Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
The WB is an often forgotten model in the Holden lineup, but there was a moment in time when GMH
intended the WB to play a much bigger role in their sales strategy. Originally the WB was intended to be another facelift to the HQ
lineup, that had gained renewed popularity with the HZ
since the introduction of Radial Tuned Suspension
. In fact, the once utalitarian Kingswood was to inherit the floorpan of the HZ Statesman, while the Station Wagon would carry over the existing HZ
body, but would receive a revised front end treatment.
This strategy would have ensured Holden maintained a broad lineup, dealerships able to offer the more traditional large Holden sedans should buyers not be accepting of the smaller European influenced Commodore
. But it was never to be, the bean-counters at the General deciding such a strategy would be far too expensive for the relatively small Australian market, and so all effort was put into convincing the buying public that the Commodore
was a much more suitable family sedan.
But what of the ever popular commercial vehicles and the up-market luxury Deville and Caprice, models that could not be tooled-up from the new VB Commodore
. To fill this important market segment, a much watered-down WB model release was put into place, the line-up to consist of the Ute, Panel Van, Statesman Deville and Statesman Caprice. Very little was carried over from the HZ
, the notable exceptions being the front quarter panels, windscreen, front side windows, front doors and bonnet.
Peter Brock HDT Statesman Magnum
The WB Statesman's roofline was extended by 3 inches, providing improved leg-room for rear seat passengers, along with better head-room and even more space in the boot - all despite the fact that the WB Statesman wheelbase was shorter than the HZ Statesman. The popular 308 5 litre V8 received some minor revisions, and the equipment list now included the first cruise control fitted to a local car as standard, along with power windows, central locking, high-end audio system and leather upholstery.
There was even a HDT Holden Statesman Magnum by Peter Brock, perhaps aimed at any aging rev-heads. The Magnum had a Group Three HDT Commodore
engine transplant, with modifications to the heads, inlet and exhaust
systems, ignition and air cleaner. The suspension
was lowered and stiffer springs and shocks helped keep the beast stay somewhat light-footed through the twisty stuff. Adhesion was aided by the fitment of Momo 7x15 inch alloys shod with Pirelli P6 235/60 VR15 tyres.
The WB Statesman DeVille and Caprice
had a few problems getting the WB Statesman onto the streets. The original early June 1980 release date became mid-June, and then late-June as the program kept slipping behind schedule. There were two models, the DeVille and Caprice, the latter aimed squarely at Ford's LTD and the Euro-luxury sedans. When the cars did make it into the GMH
showroom the Caprice had a sticker price of $19,769, while the DeVille was substantially cheaper at $14,790. Both had higher price tags than the equivalent Fairlane and LTD models from Ford, but GMH
claimed the models were aimed more at the Europeans. At their price point, they were right, as for the kind of money you needed to buy a Statesman, you could purchase a BMW 318i or 323i, Datsun 280 ZX, Mazda RX7
, Renault 20TS
, Rover 3500 SD1
, Saab 900
, Audi 5E
or Volvo 254.
The styling and exterior design of the WB Statesman brought plenty of attention. It was unashamedly American in its influence, although to our mind much better executed than anything from the US GM parent
. There was now a big difference in styling between the Ford Fairlane and GM Statesman. Ford stuck to the European formula, being smooth and sleek, and were bigger than they looked. The opposite would be said of the Statesman. Whether or not you liked the styling of the WB, there was no denying it was individual. Over at Ford, to our mind the Fairlane and LTD looked like stretched XDs. Thus the Statesman driver left the observer in no doubt about the 'exclusivity' of their vehicle. If you look hard enough, the WB did retain a vague HZ
model feel, although the nosecone was fairly distinguishable.
The back end though, was a different story. An opera window was added to the 'C' pillar, the roofline was extended back across it (at an increased height), from which the back window fell down sharply. The bottom of the rear window then met the rear deck which was also raised above its old height, that line being continued to the sharply cut-off tail. Wrap around tail lights completed the back end treatment. Finishing the re-style were new front and rear bumpers, new trim and badges, and huge side protection strips - practical, but also pretty ugly. The DeVille model had a simpler grille than the Caprice, and went without the bonnet motif and front bumper over-riders, and it came with 14 inch steel instead of 15 inch alloy wheels
. There was one major factor which was behind the heavy re-design of the WB's backend - interior room. In order to compete with the Fairlane/LTD and some of the better Europeans, GMH
had to add more centimetres to rear seat space.
Inside the WB Statesman
They achieved this with outstanding success. The 75mm extension of the rear roofline resulted in an extra 4mm of headroom. And by moving back the rear seat, some 102mm of additional legroom was liberated. The back seat itself lacked nothing for comfort, either. While the Fairlane's rear seat could be accused of being a little short in the base, not so the Statesman's. Like the backrest it was soft and body-hugging, with a wide fold down centre armrest complementing the similar door mounted units. Each armrest had an individual cigarette lighter and ashtray, while in the 'C' pillars above the opera windows, there were reading lights. Completing the back section were map pockets in the rear of the front seats, air-conditioning
outlets in the centre console, and of course the colour-keyed ribbed cord and thick carpet trimming.
