With little more than one day to shoot a review and an airport runway drag race, we jumped at the chance to bring you an inside look at Australia's toughest production muscle car: the HSV GTSR W1.
For those that don't know me, I gave up my engineering career to do something that I love. While I didn't make the most of my engineering degree, I went to university with a number of people that ended up at working at car companies in Australia and overseas. For them, for you reading this and for the Aussie motoring public, the HSV GTSR W1 means a lot.
It represents a time in history that we won't forget any time soon. And, it's a product that defies any logical thought process. I'm willing to bet a slab of VB no carmaker in the history of making cars ever green lit or even entertained a new engineering project that would literally exist in production for less than six months.
It's the main reason I was continuously sceptical the GTSR W1 – if it existed – would ever be more than a power upgrade on the existing LSA engine and Zeta architecture. My engineering mind refused to believe anybody would bother sourcing 300 engines never before used, engineer bespoke components unique to this chassis and then commit hundreds of hours to testing and certifying the package.
But, they did it. HSV went out on a limb and green lit a project for 300 very special cars. The GTSR W1 is likely to be the last Australian car ever built once Holden wraps up production in October and at this very point in time, it appears that all 300 of them have been accounted for.
While the $169,900 (plus on-road costs) asking price may seem steep, it's well short of what people are actually paying their dealers. In a desperate move to secure a car, some buyers have spent close to $300,000 to ensure they have a GTSR W1 in their driveways.
We were originally told by HSV it would be unlikely we'd be able to drive a car outside of the brief launch program held earlier this year. It's the same story we were told by Holden last year at Phillip Island when we had the chance to drive the Holden Commodore Motorsport, Magnum and Director special editions. The three cars we drove were already sold and the entire allocation would be going to buyers – no press vehicles.
When an email appeared from HSV's general manager of marketing suggesting that a handful of media would be given access to one of HSV's pilot build vehicles, we began brainstorming. Our time with the car would be brief – literally collecting on a Monday at midday and returning on a Wednesday by midday.
Sure, it sounds like a stack of time, but in reality our plan was ambitious. By absolute chance we had a Mercedes-AMG C63 S, an Alfa Romeo Giulia QV and BMW M3 Competition booked at the same time. The plan was to shoot photographs of the GTSR W1 on the road, shoot images on the track, film a video review on the road and track and then head to an airport to drag race all four cars.
In reality, we'd normally need a full day at the airport for a video, plus a full day for a track video review, half a day for a road review and half a day for photographs. To top it all off, the airport and race track we secured were around a two hour drive from Melbourne. That meant a 5AM start on Tuesday for the track and a 5AM start on Wednesday for the airport to allow enough time to shoot from day break and enough time to return the car on the Wednesday. And, we pulled it off.
What makes the GTSR W1 so unique?
What makes the GTSR W1 so remarkable is the Zeta platform, which the Commodore is built on, is now over 10 years old. Fitting the LS9 engine under the bonnet of a Commodore was made harder thanks to the fact the LS9 had never been used with an electrically assisted power steering module – it was always a hydraulic unit – and it needed to meet the Euro 5 emissions standard.
A bespoke front-end accessory drive (FEAD) needed to be added to the front end to service the power steering unit and the engine needed to undergo extensive emissions calibrations to meet Euro 5, a task that had never been undertaken for the LS9.
The LS9 also uses a dry sump, which required a custom designed and built centre section to cater for the Commodore's engine bay. Most cars on the market (the LSA-powered GTS and GTSR included) use a wet sump oil capture and return system.
It works by pumping oil at pressure into the piston head, which then lubricates the cylinder shaft to reduce heat and friction. That oil then sits in an oil pan at the bottom of the engine. The volume of oil in the oil pan varies depending on the car. A collector then sucks the oil from the oil pan, sends it through a filter and the process starts again.
In theory this system works well. But, it presents issues for cars that frequent a race track, for example. As cornering gs increase, the viscous oil can move around the oil pan and during extreme cornering can push up against the walls away from the collector.
This can then cause pockets of air, which prevent oil from lubricating the cylinder, which in turn increases temperatures and friction.
A dry sump has the benefit of scavenging oil from the bottom of the engine into a larger oil reservoir. This reservoir sometimes has several collectors and isn't affected by the forces attributed with cornering. It also means a large oil pan at the bottom of the engine isn't required (a smaller one is used instead), which means the engine can sit at a lower centre of gravity.
