1990 HSV VN SS Group A

By: Kerry Dowling, Photography by: Will Horner

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Although he couldn't always resist the appeal of something new and exotic, it seems that Kerry always returned to his true-love - the VN Group A

I am the proud owner of the featured VN Group A Commodore SS, build number 101. If you have never driven a VN Group A it is difficult to convey to you the intoxicating enjoyment that driving one brings, and because only 302 were built it stands to reason that the opportunities to drive these beauties were few. As well as the rarity, the price tag of $68,950 in 1990 (at the time the most expensive Holden ever) restricted the pleasure to a fortunate few.

THE VALUE PROPOSITION

When I bought my first VN Group A, I was acutely aware that it was the rarest and last of a proud Holden history of Bathurst specials. Its 302-unit homologation build was sufficient to meet revised CAMS rules for V8 Supercars. Holden’s massive publicity campaign made it clear that the VN comprised the most comprehensive collection of homologation hardware ever shoved into a road-going Holden. The Group A’s engine was totally re-engineered for durability and performance, with roller rockers, 4-bolt mains, special pistons, rods, crankshaft, double row timing chain and the prized twin throttle-body fuel-injection system. It produced 215kW at 5200 RPM with 411Nm of torque at 4000rpm, transmitted via a high-torque AP racing clutch to the bulletproof 6-speed manual ZF S-640 gearbox, common to the ZR1 Corvette.

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Testing in MIRA’s UK wind tunnel saw a 16-part slippery body kit developed that reduced the Group A’s drag coefficient from 0.34 to 0.30, while adding much styling appeal to the VN’s lines, good looks that were complemented by the one-off Holden-designed 17" wheels – real works of art!

| Read more on Kerry's VN SS Group A here 

Thanks to a generous car allowance and fuel card, I was able to peel off an effortless 90,000km business miles per annum between Brisbane and Melbourne aboard the most awesome, trans-Australia, daily-driver available. Once when I gave the VN its head out west on the Hay Plains on a straight stretching as far as the eye could see, I stopped looking at the speedo at 220kph before the likely consequences of a blown tyre entered my head to bring me back to my senses. I also had the pleasure of using it for track days at the Eastern Creek circuit for just 100 bucks a day before driving home in it. They were happy days. While I would use 9 litres per 100 highway kilometres idling along at 110kph in sixth gear, the VN would guzzle 26 litres per 100 kilometres blasting around Eastern Creek.

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KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE AND YOUR VN CLOSER

According to the NRMA the VN Commodore was the most stolen car in the early 1990s. Of course the Group A version was the most prized target for thieves. The precautions I took meant that I had to do 13 separate things before starting my Group A VN. To the standard Mongoose alarm I added a combination hand-brake lock, a keyed bonnet-locking system, a fuel cut-off switch hidden in the boot, and a starter cut-off switch under the bonnet. I also installed a system that would sound a buzzer next to my bed if anyone entered the yard. It actually saved me on several occasions. Not so careful (and therefore not so fortunate) was the guy I sold that first Group A to, complete with its anti-theft gear and detailed instructions on how to use it. Some time after the sale he phoned me to ask where I bought the various anti-theft items. It turned out that his VN had been stolen, and he wanted to equip its replacement, another Group A bought with the insurance payout, with the same gear. His mistake had been to rely on the car being in his locked garage rather than activating the various anti-theft items as well. Two weeks later, before he managed to fit new anti-theft gear to the replacement Group A, it was stolen from a swimming centre carpark while his wife and kids were having a day out.

| Read next: Holden VN Commodore Group A prototype restored

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TWO VNs PLUS ONE EQUALS FOUR

My current VN, with body number 101, is my fourth Group A. While some might call it my third, I class it as my fourth, a situation explained by the fact that this is the second time I’ve owned it. With that said I’ll now pick up the story of my lengthy relationship with these amazing cars toward the end of my time with my first Group A. With about 120,000 enjoyable kilometres on the clock, everything was going great. That is, until I got caught in a hailstorm at Cessnock one day. The fact that it had the hail damage, 120.000km on the clock and it also needed tyres and rego made it seem like the right moment to replace it. I was fortunate to find the perfect replacement for it, a Group A that had been put up on blocks and stored, with only 4000 km on it. It hadn’t even had its first service! I did around 100,000kms of long distance driving in that second baby without it missing a beat. I did take the precaution of carrying a spare power-steering hose in the boot because my first car blew one and you couldn’t get a replacement in the bush.

| Best Aussie buys: HSV VR-VS Clubsport

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Then I got an itch for a two-door Subaru WRX STI – they were all the rage because of supercar acceleration (0-100 in 5.2 seconds) and amazing handling. Dealers were selling them for $10k above retail, but I had to have one.

