KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES
A YOUNG HIGH ACHIEVER’S ENVIABLE CAR COLLECTION
Australian vehicle manufacturer GM Holden Ltd (GMH) had little success in production motor sport before introducing the Monaro. Its best results had been winning the 1958 Ampol Trial and a victory to Leo Geoghegan in the Sedan and Sports Car event at the Easter Bathurst race meet of the same year. There was also a second place in the 1963 Bathurst production-car race in an EH S4. Some good Holden HRS were starting to show up around Australia, but nothing could match the sheer power of the new Falcon GT. What Holden needed was a fresh V8-powered and restyled car. Coupés were outselling sedans in the US, and Holden pinned its hopes on a similar strategy for the Australian market.
With the writing clearly written on the wall in indelible black ink, Holden’s decision to build a coupé was a foregone conclusion, and it began experimenting with several ideas focusing on a large five-seater coupé. The end result was one of the all-time great classic Aussie designs. Experts have hailed the Monaro as the most important car in the history of Holden.
Introducing the Monaro
Although Ford had beaten Holden to the line with a V8 version of its sporty four- door Falcon, the GT, the Monaro was the first real Australian sports car, and, with its release, Holden sent the clear message to Ford that it intended to be competitive and win races. That sparked intense rivalry between Ford and Holden off the track, with both marques moving into the muscle car arena and boasting products the public perceived as the same models that they saw locked in motor sport competition.
Bathurst was the perfect marketing tool for muscle car supremacy, as the race was for production cars that were virtually the same as those you could buy off the showroom floor. If a car won on Sunday, it sold on Monday, and both GMH and Ford wanted to cash in on the perception that the showroom cars were identical to their racing stablemates.
Bathurst success fuelled traditional Holden– Ford racetrack rivalry, and earned Holden the Bathurst King of the Mountain title — which it retains to this day. The Mount Panorama circuit proved a fitting battleground for the fastback coupé, which was named after an Aboriginal word meaning ‘ high plateau’ or ‘ high place’.
The Monaro’s popularity remained high throughout its model life, and its loyal admirers keep the flame burning bright today, with collectors taking every opportunity to purchase one of these great Aussie classics.
The famous trio — HK, HT, and HG 1. HK Monaro
The base car had not looked promising. Holden’s HK series had about as much grace as the proverbial flying brick, and the expectation that it would introduce a sporty-looking coupé from this model was a huge challenge for Holden’s design team. The final result was undoubtedly a winner, with a roofline so prominent that even the blunt HK front looked as if it belonged to something which actually moved. The new, sleek-looking Aussie coupé had an immense impact on Holdens of the day, and the HK four-door sedan looked mundane by comparison. The American designers
— known at the time as the ‘alien invasion’ — had strong links to Oldsmobile, and it showed.
The influence of the Oldsmobile Toronado’s rear pillar design, which merged seamlessly into the rear quarter panels, is clearly visible on the HK Monaro. The subtle rear wheel-arch bulges and the almost constant slope from rear windows to boot are also Toronado features that were incorporated into the Monaro, and the pillarless sweep of the rear side windows can be seen in the Oldsmobile Cutlass Holiday hardtop.
Unique features included the first Aussiedesigned full wheel covers with elaborate badge work and blackouts. These stainless-steel covers tended to loosen over time, and cut fingers when being cleaned, but they looked fantastic. Paintfilled wheel-arch mouldings, grille and rear panel blackouts, plus GTS striping brought even the basemodel Monaro to life.
Following American tradition, Holden offered a full range of drivetrain options, from mild to Bathurst-ready wild. In all, 19 Monaro engine and transmission combinations were offered, ranging from the 2638cc (161ci) Aussie ‘Red’ in-line sixcylinder engine with three-on-the-tree to the classic Chevrolet-powered 5358cc (327ci) V8 Bathurst Monaro with four-on-the-floor. The Monaro shared the same wheelbase as the sedan, which was
lengthened to match that of the XR Falcon.
The first Monaro production run was one of the shortest in Holden’s history, and explains why today’s collectors and enthusiasts find cars with unusual option mixes difficult to source. On the other hand, prospective purchasers on the hunt for the holy grail — the highly sought-after HK GTS 327 Bathurst — are advised to take prudent steps to ensure that the car they are purchasing is the real Mccoy, as many started their life as entrylevel Monaros.
2. HT Monaro (as featured)
The HT Monaro upgrade included a new multilouvred plastic grille with a raised centre section and Monaro blackouts, while the range-topping GTS boasted bold centre bonnet stripes in black or gold, flanked by new bonnet scoops to exude even more of the self-assured and extrovert attitude of the people who chose to drive it. Beefier two-section tail lights separated by a blacked-out tail panel, thicker side stripes, and black sills made the GTS look even sleeker, and,
in addition, a wild new colour selection was offered, which included Sebring Orange and Daytona Bronze.
The driver was treated to a full set of circular instruments, which replaced the HK’S consolemounted tachometer and strip speedometer, while the HT’S contoured bucket seats could be covered with optional houndstooth cloth inserts. A sportier steering wheel was in keeping with the HT’S added refinement and special detailing.
