Holden Commodore VN-VS History

By: Glenn Torrens

Presented by

holden commodore vn holden commodore vn

Glenn Torrens traces the Holden Commodore's heritage, this time looking at the VN-VS series



By early 1983, over four years after the launch of the Commodore and three years after the Kingswood had been killed, Holden was in a bit of strife… and it knew it. A big fuel crisis had, a decade before, spurred Holden into building a smaller family car for Australia… But larger cars were now cool again, leaving Holden’s family car in the shadow of the Ford Falcon with which it competed for the Aussie fleet and family car buyers’ bucks.

As it had done for the VB Commodore, Holden could have co-developed the Opel Senator that was under development for a 1987 launch but it wanted to return to a bigger, Kingswood (and Ford Falcon) sized family car by the late 1980s. So Holden went alone with the development of the VN, taking just the side-body architecture of the Opel (the doors and flush-fitting window frames) and splicing it to a widened version of the VL floor and suspension to create a uniquely Australian car.

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This provided the required interior size – three bums across the back seat. This virtually new body also allowed Holden to vastly improve the performance of the ventilation and air-conditioning systems for VN. The higher aero-styled body line also allowed a bigger boot.

Essential for the success of the VN was an improvement in quality. Three decades later, it’s easy to laugh but it really was a step forward at the time. The VN was intended to be built in just one assembly plant, rather than the four Aussie factories that the first-gen VB-VL Commodores were variously assembled in (with kit-packs to NZ) – enabling Holden to work on the assembly techniques and quality of VN. Inspired by Opel, Holden developed a new modular dashboard assembly: the firewall, dash, steering column, pedals, fuse box and wiring harness were pre-assembled outside the car before being dropped-in and glued into place. Then the flush-fitting windscreen was glued in – the VN used far more polymer adhesives for its construction.

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At first, the VN was to have been powered by the Nissan 3.0 in-line six carried-over from the VL Commodore and much of the VN’s development was performed using Nissan-powered prototypes. But since the Nissan/Holden supply deal had been signed in 1983, the cost of the Nissan engine had stacked-up due to the increase in the value of the Japanese currency. Holden’s US affiliate Buick had recently launched a new fuel-injected 3.8-litre V6 motor so it was decided this would power the VN. Despite being all-iron and pushrod-operated (rather than alloy-headed and overhead cam like the Nissan) the Buick’s torque and power output provided terrific performance at ‘real world’ speeds (it had more power than the VL’s carburettor-fed V8) and was surprisingly fuel efficient. The three-cylinder length of the Buick V-motor meant it was also reasonably light and sat back in the engine bay.

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Working with an almost all-new design – and the factory to build it in – allowed Holden to develop a new long wheelbase Statesman and Caprice, bringing Holden back into the luxury market it had handed to Ford’s Fairlane and LTD with the end of WB Statesman/Caprice production. The same production flexibility meant a new proper Holden ute, too.

Read more:

- Holden VN Commodore, VG ute
- Holden VP Commodore, VQ Statesman & Caprice
- Holden VR-VS Commodore



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