The Holden Commodore SS Group A was a series of four motor vehicle models built by Australian manufacturer Holden and then heavily modified by Holden's official performance tuner, originally the Holden Dealer Team, then later Holden Special Vehicles. The SS Group A series of cars existed primarily as a homologation special, created specifically so a racing optimised version of the Holden Commodore could be utilised for Group A touring car motor racing. The regulations set down by the international governing body FISA for Group A motor racing specified that a minimum of 500 cars were to be built to a certain specification prior to said vehicle being allowed to compete. Group A regulations governed many touring car series at the 1980s and 1990s including series in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Japan, Italy, Germany and the European Touring Car Championship as well as the one-off 1987 World Touring Car Championship as well as significant races like the Bathurst 1000, Spa 24 Hours and the RAC Tourist Trophy. The SS Group A model run ran from 1985 until 1992.
The four models have since become highly collectible amongst Holden and performance enthusiasts. Unique amongst all products produced by both the Holden Dealer Team and Holden Special Vehicles, these cars were referred to as Holdens, rather than as HDTs or HSVs.
VK SS Group A
The first model to be produced it represented Holdens increasing efforts in Group A racing. Available only in blue associated with the corporate colours of the Holden Dealer Team's principle sponsor Mobil, which gave rise to the cars nickname, the "Blue Meanie". Production began in early 1985, but part supply problems saw numbers fall short of the required 500 and it missed the 1 August deadline for it to be eligible for racing that year. Production still continued and the VK SS Group A was available for motor racing from 1 January, 1986. The limited edition, only 502 cars was available only through Holden Dealer Team affiliated Holden dealerships.
The VK Group A SS Commodore was originally intended to be ready for racing in 1985 to replace the standard VK competitors had been forced to use. However, delays in parts from suppliers meant that the HDT had not built enough road going Group A cars to pass homologation on 1 August, delaying the cars on track debut until 1 January 1986. The HDT gave the car a dream debut when Peter Brock and new co-driver Allan Moffat won the Nissan Mobil 500 at the Wellington Street Circuit, while team mates John Harvey and new team engineer/driver Neal Lowe won the Pukekohe 500 in New Zealand in February. Of note, the two winning HDT Cars were not brand new SS Group A models, instead they were the teams 1985 Bathurst Commodores, upgraded to 1986 specifications.
The Holden Dealer Team then took two brand new cars to Europe for the 1986 FIA Touring Car Championship, one for Brock and Moffat and the other saved for the Spa 24 Hours. Brock and Moffat joined fellow Commodore privateers Allan Grice and Graeme Bailey in Europe, with Grice in particular proving to be a revalation in the Les Small prepared VK, qualifying well and leading a number of races at Monza, Donnington Park (where both Brock and Grice led) and Hockenheim. In his dice for the lead at Hockenheim with the factory backed Volvo 240T's of reigning ETCC champion Thomas Lindström and former Formula One driver Johnny Cecotto, Grice set the Group A lap record that wasn't broken and stood until 2000, the year before the track was re-configured.
At Spa for the 24-hour race, with the HDT running their two cars and teaming with the Roadways Commodore of Grice, and after problems including two blown head gaskets in the #05 car, an early lost wheel and later a broken seat for Grice (caused by his oversized co-driver, Belgian Jeweler Michel Delcourt), and no oil pressure for the 2nd HDT car at the end of the race, the two teams claimed the prestigious Kings Cup prize. The second HDT car, driven by New Zealanders Lowe, Kent Baigent and Graeme Bowkett finished 18th outright. The Brock/Moffat/Harvey car finished 22nd while Grice, Delcourt and Belgian Alex Guyaux finished 23rd.
In Australia the Group A Commodore became the car of choice for many privateers in the ATCC with the HDT and ex Grand Prix motorcycle racing star, wise-cracking Kiwi Graeme Crosby being front runners. Brock's former HDT co-driver Larry Perkins set up Perkins Engineering which built customer Commodores for privateers and appeared with his own VK SS Group A in time for the Sandown 500. Peter Brock gave the car its first Australian win by winning Round 6 of the series at Surfers Paradise in what was the last win by a Commodore in the ATCC until Brock won the opening heat of Round 1 of the 1992 championship at Sydney's Amaroo Park. Despite his European racing Brock managed to finish 4th in the 1986 championship being the only Holden round winner.
