New Zealand Classic Car - - Editorial - Words: Ash­ley Webb Pho­tos: Adam Croy

Hum­ble be­gin­nings

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.

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