LS Buyers guide

Not all of us are rolling in spare cash for a project car, but it can be done on a budget. We love sniffing out cheap project-starters that can be used for the school run during the week, some mid-week fun at the strip, or a motorsport event on the weekends. And the great news is that for around $5000 you can get a 5.7-litre LS-equipped car that'll do all that - or at least give you a platform to start.

Holden sold so many of the buggers that today you can find any number of running, registered and tyre-smoking LS-powered lions for less than the cost of a 10-year-old Corolla. While most folks look to the SS and HSV variants, there are a huge number of dirt-cheap Calais, Berlina, Statesman and Caprice models that sell quietly for not much more than a base V6.

Holden -commodore -vt -ss -engine -baFor this guide, we're looking at 5.7-litre-powered early models that you should be able to pick up for less than $5000 in good, roadworthy condition, and which you could drive to work or on holidays with confidence. Yes, your $5k bargain will be a bit rattly, and we can guarantee that the diff will whine like a three-year-old in a checkout queue. There may be a strange smell in teh backseat and the air con may be dubious. But if you are patient, you'll find a good, solid car.

This is just a general guide, and bargains continually pop up, but you have to be in a position to capitalise on them, either with ready cash or the ability to travel a long distance to pick up your find.

We'd love to hear your stories of epic LS bargains, so drop us a line at

 1999_Holden _Commodore _(VT_II)_SS_sedan


Years: 1999-2000
Power: 220kW
Body style: Sedan
Transmission: Four-speed auto or six-speed manual

The original VT II SS might get looked down on for a slightly restrictive intake manifold and a reputation for piston slap, but they are one of the cheapest ways into LS ownership you can find, with the added benefit of 17-inch wheels, FE2 suspension, sports seats and a natty bodykit.

Engine -bay -2Six-speed examples still command a premium, but the reputation for having the least power of any LS-powered SS and the piston slap fiasco have meant VTs just don't hold a candle price-wise to VX-Vz examples. It hasn't helped that many have been driven into the ground by over-enthusiastic owners, but you can still find some bargains out there.

Holden -commodore -vt -ss -interiorGood ones will have working air con, tight suspension bushes and shocks (no knocking), no leaks from the power steering system and no dodgy noises from the engine, and you do stand a good chance of finding one for under $5000 with those qualities. As the prices for VYs have pushed VXs down, VTs have also dropped to what is probably the lowest they'll get before the rarity of really mint ones will see pricese begin to rise.


Years: 1999-2004
Power: 225kW-235kW
Body style: Sedan or wagon
Transmission: Four-speed auto

Holden -commodore -vx -vy -berlinaThe Berlina might have been the soft option your quiet-to-the-point-of-invisibility geography teacher drove, but they were also able to be ordered with 5.7 litres of alloy muscle, and even in a super-handy wagon shape, too! Equipped only with the 4L60E electronic auto, they were a mid-range luxury-pack vehicle designed to combat sub-premium offerings from Audi and Volvo in the leafy middle-class suburbs.

Today there are plenty of cherry examples running around with low kilometres, having been maintained by proud owners from new who looked after their purchase and treated them like babies. So you know they’re ripe for a set of rod bolts and a GTX47 hanging off the exhaust manifolds!

Be warned, though, the stock gearbox isn’t renowned for being the strongest option around so you would be wise to budget for an upgrade before planning too many horsepower-related shenanigans.

As with Calais and Statesman models, if a VX-VY Berlina’s electronics (including the swish climate air con) are working then you can overlook rotten clearcoat or dud paint, which are common faults. The lack of bodykit, even over a Calais, makes Berlinas fairly anonymous on the streets and a boon for those with nasty driveways!


Years: 2001-2002
Power: 225kW
Body style: Sedan
Transmission: Six-speed manual

Holden -commodore -vxIf you can find one, an LS1 six-speed Executive VX is a damn good choice to turn into a very capable project car. Light weight, with less luxury stuff to put in the bin, and plain-Jane looks mean you could slide through traffic almost unnoticed.

You don’t just have to look for an ex-police car to find an Executive with an LS between the rails, as Holden actually sold a fair few in VT and VX series, including a few V8 manual Executive wagons! Unfortunately their rarity can mean that very clean, low-kilometre examples are both excruciatingly hard to find and therefore priced higher, so you’ll probably find ones with tatty paint and panel that have higher mileage.

