March 05, 2004


Who doesnít like big V8s? Only commies, probably. The Holden Calais Iím currently ruining contains 5.7 litres of V8, which, although it produces about 315 horsepower, is in a surprisingly mild (redline: 5500 rpm) state of tune; racing versions of the same engine churn out a reliable 600 horses plus. If this engine generated the same specific output as a Honda S2000ís, weíd be looking at horsepower in the region of 680.

So. This is no flame-spitting, venomous fright mobile. As well, given that an engine of this size, in moderate tune, has a whole ton of reciprocating mass to get moving before progress commences ... response is turbine- rather than turbo-like.

But in its element -- wide open highways -- nothing can live with it. This is one of the finest long-drive cars you can imagine. It eats road. Acceleration between 80kmh (50mph) and 140kmh (85mph) is astonishing; at which speeds the shortcomings of the aging 4-speed auto slide away a little. At light throttle loads it hovers over changes, makes weird dual-clunk downshifts, and generally acts like an idiot. When you work it, it works.

Handling is excellent. I thought Iíd found a flaw early in the drive; excessive low-speed understeer. But I was tricked by the variably-geared steering, which simply required more lock around 60-70 kmh than Iíd anticipated. Stupid me, thinking I might be able to out-drive something on tyres so wide they could mash the Vatican. Oh, and the ride: firm yet compliant, communicative yet never intrusive. You end up aiming at bumps just to experience how well they are dealt with.

Damn thing is so good I spent much of the drive hunting for petty faults I could bitch about. Does the indicator stalk really need that much travel? Why arenít these cup holders perfectly calibrated for 600ml Coke bottles? Does the rear-vision mirror always display those flashing blue lights?

Actually, I do have one serious complaint. Iím sure the Blaupunkt people are justly proud of their fine car sound systems, which deliver precise and sharp notes across the entire range, but HELLO VOLUME? Volume, where are you? Crank this baby up to peak noise and, for Godís sake, you can still hold a conversation. I like my driving music loud -- so loud that, in perfect circumstances, bloody fragments of inner ear are sprayed all over the interior. And thatís just when Iím listening to Nora Jones.

You know, if I ever listened to Nora Jones. I consulted the sound system guide -- thatís another thing I hate; sound systems shouldnít need a book -- and couldnít find any way to boost things to an acceptable level. Which was sad, because I was playing Jet (the best combination of AC/DC and Daddy Cool yet) and the windscreen wasnít fractured at all.

More tomorrow.

Posted by Tim Blair at March 5, 2004 12:18 AM

Jet: Awesome. Best Australian rock band for many, many years. Nice one Tim.

Posted by: Gareth at March 5, 2004 at 12:46 AM

They really rock, Gareth. I've only had the CD for a few days and it's already worn down to transparency.

Posted by: tim at March 5, 2004 at 01:00 AM

I've only heard one Jet song on the radio here in the States- "Are you gonna be my girl" -but if the rest of Jet's music is anything like that... DAMN, it's good stuff!

Posted by: Andrew Duncalfe at March 5, 2004 at 01:16 AM

nothing beats a long stretch of road and a v8, tim, just be careful what your passenger is doing...

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at March 5, 2004 at 01:31 AM

What the heck is that thing? Is it an Impala? I know Holden is owned by GM so what chasis is this? You crazy damn Aussies, if you're going to drive a chevy, this is what you need. Or at least this.

Posted by: Adam at March 5, 2004 at 01:34 AM

The current Impalas are based on the old Chevy Malibu - V6 FWD. The Calais (correct me if I'm wrong) is a RWD V6 with an optional V8.

Tim - those flashing blue lights in the rearview mirror are a safety feature. They let you know that you're driving too slow, and not enough air is hitting the radiator to cool it. They should go away around 150 km/h or so.

Posted by: david at March 5, 2004 at 02:06 AM

I sense a contest brewing here: "What the hell is that car!" With the generic GM - Holden/Opel/Vauxhall/Saturn - styling, it could be anything! Maybe it's also an Astra! Or an Omega! Or a Senator! Or an L-Series! Whee!

Okay, I didn't say that it would be a fun contest.

Or interesting.

