HSV – History, Trivia & Fast Facts

By Jez Spinks, 07 Mar 2017 Car Advice

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HSV Clubsport R8

WhichCar gets under the bonnet of the company responsible for turning Commodores into some of Australia’s most special performance cars.

In our Fast Facts series, WhichCar delves deep into the history of automotive brands to bring you fascinating facts and intriguing information.

Here we focus on Holden Special Vehicles (HSV), a company that emerged from Holden’s famous fall-out with racing legend Peter Brock to build some of Australia’s most notable performance cars.

FROM HDT TO HSV

When racing legend Peter Brock and Holden split acrimoniously in 1987 over the controversial HDT Director (see our Holden Fast Facts), Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) became the local manufacturer’s new performance partner late the same year. The company was a joint venture established by GM Holden and Scot Tom Walkinshaw’s eponymous racing group, TWR.

GREAT SCOT

Walkinshaw had already made his mark in Australia two years earlier. The 1984 European Touring Car champion took his TWR team to the 1985 Bathurst 1000 with a couple of XJS Jaguars, and put his on pole. While Walkinshaw finished third, the other car took victory in the hands of Australian John Goss and German Armin Hahne.

HSV ClubSport R8

BAT-PIG?

HSV’s first role in its new partnership was to develop the VL Commodore SS Group A for 1988 as a homologation model for Holden to race. Its pronounced rear spoiler and wild body kit divided opinion, with nicknames ranging from the ‘Batmobile’ to the more derogatory ‘plastic pig’. Motorsport success for the model also known as the ‘Walky’ came with victory at the 1990 Bathurst 1000. The first vehicles from HSV as we know it today appeared the same year – the SV88 that was based on the Calais and featured a 136kW 5.0-litre V8.

HOT FOURS

HSV has made its name primarily building faster, meaner versions of V8-powered Commodores, though as early as 1988 it flirted with smaller, four-cylinder models – in the form of the Astra-based SV1800. Only 65 were built in a time when keen Australian drivers remained focused on rear-wheel-drive large cars. It tried again, though, in 2006 with the VXR, a turbocharged hot-hatch that again used a Holden Astra as its basis. While hardly a showroom sensation, it at least hung around for three years.

CLUBBIE TIME

The Clubsport name that continues today made its debut in 1990, along with HSV’s first adoption of a Commodore Ute – with the Maloo.  

HSV Clubsport R8 LSA

FAST LUXURY

After using the Calais as the basis for its first car, the SV88, and then the Senator from 1992, HSV gave its attention to Holden’s long-wheelbase luxury cars, the Caprice and Statesman.  There were variously badged HSV Statesman models – 5000i, SV93, 215i – before the most upmarket HSV adopted the fine-wine-inspired Grange name in 1996.

LAST OF THE LOCAL V8s

HSVs lost their Aussie hearts after 1999, when the XU8 195 became the last model to feature a locally built V8. Henceforth, V8s were imported in various guises from Holden’s US parent company General Motors – with mostly modified versions of engines that appeared in cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette and Cadillac CTS-V.

ON ALL FOURS

HSV’s first flirtation with all-wheel drive was a short-lived, cosmetically tweaked version of the Holden Jackeroo, though it made a more committed effort a decade later with the Avalanche twins. The Avalanche was based on Holden’s Adventra LX8, while the donor vehicle for the XUV variant (for X-treme Utility Vehicle) was the Crewman Cross 8 four-door ute. HSV’s 5.7-litre V8 produced more power and torque to go with a more muscular interpretation of the Holden’s bodywork. A year later, the 2004 Coupe 4 became the brand’s first all-wheel-drive car, though it was less than a stellar sales success.

HSV Avalanche

FROM PONTIAC AND BACK

HSV borrowed the famous Pontiac ‘GTO’ badge for its lesser-powered Coupe variant of the revived Holden Monaro, which was somewhat ironically retained by the US brand when it imported the Monaro from Australia in 2004. Where the Coupe GTO’s Chevrolet LS1 V8 produced 255kW, the Coupe GTS hit the magic 300kW figure with a modified version of the same engine from Chevrolet modification specialists Callaway.

POWER TO THE POMS

The GTO also found a niche in England, where it was badged the Monaro VXR by Holden’s British sister brand Vauxhall. In 2007, it was succeeded by HSV’s Clubsport, which was transformed into the Vauxhall VXR8. It was joined by the Maloo ute, which continues to be offered by Vauxhall – along with the GTS that first made the trip to the UK in 2010.

THE $215,000 HSV

In 2003, Holden and HSV were forced embarrassingly to return paid customer deposits for a Monaro-on-steroids model called the HRT 427, after they canned a project teased the previous year at the Sydney motor show. The belated decision came after management realised a profit wouldn’t be achievable even on a car set to cost $215,000. Race versions of the car controversially won the 2002 and 2003 Bathurst 24 Hour endurance events.

HSV Grange

427 LIVES

In 2008, HSV celebrated its 20th anniversary by introducing the W427 – a badge that referenced both Walkinshaw and the Corvette V8 engine’s 7.0-litre size in old-fashioned cubic inches. It’s $155,500 price tag understandably made headlines considering no HSV to that point had cost more than $100,000. There was strong initial response from customers before the global financial crisis struck, reducing the planned run of 427 units to just 137.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

HSV loves a birthday celebration. The 30th Anniversary Range introduced in 2017 follows a trend that started with the 5th Anniversary models of 1998, and have recurred every five years since. And 1998 isn’t a misprint. In 2007, HSV decided its anniversaries should be based on 1987. The first HSV-badged vehicle (the VL SS Group A Walkinshaw) was originally shown to the public at the Sydney motor show in 1987, though no models were delivered to customers until the following year.

TRUCKS, CARAVANS LEAD DIVERSIFICATION

HSV owners Walkinshaw Automotive Group, under the control of founder Tom’s son, Ryan, has expanded its interests over the years. Walkinshaw Performance aftermarket parts designed to make Holdens and HSVs go faster was a natural extension, though there’s also its Fusion Automotive business that imports Tata vehicles from India, and the American Special Vehicles that converts big RAM utes from left-hand drive to right-hand drive for Australia. And in late 2016 it purchased a stake in New Age Caravans in arguably its most surprising move.

GTS-R RETURNS

HSV is marking its last interpretation of an Australian-built, rear-wheel-drive Holden Commodore in style in 2017, with a return to the HSV GTS-R badge it first used in 1996. Sitting atop a new family of GTS-R models is the W1, which is limited to 300 units, costs $169,990, and should prove to be the fastest Australian production road car ever built. For the future, HSV is expected to focus on models Holden imports from overseas, such as the 2018 Opel Insignia that will be rebadged Commodore here, and the Astra that’s also from GM’s German operation.