Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used VT Commodore V6 Executive And Acclaim 1997-1999, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when you are buying it.
Holden execs were given the best Christmas present possible in 2002 with news that sales of the Commodore had reached record levels, surpassing even the benchmark set by the HQ back in 1973. Indirectly the record new car sales is also good news for buyers of second hand cars with a glut of used Commodores threatening to flood the market giving buyers the perfect environment in which to haggle with dealers.
Many dealers don’t want to take on any more VR and VS Commodores, most of them have one or two gathering dust in their yards because they’re getting hard to shift at a price that delivers them a profit. The good news is that the VT Commodore is also becoming hard to shift, not because it’s a bad car, but simply because there are so many on offer that buyers can afford to be choosy, and can afford to negotiate hard.
The VT was an all-new Commodore launched in August 1997, the result of a $600 million spend by Holden as the company moved to reinforce its position as number one carmaker in the country.
The VR and VS Commodores before it had been well accepted by buyers and the VT built on the success of those two models.
Holden’s styling boss, Mike Simcoe, hit the jackpot with the VT, designing a elegant shape that had a hint of sportiness. With a longer wheelbase and wider track it had well balanced proportions and an aggressive stance on the road. The smooth dynamic front end flowed through to a substantial rump, and for once the body was allowed to hug the wheels in a way that’s normally only associated with BMW.
With the current VY Commodore another facelift of the shape originally introduced with the VT, the VT has not yet dated and still looks good. Some even rate its smoother lines and elegant shape more appealing than the new car.
The all-new VT body was stronger and more rigid that any Holden before it, and that translated into improved crash protection, more responsive handling and greater overall refinement.
Safety of the VT was also boosted by the fitment of a driver’s airbag as standard across all models – a passenger airbag was optional – pyrotechnic seat belt pretensioners that worked in tandem with the airbag, and a lap/sash belt for the centre passenger in the rear seat.
Security upgrades including remote deadlock release, free-turning door lock cylinders, a steering column lock that was designed to slip when forced, and an immobiliser made the VT harder to steal.
Engine choices included Holden’s 5.0-litre V8 and a supercharged V6, but the 3.8-litre ECOTEC V6, which gave it plenty of punch, delivered the primary source of power in the VT. Boasting a power peak of 147 kW at 5200 revs, and maximum torque of 304 Nm at 3600 revs, the fuel-injected overhead valve 90-degree V6 would power the VT from standstill to 100 km/h in 8.5 seconds.
There was a choice of a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed electronic auto transmission, with drive through the rear wheels.
Suspension was by MacPherson Strut at the front and semi-trailing arm independent at the rear, and there was a sports suspension option available at extra cost.
Brakes were discs all round, with ABS available as an extra cost option, and steering was power assisted.
Velour trim was a feature of the comfortable interior, which featured new ergonomically designed seating and improved instrument panel.
All models had power height adjustment for the driver’s seat, cushion tilt adjustment, trip computer, power mirrors and remote boot release.
Air-conditioning, anti-lock brakes, traction control, passenger airbag, power windows, CD player were all available at extra cost.
The Acclaim was equipped to appeal to private buyers, and boasted dual airbags, anti-lock brakes and auto trans as standard, but air-conditioning remained an extra cost option.
ON THE LOT
The good news for used buyers is that there are plenty of VTs sitting around in dealer yards, and that means there’s not only plenty of choice when it comes to colour, trim and options, but there’s also the chance to beat the prices down with dealers wanting to move cars on.
Base Executive V6 manual sedans from 1997 will have done between 100,000 and 140,000 km and are valued between $12,500 and $15,000. The same car with auto will be worth about $500 more, with wagons carrying a premium of around $1000.
The well-equipped Acclaim is the best choice and early examples will be priced between $15,000 and $18,000.
Later cars built in 1999 before the June introduction of the VT Series II should normally have between 75,000 and 95,000 km on the odometer. Executive V6 manual sedans are valued at between $13,500 and $16,500, with autos $500 more expensive. Wagons will be priced about $1000 higher while Acclaims will carry a sticker between $16,000 and $19,000.
IN THE SHOP
Better design integrity and improved build quality mean that VTs generally stand up well in service and most with be tight with few squeaks and rattles.
Look for oil leaks from the engine, which is prone to leakage from the rear main oil seal, oil pan and front timing cover seal.
Oil leaks are also a problem from the power steering pump and rack so have a good look under the car.
Rear tyre wear can be high with the independent rear suspension of the VT. This is more of a problem with cars powered by the V8 engine, particularly if they’re driven hard as they tend to be. It’s not such a problem with the V6 because the cars generally aren’t driven as hard, but the tyre wear problem was a major incentive for Holden to introduce the much needed extra toe-link, or Control Link, on the rear suspension of the VX Series II.
The attractive interior trim stands up well to the ravages of the harsh Aussie sun and there’s little problem there.
• strong new car sales means plenty of choice for used car buyers.
• contemporary look without the new car price tag.
• well equipped Acclaim the best choice with standard auto, airbags and anti-lock brakes.
• strong rigid body means few squeaks and rattles in older cars.
• punchy performance from 3.8-litre V6.
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