- bob

Posted by: bob at March 5, 2004 at 02:18 AM

Adam, it upsets me greatly that an American (I assume this by your reference to the Impala) would actually recommend a car/truck/thing like the SSR. Not only is it a disgrace to the SS name (like all other SS' put out in the past 5 years) in terms of power, size and performance, but its ugly as sin.

As far as I could see the only comparable US car to the Holden Calais would be the Cadilac CTS-V with a 5.7-lter V8 putting out 400 horsepower and 395 ft-lbs of torque. This seems to correlate well with the mix of luxury and performance offered in the Holden Calais.

Posted by: Mike at March 5, 2004 at 02:19 AM


For a production car, the SSR is bold, retro, and IMO, pretty damn cool. As if there aren't enough "four-door-I'm-a-soccer-dad-but-my-luxury-sedan-is-sporty" cars out there. At least Chevy is doing something original. There's nothting more American than a hot-rod and this is as close as a main-stream production car has ever been. More power to them.

Speaking of power, I whole-heartedly agree that they need at least a hundred more in the SSR.

Posted by: Adam at March 5, 2004 at 02:53 AM

4-speed auto? No wonder. I drive a Camaro with the same engine, and trust me, the thing goes from pleasant to drive to inspiring dangerous sensations of highway divinity with a six-speed standard.

(The Monsoon stereo also beats the hell out of the Blaupunkt in the "volume" department if not sound quality. Forget cracking my own windshield, I can crack those of cars next to me if I feel like it.)

Posted by: LabRat at March 5, 2004 at 03:02 AM

And the American equivalent of the Calais is the Pontiac GTO.

Posted by: LabRat at March 5, 2004 at 03:13 AM

Don't start. There's nothing like dusting a sporty 2-door in a 4-door car with a baby seat.

Posted by: Matt the Denver Soccer Dad at March 5, 2004 at 03:19 AM

Mike - and yes, I remember the Plymouth Prowler. The SSR is cooler because it throws back to this.

Posted by: Adam at March 5, 2004 at 03:19 AM

Bring it. Your waspy, German, fire-breathing super-car is a thing of beauty. Instead of trying to out-German the Germans, I'm just saying that I think it's cool when the American car manufacturers build things like the SSR.

...or the Viper
...or the new Ford GT

Posted by: Adam at March 5, 2004 at 03:27 AM

Damn you Adam! It's less tweedy Waspy than it is either pimp daddy or Remax Top Producer. Wasps drive Volvos, boring S80s at that.

Your point is well taken, though. The GT40 is incredible and unmistakably American, but the CTS-V is a very good direction for Cadillac, and wholly consistent with what Cadillac used to be.

Posted by: Matt in Denver at March 5, 2004 at 03:36 AM

It's always seemed a little odd to me that the Aussies manage to make better American cars than the Americans do...

And BTW, the Pontiac GTO is based off the Monaro, if I recall...

Posted by: Vexorg at March 5, 2004 at 04:12 AM

At least GM is going in the right direction with the SSR.

Their biggest mistake was stopping production of this car and replacing it with the pansy-assed FWD Malibu.

Posted by: david at March 5, 2004 at 04:18 AM

David - What GM walked away from, Ford stepped up to. The Mercury Marauder does the same thing and seems less like the car that takes me to the airport.

Posted by: Matt in Denver at March 5, 2004 at 05:03 AM

Dumb question, but are CD's on different continental formats like DVDs? There was a CD I'd been looking for for a while I found on EBay, but the guy was in Australia and I didn't know if you cats spun CDs backwards or something.

Posted by: Andrew at March 5, 2004 at 05:10 AM

That car (Calias) looks like the old Cadillac Catera which I think was based on the Opel Omega. As has been mentioned, out GTO is based on the Holden Monaro.
I've always loved Aussie cars. When we lived in Zambia, my dad had an orange Ford Falcon. The thing was like an El Camino with that coupe/pickup feel to it. The thing had two hood-scoops painted black and the when the V8 came to life ohh what a joyour sound! Alas he rarely drove it. Fuel costs meant we mostly rode the spinter. That car soured me to little Japanese cars!

