Having read Nick D’s review of his VS Statesman a while back, it prompted me to consider writing a review of my own. It’s my first, so please go easy on me in the comments haha. Here goes!
I was always a car guy. My family often trots out those embarrassing stories of how, as a child of three or four, I would identify car brands based on their emblems while walking down the street. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that my older cousins were teaching me the different Commodore models that, I suppose, made me really catch the Holden bug.
I always loved the LWB land yachts from Holden and Ford. I followed in Dad’s footsteps there with him having had many Statesmans over the years; HQ, HZ, WL and currently plodding along in his WN Caprice-V. There came a time when I decided I wanted to buy my own and stop dreaming! I absolutely adored the class, elegance and smooth lines of the VS Statesman/Caprice twins and often aspired to own one some day.
So, there I was scrolling through the car sales ads as many of us do, let’s be honest, when I came across this gleaming VS Series I Caprice. Finished in white, it exuded mid-1990s levels of luxury fit for chauffeuring Prime Minister Paul Keating around Canberra. It was late 2018 when I decided to inspect this vehicle and from the moment I sat in the driver’s seat, turned the key and heard the cast iron 5.0-litre V8 lion roar to life and settle to a nostalgic eight-cylinder burble, I knew I had to have it.
It had just over 198,000 documented kilometres on the clock and was in just as good condition as the photos and description suggested. I bought it from a dealer who had only owned it for eight months as his personal car, replacing it with a VS Grange. He bought it off an elderly gentleman who had owned it for some 22 years, buying it at only 12 months old. In the time that I’ve owned it, the mileage has climbed to 206,000 km and in those 8,000 or so kilometres, my appreciation for this car has only grown.
The 5.0-litre V8 does a decent job of hauling the Caprice around. While its power and torque figures may not be ground-breaking by today’s standards – or by 1995 standards – they are certainly more than adequate. The smooth torque delivery at low-revs makes for an effortless drive. It does feel its heft in some situations when you find yourself prodding the accelerator a little more to entice a downshift by the transmission, but never does it feel strained or underpowered. Around town, it barely revs beyond 2000rpm between gear changes which adds to the sensation of effortlessness.
Being a heavy car equipped with a V8, fuel economy is not a strong suit, as would be expected. Around town it averages approximately 400 kilometres per tank while long trips improve significantly. On a day trip down the Bellarine Peninsula early last year (before COVID), the Caprice carried five blokes and bags in the boot, covering approximately 350 - 400km and using half a tank of 95 octane juice with mostly highway driving.
The four-speed automatic does its job well, keeping in mind that it’s 25-year-old technology. It changes smoothly and decisively between the gears and doesn’t leave me frustrated or annoyed as some automatics have done in the past.
Being a Series I Caprice, it comes fitted with the standard IRS suspension and not the sometimes-problematic self-levelling air suspension of the later models. It’s a smooth and supremely comfortable ride, as you’d expect from a Caprice. A soft enough ride to be comfortable but not overly floaty as to make the handling unpredictable. Most undulations and imperfections in the road surface are ironed out nicely with only small amounts of movement or vibration being transferred to the cabin. The same applies to road noise and drivetrain NVH. The Caprice’s cabin is a surprisingly quiet and refined place to be for a car of this vintage, with not much causing any unreasonable disturbance to the cabin ambience at all. Although you do still get a taste of the V8 sound, which is not a negative for me at all. This car is by no means a corner carving machine and taking corners with a little too much enthusiasm does make you find yourself leaning over with the fair amount of body roll.
Fortunately, over the time I’ve owned this car, not much has gone wrong at all. One thing that was needed was a resistor for the climate control fan speed. Luckily, I was able to source a new old-stock genuine item for around $80, from memory. Another extremely common issue is the plastic seat trims on the front electric seats almost always break and crumble over time as they become brittle with age. This makes them very difficult to find in good condition. Unfortunately, my Caprice was not immune. I was, however, able to find a set for both front seats and have them fitted. Other than that, only regular maintenance through servicing and such keeps the old girl ticking over nicely and everything working as it should.
The interior is one of the most relaxing and surprisingly spacious I’ve experienced. The seats are incredibly plush and soft, hugging you like big armchairs. With the previous owner having taken impeccable care of this car, the leather is still incredibly supple and soft, adding to the comfort. Almost all surfaces inside the car are padded in some way, either padded leather or a vinyl covering over plastic which, while going some way to lifting it from its humble Commodore origins, reminds you of the relation when touching the familiar hard plastics of items such as the internal grab handles. Not so much a gripe as an observation. The two-tone colour scheme does brighten it up a little and matches well with the woodgrain inserts.
For a 1995 vehicle, I think it is very well equipped. With things like cruise control, front electric seats, climate control, 10-stacker CD player and cassette (wow!), electric antenna, electric windows and mirrors and trip computer. With this being the Caprice, it did receive the fancy illuminated vanity mirrors and radio/audio controls in the roof for the rear seat passengers along with headphones (which are still unopened!). Another neat little touch I didn’t realise until not long ago was the ability to chill the glove box, which I though was pretty cool.
With its 25th birthday passed, it’s easy to forget how old these cars are becoming. They are getting thinner on the ground and are now more appreciated for what they are and always have been. A comfortable, spacious and reliable luxury sedan. Something that we could be proud of having created for ourselves and aspire to own. While that may no longer be the case for our industry, these cars will serve as a reminder of a past that we all remember and appreciate. I am also the owner of a VN Commodore (maybe a review coming soon?) and it is with sadness that I think of how the great brand that produced these cars is now no more. However, hopping in the driver’s seat proves what our industry could achieve and never fails to put a smile on my face!