The dry sump system works by sucking oil from the bottom of the engine into the large reservoir, then sucking oil from the reservoir through a filter and back into the engine. It's the perfect supplement to a performance package that sets this car apart from the rest.
One of the other big changes to the GTSR W1 comes in the form of custom-tuned suspension. Supercars supplier SupaShock created a custom tune for the GTSR W1 with a fixed rate upside down monotube strut at the front with an internal rebound spring and a damper and conical spring at the rear.
It's a firm ride and that's because spring rates have been stiffened by 220 per cent over a regular GTS. The regular GTS and GTSR models retain the magnetic ride control module, which is also found on the limited edition Holden Commodore Motorsport and Director models.
HSV engineers also designed a carbon-fibre air inlet that runs over the radiator and is designed to offer a stable environment for incoming air that's also rigid and strong enough to deal with the pressures associated with the amount of air it's sucking in. It's not the only carbon-fibre on the car with the material also featuring on the front three-quarter panel and rear spoiler.
Unique to the GTSR W1 is a Tremec TR6060 MH3 close ratio six-speed manual transmission. The change to the TR6060 MH3 was required due to the extra torque produced by the LS9 – the GTS's gearbox just wouldn't cope with this amount of torque.
The GTSR W1 also uses a ZF Sachs twin-plate clutch that's lighter and more compact than the GTS. That's thanks to the fact it doesn't have a self-adjusting unit attached to it. It means the clutch pedal feel will change over time, but the vehicle won't suffer from the extra weight required to house the unit.
On the road
While most GTSR W1s are likely to be garaged or taken to the occasional track day, some will eventually spend time on the road. Maybe.
When we collected the car, I was expecting a heavy clutch, tight gearbox and firm ride, but I was pleasantly surprised. While the clutch feels heavier than that of any other HSV and while the ride is certainly firmer, it's nowhere near as firm as I thought it would be.
It picks up a lot of the imperfections on the road, but it's damped softly enough to taper off the sharp thud you'd get through the cabin of an overly firmly sprung car. For example, it rides better than the BMW M3 Competition and Mercedes-AMG C63 S we had through the garage at the same time.
There's also enough torque from the engine to allow the car to move on its own in first gear without needing to dip the clutch.
Then there's the noise... it has such a deep burble at idle that's it's hard to not recognise it's a different beast to an LSA-powered HSV.
Pirelli's PZero Trofeo R tyres are not designed for the wet – they even come with a warning to suggest you shouldn't use them in wet conditions. Thankfully, during the time we had the car, it was bone dry.
There are times with a GTS where the rear can get squirmy under high throttle loads – especially if you jump on the throttle hard in gear with a few revs on board.
The Trofeo R tyres totally transform what you ever knew about traction. You can be at 4000rpm in first gear and pin the throttle to the floor and then change hard into second only to have the tyres hook up perfectly and propel the GTSR W1 forward at spaceship-like pace. The grip is seemingly endless.
That brings me to my next point... the noise. When the bi-modal exhaust opens, everybody around you – even in surrounding suburbs – knows what's happening. The exhaust note then teams with the loudest supercharger whine we've heard on a production car. It is, simply epic!
Driving the GTSR W1 around the streets is far easier than we thought it'd be. It's quite civil and should you choose to hand in your man card and switch to Touring mode, everything becomes quiet and sedate.
At the race track
On the race track this is unlike any other Commodore or HSV before it. Haunted Hills isn't a track built for big supercharged V8 sedans – it's a small, technical track with a number of elevation changes and little room for error.
But, you'd be hard pressed convincing the GTSR W1 that it was too big for the track. By the middle of the day the track's surface had heated up enough to make the most of the Pirelli PZero Trofeo R semi-slick tyres. They become sticky and effective almost instantly.
Initial turn in was communicative with loads of traction and as speeds increased, that barely changed. It got to the point where there was so much grip available that direction changes, which would traditionally unsettle a big car like this, happened with little fuss.
While the fixed rate dampers are firm on the road, they are perfect for a track setup. The car remains virtually dead flat and that helps prevent understeer, which can often be caused by a higher load being placed on an outside tyre during cornering.
The SupaShock setup reduces body roll and in turn allows the inside tyre to maintain a greater contact load with the road, which results in higher mid-corner friction across the front axle and reduces the tendency for understeer.
