1986 Year In Review

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Isuzu Piazza
The Isuzu Piazza, a sheep in wolf's clothing.

VL Commodore
Australian's were not too keen on a Nippon 6 cylinder finding its way under the hood of the locally produced Commodore. But all was forgiven once they drove it.
For some 11 years (since 1975), Holden had been importing and selling the Isuzu built Gemini with great success, and so it seemed logical that they would continue to enjoy such sales success with the importation of the sporty "Piazza". Designed in Italy by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Holden Piazza was, for the time, a thoroughly modern and sporty 2 door coupe which featured a turbocharged 2.0 litre OHC engine – the first time a turbocharged vehicle was available at the Holden showrooms!

The most distinctive features of the Piazza were undoubtedly the wedge shaped hatchback with its enormous glass area at the rear, and its semi-concealed headlights up front. It came fitted with a 5 speed manual gearbox; however a 4 speed auto was available as an option. Despite the bravado of the Italian design, under the skin lurked a thoroughly conventional small Japanese sedan with double-wishbone front suspension, five link live-axle rear suspension and four-wheel disc brakes.

While the rack-and-pinion steering was power-assisted, handling and braking were only average and Isuzu had failed to upgrade their effectiveness in line with the upgraded performance offered by fitting the turbo! The motoring press soon realised the Piazza was ‘mutton dressed up as lamb’, and the expected sales were never to materialise.

GM were forced to reduce prices in an effort to stimulate sales, and disgruntled purchasers who had already forked out top dollar were refunded up to $5000 to help ease the pain of plummeting re-sale values. The price reductions were, however, too little too late, and the Piazza suffered an early demise - released in April 1986, it would be phased out in late 1987 and relegated to the history books. Holden were busy with other products in 1986, the original Holden Astra being replaced by the updated Astra LC hatchback, which featured a 1.6 litre, four-cylinder engine. The Suzuki Swift derived Barina hatchback was updated, and was now powered by a 1.3-litre, four-cylinder engine.

The VL Commodore

Aside from featuring a completely new front-end appearance, the controversial VL Commodore was powered by an imported Nissan 6-cylinder engine. The new model, released in February 1986, was heavily criticised with many thinking it sacrilege to give Australia's own car a Japanese powerplant. After driving the VL, however, most critics realised that Holden had given its buyers the best 'six' yet seen in an Australian-built car. While Ford had made the compulsory switch to unleaded fuel (in February 1986) by fitting the Falcon with a modified version of its old engine, Holden had a considerably better Commodore. Power was up 33 per cent and fuel economy was 15 per cent better.

Among the features in the state-of-the-art engine was a self-diagnostic module designed to detect and memorise mechanical faults. But the best was yet to come, because in the second half of 1986, a turbocharger was introduced as an option across the range. The standard Commodore was quick off the mark but the 150 kW turbo Commodore could accelerate to 100 kph in eight seconds and reach a top speed of 220 kph. Later in the year, the locally made 4.9-litre V8 (now modified for unleaded fuel) was re-released as an option on the VL.

But perhaps the best news from the General that year was the announcement of the production of a limited edition, high-performance Group A version of the VL Commodore V8. Eagerly snapped up, it was the last product of the six-year collaboration between Holden's and Peter Brock's HDT. At Mount Panorama, Allan Grice and Graham Bailey took out the 1986 James Hardie 1000 in a VK Commodore - it was the Year of the Chickadee.

The VL was the first Group A since the introduction of unleaded fuel, and many feared a resultant power decrease. Holden strengthened the Group A V8's by using stronger rods and cranks, combined with a lightened flywheel. Mated to a Borgwarner T10 gearbox with a one to one top gear, the VL Group A would prove to be Peter "Perfect" Brocks last stand before the fallout between he and Holden finally reached breaking point. Brock's Group A was signed and came with the 4.9 litre engine - the Generals was unsigned and came with the 5.0 litre. But most controversially, it was Brocks car that had the infamous "Energy Polariser" fitted - the contentious issue that was to see such a cooling in relations between the two.

Apart from these (can we say today trivial) differences, remember that the Brock version Group A pretty much came in full race trim, and that meant tight firm suspension. If you are prepared to compromise a little comfort, then this is arguably the better of the two to own and collect.

Formula One Championship:

Alain Prost (France) / McLaren-Porsche

1986 Bathurst Winner:

Allan Grice & Graeme Bailey / VK Commodore

NRL Grand Final:

Parramatta (4) def. Cantebury (2)

VFL/AFL Grand Final:

Hawthorn (16.14.110) def. Carlton (9.14.68)

Melbourne Cup:

At Talaq (M. Clarke)

Wimbledon Women:

Martina Navratilova d. H. Mandlikova (7-6 6-3)

Wimbledon Men:

Boris Becker d. I. Lendl (6-4 6-3 7-5)

The Movies:

  • Platoon
  • Hannah and Her Sisters
  • The Color of Money
  • The Mission

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture - Platoon
  • Best Actor - Paul Newman (The Color Of Money)
  • Best Actress -Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God)

Gold Logie:

Daryl Somers (Hey Hey It's Saturday and Blankety Blanks, Nine)

The Charts:

  1. Venus - Bananarama
  2. Your'e The Voice - John Farnham
  3. Lady In Red - Chris DeBurgh
  4. You Keep Me Hangin On - Kim Wilde
  5. Funky Town - Pseudo Echo
  6. Walk Like An Egyptian - The Bangles
  7. I Wanna Wake Up With You - Boris Gardiner
  8. Chain Reaction - Diana Ross
  9. Stimulation - Wa Wa Nee
  10. Take My Breath Away - Berlin


  • Georgia O'Keeffe (American Painter)
  • Harold Macmillan (Former UK Prime Minister)
  • Duchess of Windsor (aka Wallis Simpson, divorcee that married King Edward, forcing him to abdicate)
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