Launched in July 2006, the VE Commodore was a whole new platform that radically dragged the old and tired Commodore into the 21st Century. It is rumoured we were meant to get the VE much earlier, as design sketches that look close to the production vehicle date back as far as 1999! Unfortunately, we had to wait seven years for the biggest redesign of the Commodore platform since its introduction in 1978 (though people wanting the new ute or flash-looking Sportwagon had to wait ’til August 2007!).
The VE was based on the Zeta platform, which GM-H spent four years and $1 billion developing. Unlike previous Commodores, it contained no Opel DNA
It was worth the wait, thanks to the improved quality of the ride, handling, cabin noise, fit and finish, and performance of the all-new locally developed chassis package, coded Zeta, which cost over $1 billion to develop. Replacing the badly outdated semi-trailing-arm rear end was a new platform featuring a double-pivot MacPherson strut front end and a four-link independent rear. The quality was such that it would go on to underpin the fifth-generation Camaro.
Simply put, the VE rode, drove and performed like a much more expensive premium German import, and it has become one of the best buys in the second-hand market for people wanting a great car with the bones to be made into a stonking street machine.
GM-H allocated models into three broad categories for the VE series: Base (Omega), Performance (SV6, SS, SS-V), and Luxury (Berlina, Calais, Calais V). This was streamlined to just Performance and Luxury trims in 2011, with the Omega moved into the Luxury class.
Holden sold nearly 350,000 Commodores between the VE’s 2006 introduction and the 2013 launch of the VF model. While plenty of them include examples missing two cylinders, we’ll focus on models that came sporting an absolute pearler of an engine under the bonnet – the Gen IV small-block V8.
Bent-eights offered by Holden were the 6.0-litre Gen IVs, with the 270kW L98 (manual-only) and 260kW L76 offered until 2010, when the AFM-equipped L77 replaced both. What is AFM, you ask? We’ll talk about that in a moment.
HSV models used 307kW (412hp) six-litre Gen III LS2 V8s up ’til 2008, after which they used 6.2-litre Gen IV LS3 engines of between 317kW (425hp) and 325kW (436hp). A few cashed-up punters also got to sample the 375kW (505hp) 7.0-litre LS7 in the W427 limited edition.
Transmission options for V8 models had six forward gears for both manual and auto for the first time in a Commodore, with the GM 6L80E electronic six-slot auto getting the nod for punters who wanted a self-shifting transmission. Tremec’s T56 six-speed remained the manual gearbox for V8 Holdens, though HSVs did score the much-improved TR6060 model from the E2 model update starting in November 2008.
Manual clutches have a dual-mass flywheel to damp vibrations, while the VE had diff ratios that ranged from 2.92 (Calais V8 auto), 3.27 (HSV auto), 3.45 (Calais, SS, SS-V manual), and up to 3.7 (HSV manual). Along with the new IRS rear end, the diff centre was upgraded to a more modern unit from the outdated M80 Eaton unit used in the VT-VZ-generation Commodores.
Nearly all V8 VE Commodores were well-equipped from the factory with power windows, cruise control, air conditioning (many up-spec cars had dual-zone climate control), while the optional leather trim was far nicer than previous models. Early SS and SS-V dashboards could be ordered in some truly horrible colour combinations, and it was well received when Holden went back to plain black interiors in later updates.
Holden updated the VE-generation through its seven-year life, but rather than releasing different model codes to differentiate the updates (as with VT, VX and VY), model-year designations were used instead. The first major update was known as MY09.5 for the 2009 model year, followed by an MY10 update for 2010 models. Holden then marketed the substantial MY11 model update as the ‘Series II’, and, confusingly, retained the VE Series II moniker for the MY12 updates launched in September 2011.
Many of the updates were minor cosmetic touches, but there were a few key changes through the VE’s history that can make a quantifiable difference when it comes to buying a potential project car.
The MY9.5 refresh saw the V8 dropped in the Berlina range, while MY11 Series II saw the introduction of a modern infotainment system by Siemens VDO, dubbed ‘Holden-iQ’.
The biggest banger among VE variants was the W427. Hand-built by HSV from a GTS base, it was propelled from nought to 100 in 4.7sec by a 7.0L LS7 sourced from the Corvette Z06. Only 137 examples were built between 2008 and 2009, and the used market reflects that now with values well over $200,000.
The 6.5-inch touchscreen also saw the vents and console comprehensively updated to a far more modern style, which is a fact to take into consideration if the VE you want to buy is intended as a daily driver. Higher-spec models also had their satellite navigation upgraded to include speed camera locations, traffic alerts and more.
It’s also worth noting the MY10 update brought some fettling of the suspension set-up, and included a larger 24mm rear sway-bar, plus an extra ball joint in the rear suspension that had first been seen on the Sportwagon. This was claimed to improve handling and chassis control on Performance models wearing 18- or 19-inch wheels.
MY11 saw the introduction of E85-capable ‘Flex-Fuel’ technology in the V8s, which is handy to note if you’re planning on strapping a blower or turbo to the VE project car you’re no doubt about to rush out and buy once you’ve finish reading this article.
The MY11 update also introduced the Redline option for V-series cars, offering several cosmetic upgrades as well as lightweight forged 19-inch wheels off the Pontiac G8 GXP, stiffer FE3 suspension and four-piston front Brembo brakes. The Redline package was further updated for MY12 to include redesigned wheels, and red paint for the Brembo brakes, while Redline Sportwagons and utes were added to the list of variants sporting FE3.