A new Y-frame engine cradle and neoprene front suspension bushes isolated harshness from the cabin, and the track was widened, with fatter rubber bushings in the rear leaf-spring eyes matching the gains up front.
The HT was first to get the Aussie V8, initially as a 4145cc (253ci) V8 engine, although those who wanted additional performance could opt for the larger 5047cc (308ci) version as Chevrolet 307 V8 stocks ran out. Chevrolet’s new 5735cc (350ci) V8 arrived later, giving engineers extra time to finetune the GTS 350 sports suspension so it could be the first Holden to offer low-profile radial tyres as an option. It could also be ordered with rally wheels, another Holden first.
3. HG Monaro
Today, the HG Monaro is one of the rarest and most sought after of the Holden coupés and is regarded as the most sophisticated of the early Monaro models. Holden designers cleverly merged the HG tail lights with the black GTS tail panel — providing the illusion of extra size — while, up front, the subtler HG mesh grille revived the simplicity of the first Monaro. GTS blackouts highlighted the bold new centre division and surrounds.
The deletion of sill and wheel-arch mouldings, and the addition of black rocker panels around the lower body, gave the HG GTS a meaner, sleeker look. Subtle ‘sidewinder’ stripes that swooped from the rear pillars to the front highlighted the flow in the original Monaro shape. New metallic colours and the lack of bold bonnet and boot-lid stripes reflected a clean custom look.
Engine choice was the same as for the final HT models after the local 308ci V8 replaced the Chevrolet mill. A new three-speed Trimatic auto option replaced the two-speed Powerglide on all models, unless you ticked the 350ci V8 engine option box, in which case a four-speed manual was offered.
Away from the track, Holden built extra compliance into the Monaro rear suspension, boosting the GTS 350’s long-distance touring capabilities and comfort. The HG GTS 350 manual, with its crisp driving feel and Salisbury limited-slip diff, stood as the definitive Aussie road car.
Ian Marshall, the owner of the pristine HT Holden Monaro featured on these pages, has a passion for Holdens, particularly Monaros, which started in the late 1960s as he was growing up in Sydney. His first car was a trusty FE, while the family car at the time was an EJ. In 1968, Ian’s good friend purchased a new HK Monaro 186S in Monza Blue. It was the coolest car of that time, and cruising around Sydney in it is something he clearly remembers to this day.
Ian moved across the Tasman in the early ’ 70s, and, although life continued with a young family, mortgage, and house renovations, he never lost sight of his true passion — the dream of owning a classic Holden.
That day came in the early ’90s. The kids had grown up and the house had been completed when Ian decided to start searching for an early model Holden. He settled on a very nice EH Premier sedan and wasted no time in joining the Early Holden Club of Auckland. He also entered the Teams Event competition at the 1997 Ellerslie Intermarque Concours d’elegance, representing his new club, and, while his EH Premier finished out of the money, Ian relished the memorable experience.
Two outta three
All this time, though, Ian knew in his heart what he really wanted — a Holden Monaro. He’d kept a sharp eye out for a tidy, unmodified Monaro and, after a few years of looking, found this car in Timaru. Finished in its original blue colour scheme and boasting a 4145cc (253ci) V8, it was unfortunately an auto, but, as far as Ian was concerned, two outta three ain’t bad. The deal was concluded over the phone, and Ian collected his new Monaro at the Christchurch airport car park then headed back to Auckland with his son.
Back in Auckland, with the car safely tucked away in his garage, Ian carried out a bit more research on the Monaro. The HT 253 Monaro, fitted with Trimatic transmission, had been manufactured late in 1970 and was the second-to-last HT Monaro imported by GMH into Wellington.
Fortunately, all four previous owners had cared for the car extremely well, but, at some point, someone had painted the entire engine bay in high-gloss black, which isn’t correct for these cars. Ian wanted his car to look exactly like it had been when it had left the factory, so out came the motor, gearbox, and front grille, along with all the fittings.
The engine bay was stripped back to bare metal and resprayed in the correct original satin finish. Ian also decided to take the opportunity to have the engine completely reconditioned to original specifications, as he didn’t intend to ever remove it again. After all the fittings and components were refurbished back to original condition, the car was ready to be entered in the Teams Event at Concours. Ian’s hard work and attention to detail definitely paid off, as the engine bay scored an impressive 50 out of 50 that year.
Since then, Ian has continued to make further improvements on the car, including repainting the front end, fitting new rubber parts, installing power steering, and fitting a rear speaker with a fader and a gear-lever lock. The interior is totally original except for the carpet.
Ian’s Monaro featured on local TV motoring shows in the early 2000s, and was also the surprise Monaro promotional car for Greg Murphy in Holden’s recent competition to win a restored Monaro. But, above all the great times Ian has shared with his car, the highlight so far has been sitting next to Peter Brock as he drove it down the runway at Whenuapai Air Force base, filming for his TV show.
Not surprisingly, Ian’s Monaro has won an admirable list of prizes in car shows, including several People’s Choice Awards. But, after years of keeping it up to show condition, Ian now just wants to drive it — after all, that’s what it was made for, and he reckons there’s nothing better than motoring along a country road on a sunny day with a smile on his face, stopping for a coffee, and passers-by saying “Nice car” to him. I think we’d all have to agree.
Iconic sales literature from 1968.