Better was to come for the Commodore in the endurance races with Grice and Bailey winning the 1986 James Hardie 1000 at Bathurst from the HDT pair of John Harvey and Neal Lowe with Grice becoming the first driver to lap the Mt. Panorama circuit at over 100 mph in a Group A Touring Car when he was timed at 2:16.16 for the 6.172 km (3.835 mi) circuit in qualifying (Grice had also been the first to lap Bathurst at over 100 mph in a Group C touring car in 1982, on that occasion driving a VH Commodore). Grice then went on to win the Group A support race, which doubled as the 2nd round of the 1986 South Pacific Touring Car Championship, at the 1986 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide.
The HDT and Roadways teams also sent their Commodores to Fuji in Japan for the 1986 Fuji 500. Brock and Moffat were out after 94 laps while the Grice/Crosby car was running 3rd with only a few laps left when another lost wheel saw them slip to 5th place at the finish. Early on in the race Brock had battled for the lead with Tom Walkinshaw and Jeff Allam in their TWR Jaguar XJ-S V12's which had been brought to Japan, despite not having raced since winning the 1985 James Hardie 1000. While the top level teams such as HDT and Roadways (Grice) moved to the VL model Commodore in 1987, a number of privateer teams, including Larry Perkins, who claimed his was the fastest Commodore in the world until forced to switch to the VL after crashing at Bathurst, continued to use the VK due to the increasing costs of running the newer cars with VK's last seen in the ATCC in 1990.
Driving his Lansvale Racing Team Commodore, Sydney based privateer Trevor Ashby gave the VK Group A SS its last major race win when he won Heat 2 of Round 1 of the 1987 AMSCAR series at Amaroo Park on 27 March 1987.
VL SS Group A
November 1986 saw the introduction of the Commodore SS Group A which was developed from the Commodore SL by Peter Brock’s HDT Special Vehicles organisation. 500 examples were built, all of them in "Permanent Red", by Holden to allow the model to be homologated for Group A Touring Car racing.
This was the last Group A Commodore produced by the HDT after Holden sensationally ended its relationship with Brock and the team in 1987, after Brock began fitting a device known as the "Energy Polarizer" to HDT vehicles, including the VL SS Group A. Regarded as pseudoscience by Holden and the vast majority of the Australian motoring community, a new VL series "Director" model was released by Brock in February 1987 which incorporated not only the Polarizer but also a new independent rear suspension system developed by HDT without Holden's approval. Holden ended its association with Brock as he had refused to supply a Director for test purposes and Holden was therefore unwilling to honour warranties on any cars thereafter modified by Brock's HDT operation. Holden's decision to end its relationship with Brock ended the HDT being their 'factory' team, an association which started in 1969. After dumping the HDT, Holden formed Holden Motorsport and signed Roadways Racing and Perkins Engineering as their factory backed teams in 1987, with both the Allan Grice and Larry Perkins Commodore's wearing Holden Motorsport logo's during 1987.
The SS Group A was twice a winner during the inaugural World Touring Car Championship in 1987. Allan Moffat and John Harvey drove their Rothmans sponsored Commodore to victory in the very first race of the championship at Monza in Italy. Initially finishing 7th on the road, the pair were declared winners after the entire BMW Motorsport crew running the new BMW M3's that finished the race 1–6 were disqualified for running 80 kg underweight thanks to the use of non-homologated kevlar body panels. Moffat and Harvey would later go on to finish a brilliant 4th at the Spa 24 Hours on the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.
The HDT spec Commodore's second win in the 1987 WTCC was at the 1987 James Hardie 1000 at Bathurst. Peter Brock and his HDT had a well publicised split with Holden in early 1987 which saw the factory stop all support for the race team. Running as a privateer for the first time since 1977, Brock finished 3rd on the road driving with Peter McLeod and David Parsons in the teams second car (#10) after his own car blew its engine on lap 34 with Parsons at the wheel. The two Eggenberger Texaco Ford Sierra RS500's that finished 1st and 2nd were eventually disqualified in February 1988 for illegal bodywork (wheel arches that were 1 size too big) and Brock's HDT P/L were declared winners giving the HDT spec VL Group A SS Commodore two wins from the 11 race WTCC.