In addition to this, the brake package proved bigger is well and truly better when it comes to stopping power. There are a couple of deep braking zones at this track, so the brakes received a proper workout as the car circled the track.
They continued to work with the same amount of bite after each and every lap. While the GTS's brakes are nothing to be scoffed at, these monobloc callipers with 25 per cent larger pad area and bigger rotors allow for consistent hard braking.
The best part about the whole package, though, is the calibration of the stability control. We were asked to underwrite the value of the car if we were going to drive it on the track, so for me, it was all about exercising control while having fun.
Not wanting to be the guy that crashes HSV's pilot build car, I left the stability control on in the vehicle's Track setting. This leaves stability control running, but gives the driver tremendous leeway before it steps in.
With these tyres, it's actually quite hard to get the GTSR W1 out of shape unless you really try. So for 99 per cent of punters, it's the perfect track day driving mode.
When all the driver aids were switched off, for dynamic photos, it was progressive and and predictable when it did begin to lose traction, which wasn't too difficult to do with an overzealous helping of throttle mid-corner.
Due to the nature of photographs and filming we were doing at Haunted Hills, we would have lapped the track between 30-40 times in total with a break in the middle to allow the car to cool down.
If this were any other road-going 1850kg car, we would have cooked the brakes and tyres twice over by that point. While we were approaching the ragged edge of the Trofeo R's grip consistency, the car was well and truly ready to continue on with regular engine and oil temperatures, along with brake consistency.
What surprised us the most was the time this monster set down at Haunted Hills. We had the GTSR W1 at the track the same time as we had the vehicles for our recent European sports sedan comparison. That's the Mercedes-AMG C63 S, the BMW M3 Competition and Alfa Romeo Giulia QV.
David Zalstein set times in the three European cars earlier in the day, so for consistency he also set a time in the GTSR W1 for comparison. Its best time was a 1:03:77 — that made it quicker than the C63 S, three tenths of a second slower than the Giulia QV and seven tenths of a second slower than the BMW M3, keeping in mind it's running on what is essentially a semi-slick tyre.
It's not bad for a car that weighs over 300kg more than the M3, almost 300kg more than the Giulia QV and almost 100kg more than the C63 S. On a longer track, such as Phillip Island, there's no doubt the time gaps would increase in favour of the GTSR W1, given its power, tyre and brake advantage over the Europeans.
Drag racing the GTSR W1 against Europe's fastest four-door, rear-wheel drive sedans
What was even more telling for us was how fast the GTSR W1 was in a straight line. We secured the use of a secluded rural runway, closed it briefly and pitted the GTSR W1 up against the fastest four-door, rear-wheel drive European sedans on the market to find out which was quickest over a quarter mile.
The GTSR W1 put up a good fight against an arsenal of cars with sophisticated launch control systems and lightweight bodies. To see how it went, watch our drag race here: Australia vs the World (Mercedes-AMG C63 S v Alfa Romeo Giulia QV v BMW M3 Competition v HSV GTSR W1).
While this may seem like a lot of money to spend on a car sitting on a platform that's over 10 years old, the work that has gone into this car is unprecedented for a vehicle with such a short remaining life span.
And, it's not a last-minute job to earn some more cash before local production ends. It's a true engineering project developed by people passionate for Australian cars.
It drives, handles and performs like a car from a German engineering outfit with thousands of employees.
Instead, this is a product built by a local company with just a handful of engineering and design staff.
It's a product that we as Australians should be immensely proud of. A car that will stand the test of time and go down in the history books and Australia's best, fastest and most powerful car ever built.
Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss this drag race below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.
Why no ratings?
You may have noticed this review is missing ratings. There was a bit of debate internally regarding the ratings and where this car should sit.
As a team we ended up deciding that given it's a special edition, given that it's essentially sold out and given that it no longer has any competitors in the Australian market, it's a rating that would be irrelevant to a buyer of this car. Me, as a guy that's now driven this thing on the road and on the track, I'm openly envious of anybody that's managed to snag an example to call their own.
MORE: How does the HSV GTSR W1 compare to the Holden Commodore SS?
MORE: Australia vs the World (Mercedes-AMG C63 S v Alfa Romeo Giulia QV v BMW M3 Competition v HSV GTSR W1).
MORE: 2017 HSV GTSR W1 wallpaper gallery
MORE: GTS news, reviews, comparisons and videos
MORE: Everything HSV
MORE: Everything Holden