Hot Rod Featured Car - 2002 Holden Ute SS Rear-Drive, 300hp, Six-Speed For Under $20,000! By Jeff Koch Photography: David Freiburger, Jeff Koch This is the Holden Utility SS, built by GM’s Australia-based branch for its home market. We had one for a day in LA before it was sent back to Oz; GM reps gave us a laundry list of unofficial reasons this car will probably never come to this country. We’ve got our own list of why it should. 1. Chevy Would Sell the Hell Out of It: We drove one around Southern California for a day right after Power Tour ended, and if we had a dollar for every Power Tourer who told us they’d buy one, we could buy one ourselves. If they felt the need, Chevy could limit U.S. production—say, 25,000 a year—and send demand skyrocketing. It’d be an instant legend. 2. Body Style Choice: Holden of Australia builds and sells two-door Monaro coupes, four-door Commodore sedans and wagons, and the snazzy Utility hybrid seen here. Substitute Camaro for Monaro, Chevelle for Commodore, and El Camino for Utility, maybe Nomad for Commodore wagon, and you’d have a marketing coup that would have the 800,000-odd readers of this magazine screaming for the nearest Chevy dealer, cash in hand. 3. Rear-Wheel Drive: This could be the car that HOT ROD readers have been clamoring for since the Impala SS went away. Corvettes are beyond the affordability of most people reading this; like the girls in Playboy, Vettes are made of plastic and are nice to look at, but not many readers get to take one home. And Camaros, for all their good points, have about a year left to live, partly because not every kid with a speed jones can afford an insurance payment that tops their monthly car payment. What else does Chevy offer? The SSR? If you’re one of the 10,000 people who can get one in their first year of production and feel like waiting until 2003, sure. The rest of us want something now. 4. V-8 Power: In fact, it’s the same 5.7L LS1 V-8 under the hood of your Camaro and Corvette, but detuned to about 300 hp. In our test, it delivered 260-odd horsepower at the rear wheels thanks in part to restrictive inlet and exhaust systems. A quick spin around the block taught us that, seat of the pants, our 4L60E-backed Phantom (black metallic) Utility SS wasn’t as outright quick as a comparable F-body, but then between the restrictive plumbing and the extra weight, we didn’t expect it would be. And it’s nothing that can’t be changed. Which leads us to…. 5. There’s Already a Speed-Parts Aftermarket: The Australian supercar will respond to any LS1 bolt-on, from pulleys to, say, just dropping a 385-horse LS6 in and being done with it. The trannies are the same, too: The T56 six-speed is available, as is the 4L60E four-speed auto with overdrive. Exhaust companies would spit out less restrictive bolt-on systems faster than you can say “see you at SEMA.” 6. Chevy Likes to Sell Trucks. Buyers Dig Trucks. Here’s a Truck: Singling out the Utility SS in particular, it hauls 1,500 pounds worth of stuff in its 7-foot bed. (More utilitarian models will haul 1,800 pounds.) In a recent lunch meeting we had with some Chevy marketing guys in Detroit, they were disappointed to note that HOT ROD doesn’t do much with trucks. Guys, here’s a truck that we’ll gladly be all over—the new Avalanche, 8100 engine or not, ain’t quite our bag. 7. It Rides and Handles Good, Like a Car Should: Again singling out the Utility, since it’s the one we got to drive, having a B-body-like 115.7-inch wheelbase helps smooth out the bumps. Nothing with a wheelbase that long, especially a two-seater, should be included in a recipe for hot cornering, but it’s far firmer in the twisties than a comparable-length ’90s Impala SS. Again, no one’s going to pretend it corners like an F-body, but for something with a ¾-ton payload, the Utility is an eye-opener. The control and confidence you feel on any surface other than fresh tarmac is thanks largely to the fully independent rear suspension. There’s no protest, as there might be with a solid axle with lateral and gravitational forces pulling in different directions simultaneously; each wheel simply does its own thing, gets the power down, and you’re gone. Though a solid axle will always be top choice on the strip, for everyday driving, an independent setup is so much more comfortable to deal with. It’s got a tad of wheelhop, but we’re sure the aftermarket could solve that, too. 8. It’s Got Comfort and Quality: There’s plenty of room for all shapes and sizes of drivers and passengers in what looks, from the outside, to be a diminutive cabin. Head, leg, and elbow room are all fine, even with a couple of widebody staffers in the comfy red leather SS seats. Simple, modern design encourages the faultless ergonomics (even driving on the wrong side of the cabin). No new design ground is being broken, and as a result there’s nothing that looks freaky; the photo just looks like we’ve flipped it the wrong way ’round. Even the plastics and switchgear feel a notch or two above standard GM U.S. fare. The red gauges and seats are a bit much for the staff’s tastes (and that speedo is in kilometers, not miles, per hour—sorry), but that’s about it for criticism inside. 9. It Looks Bloody Fantastic: No, it doesn’t have the chiseled edges of (insert your favorite ’60s car here that this will never be as good as, no matter what). Yes, it’s modern. We’re in the 21st century. Most of us are OK with that. 10. It’s Affordable: You know, $36,490 sounds like a lot of money until you realize it’s in Australian dollars. A V-8 SS Utility (with stick or automatic, your choice) clocks in at less than $19,000 U.S. That’s cheaper than a Camaro, plus you can chuck more stuff in the back, whether it’s cargo, as with the Utility, or people, as with the Commodore and Monaro. A stick V-6 Ute (the tried-and-true 3.8L, also American-sourced) is about $12,000 U.S.—or the same money as a Focus… or a Cavalier. Ahem. 11. Minimal Engineering Dollars Are Needed for Federalization: It’s complete and on sale now. The engines are built in America and shipped to Australia, so clearly the powertrains can be tweaked to our own particular emissions specifications. Plus, did you know that Holden builds lefthand-drive versions of the Commodore and its variants? Saudi Arabia buys Holdens by the shipload: They’re badged as Chevrolets there, and are sold with Bow Ties on the hood. The only catch could conceivably be crash-testing, but Commodore is on a global GM platform (shared with the current Cadillac Catera), so the basics are already in place. (Or just equip ’em with ’roo bars.) Compare the cost of getting Holdens to pass U.S. crash regs to the cost of the emergency last-minute facelift on the ’02 Aztek. 12. Enthusiast Buzz Would Be Everywhere: The Chevrolet name would be on everyone’s lips as America’s bargain performance division, and it would set the market on its ear. This thing would drive traffic to the showroom, thereby (in theory) selling Cavaliers to every kid who aspires to own a Ute in a few years. It’s a smaller step from Cavalier to Commodore than it is to Corvette. Plus, thanks to Internet chat rooms, they would practically sell themselves via the hype machine. GM might look to one of its satellites, Subaru, for a parallel. After years of hype, the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive WRX has been unleashed in this country (see Roddin’ at Random, Aug. ’01). Dealers are charging thousands over sticker for the few they get, and the little bug-eyed beasts are turning up in enthusiasts’ hands nationwide. Why? Right car, right price, right time, right hype—hype that the car more than lives up to. Think it couldn’t happen with the Ute? 13. It Rocks: But then, you already knew that.