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
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substantially gruntier than the superseded Aussie 5-litre V8...
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
The second generation – Series 2 - VX Commodore
was released in late 2001.
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
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).
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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