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The History of HSV: 1987-2017

By MOTOR Staff, 14 Jun 2018 Features

The History of HSV: 1987-2017

In 30 years HSV had transformed and defined much of Australia's muscle car heritage. Here is its history

From humble homologator to high octane horsepower hero, HSV’s rise to the top of the Australian muscle car hierarchy has been one hell of a journey. We trace its 30 year journey from its formation following the falling out of Peter Brock with Holden to the immense 474kW GTS-R W1, Australia's most powerful road-going creation. 

This feature was originally published in MOTOR’s HSV 30 Years Special issue

1987 - The Beginning

Scotsman Tom Walkinshaw forms Holden Special Vehicles to fill the void left by Holden’s split with Peter Brock’s Holden Dealer Team after the Polarizer controversy.

1988 - Starting from 'A'

HSV’s first car is a modified VL Commodore SS homologated for Holden to go Group A racing. As such it never wore the HSV badge. It was also the first fuel-injected Holden V8, producing 180kW and 380Nm, and was capable of hitting 100km/h from rest in 6.9sec.

1988 - The first 'HSV'

The VL Calais-based SV88 becomes the first HSV-badged car, its carburetted V8 putting out 136kW and 355Nm. HSV also produces its first hot hatch, the SV1800, based on the Astra which was a worked and rebadged Nissan N13 Pulsar.

1990 - Origin of a species

HSV introduces the ClubSport nameplate on a VN Commodore, along with a VG Ute-based Maloo. The latter was lighter and therefore faster than the sedans. 

1990 - VN gets homologation special

HSV’s second Group A homologation special arrives, based on the VN Commodore with its 5.0-litre V8 modified for 215kW and 411Nm and a six-speed ZF manual borrowed from the Chevrolet Corvette. Of the 500 originally planned, only 302 would be produced.

1991 - Fun for the whole family

A Sportswagon enters HSV’s family, based on the VP Commodore. HSV produces its 5000th vehicle, just four years after the first.

1992 - HSV gets sophisticated

HSV’s updated VP Series gets Independent Rear Suspension (IRS) and two new model names, Senator and GTS, which carry through to present day.

1993 - Ahead of the curve

HSV proves it is way ahead of its time, collaborating with Holden to hot-up the Jackaroo SUV – visually at least, as the mechanicals remain stock. Walkinshaw design chief (now boss of Jaguar Design) Ian  Callum weaves his magic on VR series HSV models,  bestowing a more cohesive bodykit.

Read more: Five forgettable HSVs

HSV cranks Senator, Statesman and Caprice models to 215kW, adding 215i to their names. The GTS model gets the same output but no special badging.

1996 - A Legend is born

HSV unveils the highly tuned, limited edition GTS-R, with an even higher rear wing, a 215kW 5.7-litre stroker V8, and a polarising XU-3 Yellah paint job. Options include “Blueprinting” to raise power to 225-230kW.

1997 - Last of the Aussie V8s

HSV launches its VT range, the last with an Australian-made V8 engine. The longwheelbase Grange flies the luxury flag, while performance honours rest with the 220kW, 5.7-litre stroker GTS. 

Read more: HSV prices surge for new and classic examples

HSV produces its 20,000th vehicle.

1999 - The LS Dawn

VT Series II introduces the Gen III LS1 V8, its 5.7-litre pushing ouputs to 250kW for most HSV models. The range-topping GTS jumps straight to 300kW, making it the most powerful and fastest Commodore to date.

2001 - Two for the party

The VX-Commodore-based Holden V2 Monaro gives HSV its first ever two-door model, the GTO. A higher spec GTS follows but is discontinued a couple of years later. 

2002 - Stillborn dream

HSV modifies a Monaro and slots a 7.0-litre V8 engine under the bonnet to create the HRT427 concept. Plans to put this beast into production stall when limited interest drives the per-unit price beyond $200,000.

2003 - Branching out

HSV Y Series II sees power outputs for mainstream models leap to 285kW. Meanwhile Holden’s exploration of allwheel drive for Commodore sedan, wagon and ute, and the addition of a dual-cab ute, gives HSV licence to do the same.

Enter the Adventra-based Avalanche highperformance SUV – HSV’s first all-wheel drive model – and the Crewman-based XUV. HSV produces its 40,000th vehicle.

2004 - All 4 one

HSV kills the GTS Coupe to make way for the all-wheel drive Coupe4, the first lowriding application of Holden’s all-wheel drive system.

2005 - Stepping into the ring

HSV enters V8 Supercar racing, taking over the Kelly brothers’ KMart Racing team. It will also assume responsibility for HRT from 2006, and go on to win the 2006 (Kelly) and 2007 (Tander) championships.

2006 - Ute brute

V8 Supercar driver Mark Skaife sets a ‘pickup truck’ land speed record of 271.4km/h in a Maloo in Woomera, South Australia, beating the previous record of 248km/h set by a V10 Dodge Ram. Modifications made to the Maloo would later render the record invalid.

2006 - The VE revolution

Holden’s billion dollar baby, the VE Commodore, gives HSV its most capable performance base ever, and the E Series doesn’t disappoint. Power from the 6.0-litre LS2 V8 reaches 307kW, and magnetic ride control arrives on GrangeSenator Signature and GTS

Classic MOTOR: Senator v 300C v FPV GT-E comparison

HSV produces its 50,000th vehicle.

2008 - Big heart, bigger price

HSV shoehorns a 7.0-litre LS7 V8 into the GTS sedan, creating the W427. With 375kW and 640Nm, it’s by far the most powerful HSV of its day, and the most expensive at $155,500.

2009 - An American touch-up

The HSV E Series II arrives with cosmetic changes front and rear, including Pontiac bonnet nostrils, and a new 6.2-litre LS3 V8 good for 317kW in most models, 325kW in the range-topping GTS.

2010 - The passing of a legend

HSV founder Tom Walkinshaw dies after a long-running battle with cancer. He was 64.

The Inside Story: HSV's brave new era

2013 - Supercharged change

HSV’s VF-based Gen-F Series is released. The flagship GTS gets a supercharged LSA V8 good for 430kW, while the rest make do with naturally aspirated versions producing 325-340kW.

HSV produces its 75,000th vehicle.

2014 - The last milestone

HSV produces its 80,000th vehicle.

2016 - A charged exit

Superchargers for all as HSV prepares to farewell its Commodore-based horsepower heroes with a bang. 400kW is the new norm, the GTS remains on 430kW.

2017 - A fitting final chapter

HSV launches the W1, its most powerful and last performance sedan ever. Its hand-built LS9 V8 produces 474kW, and the chassis is significantly uprated to deliver what HSV claims is racetrack performance for the road.

Read more: HSV GTS-R W1 prices stall

Only 300 will be built, priced at $169,900.