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HSV Coupe 4 used car buyers' guide

By David Morley | Photos: MOTOR Archives, 21 Jul 2019 Features

HSV Coupe 4 used car buyers guide feature

The first Australian-made, all-wheel drive performance car scared Rexes and Evos and is now collectible muscle

So, there’s a BIG, four-seat, monster-engined, all-wheel drive two-door in your future. Lucky you. Only problem is, of course, that these things aren’t exactly falling out of the trees.

Oh, sure, you could sell the kids into slavery and drive home in a Bentley Continental GT. And a two-door Audi RS quattro should still leave you with one kidney. Or, you could take a leaf out of Dick Smith’s book and shop locally. And at that point, all roads lead to a pre-loved HSV Coupe 4.

The big all-paw HSV wasn’t as well received on its debut back in 2004 as it probably should have been. Based on the sexy Holden Monaro body shell, the Coupe 4 built on the other HSV hardtops, the GTO and GTS, by adding the all-wheel drive set-up from the Holden Adventra/HSV Avalanche. The result was big, bold but, somehow, less than the sum of its parts.

The driven front-axle compromised the exhaust system and actually robbed the big 4 of a few kilowatts, while the general complexity underneath made servicing a bit more drawn out (and costly).

The Coupe 4 was also heavier than a rear-drive GTO or GTS and was only available with a four-speed automatic. Throw in the tacked-on wheel arches (to keep the wider four-wheel drive front track legal) and not everybody was convinced.

Of course, that was then, this is now, and any home-brewed HSV is emerging as a collectible. Throw in the relative rarity of the Coupe 4 (for all those above reasons) and the big fella is beginning to emerge as a proper local hero. About time.

HSV Coupe 4 vital checks

Body and paintwork

Any high-performance car with a natural tendency towards understeer is a prime candidate to have head-butted something solid in the ensuing years. So check it all closely, because the Coupe 4-specific grille and front apron won’t be found at Pinch-A-Part. Make sure the little attachment points for the apron aren’t busted and hanging off and that the chrome grille surround isn’t flaking or lifting (usually thanks to high-pressure car washes).

Some very early Coupe 4s also had problems with the rear tyres rubbing on the plastic flares, so you need to get down and dirty and stick you head up under the guard to find any damage. A change to wheel offset at the Clayton factory (we think) fixed this problem, but any car that’s been fitted with aftermarket wheels at any stage could have played the same game of clearance silly-buggers.

Beyond that, a scruffy Coupe 4 isn’t something you’re likely to find, but if you do, back it in that the rest of the car will be as manky and neglected as the paint. This car is not old or cheap enough yet to be a diamond in the rough, and skank will never be skin-deep on a Coupe 4.

Mechanical

The Coupe 4 was built well after the initial dramas surrounding the Gen III V8. Tales of oil burning seem to be restricted to the very early cars (pre-VX) although even the later LS1 can be a bit rattly when you take off from a cold start.

But this slight clatter is more of a characteristic than a problem and it seems to be a function of the short-skirt piston design in an all-alloy engine which needs a bit of heat in it to expand all the metal bits until they’re happy.

Either way, the rattles should be gone by about the second or third gear-change. Certainly, all LS1s seem to do it, and we’ve seen them with 400,000-plus kilometres showing, so it doesn’t affect them long term.

The one thing you do want to see, though, is a complete service history, particularly for the four-speed auto which can fail well before 200,000km if it’s been neglected. You need to pay close attention to the condition of the suspension, brake rotors and tyres on any Coupe 4, too, as the all-wheel drive grip and kerb weight of the thing both place stress on these components. At least the all-paw grip meant that the Coupe 4 was not a tyre shredder, making it invisible to the grubs inhabiting the Skidlife pages on social media.

Servicing is a bit more complicated than a rear-drive HSV thanks to all that componentry that was not only bulky, but also laid out, um, imaginatively. As in, the front diff was mounted alongside the engine’s sump with one driveshaft going straight to the front hub and the other passing through a sealed sleeve in the sump. The idea was to keep the centre of gravity low by not stacking the engine on top of the front diff, but it does make things a bit complicated if you’re chasing oil leaks (not unknown in an LS1).

30 years of HSV: Coupe 4

Interior

Leather was a natch for a car costing just fifty bucks shy of 90 grand back in 2004. But the factory didn’t really nail the interior of these cars. For a start, the leather used was not the lovely, soft stuff you see now. In fact, it was pretty cheap gear and soon went hard and brittle in any car that saw its share of sun.

Sometimes the leather would crack, other times the stitching would tear out. It’s important then that the car has been exposed to minimal UV or has been owned by somebody who took the time to condition the leather from time to time. Either way, the outside bolster of the driver’s chair is likely to be a bit cracked and crinkly.

Door trims are another HSV Coupe/Monaro bug-bear. Because the coupe’s door is longer than a sedan’s, it needed a different door trim. But since the volumes weren’t huge, it was done by a different supplier and the end result just didn’t measure up quality-wise.

Instead of being wrapped right over the top of the trim panel, the vinyl covering was cut short and glued, so when the inevitable shrinkage occurred, the covering peeled off the trim panel and went all wrinkly.

Looks horrible and the fix isn’t simple.

Pick up an icon with MOTOR used car guide

In Specs: VE Series I Commodore SS
Engine: 5665cc V8, OHV, 16v
Power: 270kW @ 7400rpm
Torque: 475Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission: 4-speed auto
Current price range: $24,000 to $30,000

Three reasons to buy the Coupe 4

Unique
These were bought by grown-ups and never fell to a price that attracted the P-plate brigade.

Practical
A car for all seasons. Can give you your usual HSV jollies as well as keeping itself nice on trips to the snow.

Residuals
It’s an Aussie V8. And we all know what that means post local manufacturing, right?

Three other options to consider

01 - HSV GTO

The same formula but without the complexity, mass (or grip) of the Coupe 4. These are still very entertaining cars, just watch out for modified examples that could be harbouring all sorts of future trouble.

02 - Holden Monaro

You can still buy these pretty cheaply (for now) and you won’t lose the same amount of sleep if you decide to modify for more poke. There’s true purity in the lines of an unspoilered Monaro that the HSV stuff can’t (or didn’t want to) match.

03 - Audi RS5

Atmo 4.2 V8 in the all-wheel drive coupe from Ingolstadt was sweet, tuneful and went like a good ‘un provided you remembered to always drive the pick-handles out of it. A good reminder of why we miss aspirated V8s.

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