Posted by: kwame at March 5, 2004 at 05:33 AM

i think the 'c' in cd stands for 'coriolis'...

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at March 5, 2004 at 05:46 AM

I have driven the CTS - it is much better looking than the Calais - and when the V series comes out - a V-8 - look out! It will really fly, and I had the base V-6 up to 110MPH without even working hard, there was more - although I don't know when the governor would have kicked in. I cannot even imagine what the V-8 will do.

Posted by: JEM at March 5, 2004 at 06:00 AM

At light throttle loads it hovers over changes, makes weird dual-clunk downshifts, and generally acts like an idiot.

If it's the 4L60E transmission then it's probably the lockup torque converter that's responsible.

Posted by: Bashir Gemayel at March 5, 2004 at 06:14 AM

The lack of volume seems to be a problem across the VY range, my new VY Berlina stereo sucks compared with my previous VT Berlina, although the 6 stacker is nice. Am wondering if it has something to do with the recent law changes re loud music in vehicles? I love living in the Soviet Socialist Republic of New South Wales.

Posted by: TC at March 5, 2004 at 06:50 AM

There were rumours at one stage that US police forces were looking to import Australian cars, as all the US manufacturers had abandoned the time honoured formula of 'big engine, rear wheel drive'. That seems to have been reversed somewhat, but i am still mystified by the SUV craze. I see the appeal of driving a truck, dont get me wrong, but mid sized pickups are a joke. Give me a nice 4 door saloon, with oodles of power on tap, decent build quality, and an engine note that disrupts pensioners heart rhythms. In my opinion, the germans still build the finest examples of the breed.

Posted by: Paul Dub at March 5, 2004 at 07:13 AM

Matt in Denver:

I had heard about the Marauder a coupla years ago in one of my car mags, but didn't hear what became of it. It's good to know it saw the light of day.

Besides, you gotta love a car named the Marauder.

Andrew: All audio CDs are required to follow the Red Book standard set by Sony and Phillips in order to display the CD Audio logo. If it displays that logo on the case, then it should work in any CD player. There is no region encoding like what is used for DVDs.

Posted by: david at March 5, 2004 at 07:24 AM

Only thing missing from Tim's Calais is a bench seat!

I've got a '75 Dodge ute that cruises down the highways, and it's a delight to have my wife sitting right next to me instead of over the other side. Only has an AM radio though...

Posted by: Different Adam at March 5, 2004 at 07:28 AM

While the SSR *looks* cool I believe that Wheels (the finest (only?) mainstream Australian car magazine) said that it was an ill-handling, poorly built cynical marketing exercise.

I'm sorry about all those other American cars but I'm quite sure that the Calais Tim's driving would piss all over them (not to put too fine a point on it) in a straight line and especially around corners. The new 'Vette is nice. The 6.0 v8 in that will be in the new Calais in less than a year.

The Pontiac GTO *is* the Australian Monaro and a Monaro *is* a 2 door Commodore/Calais, same suspension, same gear boxen etc (same wheelbase?). The GTO has a slighly different Camshaft profile to the Aussie cars (and thus more torque), a different exhaust setup and has had the fuel tank moved to comply with US safety regs.

I'd rather have a Commodore SS than a Calais and a Falcon XR6 turbo over an SS. But that's just me.

Posted by: Ben at March 5, 2004 at 08:23 AM

I've only had the CD for a few days and it's already worn down to transparency.

You're talking about the musical content. Jet are crap, but at least they've allowed Triple M to update their playlist for the first time in 15 years, I guess.

Posted by: LD at March 5, 2004 at 08:42 AM

Dan -
The stock Maruder is actually pretty lame, it can be easily bested by a stock Accord V-6. However, it is a nice blank canvas upon which various tuners (ie, Kenny Brown) exhibit their artistry. The only thing I don't get about the Maruder and the Impala is that they look exactly like unmarked cop cars. Seems like you would freak out other drivers you want going faster and getting out of your way, and get a good close look from every cop who thinks he knows you.

Either car would be a nice long-distance freeway cruiser, most definitely.

Posted by: Matt in Denver at March 5, 2004 at 08:46 AM

I actually (quite famously) answered the question about international CDs some years ago. the answer is here.

