There’s something about the shape of a classic two door car that attracts the eyes like little else; Jaguar found that with the E-Type, Ferrari with the GTO (and pretty much every one of their cars!) and Australia’s Holden did it with the Monaro.
July of 1968 saw the release of the first “two door pillarless coupe”, with the HK Kingswood losing two doors, gaining a redesigned roof and kickstarting a legend, with the release of the Holden Monaro.
There were three models; the base, the GTS and the GTS 327. The entry level model came with Holden’s trusty 161 cubic inch cylinder engine with the GTS offering the 186S engine.
Naturally enough, the GTS 327 came with the Chevrolet 327 V8, with 186kW or 250 brake horsepower. Choices of gearbox were three speed column shift manual in the base model, four speed in the six cylinder GTS and two speed Powerglide for the V8 alongside the manual.
Engineers originally claimed the engine bay was too small to hold the American iron, fastracking development of an Australian designed and built V8, however a remeasuring found the Chev would slot in nicely.
The HK Monaro also provided Holden with their first victory at the Bathurst 500 race, with Bruce McPhee and Barry Mulholland (piloting the car for just one of the one hundred and thirty race laps) backing up the pole position and fastest race lap.
The HK was distinguishable by the narrow, American influenced tail lights and a short vertical/wide horizontal bar in the grille.
Barely a year later the facelifted HT Monaro arrived on the scene. The 327 was dropped in favour of the 5.7L 350 cubic inch and the HT saw the addition of a two speed Powerglide automatic. The hairy chested V8 had 300 ponies (224kW) in manual form and was slightly detuned for the auto.
The HT also saw the introduction of Holden’s own 4.2L and 5.0L V8s plus, later in the HT’s life, the three speed Trimatic automatic. The grille was updated with the addition of a plastic, multi slatted design and increased in size tail lights, plus the addition of a round speedometer, replacing the strip style.
Go faster stripes,available on the HK and located on the driver’s side, were relocated to running down the centre of the HT. Looking good but performing no real function were two air intakes on the bonnet. Rubber bushes in the suspension replaced the sintered bronze bushes found in the HK.
1969 also saw the formation of the fabled Holden Dealer Team; put together by racer and engineer (the late) Harry Firth, the team featured rally ace Colin Bond, McPhee and Mulholland, Tony Roberts and a young, almost untried driver named Peter Brock.
1970 launched a new decade and the HG Monaro. External changes were mild; the grille was separated into two part, taillights were modified slightly, some badging was added and chromework reduced. At the front of each fender was a bold “350” decal, to stamp its authority on the road.
The non 350 powered GTS had a softer suspension, improving the ride and disc brakes at the front were added as well. The HG would also be the last of the smoother, rounded design before the release of the HQ.
1971 had the world watching their tv sets to see what was happening in Vietnam and the HQ Holden was released as well. A sleeker, more angular design, the HQ Monaro had a completely different profile yet had the family resemblance; a larger rear window and squarer rear quarter window seemed to ease the sporty look, with the design now seen as one of the best to come from an Australian design studio. There was a change of engine and name specification, with the GTS nomenclature being V8 only. There was the addition of the LS range,with engines from 173 c.i. in the entry level non LS, through to the 3.3L or 202 c.i. six and above for the LS.
From the start until 1973 the HQ had no body striping, plus, with the HQ Statesman luxury vehicle also being fitted with the 350, there was a perception the range wasn’t as sporty as before. The three speed Turbo-Hydro automatic gearbox also was seen as a dulling of the range, at the time. Adding to the spice was the change to a smaller car for Holden’s main racing duties, the Torana.
It wasn’t until 1973, with the release of the first four door Monaro GTS that body striping was added to the HQ range, possibly in an effort to clearly differentiate between the Kingswood and the Monaro. A final kick in the pants for the Monaro faithful was the deletion of the 350 decals, being replaced with a generic V8 bootlid badge.
In 1974, the final year of the HQ, the manual version of the 350 was discontinued and the engine itself was shortly after deleted from the range, along with the slow selling auto.
The facelifted HJ continued the Monaro name, with leftover HQ two door bodyshells being fitted with the HJ’s squared off front end whilst the four door GTS became a model in its ownright, with the HQ GTS being an optioned up Kingswood.
The GTS also came with either the 253 c.i. or 308 c.i. engines as the 350 c.i. and entry level coupe were discontinued, however the LS was continued with the 3.3L. Just 337 LS coupes were produced, making them one of Australia’s rarest production cars. The GTS coupe was discontinued with just over 600 examples produced.
Of note though was the ability to option in bodywork in the form of front and rear spoilers.
Mid 1976 saw the release of the HX range, effectively a mild facelift and also effectively the end of the Monaro nameplate. Alongside the four door Monaro GTS sedan, there was the release of the specced up LE two door pillarless coupe, complete with glitzy gold wheels and leftover eight track cassette players, plus emission controls for the engine.
Late 1977 had the Holden GTS released, complete with four headlight grille, disc brakes all round, front and rear spoilers as standard, the introduction of Radial Tuned Suspension and the 4.2L as the standard powerplant, being shuffled aside in June of 1978 in favour of the 5.0L. At the same time, Holden had also released the Opel based Commodore, with the then mid sizer ending the run of the GTS in December of 1978. The HZ itself was phased out in 1980.
In the late 1990’s, Holden designers produced a concept car; based on the Commodore of the time and shown at the Sydney Motor Show in 1998, the media quickly christened the coupe concept as a Monaro and such was the public interest the car was put into production.
Available as the CV6 with a supercharged 3.8L V6 or CV8, featuring Chevrolet’s 5.7L V8 and with six speed manual or optional four speed auto, the CV6 failed to ignite and was dropped soon after introduction. The car would also be sold as a Pontiac GTO, with styling changed at the front to suit the American market, plus the Monaro was updated front and rear in line with the introduction of the VZ Commodore. Public interest quickly waned, however, with export markets drying up and some questionable styling changes affecting public perception overseas, the final Monaro was sold in February of 2006.
Various racing versions including a 427 c.i. powered car were raced whilst Holden Special Vehicles released their own under the name of Coupe, not Monaro, including a limited run all wheel driver version. With Holden discontinuing local manufacturing by 2017, it’s exceptionally unlikely that the Monaro name will ever be seen again on a Holden badged vehicle.