Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used Holden VS II Berlina 96-97: its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when buying it.
If the theory holds true that the last model in the line is the best to buy, then the VS is the pick of the second-generation Commodores. The theory is that by the end of a model the carmaker has ironed out all the production wrinkles, fixed problems that have surfaced during servicing and developed the car to its peak.
If that's true, it's better to buy a VS Series II than a VT. It's also said to be better to buy an optioned-up model than a bare-bones base car. You'll find it easier to sell later on.
The used car buyer can buy a better model for not much more than a base car. The Berlina, for instance, is the next model up from the Executive. A VS II Berlina cost $8230 more than an Executive when new, but now costs only about $2000 more.
THE final second-generation Commodore was the VS II, released in 1996. It was designed to keep attracting buyers until the all-new VT arrived in 1997. The model began with the VR in 1993 and took in the VR II update in 1994 and VS in 1995.
It was an improved car compared with the previous VN and VP models, but they were still being built to a tight budget. VR was a major breakthrough. It was much more refined, better built and better equipped.
The VS built on that success and the VS II update added gloss to a brilliant success story. The big news in the VS was introduction of the smooth ECOTEC V6 engine. The same 3.8 litres in capacity, the engine produced more power (147kW) and used less fuel (six per cent).
For those wanting more punch the 5.0-litre V8 was optional. Buying a Berlina was about more comforts: velour trim, automatic airconditioning, cruise control, power boot release, power mirrors, power steering, trip computer, sports seats and radio cassette sound with six speakers. Remote central locking improved security, ABS improved the braking, and alloy wheels improved its looks.
ON THE LOT
A V6 VS II Berlina costs $12,000-$15,000. A similar Executive costs $10,500-$13,000. Add $250 for the V8.
IN THE SHOP
BUILD quality improved dramatically with the VR and VS. A new paint shop in South Australia had a huge impact. The ECOTEC V6 is generally quite reliable. Look for oil leaks around the timing cover, rocker covers and oil pan.
Make similar checks on the V8. Problem areas are the power-steering pumps, which leak oil and are known to fail; the electric fuel pump in the fuel tank, which is known to break down; and the power-steering rack, which is known to leak oil.
When checking the power-steering rack, check the rubber boots carefully for damage, tears, splits and cracks. Damage to the boot allows grime in and that can cause damage to the rack and its joints.
Many Berlinas were leased by company executives who could afford the upgrade. They were usually turned over quickly, but often received minimal servicing, so check for a service record.
WITH the VS Acclaim and Calais, Holden was the first local carmaker to fit dual airbags, though the Berlina had a standard driver's airbag.
KIM Maxwell loves the power of the V8 in her 1997 Berlina, but not its fuel consumption. Kim and husband Garry have owned it since new and it has been very reliable over 180,000km. The engine hasn't missed a beat, but a noisy diff required rebuilding at 125,000km.
THE BOTTOM LINE
WELL-equipped Berlina better value for money than Executive, but Acclaim makes more sense with ABS, IRS and airbags standard.
VALUE for money in extra options
BETTER resale potential
COMFORTABLE family transport
RELIABLE, smooth, economical V6
POWERFUL but thirsty V8
Falcon Futura (1996-1998) $11,000-$14,000
Mitsubishi Verada (1996-1997) $12,500-$14,500