As the decision to retire the iconic Holden brand still echoes around the country, many are still asking if anything could have saved the lion and avoided such a devastating blow to our nation’s automotive heritage.
The answer is complex with overlapping influences from government, local management and Holden’s global parent GM, but what is certain is that the company’s product portfolio and timing played a pivotal role.
Could any car have steered Holden down a different avenue than the dead end road it finds itself in now?
It could have been the next Monaro and a new Australian-made coupe, but much to the disappointment of high-po Aussie two-door fans, the Holden Coupe 60 never quite made it from the easel to the showroom.
Debuting at the 2008 Melbourne motor show, the VE-based sports car blasted out as a complete surprise to adoring onlookers, kept secret even from many inside the company walls.
But while it may have stolen the show at Melbourne, the car had been many years in the making - and if the project hadn’t stalled three years before, a debut could have been chalked as early as 2005.
Inception of the Coupe happened immediately after the design of the VE sedan had been signed off, and was cruising along smoothly until 2005 when the project was shelved for undisclosed reasons. In fact, the concept could well have never gone public.
But it was the looming 60th anniversary of the lion badge that prompted the designers to lick their pencils and commit to finishing the Commo Coupe. The result was almost identical to the clay model that had been packed away three years earlier.
Race car influences from the V8 Supercar circuit were present in the lower front blade splitter and rear diffuser, while the centre-lock wheels and bellowing side-exit exhaust draw two big black lines from the race track to the road.
The side-exit soundtrack was provided by a 6.0-litre LS2 naturally-aspirated V8 and sent power to the back wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox, both of which were unchanged from the Commodore SS of the time.
It goes without saying, however, that the most significant changes over the sedan were aesthetic.
While the car wears a front end that looks suspiciously like a standard VE sedan fitted with a bodykit, the concept body was actually built from scratch from fibreglass and carbon fibre, with only a Zeta platform rolling chassis being the only link to production-spec Commodores.
From that, a Japanese build team turned the Australian design into the frameless-doored, fat-fendered, flat-floored pillarless masterpiece that wowed crowds at Melbourne, with the team also chopping the rear rails for more pleasing cab-rearward proportions.
Unlike many coupes that discriminate against second-row passengers with cramped seats and neck-breaking headroom, the Coupe 60 embraced rear occupants in a pair of bucket seats equipped with four-point harnesses – just like the front row.
Flat-bottomed steering wheels and fully digital instrument clusters are becoming commonplace in even mildly sporty models today, but the Coupe 60 heralded their adoption nearly a decade ago. It also featured 21-inch wheels shod in Kumho semi-slick tyres – a monstrous diameter by 2008 standards.
Had this incredible Holden been given the green light to progress from lurid show car to production model, it might just have diverted the terminal course of Holden if only for a few years if not longer.
Alas, GM’s nepotism was ultimately what sealed the fate of this wonderful car - a car that, although no one knew it at the time, carried the among the last lifelines for the Holden brand and the key to its very existence.
With its mighty powertrain, rear-drive, nimble handling stunning looks and prodigious power, the Coupe 60 had the potential to embarrass General Motor’s beloved Chevrolet Camaro and it was never going to allow that.
Furthermore, the V8-powered VE (and later VF) Commodore was already proving the US had a small but not insignificant demand for Australian-made sedans, where the model was marketed as the Pontiac G8 and later Chevrolet SS.
Imagine what could have been if the Coupe 60, which rolled on the same platform as the VE and VF, was able to get a foothold in the American market and perhaps the world…
It wasn’t to be. Holden ran the figures, crunched the numbers and decided that in the absence of feasible export potential for the car, the Coupe 60 didn’t make sense in showrooms anywhere in the world.
Twelve years after the Coupe 60 appeared and then disappeared almost as quickly, the HSV-converted Camaro continues to garner an enviable local audience. But we cant help feeling that an Australian-made, arguably more handsome alternative would be infinitely preferable, especially if it meant the lion was still alive and roaring like a side-exit exhaust.