The VB Commodore of 1978
was to replace the aging HZ
model, an update of the model line first introduced with the HQ Holden
. The base level Commodore
came with the 2.8 litre 6 cylinder motor coupled to a 4-speed manual transmission
. Engine options available at the time of introduction included the 3.3 litre 6 cylinder and 4.2 litre V8 engines (and later the 5.0 litre V8). You could also upgrade to a Tri-Matic auto, corded cloth interior, power steering
and air conditioning.
The dash of the Commodore
featured a large hood stretching across to the passenger side of the car, and even in base models the addition of a "fuel economy meter" made the instrument layout look far more comprehensive over that of the HZ. The 3.3 European Pack and 4.2 Sport Pack (with manual transmission
only) came with full instrumentation, 4 wheel discs, alloy wheels and headlight washer/wipers.
Probably the most popular model in the Commodore lineup was the "SL", fitted with the 3.3 litre and Tri-Matic auto as standard. Improvments over the standard Commodore included vertical accent bars on the grille, a silver tail panel, bright door mouldings, plush interior trim and carpet, rosewood dash finish,
extra gauges, twin exterior mirrors, chrome wheeltrim rings, variable intermittent speed wipers, rear centre armrest and inertia-reel seatbelts for the outer rear passengers.
Top of the line was the Commodore SL/E, fitted with the 253 4.2 litre V8
engine and Tri-Matic transmission
as standard. In addition to the SL's list of features, extended rear bumpers, 15-inch alloy wheels, black door frames and tail panel, chrome exhaust, velour trim and cut pile carpet, reading lights, tachometer, burr walnut dash, four wheel disc brakes, power steering, air conditioning and a Eurovox stereo radio cassette player with electric aerial.
Other options included the 5.0 litre 308 V8
with Turbo-Hydramatic 350 or 400 transmission
, and central locking, however it would take a further 10 months from introduction before you could purchase a wagon. Not available in SL/E guise, the popular SL featured an integrated chrome roof rack, and the back seat could be lowered easily to increase load space. Helping with the PR effort being made to establish the Commodore as a fine car was the 1980 Bathurst win in a VB Commodore by Peter Brock
and Jim Richards
had made a brave decision to release the smaller Commodore as replacement for the traditional Aussie family sedans of the era, but did keep the HZ
in production for a time to allow an easier transition. A press release dated 26th October, 1979
, reads "it represents the latest world concept in vehicle downsizing". That may have been true, but over the ensuing years the Commodore would grow in size in response to what the public wanted, which was large family sedans.
Holden had high expectations for the VB Commodore wagon, expecting it to contribute considerably to their target of 30% of the Australian passenger car market by 1980
. By the end of 1979 GMH
were producing around 8000 Commodores a month, of which approx 1600 were wagons. Although the Commodore
had more carrying space than the HZ Kingswood
wagon, the older car, like the XD Falcon
, looked bigger, and thus orders for them continued with the result that it remained in production. For a short time there was speculation that the WB Holden’s
would have a wagon in the line-up – but these rumours proved untrue.
When the VB launched there were only two levels of wagon in the range. As mentioned earlier, the base machine was fitted with a 2850cc six cylinder linked to a four speed manual transmission as standard and lacked a few of the refinements such as roof rack, rear screen wiper washer system and a few other small items. If you wanted all the kit, you needed to the SL, which came standard with the 3300cc six cylinder and three speed automatic transmission.
The SL also boasted corded cloth seats and colour keyed trim throughout. Carpeting extended right through the rear luggage area, adding still further to the excellent sound deadening of the vehicle. There were also remote control exterior rear vision mirrors on either side, variable dwell for the windshield wipers, the aforementioned rear screen wiper/washer and the full SL instrumentation, all were included, with the chromed roof rack, at $9,002 (1979 prices).
Option the 5.0 litre V8 engine and it came standard with a dual exhaust system and the Turbo-hydramatic auto transmission, four wheel disc brakes, a locking petrol cap, higher final drive ratio and up-rated tyres. GMH
called this the "210 Pack", and it added $1385 to the sticker price. All that you really needed to add was air conditioning, at a further $648, which made the V8 VB $11,033 before on road costs. Good value to our mind, given the car was superbly comfortable and well equipped.
