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The Best You Can't Get

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Found this article on the web, from GM High-Tech Performance Magazine


When I first laid eyes on the 2001 Holden SS Ute, I thought I had died and gone to car-guy heaven. Stylistically, it's a cross between a Chevy El Camino and a 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix. Mechanically, it's a cross between a Camaro Z28 and a C5 Corvette. Checkbookwise, it's the equivalent of $20,000 US dollars. The only problem is that you can't buy one--here.


Holden, GM's Australian division, has been making bad-*** cars for years. The fuel crunches of the '70s and '80s that so crippled the American performance car market never hit Australia, and as a result many of the tarmac pounders that crawl the streets Down Under perform like the musclecars of yore. Think of it like this: Australia is just like the United States, only it's been in a cool parallel universe for the past 25 years. There, automakers like GM and Ford make car-guy cars at a price virtually everyone can afford.


The SS Ute is a member of Holden's rearwheel drive family of cars known generally as the Commodore/Calais line-up. (The current Holden range also contains a slew of other cars, which we'll explain later on.) This means they all share similar (if not identical) chassis, suspensions, powertrains, and styling. In understanding the Holden vehicle line, it helps to abandon your current notion of American platform engineering and branding; most of GM's US cars have totally different platforms, manufacturing plants, powertrains and styling, which means less economy of scale, subcontracting and shipping nightmares, lots of marketing tomfoolery, and extra cost passed on to you and me. The Aussies cut right to the meat of things: the cars are all the same, so pick your price/trim level and pick your engine (think Chevrolet circa 1957).


The SS Ute is an engineering marvel, considering its modest cost. Like all rearwheel-drive Holdens, it's based on the unit-body GM2800 platform, which is a highly-evolved Opel Omega chassis. Sharp readers will recall that the current Cadillac Catera is based on the GM2800, albeit with an emasculated Opel 3.0-liter engine. Among the SS Ute's technological goodies are a fully independent suspension (that's right, the SS Ute has IRS, like all the vehicles in the Commodore VX range), traction control, ABS, a 312-hp LS1 V8, and your choice of 4L60E automatic or T-56 manual 6-speed transmission.


If it's starting to sound like the Ute SS is a souped-up modern-day El Camino, you'd be right. With a curb weight of 3574 lbs., the 225kW (312-hp) Camaro-spec LS1 easily pushes this little truckster to high 13s, that's with an automatic trans and numerically-low 3.08 gears according to our smug Australian friends.


The unfairness of it all jumped right in our face when we had the miraculous opportunity to drive an SS Ute for most of the day. The chance came during an innocuous press junket sponsored by Vortec Powertrain. The invitation to fly down to beautiful Pasadena was ostensibly to introduce us to the 2002 Z06 Corvette (which we'll drag test for you at a later date) and to sample such inspired Vortech-powered products as industrial fork lifts and swamp boats. As an afterthought, one of the few remaining fun-loving GM techies (a Motorsports guy if you must know) had the presence of mind to snag a 2001 Holden SS Ute which had concurrently completed some hot-weather testing at the Mesa, Arizona proving grounds.


Considering that this sole pilot-line vehicle was shipped to the US at great expense to GM, we were surprised that our request was granted, so we made the most of our one-day shore leave. We immediately squirted off to the Angeles National Forest near Glendora, California for some impromptu testing on some curvy mountain roads. We found out just how good the IRS and the four-wheel vented disc brakes in the Ute SS really are, and that's saying something considering that we were a bit woozy driving from the "wrong" side of the car.


Within 30 seconds, I was acclimated to the right-hand drive. It's not really that hard to get used to; the position of the turn stalk on the right side of the steering column was the only freaky thing to remember. (We're guessing a manual 6-speed would take a little more getting used to--perhaps a minute or two.) Most fun of all was heading back to civilization after the photo shoot. We cruised through the streets of Glendora, West Covina and Pasadena on a Friday night and got tons of stares and compliments.


The first thing people are blown over by is the Ute's good looks. Then they realize that nobody is driving the car. Then they realize that the passenger is really the driver; that's when the light bulb turns on and the questions start coming in like a Vietcong artillery salvo. The most memorable moment was pulling up to the valet parking attendant at the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena. The look on the attendant's face was priceless as he mentally masticated over the thought of parking this job while sitting in the "passenger seat." Hell, the shock value of a right-hand drive alone is worth owning one here in the US!


One other thing: we actually got a chance to drag test the SS Ute. A makeshift 1/8-mile drag strip had been set up in the parking lot of Irwindale Speedway. (Bad idea guys, let's stick to roundy-round!) Using a vacuum-tube timing system which was undoubtedly left over from the original Irwindale Dragway, we clocked a lackluster 9.70 at 76 mph. (That was with a really hot motor and lots of non-driving newspaper suits flogging it before us.) Did we mention no traction compound or even a burn box? Obviously, under proper testing conditions, we have no doubt that the SS Ute could pound off innumerable 13-second ETs given its power and weight.


you can read the rest at



There also some good news here




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It would take a whole lot longer than a few minutes to get use to a right hand drive car with a manual 6-speed! Sure you may be able to shift the car, but to rip down the strip cutting the same ET with the same car being left hand driven, simply won't happen.


As far as automatics, I really don't see any problem with a right hand drive vehicle? ...STEER!

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SHIFTING with a right handed car? Man, that would feel so awkward for like a MONTH getting used to. But, yeah, I gotta agree with Blig, all you need to do when driving on the opposite side of the road, all you gotta do is pay attention.

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