Holden Commodore (VN)

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Holden Commodore (VN)
1990 Holden Commodore (VN) Executive sedan (2015-04-12).jpg
Holden VN Executive Sedan
Manufacturer Holden
Also called Holden Utility (VG)
Toyota Lexcen (T1)
Production 17 August 1988 – October 1991
Assembly Australia: Elizabeth, South Australia
New Zealand: Trentham (1988–1990)
Body and chassis
Class Full-size car
Body style 4-door sedan
4-door station wagon
2-door coupé utility (VG)
Layout Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive
Platform GM V platform
Related Holden Statesman/Caprice (VQ)
Opel Omega
Opel Senator
Engine 2.0 L C20NE I4 (gasoline)
3.8 L 3800 V6 (gasoline)
5.0 L HEC 5000i V8 (gasoline)
Transmission 5-speed Borg-Warner T-5 manual
4-speed GM HydraMatic 700 automatic
Wheelbase 2,731 mm (107.5 in)–2,822 mm (111.1 in)
Length 4,850 mm (191 in)–4,896 mm (192.8 in)
Width 1,794 mm (70.6 in)–1,802 mm (70.9 in)
Height 1,400 mm (55 in)–1,474 mm (58.0 in)
Curb weight 1,311 kg (2,890 lb)–1,492 kg (3,289 lb)
Predecessor Holden Commodore (VL)
Successor Holden Commodore (VP)

The Holden Commodore, Berlina, and Calais (VN) are a range of a full-size cars that were manufactured between 1988 and 1991 by the General Motors (GM) Australian arm, Holden. VN represents the sixth model in the line of Holden Commodore, and is the first of the second generation models.

The Holden VN is a re-engineered hybrid of the Opel Omega and Senator. This donor body was paired to a Buick V6 engine or the Holden V8 engine.


This and subsequent versions based their bodywork on the Opel Senator and Omega, and the car was released on 17 August 1988. As well as being highly based on the Opel Senator, the VN also was similarly based on the Opel Omega, but this time, the previous VL Commodore floor plan was widened and stretched. The Commodore could now match the rival Ford Falcon for size. The VN Commodore was available in Executive, S, SS, Berlina and Calais specification levels, although a more basic SL model (opt. code A9K) was supposedly offered to government and fleet buyers, as it was not officially listed as part of the Commodore range. The VN Commodore was also awarded Wheels Car of the Year for a second time in 1988. From August 1990, a Commodore-based coupe utility was offered for the first time, known as the Holden Utility (VG).[1] The Holden Statesman and Caprice (VQ) models, which were introduced in March 1990, were also VN Commodore based, but shared a longer wheelbase with the VN Commodore wagon and VG Utility.

Changes in the relative values of the Australian dollar, the yen, and the US dollar made it impractical to continue with the well-regarded Nissan engine of the VL. Instead, Holden manufactured their own 90-degree V6 based on an old Buick design from the US, although initially it was imported. The 5.0-litre V8 remained optional and received a power boost to 165 kW (221 hp). Both these engines used multi point GM EFI and the V6 using 3 coil-packs for ignition. Although not known for its smoothness or quietness, the V6 was nevertheless praised for its performance at the time. A fuel-injected, 2.0 litre four-cylinder VN Commodore model was offered for some export markets including New Zealand and Singapore, which were sold as the Holden Berlina sharing an engine with the Opel Vectra A. Accompanying the changes to engines, the four-speed Jatco automatic transmission was replaced by the GM TH700 (also with four speeds) and the Borg-Warner T-5 four-speed manual gearbox.

A centre high-mount stop light (CHMSL) was introduced prior to 1 July 1989 due to regulations in Australia requiring them to be fitted to all passenger cars manufactured from this date.

In September 1989 the Series II of the VN Commodore was released with the EV6 engine. Some of the changes included a new cast exhaust manifold, new camshaft sprocket profile and timing chain, improved air and fuel distribution to combustion chamber, recalibrated ignition and injector firing within the engine management computer, wider conrod bearings and revised throttle uptake. The automatic transmission was also recalibrated to match the new engines torque characteristics. These revisions helped reduce initial torque levels whilst also improving the noise and vibration levels of the V6 engine.

