Archive: R-Rated; Holden’s HSV GTS-R

Mike McCarthy drives the [then] ultimate Holden; HSV’s 1996 GTS-R

R-Rated; Holden’s HSV GTS-R

This is it, folks…. Over the top!

HSV's eye-popping GTS-R is an exclamation mark – a fairly large, very fast, brightly coloured exclamation mark. Unlike the dark-hued Senators and steely silver Mantas hot Holden HSV boss John Crennan likes to think don't look out of place in the corporate car park, the screaming yellow GTS-R, with its full-face rear wing and carbon fibre inserts, is an in-your-face muscle car with a Schwarzenegger swagger.

If the new GTS-R says one thing loud and clear it's that Holden Special Vehicles is still in the Excitement business – just in case you'd forgotten. That wouldn't be easy of course, because HSV has a history of spine-tingling eight-cylinder adrenalin pumps like the VL and VN Group A SS siblings, the Clubsport series and the latter-day GTS models developed from VP, VR, and VS donor cars. In particular, the 5.7 litre, 215kW GTS 215i is unquestionably the best-performing, best-driving supersled ever produced here. Until the GTS-R, that is.

Well, actually, that's only just the case because the GTS-R is essentially a GTS with attitude. Though the regular GTS 215i bulges in all the right places, it keeps a relatively low profile and doesn't go out of its way to attract attention - until you floor the testosterone dispenser. But the GTS-R shows its intent in ways that leave nothing to the imagination. It might not be spoiling for action, but it wears all the signs that it's ready, willing and able.

Holden’s HSV GTS-R rearApart from Walkinshaw VL Group A SS – and even then HSV down-played the radical aero kit with an odd silvery blue-green metallic that looked as if it belonged on a Camira – Holden hasn't built anything that looks this wild since the Torana. Which might explain why HSV skipped the aborted Torana XU2 designation to label the new hunk as the XU3, and that code's rub-off is included in the so-called 'XU3 Yellah' paint.

Somewhere between lemon and buttercup, the paint is eye-catchingly distinctive, all the more so in contrast with its starkly dark carbon fibre highlights. Paint colour apart, the most retina-wrenching feature is the high flying, centre mounted rear wing, obviously modelled after the HRT race car's. Though its angle of attack is adjustable, the aerofoil doesn't provide anywhere near as much downforce and drag as the racer's. That's deliberate because you can have too much of a good wing thing on a road car, to the detriment of performance and handling.

Note that the wing's endplates carry the same R signature added elsewhere to the GTS motif. When standing alone, however, the R (for Racy or Radical or both?) is raised above the surrounding surface. But in its suffix role (on the lower door panel, for instance), the R lies flat and 'GTS' stands proud. There is also new yellow-on-black HSV corporate badging for nose, tail and wheel caps.

Like the wing and endplates, the GTS-R's front bumper air-intake insert, side skirt finishers, rear applique (between the reversing lights) and wheel caps are produced in carbon fibre by HSV's kissin' cousin; Holden Racing Team. HRT's new composites and plastics department is gaining prominence, using materials, technology and processes developed in conjunction with the CSIRO.

HSV GTS spoiler wingBy their very nature, the carbon fibre items are time, labour and cost-intensive. They're part of the reason why GTS-R production is strictly limited to 75 numbered cars and why customer deliveries won't start until March '96.

The bean counters are still checking the bills, but Crennan expects the GTS-R to cost around $75k, or at least $12,500 more than the regular GTS 215i. Some of that pays for the engineering and development invested in getting the GTS-R from brainstorm to production line. But the price also includes not only the usual HSV buyers' perks, such as the owner's compendium and personal owner/factory contact, but also VIP treatment which extends to a free flight to Melbourne with handover at HSV's works, a plant tour, a good nosh at the increasingly renowned Tom's Cafe, and a swish new GTS-R jacket of exclusive design.

