Reflections on the Holden Commodore
The press are seemingly drafting their eulogies for the Holden Commodore, well after some enthusiasts have already spoken theirs. I offer my thoughts.
(Note: This article was published just prior to the official announcement from Holden to confirm the actual dropping of the Commodore badge, and was written in conjecture only.)
There are few cars that I have known that draw such divisive discussion than the Holden Commodore, and I've seen it arise recently on the back of the local automotive press speculating that the name could be retired after parent company GM axed the car's current donor model.
There are those who love Commodores dearly, and there is nothing that will convince them that the vehicle was anything short of a world beater. There are those who subscribe from the cross-state rival, Ford, who would object to such a claim. There are videos from creators in the US, where the Commodore was badged as the Chevrolet SS, that effuse at length on the qualities of the vehicle, but admit its confusing place in the market.
Many love it. Many do not.
East is east, and west is west and never the twain shall meet.
The fade of the Commodore cannot be chalked up to losing out to the rival, as the Commodore, nay the Holden brand itself, struggled to shake an imaging problem that had cast the Australian make in the role of the tasteless boor. Coupled with the many, many, MANY (many) other reasons for the exit of car manufacturing from Australia - too many (many) to mention here - all makers of vehicles in Australia eventually shuttered.
If I were to take a stance on the Commodore, the greatest superlative I could give it honestly would be "Yeah, it wasn't terrible."
VF Commodore Ute - Image courtesy Holden.com.au
Damning with faint praise aside, I am sure that there was a lot to like about the Commodore. At least in its V8 guise. I do not profess to be a man of taste, however when it came to the Commodore, I felt a number of conflicts.
I knew it was boorish, uncouth and obnoxious. I have previous posts on this very site that mention my distinct lack of desire for attention and disdain for brash behaviour. Yet, I once heard a VF Commodore SS-V Redline ignite (with an exhaust system from the songbirds at Walkinshaw), and part of my brain similarly sprang into life.
The car was immensely big and and supremely dumb. But I liked it.
To linger on the vehicle's virtues would be to slap some rose-coloured glasses over my eyes. The V8 is gone, and with its departure there has been the rise of the horde who declare the follow up Commodore "not a real one".
Despite the successor ZB Commodore, a rebadged Opel Insignia, is arguably a more competent and better all-round vehicle (if only because it's more modern). Yes, even with its shirking of the Commodorean pre-requisite of rear-wheel drive.
ZB Commodore and non-rear-wheel drive heretic - Image courtesy Holden.com.au
My first experience of a Holden Commodore was a work vehicle. It was a VS Commodore wagon with a 6-cylinder engine, and a tail that stepped out if you got a bit enthusiastic at T-intersections. Despite being quite new, the A-pillar groaned at every twist - likely a symptom of my work colleagues treating the car like it wasn't their own.
The next version I drove was also through work, and it was the follow up VT version. It too complained through the bodywork and drivetrain, squeaking with the friction occurring and the V6 moaning like a teenager being asked to help put away dishes.
The subsequent VE Series I and II variants I drove also failed to really convince me of their value, but they too were work vehicles. One particular VE, upon completion of its Lease of Duty and going back for auction, coughed and shuddered continually, as though riddled with some disease. The tiny wing mirrors could barely reveal the snaking queue of annoyed motorists behind me as the creature limped to its next post.
It was only with the VF did I feel a quality entering the cabin. The steering was still heavy and unwieldy, and that V6 noise did sound remarkably similar to a huffing adolescent doing chores, but it felt more "together" than previous ones I had driven. I also think it could be that I simply had finally driven one that hadn't been thrashed by my colleagues.
ZB Commodore range, with wagon - Image courtesy of Holden.com.au
But every Commodore I drove had that V6 beneath the bonnet. I never had a chance to experience that LS V8. Every Commodore I tried had also been victim to pilots who cared only for the gas-pedal response, and not for the car's actual well-being. I do lament not having been able to try the top-end V8 version, particularly the SS-V model that actually had brakes that could hope to stop such an amount of mass and velocity.
I neither celebrate nor condemn the Commodore, my position on the fence firmly entrenched. While the press wonders on the fate of the Commodore name, I do sometimes wonder on the name Holden itself - but that is crystal balling on my part, and has no founding on any plane of reality.
History has given us many names to reflect upon. Recently the Valiant Pacer has been offered a revival, at least in name. Over time, perhaps the Commodore name could be given a similar tribute, and while I would joke that I hoped it would be applied to a car with issues with rigidity and A-pillar noises, I do sincerely wish for the Commodore - and other Australian-built machines - to be remembered fondly.
Through these memories of our cars, for all the rivalries, sneers and thinly-veiled elitism, there truly is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth.