Muscle Memory


Story Dave Carey

IT’S been 50 years since the Monaro blew the minds of conservative Aussie motorists. Developed from a few scrawls on the wall of Holden’s then-new Technical Centre, awards and accolades quickly followed its release, with the new coupe taking out Wheels magazine’s Car of the Year award in 1968, and winning Bathurst two years on the trot.

Initially lean and lithe, the Monaro aged like Elvis, getting fatter as the years went on. The coupe bowed out in 1976 as a special-edition, Capriceinspired luxury liner, with the Kingswood-based GTS sedan living on until 1978.

The Monaro legend went from go to whoa in just over a decade, but a quarter of a century later, it returned, an automotive Lazarus, conquering the globe and garnering a new generation of fans.

The Monaro’s story started well before the release of the initial HK model, with Englishman David Veltman sketching a formal HR Holden coupe in August 1963, which was followed by a full-sized rendering by Aussie head stylist Alf Payze. Using a sedan base, the team built a mock-up coupe with fibreglass quarters and roof, but the styling exercise went no further; the Monaro would have to wait.

HK July 1968 – May 1969

PRIOR to July 1964, the local GM-H design department existed in little more than a tin shed, with Detroit handling the bulk of the styling requirements. The opening of the Fishermans Bend Technical Centre changed all that; Holden design had a swank new home, headed by new Director of Design Joe Schemansky, fresh from Pontiac.

Amongst the young blood to take up residency in Australia was Ed Taylor, who arrived in November 1964 having just finished styling the Oldsmobile Cutlass. Although Taylor was only at Holden for eight months, he left an indelible mark on its muscle car future. Leo Pruneau, still based in the USA, oversaw creation of an early clay model, made in Detroit to specifications supplied by Holden. By the time the next phase of HK clays hit the new Tech Centre’s turntable, the car had grown three inches in front of the firewall to better reflect the forthcoming Falcon’s ‘Mustang inspired’ proportions. Pontiac-style stacked headlights would not survive through to production, but Ed Taylor’s Oldsmobile-inspired blistered wheelarches remained, as did his treatment of the rear turret. Seamlessly joining the rear quarters to the C-pillar was a generation ahead of then-current GM offerings where the roof appeared as a separate hardtop, often divided by a chrome strip.

In March 1966, design power couple Ted and Marjorie Schroeder arrived from Detroit, with Marjorie working on the HK’s interior as Ted refined the coupe’s shape.

All the while, Managing Director Max Wilson and Marketing Director John Bagshaw championed the case for the two-door to ensure it reached production, the business decision made easier thanks to the significant amount of body components shared with the mainstream sedan.

Ted Schroeder finalised the shape of the daylight opening and completely smoothed the roof’s transition to the rear fenders, echoing closely the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. Schroeder was surprised when his boss, ex-Pontiac man John Schinella, approved the shape; it was useless for rear passenger vision and was very progressive compared to contemporary US muscle cars with Coke bottle-inspired haunches.


By August 1966, the final shape of the HK coupe was all but set, with clay models wearing a succession of names, including Kingswood, Premier, GTS and Torana. The styling team applied various frontal treatments to the clays and renderings, including Opel-inspired square headlights. The final design – a vertical badge dividing the grille, centred over a horizontal bar – was suggested by GM style guru Bill Mitchell.

The base coupe’s specs followed those of the Kingswood, with the standard two-door having few sporting pretensions. A 161ci red six and three-on-the-tree manual were standard fitment, but Holden was playing the options game for the first time, offering the 186 six-cylinder, more powerful 186S, and Chevrolet-sourced 307 cubic inch V8 (labelled ‘5-litre’) to those with bigger wallets. The GTS featured sporty elements throughout, including Premier-style wheelarch mouldings, racing stripes, bucket seats and a set of stylish wheel covers designed by Phil Zmood. Down the back, a stainless moulding stretched between the tail-lights, painted red to evoke the full-width brake light was envisaged but vetoed due to cost.

Starting with the 186S, the GTS could also be specced with the 307 V8, with a choice of either an Opel four-speed for the six or the tougher Saginaw for Chev. Those who wanted a slushbox could option a Powerglide. John Bagshaw pushed for the the 327ci V8 to ensure the Monaro would V8 to ensure the Monaro would be competitive against the Falcon GT both in the showroom and at the track. Ticking the 327 V8 option on the GTS also brought a lower ride height, twin exhausts, wider wheels, a 3.36:1 Salisbury LSD, 25-gallon fuel tank, and the four-speed Saginaw.

