There’s a calling that emanates from a relatively innocuous hill in the central west of New South Wales. But this bump in the earth’s surface, just to the south of the former gold mining town of Bathurst, is home to a road that doubles as a race track and, once a year, becomes the home of “The Great Race“. That calling, to a place known as “The Mountain”, to Mount Panorama, entices the faithful and the dedicated with their almost tribal allegiances to a driver or a team, and since the 1990s, has coloured their blood red or blue exclusively. You’re either a Holden bloke or a Ford bloke, such is the barrier.Holden Special Vehicles, HSV, was born out of the breakdown in the relationship between car manufacturer, Holden, and its formerly favourite son, race car driver Peter Brock. Brock had taken over the running of the Holden Dealer Team and had formed an after market division, which eventually lead to Holden breaking off their supply deal. In 1987, Holden signed an agreement with Scottish born driver and businessman, Tom Walkinshaw, forming a joint venture that was named Holden Special Vehicles.One of the first products of that union was based on the Holden VL Commodore; HSV fitted an aerodynamically tested body kit, painted in a silver with hints of blue. Known colloquially as “The Batmobile” due to the add ons, the Holden VL Commodore SS Group A SV would set the tone for many of the following products.In 2016, HSV unveiled two limited edition models. Using the Clubsport as the donor, there is the Limited Edition SV Black, available in both sedan and ute bodies. The other is a car that harkens directly to the history of motorsport and was driven in Bathurst, the HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition. Clad in “Sting” red paint, with yellow AP Racing brake calipers visible through gunmetal grey “Blade” alloys at 20 inches in diameter, the Track Edition makes for an ideal way to nod at Australia’s diverse and rich motorsport history.Mount Panorama is unique amongst the world’s motorsport circuits; its peak is 874 metres above sea level and there’s a height differential of 174 metres between the peak and the lowest point of the track, the starting straight. There’s slopes as tight as one in six and a corner said to have the highest tyre load of any race circuit in Australia plus the fastest corner in touring car racing. There’s a couple of cold facts.What isn’t cold is the warmth the place generates for the fans of motorsport that make the annual pilgrimage “out west”. There’s good natured rivalry, with supporters of the red and the blue sharing campsites, gags, memories and, importantly, a love of a good V8.The Track Edition packs a 340 kW/570 Nm 6.2L LS3 V8, pinched from Chevrolet. There’s a real transmission, a six speed manual, with an almost too light clutch. It’s unlike older cars, where the joke ran along the lines of being able to tell a HSV owner due to the size of the calf muscle in the left leg. It’s easy to push and balance on the throttle when required and it helps that the gear selector is couched in a definitive feeling gate mechanism. There’s a satisfying snick/snick/snick as you change up or down, as satisfying as the sound of a cold one being opened in the camping grounds.It’s a big heart, the LS3 V8. There’s a bore of near as dammit 104 mm, a stroke of 92 mm, with a free revving nature to boot. That peak power comes in at a typically high 6000 rpm, and the peak torque at 4600 rpm. It’s a gentle upwards slope for that torque, though, with just over 400 of them waiting to be told what to do at just 1000 revs. Just like the denizens that pack The Mountain every October, it’s easy going, relaxed, unfussed…until it’s pushed. Leave it in sixth at legal speed and press the loud pedal. It’s called the loud pedal for a good reason. There’s a low, long, subterranean, growl that builds and builds and builds from the front, as the induction system sucks in litres and litres of air, mixing with dinosaur juice and spitting out the remains via the quad exhaust.That quad exhaust is linked to a dial in the humble looking cabin. There’s a choice of Touring, Sport and Performance. Leave the dial on Touring and at idle you’d be pressed to say the engine’s running. Move it to either of the other two and a pair of baffles open in the inner banks of the mufflers, opening the throat of the LS3 and letting the world know it’s an eight in a vee. From a standing start and driven the way a muscle bound car should be sees license goodby speeds reached in a few seconds, a roaring, chest thumping snarl from both ends as you pluck the gears, easily finding each cog as the beautifully weighted selector falls to hand and the clutch and accelerator dance in unison. At Northern Territory legal speeds, the engine is barely ticking over at 2000 rpm.The MacPherson struts up front and multilink rear end are sprung with linear rate coil springs and for a car weighing over 1800 kilos it’s adept, comfortable in the ride, eats unsettled surfaces and totally undermines any perception that a muscle car should be uncoordinated in the way it drives. Even the electrically augmented steering is light, two fingertip light and responds instantly, changing the direction of the red machine instantly, as the Continental 275/35/20 tyres grip at either end of the 2915 mm wheelbase.The suspension is taut, specially engineered to