Posted by: Michael Jennings at March 5, 2004 at 09:12 AM

This guy prefers quantity to quality. They're not fast, but he's got forty-nine of the suckers.

Posted by: ilibcc at March 5, 2004 at 10:56 AM

The Marauder was a big disappointment. I was going to buy one until I saw the performance results. Maybe if they'd put a blower on it...

So now I'm looking at the Dodge Magnum R/T. Not quite as fast as the current car, but nice and roomy. Who needs a minivan?

Posted by: Jackal at March 5, 2004 at 10:58 AM

The communicative/intrusive dichotomy is a useful one for cars. I used to have a Citroen DS that made the road feel like a waterbed, what with the steering and the suspension running off a hydro-pneumatic system. I later drove the beautifully-weighted Alfa 105 Berlina with a simple wormgear for steering and more rudimentary suspension than the DS. I felt uncomfortably overly-detached from the road in the DS; I didn't have enough of a sense of the car's relationship with the road, whereas the Alfa let me know more about what was going on with its weight distribution.

Posted by: Tim Willis at March 5, 2004 at 11:14 AM

Yes, but how does the Calais handle in Sydney's bumper to bumper traffic, or the Woolies car park?

Posted by: Peter at March 5, 2004 at 11:38 AM

I'll have my old 1964 VW Combie Hippymobile any day. It's seen much more hard work than any ol' Calais:

- Vietnam Rally - 71
- Pine Gap Protests - 78,79,84,87
- Franklin Dam - 82,83
- Confest 88 - Stage for Nude Feral Concert
- Jabuluka Uranium Mine Protest 91
- litterally hundreds of satisfied hippy chicks.

Posted by: Rex at March 5, 2004 at 02:58 PM

Given that the max speed limit in NSW and Vic is 110kmh, which my old Morris Major could sometimes reach, can someone please tell me what is the effing point of having an oil-guzzling 315 horse-power under the bonnet?

Posted by: Tom at March 5, 2004 at 03:04 PM

Fun, Tom. Fun.

Posted by: Paul Pottinger at March 5, 2004 at 03:11 PM

And not only fun, Tom. Being able to get around old Morris Majors in a hurry thus safely expediting the flow of traffic is a big plus

Posted by: Galen at March 5, 2004 at 03:28 PM

Fuck off with all this crap about cars - I'd forgotten how much car-geek talk just shits me to tears. It's nearly as bad as Tex's endless mo'bike waffle.

Jet just makes me sad - I'm obviously too old. I mean, there's nothing wrong with it per se, it's just been done a bit before, hasn't it?

Still, even for a stodgy old fart like me it's kinda reassuring that there'll always be sneering young blokes in leathers and loud guitars.

Posted by: Waste at March 5, 2004 at 03:30 PM

Galen summed it up nicely, but another answer is that though speed limits may be 110 km/h (and f-%$ing 40 km/h at times in Melbourne) a) you dont have to obey them and b) getting up to 110 km/h can take sub 4 seconds, or it can take 20 +. Which would you prefer?

Posted by: Paul Dub at March 5, 2004 at 03:46 PM

I've gotta say, Albert Park sucks as a GP venue. I used to live in Perth, so I would go to Malaysia to watch the F1. It shits all over Albert Park in every single way. The cool things about Albert Park though is being extremely close to the track - meaning the noise is in-fucking-sane, getting there couldn't be easier and the fucking V8s of course.

Posted by: anon at March 5, 2004 at 04:19 PM

I've never understood the challenge of attacking the long boring bits of Australia all wrapped up in a piece of chrome plated plastic...

I have a particular attachment to one particular Triumph Bonnie (A late model one that don't leak) that shits on the local Monaro CV8s / Pontiac GTOs, let alone the odd hot 4-dr 'dunneydore'.

And for the safety nazis, its got a built-in speed governor - my eyes water too much over 160 klicks (yes - i'm a victim of style over substance - the riding gear is blundstones, jeans, white t-shirt, leather vest and open face helmet).

Posted by: magoo at March 5, 2004 at 04:25 PM

I wwish you guys came with subtitles.

