HSV VS GTS-R

Believe it or not, this gigantic yellow taxi cab is from the same family tree as the yesterday's car, the Daewoo Super Salon Brougham. It’s not actually a yellow taxi cab, of course, but it’s a fine example of what I call “Australian-ness.”

I can’t quite explain it, and I’m not qualified in any way to speak about Australia—haven’t been there—except that Mad Max was really sad and that BMX Bandits would have been a terrible movie if it’d been made anywhere else.

I appreciate that their media is generally more open to expressions of sexuality (read up on “Ozploitation” or see the documentary Not Quite Hollywood), I appreciate their love of all things motorized, and have a soft spot for anything featuring the word Minogue. Even though one of Australia’s best writers, Robert Hughes, often spoke of the difficulties Australians had in embracing modern culture, the grass Down Under seems to be quite green from where I’m sitting. (Except for their apparent support for much less privacy online, of course.)

Australian-ness, to me, is the ability to slightly change something that we all know…for the better. It’s not surprising when I find out—more often than not—that something I like has a bit of Australian influence.

Take today’s car, the 1996 HSV VS GTS-R. It, like the Daewoo Super Salon Brougham, are built from the same stock, General Motors’ “V” platform for large, rear-drive sedans. The HSV VS GTS-R is related to the fucking Cadillac Catera, a car so awful it’s a stinging indictment of the old GM: Why wasn’t everyone who worked on that car fired? (And what are they busy with now, the ELR? CT6?)

Somehow, HSV, Holden’s go-fast arm, managed to zig while the other V platform cars zagged. They gave torque. They gave power. They gave “Yellah” paint, kevlar interior trim, and aggressive sport seats. They kept sprinkling racing cues on a family sedan, with black three-spoke 17-inch alloys, a huge rear spoiler, and body kit that ensured nobody would be curious as to the car’s purpose.

Its purpose, of course, was to go fast.

So who was behind this madness? Well, Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) had a hand in it. In the late 1980s, TWR and Holden hooked up after the disaster that was the Brock VL Director–another former #bcotd.

By the mid-1990s, TWR was still close with Jaguar (thanks for the XJ220S and XJR-15!), and had just hired a hotshoe designer, one Ian Callum. Callum reportedly helped HSV with styling their range of Holden-based machines—surely the GTS-R was one of them. (Think about the Jaguar XKR-S and XFR-S: bold colours, black wheels, crazy body kit, and big rear spoiler.)

The GTS-R’s heart was a stroked, cast iron 5.7-litre V8. 290 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque may not seem like much, but this is 1996 we’re talking about. Underneath, a Tremec 6-speed manual transmission, independent rear suspension, and limited-slip differential gave drivers the confidence to use every bit of that motor.

When ordering the car, the only option was one that will make any enthusiast giggle with glee: a blueprinted and “optimized” engine done by the HSV race team. It was a $10,000 AUD option, mind you, but apparently about ⅓ of GTS-R buyers opted for the upgrade—good for just 25 extra horsepower.

Introduced at more than $70,000 AUD and apparently still worth around $100,000 AUD today, only 85 examples of the GTS-R were made. It may not be the fastest Australian car, the most interesting one, or even the one most universally loved.

It is, however, a wonderful example of Australian-ness: just a few different ingredients and I’d instead be writing about the Caddy that Zigs.