Under the Hawke government's Button car plan, which saw a reduction in the number of models manufactured locally, and the introduction of model sharing, the VN Commodore was rebadged as the Toyota Lexcen, named after the late America's Cup yacht designer, Ben Lexcen. Subsequently the Toyota Corolla and Camry were, similarly, badged as the Holden Nova and Holden Apollo.

A total of 215,180 VN Commodores were manufactured during the model's 3-year lifespan.

New Zealand[edit]

New Zealand specification Commodore Berlina, badged as Executive (1990–1991)

The VN series was assembled in New Zealand between 1988 and 1990. For the first few months of production it was actually assembled alongside its predecessor, the VL. This was due to the VL Commodore being slightly smaller, and offering a 2.0 L inline-six Nissan RB20E (for New Zealand only) or 3.0 L RB30E straight-six engine, also by Nissan.

New Zealand specification Commodore Berlina, badged as Executive (1988–1990)

A unique situation of the New Zealand VN Commodore was its trim levels. Where in Australia, Berlina was of higher spec than Executive; in New Zealand the roles were actually reversed. Commodore Executive was the Australian Berlina spec, while Berlina – had a similar spec to the Australian Executive models - and utilised a 2.0-litre Family II 20SE four-cylinder engine.[2][3]

The Berlina four-cylinder model was a unique car for New Zealand (as well as a few other export markets) and was unavailable to Australia. The four-cylinder Berlina was developed in Australia primarily for the New Zealand market, it was equipped with an unemissionised fuel-injected 2.0 L motor (tuned to run on 96 octane fuel), essentially that of the Opel Vectra A mounted north-south, driving the rear wheels. The Berlina was available in both sedan and wagon body styles.

The Calais models were also offered to New Zealand, primarily in V6 form. In fact, due to a cancelled Singapore order, twenty fully equipped VN Calais models were sold in New Zealand - utilizing the Berlina's four-cylinder motor. Additionally, it is believed that there are a few VN Calais wagons in existence in New Zealand.

An indigenous sports model, the Commodore GTS, was also offered to the New Zealand market during 1990. Based on the New Zealand Executive models, the GTS featured a 3.8L V6 engine, manual or automatic transmission, bodykit (similar to that of the VN Commodore SS), alloys and FE2 suspension. It was a limited build, available in either White or Dark Blue.

The VN was the last Commodore to be assembled in New Zealand, after General Motors closed its plant in Trentham in late 1990. Thereafter, GM cars were imported from Australia, duty-free.

Specification levels[edit]

Commodore Executive[edit]

The Commodore Executive was the baseline model of the VN Commodore range, and was priced from A$20,014 when new.

The Commodore Executive standard features included:[4]
  • 3.8-litre 125 kW (168 hp) V6 engine
  • 5-speed manual transmission
  • Power steering
  • power assisted disc brakes on all four wheels
  • 14 inch steel wheels
The Commodore Executive optional features included:[5]
  • 5.0 L 165 kW (221 hp) V8 engine
  • 4-speed automatic transmission or
  • 5-speed manual transmission
  • Air conditioning
  • Cruise control
  • Holden Formula Bodykit
  • 15 inch alloy wheels

Commodore S[edit]

The Commodore S was the cheapest sports variant of the VN Commodore range, and was priced from A$21,665 when new.

The Commodore S standard features supersede and add to those of the Commodore Executive variant:[6]
  • Basic bodykit
  • Sports trim interior
  • Sports badging & exterior striping
  • FE2 Suspension
The Commodore S optional features included:[7]
  • Air conditioning
  • Cruise control
  • Holden Formula Bodykit
  • Optional Power Pack which incorporated:
  • 15 inch alloy wheels (usually colour-coded)
  • Metallic Paint

Commodore SS[edit]

The Commodore SS was released in March 1989 and was the top of the line sports model of the VN Commodore range., and was priced from A$25,375 when new.

