New Holden owes to the past, writes David Linklater

Year-to-date May, Holden's top-selling family sedan was the Cruze. Times have certainly changed since the days when Commodore conquered all: bigger is no longer better and people have embraced the concept of downsizing. They are prepared to make do with less car to be more fiscally and environmentally responsible.

It's a different world to that of 35 years ago, when the first Commodore was launched. The picture of a typical Holden family car has been transformed.

Or has it? We all know that cars upsize every time there's a major model change, in order to keep pace with buyer expectations of more space and greater equipment levels. But you might be surprised by just how much.

Wind back the clock 35 years and you'll find that today's Cruze small-car is pretty much the same size as that 1978 VB Commodore.


In overall length the original Commodore stretches 163mm further, but that's only by virtue of the long overhangs of the era. In fact, VB and Cruze ride on near-identical wheelbases (2668/2685mm), have similar kerb weights (around 1400kg for top-specification petrol models) and would be direct rivals if in showrooms together today.

Forget about the V8 engines and let's look at the VB's sixes: there was a 2.8-litre with 64kW/198Nm and a 3.3-litre with 71kW/221Nm. They produced healthy pulling power even by today's standards, but even the entry-level Cruze's 1.8-litre four shows how far things have come: it makes 104kW/176Nm. Let's not even mention the high-tech 1.6-litre turbo with 132kW/230Nm. Or the virtues of a six-speed automatic gearbox versus a three-speed.

There are commonalities in the design stories of both cars, too. The VB was part of a General Motors (GM) world-car plan - post-oil-shock, a smaller model to an international template to replace the HQ.

The VB was based on a European Opel platform, albeit extensively re-engineered by Holden and incorporating elements of both the Rekord and Senator. The A$110 million ($130m) project resulted in a unique car for Australia ... but it wasn't all-Aussie. In fact, it wouldn't be until 2006's A$1 billion VE that Holden could claim it had a 100-per cent locally designed Commodore.

Cruze, too, is based on a European Opel platform: that of the Astra.

When Cruze was launched here in 2008 it was sourced from Korea. That car had Holden influence anyway, as the Australian company had been responsible for its parent company's holding in GM Daewoo since 2001.

However, Cruze came of age in 2011 when Holden began Australian assembly of the model, including many design changes - even a unique 'iTi' model with the direct-injection turbo engine and sophisticated suspension setup of European Astra models under the Cruze bodyshell.

So 1978 Commodore, meet model-year-2014 Cruze. You have a lot in common. Maybe family/fleet buyers have known what size sedan they need all along.