Sermon on the Mount

Cometh October and verily did the pilgrims converge upon the sacred Mount where on was preached the sermon of the bent eights. Congregate did the disciples of the Blue Oval and Red Lion sects at this holy place; there to cast empty drink vessels at the unbelievers and to light pyres of sacrificial chariots. And at day's end, when one tribe's champion had smote mightily the other, the believers and philistines all did trail away in a long mournful procession across the western plain ...

SO MIGHT read some scrap of scroll unearthed by a future archaeologist recounting the annual secular rite that is the Bathurst 1000. This weekend's edition might be one of the last to feature only the the clans of Ford and Holden, as the end of the two-make contest is nigh. The need for new blood is widely recognised - not least by incoming V8 Supercars commissioner Mark Skaife, even in the form of marques from distant lands that your flat-earth Aussie V8 believer can scarcely envisage.

That though, like the day of reckoning, is a prospect best not dwelt upon. Today's our day for making a pilgrimage to the Mount in two of the best V8s from the Holden and Ford stables. In sales terms, the fight between the Cruze and the Focus shapes as far more meaningful, but the muscle cars chosen for our excursion show this perpetual heavyweight title fight is far from decided.

Ford Performance Vehicles is represented by its GT-P, essentially a life support system for the stunning new supercharged all-alloy Boss 5.0-litre V8. The fruit of an estimated $40 million investment, it obliges by returning 335kW at 5750rpm and a gut-punching 570Nm from 2200-5500rpm.

That overwhelming (literally as it turns out) off-the-line performance is underwritten by superb Brembo brakes. Visually - despite its sober, deeply dark blue paint, silver accents and grey stripes - it's as subtle as a copping a half-full can of VB  on the scone, with a vast spoiler rising from the rear deck and a mountainous protruding bulge on the bonnet.

The visual cues of Holden Special Vehicle's Clubsport R8 Black Edition emphasise that, although this is a close competitor, the respective cars are about as different as two similar things can be. Ours is luminous white with matt-black accents, even the HSV badges, suggesting nothing so much as a Star Wars stormtrooper helmet. (Lord of the Fully Sith, anyone?) On its V8, FPV has downsized and used forced induction while the Clubbie is all about capacity and natural aspiration in the form of that resonant 6.2-litre V8. For all its size, its output is less than the FPV's - 317kW at 6000rpm and 550Nm at a higher 4600rpm.

The ClubSport's brakes are equally impressive for their progression through the pedal and the assertive bite. There's also an HSV-bespoke limited-slip differential to keep it in shape. With this and the wider rubber around the 19-inch alloys at the rear, the electronic safety measures are less frequently aroused.

Escaping Sydney's ever-expanding sprawl, our 16-cylinder procession abandons the (not so) Great Western Highway, cutting across country via Hampton, Oberon and O'Connell to Bathurst, soaking up the spring rain, sleet, hail and single-digit temperature with which the NSW central west is apt to bushwhack the unwary.

The FPV soon reveals its twitchy, manic manner. This is the one you'd reckon on winning any traffic light derby, or would be if acceleration off the line and out of corners didn't need a sensitive foot. Punch it too hard in any conditions, especially wet ones, and a superb engine - one you'd be happy to find in a top-end Jaguar - is too much for the chassis to handle and the stability program to rein in.

Initial discomfort isn't helped by the most awkward driving position since the old Alfa Romeos. As ever in Falcons, you're perched as though on an orange crate and anyone taller than 185cm has the wheel in his or her lap.

But ... Suck all this up, breathe out and what a weapon you wield. You might undercook your corner entry speed, yet if you pick your moment you'll power out with supreme authority accompanied by the charger's whine. For all the modernity of what's under the bonnet, the character of this package feels more like an older-school muscle car, one that requires your best to get its best.

The Clubsport, by contrast, is more, well clubbable, as in a club to which you have to be elected. More linear than the FPV in almost all respects - acceleration, steering and handling - it fills the grand touring remit with luxuriant ease, barely touching 2000rpm at the legal limit in sixth gear.

A manual gear shifter (which initially brings to mind a piece of gym equipment in its action) feels almost buttery after exposure to the tight-gate rigidity of the FPV's stick.

The HSV's seats are not nearly so supportive as the Ford's big, ribbed sports pews but they are more comfortable over distance, while enhancing the impression that the Clubbie shrinks around the driver as you push through the curves. And it's an interior that at least approximates the spend - hardly lush, it is recognisably that of a luxury car with a standard features list that's as full as its rival's is spartan. And, at 80 big ones, the FPV's innards are too like that of a Falcon of half that price.

The current HSV series is the one that most convincingly answer that age-old question, "Is it worth the extra spend over an SS?" with an emphatic "bloody oath". It also speaks to the man of means who wants to celebrate his success, not with the obvious German device, but a bulging bicep of Australiana that he (or, yes, possibly she) can drive comfortably every day.

None of this is to write off the GT-P. It's an engine in search of a more deservingly contemporary and capable car, yet it provides a rousing contrast, something perhaps for the driver who retains more fire in his expanding belly. What you prefer not to imagine is some ambitious and ability-shy youth getting hold of a well-worn example a decade from now.

And as we end our sermon from freezing, darkening Skyline at Mount Panorama days before the great race, both cars prove that Blue Oval/Red Lion rivalry is as alive on the road as on the track.

HSV R8 CLUBSPORT BLACK EDITION
4.5/5 stars
Price: $71,990
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Resale: 58 per cent
Safety: 5 stars
Engine: 6.2-litre V8, 317kW/550Nm
Body: 4-door sedan
Weight: 1812kg
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Thirst: 13.5L/100km (98 RON)
"A grand tourer par excellence; the everyday muscle car"

FPV GT-P
4/5 stars
Price: $81,540
Warranty: 3 years/100,00km
Resale: 76 per cent
Safety: five star
Engine: 5.0-litre supercharged V8, 335kW/575Nm
Body: 4-door sedan
Weight: 1800kg (est)
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Thirst: 13.7L/100km (PULP)
"Fast and just a bit infuriating"