My, how the badges lie. To anyone else on the road, this black Holden Commodore is a regular HSV GTS, the 6.0-liter V-8 sport sedan built by GM's Australian hot-shop, Holden Special Vehicles (HSV). With its 20-inch wheels, big brakes, and tied-down suspension, the HSV GTS previews the 425-hp Pontiac G8 GXP we'll see here sometime in late 2008.
Under the hood, though, is a little secret -- a 7.0-liter, 505-hp LS7 V-8 lifted straight out of the Corvette Z06. Yup, it basically bolts right in. And it's taken an outsider to do the operation many Aussie musclecar enthusiasts have been waiting for GM to perform. The work has been done by Corsa Specialized Vehicles (CSV) in Melbourne, Australia, a tuner with no small amount of experience in turning out some wicked Commodore-based projectiles over the last 15 years or so.
We've driven the car: Run it down the drag strip, through peak-hour traffic and out in the country, so can attest that the engineering, the finish and most of all the performance work beautifully. All it needs now is a new badge.
It's worth cutting straight to the chase and talking about acceleration. There's a six-speed automatic involved but experience on the road suggests that, even with a rubbered-up track surface, traction off the line won't just be difficult, it'll be virtually non-existent. Chevrolet's figures show the LS7 grunts out 470lb-ft, but this example, with a better intake and exhaust system, is certainly producing even more, so what chance do a pair of standard, 20-inch Bridgestones have when that lot is unleashed in anger?
Holden's traction and stability control is left to sort it out. Load up the torque converter, then... wham! The GTS stutters a bit on the software, then hooks up and catapults down the track. Manual shifting the 6L80E transmission seems to work best, but there's a few seconds of head scratching when the first-to-second gearshift hits the rev-limiter as the shift software finds it difficult to match the rapid escalation in revs. The answer is to leave it in Drive for that first shift, then change gates for manual shifting into third and fourth, using about 6500 of the available 7200rpm. Work that lot out, and each run is as repeatable and trouble free as the last.
The results? Pretty spectacular, for a sedan less than half the price of equivalent muscle from Germany. The 0-62mph time is 4.89 seconds; the standing 400 meters (14ft short of a quarter mile) takes 12.90 seconds at a terminal speed of 116.2 mph. But then there are a couple of other numbers to consider. The standing 125 mph -- a speed few cars are able to reach in less than 500 meters -- comes up in just 14.7 seconds, and the 7.0-liter GTS is still hauling hard. But then there's the elasticity afforded by all that torque, too. In third gear, the 50-75 mph overtaking increment is demolished in 3.2 seconds, but in sixth (the auto's manual shift mode allows no kick-down) the same speed range is covered in just 7.3 seconds.
I buy cats, dead or alive...