered highly sought after.

Holden Commodore

In 1983 an 'Executive' pack of the base Commodore was introduced, primarily directed to fleet buyers. These cars featured automatic transmission and air-conditioning as part of a Commodore SL package, but had no distinguishable external identification badges. Special editions of Commodore released around Christmas 1981, 1982 and 1983 were badged 'Vacationer'.

With the effects of the 1979 energy crisis ending, buyers gravitated towards the larger Ford Falcon rival, rather than the mid-size Commodore. Thus for the first time, the Holden Commodore lost its position as Australia's best-selling car.

Production of this model ceased at the beginning of 1984, to be replaced by the much further facelifted Holden VK Commodore.

Holden Commodore

Adeyer Sportif is a VH Commodore coupe. There were only 11 Adeyer Sportifs made in 1984. Using VH SL/E 4.2-litre Commodores, a company called Dominion and International Automobiles pulled them apart and remade the four-door sedan into a two-door coupe. This they did by re-welding the body shells to accommodate the elongated doors and rear quarters that were originally used on the Opel Rekords. Priced from $27,300 (manual) and $28,200 (auto) back in 1984. The interiors were fitted with deep pile carpets, leather or fabric Recaro front bucket seats and matching material for the doors and panels. They also used real wood trim along the doors and lower dash. The roof and windscreen pillars were covered with soft dark grey felt. The black-and-gold cars were fitted with front spoilers, colour keyed slatted grilles, steel-reinforced fibreglass bumpers front and rear, rear deck spoilers, rear window louvres, embossed panels between the tail lights, tinted windows, ROH 6x14 alloy wheels with Goodyear CR70 H14 tyres and Adeyer nameplates. Twin halogen headlights, twin exhausts, power steering, Pioneer stereo, 4-wheel disc brakes and air conditioning were also fitted on the initial and only group of VH Sportifs to be built.

Holden Commodore

The Holden VK Commodore was introduced in 1984 and replaced the VH. It was the first Commodore to have plastic (polypropylene) bumpers and introduced rear quarter windows for a six-window design (styled by Holden, but similar in appearance to the Opel Senator) as opposed to the four-window design on previous Commodore models. Apart from the bumpers and "glasshouse", other changes for the VK Commodore included a front grille redesign and revamped dashboard instrumentation that included a full digital (vacuum fluorescent display) arrangement for the new luxury version, the Calais.

The exterior of the VK Commodore was also updated with a more modern and aggressive appearance. This included a new grill design much different than previous models with three bold strips rather than a metallic grill, the now plastic front and rear bumpers/skirts replacing the obsolete metal guards, and a new rear tail light assembly, whereby they now spread from one side to another with a black panel in between. This all added up to a more prominent, sharper look for the 1980s. Changes were also made to the interior whereupon the panel of instruments were now square-shaped rather than the more conventional circular layout. In total, 135,705 VK Commodores were built.

Holden Commodore

Engine choices (not necessarily available on all cars in the VK range) were two versions of a 5.0-litre V8 engine (replaced by the 4.9-litre V8 when Group A rules entered Australian motorsport in 1985) and two versions of a 3.3-litre inline 'black' Straight-6 engine (essentially a refined 'blue' I6 with slight increases in power and efficiency), the latter of which was available with either a carburetor or fuel injection. The 3.3 EST carburetor engine was standard equipment for most VK Commodores, with the 3.3 EFI injection engine nominated as standard equipment for the Calais sedan.

Holden Commodore

The 2.85-litre six-cylinder and the 4.2-litre V8, mainstays of the previous Commodore ranges were dropped, hence unavailable to the VK, however Holden's 1.9L Starfire 4-cylinder unit was offered on New Zealand market VK models.

The VK range introduced new names for the specification levels, with Executive now a stand-alone nameplate alongside the base model SL. The Executive was basically a Commodore SL appointed with automatic transmission and power steering, and was aimed at capturing the fleet market, a market that Holden had lost its share in when the smaller bodied Commodore originally replaced the Kingswood. Also introduced was the Berlina (replacing SL/X) and Calais (replacing SL/E). The station wagon body style was available in SL, Executive or Berlina variants only, however the limited edition Vacationer name plate was also continued over for a period from the VH Commodore. Other variants produced were the Commodore SS sedan which featured its own specification - courtesy of HDT - high-performance 4.9-litre V8, and the limited edition - available only through affiliated HDT Holden dealers - LM 5000, SS Group 3, SS Group A (502 made) and Calais Director sedans.

Holden Commodore

The VK also had an impressive racing pedigree, winning the Bathurst 1000 on two occasions, in 1984 in Group C specification with Peter Brock and Larry Perkins, and in 1986 in Group A specification with Allan Grice and Graeme Bailey.

