PistonHeads Expert Opinion
This monster-engined, rear-driven homage to the heavy metal days of alligator-wrestling racers like Gerry Marshall and Peter Brock has certainly been a good fit for a lot of PHers. Not only does 'HSV & Monaro' have its own bespoke cubbyhole in the Gassing Station's 'Other Marques', it's the most heavily posted sub-section in there.
What's that now? 'HSV & Monaro'? What happened to the VXR8? It's a badging thing. The first VXR8 of 2007 which replaced the 2001-06 two-door Monaro was the Vauxhalled-up version of Holden Special Vehicles' (HSV) VE Commodore rejig, an Australian four-door bruiser designed to achieve high performance via a relatively low-tech mechanical route using lots of ccs rather than lots of valves.
That first VXR8, which cost just over £35,000 in the UK in 2007, was powered by GM's small-block 415hp/405lb ft 6.0 litre LS2 V8. From April 2008 and for just £65 on top of the old 6.0's price the VXR8 graduated to the 431hp/405lb ft 6.2 litre LS3 motor from the C6 Corvette and Camaro SS. You'd struggle to notice the difference between the LS2 and the LS3 on the road though. The 0-62mph time was the same at 4.9sec.
Bathurst edition 6.2s came out in 2009 in both normally aspirated and 564hp/547lb ft supercharged S models. They had adjustable Walkinshaw suspension with modded spring and damper settings, six and four-pot brakes, a bodykit, interior revamp, a 20-inch wheel option and, in the blown £45,000 S, the most prominent supercharger whine this side of a Messerschmitt 109. It idled quietly enough but everything changed when you cracked the throttle, especially if the £1,600 VXR option of a Walkinshaw 'bimodal' cat-back exhaust with 2.5-inch stainless pipery was fitted. It wasn't just a load of noise and fury either: a Bathurst S would storm through the 0-62 in 4.2sec.
VXR8s were revamped inside and out for 2011 with a new 'Shockwave' grille, 'Superflow' rear spoiler, LED taillights, bigger brakes (365mm), mechanical limited slip diff and leather upholstery as standard. A key chassis change was the arrival of Magnetic Ride Control, an Audi R8-style system which used magnetorheological damper fluid to hone comfort, body control and tyre load at speed. For the same £49,500 in 2013 you could get a VXR8 Tourer estate. It was the most capacious estate on the British market and courtesy of the LS3 motor it did the 0-62 in 4.9sec. There aren't many of them about.
For 2014 the GTS got the four-lobe supercharged LSA engine with air-to-water intercooler already used in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. It still had a pushrod-activated two-valve head but that didn't stop it banging out an easy 585hp. With prices starting at around £50,000 the GTS was the UK's most affordable 500hp+ car, but with some serious German tackle like the M5 and E63 challenging it, it was still very much a niche purchase here despite being nearly £20k cheaper than either of those two. Buying an HSV in the home market of Australia was much more of a no-brainer decision because the GTS was $92,000 against the import-taxed $250k Germans.
In 2017, Holden's Australian factories shut down, closing the HSV/VXR8 book for good, but not before one last firework was launched, the GTS-R (a reference to the well-loved 1996 Commodore GTS-R). Producing 587hp and 545lb ft, this was the fastest ever VXR8. Bearing in mind what we said earlier about Holdens, it was also the fastest ever Vauxhall.
Just fifteen GTS-Rs were allocated to the UK market in both manual and auto forms. Hitting the same 0-62 time of 4.2sec as the earlier S they were quickly snapped up despite Vauxhall having somehow levered the price up to just under £75,000, a far cry from the sub-£30k asked for the first Monaros. In its defence, by this time the kit list was both long and impressive, including 410mm six-piston brakes, 20-inch 'blade' alloys, brake torque vectoring, Magnetic Ride Control, launch control, electronic power steering, four drive modes, blind spot alert/forward collision/lane departure alerts, rear camera, tyre pressure monitoring and a head-up display alongside the usual battery of driving aids such as electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability programme (ESP), brake assist and traction control. Like the straight GTS, the R weighed 1,880kg and was still a bear of a car, but its temperament was more sharply defined. There was enough low-end torque to make the bottom four gears redundant, enough squirt in the intermediate gears to build daft slip angles on demand, and enough of a burst at 4,000rpm to fling your brain straight to Mount Panorama.
Big, loud and mechanically simple, the VXR8 was a luxuriantly-'tached Smokey and The Bandit response to the creeping gentrification of performance saloons. To unleash your inner Burt Reynolds all you needed was a few too many beers, a few too many hours listening to country and western music, a blue-collared shirt and a VXR8. That's a caricature, obviously, but it's a fact that Vauxhall's first VXR8 customers were Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Evo owners. Objectively the VXR8 is a big four-door saloon with a large boot and enough space for even a pre-nuclear Aussie family. At nearly five metres long it's a handful in multi-storeys, but with the right exhaust in place you won't mind.