Holden VN Commodore SS: Future classic

By: Joe Kenwright

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Joe Kenwright looks at why the VN Commodore SS could be a classic in years to come

Holden VN Commodore SS: Future classic
Future classic: Holden VN Commodore SS


Holden VN Commodore SS

When the VN Commodore arrived in August 1988, it proved superior in many respects to its EA Falcon rival. Perhaps the single most telling point was the Holden’s four-speed automatic transmission. All that was needed to complete this lesson in superiority was an updated 5.0-litre V8 engine as an alternative to the 3.8 V6, which was the sole engine at launch. And a sports sedan variant would be no bad thing.

Both wishes were satisfied in March 1989 when Holden showcased its uprated V8 in the VN SS.

At the press launch, I remember thinking what a curious mixture this new SS was. On the one hand, it was almost embarrassingly cheap-feeling with a mediocre finish, oversized kiddy-car gauges and those red stripes, which were still de rigeur on local sports sedans at the time. But, on the other hand, it was a remarkably effective performance sedan with a fuel-injected V8 running through a five-speed manual transmission or the four-speed slushbox.

Peak power of 165kW at 4400rpm was backed by 385Nm of torque at 3600rpm. At 1403kg, it was 15kg lighter than an entry-level EA Falcon six-pack. In 1989 a power-to-weight ratio of 10kg-per-kW was good, but the SS hit the graph at 8.7.

The SS was a fast car for 1989 and it set a new standard for fuel economy for a locally manufactured V8 model. It also smooth and mechanically refined in a manner that served to accentuate the crudity of its shortcomings. There were triumphs of engineering beneath the mostly tasteless trimmings – if you like, the VN SS was a BMW trying to fight its way out of all that Holden kitsch.

But kitsch never hurt the resale values of plenty of Holdens. I haven’t heard anyone criticise the faux woodrim wheel in the HK GTS 327 in years.

The standard 15-inch alloys were shod with 205/65 tyres and looked OK.

Painting the red stripes in body colour could improve the kerbside appeal by 25 per cent.

There was nothing flash about the cabin, but the seats and driving position were in keeping with the sports sedan character.

The much-lauded (by Holden executives) FE2 sports suspension yielded an uncomfortable ride, but made for much more reassuring high-speed work than the soft and floaty lower-spec V6s.

There was quite good steering feel and this new-generation SS had better dynamics than any previous Holden sedan. It was a great drive.

While it is true that the VN SS clung to more of its value and for longer than other VNs, the time has now surely come when prices have bottomed out. It seems barely believeable that good original examples are available in the $5000-$7000 range.

After a human generation (25 years), VNs are getting thin in the paint and even thinner on the roads. Lock an SS away in your barn and whoever finds it a quarter of a century will surely attain a valuable classic car.


More reviews:

> Falcon EA/Commodore VN: 25 years on

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