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Review | 11.11.2013 - 11:04

Used Car Reviews: Holden VT Commodore, VU Utility and WH Caprice / Statesman

A review of the Australian 1997 - 2000 Holden VT Commodore, Caprice and Statesman. Also sold in New Zealand.
Holden VT Commodore

The VT commodore was the first brand new chassis to be introduced into the Commodore range since the late 80's. It featured a ground up design rebuild and, while sharing a lot of parts from it's predecessors, proved to be for the most part a brand new Holden. The model began with two engines in 3 configurations, the enhanced Buick 3.8 Litre engine (now dubbed the ECOTEC for the emissions and economy enhancement) also available in Supercharged form, and the older Holden 304 EFI V8 engine (EFI version of the old 308).


The ECOTEC V6 was already a proven engine, as it had been used in the late VS series commodores, however there were some minor problems when initially releasing the engine in the VT. On some vehicles, the ECU was known to issue faults or in some cases completely break down. ECU's with these issues were normally replaced under warranty, although some were known to fail multiple times. Purchasing a Series 2 VT may be the best way to go if you are considering the V6 (Build Date: June 1999 to September 2000).


The 304 V8 on the VT was different from the previous models, as it had been researched in order to understand the possibility of extending the capacity out to 5.7 litres. Holden found this was possible and as such changed the engine block in order to accept different sized connecting rods and crankshafts should they decide to introduce a 5.7 litre variant later on. This only happened in one of the HSV models, however the engine block proves very useful in terms of modifications, as a 5.7 Litre (Stroker) kit can be bolted directly into this block without any machining needed. The block has gained value by modifiers of the older model 304 and 308 engines due to the reduced cost required in order to "stroke out" the engine.

As with the very late model VS 5.0L V8 engines, an hydraulic roller camshaft setup was installed into the engine, in place of the previous flat tappet camshaft used for many years.

During this time, Holden arranged delivery and were testing the use of the Generation 3 Chevrolet 5.7 litre V8 engines. The release of the Gen 3, 5.7 Litre V8 Engine (Small Block Chev) came for the series 2 VT models and proved a huge success, fuel economy was even greatly reduced over the V6 at the time, meaning that it once again became possible to own a large V8 without breaking the bank in fuel costs, a problem which had begun to plague the previous Commodores.

The same however can not be said about the VU (VX Commodore Utility, also known as the SS Ute). Although not a VT as such, it was the first new ute offered by Holden, as the VS utility remained on sale until the release of the VX (Jan 2001 - September 2002). The new VU ute had severe issues with engine and gearbox reliability even though it was fitted with the new Gen 3 V8 and 6 speed manual Tremec T-56 (Previously produced by Borg-Warner and available in some VT sedan models).

The cause of the issues with the VU were never clearly known. Affected models with the Gen 3 and Tremec combination were known to break down on a regular basis, usually for severe reasons. In order to satisfy warranty, in some cases whole engines and gearboxes were changed over. The next edition (VU Series 2) did not suffer the same problems, hence the belief that Generation 3 Series 1 utilities were only problematic due to the delayed introduction of the VT / VX Chassis in utility form. Series 1 VU utilities were sold between Janurary 2001 to September 2001.

Braking performance was good, with the braking setup revised in order to suit the needs of the new VT chassis. Modifiers later on however preferred to install the VY series suspension on these cars, as this type of suspension was further revised again down the track (VY being two models on from the VT and based upon the same chassis and body shell).

Exterior design was perfect, the new body design was a lot further advanced than that of the previous VR / VS, with a totally new direction taken. At first, as is common with commodores, people were unsure of the VT in terms of looks, however the design grew on most people and the model became very popular. The following model, the VX was further enhanced again, however with only subtle changes in order to satisfy the downfalls in the VT's design popularity.

Interior was a huge improvement over any previous Holden, with the dashboard being heavy planned out and attention to detail greatly increased.

The VT had minimal reliability problems compared with the previous generation of Commodores (VN to VS), and enjoys a good following today in Australia and New Zealand. Parts are extremely easy to source and low cost aftermarket parts are common. They are also quickly replacing the VR / VS as the choice for first car owners and older people looking for a cheap luxury / performance car (in the Statesman / Caprice and HSV models).


It is worth noting that the VT and VX version of the Statesman and Caprice were named with the chassis code WH.


For parts information, repair guides and maintenance details, you can refer to the VT Commodore Workshop Manual, for the VU Utility, refer to the VX Commodore Workshop Manual, or visit the Commodore Forums at http://forums.justcommodores.com.au/ to ask specific questions or gain further information from current and past owners.

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