If you're a car enthusiast, chances are you likely fail to identify various countries by the flags they fly. You're more likely to identify a particular country with an iconic car it's contributed to the automotive community.
Japan has the GT-R, the Supra, the FD. Utter the word “England” and an Aston Martin likely springs to mind. Think of Italy and a violent image of a raging bull or a prancing horse titillates the senses. Sum up Australia in three words and they'd likely be “mate”, “beer” and the most iconic of all, “Holden”.
So, when the opportunity presented itself, I fulfilled my civic duty as an Australian and I bought one. The particular Holden I bought was a 2008 model VE SS ute with the six-speed manual transmission and the 6.0L L98 engine.
Assuming you haven't been living under a rock for the past nine years, the VE will need no introduction. If you have been, don't stress! Open your blinds and look outside, chances are there's one parked in front of your house.
The SS ute is a handsome car with muscular, purposeful lines that go hand in hand with the cranky roar of the L98 engine. I particularly like the wide wheel arches, the SS looks particularly staunch when you view it front on.
Inside the cabin you're greeted with an interior that screams mass produced vehicle, à la Australian domestic cars of the mid noughties. The seats are comfortable, there's an incredible amount of room and the rest of the interior serves its purpose. Build quality isn't what I'd deem impeccable. Far from it, actually, but it meets expectations of a base model Holden ute. It is bland and some components do feel low rent, but it works.
Turning the key and firing up the 6 litre doesn't only start the car, it ignites your inner hoon. No one with a passion for cars and a pair of hears hanging off their head can resist cracking a cheeky grin when the beast roars to life before settling down to a thunderous idle, it just sounds too menacing.
Out on the road the VE is very well mannered and relatively quiet. The clutch is light, the steering is fine, the car handles the road well without too much road noise and the crackling backfire of the V8 leaves you smirking like a school girl every time you decelerate, especially prolonged periods off throttle when you're heading down a hill.
After driving the SS around town for a while, I decided to take the it for a proper run and put it through its paces over Mount Nebo. Those of you local to South East Queensland will know what that particular stretch of road offers; a grueling test of machine, in particular its brakes.
It wasn't long until I'd exposed the VE's achilles heel, with the brakes warming up and deciding to give out on me coming into a tight left hander. It made it through the tight spot way faster than a big girl should have, which is a testament to just how well the Holden can change direction! It surprised me, really. It's no sports car, but for the sheer size and weight of the machine, it can certainly cop a few corners in its stride. A brake upgrade would be on the cards if you were the sort of VE owner interested in track work or spirited weekend drives.
The L98 is a fantastically torquey motor and it had me acting like an obnoxious rat-bag at every given opportunity. You just can't help but rev match the downshifts in the car, even when you're just putting around town. It's music! It falls off the power curve rather quickly and goes a little flat when the revs increase. I'm sure this can be overcome with a decent cam and a few supporting mods, however. Let's face it, if you're keeping the car and you're a rev head, this will undoubtedly be the course of action you take, anyway.
The Holden ute is every bit as significant to Aussie culture as our coat of arms, the national anthem and Vegemite. Holden has come up trumps with the VE SS ute and with a few tiny modifications, you could wring a great deal more performance out of what is already a cracker of a vehicle!