The LE Calais
At a time when most thought Peter Brock
would have always driven a V8, there was one notable exception – and that was the VL Turbo Calais – HDT
Style of course. What was even stranger was this it was an automatic. The General's turbo six was ignored by HDT
for a fair while, but when they finally realised just how good the turbo donk was, they began production of their own brand of Calais. Brock's first foray into the world of forced induction produced a very adequate device. HDT
had fiddled with six cylinders before, with the normally-aspirated LE Calais, but this was not all that memorable.
The LE Turbo started life as a Calais, manual or automatic, so it came with all the options then going as standard, including cruise control, power windows, central locking, power steering
, velour trim, and a reasonable stereo, as well as a heap of other convenience features. It also came with the turbocharger
with revised suspension
and brakes before it left the General, but that was about it. Then came the good part. Brock started with the suspension
, and threw away most of the innards. The components were replaced with rerated coils, gas dampers, and different stabiliser bars. The Brock cars were also ordered with the factory optional limited slip differential.
The Calais was then treated to a set of 16" X 7JJ Momo wheels, and Bridgestone 205 section, 55 series tyres. The tyres
were unidirectional. The suspension modifications may have been fairly simple on paper, but they did combine well enough to make full use of the turbo-motor's surging power. It was more a question of using the right suspension replacement parts, rather than going for radical changes. At the time Brock
claimed to have fiddled with the engine management system, and of course there was the energy polariser too. So we assume not too much in the engine modification department. It was more a case of getting the ample power to the road in a more user friendly, and performance oriented manner.
The Calais used big four wheel power assisted disc brakes with Girlock calipers, so no changes were required in that department either. The car also retained the 63 litre fuel tank fitted as standard. The Brock body
package for the Calais was arguably the pinnacle of HDT's styling exercises. There was a rear deck spoiler, and a deep front spoiler. The bumpers were colour coded, as were the deep section side mouldings. The LE was also fitted with a special grille, and a few key HDT
Behind the Wheel
Inside, the LE was treated to a Momo steering
wheel, and extra under-thigh support padding for the driver's seat. Low contoured sports seats were optional, or you could option the full house HDT
interior which included the rear seats, door trims and head rests. As with all Brock cars, the LE Calais was road tested and recalibrated, and fitted with a firewall authenticity plaque with the car's build number. You don’t need us to tell you just how important that plaque is these days for any HDT
collector. As a package the car looked subtle enough for most, without extravagant bits of fibreglass hanging off each corner. It was muscular enough, but also understated such that it would have appealed to the type of person who would have normally bought the standard Calais. This one just happened to be quicker and easier to muscle through the twisty bits.
Road testers who thought the “6” would be lacking were soon in for a shock. Thoughts of the car ever being underpowered were soon dispelled. As one motoring scribe described it, “...the turbo provided a seemingly endless explosion of readily usable power. As the rest of the car is so quiet, the turbo can easily be heard puffing up its chest with a satisfying whistle. Then there is a slight whoosh that tells you the wastegate has just come into the equation. And the whole time there is the best exhaust note on a six cylinder this side of a GTV6. The big bore exhaust system emits a deep menacing rumble which is a million miles removed from the thin wail of a taxi.”
It was only at high cruising speeds that the by then somewhat dated bodyshell
design – which had changed little since the original VB Commodore - began to show its age. Wind noise was apparent – although this was only noticed by road testers when they were well above any legal speeds. Unfortunately too, there were some quality control issues that plagued the VL series which included more often than not the power windows, which apart from being temperamental, lacked a locked mode for either up or down operation and were very slow to operate. They would protest loudly against the sealing rubber every time they were asked to move.
Perhaps Brocky chose the atmo version of the LE Calais due to the agricultural nature of the manual five speed gearbox. The shift, particularly when the car was cold, was stiff and slow. Combine that with a long throw clutch, and you had a recipe for clumsy changes. The car really deserves a super short throw gearchange with narrow gates, which would have brought out its best. The ratios combined with the high diff endowed the car with a high top end speed. At an indicated 100 km/h, the Calais' engine would be spinning at less than 2,100 rpm. Fourth gear was basically useless at anything under 70 km/h, and most wouldn't bother using fifth at less than 100 km/h. The reason was not that the engine wouldn’t lug away at low revs, because it would. Rather, owners told of a terrible grating resonance from the exhaust system that forced you to change down. The clean, crisp exhaust note was replaced by a humming grunt that was really annoying. But, from the handful of enthusiasts we have spoken to in recent years – this problem has been long sorted.
