Owner Review

1990 Holden VN Calais review

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You Can Polish a Turd – The Revolution of the VN Commodore

Over the 29 years it has graced our streets, somewhere along the way the VN Commodore has turned from (albeit poorly constructed) prestige into a punchline. Often at the butt of jokes surrounding 'Straya Pride', it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the VN is currently seeing out its days in the shadows of its predecessor’s limelight. The main question I have is – is the joke warranted?

My relationship with the VN goes back to when I was around nine. A friend’s stepdad had a white Calais with gold bumpers, which stood out to me as a cool car. It sounded great, looked awesome and went pretty hard. Jump forward 10 years to when I was searching for a new car, and I wanted something old, but not too old, and cheap yet not horrible. Then I saw it. A Sapphire Blue 1990 VN Calais with a sunroof, leather interior, climate and cruise control, alarm and immobiliser, as well as an aftermarket stereo, cold-air intake and 3-inch exhaust. Needless to say, I could see the potential, and at $2500 I thought it was the best value for money I could have found.

Knowing full well the jokes and image this car would bring with it, I bought it anyway, partly because I was in on the joke. Surprisingly, what I came away with was something not funny at all. In fact, I came away with something incredible.

After owning the car for a year now, I still turn around to look at it when I park because I believe it’s a genuinely good-looking car. Inside the car is a great place to be too: the leather seats are comfortable and easy to sink into, making it a great car for long drives, of which I have done a lot of. The climate control works amazingly well for its age, especially as the VN Calais was the first Holden ever to be released with it.

Driving this car around is surprisingly easy. The car feels like it has plenty of grunt when you put your foot down and stays incredibly cool in the traffic, rarely rising above one-quarter on the temperature gauge.

The main criticism I have would be the boat-like handling, which I’ve tried to minimise in the form of strut bars and upgrades to wider wheels and tyres from a VP SV5000. (I think the car is due for some more suspension work, though, which is at the top of the to-do list.)

On the maintenance side, whether or not this one is just a diamond in the rough, it’s definitely the most reliable car I have ever owned. It just keeps going. The main things it has needed have been a new harmonic balancer and new radiator, and while those things seem quite big, they were old parts that had suffered 240,000km of wear and tear.

Possibly the biggest thing I have noticed is the slow change in people’s reactions towards the car. From the very start of my journey, there have been people who think that it’s funny and a bit crap, but ever so slowly they have been weaned out by a majority of petrol heads and general people who wind down windows at intersections, turn their heads, compliment me at the petrol station and at the hardware store, and mostly they all say the same thing: “Don’t see many clean ones anymore. That will be a classic one day!”.

Granted, while that doesn’t really mean anything, it’s got me thinking about the fact that ever since owning mine, I have seen all but five Calais on the road. This tied with the steadily increasing selling prices of cars like the VN SS and SV5000 in recent auctions, and the reoccurring cycle of cars that go from being thrashed to being worth a pretty penny, means maybe a new chapter for the VN is sitting just around the corner. A chapter wherein much like Morrissey’s Joke, the VN isn’t funny anymore.