Posted by: dick tuck at March 5, 2004 at 04:56 PM

Galen summed it up nicely, but another answer is that though speed limits may be 110 km/h (and f-%$ing 40 km/h at times in Melbourne) a) you dont have to obey them
That's up to you - I prefer to keep my wallet intact.

and b) getting up to 110 km/h can take sub 4 seconds, or it can take 20 +. Which would you prefer?

Given that the first option takes about 10 times as much petrol, and about 5 times as much tyre wear as the 2nd option, I think I'll take the latter. Also, if you really think a public road is a place where you should be using the acceleration quoted in your first option, I hope I don't ever encounter you while out motoring.

Posted by: Tom at March 5, 2004 at 05:22 PM

You listen to Jet!?! Now I know you have no credibility.

Posted by: arthur at March 5, 2004 at 05:55 PM

Also, if you really think a public road is a place where you should be using the acceleration quoted in your first option, I hope I don't ever encounter you while out motoring.

Not really much chance of that, Tom, if you're in your Morris Major.

Nothing against Morrises of course. I once had a Morris Minor Traveller (woody wagon), complete with lichen growing in the woodwork.

Posted by: ilibcc at March 5, 2004 at 06:41 PM

Cash for comment! Where is the ABA to protect us??

Posted by: markove at March 5, 2004 at 07:34 PM

Hey Rex- I hope your Kombi isn't powered by OIL!!; that would be just a teensy bit hypocritical, doncha think?

Posted by: Habib at March 5, 2004 at 11:15 PM

Howzabout this for a real, hulking manly man's car:

Posted by: Doc at March 6, 2004 at 01:09 AM

Jet was on "Loveline" a few weeks back. They were drunk. Come to think of it, every Aussie band on "Loveline" has been drunk on-air.

Posted by: Dave S. at March 6, 2004 at 01:42 AM

Tom: Worried about tire wear? Piddling amounds of gas used to get started?

Pansy. Buy a god damn bicycle, HIPPY.

Posted by: Sigivald at March 6, 2004 at 04:15 AM

Picture this Tom: You're in a part of town you don't go to a lot. You're at the stoplight in the far left lane, and when the light turns green, you have about 1 block to get over 5 lanes to the far right lane to take the ramp onto the freeway.

In my car, light turns green, I'm WAY in front of everyone, then over onto the ramp, no inconvenience to anyone. No signaling in the middle of traffic and hoping someone lets you get over, where you hold up everything and maybe get rear-ended, or best case you go ahead and turn around. In a powerful car, you have more options than you have in a powerless one, and that makes your driving safer and more effective.

Posted by: Matt in Denver at March 6, 2004 at 04:25 AM

Maybe so, but in your scenario, if I'm behind the line driving one of the other cars you just cut in front of, you have just scared the pants off me and p*ssed me off right royally!!!! Not that you'd care, because you'd be long gone before I could so much as lower my sunglasses and frown at you. :-)

Of course, I do live in Los Angeles, California, the bad driving capital of the western USA... ;-)

Posted by: Mary in LA at March 6, 2004 at 04:53 AM

Scaring the drivers behind you beats being in a multi-car accident any day. My car's acceleration capability has saved my life more than once from idiotic drivers whose minds were off visualizing world peace or Heidi Klum naked instead of on the road.

Besides which the "gas-guzzling" aspect is highly overrated and depends on whether your car is properly tuned, the traffic conditions you drive in (I live in a small town atop a mountain, and a lot of my driving is done on the highway), and whether your car is an automatic or a standard. I drive a 340 HP six-speed manual and I get better mileage than many of those little underpowered automatic grocery-getters- and DEFINITELY better than the old teeny VWs that seem to lose half their fuel as a black cloud out the back.

Posted by: LabRat at March 6, 2004 at 05:30 AM

Mary, I would not cut you off, I would be 100' in front of you when I changed lanes and still accelerating a lot faster than you. Not a contest, no pressure on you, no audience participation required.

To be fair, two disadvantages of having a sweet ride:

1. My car can stop a lot faster than your car. Probably at least two car lengths faster from 60. I have to adjust my driving to avoid getting rear-ended all the time.

