As the curtain begins to fall on one of Holden’s acts, we take a final spin in the beloved Aussie V8 Commodore ute, going out with a bang in the special edition Magnum.
While new double-cab utes are charging out of local dealerships in almost unfathomable numbers, spare a thought for the good old Aussie-built models. The ute has been part of the Australian landscape since the 30s with Ford offering the Coupe Utility and when the first Holden arrived in 1948, it was soon followed by its own Coupe Utility in 1951, the 50-2106. And it’s been an integral part of the market ever since, but that’s all changing. The final true-blue Aussie Ford Falcon ute went down the line last year, and a similar fate awaits the Holden Commodore later this year. The double cab pick ups that sell in big numbers on both sides of the Tasman have proven the better utility vehicle over time with the market for the single cab low riders dwindling to a trickle. So, it’s time to get misty eyed for the old ute as we take one final nostalgic drive.
Out with a bang
The Magnum forms part of GMH’s V8-powered, limited edition salute to the nearly departed VF Commodore, the others being the Calais-based Director while the Motorsport Edition is a racier SS-V sedan. For these specials, engineers had to raid the parts bin and fuel the project with passion rather than any significant development budget. The biggest fillip for the sedan came via the fitment of Magnetic Ride, developed for the exported Chevrolet SS. Unfortunately for the ute, with its longer wheelbase and different body structure at the rear, the Magnetic Ride gubbins simply didn’t fit, so Holden went about tuning the rear end to deliver a sharper dynamic edge than the SS-V Redline ute it’s based on. To that end, some of the ute’s payload capacity has been sacrificed, the Magnum’s rear dampers and springs softened off for more compliancy, and the ride height lowered by 15mm. It’s now said to be comparable to the set-up of the FE3 tune of the Redline sedan. The front remains unchanged.
Other mods include the addition of larger 20-inch alloy wheels, and new cross-drilled Brembo rotors, the front end utilising a two-piece design of an alloy centre and steel rotor which saves a bit of weight and stands up better to heat abuse.
While nothing’s been done under the bonnet to enhance the 304kW and 570Nm totals of the 6.2-litre LS3, it was treated to an upgraded cooling system for both the trans and engine. It gets an engine oil cooler that was designed for the previous gen hi-po Camaro’s and both the manual and auto transmissions gain a cooler too.
The Magnum name wasn’t one we were familiar with from the annals of Holden specials but it was used by HDT on a ute in 1983, of which it seems few were ever built. The Magnum name is more synonymous with HDT’s hot-rodded Statesmans and Caprices. These featured a Group 3 spec 308 with 188kW and 428Nm of torque, Bilstein shockers, a three-speed auto and 16-inch alloys. There are a few official pics of a WB Magnum ute floating about showing a unique front grille, painted in formula blue and riding low on Corvette turbine style alloys. HDT also styled a VS Magnum ute in 1998 with suspension and engine work and the usual HDT colour-coded aero body work.
While there’s no unique aero kit on this iteration of the Magnum, it does get covered in special edition graphics and badges, there’s a hard tonneau and the interior is fitted out with performance seats borrowed from the Chevrolet SS. Other tech stuff includes the usual spec for a Redline ute with parking sensors, a camera, blind spot warning, head-up display, eight-inch touchscreen infotainment, six air bags, ESP and forward collision alert but no AEB or active cruise. It’s also has a five-star ANCAP rating, but more appealing to buyers will be its collectability. Holden will make 291 Magnums all told, 240 for the homeland, and 51 examples to be shipped here. They are all gone by the way, along with the 151 Motorsport Editions and 51 Directors too. The Magnums retailed for $74,290, which is a bit of a premium on the $65,490 for the SS-V Redline.
While some Magnums will be destined for the sheds of collectors, we reckon most will be enjoyed as they should be. We can’t imagine anyone building a unibody V8-powered ute again any time soon, so this will remain a unique ride. Though the payload has been reduced, no one will care; it’s unlikely much will be hauled around in the tray, especially with the fitment of the hard tonneau. With the softening of the rear suspension, this Magnum rides right nicely with no bumping or shaking present from the rear over rough roads, and with the auto transmission in charge of the V8, it’s all rather civilised. Save for the fact there’s limited rear vision, a huge blind spot and those thick A pillars. But anyway, playing to a ute’s purposefulness, it’s a bit of fun to haul around in too. Slip the gearlever over into the Sport mode setting, gun the gas and the LS3 discovers its mojo. The V8 drama isn’t as loud as it is in the sedan, which is slightly disappointing at first, but with the pipes extending further back in the ute and the cab all but sealed off from the exit of exhaust gas, there’s not the same rumble, though the delicious induction music makes itself heard as revs rise. The big pushrod V8 starts coming good around 2500rpm, and by 3500rpm it’s alive, revving hard and fast to its limit at 6500rpm.
It delivers its power in linear fashion, making the ute easier to control. The throttle response is crisp, yet not too viscous so you can ease into the power on the corner exit. Cutting a caper across roads that were dry in some patches but still wet in the shady areas usually makes for unnerving progress in a big rear driver but the Magnum acquitted itself well. The ride maintains its suppleness at speed too, the rear end dealing with bumps and getting the power down sweetly. We progressed to the Competition setting for the ESP where the TC is muted and with a mind to careful throttle inputs, the tail won’t easily break loose. The six-speed auto won’t be missed much, needing a good seeing to with the manual lever to get things right, though the changes happen in a quick enough fashion. The big Brembo brake set-up is satisfying in both pedal power and longevity; they bite well and slow the big hay hauler in dramatic fashion.
And then there’s the steering, easily the best in the ute business. It’s not fussed by camber changes and isn’t too quick so you can drive along easily with one arm resting on the sill, as per, but it turns sweetly, loading up in the bends as you near its limits. And the Magnum is quick enough too, easily reeling off 100km/h in just over 5sec while also able to effortlessly spin those rears and chase its tail if you want it to.
So long cowboy
So as the Aussie ute drifts off into oblivion, another chapter ends, unlikely to be re-written any time soon. Though car culture suffers, the market won’t as Holden’s best seller is the Colorado, a ute with half the personality but a load more utility. Hey Holden, seeing as you killed off the real Aussie ute, how about engineering an LS3-powered Colorado to make up for it?
|Engine||6162cc, V8, EFI, 304kW/570Nm||Drivetrain||6A, RWD|
|Fuel Use||12.8L/100km||C02 Output||298g/km|