Musings on the Motoring World

The Death of the V8 Family Car

2017 has been a lot of things to many people, most of which were just hysteria over an orange businessman being promoted to the most powerful office in the world.

The same can be said about the closure of Holden’s Elizabeth plant and Toyota’s Altona factory in Australia, which brings 69 years of Australian car manufacturing to an end. During the twin closures, which took place within the span of four weeks, the local press was filled with eulogies of the demise of Australian manufacturing on one hand, and on the other, applause that it will finally plug that big gaping money hole from government handouts – even if it was at the expense of between 5,000 and 50,000 jobs.

But to the rest of the world, the closure of Holden’s plant barely gets a mention. In the grand scheme of things, it seemed like nothing more than a footnote in history. A case of a brand failing to adapt to globalisation, or more like General Motors gross negligence of the world outside the States.

So was it all just plain old hysteria from the Aussies?

Certainly not, and speaking as an outsider who isn’t trying to earn some Vegemite-coated brownie points from his newly adopted homeland, there is genuine sorrow for the death of the true Holden Commodore, which will be replaced by a rebadged Opel next year, and I for one am bereaved to witness the last of its kind pass into the annals of history.

As Joni Mitchell once clearly serenaded, “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone”, and the closure of the Elizabeth plant signalled the end to the V8-powered Commodore, ending a proud lineage that stretches back nearly four decades.

The Commodore’s end wasn’t all that untimely, instead, its sales have been steadily dropping as the Australian market became flooded with imported cars that were more economical to buy and own, had stronger brand values, and, arguably, came from a dealer network that didn’t act like complete a**holes.

But more than just nationalistic pride and being the first car to many, the Commodore had some unique merits. It was a car built by people of this great and warm country for the people of this vast and unforgiving continent. It was a car that you knew for certain it could tackle its rough roads and harsh elements time and time again without so much as blowing a gasket.

For many of these Australian families, the locally-built Holden Commodore and its dearly-departed rival, the Ford Falcon and its Territory SUV sibling, were the only two cars that could take on Australia. And that reputation isn’t misconstrued. There is a reason why many car companies still ferry their prototypes over vast distances to Australia for evaluation.

So yes, the grievances of many Australians is understandable, but what about the rest of the world? How does the death of an Australian car, built for Australia be of any significance to the rest of the world?

Well, it can be easily summed up in two words, “V8-powered Commodore”.

With the end of the V8-powered Commodore, the last V8-powered family car in this world has died. Now you might argue that there are plenty of V8 family cars around, like those from Mercedes-Benz or Jaguar, but they are all billed as “premium” and “luxury” cars, and thusly priced for a princely ransom. They are performance cars with four doors and extra ISOFIX points to strap a child seat on.

For AUD48,000 you could get yourself a nice V8-powered Commodore SS. A V8 Chrysler 300, its nearest equivalent, will set you back AUD65,000. That’s mid-range 3 Series money for a pretentious car that isn’t as well-built and from a dealer network that elevates its service to an S&M artform. And besides, Chrysler bills the 300 as a “premium” sedan on the cheaps, the choice for the pretend wealthy, so it’s not quite as egalitarian as the Commodore.

And that is the keyword here, egalitarian.

A V8 AMG or BMW is for fund managers speeding between their power lunches because they can bloody well afford the state ticketing them. And even though an extra AUD10,000 could land you in a lovely V8 Mustang, there is just too much of an infantile bro culture surrounding it, which sends the wrong message to your neighbours.

And that is the deal with the V8 Commodore. It doesn’t matter that it has a big burly V8 engine that is completely unnecessary and wasteful if you don’t plan on towing heavy loads or driving across the country. If you buy a Commodore you are a responsible, salt of the earth person, who is looking out for nothing more than their family, no matter how many neighbours you wake up when starting it in the morning. It’s handsome but chooses to hide its muscle beneath its civility. It’s pleasantly unassuming, yet still ticks all the right boxes to satisfy your inner hoon.

Yes, a V8 is a hopelessly outdated anachronism in today’s age of downsized hybridised powertrains, but as Jack Baruth once wrote about the enthusiast’s affection towards complexity, there is still something in a V8 that stirs the soul. Some innate desire only eight pistons crisscrossed in a baritone symphony of power can satisfy. And it is a shame that in this day and age you could get a hatchback that could outrun and outgun a 1990s supercar, and yet you can’t seem to have a sensible family car with a V8. The world truly doesn’t know what it has lost.

To take a leaf from the many Twitter ramblings of that orange man in the Oval Office, only one word can accurately express its demise… “Sad!”

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