Holden Commodore VH - Buyer's Guide

By: Guy Allen, Cliff Chambers, Photography by: Nathan Jacobs

Presented by

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marcus 2 marcus 2

Here's one with V8 grunt and nimble handling for all you chrome bumper fans out there


Holden Commodore VH

At the time of launch in 1978, Holden’s relatively compact Opel-inspired Commodore series was hugely controversial. Perhaps wrong-footed by the global threats to oil supply and what that might do for demand for big cars, GMH took a gamble by dropping the wider Kingswood and committing to this series. At the time, it was one of three possible options the company had examined as its longer-term family car: this, a continuation of the Kingswood platform, plus a Torana-based option.

In the end, the move cost the company substantial fleet sales and for a time saw Ford’s bigger Falcon surge ahead in the overall numbers. However there’s no question the Commodore over time won hearts and impressed with its ability to pack our much-loved V8s into a very capable package.


That was the result of a huge amount of local development, beginning with local endurance testing of Opel product. The European cars did not fare well on our often brutal back roads, with some units literally falling apart.

In the end, a team of local engineers came up with what was very much a local creature. Sure there were clear influences from Opel’s contemporary Kadett and Rekord – and Opel even produced its own Commodore variant – but this was a quite different animal.

In addition to an overall make-over the list of reinforced and redesigned components was extensive, while it was the local engineers who convinced Opel it should make an across-the-board switch from recirculating ball to rack and pinion steering.

| 2019 Market Review: Holden Commodore/Calais VB-VL

holden-commodore-vh-5.jpgLowered a touch – it’s a Chaser thing

With this generation, we’re into the third iteration of the Holden Commodore, the VH – following on from VB and VC. The product was definitely maturing by this stage, with numerous tweaks along the way and an increasing tendency for Holden to split out new variants as it chased specific market niches.

For example, the VH series (1981-84) saw the return of the SS nameplate, while the Vacationer (which emerged with the VC) series was still on offer.

Also revised for this series was the luxurious SL/E, raising the presentation bar considerably and repositioning the brand as a potential upmarket contender. Visually the big change was the move away from grid-pattern grilles to a horizontal theme, intended to emphasise the width of the car and give it a little more presence.

| Reader Resto: 1983 Holden Commodore VH wagon - video


For collectors, this also represents the last of the chrome bumper era cars. In that market there are two most-valued model series: the SL/E, particularly in the late-model shadow tone livery, or a police car, aka chaser, in vibrant yellow. The latter came in a few guises, including warmed-up V8s with manual, or a cruiser running a standard 308 with auto.

This example, owned by Markus Schoen, is a 1982 cruiser, still with its original engine and transmission in place. As much as we all love old cop cars, the reality is they went through a lifecycle where they were taken off the fleet, bought up by people looking for a bargain performance car and generally weren’t treated with a whole lot of respect from there on. After all, who cares about an old Commodore?

| Read next: Holden Commodore history - VH, VK

holden-commodore-vh-fuel-tank.jpgLong-range fuel tank adds an appealing VL touch

Now, of course, lots of us do. And finding something this close to original spec that has dodged the worst abuses of careless owners is becoming a real challenge.

"A friend of mine found this one online on a Saturday night and he said that I had to grab it," explains Markus. "So I rang the guy at 9.30 at night and had a 45 minute conversation with him. He’d bought it in the early 90s,  drove it for about 10 years, then bought a new car and parked it.

"He lived in Echuca and I said, ‘Mate, I’m coming up there tomorrow with a car trailer.’ That was about five years ago.


"When I looked at the car, it was in a shed with a flat battery and tyres and it was all mostly original. We did the deal, loaded it up and brought it back. "It had been painted down the side at one point, in a slightly different colour. I got it repainted, bought some new old stock material for the interior and had it all retrimmed.

"All the bars were rechromed, while the front got new moulds. There is a lot of new old stock around the car, like badges.

"They’re now hard to find.

holden-commodore-vh-interior.jpgRe-trimmed interior has come up a treat with the Momo tiller as a nice bonus

"I paid some good money for parts. Like the front bumper moulds and badges cost over 1000 bucks!

"Some stuff I couldn’t get, such as the rear moulds, and for the time being I’ve gone for an SL/E rear bar.

"It also has a long-range tank, an 85 litre example out of a VL or VN."

As for the drivetrain, with exception to a set of Pacemaker headers, Markus has left it alone. It may not be the quickest car on the planet, but it has that effortless performance you’d expect with a 308 in the snout.


"It drives like a standard car," says Markus. "I had the carby rebuilt, and we changed over the master cylinder and radiator." Given heat can be an issue with these things, a freshen-up of the cooling system is a wise precaution.

Having lived with this VH for a while, what’s his advice to someone looking for one of their own? First is the obvious – check for rust. "They’re pretty good," he says, "Check the area under the front and rear screens, plus the floor of the boot."