Naturally that trim was the same in front, the bucket seats being direct from the Commodore
. These had the usual adjustment, plus squab height on the driver's side. The Caprice came with buckets straight from the German Opel Senator. The dash and centre console were all new. The instrument area featured a plain black finish on the DeVille and a 'Walnut' finish on the Caprice, those themes being carried through to the much-wider centre console. Looking through the single spoke Commodore
S/LE steering wheel there was the familiar wiper/washers/headlight dip/flashers stalk on the right. The Cruise control activation switch (std on the Caprice only, optional on the DeVille) was located on the opposite side. Ahead were the two main circular dials, the speedo on the right, and the clock on the left. Four small gauges separated the larger two, these monitoring fuel, temperature, volts and oil levels. Below them were the usual bank of warning lights.
To the right of the speedo (which had a trip-metre) there was a dwell control for the wipers, along with a well designed light switch and rheostat and the first of several driver air-conditioning outlets. On the left of the clock was the remote control for the left hand side exterior mirror (the right hand side mirror was controlled by the usual door-mounted switch) and below it sat the air-conditioning controls. Further left again were more air vents, the cigarette lighter, controls for the electric aerial and the heated rear window. Below those sat the sound system, an AM/FM push button radio and combined cassette player – it was an excellent system but in examples you might find today it is very likely to have been swapped over for a CD system. Surprisingly there was only one front speaker standard on the DeVille. If you did option the second speaker, GM placed strangely on the left hand side of the rear parcel shelf.
The area in front of the passenger was redesigned with a dash-top bits and pieces tray, a heavy crash pad directly in front of the occupant at body height, and a Commodore
style drop-down glovebox below that. The wide centre console featured cassette and odds and ends storage, twin ashtrays, a centre armrest with lined bin, the T-bar selector and its indicator panel. When seated inside the DeVille, you would find it very comfortable, spacious and ergonomically spot on. A nice place to be. Impressive too was the fully carpeted boot. By pushing the back seat rearwards, some bootspace was initially lost on the WB. However, by using the very high rear deck-line the GM designers recovered most of that. The extra height also meant the spare wheel and jack could be stored vertically on the left hand side, adding still more room. Perhaps it's only drawback was a high loading lip.
The XT5 308 V8 and 350 Transmission
The Statesmans came in only one engine-transmission combination, 308 V8 and automatic. However, the 308 was the then latest XT5 derivative of the iong running engine, and the auto transmission
was the 4 kg lighter 350 model, instead of the old 400 turbo-hydro. On paper the XT5 308 pushed out 126 kW of power at 4400 rpm and 361 Nm of torque at just 2800 rpm. For the time that was heaps of pulling power, which was delivered smoothly all the way with little fuss, and the low down torque made driving around town easy. Although the low down torque was very useful, some road testers found that, when accelerating hard for anything other than an initial burst, there seemed to be a mid-range deadspot where the rate of acceleration slowed down.
To its credit though, it picked up again at the top end. Using the excellent auto box manually, the lazy eight (like all local eights from the time, it would not rev that freely) was good for 70 km/h in first, twice that in second and around 175 km h as its terminal speed. Gunning it like that would result in miserable fuel economy, like 26/100 km. Spare the foot and you could achieve 19/100 km, more reasonable. Somewhere in the region of 13 to 15/100 km seems to have been what most owners reported. The new lighter automatic transmission seemed no different to the old one in operation. It was still very smooth and with no out of place whines. It could be used manually without fuss and the instant kick-down required only a light shove of the accelerator. The automatics were easily the best gearboxes GMH
offers in their range.
The DeVille was steered via the old recirculating ball system - the last GMH
passenger car to use that set up. Naturally it's power assisted in luxury car tradition and as always, took some adjusting to. Once you had mastered it though, it was easy to place the car precisely. Probably the best single spoke steering wheel in the business complemented the steering still further - only the accuracy of a rack and pinion system could have improved it more. The Statesman's four wheel discs could always be relied upon to function efficiently. Power assistance made for a light pedal but did not remove any feel.
WB Statesman Suspension
was coils all round, independent at the front, hitched off a live axle at the rear. The system was of GMH
's famed RTS variety, but saw several revisions over the old Statesman. In line with the Commodore
the coil springs were variable rate at the back, the shockers also being re-valved to match them. The rear anti roll bar was made thicker by 3mm, making it 19mm, although the front one stayed at 24 mm. The new springing offered a very smooth, stable and refined ride. It was very much in keeping with the car and its image. Sure, there was understeer and body-roll. Punt it hard and the understeer would become oversteer. In realistic terms, the Statesman' understeer was slight most of the time, and oversteered only when provoked. In the cabin very little road noise was transmitted to the cabin, although some wind noise could be heard around the door window frames and 'B' pillars.
The car would prove extremely durable over the years. Owners did report that the material covering the front seat cushions was prone to rippling, but other than that, paint and trim were spot-on. Inside the Statesman was a very pleasant environment, fitted out with everything a driver could desire and then some. And in the DeVille's case, it came with a reasonable pricetag. But probably the most important question on buyers minds in 1980 was if it was better than the Fairlane? The answer was yes, but it was also more expensive. By 1985
however, the WB was showing its age, and the last of the long wheel base Holdens was finally phased out - for a time. By 1990 GMH
wanted to re-claim the local luxury car market, and so extended the wheelbase of the Commodore
to re-introduce the Statesman and Caprice names. No Holden
fan was disappointed to see these names grace the roads again.