So I sold my second Group A and it went to Western Australia. Some time later a friend of mine in Geraldton saw it and talked to the owner. It was easily recognised by a large silly oval exhaust tip I had fitted back then and the underside of the passenger sun visor was signed by Brock, Richards, and Lowndes. It also had a CD stacker in the boot. I know it was still alive a few years back when I saw it advertised in Perth. If a reader owns this car please get in touch with me via Unique Cars magazine. I can share photos and some hilarious history that space does not permit here.

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Now to my current Group A, body number 101 (my third and fourth!) – I first purchased this beautiful beast with full history and all receipts as a one-owner car in November 2011. I bought it sight unseen from Queensland after having a mate check it out for me. The seller, the original owner, had bought it new in January 1991 and cherished it for 20 years.

It was a lovely car, but as a sad car-tragic if I see another car and get an itch, I just have to scratch it. That is my excuse for tearfully selling the Group A around two years later. My seller’s remorse was eased greatly because the bloke I sold it to in Bathurst was the most fanatical VN Group A petrol-head you could ever meet. It was in good hands.

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You’ll guess what comes next: A few years later I started thinking about buying the ‘Beast’ back, so I contacted my Bathurst buddy only to discover he had actually sold it to a guy, who among other things was a high-end car detailer. So I introduced myself to the latest owner and said the usual, "If you ever want to sell it…" I didn’t overstate the case but I did stay on his back, pleading, for several months, until he fortunately developed a yearning for a more modern rocket ship.

So I eventually got VN Group A Commodore SS, build number 101, back in March 2018.

These days I like to see myself as the VN’s second owner who lent it to two trusted friends, who returned it in even better shape than when I handed over the keys.

I intend to continue to maintain it to that high standard.

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SPREADING THE GOOD NEWS

ALTHOUGH Holden knew its VN Group A was an absolute gem, and the build numbers were modest, it recognised that a strong marketing effort would be required given the car’s top-shelf price tag. Proof that they gave it their best shot is this customer preview video, on VHS tape – The Holden Group A Commodore SS.

Now a highly prized piece of memorabilia (one is currently on eBay for $1000), it was provided by some dealers with each new Group A. However most were actually delivered by Holden Marketing to all VL Group A owners, as a target group considered most likely upgrade to the VN. It was a clever and expensive initiative and the sales pitch was delivered by that true gentleman, the late John Harvey.

It is seven minutes of must-see viewing for Holden fans, and you can see it by going to this link:
bit.ly/3wQjD1a

When Kerry Dowling sold his third Group A to the buyer in Bathurst, he explained that his seller’s remorse was eased by the fact that the buyer was "not only a great bloke, but the most fanatical VN Group A petrol-head you could ever meet". It seems to be a fair assessment on Kerry’s part when you learn that the buyer’s car-tragic status was underlined by his decision to contact respected model-car maker, Biante, to place a special order for a VN Group A model plus the Bathurst Brock 05 race-version model. Biante also provided build number 101 certificates with the models. Kerry is pleased to report that he is now the proud owner of the pair of model VNs.


1990 HSV VN SS Group A

Number built: 302
Body: All-steel, combined body/chassis four door sedan
Engine: 4987cc V8
Power & torque: 215kW @ 5200rpm, 411Nm @ 4000rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h 6.5
Top speed: 253km/h
Transmission: Six-speed all-synchromesh manual
Suspension: MacPherson Strut (f) Live axle (r)
Brakes: 327mm disc (f) 278mm disc(r)
Tyres: 235/45 ZR 17

 

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