When Holden ceases local production of the Aussie-as-pie-and-sauce Commodore next year, it is widely tipped to be replaced by the German-designed Opel Insignia, rebadged as a Commodore. This has ruffled more than a few feathers in the red corner of the Civil War between the forces of Ford and the Lionhearted.
‘Bloody hell. A German Commodore. That’s not a Commodore. This is a Commodore,’ says a random Holden fanboy pointing to his original 1978 VB in mint green metallic paint (accented by some natty bronze pin-striping down the flanks) with plush tan cloth interior.
When the VB Commodore was launched on to the Australian market it signalled a seismic shift in our motoring landscape. Here was a car that was much more refined than its predecessors, offering a level of comfort and luxury, not to mention ride and handling previously only available in imported cars. This was Aussie engineering at its best.
Except it wasn’t.
The VB Commodore, the first in a line of Aussie-built, Aussie-tough Holdens was in fact about as Australian as Bratwurst - based, as it was, on Germany’s equally as refined ‘executive sedan’, the Opel Commodore. Or, if you lived in England, the Vauxhall Viceroy.
Above: 1978 Opel Senator
Actually, if we’re being completely honest, the Holden Commodore was a bit of a Frankencar, assembled from bits and pieces sourced from the Opel parts bin. With Opel’s V-body platform providing the underpinnings, the Aussie-built Commodore utilised the body shell of Opel’s Rekord with the nose of the Senator grafted on to the front. It was, and remains, the bastard love child of those two models.
But such a roaring success was the Commodore in Australia, that Opel’s V-body platform served as the building block for a succession of models, the last of which, was the popular (and still highly visible on our roads today), VL. By then, Holden’s designers had slowly and inexorably steered the design away from its German origins. But, there can be no argument that the VL still bore more than a familial resemblance to its forebears.
Above: Even the wagon was pinched from the Germans, in this case the 1982 Opel Rekord Estate
In 1988, Holden introduced the VN model to Australian roads, but hold any thoughts that this was another fine piece of Aussie engineering.
Adopting a similar, if lengthened version of the Commodore’s previous platform, i.e. Opel’s V-body, the designers of the new-gen Commodore again borrowed heavily from their German Opel counterparts for its styling cues – namely, the Opel Senator and Omega.
Above: 1988 Opel Omega
Above: 1994 Opel Omega
The Opel Omega would, in fact, serve Holden’s engineering and design department well over the next few years, its platform forming the basis of the next generation of Commodores all the way through to 2006’s VZ model.
Above: 1999 Opel Omega
By then, of course, Holden’s engineers, perhaps sick of the long travel times to Germany to see what platforms and parts they could nick from their German cousins, had been working hard at designing what would become the first all Australian-designed Commodore, 2007’s VE.
With a project budget believed to be in excess of $1billion, the VE was an immediate success, offering a level of engineering and refinement never-before-seen in an Australian-designed car. It was so good, we even started exporting it to the Yanks were it was badged as a Pontiac G8.
Above: Pontiac G8, proving (finally) that Aussies could build and design a car from scratch
But, inevitably, all good things must come to an end and it is the same for the Holden Commodore. The VF model currently available from dealerships around the country will be the last built in Australia, ending a short history of Aussie design and engineering that dates back to… 2007.
So next time you want to have a whinge about the Opel Insignia (or, whatever car Holden decides to import and rebadge as a Commodore) being a German car and not an Aussie icon, take a deep breath and remind yourself that your beloved true-blue Aussie Commy started life in Germany as an Opel.
Just like the new one.