New Zealand

The VK was assembled by General Motors New Zealand at their Trentham assembly plant, near Wellington.
New Zealand VKs were similar, but had slight differences to their Australian sold counterparts, notably smoke-tinted taillights, the lack of emissions gear, and that a Holden Starfire powered 4-cylinder model was also available, utilizing 13-inch wheels which had a slightly smaller wheel stud pattern. The 4-cylinder was considered an economic car; however, from its lack of power it tended to use more fuel than a six-cylinder model when laden down. It was however remarkably successful in this market, unlike Australia.

Holden Commodore ,Calais

Positioned below the Calais, an upmarket model badged Commodore Royale was sold exclusively in New Zealand, available with both four- and six-cylinder engines. The luxury options included with this was air conditioning, electric windows, electric mirrors and a five-speed manual transmission.
Towards the end of VK production in New Zealand, a limited run of 120 "GTS" sedans were produced. All featuring identical specs of 3.3 EFI engine, "Midnight Blue" paint with silver bumpers, 15-inch alloy wheels as per Royale/Calais, a unique "Cerulean Blue" interior with same cloth as VK SS Group A, black rubber boot spoiler, black Momo steering wheel, GTS badging, and red pinstripe. These cars may have also been fitted with FE2 suspension.

The VL Commodore represented a substantial makeover of the VK, and would be the last of the mid-size Commodores. The engineers sought to soften the lines of the VL, rounding off the panels and introducing a small tail spoiler built into the boot lid.

For the VL, Holden implemented rectangular headlamps as opposed to the square-type fitted to earlier models. For the top-of-the-range Calais model, the design incorporated the use of semi-retracting headlight covers, the first for a production Holden. This had been previously attempted on the never released Torana GTR-X which featured fully retractable headlights. Interestingly the Calais covered headlights that were the same as the regular VL Commodore headlights.

Holden Commodore ,Calais

Major changes were made to the dashboard with new instruments, touch switches mounted either side controlling wipers, rear window demister, electric antenna (Berlina/Calais), and the headlight switch moved from the right-hand dash side to the indicator stalk. Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning control graphics changed slightly, the center console offered more storage with new transmission shifter and surround.

Holden Commodore ,Calais

A comprehensive makeover for the VK Black engine was completely dropped in favour of an imported 3.0 litre RB30E straight-six unit designed and manufactured by Nissan in Japan. This featured an overhead camshaft (OHC) and an alloy cylinder head. The reason for the Nissan-Holden combination was because all cars manufactured in Australia from 1 January 1986 had to run on unleaded 91 octane fuel. The previous six-cylinder Black motor was unable to do this, as was the V8, hence the later release date of this engine. As the tooling for the Holden straight-six engine had become worn by this stage, it also was not considered cost-effective to adapt the design to unleaded petrol. The new engines included features such as an Electronic Combustion Control System (ECCS) and a ram-tuned intake manifold.

Six months into its release a 150 kilowatts (200 hp) turbocharged RB30ET version of the Nissan engine was released. The Garrett turbo unit was fitted inside a water-cooled housing to ensure longevity. The engine received new pistons which lowered the compression ratio, while an updated camshaft was used to reduce overlap. The allure of the Commodore was quickly established particularly when the top speed was 200 kilometres per hour (124 mph) and then extended to 220 kilometres per hour (137 mph) with the addition of the Garret turbocharger. In addition stopping power for the turbo models was upgraded to larger brakes and Girlock finned alloy front calipers. The Australian Police commissioned the turbocharged models as their "interceptor" Highway Pursuit cars of choice. These interceptors were denoted by "BT1" in the model code on the Body & Option plate attached to the firewall.

Holden Commodore ,Calais

GM also sourced a Nissan electronic four-speed automatic. Those that opted for a manual, received a Holden five-speed transmission,

The New Zealand assembled six-cylinder VLs had the 2.0 litre Nissan RB20 engine six-cylinder available as an option in addition to the 3.0 litre models. The engine was mated with the Japanese Jatco four-speed automatic; the 5.0 litre (4,987 cc) V8 remained available in carbureted form with the old three-speed automatic. New Zealand models were not saddled with emission controls.

Holden Commodore ,Calais

Previously, Holden had considered discontinuing their V8 engine rather than adapting it to unleaded petrol. This was partly in response to Ford Australia's 1983 decision to drop the V8 in its competing Falcon model. However public outcry spearheaded by a media-driven "V8s 'til 98" campaign persuaded Holden to continue production. Eventually with continual developments, the Holden V8 lasted until 1999, before being replaced by the imported GM LS1 V8 engine.

The 5.0 litre V8 was released in October 1986, it still featured the familiar Rochester four-barrel carburettor, not electronic fuel injection (EFI). Now adapted to unleaded fuel, this V8 5.0 litre was boasting both more power and torque than its predecessor, now at 122 kilowatts (164 hp) with 323 newton metres (238 ft·lbf). GM had fitted the V8 with larger valves carried over from the previous Group A engine.

