There are certain indelible memories from one’s childhoo–and for an automotive enthusiast, there certainly will be some car experiences you never forget. While growing up, I was always at the local newsagent every month, eager to pick up my new issue of Which Car, which featured comprehensive used- and new-car buyer’s guides, as well as many reviews and comparison tests.
Another of my vivid childhood memories is the first time I sat in a luxury car–or at least the finest that Australia had to offer at the time. I remember the pillowy-soft beige leather seats of that Holden VR Caprice; they were such a marked contrast to the firm, brown vinyl seats of our family Commodore. It was at that moment I knew I wanted a luxury car someday, which explains why the objects of my childhood automotive lust were not Lamborghinis but Cadillac Eldorado ETCs and the like. It also made me a sucker as a child for luxed-up, cheap Koreans. Despite being a very well-read child, I still tried to talk my mum into getting a Kia Credos because it was cheap and had leather. Oh, to be a kid again.
But I digress. The VR Caprice (and the mildly revised, follow-up VS) really appealed to me. In the Holden hierarchy, this was the top of the heap. The Statesman and Caprice were long-wheelbase versions of the rear-wheel-drive Commodore platform, with the Caprice being the more luxurious of the two. The Statesman name actually dated back to the 1970s (CC here), where it, too, was applied to a long-wheelbase, luxury version of the standard Holden.
The difference was, the 70s Statesman didn’t feature Holden badging; it was marketed by GM-H as the Statesman . The late 1980s saw the Statesman name go into hibernation until it returned, in 1990, on the VN Commodore platform, which itself was based on a widened and thoroughly revised Opel Omega platform. The VQ Statesman/Caprice (shown above; image: Wikipedia) – the DeVille name used on earlier Statesmans was retired – featured smooth aero fascias similar to the VN Commodore that spawned it, but had a different roofline.
American readers may see the resemblance between this and the roofline of the contemporary Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and Saturn SL; yet despite this odd American touch, the rest of the car’s styling was still very Commodore-esque, even to the point of using the same headlights and taillights. This didn’t stop the VQs becoming very popular with politicians and funeral homes, but despite being a Holden supporter I found the contemporary DA/DC Ford Fairlane/LTD to be more formal and luxurious-looking.
Although initially offered only with the Holden 5.0-liter, 221-hp V8, the Statesman soon became available with the venerable, Buick-derived 3.8-liter V6 that saw duty in Commodores, Statesman and (with the VR) Caprices, all the way up to the 2004 VY Commodore. In the VQ, the 3.8 produced the same 170 hp it did in the more pedestrian Commodore range. The VQs came with an interior barely different from the Commodore, and the Statesman actually came only with cloth seats. Cloth! The flossier Caprice offered standard velour – not my thing, but I’m sure it was nice enough – or seating appointments of soft, Adelaidean leather. However, Holden– stung by criticism the Statesman and Caprice just didn’t look luxurious enough–ordered an extensive exterior revision.
The Cutlass Supreme-ish C-pillar was retained but, in a similar Olds vein, great big tail lights were added, bringing to mind the 88s and 98s of that era. Also added was a slightly more formal front fascia. Suddenly, Holden’s luxury liners looked a lot more luxurious and, dare I say, Broughamy. The Caprice, as you can see from my photos, looked really formal, with its fancy wheels and waterfall grille (the Statesman had a less-pretentious eggcrate grille). The revised VS saw some minor cosmetic tweaks and a small bump in power. There was even a very rare and very cool HSV version called the Grange, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in person; nor have I seen its HSV Statesman predecessor, which I forgot even existed. The Grange name has carried on to this date, and is even sexier than ever.
source: forums at justcommodores.com.au
The VS Statesman/Caprice continued selling alongside the all-new VT Commodore, which had been built on a new Vauxhall/Opel Omega-derived platform for two years now. Along the way, it picked up a supercharged version of the 3800 that punched out 221 hp–just a few horses short of the V8! I should dig up my Which Car collection to verify that, but I’m willing to bet fuel consumption would be quite a bit better; what’s more, the 3800 was a reliable engine.
It’s interesting to see how Holden brought in the supercharged V6, used it in a whole lot of cars, and then let it die with the 3800. Meanwhile, Ford’s turbo I6 ended up being very successful (even helping to once again kill the Falcon’s V8 option), while Holden currently offers two naturally-aspirated V6s and a big, honking 6.0-liter V8–and nothing in between. Even in North America, the same is true with the Cadillac CTS, even though Lincoln has some nice EcoBoost turbo sixes. Oh, well.
While the Statesman and Caprice offered interiors scarcely differed from the Commodore (and still don’t, regrettably), the VR/VS introduced more dramatic and American styling. You can’t mistake this for a Commodore! The same basic shape lasted from 1990 all the way to 1999 before making way for the WH Statesman/Caprice and the return of different model designations for the long-wheelbase Holdens.
And so the Statesman/Caprice story continued, much as did the Commodore story. Where the Commodore goes, the Statesman/Caprice follows. And unlike its Fairlane/LTD rivals, the long-wheelbase Holdens are still running.
Of course, these days it’s the Caprice and Caprice-V, and things are a little less pillowy-seats-and-woodgrainy, but you can still get an S-Class-sized Holden, loaded to the hilt, for around $62,000. A base Mercedes S-Class starts here at $213,000. Yes, the Caprice’s interior shares too much with the Commodore, and there’s no bump in power, but it’s still a lot of size and a lot of power for not a lot of money. Now that’s good old-fashioned Aussie value!