The Commodore SS standard features supersede and add to those of the Commodore S variant:[8]
  • 5.0-litre 165 kW (221 hp) V8 engine
  • Limited Slip Differential
  • TH700 Automatic or T5 manual transmission
  • Driving lights
  • FE2 sports suspension
  • Body kit including front & rear bumper lip, side skirts, boot lip spoiler
  • SS decals and striping
  • SS interior fabrics incorporating a grey/red checker design
  • Unique SS alloy wheels
The Commodore SS optional features included:[9]
  • Air conditioning
  • Holden Formula Bodykit
  • Power Pack which incorporated:
    • Front and rear power windows
    • Power antenna
    • Power mirrors
    • Cruise control (Automatic only)
Colours available
  • Atlas Grey
  • Phoenix Red
  • Alpine White available later in the VN lifespan

Commodore Berlina[edit]

Commodore Berlina interior

The Commodore Berlina was the semi-luxury version of the VN Commodore range, and was priced from A$24,781 when new.

The Commodore Berlina standard features supersede and add to those of the Commodore Executive variant:[10]
  • 4-speed automatic transmission
  • Air conditioning
The Commodore Berlina optional features included:[11]
  • 5.0-litre 165 kW (221 hp) V8 engine
  • 5-speed manual transmission
  • Cruise control
  • Holden Formula Bodykit
  • Power Pack which incorporated:
    • Front and rear power windows
    • Power antenna
    • Power mirrors
  • 15 inch alloy wheels


Calais interior

The Calais was the luxury version of the VN Commodore range, and was priced from A$31,265 when new.

The Calais standard features supersede and add to those of the Commodore Berlina variant:[12]
  • Cruise control
  • Power Pack which incorporated:
    • Front and rear power windows
    • Power antenna
    • Power mirrors
  • 15 inch alloy wheels
  • Computer assisted trip/odometer
  • Climate control
  • Remote central locking
  • Alarm
  • Computer assisted trip/odometer
The Calais optional features included:[13]
  • 5.0-litre 165 kW (221 hp) V8 engine, incorporating LSD)
  • 5-speed manual transmission
  • Country pack suspension
  • Holden Formula Body kit
  • Leather upholstery
  • Limited slip differential (LSD)
  • Sports suspension

Limited edition and other specification levels[edit]

Commodore BT1[edit]

The Commodore BT1 or the Police Pack was a special pack for the VN Commodore that was available to the Australian and New Zealand Police Forces. Most where executive based models however some BT1 berlina models also exist. Most BT1's where also fitted with a 5.0 litre V8, whilst there is V6 versions too.

The BT1 Commodores standard features supersede and add to those of the Commodore Executive. Although the pack varied in each state, they were commonly fitted with:
  • 5.0-litre 165 kW (221 hp) V8 engine
  • 3.8-litre V6 Engine
  • 4-speed automatic transmission
  • Engine tuning stage 5
  • Extractors
  • FE2 sports suspension
  • Oil sump protector
  • Unique instrument cluster
  • Unique interior lighting
  • SS exhaust pack
  • Transmission cooler
  • Automatic gear selector allows selection of "2" without use of shift lock button
  • Larger capacity V8 fuel tank
  • 15" steel rims with larger 22mm wheel nuts (larger tyre iron supplied with vehicle)

Commodore Vacationer[edit]

Commodore Vacationer

The Commodore Vacationer was a limited edition of VN Commodore range based on the Commodore Executive.

The Commodore Vacationer standard features supersede and add to those of the Commodore Executive variant:
  • Special Vacationer badging
  • Body coloured front and rear bumper and rocker panel (grey on Executive)
  • Air conditioning
  • Electric mirrors
  • Tacho
  • Unique 14 inch wheel covers
  • Only two colours: Alpine White and Azure Blue
  • 'S' seat trim (with red detail), however minus the driver's side lumber support
The Commodore Vacationer optional features included:
  • 4-speed automatic transmission

Commodore GTS[edit]

The (VN) Commodore GTS was a limited run of the V6 3.8 engined sports model of 510 for the New Zealand market in 1990. Based on the New Zealand-spec Executive model, features included an extensive spoiler package/ body kit plus 5-spoke alloy wheels with the FE2 sports suspension. Upgraded springs and stabiliser bar for the front end with gas filled rear shocks, larger front brake discs and master brake cylinder. The front suspension geometry has been modified to lower ride height by 35 cm. GM states this package gives more precise road handling. Suggested retail was $35,995 GTS Manual & $37,295 GTS Auto. This strictly limited run came out in either white or a dark metallic blue unique to this model.

