Opinion Piece: Sounds of Silence (Street Commodores Editorial Column)

20 Feb

This is the 2ist in a regular series of editorial pieces we’ll be posting here on the blog, originally written by Hosking Industries’ Ben Hosking for Street Commodores magazine and other magazines he’s completed opinion pieces for. This column appeared in issue 189 of Street Commodores:

Sounds of Silence (Written 4.7.11)

Is car audio making a resurgence in the Commodore scene? Did it ever go away?

When I bought my first car back in the 1990s quality aftermarket car audio was big news. Just about every feature I read about in Street Commodores, Hot4s and any number of other car magazines carried its own weight in speakers, subs, amps and the like.

Things seemed to hit their peak at around the same time I started working in the magazine game – say, around 2003-2006. Installs were getting really crazy and emerging technologies like TV screens, games consoles and lighting equipment were really taking things to a whole new level; not to mention the fantastical fibreglass and MDF install jobs builders were dreaming up.

Indeed, in the days during Jason Gray’s tenure as editor it was mandatory that we feature an ‘audio car’ each and every issue. Without breaking a sweat, we were able to find one for each and every issue and rarely was that feature car anything but mind altering in its complexity, size and imagination.

Not all of these motorised discos were corporate business cards either, with plenty of the cars we featured coming from private enthusiasts with a lust for bleeding ears and fibreglass resin fumes. However, even before the global financial crisis in mid-2008, the tide seemed to be turning. We’d long stopped sticking to the ‘one audio car per month’ formula and there didn’t seem to be enough audio-specific Commodores in the scene to support it even if we’d wanted to. Like airbrushing, stereo cars seemed to disappear like dinosaurs.

Instead, what we were seeing was a trend back toward horsepower as fibreglass body kits and bling became less common. People were revelling in factory-style two-tone VH SL/E paintjobs and Holden strokers.

That’s not to say we didn’t see ANY blinged-up cruisers with blinding paint and deafening tunes. A cursory flick back through the back issues of the time would tell you that there were still people enjoying the sensory delights of all that glitters and thumps. However, numbers severely dwindled and I remember more than one office conversation about the direction of the scene thanks to numerous emails from readers disgruntled by the number of late model Commodores with little more than a blower, wheels and brakes.

So what happened? Was the gradual swing away from big audio installs as part of a comprehensive feature car build a reaction to just how crazy cars started to get? Was it just part of a natural cycle of tastes, like chicks in hipster jeans and now high-waisted jeans again like in the 1980s?

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like price could be an issue. Even comparatively high-end gear is cheaper now than it was five or 10 years ago, thanks to cheaper manufacturing costs and strong competition from lesser-name brands forcing prices down. Whereas once you might have budgeted four or five grand for a good system, you can get a kick arse stereo including a pair of subs for around $2000 these days. Install it yourself and crystal clear, kidney-punching sound levels are yours for less than ever.

As the Commodore has evolved, Holden has equipped it with ever greater audio sophistication as well as ever-more impenetrable electronics. Coupled with interiors that no longer ‘need’ modification thanks to sumptuous leather and grippy seats, maybe this is one reason we saw a swing away from OTT installs. I know it’s taking longer and longer for us to start seeing full-custom interiors in feature cars these days.

It wasn’t until the third-gen models started coming that Holden’s interior fit-outs really started becoming lust-worthy. Even the Calais, Statesman and Caprice models had relatively uninspiring interiors before the VT/WH. People were scrambling to buy HSV trim out of wrecks, handing over wads of cash for Cobra or Recaro race seats and trimmers were pulling in customers keen to replace everything with something custom and comfy.

So, has the evolution of the Commodore been the reason we’ve seen a slowdown in the installation of award-winning audio/visual setups? Is this just the way things will be from now on? Will it take 10 years or so after the release of each new model for people to finally tear everything out and do something completely custom?

I’ve got my fingers crossed that like the resurgence in popularity of panel vans and airbrushing, insane ICE installs will start making a serious return to the scene soon. What do you think? Do you want to see more ‘stereo cars’ and more comprehensively modified late-model Commodores in the scene? Jump onto the Street Commodores forums and tell us what you think.


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