Overall, the more original parts – particularly trim – the better. "Parts are out there but people are asking drug money," he warns, adding that  it makes financial sense to get one that has been looked after.


Now comfortably over the 30-year cut-off for classic club rego across the country, examples like this are very much on the radar for lovers of locally-built metal. Prices are reasonable and they’re a reliable and easy-to-maintain weekender that still drives well. You can see the appeal.

(Note: Markus has decided to put this car on the market. See the ad here)


Holden VH/VK SL Market

It took considerable time for early Commodore V8s to be recognised in a market overwhelmed by significant Holden models. So long in fact that 30 years after ceasing production the VH-VK series were in danger of being ignored into extinction. Value Guides from the past show VK Calais V8s a decade ago averaging only $6000 and taking until 2016 to climb past $15,000.

The VH and VK V8 were the basis for some of this country’s most iconic cars. The VH Group 3 and blue-hued HDT VK Group A epitomised Peter Brock’s contribution to the nation’s automotive heritage and provided some justification for Holden to continue making V8 engines, The other was demand from police departments around the country; the setting where our featured ‘Q Car’ first turned a wheel in anger.


When performance car values began to move in 2004-05, some owners finally realised that the authentic V8s being preserved in their garages might just be worth something and put extra effort into keeping those cars secure. And they were right.

Although VH and VK Commodores in outstanding condition aren’t as yet matching the money being realised by V8 KIngswoods in equivalent condition, they have greater potential for continued growth.

One version that might not be immediately apparent as a collectible is the V8 station wagon. These didn’t sell in big numbers but will serve in the dual roles of weekend family transport (find one with air-conditioning if possible) and future investment. HDT also produced handful of SS-spec wagons which now cost less than the much more prolific sedans.


VALUE RANGE - Commodore VH-VK (V8 SL)

FAIR: $6500
GOOD: $16,000
EXCELLENT: $30,000+

(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)





Finding crash damage is almost unavoidable when considering an older Commodore. Check the front rails for kinks and non-factory welding. Inconsistent door gaps can indicate a car that’s been poorly repaired and should be avoided. Rust attacks lower mudguards and doors, the boot floor and window surrounds. Replacement floors, guards and outer sills are inexpensive but the cost of rectifying and repainting a rusty car will outweigh the price of a good one. New repro bumpers are available in sections, or complete for around $500 each. Metallic finishes from this era are prone to fading, so look for areas of inconsistent paint to detect repairs.


holden-commodore-vh-engine-bay-2.jpgHard to knock the change to Pacemaker headers

Overheating can generate a variety of costly problems, so avoid cars that hiss and gurgle from under the bonnet once the engine is hot. Cylinder heads are prone to cracks and warping so look at the coolant and oil for signs of contamination. Misfiring under acceleration can be due to engine management conditions including oxygen sensor failure. Automatic transmission should engage gears when stationary in less than two seconds and accelerate without surging or vibration. Clutch shudder and synchromesh failure are common issues in four-speed cars and some owners prefer to replace the gearbox with a later T-5 rather than repair it.



Finding a car with its original suspension settings is difficult and changes to spring rates, ride height and wheel diameters have an effect on driveability. Extreme lowering allied to ultra low-profile tyres will deliver shock loadings that can affect suspension components. Look for uneven tyre wear and rubbed inner-mudguard areas. Float over bumps indicates the shock absorbers are past their prime. Disc/disc brakes more than matched the V8’s performance and when new were rated as an excellent system. A mushy pedal, pulsing  and instability are symptoms of worn rotors or hydraulic problems. Quality replacement rotors are relatively cheap.



Disintegrating seats and sun-damaged plastics characterise cars that are best avoided. New trim has become almost impossible to find and the cloth used in these cars wasn’t especially durable. Front seats also sag with time and while you may find replacements from a wreck, having the padding replaced by a motor trimmer is preferable. Hood-lining sags so look for wrinkles and separation above the rear window. Ensure that the electric windows (which can bind and shudder) work smoothly, and that cruise control and air-conditioning all operate as they should.


1982-1986 Holden Commodore VH/VK specs

NUMBER BUILT: 141,018 (all VH) 135,705 (all VK)
BODY: all-steel integrated body/chassis four-door sedan and station wagon
ENGINE: 5044cc V8 with overhead valves and single downdraft carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 126kW @ 4400rpm, 361Nm @ 2800rpm (VK V8)
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h 7.6 sec, 0-400 metres 16.5sec (5.0-litre auto)
TRANSMISSION: four-speed manual or three-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: Independent with struts, coil springs & anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with trailing arms; coil springs with telescopic shock absorbers, anti-roll bar (r)
BRAKES: disc (f) disc or drum (r) power assisted
TYRES: 205/65HR15 radial


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