Commodore SS Group A SV[edit]

The SS Group A SV was a race homologation special based on the VN Commodore SS. It was developed for Holden by Holden Special Vehicles and featured upgraded engine, transmission, brake and wheel specifications. Only 302 examples were produced.[14] The SS Group A existed primarily as a homologation special, created specifically so a racing optimised version of the Commodore could be utilised for Group A touring car motor racing. The regulations set down by the international governing body FISA for Group A motor racing specified that a minimum of 500 cars were to be built to a certain specification prior to said vehicle being allowed to compete. Group A regulations governed many touring car series at the 1980s and 1990s including series in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Japan, Italy, Germany and the European Touring Car Championship as well as the one-off 1987 World Touring Car Championship as well as significant races like the Bathurst 1000, Spa 24 Hours and the RAC Tourist Trophy. The SS Group A model run ran from 1985 until 1992. The four models have since become highly collectible amongst Holden and performance enthusiasts.

Unique amongst all products produced by both the Holden Dealer Team and Holden Special Vehicles, these cars were referred to as Holdens, rather than as HDTs or HSVs.

Produced by HSV (1990–1991), the final SS Group A based on the VN model was troubled, entering the market at a difficult time for expensive vehicles. Only 302 of the planned 500 vehicles were produced. The shortened run did not affect its homolgation for racing with CAMS giving the car special dispensation to run in the hope of bolstering thinning grids in the 1991 Australian Touring Car Championship.

The car was assembled at Elizabeth, South Australia (Holden) and modified at Clayton, Victoria (HSV). The engine was 4.9 L HEC 5000i (215 kW (288 hp)), the transmission was 6-speed ZF manual.

The VN SS Group A saw the return to Holden of former favourite son Peter Brock in 1991 after three seasons first running BMW M3's and then Ford Sierra RS500's. Brock teamed with former three time Bathurst co-winner Larry Perkins for the first time since 1985 to run two cars under Brock's Mobil sponsorship and along with Bathurst winners the Holden Racing Team, they formed the front of Holden's championship hopes. The car, as was the rest of the field including the Sierras and evolution BMW's, was outclassed in 1991 by the twin-turbo, 4WD Nissan GTR's of reigning champion Jim Richards and his team mate Mark Skaife. The Nissan's finished the ATCC 1–2 while Richards and Skaife then went on to easily win the Tooheys 1000 with 1990 winners Win Percy and Allan Grice 2nd in the Holden Racing Team VN Commodore.

Brock gave the VN its only win in Group A racing when he won the opening heat of the first round of the 1992 ATCC at Amaroo Park in Sydney, though both he and the Holden Racing Team were again left behind for the rest of the series by the other cars. In September 1992 the VN was replaced as Holden's front line touring car for Sandown and Bathurst by the 1993 spec 5.0L VP Commodore, Brock's team the only top team to run the VN Group A in the endurance races as the team's second car. The VN continued to be used by various privateers and was last used in the 1994 Australian Touring Car Championship by Sydney-based privateer Terry Finnigan.

For racing the major complaint drivers and teams had of the Group A VN Commodore was that it lacked downforce compared to the VL SV. This was as a result of Holden demanding that the car be more pleasing to the eye as a road car compared to the Walkinshaw VL with less body add-ons. While the car had a better aerodynamic drag and was significantly faster in a straight line than the VL (at Bathurst that year, Brock recorded 278 km/h (173 mph) in the Tooheys Top 10 runoff, and aided by a tow from the Sierra of Dick Johnson was recorded at 282 km/h (175 mph) in the race compared to around 270 km/h (168 mph) for the VL the year before), it was slower through the corners due to the lack of downforce. This meant that lap times at most tracks stayed almost the same as with the VL, while actually being slower at Bathurst by around two seconds.