Holden VL Commodore SS Group A of Allan Moffat & John Harvey, winner of the 1987 Monza 500, on display at the Historic Sandown 2009 Larry Perkins, who had continued to race the well developed VK rather than upgrade to the VL, was forced to replace his VK when it was badly damaged on just the second lap at Bathurst with a HDT VL, debuting VL in the Bob Jane T-Marts 500 WTCC round at Calder Park Raceway a week after Bathurst. He later qualified his new car on pole and led the early laps of the Group A support race for the 1987 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide before tyre wear forced him to drop back to finish 3rd. In the 1988 Australian Touring Car Championship Perkins ran the VL as the official factory team backed by the then new Holden Special Vehicles. Against the lighter and more powerful Ford Sierra's, Perkins and the VL didn't have the pace to successfully compete for wins, with his best result being 3rd in Round 7 at Sandown and 7th overall in the championship.
VL SS Group A SV
The SS Group A SV was only available in one colour, Panorama Silver, named after the Mount Panorama Circuit near Bathurst, in New South Wales, Australia. The original production run was expanded from 500 to 750 models. Due to its high use of plastic in the bodykit, it was termed such things as the "Plastic Pig" and "Batmobile". Other, less derogatory nicknames included the "Walkinshaw" and the most common of all, "Walky" (after TWR's chief Tom Walkinshaw).
With the requirements of Group A regulations, Holden had to have a car capable of being competitive 'straight off the showroom floor'. Thus it needed a bodykit that would produce large amounts of downforce as well as being low drag. TWR developed the famous Walkinshaw bodykit that was stated to reduce drag by more than 25% over the previous Holden Dealer Team SS Group A.
The engine in the Group A SV, although rated at five litres and 180 kW (241 hp), was specially made to withstand racing conditions. The block was specially cast and crankcase was fitted with four bolt main bearing caps. The heads were revised with high-flow intake ports and roller rockers.
Special connecting rods, crankshafts, and pistons were fitted as well as a custom exhaust, however the big news was the now fabled Walkinshaw twin throttle body inlet manifold. This was specially developed for the group A, featuring a sequential setup with a smaller and larger throttle body. This was fitted with a restrictor plate on the larger, secondary throttle body, which actually let less air through than the smaller throttle body. Some reports have indicated that as much as 50–60 horsepower can be gained from the removal of the restrictor plates.
The Group A SV was made as a limited run of 500 from March 1988 to November the same year, but HSV decided to make 250 more due to demand. These were slow to sell, some examples only being sold several years after the VL ceased production, and some were modified in appearance by the dealers in an effort to get them out of the show rooms.
The Holden VL Commodore SS Group A SV driven to victory in the 1990 Tooheys 1000 by Win Percy and Allan Grice The Group A SV, according to reports, should have made its track debut early in the 1988 ATCC. However, due to the split between Holden and Peter Brock in 1987, the car was severely delayed in the change from HDT to HSV. Instead the car made its world racing debut on 21 August at Brands Hatch in the hands of Mike O'Brien, scoring a 13th place in the 10th round of the 1988 British Touring Car Championship. Its Australian racing debut occurred on 28 August at Oran Park, driven by Garry Willmington in the 1988 Pepsi 250, with Willmington failing to finish.
HSV owner Tom Walkinshaw and his long time TWR driver Jeff Allam drove a TWR entered SV in the 1988 RAC Tourist Trophy race at Silverstone on 4 September, finishing 15th. The car proved itself quick but not up to the speed of the Ford Sierra RS500's. Walkinshaw found the Commodore's performance level to be about the same as the factory Nissan Skyline GTS-R's. TWR also raced the SV at the 1988 Tooheys 1000 in a joint effort with the Perkins run (but TWR owned) HSV Team. The car was retired after just 5 laps with rear suspension failure. Walkinshaw himself was cross-entered in the Perkins/Denny Hulme car for the race. That car was retired from 2nd place after 137 laps with engine failure, a rare thing for a Perkins built engine. This was also the last time Tom Walkinshaw raced as the 1984 European Touring Car Champion retired from driving after the event. The best result for the new VL in its first year was when Perkins and Holden Special Vehicles team mate Denny Hulme scored a 1–2 result in the Group A support race at the 1988 Australian Grand Prix. The pair had earlier finished second at the 1988 Enzed 500 in the factory teams debut of the new car, while their team mates for the race (in Perkin's updated ATCC VL), Armin Hahne and Jeff Allam retired after 56 laps of the 129 lap race.
