Holden Commodore VL

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Holden Commodore VL

Holden Commodore

Holden Commodore VL

1986 - 1988
6 cyl. & V8
3.0/3.0 ltr turbo 6; 4.9 ltr V8
5 spd. manual ; 3 spd. Trimatic (V8) & 4 spd. automatic (6)
Top Speed:
Number Built:
0 star
Holden Commodore VL
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3

The Last Compact Commodore

The VL Commodore represented a substantial makeover of the VK, and would be the last of the "compact" Commodores. The engineers sought to soften the lines of the VL, rounding off the panels and introducing a small tail spoiler built into the boot lid. One major innovation was the use of semi-retracting headlight covers on the Calais model, the first for a production Holden (although the never released GTR-X featured fully retractable headlights).

To all that saw it, the VL looked vastly more modern than the previous VB/VC/VH/VK, but there was one major concern for the Holden faithful, the 6 cylinder red engine that had received such a comprehensive makeover for the VK was completely dropped in favour of an imported Nissan 3 litre straight six unit.

Many may have been scratching their heads as to why the General had opted for the switch, but the answer lay with the introduction of unleaded fuel, the cost of once again re-working the engine simply too cost prohibitive. To provide consistency and ensure the drivline performed to expectation, GM also sourced a Nissan electronic four-speed automatic, although those opting for a manual still received the Aussie 5 speed unit. Despite the worst fears of many die-hards, the Nissan motor turned out to be a thoroughly good unit.

Electronic Combusion Control

The imported donk included features such as an Electronic Combusion Control System (ECCS), a ram-tuned intake manifold and even the use of irregular spacing of the cooling fan to help reduce fan noise and vibration. Six months into its life a turbocharged version of the Nissan 6 was released. The engine received new pistons which lowered the compression ratio from 9.0:1 to 7.8:1, while an updated camshaft was used to reduce overlap.

The Garrett turbo unit was fitted inside a water-cooled housing to ensure longevity, and while many had predicted the introduction of a Nissan engine to Australia's favourite car would prove disastorous at the dealerships, many began to praise the power and smoothness afforded by the Japanese unit. The turbocharged version certainly added to the allure of the Commodore, and was quickly establishing itself as a hero car - particularly when the already respectable top speed of 200 km/h was extended to 220 with the addition of the Garrett.

To ensure adequate stopping power for turbo fitted cars, each was fitted with larger brakes and Girlock finned alloy front callipers (as used on the Chevrolet Corvette), the 15 inch wheels being shod with 205/65 rubber. Fans of the 5.0 litre V8 had to wait a little while after the VL's s introduction to allow the GM engineers time to re-tune the motor to suit unleaded fuel. Finally released in October 1986, it still featured the familiar Rochester four-barrel carburettor, naturally enough many had been hoping the delay in its release was due to the fitment of EFI.

The Holden VL Commodore Range
But there was some good news, the 5.0 litre boasting both more power and torque than its predecessor, now at 122kw (at 4400rpm) with 323Nm at hand with the tacho on 3200rpm. The reason? GM had fitted the trusty V8 with larger valves carried over from the previous Group A engine.

To prove the V8 had not lost any power in its conversion to unleaded, one advertisment featured a VL towing an America's Cup yacht, while another towed a Jumbo Jet. We can think of better reasons to own a V8, but at least the message got through.

The Holden Commodore VL won Bathurst in 1987 (Peter Brock/David Parsons/Peter McLeod), and again in 1990 (Allan Grice/Win Percy), the intervening 2 years being dominated by the Ford Sierra RS500T's of Tony Longhurst/Tomas Mezera in 1988 and Dick Johnson/John Bowe in 1989. You couldn't go to your local dealership and take a test drive of a Sierra, but you could take a VL turbo for a fang, nough said.

The Unleaded HDT VL V8

In late 1986 the Holden Dealer Team needed to build 500 lead-free versions of the Commodore SS to comply with Group A regulations. The biggest change over the VK was the lead-free 4987cc power-plant, power being slightly improved over the previous full-house Group A's 196 kW at 5200 rpm. Changes over the standard unleaded V8 included new heavy-duty conrods, lighter flywheel and adjustable Crane roller rockers. Breathing was improved by the fitment of larger valves than before, plus a little development work on the inlet manifold to match it to the ports. An extractor exhaust system was also part of the package.

Transmission was the Borg Warner T5 which the General didn’t offer on the more pedestrian V8s, and there was a heavy-duty clutch pressure plate diaphragm with a clamping pressure of 1150 kg - and final drive was by a limited slip 3.08:1 differential. The steering was power assisted. Suspension was the full Bilstein job with re-rated coil springs, heavy-duty front and rear stabilizer bars, and of course gas shock absorbers. With all this, the car sat down a mean 120 mm off the ground. Braking was by the Corvette-derived all-disc system, in this case with the master cylinder increased in bore for better performance.

The newly-developed VL body kit made a slightly gutsier statement than the VK. For a start, the car was available only as a special red, dubbed "Permanent Red", which is similar to a colour last used by GM-H towards the end of the Monaro series. There was a new grille and a new front air dam incorporating outrigger ducts to direct air to the Corvette calipers. The integrated VL bumper duct helped supplement input from the central under-bumper duct. At the rear there was a bulky, full-width spoiler similar to but slightly more extended than the VK's. The package was set off nicely by classy 16x7 Momo Star wheels first seen on the LE Calais. Tyres were Bridgestone Potenza 205/55VR16s.

Comfort equipment in this classic Australian sporting sedan included remote control exterior mirrors, HDT Momo steering wheel, 100 watt headlights, footrest and an HDT gearshift knob. AM/FM stereo cassette and Scheel front seats with special grey wool/velour trim were standard. An anti-theft alarm system was also part of the Group A SS deal. And all of this, more importantly, came in under the Keating trigger price for the luxury car tax, at A$29,600. Each car was stamped with a limited edition number, somewhere between one and 500. If you can find one that is genuine, you have a real collectable.
VL Commodore

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Also see:

Commodore VL Specifications
HDT Special Vehicles Brock VL
HSV Special Vehicles Walkinshaw VL
Commodore VL Brochure
Commodore VL Advertising
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Paul bubbles
Posted Recently
I bought a silver vl exec in 1990. At the time it seemed ok...but it got boring, & troublesome, after a couple of years!....traded it on an eb xr8...great choice!😉
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