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Holden LS1 Vehicles Guide - Part One

The evolution of early LS1 powered Holdens

By Michael Knowling

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Since the GM LS1 (aka Gen III) engine was released in the local Holden range, the face of high-performance V8s has been turned on its head. No longer are V8s considered merely loud and obnoxious throwbacks from the past – the LS1 brings enough grunt to rival pretty well anything else on the market (albeit still using pushrods!). Today, seven years after the local release, LS1-powered Holdens have dropped considerably in price and it’s a great time for bargain hunters to get in on the act.

In this four-part series we’ll look at the huge range of vehicles fitted with the all-mighty LS1, its factory development, examine problems and detail its immense tuning potential. Everything you want to know is here!

VT Series 2 LS1s

The first LS1-powered cars in Australia were the VT Series 2 Commodore and WH Statesman range released in mid 1999.

LS1s were made available in the base Commodore Executive, Berlina, Calais, SS and the long wheelbase Statesman and Caprice. In other words, it’s possible to enjoy LS1 grunt in everything from a base-grade Commodore with wind-up windows to a leather-lined Caprice. And, yes, the LS1 was also available in wagon versions of the Executive and Berlina – the ultimate family Q-ship.

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All VTII and WH Holden V8 models share the same 220kW-spec LS1. The LS1 is an all-alloy 5.7-litre bent-eight with a single camshaft, two-valves-per-cylinder and pushrods. It also uses cast-in iron cylinder liners, a cast iron crankshaft, cross-bolted main bearing caps, ‘broken’ big end con-rods, aluminium pistons (for a 10.1:1 compression ratio), all-new cylinder heads, a composite plastic intake manifold, coil-per-cylinder ignition and sequentially fired fuel injectors. In these early cars, output is 220kW at 5200 rpm and 446Nm at 4400 rpm while running on normal unleaded fuel – substantially gruntier than the superseded Aussie 5-litre V8...

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The range of LS1 Commodore-based vehicles was sold with the choice of a six-speed manual T56 gearbox or a four-speed 4L60-E automatic with electronic traction control. The WH Statesman and Caprice were sold as auto-only. With drive delivered to the rear wheels via a LSD, the 220kW six-speed VTII can blast from standstill to 100 km/h in the mid 6-second range. Quick enough to run virtually line-ball with a contemporary Subaru Impreza WRX. Auto trans LS1s are generally around half a second slower in the sprint to 100 km/h while the long wheelbase Statesman and Caprice hover in the low/mid 7s. Interestingly, these early LS1 was often criticised for a relatively lack of bottom-end performance. They are an engine that really wants to be revved - surprising for such a large capacity engine.

Despite having 5.7-litres of muscle up front and rear-wheel-drive, the 1600+ kilogram LS1 VTII and WH Holdens are swift and composed through corners. The IRS gets the grunt to the road with minimal fuss and you can enjoy power oversteer that’s beautifully progressive and well communicated. The big Holden will also understeer under certain conditions but, overall, it’s quite well balanced. Suspension tunes vary depending on model – the long wheelbase vehicles offer the best ride and accommodation while the sporty SS is the firmest. The SS rides on 17 inch alloys wearing relatively low-profile 235/45 rubber and other models ride on 16 inchers with more pedestrian rubber. All LS1 Holdens use ABS controlled brakes.

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Inside, the trim level varies hugely depending on the model. One of the most popular LS1 models – the SS – comes with sports seats, power windows, a single window trip computer, cruise control and air conditioning. The Executive is as bare as they come, while the Berlina adds a more sophisticated climate control system and appreciably better trim. The Calais, Statesman and Caprice are the top-end trio. We believe twin airbags are fitted to most models.

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Visually, the SS is the hottest looking of the bunch. With 17 inch rims, a body kit, fog lights, full colour-coding and some pretty wild paint colours, the SS is hard to ignore. In the other extreme, you can look at the plain-as LS1 Executive which is identified only by its Gen III badges. The Berlina to Caprice models have a classy but relatively un-sporty appearance.

For our review of the VT Series 2 SS, see New Car Test - Commodore SS 5.7 V8


In late 2000, the Holden Commodore was updated to the VX model and an increased engine output was amongst the changes.

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For the VX series LS1, Holden swapped to a LS2 type intake manifold and “higher dynamic range fuel injectors”. With accompanying engine management revisions, these changes gave an extra 5kW and 14Nm – up to 225kW at 5200 rpm and 460Nm at 4400 rpm. Changes to the engine management were also aimed at improved starting, idle quality and automatic transmission shift quality. It appears that the relatively modest power and torque increase gave no measurable improvement in terms of straight-line performance – with some extra equipment and refinement, the VX Commodore was inevitably slightly heavier than the VT Series 2.

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The VX series Commodore is identified by its new lights (a ‘teardrop’ design in some models), grille, rear décor panel and bumpers. The front suspension also has a different lower control arm pivot and stabiliser strut link to deliver more progressive steering and predictable handling. Traction control is also made available in manual gearbox vehicles. Inside, you’ll find subtle trim and specification changes. Side impact safety is also improved. Note that these changes were carried through to the updated Statesman and Caprice range.

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Also in late 2000, Holden released the Commodore-based VU ute. With an IRS, the VU ute gives relatively car-like ride and handling – a trait that has led to strong sales. The 225kW 5.7-litre engine is available as standard in the SS and as an option in the S. The S rides on 16 inch wheels and scores power windows while the SS gets 17 inch wheels, a body kit, sports trim with a passenger airbag and firmer suspension. The SS ute is a great choice for tradespeople who want a practical work vehicle – but a toy as well...

The second generation – Series 2 - VX Commodore was released in late 2001.

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VXII models have no added power (remaining at 225kW) but benefit from improved security, new stalks and controls and minor trim changes. But the biggest news is the introduction of a ‘Control Link’ version of the Holden IRS. In short, the existing independent rear-end received extra link arms which maintain more consistent rear wheel angles during acceleration, braking and cornering. Suspension tune is also revised across all models.

The adoption of Control Links is arguably the biggest improvement since the release of the LS1 powered VTII. Not only is handling improved, many owners also notice improved rear tyre wear (a problem in some earlier models).

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Late 2001 also saw the long-awaited release of the new age Monaro (which has been retrospectively labelled as the Series 1). Much more than a quick rehash of the existing Commodore design, the four-seater coupe offers good space, functionality and stunningly good looks. Interestingly, the suspension is also massively revised with firmer settings and 18 inch wheels with low-profile 40-series rubber. The CV8 (as its name suggests) scores the LS1 V8 engine putting out 225kW/460Nm. Interestingly, output is the same as other LS1 vehicles despite the adoption of a new airbox intake which gives a more pronounced induction note. A six-speed manual or four-speed auto are offered – both with electronic traction control.

See New Car Test - Holden Monaro CV8 for our Series 1 Monaro test.

Stick around for the second instalment of this series – we check out the VY to current models and the HSV iterations!

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