There’s not much lane discipline in Australia. Punitive speed limits, sneaky Ausplod and cameras mean that freeways tend to have three lanes of 59 mph dawdlers.
But I’m parting the waves quicker than Moses on a motorbike. 'Utes veer out of my path like lilos in front of a triangular fin. I’m in HSV’s – indeed, Australia’s most powerful production car, and I’m trying hard to behave myself. Under the bonnet is an L7 – a big capacity, race tuned, dry sump V8 that is making it’s presence known with intoxicating bursts of acceleration accompanied by a soundtrack of great vengeance and furious anger. To complete its Pulp Fiction credentials, I’ve a sneaky feeling that somewhere on the bordello red leather interior is embossed the phrase BAD MOTHER F...
For all its credentials as wheeled Australian royalty, the name W427 combines a Scotsman’s initial with a very American number. Tom Walkinshaw, owner of Holden Specialist Vehicles, is a household name down under. His enduring popularity there is reinforced by his considerable interests in Aussie motorsport, including running Holden’s race team. 427 relates to the cubic capacity of the GM sourced V8 - that’s seven litres in new money. Tom (referred to by his first name by everyone in the factory) found out that some of the race engines may be made available during a routine conversation with GM in the States, and immediately hatched a plan.
First seen at the Australian motorshow in 2008, the W427 is a limited edition capped at just 200 units, each hand built on a segregated line at the HSV factory in Melbourne. The base Holden is completely stripped to its shell before being built up by HSV’s most experienced technicians. It’s a labour of love, and their dedication to the task is evident in the pride with which they show off their work. Providing focus for the workforce is a grey 1988 HSV – the first of its kind – which sits alongside a W427 at the end of the line. This outrageously big-arsed Batmobile was a homologation special built to allow Walkinshaw’s new venture to shock the establishment, winning the Bathurst 1000. It’s an Aussie automotive icon.
The result of this special treatment is pretty spectacular. 502 Bhp and 472 ft lbs of torque are awesome figures, but before the supercharger brigade start quoting silly numbers I’d ask you to bear in mind what an incredible engine the L7 is. A dry sump, naturally aspirated race V8 is a wonderful thing in a race car, but in a big saloon on the road it is bonkers, mate. Putting all that power down is a 6 speed Tremec ‘box and bespoke limited slip diff, which is a bit agricultural in feel, but the car feels like it makes and deploys every single one of those horses. It feels quicker than a Corvette…
There’s an inevitability of me meeting the Victoria police at some point, so I get in early and give Sgt Trevor Bergman a ring. I know he’s a petrolhead, I’ve had a ride in his immaculate 1947 MGTF so I also know he’s a masochist, but I wasn’t expecting him to say yes quite so fast. His gaudily decorated Holden SS pursuit car is no slouch either – a six-litre V8 - but a quick drag off the line, as you do, stamps the W427’s authority on the encounter. From five yards out, the HSV just streaks away. Trevor jumps in for a go, and two minutes later he’s back, grinning from ear to ear. “Christ mate, that’s really fast”. He’s not wrong.
Although the compulsory red interior isn’t to everyone’s taste, mine included, it is a comfortable place to be. Consequently the W427 makes a pretty good fist of being a Grand Tourer, loping along at licence-stripping speeds in sixth with negligible effort, but HSV were keen to emphasise the race heritage that this car celebrates. Okay… heart in mouth, I take some brave pills, get off the freeway, utter the mantra ‘please, no kangaroos’, and put my foot down. The rumble becomes a bellow and the adrenaline arrives in a rush.
The gaps in the trees overhead betray the road’s direction after the blind crest ahead. I keep the foot in, using the length of third gear and the monstrous torque rather than box between second and third for the slower corners. The alloy pedals aren’t really set for heel and toe, and finding third in a rush is often frustrating. I’ve not seen another soul for miles, and so it’s with confidence that I cross the centreline as the blind right hander tightens. Ever had one of those moments when you realise that you’ve really
mucked up? Mine came with an oncoming Toyota. I’ve got less than 20 yards to sort this out -and it’s not like I’m in a Caterham either, I’m in the best part of two tonnes of hard working Australian muscle. I’ve got to sharply back off, ditch some speed and get around the oncoming pensioner without simply spearing hard left and launching the HSV into the outback.
No fuss, no bother, we jink round, speed unabated. My front seat passenger needs new shorts, I’m laughing and you can probably hear the tutting from the Carina in Queensland. What a save. Due to Cameron talent? Well, there’s a first time for everything but I doubt it. The W427 is more than just a home for a borrowed big engine. Walkinshaw’s men also run winning race cars, on proper circuits, and the geometry is bespoke for the car. More than that, the W427 sports a magnetic damper set up that wouldn’t look out of place in Maranello. It means that despite all that weight and monstrous power, it’s actually very hard to catch the big car out, cornering flat with all but the roughest of surfaces absorbed with aplomb. Hitting the ‘track’ button noticeably tautens things up further, but the sporting intent of the W427 is clear. I really didn’t expect that, I was expecting something altogether more old school.
The huge brakes are just as spectacularly effective. The HSV stops hard and repeatedly like no big factory BMW ever could. There’s a reason for this – all HSV brakes (including the VXR badged numbers gracing the UK VXR8) are made for the company by AP Racing. The W427 has specially designed 20 inch wheels to accommodate six pot monsters with a 50% larger pad area, sweeping 380mm discs, and unbelievably big 350mm rotors on the back. Stamp on them hard enough and you can fold your ears over and give yourself a nosebleed. It’s enough to make the corks come off your hat.
The production run of 200 W427s are all destined for the Aussie market and at a stellar AUS $155K, most will probably see more polishing than back roads. Many are destined for private collections, and for something so accomplished that’s a great shame. One customer has negated this problem by buying one for his collection, and one for the track. I’ll have a white one please. And a black one. Quite like the grey, too...