HSV had always tweaked the V8 engines in its cars to eke out a little more performance and a lot more bragging rights. But the Series 2 VS GTS-R of 1996 changed all that.
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With the five-litre kind of at the end of its development road at 195kW, the decision was taken to go for extra cubes. And the best way to do that? A stroker crank. Local engineering gurus, Harrop Engineering, was contacted partly because it had the means to produce such a thing, but also because company boss Ron Harrop had built a 5.7-litre stroker Commodore for his personal use a handful of years earlier.
And given the time frame HSV was operating within, a Harrop crank kit was perfect.
Rather than cut-and-shut a Chevy 350 crank (as had been the time-honoured way) Harrop specified a nodular iron crank blank which it then machined to suit. ACL was talked into making a specific piston with a shorter skirt and standard rods completed the four-bolt bottom end.
Other changes included thinner exhaust valve stems, some polishing of the ports and a smoothed inlet tract even though the 5.7 used a standard five-litre manifold. All up, power jumped to 215kW at 4800rpm while torque maxxed out at a very handy 475Nm at 3600rpm.
Compare those figures with the bread-and-butter 185kW HSV engine of the time and you can see that the peaks are the same but torque had grown by a full 75Nm. And if that wasn’t special enough, you could also tick the $10,000 box for the engine optimisation package. That amounted to a blueprint job which smoothed the engine and, depending on who you talked to, netted another 10 or 15kW.
Beyond the 5.7-litre engine, the GTS-R also got the locally-made Hydratrak LSD and a six-speed manual was the only gearbox available. But HSV worked out a nifty little way to convert the old cable-clutch actuator to part-hydraulic. By adapting a hydraulic slave unit to the clutch and joining that to the existing cable from the clutch pedal, the hybrid set-up worked beautifully and, suddenly, cruise-control could be fitted to a manual HSV.
Visually, the GTS-R hasn’t really aged too gracefully. The three –spoke wheels in charcoal seem kind of geeky now and the body kit, even back then, was considered a bit OTT with the rear wing that looked like it came off a V8 Supercar. But the use of external carbon-fibre panels on the GTS-R was an Aussie first and the interior with its yellow cloth inserts and baseball-stitching certainly made a statement.
Then there was the colour: XU-3 Yellah, which was about a subtle as a Trump tweet.
Of course, once you were inside, it didn’t matter how the thing looked, especially when you selected first in the slightly baulky six-speed, slid the clutch home and started surfing that big torque wave. Even a few years later when HSV had made the switch to the LS1 and was screwing 250kW out of it, that alloy motor couldn’t match the 5.7 Holden stroker for either torque (473Nm played 475) or where it was produced (4000rpm for the LS1, 3600rpm for the stroker).
So, yeah, the GTS-R definitely felt perky.
It wasn’t the smoothest engine you’ll ever sit behind (although HSV did engineer out a lot of the rough edges of Ron Harrop’s original version) but it got going and it felt fast. It was also at least a couple of hundred kilos lighter than an LS1-powered HSV. And being the last of the bodyshell pioneered by the VN, the VS was a lot more refined and better put together generally.
It mightn’t quite look like it, but the GTS-R represents possibly HSV’s deepest engineering dive in the company’s history.
Engine: 5737cc V8 OHV, 16-valve
Power: 215kW at 4800rpm
Torque: 475Nm at 3600rpm
0-100km/h time: 5.0sec (as-tested OR claimed)
Price when new: $76,000
Years on sale: 1995