Holden VN-VP Commodore/Calais


Developed beneath the black cloud of the Seventies gas crises, the first-generation Commodore (1978 VB to 1986 VL) was smaller than Holden’s Kingswood. By the early Eighties Holden’s gross sales suffered towards its primary competitor, Ford’s Falcon, particularly with firm/fleet gross sales. Holden realised its fleet/household Commodore wanted to be larger – as large as Falcon – to outlive the Nineties.

The corporate’s confidence in its 1988 VN Commodore/Calais was evident in its straight-to-the-point, superlative-free promoting: “The Massive New Holdens”.

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Calais two-tone paint end

Fortunately to develop the VN, Holden had the worldwide Common Motors components bin to raid. Australia is a small market so parts-sharing was, for many years, a wise low-cost means for the ‘large three’ (Holden, Ford and Chrysler and later, additionally Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota) to develop distinctive fashions for Australia.

Holden seemed to its German sister firm Opel for the late-Eighties Omega aero-era flush-fit door and glass {hardware} and spliced the doorways to a wider physique. Beneath it, the fundamentals of the Aussie-tough VB-VL suspension was retained – with a number of tweaks – and the wheelbase lengthened and rear axle/monitor widened.

The engine bay carried a brand new 3.8-litre V6: With 125kW, it was Holden’s strongest family-car six.

The outcome was a uniquely Australian automotive; an Aussie-tough, aerodynamic and massive new Commodore that by 1988, put Holden again into a good battle with its foe, Ford’s Falcon, for the hearts and minds – and cash – of Australian automotive patrons.

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| 2021 Market Evaluate: HSV Clubsport/Maloo VN-VE

Fashions and tools

As with earlier collection, the VN was accessible as a sedan and wagon. For Australia, the fashions have been Government, a sort-of sporty S (a brand new mannequin for VN), mid-spec Berlina and the sedan-only luxurious Calais. Pre-launch Holden paperwork additionally mentions a fleet-spec SL… however have been any ever made?

The wagon had an extended wheelbase than the sedan (already longer than its VB-VL predecessor) so the load space is ginormous. That longer wagon platform additionally paved the best way for Holden to re-introduce a ute and long-wheelbase luxurious Statesman and Caprice fashions to match its mannequin vary of the Seventies.

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The SS stood out with wings and particular wheels

At its launch in mid-1988, the new-to-Holden 3.8-litre V6 was the one accessible engine. Tailored from GM USA’s Buick/Oldsmobile/Cadillac design, the brand new balance-shaft geared up 125kW mill matched the ability of the premium dual-exhaust model of Holden’s 5.0-litre V8 within the VB Commodore a decade earlier than. For us Aussies, it was teamed with both five-speed handbook or four-speed auto.

In mid-1989, to unbridled pleasure and rapturous applause from Aussie automotive nuts, Holden’s V8 re-joined the vary. The impressively clean, torquey and drivable V8 is usually related to simply the SS Commodore however fortunately the brand new engine was accessible with handbook or auto throughout the Commodore vary (besides the V6-only S).

It produced 165kW/380Nm and as a household engine choice, delivered efficiency very near the Eighties SS Commodore Group A motorsport specials. In its April 1989 concern, Wheels journal described Holden’s new EFI 5.0-litre V8 Commodore/Calais as “the quickest household four-door on the planet.”

| 2021 Market Evaluate: Holden Commodore/Calais VN-VZ

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Though not badged, there was a VN ‘collection 2’ kind replace in early 1990 with minor revision to badges and bling, inside trim and the V6 engine (a operating change from October ’89). The Calais additionally scored digital/digital local weather management from this time, too.

