Holden Commodore VC
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
A model update from the VB, the VC's main improvement was the introduction of the "Blue" engines. The new engines represented a considerable re-design of the trusty "Red", and now featured 12 port heads and a two-barrel carburettor with new manifold. The V8's also got new heads, along with new inlet and exhaust
manifolds and electronic ignition. The 253 4.2 litre V8
was also fitted with the four barrel Rochester Quadrajet carburettor, previously reserved for the 5.0 litre engine.
Changing the rocker cover colour from red to blue was obviously an attempt to draw attention to the changes now under the bonnet of the VC. Probably a good thing too, as the exterior changes were very mild and, for the casual observer, difficult to detect. The VB's slat grill was replaced with a "crate" style grill on the VC, and unlike the VB it was attached to the front structure of the vehicle instead of the bonnet.
The Holden badge was moved from the top centre of the grille to the middle of the grille, while the word "Commodore" was placed on the curb-side of the grille and the curb side of the boot. The model name was also set into the rubber protector strips on the front doors, while the "Commodore L" model replaced the simple "Commodore" as the base model.
It is somewhat unfortunate that the VC is best remembered for the lamentable 4 cylinder version. Having a reasonably large family car with 4 cylinder economy was worthy of merit, but simply transplanting the Starfire-4
into the Commodore was a flawed exercise from the beginning. The power to weight ratio was so bad that any savings in petrol were quickly eaten away by the driver having to thrash the engine to keep up with traffic.
This cost the poor owners of the 4 cylinder Commodore at both the petrol pump and the mechanics, and then again come trade-in time! Some motoring commentators of the day re-named the "Starfire-4
" the "Misfire-4". Strangely, it was not the principle of fitting a Commodore with a 4 cylinder engine that was flawed, simply the execution in lopping off 2 cylinders from the aging 2850 6 cylinder engine.
The Commodore 4 offered better interior space and handling
than its rivals, such as the Sigma, Corona and Datsun 200B. It should have been a much better car, but the lack of power was always going to keep if from winning the hearts and minds of most. One other point worthy of noting was the backward step taken when the SL/E's tachometer
was ditched in favour of the "fuel economy gauge" as fitted to the lesser models. But at least the audio system now featured Dolby and auto-reverse.
Defending the "Starfire" VC 4 (if that is possible)
That Australia’s favourite car (until the Mazda 3 in 2011) became an underpowered slug was hardly the fault of Holden
, faced with the economy/ecology panic that took over the country in 1980. Had the four cylinder been the first Commodore
to be introduced to the market, there is every chance it would have been hailed as a brilliant breakthrough – and subsequent six cylinder and eight cylinder models would have been judged on the basis of the smaller engined car's attributes. But it never happened that way.
Some considered the Commodore VC 4 more than satisfactory – even if it lacked enough power to pull a drunken sailor off your sister. Mainstream thinking was that, to actually like the VC 4, you needed to ignore that the fact that the much maligned Starfire
engine provided inadequate levels of performance and refinement for ANY car. But the truth was neither black or white, but a shade of grey. The Starfire
was not such a dud when compared to some Japanese engines – but a "cut down" version of a 6 cylinder engine, particularly one that was far from having startling performance in the first place, was never going to sit well with Australians.
In traffic the Starfire
VC 4 used around 10.5 litres/100 kms, and that was without any special driving techniques either, as long as you resisted the urge to sink the boot. Across the VC range the level of quality in noise control was excellent, and while the Starfire
was as rattly as any other when first started up on a cold morning, it soon settled down, thanks to hydraulic tappets. Thereafter it was only at idle that agricultural noises permeated the cabin from the engine bay in much the same manner as in the Toyota Corona – which was fitted with the same power unit. Also generating noise were the factory fitted roof racks fitted to SL VC wagons – between 90 and 100 kph the wind would literally howl through.
At 110 km/h on the highway the engine noise returned, but this was not uncommon among 4 cylinder engines. You could buy a 4 cylinder sedan or wagon, and about the only thing to detract from wagon when compared with the sedan was the somewhat bouncy rear suspension; resigned to accommodate a wide range of loads. Then again, rear springing on any wagon is a compromise. Only when four were being carried did the ride settle down to the sedan's stability.
Back to the Future
ratios were all aimed at attaining the limits of the Strafire's torque capabilities; weight and drag would start to reduce acceleration as speeds rose above 80 km/h. Thus the zero to 120 km/h time was pretty slow. In fact, to find a similar performing family sized Holden, you needed to wind the clock back to 1963
, and the EJ Holden
. The EJ
was powered by a 2262cc six cylinder engine (vs. 1892cc four cylinder) which delivered 55.3 kWs power, against the Starfire’s 58 kW. It had a 43 litre fuel tank (vs. 63 litres) and was quoted as giving 11.3 litres/100 kms fuel consumption overall. With a three speed manual gearbox it could accelerate from rest to 80 km/h in 13.4 seconds (the VC 4 took 11.8 seconds).
Overall length of the EJ
was 4470 mm in wagon form, the VC was 4796 mm, and the EJ
weighed in at 1150 kgs, with the VC 4 only slightly heavier at 1192 kgs – but that was understandable given the extra kit. Performance for the VC 4 was; Maximum speed in gears - First - 45 km/h, Second - 80 km/h, Third - 115 km/h, Fourth - 145 km/h. Acceleration from rest to 60 km/h - 6.9 secs, 80 km/h - 12.5 secs, 100 km/h - 18.0 secs, 120 km/h - 28.2 secs. Acceleration in third (manual) or "drive" automatic
from 60 km/h to 100 km/h - 11 secs. Standing start 400 metres; Elapsed time - 21.4 secs. Terminal speed - 102 km/h. No doubt some opted to catch the bus instead.
But the question remains - have we defended the VC 4 and upheld its honour? Probably not in the eyes of "Jappa123", who wrote a scathing attack on our UC Sunbird
review in the Reader Review section at the bottom of the page. According to Jappa123, the 1970s was an era "when men wore stubbies, drank Fosters, attended burnouts for entertainment and trained their kids to fetch their beers, and any car fitted with a four cylinder engine was considered underpowered". We have news for Jappa123 - not much has changed.
Commodore VC Vacationer
In February 1981 GMH released their annual Holiday special, the Vacationer. Both the sedan and wagon Vacationer featured air-conditioning and other equipment at a hefty A$650 under the price of Commodore with these options added. The other equipment included a vertically adjustable driver's seat, cord cloth interior trim, headlamp washer/wipers, roof rack on the wagons, and of course the by now mandatory Vacationer colour striping and decals. The VC Vacationers were powered by Holden's upgraded 3.3 litre engine, and were available in two colour choices - Chardanay Gold and Cypress Greem. At the time, they were priced at $8964 for the sedan, and $9580 for the wagon.