Ker-blam! Ker-blam! It wasn’t the most auspicious beginning to a relationship with the then-new GTS E-Series, but there you go. Driving back to the hotel from Holden’s Lang Lang proving ground, in a dimly lit back street, dog-tired after a day of Car of the Year testing in 2006, both left-side wheels had hit the same crater-sized pothole.
Result: two dinged rims, two airless tyres and only one space-saver in the boot. To apportion blame – on the driver, the road surface, street lighting, low-sidewall 35-profile tyres? – was pointless. Luckily, it wasn’t too far from HSV HQ for some helpers to come out with replacements.
The unusual thing was that the GTS was there in the first place. For the first time in nearly 20 years, HSV had simultaneously released its new range with the all-new VE Commodore on which it was based. Which meant it was included in the VE line-up at COTY and went on to win the coveted award along with the VE.
The E-Series was without doubt the biggest thing HSV had done to date. Rather than just added-on body armour there were sheetmetal changes over the donor car: LED tail-lights were set horizontally into the bootlid, and the shark-gill vents on the front guards were unique.
The HSV range of course received all the benefits of the VE’s engineering, including multi-link rear end, new steering and the GM 6L80-E six-speed auto among them. Power came from an upgraded (over both the VE and VZ) LS2 6.0-litre V8 that now produced 307kW across the range, from Clubsport to GTS, although the latter flagship performance model was differentiated by its Magnetic Ride Control system of switchable dampers.
What you see here is the final evolution of that GTS, the apogee of HSV development to date. The 25th Anniversary GTS may be basically a cosmetic upgrade of the current GTS but until the VF-based F-Series arrives next year it’s safe to say this Birthday Edition is the end of the E-Series road. And it is quite a package.
Power comes from the 6.2-litre Gen IV LS3 first introduced on the E-Series back in April 2008. Back then, it was good for 317kW at 6000rpm and 550Nm at 4600rpm. These days, in the GTS it’s good for 325kW, an output it now shares with the Clubsport R8 and Maloo R8.
Upgrades to the 25th Anniversary edition include new satin-graphite alloys with a unique spoke design that nevertheless still carry the same-sized 20-inch rubber. They hide six-piston brakes (normally a GTS option) and come with recalibrated ABS software to go with the increased stopping power. There’s also 25th Anniversary badging on the rear, a satin-graphite finish to the front bumper section and bonnet vents, while inside the LCD touch-screen gets a new welcome message, the seats have appropriate embroidery and the door sills have new scuff plates. HSV’s blind-spot alert system is also fitted as standard.
It’ll set you back $84,990 as a six-speed manual – about $2000 more than the standard GTS – and the build is being pegged at 140 units.
Not surprisingly, it’s pretty much exactly like any GTS to drive, which means imposing V8 performance and plenty of V8 rumble. So far we’ve only had the GTS 25th out on a night-time photo shoot ahead of its Sydney Motor Show launch but it was enough to act as a reminder of things like the MRC working brilliantly to give a controlled ride on its softer setting, the bimodal exhaust opening its second throat to shatter the stillness of the night, and that the manual gearbox is so much more involving than the auto it’s almost worth the added chore of DIY shifting. Not that much is needed given the torque and flexibility of that engine.
So while there’s no performance enhancement, it is worth remembering that the various upgrades throughout the E-Series’ lifespan have left the GTS not just at the forefront of the Australian V8 muscle car vanguard, but chock full of technology as well. On top of the MRC dampers are driver aids including launch control for six-speed manual transmission versions, a bi-modal exhaust that opens up to a full-throated V8 yodel at higher revs and throttle openings and the stability control has a so-called Competition mode allowing more sideways action while still monitoring actual emergencies.
Then there are the other technologies introduced on the E3 range in September 2010. Chief among them was HSV’s LPI system for liquid injection of LPG, which added new injectors to the 6.2-litre V8 and a pressurised tank to give the same engine performance as the 98-octane petrol version but with the lowered running costs of LPG, plus a massive 1100km range when combined with petrol power. It was made available on all sedan models – Clubsport R8, GTS, Senator Signature and Grange – but not the Tourer wagon variant with its limitations in neatly fitting the extra tank.
At the same time, HSV announced its Enhanced Driver Interface would appear on all models. The touchscreen on the centre console controlled the usual ancilliaries – stereo, navigation, phone settings and iPod integration – but also added real-time performance data such as longitudinal and lateral g-forces, power and torque outputs and lap times, all of which could be downloaded after a day at the racetrack.
It all seems a long way from those days 25 years ago when Holden and Tom Walkinshaw took over performance car production from the Brock empire and went on to produce that first 180kW VL Group A. That was a $45,000 car at the time, making the performance, drivability and features in this GTS seem remarkable value given you need to access the best of Europe’s big bangers to match or better it. Sometimes it is easy to take HSV’s success for granted; instead, its cars stand as icons of the Australian motor industry.