In export markets corresponding to New Zealand and Singapore, the VN was accessible with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine (Australian-made and shared with Camira). There have been some totally different fashions, too, corresponding to GTS and adjustments to the Government and Berlina specs.

| Learn subsequent: Holden VP Commodore, VQ Statesman + Caprice historical past

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Dwelling with an enormous new Commodore

Attributable to early reliability and high quality points, the VN Commodore is remembered by some with concern as a lot as fondness, regardless of it successful Wheels Automotive of the 12 months for 1988. There have been early glitches with virtually each system within the automotive, from paint to the all-new electrical {hardware} however fortunately, 30-plus years of fixes (and pure attrition) means remaining VNs aren’t too scary.

Not like many older Aussie classics (even carby Commodores from simply 5 years earlier) a VN’s normal digital gas injection and unleaded petrol food regimen, four-wheel discs and energy steering means it’s a simple automotive to drive and dwell with.

| Learn subsequent: Holden Commodore VN-VS historical past

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Commodore S had a smudge of sportiness

Sadly, the larger physique and the new-tech dashboard set up – the firewall and sprint have been assembled outdoors the automotive, then craned into the shell and glued into place – meant the VN Commodore had a tangible feeling of looseness in comparison with earlier ones. Fortunately that flex appeared to max-out by 30 or 40,000km however after all stays evident, particularly in wagons.

The VN Commodore was ‘punchy’ in additional methods than one: that torquey V6 engine not solely out-powered older V8s however delivered most of its torque at regular suburban road speeds. The V6’s small 185/14 tyres meant many new VN drivers unintentionally left the street, backwards, within the rain, simply by transferring away from a visitors gentle. That’s essential to bear in mind at this time, particularly in case you’ve been introduced up on ABS/TC/ESC vehicles.

| Learn subsequent: Sleeper HSV Senator take a look at mule

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Sedan was large, wagon big

What to look out for

Mechanically, this stuff are robust; the {hardware} of the all-iron V6 and V8 engines can simply do half 1,000,000 or extra with little greater than oil and filter adjustments. By then, valve springs can grow to be weak so the automotive is perhaps unwilling to rev cleanly at overtaking speeds.

The V6’s coil packs and crank place sender and the V8’s ignition module could cause a no-go. Gas pumps (inside gas tank) though not notoriously unreliable, usually die between 150 and 200km so most may have been changed a couple of times by now.

The V6’s vibration (even with its stability shaft) meant Holden engineers labored to refine the design. {Hardware} adjustments meant that from late 1989, the three.8-litre V6 turned a nicer engine.

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Each the V6 and V8 alloy consumption manifolds can corrode if the coolant is uncared for. A simple and fast pre-sale engine upkeep examine is to examine how a lot sludge is on the valve-gear beneath the oil filler cap. Some caramel sauce/brown varnish is regular but when the rockers are shrouded by an excessive amount of crap, then somebody has been slack with servicing. Like all older EFI engines, these donks usually profit from a gas injector service.

The imported GM TH700 four-speed auto and Aussie-made Borg Warner T5-type five-speed handbook – and same-brand rear axle – are additionally long-lived. Certain, there can be exceptions… however that’s usually as a consequence of proprietor abuse (‘do some skids, bro!’) or lack of upkeep. The actually crap ones all died within the Nineties.

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Plush and large inside

The Commodore’s two-piece tail-shaft can introduce a wvhoom-wvhoom-wvhoom rhythm into the physique throughout acceleration. Dying autos will shudder into third gear. Ensure the torque converter clutch engages at light-throttle on degree floor at round 80km/h; the tach will dip by round 150rpm. This ‘phony fifth’ operate within the four-speed auto enhances the VN’s environment friendly use of juice – V6 and V8.

All VNs have four-wheel disc brakes and the V8s have larger front-vented rotors than the V6 (the S and police packs had the larger rotor too). Each measurement entrance brakes characteristic a single-piston sliding-pin calliper; sturdy and simply rebuilt. Pads and discs are beer cash so it’s not costly to supply top-quality parts. The entrance rotors are a hub kind so new wheel bearings throughout a rotor renewal is a good suggestion – additionally cheap.