Once you've torn your eyes from the GTS-R's paint and external features, you'll notice the black wheels are the regular GTS threespokers wearing the standard Bridgestone 235/45 ZR17 Expedias. Visible behind the alloys are HSV's premium brakes: twin-piston calipers up front; singles at the rear and ABS all round. The GTS-R's suspension comes straight from the 215i, as do the steering, the six-speed manual 'box and the acclaimed Hydratrak diff.

Holden ’s -HSV-GTS-R-interiorThe GTS-R therefore shares the razor sharp chassis responses and prodigious grip we've come to expect from the top gun in HSV's performance armoury. It dives for the apex the moment you pull the leatherbound steering wheel off-centre and can be balanced through the comer with just a squeeze of your right foot. It only takes one GTS-R, a sunny afternoon and a winding road to understand why God meant real performance cars to have big torque and rear-wheel drive.

HSV has left the mighty 5.7 litre engine unchanged for the GTS-R, though a newly developed exhaust system offers less back pressure than before and should loosen a bit more grunt here and there. However, the specs still read 215kW at 4800rpm and 475Nm at 3600. In this trim you can expect the GTS-R to return standing 400m times in the high 14sec bracket and zip to 100km/h in about 6.6sec, based on times we've turned in at Lang Lang with a regular GTS 215i.

Top speed should be on the business side of 240km/h, although whether the GTS-R reaches the 246km/h we've achieved with the regular GTS depends on how much downforce you dial in on the rear wing. The choice between top speed and ultimate traction is entirely your own...

HSV GTS-R engineIf that's not quick enough, you can spend an extra $10,500 and opt for the even hotter 'blueprint' V8. The 215kW engine is taken to the HR T workshop where it is dynoed, then stripped and rebuilt to exacting tolerances by the race team mechanics. Internal detailing includes full and fine balancing, decking the block, smoothing and cee-ceeing the chambers for exactly equal compression ratio (raised a few points to 8.85:1) and matching the ports to the manifolds. After painstaking re-assembly the engine is given a HRT ID number (just like Brock's and Mezera's race engines), stamped opposite the original engine number, and a last go on the dyno.

Though the blueprinted Before and After performance figures aren't publicised, they are officially charted at HRT and that documentation accompanies the engine back to HSV and thence to the owner. The actual improvement varies from engine to engine, but HRT suggests an average improvement of between 10 to 15kW.

HSV's own Correvit numbers- run, like ours, two up and over the same piece of road as we used for the regular GTS 215i earlier in the year- show the blueprinted engine shaves almost half a second off the standard 215i's standing 400m, bringing it down to about 14.4sec. Zero to 100km/h takes just a shade over six seconds. We'll wait until we have the opportunity to confirm those numbers ourselves (a blueprinted GTS suffered a mechanical problem before we were able to conduct performance testing, and the GTS-R on these pages, which was completed just hours before we collected it, is fitted with a regular 215kW V8). But if the figures stand up, a blueprint engined GTS-R should be the fastest Aussie musclecar ever built.

Holden’s HSV GTS-R frontSubjectively, the blueprint engine offers more snap in the midrange than sizzle at the top end. Throttle response is crisper and rolling acceleration more urgent. It feels seriously quick.

Mechanicals aside, the cabin gets its share of the GTS-R treatment too. The main feature is the heavy, triple-layer fabric for the seats' centre inserts. Specially produced in Germany, the cloth has a yellow-ish hue and is decorated with a widespread pattern of a dark GTS motif overlaying the R in red.

Seat side panels are described as 'blue graphite', or grey-ish by any other name. The theme is repeated on the door trims while the upper and lower instrument panels are grey on grey. HSV experimented with a blinding yellow steering wheel and gear lever boot, but had second thoughts. There's a fine line between over the top and off the edge...

And there you have the inside and outside story. While most of the changes are cosmetic, they're sufficiently bold and distinctive to give the GTS-R a magnetic individuality. Yes, it's over the top, but it's also possible, viable and wholly ADR legal – a ride on the wild side which won't leave you without a safety net. Combined with the strictly limited production run, that makes the GTS-R's collectability as sure as sunrise. And as emphatic as!



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