The Group A era wasn’t suited to locally made cars, yet Holden defied the odds at the Bathurst 1000 with two wins for the VL Commodore in 1987 and 1990 with two different versions of the car.
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The mid 1980s were a tumultuous time for Holden. There was the arrival of the Group A international regulations to Australia, which suited imported cars more than the local product. The effects of the fuel crisis were still in flow, rival Ford had dropped the V8 engine and Holden weighed up doing the same, while a messy divorce with star driver Peter Brock was on the horizon.
Yet through it all Holden won three Bathurst 1000s in five years against the might of Group A’s international invaders, with the VL Commodore winning at Mount Panorama in 1987 and 1990.
The VL was released in February 1986. And though it shared the same base shell as its predecessors, there was a revised front and read end. Holden bowed to public pressure and retained a V8 option.
The Group A racing version debuted on the international stage at the first round of the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) at Monza, Italy, in 1987. Amidst protests and disqualifications, it emerged victorious with Allan Moffat and John Harvey.
The Australian Touring Car Championship wasn’t so kind to the VL, and Holden went through the season without a win, unable to compete with the BMW M3 and Nissan Skyline in the short races. Larry Perkins was the best of the Holden brigade in fifth, albeit running the older VK model.
Bathurst was another round of the WTCC, and it was once again marred by protests and disqualifications. The Holden Dealer Team’s Peter Brock crossed the line third, despite a mid-race car change, but was later awarded the win following the disqualification of the winning Eggenberger Sierras.
It was back to reality at the next round of the WTCC at Calder, where the best-placed VL (Perkins and Denny Hulme) was in sixth place and two laps down. It was the same again at the penultimate race of the season on the streets of Wellington, with Brock and Parsons two laps down in fifth.
Brock and Holden were in the midst of an ugly separation over the ‘Energy Polariser’ scandal, with the split leading to the demise of the Holden Dealer Team.
Tom Walkinshaw Racing took over the mantle as Holden’s factory-backed team and Holden Special Vehicles the performance-vehicle partner. The first car to come out of this new partnership was the SS Group A SV version of the VL, a more aggressive looking car that claimed to reduce drag by more than 25 percent.
The new version of the VL racer faced stiffer competition, with the Ford Sierra dominating in the championship and at Bathurst in 1988 and 1989. The VL struggled and finished three laps down from the winning Sierra at Bathurst in 1989 (Perkins and Tomas Mezera in sixth).
Teething problems were ironed out with the creation of the Holden Racing Team as its own entity into 1990, with driver/owner Win Percy finishing in the championship as the best non-Sierra or Skyline in eighth.
Bathurst was expected to be a Sierra and Skyline demonstration, but as those entries fell by the wayside, it was VL steerers Percy and Allan Grice who emerged as the shock winners. A win for Perkins and Mezera in the Sydney 500 a month later confirmed that the Commodore was reliable and a worthy opponent to the international cars in longer distance races.
The VL was replaced by the all-new VN in 1991, though by then the Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R was proving unbeatable. There was a final hurrah for the VL with Perkins and Steve Harrington winning the Skyline-less Sandown 500 and Perkins qualifying the older model on the front row at Bathurst in 1992. But the Skyline ruled the final year of Group A.
It may have come in a bleak period for Holden, yet the VL delivered three milestones: a win at the legendary Monza, the ninth and final Bathurst win for Peter Brock and the first for the Holden Racing Team.
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