An important note for street machiners relates to VE wheels. While pretty much all pre-VE Commodores can swap wheels between generations, Holden changed to a smaller 69.9mm centre bore diameter for the VE, down from the previous 72mm bore used for every previous Commodore. They also chose to upgrade the wheel studs from 12mm to 14mm items. So don’t count on fitting the wheels off your earlier Commodore to any VE, or vice-versa without visiting a machine shop.
THINGS TO LOOK FOR
What goes wrong? Not much more than many other late-model cars, though the big one to take note of is Active Fuel Management (AFM) lifter failure in L76s and L77s. In very basic terms, AFM, also known as Displacement On Demand (DOD), would drop cylinders to save fuel; however, the hydraulic lifters used in AFM-equipped engines often fail, indicated by a faint squeak from the engine on cold start that goes away as the motor heats up.
If you get onto it early you can fix the issue with a new cam, lifters, lifter buckets, pushrods and valve springs. Otherwise, you’ll have to do a full rebuild on the engine, including pistons, rods and crankshaft!
Apart from that, most other issues will come down to a lack of servicing or not replacing worn-out parts. Most VEs should be on their second set of shock absorbers and clutch by now. Failures of the plastic radiator end tanks aren’t uncommon, so don’t be surprised if your car has had a new radiator thrown in it.
VEs are heavy birds, so warped disc brakes are very common and cheap to replace. Both the 6L80E auto ‘box and the T56 manuals these came with are pretty damn strong, much like the rear diff. Still be on the lookout for any severe driveline wear from abuse, but atleast you don’t have to worry about the four-speed neutral 4L60E auto used in previous-gen Commodores.
Batteries have been an issue for VEs and VFs as well, which industry heads say is largely due to them being located in the boot. Jumper points can be found under the bonnet, but VEs have been known to refuse a jump when voltage is low. In short, keep an eye on your battery life and don’t be surprised if it becomes a regular maintenance item, or you may end up stuck.
Interior wise, we’ve head stories of the infotainment systems playing funny buggers at times, so be sure to check all the screens and functions are working properly. VEs did use average plastic throughout the inside, so you may find pieces falling off or missing on neglected examples.
An airbag light will more than likely be the result of a faulty clock spring, which we’re told is not to hard or expensive to replace. The climate control is known to have some software issues but can easily be reset, and air conditioner lines are known for leaking.
Depending on what you want will go a long way to determining what you’ll end up spending. The VE was the longest running and the highest sold single Commodore model ever, so there’s plenty to choose from in lots of varying condition. There’s also a whopping seven different badge variations of the VE SS alone across Series I and II. SS, SS V, Redline, SS Z Series and so on are all things to consider if you’re after a collectors item, but with the two latter generally commanding higher prices.
You should be able to find an ok high-kilometre VE SS sedan for $12,000-$17,000 that’ll need some basic work. Remember, these things are at least nine years old now, with the earliest clocking their sweet sixteen this year. We found the highest mileage cars sitting at over 300,000 kilometres, with average mileage for an SS sitting in the 150,000-200,000 kilometre bracket.
You’ll usually find the slightly facelifed Series II will command a smidge more money than an equivalent Series I, and if you’re chasing a higher-specc’d Redline or similar badge with more kit it’ll add further to the buy-in price.
In the sedan market, if you’re not after a proper minter but also not keen on a fixer-upper, we found plenty of tidy, largely standard manual sedans with around 150,000-200,000km on them for the $25,000 mark. Once you get below 150,000 clicks prices jump rapidly up to an average of $35,000, and at the top end of the market we found a few sellers asking an eye-watering $60,000 for super neat examples with less than 10,000 kilometres of work.
Surpringly, we found both utes and wagons command pretty similar money to the sedans, with the cheapest of those starting in the high teens and working up to $60,000 for realer pealers.
The real gem in the V8 VE market is the Calais. While only available in auto, you get all the 2010s luxuries with more subtle body styling and prices for neat examples start from as little as $15,000! We found several going for $17,000 mark with around 150,000km, and being a Calais with elderly owners it’s less like to have been given a hiding as well.
Plenty of these things have been modified with different wheels and you’ll be tripping over cars with the typical LS head, camshaft, intake and throaty exhaust mods, but don’t let that scare you off. Simply ask for evidence of the work from the workshop that did it, and so long as the car hasn’t been to Mexico every second weekend the worst it may need is a touch up on the tune.
The biggest takeaway from the lot though is that just on CarSales alone there was over 400 SS sedans and wagons to choose from (utes and Calais come under a different categories) , so in our eyes it’s very much a buyer’s market.
Whatever VE model you pick, so long as you buy an example in good nick, you’ll have a hard time not loving it.
HOLDEN VE COMMODORE
Length: 4900mm (sedan); 4904mm (wagon)
Weight: 1690-1825kg (sedan); 1837-1988kg (wagon)
Engines: 6.0L V8 (L76, L77, L98)
Transmissions: Tremec T56 six-speed manual; GM 6L80E 6-speed automatic
Front end: Double-pivot MacPherson
Rear end: Independent four-link
Brakes: Two-piston sliding calipers (f), single-piston sliding caliper (r); Four-piston Brembo calipers (f), single-piston sliding caliper (r)