Holden VB Commodore Review: Our cars
Staff cars: VB Commodore. Glenn Torrens gets to grip with his latest toy - a V8 VB
Holden VB Commodore
I'm gonna blame my mate Brad Newham for this. He's the bloke who invited me to drive his HQ Holden V8 from Adelaide to Sydney a while ago.
With several other muscular Aussie classics along for the trip, it was a bloody terrific few days, blighted, for me, by just one thing - I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that for the first time since 1995, I don't own a Holden V8 anymore.
Yep, you read that right: VW Beetle tragic Glenn Torrens is also a Holden nut. I learned to drive in dad's Commodore and mum's Belmont, have owned a VP Calais, a VT Senator and an HQ Premier - all V8s - and have camped under the Team Red banner at Mount Panorama for 20 years.
Anyway, during our three-day Adelaide-Sydney cruise, we stopped at Canowindra Motors in central NSW, a showroom/museum for classic Holdens.
Gazing at seven or eight Commodore SL/Es resting quietly in quaint surroundings reminded me of how gobsmacked everyone was with Commodores when they were new. Of course, that was over 30 years ago and recently I've thought an early Commodore V8 would be a nice classic to own. I love the Brock/HDT stuff, but stratospheric prices and, sadly, the apprehension of owning one has moved them from my One Day list. But a clean SL/E or VK Calais? That's a different story! So I thought I'd find out what's what.
In the fuel crisis era of 1978-79, V8s were rare, manuals even rarer, and the gurus reckon somewhere between 50 and 100 VB Commodore 5.0-litre V8 manuals were built. That is all. Factor in three decades worth of natural attrition - write-offs, rust, Commodore Cup racer builds and export raids by Commodore-crazy Kiwis - and the cars remaining might be counted on one set of fingers.
So you can imagine my surprise when I found one of these rare early girls. I wasn't even looking to buy one yet, but Google plonked one in front of me after I keyed in "VB Commodore V8".
It was on auction site eBay, ending in a few hours: I had some spare cash, and I couldn't resist! Tragic!
Sure, I committed the cardinal sin of buying a car unseen but I can cop the loss if it turns out to be crap. The seller - a Queenslander whose career has quashed plans for refurbishment - explained the extent of the rust and said the brakes were shot.
It was missing its oh-so-cool turbine alloy wheels but it retained its headlight wipers. But no matter what, it's a 5.0-litre four-speed manual VB Commodore SL/E.
Was the 5.0-litre four-speed manual version of this Opel-derived Holden the ultimate Aussie performance sedan of its time? Quite possibly. Is the 5.0-litre VB Commodore SL/E manual the grandaddy of every HSV ever made? Reckon so. Was the 5.0-litre four-speed manual VB Commodore SL/E the car my car-nut mates and I lusted after in the 1980s? Absolutely!
But will this tired old girl be worth saving...?
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