Wins and even placings were hard to come by for the cars in Australian Touring Car racing during 1989 and 1990 as they were up against the lighter and more powerful turbocharged Ford Sierra RS500's and Nissan Skyline GTS-R's. The factory backed Holden Racing Team was hardly seen other than at the major endurance races at Sandown and Bathurst and it was left to the privateers to fly the flag for Holden. At the Sandown 500, Perkins teamed with Win Percy to finish 2nd behind the Skyline of Jim Richards and Mark Skaife. At the 1989 Tooheys 1000, the fastest Holden was the Holden Racing Team VL of Perkins and defending race winner Tomas Mezera who qualified 11th, some 3 seconds off the pace. This meant that for the first time since it was introduced in 1978 no Holden qualified for the pole shootout. In the race the two HRT cars of Perkins/Mezera and Percy/Neil Crompton finished 6th and 7th respectively and were the first Commodore's to finish, 3 laps down on the winning Dick Johnson/John Bowe Sierra.
Fortunes for the car turned around with a surprise win in the 1990 Tooheys 1000 by Win Percy and local hero Allan Grice driving for the Holden Racing Team (the winning car was in fact the same car that failed under team owner Walkinshaw during the 1988 race). This was followed by a win in the 1990 Nissan Sydney 500 at Eastern Creek Raceway by Perkins and Tomas Mezera in Perkins privately entered car.
The car was replaced for 1991 by the Holden VN Commodore SS Group A but made a comeback of sorts in 1992 again campaigned by Perkins who reverted to the VL model once more, winning the 1992 Sandown 500 before going on to start on the front row at Bathurst. The Sandown event was the last major win for the VL SS Group A SV.
For 1993 the VL was abandoned by the major teams in Australia as that year saw the start of what is today's V8 Supercars. The car was still used by the majority of the privateer teams up until the end of the 1995 Australian Touring Car season.
VN SS Group A SV
The final SS Group A based on the VN model was troubled, entering the market at a difficult time for expensive vehicles. Only 302 of the planned 500 vehicles were produced. The shortened run did not affect its homolgation for racing with CAMS giving the car special dispensation to run in the hope of bolsterring thinning grids in the 1991 Australian Touring Car Championship.
The VN SS Group A saw the return to Holden of former favourite son Peter Brock in 1991 after three seasons first running BMW M3's and then Ford Sierra RS500's. Brock teamed with former three time Bathurst co-winner Larry Perkins for the first time since 1985 to run two cars under Brock's Mobil sponsorship and along with Bathurst winners the Holden Racing Team, they formed the front of Holdens championship hopes. The car, as was the rest of the field including the Sierra's and evolution BMW's, was outclassed in 1991 by the twin-turbo, 4WD Nissan GTR's of reigning champion Jim Richards and his team mate Mark Skaife. The Nissan's finished the ATCC 1–2 while Richards and Skaife then went on to easily win the Tooheys 1000 with 1990 winners Win Percy and Allan Grice 2nd in the Holden Racing Team VN Commodore.
Brock gave the VN its only win in Group A racing when he won the opening heat of the first round of the 1992 ATCC at Amaroo Park in Sydney, though both he and the Holden Racing Team were again left behind for the rest of the series by the other cars. In September 1992 the VN was replaced as Holden's front line touring car for Sandown and Bathurst by the 1993 spec 5.0L VP Commodore, Brock's team the only top team to run the VN Group A in the endurance races as the team's second car. The VN continued to be used by various privateers and was last used in the 1994 Australian Touring Car Championship by Sydney based privateer Terry Finnigan.
For racing the major complaint drivers and teams had of the Group A VN Commodore was that it lacked downforce compared to the VL SV. This was as a result of Holden demanding that the car be more pleasing to the eye as a road car compared to the Walkinshaw VL with less body add-on's. While the car had a better aerodynamic drag and was faster in a straight line by almost 20 km/h (12 mph) (at Bathurst) than the VL, it was slower through the corners due to the lack of downforce meaning lap times at most tracks stayed almost the same as with the previous car, and were in fact slower at Bathurst by around two seconds.