1988 Commodore VL SS Group A buyer guide

By: Unique Cars magazine, Cliff Chambers

Presented by

GTSR Walkie 1 006 Big and bold, there was no missing it. GTSR Walkie 1 006
GTSR Walkie 1 013 Giant wing mimicked touring cars of the day GTSR Walkie 1 013
GTSR Walkie 1 037 Five-litre powerplant is almost bulletproof. GTSR Walkie 1 037
GTSR Walkie 1 041 It might look a bit space cadet these days, but it's a happy place to be. GTSR Walkie 1 041

One of the most outrageous-looking cars ever to emerge from the Holden stable, the Walkinshaw VL SS was something very special

1988 Commodore VL SS Group A buyer guide
Ever wanted a Walkinshaw? Here's what to look for.

If there’s ever been an Australian car that has been more insulted on launch than the VL Commodore SS Group A SV, then we don’t know about it. The outrageous styling of Holden’s Group A touring car homologation special drew howls of disgust, even from Holden fans like Chester, the owner of our feature car, who thought it was a joke when he first saw one. And there was only one colour, Panorama Silver.

But the Group A SS’s polarising styling was all about race car design not road car glamour, and its outlandish fibreglass body enhancements – tested in the MIRA wind tunnel in the UK and made by Bolwell in Melbourne – were there only to improve aerodynamics to take on fire breathers like the mighty Ford Sierra RS500s on track. Drag was reduced by 30 per cent and downforce improved.

The Group A was the first road car from a new road and race car alliance between Holden and UK-based Tom Walkinshaw Racing (which would become Holden Special Vehicles) and the nickname ‘Walky’ has stuck to this day. To meet the international homologation limit, HSV had to build 500 cars and they sold so quickly another 250 were built.

As well as being the debut HSV, the Walky’s all-new 5.0-litre Holden V8 was the first to use electronic port fuel injection in conjunction with a high-rise twin throttle-body plenum chamber and intake manifold.

It also had a reinforced block, four-bolt main-bearing caps, high-flow intake ports, larger valves, roller rockers and double-row timing chain; all bulletproof components needed to survive the rigours of racetrack duty.

The exhaust system had eight individual primary pipes with joints near the ports so the Holden Racing Team could exploit a Group A regulation that allowed the exhaust to be free from the first join. By today’s standards the production Group A SS’s power and torque figures of 180kW and 380Nm (at the flywheel) aren’t particularly impressive, and the Borg-Warner BT5G five-speed gearbox, heavy-duty clutch and LSD with shot-peened gears were more than up to the job of handling the grunt.

But the VL was also small and light, even with all the added fibreglass, and its 0-100km/h time of 6.5 seconds was impressive enough for the times.

Chester’s car is the very first production Walky and he’s its fifth owner and he spent four years restoring it.

At first it was going to be little more than a cosmetic makeover: "But we got stuck into it," said Chester, very grateful for his wife Michelle’s support and patience. "She’s been awesome," said a happy Chester.

These days Walkinshaw Group As are sought after and Chester, who has owned more than one Walky, now only laughs when he sees their value go up.

MARKET GUIDE

Holden’s replacement for the discredited Peter Brock range, the VL Group A, really copped a pizzling initially.‘Tom’s Tea Trolley’ (after HSV Principal Tom Walkinshaw) was among the more polite nicknames, with ‘Plastic Pig’ among the worst of the printable ones. But people who held onto their HSVs in the wake of derision and crashing prices finally emerged with broad grins. By 2003, prices had clawed back above $30,000 and when the value ‘boom’ erupted in 2006, VL Group A prices had pretty much trebled. 

Those values are long gone, but up to $100,000 is still possible for outstanding cars. A complete history, including delivery documents with kilometres below 100,000, will attract serious collectors and push values well beyond average money.

 

CHECKLIST

Body & Chassis

Laugh if you want but the VL Group A’s collection of odd-shaped ‘aero’ panels helped produce a drag coefficient of 0.32, better than a lot of exotic sports cars. Even better news is that replacement sections of body kit are available and a complete kit should cost less than $5000. Rust isn’t a huge problem but examine wheel arches and window surrounds for bubbling, and lower door skins and boot lid (especially the spoiler mounting points). These cars may have been crashed and badly repaired so look at door corners and bonnet gaps for incorrect alignment. Also avoid cars with wear to the inner edges of tyres.

Engine & Transmission

The rugged Holden 5.0-litre V8 will, with regular maintenance, offer around 400,000 kilometres of trouble-free use. Oil leaks occur despite best owner efforts, but immediate attention will only be required if rear main bearing seal constantly drips. Old fuel injection parts, especially in cars that aren’t used frequently, can make Group As hard to start and can leak. Chattering valve lifters is a symptom of dirty or incorrect oil. These engines can drop fan belts leading to overheating, so carrying a spare in the boot is worthwhile. The Borg-Warner T-5 gearbox is noisy and gears may be hard to change when cold but they are tough.

Suspension & Brakes

The Group A chassis relies on specific spring/damper rates and firm bushings to deliver the handling intended by HSV. Cars with flat springs and leaking struts rattle on anything but a smooth surface and will transmit nasty road shocks and noise to the cabin. Disuse can be as bad for suspension as abuse, so even when buying a low-kilometre car be prepared for some renovation costs underneath. Don’t forget the independent rear suspension, especially if the tail sags with no weight aboard. Replacement wheels are sometimes available second hand but they cost upwards of $500 each so check for kerb damage.

 

INTERIOR & ELECTRICS

Cloth seats suffer from wear and simple old age, however in early 2016 rolls of reproduction ‘Walkinshaw Tweed’ fabric were offered at $229 per metre. That’s expensive, but for those with Group A seats in sorry condition it’s an option. Authentic Momo steering wheels are scarce and expensive – a new one was offered at $1700! – so reduce your offer on cars with damage to the wheel rim. Check electric windows and cruise control function.  VL air-conditioning needs to have been reconditioned with new components, seals and R134 refrigerant. New compressors cost $500-600.

 

VITAL STATS

ENGINE

4987cc V8, OHV, 16 valves, fuel injection

POWER & TORQUE

180kW @ 5200rpm

380Nm @ 4000rpm

PERFORMANCE

0-100km/h 6.6sec

top speed 230km/h (claimed)

TRANSMISSION

BT5G 5-speed manual

SUSPENSION

 Independent, Macpherson struts, linear coil springs, Bilstein shocks (f); live axle, trailing arms with 5-link, Panhard rod, progressive coil springs, Bilstein shocks

BRAKES

ventilated discs, finned calipers (f); discs (r)

Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for more unique car reviews and features plus see the latest unique and classic cars for sale.

Subscribe to Unique Cars magazine
- Print edition
- Digital edition