give an intoxicating mix of Supercar inferring ride, a superbly flat stance into corners and that slow in/fast out response a track aimed driver expects. In fact, the whole package is genuinely one your gran could drive, it’s that docile to use when not exploring the outer limits of the ability the Track Edition has. The car industry uses the term “surprise and delight” to describe certain aspects of a car and that applies to the way the HSV flows on the road.Inside, the lack of visual differentation is a surprise and not entirely a delight. HSV eschews the fabric stitched into the centre line that the donor vehicles have but has stayed with the dash mounted fabric found in the Holden SS. There’s the standard dash plastic and layout, with Holden’s MyLink touchscreen systen with Pandora and Stitcher apps. HSV’s EDI, Electronic Driver Interface, didn’t seem to be enabled in this car. There’s a thumping Bose sound system, beautiful in its clarity buck lacking a DAB tuner.It’s hard to suggest any changes however as 2017 beckons and with it the knowledge that Australia’s Own will close the doors as a big car maker down under.It’s an engine of many personalities, the LS3, just like those found around the camp sites at The Mountain, especially those at the top, called Skyline. A Wheel Thing commentated from the tower there in the mid noughties, alongside the great Barry Oliver, with an enduring memory being watching Army helicopters doing aerobatics…below the level of Skyline. It provides a sweeping vista north, across the circuit, over Bathurst itself and east to the western fringe of the Blue Mountains. Regulars will have their campsites setup with heaters, fencing, signs, and the obligatory ambers on ice. There’s jackets adorned with badges, faces adorned with beards, and kids faces wreathed in smiles when the HSV R8 Clubsport Track Edition visits the top of The Mountain.We’ve got the dial set to Touring, so as to not draw the ire of the campers as we seek a suitable site for some pictures. Photo session over, it’s into the campsite and espy a site with both the blue and red colours on the flags. Photographer Scott grins and says he has an idea. Moments later the rear of the red car is up against the fenceline, with a horde of the curious swarming over the car. They note the working bonnet air vents, the lack of visual identification that it’s a Track Edition outside, door sill and centre console the only places Track Edition is mentioned.There’s an eyeballing of the body coloured and black wing, the contrasting black inserts in the front bumper against the red and the slim black skirting along the sills of the near five metre long machine…a Ford bloke nudges his Holden mate and points towards the yellow six piston calipers from AP racing with HSV embossing, visible through those “Blade” alloys. Comments are made about the gloss black highlight of the bonnet badge, with the consensus being that it looks wrong. “Where’s the chrome?” asks one. Another in the crowd asks “Howsitgomateorright?” A nod, a smile and then the inevitable question…”Can we check out the donk?”The aluminuim bonnet is lifted and instantly the population around the car doubles, as does the number of cameraphones. The engine’s being quietly idling in the background, feeding the dual zone aircon a steady flow of cooling air inside, across the non heated or cooled leather seats and suede wrapped steerer.It takes only a moment’s breath before “Goonmategiveitago!” The 6.3L alloy block snarls in response, effortlessly sending the mechanical needle spinning past the over emphasised numbers on the tacho, eliciting a cheer from the red lion faithful, an appreciative nod from some of the blue oval brethren, before one grins, walks away, and starts up his blue oval badged V8 to answer the challenge issued by the HSV. It’s no contest, say many, the red car sounds best.There’s a price to pay for that exuberance. You can’t call 6.2 litres of Chevrolet’s finest economical, unless you own Saudi Arabia. Even those few stabs on the throttle have shifted the fuel needle, as fuel is sucked in from the 71 litre tank, nestled near the 496 litre boot… The LS3 prefers a liquid diet of 98 RON unleaded and will show nothing less than 12.0L of liquid gold being consumed for every 100 kilometres covered, and that on the return trip from The Mountain on a greasy highway after light rains.The crowd have dispersed, with many words of thanks, plenty of pictures taken, and thoughts turn towards the coming weekend of endurance racing at the Mountain. HSV is inextricably linked with the history of the place, with Tom Walkinshaw himself having raced in a Jaguar XJ-S. The Track Edition, at $68990, is a wonderful nod and counterpoint to The Great Race, with Holden Special Vehicles building just 150 of the car for Australia and six for New Zealand, making it a rarity, unlike the variety of characters found around Mount Panorama.HSV was born, in a way, of The Mountain, so it was fitting to take the Track Edition there. The place is iconic, there’s names etched forever into the history of Mount Panorama and motorsport runs deep in the souls of those that journey there every year for their annual pilgrimage. That’s the allure of The Mountain and the allure of HSV.
Go here for the latest in HSV’s range: www.hsv.com.au
A Wheel Thing thanks Damon Paull at HSV and Scott Richardson for photos.