Holden Commodore VB

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Holden Commodore VB

Holden Commodore

Holden Commodore VB

1978 - 1980
6 cyl. & V8
2.85/3.3 ltr. 6; 4.2/5.0 ltr. V8
101kW 202 & 179kW 308
4 spd. man; 3 spd. Trimatic & 3 spd. Turbohydramatic 350/400
Top Speed:
142 kmh (202 motor)
Number Built:
1 star
Holden Commodore VB
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1


The VB Commodore of 1978 was to replace the aging HZ model, an update of the model line first introduced with the HQ Holden in 1971. 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.

GMH 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.

Commodore Wagon

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.
VB Commodore
VB Commodore L
VB Commodore SL
VB Commodore SL/E

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Also see:

Commodore VB Specifications
Commodore VB Commodore Brochure
Commodore VB SL/E Commodore Brochure
Commodore Commercials
Holden Red Motor
Holden 253 V8
Reader Reviews page 1 of 1
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Posted Recently
Anybody know how many vb wagons were made with all factory options and 308 ????
Blair Sauer
Posted Recently
me being traditionally a Holden fan, I quite like the early commodores. I do agree with some of the criticisms and problems that they had. although I have heard that the air conditioning systems in the early commodores (VB to VL) were not as good as the ones fitted to the full size Holden's (HQ to WB). reasons being that the compressors wore out quickly and needed replacing. they also played up and weren't as cold. in saying that, a lot of people who had early commodores with factory air cons did away with them and just used the heater and put up with it not having air conditioning. if I was to have an early commodore with factory air con, I'd swap the compressors they came with and fit a Fridgidaire compressor that was used in the full sized HQ to HZ and WB statesman and commercials. they were most reliable. everyone that may of had an early commodore with factory air con would agree with me I'm sure. any comments relating to this?
Posted Recently
The early vb was crap! I like how gmh tacked a plate onto the boot floor (recall fix) to stop the rear quarters & boot floor stretching from towing a trailer! OMFG
Posted Recently
The VB copped a bad wrap in the early days for being 'too small'. In reality,it was perhaps bigger,or at least equal in size to all pre-HK Holden models,and certainly outsized the 48215 in all dimensions except of course height. Be it a six or V8,its always a pleasure hearing a VB woosh by. Those red engines sounded great.
Posted Recently
I have several vb commodores. I I like the 202 red six and the trimatic. Treat them well & they always get you home.
Posted Recently
In 1979 I traded my HG Kingswood on a new VB Commodore.202 auto with no air or power steer. By far its weekest link was the Trimatic auto-truly an irritating device to live with.An AM only radio also lowered the tone a little. Other than that,a great car.Red sixes sounded better than blue and black sixes in later Comms. The VB SLE in red with those alloy wheels will be a good investment in the future.
Posted Recently
Over the years I have owned many Holdens , from FJ`s through to a VX 6 speed SS , these days I still own a VL Berlina { Original and matching Numbers } along with A Hot Rod { 1946 Ford Tudor Sedan } and a Toyota Hilux , I also own a VB Commodore Wagon 2850 , 4 speed { Poverty Pack } 186,000 km`s and is also Original and Matching Numbers with Books , I am its second owner and all I can say is what a grand old Motor Car , it is driven every week and has never let me down in any way shape or form , in the time I have owned it { 3 years } . If only all cars had the same kind of Style and Reliability as the VB . Plastic may be Fantastic but Steel is Real .
Posted Recently
Can anyone give me an idea what a set of Voxson vx8 6 inch speakers in top condition are worth. they are stock from a vb and a highly regarded audio tech strongly recomended looking into value.
Posted Recently
When this model first came out,I didn't quite know what to make of it-it was different. My 2nd car was this model(the 1st was an HK ute). The 202 was bullet proof,but the Trimatic always felt like it was about to fall apart. The upoulstry inside was all over the place...very shoddily put together. I had plans for a V8 4spd installation,but sold the car before any work got off the ground. Basically,I got 3yrs of unexciting,but reliable motoring.
Posted Recently
can any one tell me on id plate on 9/79 VB SLE what Eng LD1 Trans M20 Axal GV7
Posted Recently
hey can any one know what else did the sports pack vb came out with,etc air cond, pwr str,as i`m trying to ascertain if mine is a sports pac thanks
Posted Recently
hey i have got a vb sl as my first car and it has got the 202 hc red with the trimatic i think that the vb is the best looking commodore im very impressed about the performance of her,its the best holden every
John Gibson
Posted Recently
I love the VB Commodore. I have a 202 Trimatic as my main car,and an HG Kingswood as a weekender. The red motor in the VB has a great exaust note not found in later models and they ride and handle superbly. Both cars have the Trimatic which is absolute garbage. Though not a huge Commodore fan,i'll always have a soft spot for the VB. I hope Holdens new compact due out next year is a strong seller.
Posted Recently
Looking at the VB Commodore from the vantage point of the 21st Century, I can understand GM-H trying to downsize their model range - yet Ford winning the sales race in the 1980's and much of the 1990s and GM-H nearly going bust in the same time lead me to conclude it may have been better to evolve the HZ and put more funds into this.
There is no doubt the engineering of the HQ platform was superior to the XA-B-C, even if it were designed to stick to the road rather than handle. With the Commodore however, the platform was never really sorted until the 2006 VE's new platform, and contemporary Falcons were more thoroughly engineered, particularly after XE.
Commodore also saw the end of Aussie Toranas. If there is any car GM-H has needed since about 2006, an evolved Torana (small-medium, 4 cyl/6cyl/V8) is that product. If only!
What's done is done, however and Commodore is 30. Hopefully the early VB's attain the same classic status that earlier Holdens have. I can remember the Commodore being a something different and special in those early years, and many Australians aspired to own one.
Posted Recently
You've confused KW with HP for the engines. The HP figures are 3/4 of these numbers...... in your dreams did a 308 have 179kw (should be 134kw.... at most) I remember a mates VB owners manual stated 118kw for the dual exhaust option V8.
Posted Recently
The Commodore was OK and certainly a brave step for GM to take. But I would rate the Commodore as the most over rated car on the Australian market The media went into a frenzy when it first came out as it was very powerfull and handled well I can remember Bill Tucky , a prominent motoring writer at the time, saying this car was better than the Mercedes such was the enthusiasm of the petrol heads. Over time the Commodore developed the usual quality problems associated with nearly all GM vehicles, rattles , squeeks, diff problems, oil leaks and auto trans problems. I'll take the Merc any day.
Posted Recently
The Commodore was OK and certainly a brave step for GM to take. But I would rate the Commodore as the most over rated car on the Australian market The media went into a frenzy when it first came out as it was very powerfull and handled well I can remember Bill Tucky , a prominent motoring writer at the time, saying this car was better than the Mercedes such was the enthusiasm of the petrol heads. Over time the Commodore developed the usual quality problems associated with nearly all GM vehicles, rattles , squeeks, diff problems, oil leaks and auto trans problems. I'll take the Merc any day.
jayden h
Posted Recently
i would like a set of sle wheels i will pay up to1500bucks
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