With the Monaro name locked in by early 1968, an initial media launch went ahead at Surfers Paradise Raceway on 22 July that year. On test were a Picardy Red 186S coupe, a Bright Blue Metallic GTS 307, and the hero car, the Warwick Yellow GTS 327. The yellow cars would go on to embody the very essence of the HK Monaro, featuring in many of the print adverts and bolstered by Bruce McPhee’s 1968 Bathurst win.

HT May 1969 – July 1970

RELEASED on 12 June, 1969, the HT’s mild facelift belied the under-bonnet changes. Externally, upgrades were minor, with a new grille and enlarged tail-lights shared with the sedan. Plans to extend the tail-lights into the bootlid were again vetoed due to cost, as was a front and rear spoiler kit. Although Ted Schroeder’s bonnet ‘power domes’ that had been designed for the HK made production for the HT GTS, stylists could do little else except shift badges and fiddle with the striping.

Bigger changes occurred inside the cabin, with revisions by David Veltman and Noel Bedford addressing criticism of the tachometer’s placement on the centre console, moving it to the dashboard and deleting the HK’s strip speedo altogether.

The big news was the introduction of the 253ci Holden V8, previewed in the striking RD001 Hurricane concept car. Backed by either a four-speed manual or Powerglide auto, it was optional across the Monaro range. The Chev 307 remained available with a Powerglide only, until stocks ran dry in November 1969, when it was replaced by the locally built 308ci V8.

The 327 bowed out with the HK, replaced by the big 350ci V8 in August, again sourced from Chevrolet. The largest engine option remained exclusive to the Monaro GTS, which became Holden’s homologation special. Wheels magazine returned a 125mph top speed and 15.6-second quartermile in October 1969, the same month Colin Bond and Tony Roberts took out the Hardie-Ferodo 500 at Bathurst.

Monaro, Monaro GTS coupe: 14,437 units

Monaro, Monaro G, Monaro Monaro GTS TS coupe: 6147 units 7 units

HG July 1970 – July 1971

THE HG Monaro range received the usual upgrades, including an ABS plastic grille and new tail-lights, but by 1970, the sheen was dulling from Holden’s hero coupe. Sales were flagging, and although John Bagshaw had a 360-horsepower Camaro Z28 V8 backed by a Muncie four-speed fitted to a test car, the performance focus within the company had shifted to the smaller, lighter Torana GTR XU-1.

The focus on luxury meant the GTS received softer, Kingswood-spec spring rates underneath, while externally the stripe package remained available but became optional. Disc brakes became standard fitment on V8-optioned cars for the first time, although the NSW Government had made them a legislative requirement from 1969.

Aside from the GTS 350, Aussie engines featured across the board, along with Holden’s new Tri-Matic three-speed auto, which slid into the range late in the HT’s run, coming on stream from May 1970.


Monaro, Monaro LS, Monaro GTS coupe: 13,872 units SS sedan: 2800 units Monaro GTS sedan: Unknown as these were included in Kingswood numbers

HQ July 1971 – October 1974

WORK on the HQ sedan, wagon and Statesman began in April 1968, with commercial and Monaro variants following soon after. The famous Leo Pruneau replaced project lead John Schinella in June 1969, while under them, Assistant Chief Designer Phil Zmood was replaced by Peter Nankervis after Zmood left to lead the LH Torana project. Peter Arcadipane, who went on to design Ford’s beloved Concorde show van, was also among the HQ styling team. With so much talent, is it any wonder the HQ was a success? Pruneau worked on the nose cone, settling on three variants; a simple design for the Belmont/Kingswood/Monaro, quad-headlights for the Premier/Monaro LS, and a Pontiacstyle split grille for the Statesman. With the Monaro’s front styling inextricably linked with that of the sedan, the team spent a great deal of time working the unique rear end.

Zmood had pushed for a ‘fast’ daylight opening, but Joe Schemansky felt compelled to go with Detroit’s preference for a ‘formal’ roofline. preference for a formal roofline. Zmood’s giant, wraparound rear window, later seen on the 1975 Firebird/Camaro twins, would make production, albeit with the size dramatically reduced.

The HQ’s basic design was finalised mid 1969, on track for release in July 1971. The base Monaro remained a Kingswood in all but name, with the standard engine growing to a 173ci six, still backed by a three-speed manual. The Premier-spec Monaro LS added some sophistication to the range, with the base offering a 202ci six, with options for the 253 or 308, plus 216 examples receiving the Chevy 350.