HSV (VN)[edit]


The VN Series HSV Clubsport was released in June 1990 [15] and was based on the VN Commodore. It was offered as a 4-door sedan with a 180 kW (245 PS; 241 hp) 5.0 L Holden V8 engine.


The original HSV Maloo was the VG series, introduced in October 1990 and based on the VG Series Holden Utility. (The VG ute series resembled the VN sedan series in frontal appearance). The VG Maloo was powered by a 5.0 litre V8 engine producing 180 kW (241 hp). 132 examples were produced.[16]



The VN model was introduced to Bob Jane's AUSCAR category in the 1990/91 season. AUSCAR was based on America's NASCAR stock car racing, with the major differences being that the cars were based on the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon road cars and were not pure space frame chassis like NASCAR. AUSCAR's also ran smaller V8 engines (5.0L compared to 6.0L) which developed less power, and as the cars are right hand drive, raced clockwise on the ovals tracks (the Jane owned Calder Park Thunderdome and the ½ mile Speedway Super Bowl at the Adelaide International Raceway) whereas the NASCAR's being left hand drive raced anticlockwise. The theory being that the driver was positioned on the side of the car that was furthest from the outside wall. Also unlike NASCAR, AUSCAR's used a control tyre with tread that was more like a road tyre than a pure racing slick.

The VN was instantly successful in AUSCAR racing and was soon a popular choice as a replacement for the older VK and VL models. Albury based touring car driver Brad Jones won three straight Australian championships driving his CooperTools Racing VN Commodore in 1990/91, 1991/92 and 1992/93.


A VN model Commodore was also developed for NASCAR racing in Australia. Bob Jane, wanting local involvement from Holden, pushed development of a left hand drive VN. Highly respected Roadways Racing chief mechanic Les Small developed the car which Allan Grice drove to a number of race wins in 1990 at both the Calder Thunderdome and Adelaide. The VN used a 358 cubic inch (6.0L) Chevrolet engine such as used in the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Chevrolet Lumina and Pontiac Grand Prix NASCAR's.

Bob Jane had hoped to take the VN NASCAR for Grice to the United States to race in the Winston Cup series, but a fallout between himself as the sanctioning body in Australia, and NASCAR in the USA saw the VN remain in Australia.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Holden Commodore VN Technical Specifications Retrieved from www.uniquecarsandparts.com.au on 7 March 2009
  2. ^ "Driving the Red Lion's finest". Auto Trader New Zealand. ACP Media. Retrieved 2008-03-23. 
  3. ^ Bebbington, Terry (2009). 60 Years of Holden. Padstow, New South Wales: Haynes Manuals. ISBN 1-876953-58-6. 
  4. ^ "Holden VN Commodore Executive standard features". Unofficial Holden Commodore Archive. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  5. ^ "Holden VN Commodore Executive optional features". Unofficial Holden Commodore Archive. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  6. ^ "Holden VN Commodore S standard features". Unofficial Holden Commodore Archive. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  7. ^ "Holden VN Commodore S optional features". Unofficial Holden Commodore Archive. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  8. ^ "Holden VN Commodore SS standard features". Unofficial Holden Commodore Archive. Retrieved 2006-10-21. 
  9. ^ "Holden VN Commodore SS optional features". Unofficial Holden Commodore Archive. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  10. ^ "Holden VN Commodore Berlina standard features". Unofficial Holden Commodore Archive. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  11. ^ "Holden VN Commodore Berlina optional features". Unofficial Holden Commodore Archive. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  12. ^ "Holden VN Calais standard features". Unofficial Holden Commodore Archive. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  13. ^ "Holden VN Calais optional features". Unofficial Holden Commodore Archive. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  14. ^ The HSV Classic Programme Retrieved from web.archive.org on 17 October 2010
  15. ^ Norm Darwin, 100 Years of GM in Australia, 2002, page 337
  16. ^ "20th Anniversary Maloo R8 Brochure". HSV.com.au. Retrieved 11 April 2011. 

External links[edit]