Alterations to the rear axle facilitated a far better load space than might have been expected too. The widening of the live axle reduced the intrusion of rear wheel arches into this valuable area. This combined with the high roof, made the load space very uniform in shape and thus able to accommodate awkward things that might not fit in the bigger Falcon XD
wagon, for instance. Passenger space was, if anything, better than before, especially with regard to rear seat headroom. But it was the flexibility of the wagon format that made it an attractive proposition. With the rear passenger seat in its normal position there was 1208 litres of load space. This increased dramatically to 2104.7 litres once the rear seat was folded flat. With four passengers aboard the load area was 1013.5 mm in length at the belt line, and 1153 mm at floor level. Width was a very good 1441 mm., while load area height is 834 mm. A square opening at the rear, with a low lip, makes loading easy.
On The Road
On the road the wagon tended to be noisier, felt bigger, and had far greater variation in handling between full and empty. Other things like the sound of fuel sloshing around in the tank, "booming" caused by the unrestricted interior space, all added up to comfort levels which were lower than the sedan. We grew up with these foibles, having spent much our childhood in the back seat of a HQ Premier wagon
. The noise of the fuel sloshing around was, to us, a much welcomed feature – near a symphony when the 8 track was on the fritz. But for the image conscious, the one thing that became clear in the case of the Commodore wagon was that, unless you looked into the rear vision mirror, it was hard to tell it was not a sedan under normal driving conditions.
There was 's none of that consciousness of extra length because there was very little of it. The expected interior noise was absent too. It was only when you were cornering at relatively high speed that you would feel anything different. A tighter rear end obviated the sedan's slight corkscrewing motion, but the extra weight of metal hanging out the back resulted in a measure of roll over-steer. With a load on this became even more pronounced, but at no safe speed did it cause any difficulty.
The four wheel disc brakes of the VB were brilliant for the time. They could get a little noisy, but you could pull up a fully laden car from 110 km/h in under 52 metres, which is quite something for a 1320 kilogram machine. At speed there was a little wind noise at the rear – but no more than was on the outgoing HZ model. Speaking of which, most thought the VB wagon way too compromised, it being smaller than the HZ. But this was, to some extent, an illusion. The VB wagon was larger than it looked, the styling giving it an impression of diminutive stature. Sure, the HZ was bigger, but not to the extent that even a casual observer would have believed.
The VB Wagons competition came from Broadmeadows, in the form of the XD
, which was in the more traditional Australian long-wheelbase wagon mould. The XD was also a pretty good car, and was quieter, smoother and in every way better than the XC. And as you would expect, its carrying capacity and interior space was much better than the VB too. In base form, an XD Wagon GL
could be purchased for $7190, but if you started adding options in an attempt to match the VB for specification, that price would rise to $9049.
If you don’t believe us, you only need to check Fords 1979 option list: 4.1 big six ($161), three speed T1 bar auto ($662), air conditioning ($667), laminated windscreen ($109), cloth trim ($67), rear inertia rear belt's ($44), LED digital clock ($50), heated rear window ($43), 70 H14 Goodyear steel radials ($36), and intermittent wipers ($30). Once you had optioned the XD up, you had a car arguably more capable than the VB – but you also had a car with poor noise suppression and ride harshness. As an everyday proposition, provided you could compromise on the available internal space, the Commodore was a much better proposition.
V8 VB Wagon
If you were a family man, and needed the loading capacity of a wagon, it did not mean you had to do without. Enthusiasts could option the Commodore SL wagon with a five litre V8 engine, complete with dual exhausts and quadrajet carburettor. You could almost justify the V8 too, with fuel consumption being around the same as found on the supposedly thrifty 3.3 litre six cylinder at 16.1 litres per 100 kms (17.6 mpg). Depending on which angle you view that from, either the V8 was very good or the six cylinder was pathetic. The accountants might have asked why you would bother to option a 5 litre V8 in a wagon. Given the wagon was the ultimate family car because of its luggage capacity, it would often be called upon to lug boats and/or caravans.