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1984 Holden Calais review
OWNER RATING 6.6 /10
  • The space and comfort; Looked tough; Noise; Had enough power; Digital dash!
  • Not fast; Unreliable electronics; Four-speed manual was weak; Fuel economy
PRICE N/A
ANCAP RATING N/A

by Ben

A bit of a retrospective review here, as this car has been out of my possession for quite a while now. But it has a special place in my heart because it was my first car.

Being a young 18-year-old male back in ’02 and looking for my first car meant I had two choices: a ‘ricer’ or a Commodore/ Falcon. And if my subscription to Street Commodores had any say in the matter, my choice was made. It had to be a Commodore, and the only Commodore that would fit my budget would have to be a first-gen 1984 VK Calais. And what a Calais!

Having been told by my father that it was irresponsible, too powerful, too big and supped up, I had to have it. And $4500 with rego and RWC later, it was mine.

Firstly, a bit about the car. As mentioned earlier, it was a 1984 VK Calais six-cylinder, but with a four-speed manual transmission conversion with short shifter, extractors, alloy wheels, Brock grille, aftermarket steering wheel and sports exhaust. This thing was loud and imposing for a first car, and I thought it was the duck’s nuts and my friends agreed, expect for its poo-brown interior and exterior that at the time I loved.

Drive and handling:
For today’s standards it’s rubbish, but it was planted and cornered not too badly. But a bit skittish in the rear end thanks to its live rear axle and rather ancient suspension set-up. It was rather fun and never felt too wonky in the corners, but it was a family sedan and it acted like one. It did, however, have a tendency to oversteer in the wet, which was discovered while doing a right-hand turn at the lights and spinning it out.

The car was heavy at the time, but compared to today is fairly lightweight. The car stopped well as it was equipped with disc brakes all round and had wide 215 tyres. No active safety here. Hard braking in the wet was scary.

Performance:
The car was no speed demon, but it sounded fast! The pushrod 3.3-litre EFI straight six had a certain charm and mustered up roughly 106kW. This engine was the first fuel-injected engine in the Commodore line-up and was a very basic system at best. It had enough oomph to get around and land me a few speeding fines.

The manual transmission helped with making the car fun to drive. Four speeds meant that the engine was revving a little too high at highway speeds. I don’t know the exact number, but it felt that 0–100km/h was done in about 9–10 seconds. The engine was reliable and solid as a rock, but the transmission was weak and needed a rebuild halfway through owning it.

Fuel economy was not great averaging about 300km to a tank or so. (Oh well, fuel was cheap back then.)

Interior and tech:
The Calais is the top spec for the Commodore – so much so, it’s not a Commodore. It’s a Calais, which I told anyone who asked, and as such came with all sorts of goodies and luxuries. Firstly was the comfort. The seats in all their brown glory were extremely comfy and soft, and are some of the best cloth seats I have sat in.

The rear had headrests, which lower models did not, individual door lights, air-conditioning, cruise control, trip computer, electric mirrors and windows, and of course the brilliantly ’80s digital dash. This was pretty much the deal-maker for me; it looked so cool with its bright-green digital-ness, bar graphs and digital speed readout. Terrific except for one thing: it died often, and the rest of the electronics in this car were horribly unreliable. I joked that this car had everything but none of it worked, and was a constant headache, especially when the dash went. It was expensive to fix.

The room in the car was great, with a big boot for the obligatory subwoofer, and enough room to fit two mates in the back seat comfortably. Leg room was pretty good for the front, but a bit limited in the back, remembering that this is not a large car.

Overall, a pretty good first car. One with plenty of happy memories. Unfortunately, it all came to an end when a van rear-ended me at a highway on-road. Slow enough to not injure me, but enough to write off the car. The good news was that the payout was more than the car was worth, and then I sold it to some guy for parts, furthering the return.

Now I’d love to get the car back, as I really like the shape and the nostalgia, but they are very rare and rather expensive. I should have held on to it.



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HOLDEN CALAIS BREAKDOWN

1984 Holden Calais review Review
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