LIKE A LOT OF PEOPLE,” Joel Stoddart says, “I’ll miss the Australian V8 rear wheel drive era – the old Holden vs Ford rivalry.” The former chief engineer is understandably nostalgic on what he’ll miss about the HSV we knew and loved. His tenure at Clayton is a story of the rise of a man who’s helped put some of Australia’s – and, more recently, some of America’s – greatest performances cars on our roads. And that includes the W1.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to work for a great company in an awesome industry. From test trips around Australia, to travelling the world and doing what I love for a living,” he adds, “It’s been a dream job.” It’s also a role that’s allowed Stoddart to operate behind walls, as engineers largely do, shielded from public view. But that’s set to change. Now, he finds himself at the helm of Walkinshaw Automotive Group as managing director, replacing the long-serving Tim Jackson who parted ways with the company earlier this year.
We’ve stolen 30 minutes from Stoddart’s busy schedule to catch up on what Walkinshaw AG’s plans are moving forward with GM and its General Motors Specialty Vehicles operation. But given he worked at HSV for just about two thirds of its existence, it’s worth recounting what the man driving the company has achieved – which he’s happy to do.
“I started at HSV in Engineering in 1997 – responsible for exterior and interior,” Stoddart says. “They had just launched the VT Commodore and my main project was the WH Grange. The 5.7-litre LS1 engine was about to replace the locally built 5.0-litre and 5.7-litre V8 in the VT Series II. From there I moved around the engineering department on different projects, then into program management where I was responsible for the Coupe4. I headed up the product planning department for a year or so before taking over as Chief Engineer in 2008.
“My first vehicle program in this role was the W427 – still one of my favourites! In 2019 I took over as Chief Operating Officer, which still encompassed Engineering and Design, but also took on Manufacturing, Supply Chain, Quality etc.” The list is illustrious, but Stoddart’s left out a few key points either for the sake of brevity or humility. Between the Coupe4 and W427 he also was project leader on Clubsport-R, the HSV racecar that underpinned a one-make series in Bahrain. The much-acclaimed HSV E3 range arrived on his watch as well and the even more accomplished Gen-F came next.
There’s an underlying theme here. He’s a man who’s continually been trying to fit big, American engines into local cars. Nevertheless for all the glory projects there are stories he’d rather skip over. In the same year Holden announced it would be shuttering local manufacturing Joel Stoddart left the Walkinshaw Group to become head of research and development at Jayco Caravans. The fun in figuring how a flush-dunny affects roll rates on a fourwheeler must have worn off quickly, because the call of fast cars with big V8s brought him back to Walkinshaw Group in late 2014.
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