2. I get 14 mpg. I'm ok with that, but it would bug a lot of people.

Posted by: Matt in Denver at March 6, 2004 at 08:20 AM

Re - Matt in Denver "acheiving" 14mpg.

For us Aussies, the US gallon is approx 10% less than our old imperial gallon (ie our 44 gallon drum is basically the same as the US 55gallon drum.

MiD's veehickel is getting approx 16mpg in our language, and shit yeah, it would bug a lot of people.

But isn't the ability to choose your own destiny for most things in life a wonderful thing.

Posted by: Tom at March 6, 2004 at 09:31 AM

I'm "achieving" 25 mpg city in your language.

Would that bug you?

Posted by: LabRat at March 6, 2004 at 10:47 AM


"But isn't the ability to choose your own destiny for most things in life a wonderful thing."

Sure is......and that's why I choose a vehicle that accelerates smartly as do Matt and LabRat, and stops rapidly, and handles well. Unfortunately I cannot choose those with whom I share the road, many of whom stooge along well under the limit and completely unaware. Which is not a wonderful thing.

Posted by: Galen at March 6, 2004 at 02:36 PM


I meant that it is good we can still choose to purchase any car that we feel like, irrespective of the "social" preferences of some others.

Apologies for the confusion.

I personally prefer good Aussie Ford muscle cars.

Posted by: Tom at March 6, 2004 at 05:35 PM

More straight dope about performance cars for a huge fan of them:

* For an increment of added performance, you give up an increment of reliability. Accept this fact and prepare accordingly.

Lab Rat, for whatever reason, when my wife drives the car, she gets 22 mpg. It just might have something to do with her not mashing the gas at every single green light, just maybe.

Posted by: Matt in Denver at March 7, 2004 at 08:55 AM

Matt in Denver:

* For an increment of added performance, you give up an increment of reliability. Accept this fact and prepare accordingly.

I'd like to qualify that statement a bit Matt. If you're referring to buying a standard vehicle and then chipping, turbocharging and generally modifying it then I'd agree, unless it's a very expensive job done by a specialist in the field. A safer way (though not as much fun for a hands on driver who loves tinkering) is to buy the huge performance and safety and reliability and straight out exhilaration off the dealer's floor. Big problem of course is that here in Australia you're looking at $A 220K + for say, an Audi RS6 which is way out of the question for most of us. But for the price you get quite reasonable gas mileage, and with Quattro you are ahead of most everything else when the lights turn green. No time wasted with squealing and smoking and huge decibels....just safe straight line acceleration which puts you where you want to be without upsetting other drivers or attracting the attention of the blue light blokes.
It may be because I'm over 70, but I find discrete performance more soul satisfying

Posted by: Galen at March 7, 2004 at 11:11 AM

My (entirely stock ) car is directly comparable to an RS6, and neither my car nor the RS6 are even remotely comparable to my old 1998 Civic in terms of reliabilty. Not even close. The RS6 pushes the limits of automotive engineering to perform the way it does, and failures ensue. The Civic is engineered specifically not to fail, and it is as reliable as my car is fast, and worthy of a similar respect for that aspect of its design and production.

Posted by: Matt in Denver at March 7, 2004 at 11:35 AM

Matt- the highest speed limit in town is, unfortunately, 35. And the cops have absolutely nothing better to do than bust speeders, given that the local crime rate is such that leaving your door unlocked is not uncommon. (And both the man of the house, who once had NASCAR ambitions, and I drive the Z28.) However, the gas savings off the forced sedate behavior in town are rather offset by the fun that can be had outside town on the mountain roads, which seem to be designed for performance vehicles.

I'll also say that we've never had a mechanical failure more severe than turn-signal malfunction.

Posted by: LabRat at March 7, 2004 at 11:41 AM

Hey Lab Rat, it sounds like they could lay off some cops and lower your taxes in your town. Our Denver cops certainly appear well-fed, I'll say that for 'em.

My car only has 5,500 miles on it and has had 2 minor defects, infintely more than the zero defects my Civic had. It's reasonable to expect some issues and be prepared to accomodate them.

Posted by: Matt in Denver at March 7, 2004 at 12:06 PM