Holden Commodore estate

EFI did however, make its V8 debut in the VL Commodore in the evolution version of the Group A touring car homologation special, the SS Group A SV (see below). Commonly known as "The Walkinshaw", the SS Group A SV also marked Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) taking over as Holden's official performance car partner. With the 150 kilowatts (200 hp) 3.0 litre turbocharged engine being the performance flagship, Holden marketed the V8 as ideal for towing due to its low-down torque characteristics. The V8 engine was mated with either the existing three-speed TriMatic automatic, or the five-speed Borg-Warner T-5 manual.

Introduced in Commodore SL, Executive and Berlina variants, the VL vehicle line also included a luxury Calais model. However, this was known as the "Holden Calais" as opposed to the "Holden Commodore Calais". A limited number of Calais station wagons (198 ever produced) were offered from March 1988 through to production end in August of the same year. Holden released the Calais wagon late in the VL's model cycle only to reduce their excessive stock pile of wagon bodies. These wagon-bodied Calais offered the same engine options available to sedan buyers: the standard straight-six, the turbocharged version of the same and the V8, and were specified with the same equipment fitted to the Calais sedan.

Holden Commodore estate

The V8-powered models were introduced in October 1986. The following year, a special edition Commodore Vacationer was offered. To commemorate the 1988 Australian Bicentenary, an aptly named "Series 200" sedan was briefly offered from March 1988. The Series 200 was issued with two-tone champagne paintwork, and featured air conditioning, power steering, electric windows, central locking among other features over the base-line Commodore SL. Only the naturally aspirated six-cylinder engine was fitted to this model.

Commodore SS Group A

November 1986 saw the introduction of the Commodore SS Group A which was developed from the Commodore SL by Peter Brock’s HDT Special Vehicles organisation. 500 examples were built, all of them in "Permanent Red", by Holden to allow the model to be homologated for Group A Touring Car racing.

Holden Commodore estate

The SS Group A was twice a winner during the inaugural World Touring Car Championship in 1987. Allan Moffat and John Harvey drove their Rothmans sponsored Commodore to victory in the very first race of the championship at Monza in Italy. Initially finishing 7th on the road, the pair were declared winners after the entire BMW Motorsport crew running the new BMW M3's that finished the race 1-6 were disqualified for running 80kg underweight thanks to the use of carbon fibre body panels. Moffat and Harvey would later go on to finish a brilliant 4th at the Spa 24 Hours on the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.

The HDT spec Commodore's second win in the 1987 WTCC was at the 1987 James Hardie 1000 at Bathurst. Peter Brock and his HDT had a well publicised split with Holden in early 1987 which saw the factory stop all support for the race team. Running as a privateer for the first time since 1977, Brock finished 3rd on the road driving with Peter McLeod and David Parsons in the teams second car (#10) after his own car failed on lap 34. The two Ford Texaco Racing Team Ford Sierra RS500's that finished 1st and 2nd were eventually disqualified in February 1988 for illegal bodywork (wheel arches that were 1 size too big) and Brock's HDT P/L were declared winners giving the HDT spec VL Group A SS Commodore two wins from the 11 race WTCC.

Holden Commodore estate

The SS Group A was followed in March 1988 by the fuel injected Commodore SS Group A SV which was produced for Holden by Holden Special Vehicles to replace the SS Group A as Holden’s homologated Group A race car. 750 examples were built.

In motorsport the Walkinshaw spec VL Group A SS took time to be a success. Up against the lighter and more powerful Ford Sierra RS500's and Nissan Skyline HR31 GTS-R's the car was easily outgunned in the ATCC and also struggled in longer distance races for the same reason, its general lack of pace not helped by the non-appearance of the factory Holden Racing Team in the 1989 ATCC. This changed when Englishman Win Percy was sent to Australia in 1990 to run the team on order from team owner Tom Walkinshaw. After constant development during the season both HRT and the Larry Perkins cars were running faster than ever, as evidenced by their qualifying 6th (HRT) and 7th (Perkins) at the 1990 Tooheys 1000 at Bathurst. Percy and Allan Grice pulled off what is often referred to as Holden's greatest win at Bathurst when they outlasted the field to win by less than a lap.

Holden Commodore estate

Perkins and co-driver Tomas Mezera went on to win the 1990 Nissan 500 at Eastern Creek driving a Group A SV and Perkins also went on to win the 1992 Sandown 500 in his VL in what was the last major win for the model in Group A Touring Car racing.

Holden Commodore estate

Leave a comment about the Holden Commodore (1978-) :

Source :
  1. www.holden.com.au
  2. www.hjgts.8m.com/
  3. www.holdenvk.itgo.com/
  4. wikipedia.org/Holden

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