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Buyer's guide: 1996 HSV VS GTS-R

By Cameron Kirby, 11 Jan 2021 Features

Buyer's guide: HSV VS GTS-R

The Big Banana remains one of HSV's rarest models, with outlandish looks to match its growing cult status

Who’d want a bright yellow mid-’90s sedan with garish interior trim, a boy-racer bodykit, and an options list affording an extra 10kW (ish) of grunt for $10,000? A bloody lot of people, apparently, as evidence by the popularity and rising prices of the iconic 1996 HSV VS GTS-R.

Few HSV models are as polarising as the original GTS-R, but a sub-100 unit production run has ensured it is one of the most sought-after vehicles in HSV’s catalogue. Revealed at the Sydney motor show, the GTS-R was the halo of HSV's VS Commodore-based range, and with its $75,000 price tag it was the most expensive Holden ever built at the time.

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Arguably the last entirely Australian performance Commodore, the GTS-R received a stroked version of the venerable Holden 5.0-litre V8, with a Harrop crankshaft boosting capacity to 5.7 litres. Pistons were courtesy of ACL, and it had a shorter skirt compared to the standard Holden units. The GTS-R also copped thinner exhaust valve stems and polished ports, helping boost outputs to 215kW (at 4800rpm) and 475Nm (at 3600rpm).

The aforementioned $10K option was for an ‘optimised’ or ‘blueprinted’ version, where the engine was taken apart and upgraded by Holden Racing Team engineers, that helped liberate an extra 10-15kW and 30Nm.

Compared to the bog-standard VS, there were plenty of other mechanical changes, including a locally made Hydratrak limited-slip diff. The cars initially rolled off the production line in Elizabeth, South Australia, with a five-speed transmission, while the tougher Tremec T56 six-speed was fitted at HSV’s Clayton HQ (much like how the 2017 GTSR W1 began life with an LSA before going under the knife and receiving its LS9 heart).

The full-on styling is based on HSV’s standard GTS moulded nose, tail and side skirts that first appeared in 1993, with then TWR Design head honcho Ian Callum (yes, he of Jaguar and Aston fame) doing most of the pen work.

READ NEXT: 48 hours in a HSV GTS-R W1

Only 85 GTS-Rs were built, with 10 being shipped to NZ. In total 12 of the Australian cars received the HRT optimisation. With no choice of colour other than the garish XU-3 Yellah, and few other options, it’s those HRT-fettled examples that remain the most desirable.

In the almost 25 years since the HSV GTS-R was revealed, a number of examples have met their demise, only serving to make surviving examples rarer and more expensive.

In the market for an HSV GTS-R?

The HSV VS GTS-R is an anomaly. There’s barely anything with four doors built in the same era that can come close to it on price. Already a six-figure vehicle before Holden shut up shop, the demise of Australia’s vehicle manufacturing industry has only driven prices further north.

HSV’s own example is insured for almost $150,000, while low-mileage examples are asking near $200K. With only 75 ever sold locally, finding one is a consistent problem. Good news is not many are faked, so the chances of getting duped are low. If your heart is set on the original GTS-R you could be waiting for a while and then find yourself in a brutal bidding war. So know your budget intimately before looking.

BODY & CHASSIS

The risk of rust in a GTS-R is equivalent to other models of this era. You’ll get a good indication of any possible problems by looking for bubbling in the wheel arches, around the windows, on the lower door skins, and surrounding the mounting points for that outlandish wing. Genuine panel replacements can be expensive with such a limited production run. Some loons took their cars to club events back in the day, so look for drilled and wired sump plugs as tell-tales of track use.

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ENGINE & TRANSMISSION

Most examples at this age have upwards of 100,000km on the odometer, with the engines good for over 200,000km at a minimum. Any genuine GTS-R should have a full logbook and service history though, as the engine requires regular care. Being a specialised unit there aren’t many known issues with the 5.7 stroker, but if you need to ask how much genuine engine vitals cost to replace you don’t want to know the answer. Big-bore exhausts were popular and affordable in the 1990s, so an original exhaust is a plus. The clutch is good for roughly 80,000km depending on usage, and don’t stress if there is some light whining from the transmission at constant speed – this is normal for the six-speed. Take note of any noise from the Hydratrak diff, with clunking a sure-fire signal of problems.

SUSPENSION & BRAKES

The instant collectability of the VS GTS-R means most are extremely well cared for, and these components require simple (and cheap) maintenance. The most likely issue will be bushes that have become worn simply through age and time, which even the hermetically sealed and never driven examples can be prone to. However, this is easily fixable. If you want the true OEM status, original Bridgestone Expedia S01 tyres in 235/45/R17 spec are like rare gemstones – expensive and hard to find.

INTERIOR & ELECTRICS

It’s all about that eye-searing seat trim. A genuine replacement will take a small miracle to find and cost a few spare offspring to obtain, so bargain hard if the material is fading. Negotiate even harder if it has any marks or tears. Retrimming the interior leather, which can be prone to bubbling, isn’t cheap (you’ll want four fat stacks set aside), and god-speed if you need to replace the steering wheel as standard GTS versions that lack the yellow stitching are nudging toward $1000. This is one of the first manual Holdens with cruise control, so make sure it still works, and that the electric windows are creak-free and functional.

HSV VS GTS-R specs

Body: 4-door, 5-seat sedan 
Engine: 5737cc V8 OHV, 16-valve
Power: 226kW @ 4800rpm
Torque: 507Nm @ 3500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 1619kg
Used Range: $150,000-$200,000

Other collectible cars to consider

1.HKS Zero-R R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R
Just four were built, with many of the original Nissan parts replaced. Centre to it all is a bored 2.8-litre RB26DETT which now produces more than 441kW. V-Spec Performance bought a genuine item last year for $212,000.

2. Lotus Carlton
The GTS-R’s British evil twin is the Lotus Carlton. A GM-sourced 3.6-litre straight-six was joined by a pair of Garrett T25 turbos, with its 281kW/568Nm enough to propel the Lotus to 283km/h. Never sold locally, so you’ll need to source a model overseas to import.

3. HSV VN SS Group A
The HSV VN SS Group A used a 215kW 4.9-litre V8 mated to a six-speed manual, while the brakes and suspension were also upgraded. HSV initially struggled to sell the 500-unit production run (priced at $55,000), however, values now hover just north of $100,000.

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