The Monaro GTS returned with no six-cylinder and three V8s on offer; the 253 and 308, with the 350 backed by a heavy-duty Muncie four-speed or Turbo 400 auto. John Schinella’s Pontiac influence permeated throughout the GTS, with Pontiac Rally II-style wheels, a 1970 Firebird steering wheel and turned metal finish on the dashboard.

Following the success of the Holden SS – a limited edition, Belmont-based 253 V8 sedan available in three lairy colours and a funky stripe lairy colours and a funky stripe kit – e kit – Holden expanded the Monaro range to include a four-door version for the first time. Available from March 1973, the Monaro GTS sedan reflected the coupe range in terms of engine options and specifications, and heralded the return of stripes to the entire Monaro GTS range.

Upgrades throughout the life of the HQ catered to various ADR rules that came in during the early 1970s, including the introduction of metric speedos and amber front turn signals. The HQ remained on the market for an unprecedented length of time, partly due to the surprise success of the shape, but also because the cancelled HV Holden project had tied up valuable resources at the Tech Centre.

HJ October 1974 – July 1976

THE HJ model introduced revised front sheet-metal, including vertical front indicators and a larger, rectangular grille at the insistence of former Holden boss Max Wilson, who was then director of the AsiaPacific region. The new shape was intended to square off the rounded edges of the HQ, which were a cause for concern prior to release.

Due to money and time constraints caused by the unfinished HV update, there was little left in the budget, meaning the Monaro coupe did not receive the revised tail treatment applied to the sedan.

The base Monaro was dropped altogether, leaving the Monaro LS as the sole six-cylinder offering; with the 202 becoming the 3.3 in light of the national switch to metric measurements. The 253 and 308 V8s were rebranded as 4.2 and 5.0, respectively, and remained an option for the LS. Still reflecting the Premier specifications, the LS retained the four-headlight front and, like the Premier sedan, received side mouldings to help hide the swage line that was rapidly dating against slab-sided, low-waisted European rivals. Inside, the dashboard featured woodgrain and a strip speedo for the first time since the HK Monaro.

The Monaro GTS returned as both a coupe and sedan, with only the 4.2and 5.0-litre V8s available, tuned to meet incoming ADR27 emissions requirements. The Chev-sourced 350 V8 was dropped as performance gains were largely academic while fuel economy was much worse.

The styling team played with stripes and blackouts, offering revised fender vents, a chin spoiler, rear ducktail spoiler and the option of Pontiac-style, polycast wheels. There were only minor changes to the interior, including new instruments and integrated headrests.

Much to Leo Pruneau’s chagrin (Leo’s preference was to keep the Monaro name exclusive to the coupe), the Monaro GTS sedan became a runaway success. The Aussie market’s penchant for sports sedans set by the Falcon GT during the XR-XY era had not waned, and coupe sales slowed to a trickle. Young blokes had shifted to buying panel vans, which Holden had covered with the Monaro-inspired Sandman. So as the HX update loomed, what to do with 627 leftover coupe shells?

Sales Director John Bagshaw had suggested they resurrect the ‘White Hot’ special from the HT series. The stripped-out sedan came with GTS wheel covers, a 253ci V8, threespeed manual, front discs, and a heater! Pruneau was adamant the Monaro coupes weren’t going to be sold off as budget specials and had an idea on how to get those final shells moved. Grabbing an HJ Monaro GTS off the production line, his team set about raiding the parts bin for luxury bits.

Monaro, Monaro LS and Monaro GTS coupe: 943 units Monaro GTS sedan: 4754 units

HX July 1976 – October 1977

THE coupe returned for its luxury-laden swan song, sans Monaro badging, with Caprice-spec burl walnut dashboard veneer and red plaid trim lifted from the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Deliberately evoking the candy apple red, Ferraripowered Pontiac Pegasus concept car of 1971, Leo Pruneau required the LE be slathered in a metallic maroon hue mixed especially by paint stylist Don Frew, with contrasting gold pinstriping running atop the guards and doors, finishing in unique LE decals. Mixing luxury with sports, the LE received a GTS front air dam, rear spoiler and vents pressed into each guard.

The sunroof, rear disc brakes and centre console-mounted power window switchgear of the original HJ prototype did not make production, but 14-inch gold polycast wheels, air con, power steering, full instrumentation and door-mounted power window switchgear all did. As did an outdated quadrophonic eight-track cartridge player!