While Aussie performance cars were often a compromise, this was not the case with the LE Calais. The ride/handling
compromise was almost non existent. The suspension could not be described as anything but firm, yet small, high frequency bumps were never a problem as they sometimes were in stiffly sprung cars. Even mid-corner bumps, a traditional area to steer clear of in a 1980s Commodore, were no problem. The Brock modified rear end tracked true, and only irresponsible squirts of power in the lower gears could ever hope to bring the back end undone. The flat handling
characteristics of the car and the big rubber virtually eliminated understeer. It was only when pushed extremely hard that the front end would stop tracking true and begin to push a little wide, although it was always gradual and predictable. The car pointed so well road testers claimed you needed to arrive at an apex with a little too much lock on. Even then you had a choice. Either unwind an inch of lock on the fat, contoured steering
wheel, or blip the throttle. Either method would place the machine exactly where you wanted it to go.
Performance and economy was another likely area for a compromise to crop up. But again the LE Turbo has all its bases covered. Cruising at legal highway speeds would return a fuel consumption figure close to 12 litres per 100 km. although economy would suffer a little if the most is made of the available boost. But it was the power that this car was all about. The Calais had more than enough grunt to wind the needle off the 200 km/h speedo, and almost back around to the stop. It also had enough surge off the line to see off just about any locally produced V8. And just like a V8, it could cruise all day, comfortably. Performance wise the LE Calais put in a standing 400m time in the low 15s. Not bad for a 1980s Commodore fitted with just about every option then going.
The mighty VL SS Group A
The mighty VL SS Group A was released in November 1986, 500 being manufactured to ensure compliance with homologation regulations. The bonnet scoop used a NACA duct, while the front air dam and rear under-tray were beautifully styled, the rear wing blending well into the VL tail light treatment. We would argue that this was the first Brock Commodore where the additional body
adornments actually looked like they should have been there, rather than the “pimp-my-ride” style used on previous iterations.
The Group A’s engine used a Holden heavy duty crankshaft and conrods, while the trusty Rochester four barrel carby was carried over. Crane roller rockers were used, while the camshaft profiles, combustion changer shapes and exhaust system were all improved. The engine was mated to a Borg-Warner T5 five speed manual, while inside the cabin wonderful “Scheel” bucket seats were installed, the rear bench seat being re-trimmed to match the new front pews. As expected, a Momo steering
wheel was fitted along with the mandatory HDT
But it was with the VL that one small device would polarize the once close relationship between Brock and GMH
. Designed to “rearrange the car’s molecules to improve ride, handling
and overall smoothness”, the fitment of the “Polarizer” had most people scratching their collective heads – in the end most agreed if it was good enough for Brock, it was good enough for them. The General disagreed, and so the Group A, produced entirely by Holden, was not fitted with the device. Meanwhile Brock deemed it mandatory for the HDT
“Group A Plus” vehicles being produced from the Special Vehicles facility to all be fitted with the Polarizer – and only then would they receive his highly prized signature. A statement from the General read “GMH can see no technical merit in it and can not endorse its use”.
The VL HDT
Special Vehicles Director was quite a different beast from that introduced with the VK range, the dramatic new look almost being a completely new make over of the donor car. To further demonstrate the rift that had developed between Brock and GM, the car was now simply named the “HDT
Director”, Holden notably being dropped from the name. HDT
may have broken away from Holden, but that did not stop them developing some other glorious models, including the Group Three Signature, Designer Series, the Bathurst and Bathurst Aero. For those unable to stretch their budgets for the purchase of a HDT
model, after market “Sport by HDT
” kits were available to fit out the more mundane variety.
We know that at least 500 Group A's were produced to satisfy homologation requirements, however we do not have figures for the Group Three or Director.