With HSV returning to its muscle car origins in converting the Chevrolet Camaro for sale in Australia, it’s worth revisiting one of the brand’s halo models for years gone by to see how it has stood up to time and kilometres.

Back in 2001 when the born-again Holden Monaro was sweeping all before it, it became pretty obvious that HSV would want a slice of that action.

So, the Clayton, Melbourne-based operation developed two distinct variations on the big-coupe theme, the GTO/GTS Coupe and the Coupe 4.

The GTO/GTS twins were pretty much what everybody expected from HSV; more power, stiffer suspension, bigger brakes and a body kit that the already handsome Monaro two-door probably didn’t need. But the Coupe 4 was definitely one out and one back.

Developed at the same time as Holden was engineering its own all-wheel-drive station-wagon and ute range (the Adventra and Cross 8) HSV brewed up a model that managed to cram all that hardware under (almost under, actually) the Monaro’s svelte shape.

Since it was already committed to an HSV version of the Adventra (the Avalanche) it seemed kind of a natural fit to take the same running gear and put in in the coupe. As it turned out, natural, was not really the first thought that occurred to those who drove it.

The Coupe 4 was, in fact, one of those cars that failed to live up to the performance suggested by its exotic specification. There were several good reasons for this.

First was that the extra running gear (three differentials instead of one, two extra driveshafts, a transfer-case and extra prop-shaft) made the Coupe 4 a pretty portly customer, weighing in at 1830kg versus closer to 1670kg for the two-wheel-drive HSV Coupe.

Even that might have been okay, but the extra driveline compromised the shape of the exhaust headers on the 5.7-litre V8, so the Coupe 4 actually had less power (270kW versus 285).

And because it was driving the front wheels, the Coupe 4 had a greater tendency to understeer at the limit, yet didn’t offer as much in the way of steering feel.

Finally, since the all-wheel-drive layout hadn’t been engineered for a manual transmission, the Coupe 4 was automatic only. And we’re talking back in the days of GM’s four-speed auto with big gaps between the ratios that tended to make the other problems seem worse than they were.

But while all that mattered back in the day, it’s probably not so important now that HSVs are being bought for their historical significance as much as their actual abilities.

So has the passing of time saved the Coupe 4? Possibly not, but if you are committed to the idea of this country’s only home-brewed all-wheel-drive performance coupe (think Audi RS5) then maybe the big HSV two-door comes back into the reckoning.

Either way, there are some important checks to make. Those start with the bodywork.

Fundamentally, make sure the body kit, grille and things like the fog lights are all there and working. Some of these bits were specific to the Coupe 4, so replacements are unlikely to be ten deep at wrecking yards. Check that the attachment points for the front and rear aprons arent broken, too, as minor bumps can break these off.

Next, check the plastic wheel-arch flares. These were added to ensure the wider track of the Coupe 4 was still contained beneath the bodywork (for legal reasons) but some cars – mainly early-build examples – could rub their tyres on these plastic bits, damaging them.

The engine of the Coupe 4 was the sometimes troublesome LS1 5.7-litre V8, but the 2004 build-date puts the HSV beyond the point in time when the worst of these problems – oil burning, mainly – were eradicated.

But you still need to have a close listen to any LS1, mainly for the sound of tapping hydraulic lifters. If the tell-tale tick is there, you’re looking at new lifters and the conventional wisdom in that you should replace the rocker bearings and possibly even the valve springs while you’re in there.

The automatic transmission can be a bit suspect once 170,000km or so have passed under the car’s wheels, a situation that’s potentially made worse by the extra driveline strain imposed by the all-wheel-drive traction.

The other Coupe 4-specific caveat is that any repairs to the driveline are likely to be more complicated and cost more thanks again to that all-wheel-drive.

The front differential, for instance, is mounted alongside the engine’s sump (to keep the centre of mass low) meaning that one driveshaft has to run across the car via a sealed tube that forms a tunnel through the sump. So, fixing anything like an oil leak that requires sump or gearbox removal is suddenly a much bigger job.

Any Coupe 4 with a musty smell inside may have a leaking sunroof. In some cars, the bonding of the glass panel was found to be ineffective and this could result in a water leak or even a detachment of the glass panel in extreme cases.

The Coupe 4 was recalled to check the wiring harness under the front seat which may have been routed correctly and could cause a short-circuit in some circumstances.

2004-2006 Holden Special Vehicles Coupe 4 Nuts and bolts

Engine/s: 5.7-litre V8

Transmissions: 4-speed auto, AWD

Fuel economy (combined): 15.3 litres per 100km

Safety rating (courtesy of www.howsafeisyourcar.com.au ): Not listed

Our rating: 2.5 stars

Likes:

  • Big coupe body is handsome.
  • A true four-seater with huge rear-seat room.
  • Lots of traction on loose surfaces.
  • Plenty of performance.

Dislikes:

  • Can drink fuel at an alarming rate.
  • Beware modified examples.
  • Less satisfying to drive than it should have been.
  • Cheaper, 2WD brother is a better car.

Competitors:

  • HSV GTO Coupe – Sold alongside the Coupe 4 in HSV showrooms but was actually the better car thanks to its lower weight, greater simplicity and extra power. It was also cheaper to buy. Then and now. 3.5 stars
  • Ford Mustang Cobra – Came along a handful of years before the Coupe 4 but was Ford’s big shot at the two-door title. Sadly, it was a fairly rubbish thing with iffy high-speed handling and a crude interior. 1.5 stars

What to pay (courtesy of Glass’s Guide):

Model Year New Now
Coupe 4 2004 $89,950 $22,870
Coupe 4 2005 $89,950 $24,100
Coupe 4 2006 $89,950 $26,200

Source: Drive

November 7, 2018