Join Date: Feb 2007
Ugly paint job, hot looks.
An Aussie-built Corvette Z06, Only With Flip-Flops
By Curt Dupriez, Contributor Email
Date posted: 01-03-2008
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Forget the brutal midrange torque, the threatening exhaust rumble and the undertow from the muscular lime-green bodywork. Forget the near-desperate display of luxury and the polished ride. Because the overwhelming sensation you get behind the wheel of Project 370 is that you're driving a fishbowl. Because everyone's looking at you.
The 2008 Holden HSV GTS is bold and masculine, without an ounce of restraint. This pumped-up Project 370 is the ultimate GTS tuner car, an extrapolation of what the forthcoming 2008 Pontiac G8 can become.
For starry-eyed patriotic Aussies, Project 370 shows just how far the Lucky Country has come in its ability to build world-class performance cars.
Think Corvette ZO6, Only Wearing Flip-Flops
Project 370 is different, even for Australia. This Holden's unique, Verde Ithica pearlescent-green bodywork intrigues you, and then the unfamiliar whine of a supercharger gets your heart racing. And finally the badge on the trunk lid that ordinarily reads "307," signifying the presence of 307 kW (411 horsepower) within this Holden E-Series GTS, instead slyly taunts "370," or some 496 hp.
"I wanted to buy a Lamborghini Murciélago, but then I realized that I really just liked the Verde Ithica color," says John Bailey, a businessman from Sydney with a car collection that includes numerous Mustangs and a veritable fleet of giallo (yellow) Ferraris.
So like so many Australians, Bailey found himself attracted to the new E-Series version of the Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) GTS, a high-performance derivation of the Holden Commodore SS (itself soon to come to the U.S. as the Pontiac G8). The problem is, HSV doesn't do custom cars, regardless of how wide a prospective buyer opens his wallet. But it turns out that Walkinshaw Performance (WP), a tuning company based in Melbourne, will do custom cars. And this is where things get commercially — and politically — interesting.
Ex-racer and automotive magnate Tom Walkinshaw owns the majority shareholding in HSV, Holden's official purveyor of performance models. Walkinshaw also owns WP, although this tuning company is an entirely separate business. Yet the fact that both are under the same corporate umbrella allows WP unprecedented (in Australia at least) power and flexibility in building virtually brand-new, turn-key custom cars for private clients.
How much power and flexibility? Well, Project 370 didn't start life as a GTS at all. In fact, it left the HSV assembly line as HSV's luxurious flagship model, the Senator Signature. And shortly after, in WP's hands, it underwent a sex change.
The Total Makeover Thing
Bailey wanted the GTS's aggressive looks and performance-oriented handling, but with the luxuries of the Senator Signature, HSV's flagship model.
Mechanically, the GTS and Senator Signature models are virtually identical. Both have the GM-engineered 6.0-liter LS2 V8, 6L80E six-speed automatics, AP Racing-derived brakes with four-piston calipers, and a full list of performance items. The difference comes in suspension tuning, wheels, interior trim and bodywork.
The Senator's more elaborate wiring system — required to service its long list of luxury interior features — made it the logical place to begin this project. WP's exclusive accessibility to HSV's parts bin facilitated construction of this unique hybrid, and also made sure it could be built to the same production-line standards as regular HSV models.
By the time the Project 370's LS2 fired in anger, Bailey had invested AU$60,000 (about $50,000 U.S.) in enhancements for the AU$76,990 Senator.
The Power Within
In Australia, everything starts with power, and WP has fitted the LS2 V8 with a Magnuson Magna Charger, a Roots-type supercharger. Although this package is on par with the Corvette Z06's LS7 V8 for outright glory figures with 496 hp, the supercharged 6.0-liter V8 is really about robust midrange power.