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Beneath the again, the sedans and wagons share rubber-bushed higher and decrease management arms and a cross-car panhard bar however with totally different damper places; it’s all easy and cheap to repair. The rear management arms’ voided entrance rubber bush should be put in in response to the Holden guide – many DIYers get it fallacious.

Up entrance, the entrance struts’ prime hats and caster rod bushes flog-out often however are additionally low cost and simple to switch. Verify for correct centring of the entrance wheels within the wheel arches; even a minor shunt within the nostril can push a chassis rail rearwards, skewing its alignment.

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Holden’s lowered sport-spec suspension – normal on S, SS, cop vehicles and non-obligatory on different sedans – has an choice code of FE2.

The paint on the VN Commodore was – let’s be sincere – not a lot good when new. Except it’s lived in grandma’s storage many surviving VN Commodores may have been repainted by now. Regardless of the criminal paint, VNs are fairly good for rust with the dangerous spots being beneath the boot sealing rubber, across the (bonded and flush-fit) entrance and rear home windows, beneath the sedan’s boot carpet and within the spare tyre properly, and on the decrease edges of the entrance guards.

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The decrease part of the boot lid (beneath the quantity plate) and the forefront of the bonnet are additionally prone. Due to first rate manufacturing unit corrosion safety, doorways and flooring are usually OK. If you could exchange a windscreen, rust will greater than probably be discovered on the sprint/firewall panel beneath the display’s decrease edge, too.

Talking of windscreens, stiff/seized bonnet hinges will power the bonnet’s rear corners into the windscreen because the bonnet is opened, destroying the display. Be very, very cautious when inspecting another person’s automotive!

The inside trim isn’t precisely world-class (as an example the vinyl and plastic graining is inconsistent) however the supplies themselves are sturdy and maintain as much as Aussie circumstances fairly properly.

Holden had ditched vinyl trim from the VK collection in 1984 so aside from taxi-packs, VNs have normal material trim. Leather-based was a uncommon choice on Calais, changing the pleated two-texture velour – and until it’s been saved in a cool, darkish museum, there’s a fats likelihood of it being any good by now.

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As with earlier Commodores, the ground cracks beneath the entrance seats: examine the underside utilizing a jack/stands or a hoist. Excessive-milers or nation vehicles undergo the worst (the cracks can spider-web throughout the ground by 150mm or extra) and the repair is to take away the seats, console and carpet and weld. These vehicles will greater than probably have damaged seat bases, too.

The Calais has a digital three-window journey pc show (beneath the primary gauges) that blotches, obliterating the digits; reconditioned clusters can be found for round $300. Gas and temp gauges typically want a slap on the sprint.

Odometers usually don’t work… it’s a simple repair however paperwork and repair historical past can be required to confirm the automotive’s true kays. Energy window switches – and the home windows’ management field beneath the driving force’s facet sprint – usually fail; each are wrecker’s yard buys, however as of late could take some chasing. The fragile headlight change can crumble however intelligent DIYers can repair it with {hardware} store components.

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It’s uncommon for a VN to not have had its one-piece shell-type headlining changed by now: it’s round $300 from a motor trimmer. The door home windows outer seal rubbers can migrate up or down the door frames to look crap and create wind noise: identical for the inside door trim seals towards the glass contained in the automotive. You’ll usually discover these dropped contained in the door cavity so it’s a comparatively straightforward DIY fix-up… or discover some related stick-on stuff from Clark Rubber or Previous Auto Rubber.

Don’t imagine anybody who says the air-con “simply wants a re-gas”, but it surely’s price sorting because the VN’s air-con could be very efficient, pumping out loads of coolness to deal with Aussie summer season days.

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Shared platform

The VN Commodore was additionally offered because the Toyota Lexcen, a product of the Australian Authorities’s mandated model-sharing program, referred to as the Button plan, that noticed Holden and Toyota (and Ford and Nissan, and Holden and Nissan and… oh jeez) sharing fashions: For Holden and Toyota within the Nineties it was Commodore/Lexcen, Corolla/Nova and Camry/Apollo.

