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Opinion: HSV is keeping Australia's car manufacturing memory alive

By Dylan Campbell, 25 Jul 2019 Features

Australia car manufacturing history HSV feature

Small details on HSV's converted Camaro serves as a reminder of Aussie's history as a car making nation

A small sticker inside the fuel flap of the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 reads, in quite a nondescript, functional font, ‘HSV recommends 98RON’ or words to that effect.

Presumably this is required for the monstrous 477kW supercharged ZL1 to meet Australian Design Rules. But it’s a curiosity to me that Holden Special Vehicles continues to make recommendations to owners of what is very proudly a Chevrolet, rather than just something like ‘Chevrolet Australia’ or even Walkinshaw Automotive Group.

I almost expected the Holden Special Vehicles brand to be shelved after December 29, 2017, when the last Commodore-based vehicle rolled off HSV’s Clayton production line. It had no reason to continue, and with the superb W1 it could have gone out on a real high.

Sure, for the business of HSV, there was an existing customer base, branded dealer network and brand equity, but short of throwing business principles to the dogs and offering a $200K LSA-powered rear-drive ZB Commodore, nothing in Holden’s range seemed worthy of the HSV treatment. And that was always HSV – take something from the Holden range and make it into a Special Vehicle.

Walkinshaw Automotive Group has done well to diversify with an entrepreneurial zeal that would make Richard Branson proud. It didn’t really have a choice. Yet it decided to keep the HSV brand around when Chevrolet and Camaro are well-known even in Australia and Walkinshaw could have converted HSV customers into Chevy ones without the confusion of the HSV brand selling Chevrolet products.

In other news: Why a HSV ZB Commodore will never happen

I’m not wishing for the HSV brand to disappear. The world is changing rapidly and we’re all trying to figure it out, but I think it is a bit confusing reconciling memories of the Aussie-built cars – and having to come to a sense of personal closure after the end of local manufacturing – to Silverados and Camaros. And I do wonder how long it makes sense for the HSV brand to continue.

Of course, I get the pride thing. Applying HSV logos to a Chevrolet that’s had a fair amount of re-engineering and re-manufacturing done to it – by the same people who used to make Australia’s best homegrown performance cars – reminds me of those plaques fitted to the engines of Nissan GT-Rs and Mercedes-AMGs. The ones with the name of the person who built it. Putting a few small HSV logos on a Camaro bespeaks a pride that we just can’t let go of, and nor should we. Once we made cars, and now we don’t. But we haven’t forgotten how.

Kudos is in order, too. Sure, while the ZL1 is an utterly addictive muscle car (as you’ll read in our August 2019 issue) HSV can really only take credit for the fact that, some centre console-related quirks aside, you’d never have any idea it had been converted to right-hand drive.

This car has come down two production lines, worlds apart, one in Lansing, Michigan, USA, the other, Clayton, Victoria, Australia, yet it could have been one for all you’d know. And probably it’s a better car for it.

Separate to the innocuous fuel flap sticker, there’s a more obvious, proper HSV decal on the ZL1’s rear window bearing the famed helmet-and-lion motif. It’s not very big, and it’s applied despite there being nothing Holden about the ZL1, nor is it really ‘special’ in the way Clayton-modified, Aussie-built Commodores were special. Yet you’d never pull this sticker off. And probably that says it all.

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