We’ve seen them as cheap as $3000 running and registered, with icy air con and a towbar for quick trips hauling refuse to the tip. The best option is to dedicate the time to hunting them and not be scared to drive (or fly) a long way to pick one up.


Years: 2002-2004
Power: 235kW & 245kW (Series II)
Body style: Sedan
Transmission: Four-speed auto or six-speed manual

For the first time since the Commodore hit our streets in ’78, with the VY series you couldn’t get a base model with an optioned-up V8. The shock! The outrage! “Where would we get our bargain-basement, no-frills stripper skid pig?” we asked. So Holden pointed to the new SV8.

It came with sports trim on ordinary non-sports seats, 17-inch alloys instead of the SS’s Flash Harry 18s, just a boot spoiler instead of a full lips-and-skirts kit, and the interior features were based on the more humble Executive than the high-calibre SS, but it was fast and way cheaper.

Holden -commodore -sv 8-vy

Though not quite the bargain others in this list are, VY SV8s are still a solid way into no-frills performance motoring, just as the General intended over 10 years ago. Available in basic black, red, silver and white, they are fairly rare beasts, as they failed to find the niche Holden hoped they would slot into, being seen more as a povvo SS instead of a stripped-out hot rod.

The Series II VY scored an extra 10kW, which was probably important for the new-car buyer at the time trying to keep their warranty, but not so important when we all know most people reading this mag already have a cam/pipes/tune/intake package picked out!


Years: 1999-2004
Power: 220kW-245kW (WK Caprice)
Body style: Sedan
Transmission: Four-speed auto

Holden -wk -statesman

The long-wheelbase Statesman and Caprice models might come in 19 shades of Retirement Home Boring and with a weight penalty, but they’re also an excellent basis for an angry powerskid monster, the stretched distance between front and rear axles lending extra stability at speed. Because of their bowling club-oriented demeanour, they’re generally found in excellent condition and with low kilometres, having been kept as cherished rigs by their (often) elderly owners.

The VT-era WH has been a source of dirt-cheap LS motors for a few years, and this has driven the nicer, sharper and more powerful (235kW vs 220kW) WK Statesman and Caprice twins down into the bargain bin. For under $5000 you’ll find a tidy example that will be a reliable and very comfortable daily driver, but you should definitely make sure all the electronics and accessories work. Fixing air con, cruise control and power windows can be both expensive and time-consuming.

Holden -wk -statesman -rearA side benefit of the heavier tare weight on the long-wheelbase models is they are able to run more cubic inches (or forced induction) compared to the lighter base-model Commodore examples listed here.


If you're looking for more cubes than a 5.7 LS1, you'll need to triple the budget to get yourself into the cheapest six-litres on offer. Apart from the odd WM Caprice, your best bet to picking up a cheap six-oh is a VZ HSV Clubsport (LS2 Gen III), as there are plenty on offer for around $15k.

Engine -bayFor similar dosh you could also sniff out a VZ-series SS Thunder, which was a limited edition ute at the end of the run before the VEs were launched. Fitted with L77 (automatic) or L98 (manual) Gen IV six-litres, they came in lurid colours and have become a stealth way into a solid base for big-power builds.

The accepted wisdom is that, mod for mod, a Gen IV six-litre will make 30 per cent more power over a 5.7, and they only really suffer weakness in dud lifters. As with all VT-VZ series Commodores, watch the quality of interior fittings and accessories, as well as noisy bearings in the diff.


If you want to find cheap LS rides, you have to get a bit smart with where you look. The best-known sale websites might nab you one-owner, low-kilometre cherry examples, but not the dirty fast bargains that we're looking at here.

GumtreeYou need Gumtree, eBay, Craigslist, Facebook buy/swap/sell groups and LS-specific forums, as that's where the real fire-sale, clearing-the-garage desperados advertise these days. At the time of writing there were over 150 LS-powered Holdens for sale around Australia for under $5000 on one online classifieds site.

Remember to do your due diligence before you hand over any cash at all. Get a PPSR check to make sure there is no finance on the vehicle and it isn't on a written-off vehicle register, and take someone who knows how to check a second-hand performance car over for signs of neglect. While the LS is a strong motor, they don't suffer neglect well and you don't want your new toy to cost you a bomb before it even turns a tyre in anger!

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