The Lexcen was named after sailor Ben Lexcen who designed the 1982 America’s Cup successful boat, ‘Australia II’. The Lexcen was V6 auto solely. Holden stylists deliberate a VT model of the Toyota Lexcen however Holden and Toyota divorced earlier than the VT’s 1997 launch.

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HSV historical past

The VN was additionally the muse from which Holden Particular Autos – HSV – constructed its empire on. Particularly, HSV’s Clubsport was an engagingly quick and sharply priced family-man four-door and with a mannequin run of greater than a quarter-century, the badge is Aussie legend.

A specially-developed 200kW auto-only HSV premium motor (with greater compression, a extra lopey cam and HSV-spec exhaust) was fitted to the SV5000 and another HSV fashions and additional refined to be used in others, corresponding to VP-series HSV GTS. The brand new injected V8 was additionally the idea of the race-pace 215kW twin-throttle engine used within the HSV-assembled VN Holden Commodore SS Group A.

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It is mine – VN Calais: Glenn Torrens

Many readers will recognise our photo-shoot mannequin VN Calais as being a automotive that I babble about in Our Vehicles frequently. Within the early Nineties, my mate Lowey purchased a three-year-old VN V8 Calais.

I needed to have one, too, so quickly after getting a salaried job at Road Machine journal, I purchased a V8 VP Calais. Each these Calais V8s are lengthy gone however a number of years in the past I made a decision that I’d love to purchase one other VN or VP V8 Calais as a keeper.

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With car-bruddah Dave Morley’s help, I purchased this log-booked, two-owner 1989 VN Calais V8 with FE2 sports activities suspension and simply over 100,000km. Clearly I don’t drive it a lot, however once I do… it’s terrific!

The wrap-up

Certain, it has a number of character traits however the VN Commodore/Calais is an Aussie staple that – like Commodores earlier than it – has now joined the ranks of ‘cool Aussie traditional’.

Even and not using a legit racing heritage (the SS Group A took care of that) Commodore SS costs have skyrocketed not too long ago and different examples – particularly with that lovely, torquey, keen, burbly, lion-hearted EFI V8 – have adopted. Because it was designed, any VN is able to cozy common driving and interstate treks with out an excessive amount of fuss or too many fears.

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However bear in mind the price of little fixes – $300-$500 right here and there for devices, brakes, headlining, welding a flooring and fixing some boot rust – may make a bargain-buy right into a budget-blower. And everything-working, full-books and unmolested VN Commodore or Calais is one of the simplest ways to purchase this pretty slice of Aussie automotive tradition.

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Commodore VN-VP Milestones


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VN launched with big advert blitz throughout Seoul Olympics. 3.8-litre V6 with four-speed auto and five-speed handbook in August. Fashions are Government and Berlina wagon and sedan, plus Calais and S sedans.


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V8 engine arrives in April. This closely revised model of Holden’s Aussie design from 1969 has new heads and multi-point gas injection for 165kW and 380Nm. It’s normal within the new SS sedan and in 180 and 200kW trim, powers HSV’s fashions corresponding to Clubsport and SV5000. V6 engine revised in October.


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Chrome exterior trim and local weather management added to Calais. VN-based Holden Ute; Statesman and Caprice launched.


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VP replaces VN in October. Mannequin vary stays related however with revised styling. Impartial suspension normal with Calais and SS, non-obligatory on different sedans.


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ABS turns into non-obligatory on sedans with IRS. Restricted-build Calais Worldwide; Berlina LX launched. VP Collection II arrives.


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VR collection Commodore/Calais replaces VP in July.

From Distinctive Vehicles #469, Aug/Sep 2022

Initially printed at our sister web site, Distinctive Vehicles


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