Tooling around town, the engine is docile at low revs, but squeeze the loud pedal and the throttle response sharpens as the torque swells to a peak of 545 pound-feet at 4,200 rpm. The result is the kind of force that pins you back in the seat and comes just shy of collapsing your lungs. And then there's more power to come, as the tach needle swings to 6,100 rpm where all 496 horses are in full stride.
To get a clean launch, some deft throttle modulation is required lest the 275/30R20 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rear tires cry freedom in trying to hurl nearly 4,000 pounds off the mark. Get it right and the Project 370 will nail 60 mph in less than 5 seconds and do the quarter-mile in less than 13 seconds.
The six-speed automatic, though, is merely adequate. It's robust, but has only a workmanlike shift quality and it's easily caught snoozing when in Drive.
Great Southern Land
On this vast sunburned continent of the land Down Under, the roads are often riddled with pimples, potholes and ruts, as if they had been slapped across the landscape to counter the tyranny of distance and little more. And twisty back roads — Australia's rife with them — are no exception.
Project 370 isn't flustered by any of it. The GTS (or any HSV, for that matter) has a polished character on the road, and the suspension has been carefully tuned to strike a balance between responsive handling and a compliant ride that's perfect for Aussie road conditions.
Special WP springs lower the ride height, but the key to the suspension is the use of Delphi's MagnaRide dampers. They allow you to switch from the default Performance mode to a super-taut Track setting, and yet the ride is never brittle. Bumps of any size, shape or ferocity just never seem to unhinge this car, and it keeps its Bridgestones on the pavement.
The E-Series body structure is supremely rigid, and this lends a tangible sense of solidity to the Project 370 that in turn allows the suspension tuning to deftly sort out the most adverse traction and grip issues. As a result, this car's body control is more impressive than you would expect from a car with a wheelbase of 114.8 inches.
Yet with nearly 4,000 pounds here, Project 370 is not particularly nimble. The GTS prefers to be guided rather than grabbed by the scruff of the neck and thrown around. It nevertheless copes with the quick directional changes of spirited driving without much fuss.
The steering is really good, with linear though not particularly quick action, and there's reasonable feedback from the 245/35R20 Bridgestone front hoops. And while the weight in the nose dulls steering response a touch and makes your turn into a corner less crisp than you might like, there's still plenty of front-end grip. It's easy to keep the nose tidy, and you can tighten your cornering line with a gentle lift of the throttle.
There's a natural tendency for the chassis to lean on the outside rear wheel, and the rear tires offer so much bite as the car lunges out of corners that you half expect to find puncture marks in the blacktop.
The chassis can be easily driven on the throttle. If you're feeling antisocial, it'll also drift like a champion. The supercharged power is creamy and predictable, and there's nothing to upset the GTS's composure when it hangs out the rear tires.
The AP Racing brakes combine sufficient bite with progressive pedal action, and HSV claims that these four-piston calipers are actually more powerful than the six-pots from the previous-generation Z-Series GTS.
The One and Only
The 2008 Holden HSV GTS might not match the levels of refinement, sophistication and finer engineering prowess of the European super sedans, but that's not the point of this car. Instead it's the ultimate hero car for red-blooded Aussie blokes who wouldn't be seen dead in a bourgeois M5. And Project 370 just cranks up the appeal a few notches.
It's now Bailey's daily driver. "This way I can have the power and impact I want for AU$135,000 [about $118,000], 20 percent of the price of a Murciélago," he smiles.
Of course, American readers shouldn't accept those figures too literally, because you could buy a brand-new Pontiac G8 and modify it in much the same way and get 90 percent of the result for less than $50,000 total.
Project 370 will remain extra-special, though. Bailey had just one iron-clad demand of Walkinshaw Performance as part of the Project 370 deal. And that is exclusivity. "Bailey wanted something unique, and unique it will stay," says WP's Chief Executive Chris Payne. "This is our first GTS in Verde Ithica green, and it will be the company's last."
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
"Let the rest of the world dream of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and dinky little British two-seaters. In this country speed doesn't look like that." Got SS?