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Evolution of the Commodore

Strongly built and engineered for country roads as well as city streets, the King of the new car market; Holden Commodore, has an excellent reputation for being able to stand up to daily running on bush roads, as well as the equally tough city commuting.

The current Commodore body began in August 1997 with the VT series. It received a minor facelift and mechanical changes to become the VT Series II in June 1999. The Commodore VX of August 2000 had more appearance changes and the VX Series II arrived just 12 months later. The real changes to the VX II were to the suspension, especially the rear, further improving stability and handling.

Holden introduced the VY Commodore in October 2002 with substantial styling changes. The VY was facelifted to become the VY II in August 2003. Finally, the VZ arrived in September 2004.

The big news with the introduction of the VZ was a new six-cylinder engine. A forerunner of the unit fitted to the current VE Commodore, it was an all-new twin-cam V6 of 3.6 litres. This powerplant is sold in two formats, one with variable valve and intake timing for a greater spread of torque and improved power, the other a more basic unit.

As fitted to the VZ, this engine is not as smooth or quiet as it should be.

Ride comfort is very good, even on rough roads, and this is a genuine five-seater car. Boot space is good in the sedan and excellent in the wagon.

The model range is large: Commodore Executive, Acclaim and Berlina. The most expensive of the lot isn't called a Commodore, simply a Calais, and has almost invariably belonged to a private buyer, while there's a risk the cheaper variants may have been company cars.

On the sporting side are the Commodore S and SS with firmer suspension, tauter steering and revamped seats and body kits. Not as hot as the HSV Commodores, these models do provide a lot of driving pleasure at a moderate price.

Holden frequently does runs of special editions. The best value of them is arguably the oft-recurring Vacationer series.

Under the bonnet

Most Commodores prior to the VZ range have a pushrod V6 engine of 3.8 litres. There's also a supercharged 3.8-litre V6 with added torque, but it never found any real adherents and was discontinued in 2004. From the VZ range, all-new twin-cam V6s of 3.6 litres replaced the ageing 3.8-litre engine. It's a modern engine but not as smooth or quiet as many of its competitors.

There were two V8s in the pre-VZ Commodores, one an old Australian design of 5.0 litres, the other a 5.7-litre Chevrolet unit adapted to Holden specifications. This Generation III Chev V8 is much better than the old Holden one, and resale values of the Holden 5.0-litre suffer in comparison.

Gen III has recently been replaced by a Gen IV with 6.0 litres, but it is still too new to have had any effect on the used-car scene at this time.

Almost all Commodores come with a four-speed automatic transmission; the five-speed manuals are on the crude side by today's standards, so they are rare. Manuals could be difficult to resell, so unless you do a lot of country running or really enjoy that extra bit of control, they are possibly best bypassed.

These are easy cars to work on, with plenty of access to most mechanical components. Good amateur mechanics can do most of their own repairs, although it's best to leave safety-related items to professionals. There are numerous electronic components that also require specialist knowledge and/or diagnostic equipment.

Spare parts are generally reasonably priced and we hear very few complaints about availability from Holden's widespread dealer network, as prevalent in the bush as in the 'burbs.

Insurance is pretty cheap for a car of this size and performance, though there can be a significant extra slug for the sportier models, especially if they have supercharged or V8 engines.

Danger Signs

Be wary of a Commodore that has been a taxi. Look for where signs and meters have been removed and for paint respraying. Severe wear in the cabin and boot is another pointer to an ex-taxi or a hard-working commercial car.

Check for brake fade by doing a succession of hard stops and feeling for a pedal that gradually has more and more travel.

Look for oil leaks at the rear of the engine sump and check the dipstick level as some early units had high oil consumption problems.

Automatic transmissions are generally OK, but one that is slow to go into gear and/or noisy and harsh in operation should be treated with caution.

Rust is seldom a problem in later model Commodores. But look at the lower areas of the body — doors, tailgate and rear windscreen surround — to be sure. Rust is more likely to be caused by poor quality panel repairs than anything else.

Check for previous body repairs by running your eye over the panels, looking for a slightly uneven finish. Watch for paint that doesn't match exactly from one panel to another. Another sign is minute spots of paint on areas normally unpainted.

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