Holden discontinued all other coupe variants, leaving the GTS sedan as the keeper of the Monaro name, with the 4.2litre V8 as standard and 5.0-litre optional. The styling department afforded another reshuffle of stripes and paint, including blackouts for the bonnet’s raised centre section and the bootlid’s trailing surface between the tail-lights.

Chrome was out, with headlight surrounds, tail-light mouldings and door handles blacked out, bumpers colour coded, and stainless window surrounds deleted. The GTS decal shifted to the rear door and used negative space, the decal serving as the shadow rather than the lettering.

Limited Edition coupe: 606 units (including 26 destroyed by fire before sale) Monaro GTS sedan: 2079 units


HZ October 1977 – December 1978

GTS sedan: 1438 units

THE HZ brought Holden’s final iteration of the Monaro, albeit with no products actually bearing the revered name, with the four-door sedan trading solely on the GTS moniker. It remained available with both the 4.2- and 5.0litre V8s until June 1978, when Holden dropped the smaller engine.

Budget was tight for revisions; money and time had been squandered on the stillborn WA project before it was canned and the business became preoccupied in de-Opel-ifying the VB Commodore, which was due for release in November 1978. The HZ did receive a couple of significant upgrades; including four-wheel disc brakes as standard, as well as radial tuned suspension.

To reflect the big Holden’s newfound handling maturity, the stripe kit was toned down, with GTS labelling reverting to badges rather than sporty stickers and the big panel blackouts deleted. The front gained Premierspec quad headlights in blacked-out surrounds, while the colour coded bumpers carried over, as did the front and rear spoilers.

Some felt the final GTS sedan paled in comparison to those that wore the famed badge prior, but it was a different beast for a changing time. When the Holden GTS sedan bowed out in December 1978, it brought to a close 10 proud years of Monaro history.

V2 October 2001 – September 2004

THE birth of the next-generation Monaro is an oft-repeated tale that remains a recent memory for many enthusiasts. A small band of Holden designers, working in secret, conspired to create a coupe from the stylish VT Commodore. Peter Hughes doodled several coupes early in the sedan’s development, noting that the new Commodore’s shape leant itself naturally to the two-door treatment. Design boss Mike Simcoe felt the same. He created a realistic ‘tape’ drawing on his loungeroom wall then commissioned clay modeller Arthur Radziszewski to produce a scale model to ensure the proportions were right.

The concept was convincing enough for Simcoe; he just needed support within Holden to make the car a reality. Barely anyone knew of the project internally, lest it be crushed by conservative management or number crunchers, but incoming Chairman Peter Hanenberger, former Holden suspension engineer and verifiable car guy, got straight behind it. With Ford Australia staged to unveil the revolutionary AU Falcon at the 1998 Sydney Motor Show, the boys at Holden whipped the covers off their creation just 15 minutes prior, upstaging the Broadmeadows crew with the svelte, beautiful Commodore Coupe. The consensus amongst the press and public was resounding; it was a Monaro.

Simcoe tasked Richard Ferlazzo with bringing the Commodore Coupe concept to production stylistically, while a tight team of engineers headed by Tony Hyde worked on the practical side. Utilising advanced computer modelling to save on costly, hand-built prototypes, Hyde’s team completed the project using just $20million of the Monaro’s $60m budget. Just two practical prototypes were built; one was crash tested and the other led a more glamorous life, being paraded around to dealers and executives. The prototypes were followed by 28 pilot cars, which came off the line in August 2001. Mainly used as press cars, Peter Brock received one for entry in the 2002 Targa Tasmania. The first saleable car went to Trevor Young, the owner of Biante Models.

Since the Monaro did not share spec levels with the volume-selling Commodore, the new coupe received two new model names; the unpopular and short-lived CV6 for the supercharged V6, and CV8 for the SS-aligned, LS-powered V8.


Twelve months after release, the V2 Series II hit the market, bringing with it a bunch of VY-related upgrades, including a new, symmetrical dashboard design. The Series III landed in August 2003, bringing new colours and revised power outputs. Obviously, Holden could not release such an important design without involving HSV, so obligatory models followed at the

2002 Melbourne Motor Show. Unable to use the Monaro name due to trademark conflicts, the two specs were labelled GTO Coupe and GTS Coupe, with the latter using a Callaway-tuned C4B LS1 good for over 400 horsepower.

Looking to expand their market and utilise Holden’s AWD running gear, HSV announced the all-paw HSV Coupe 4 at the 2003 Sydney Motor Show. Production versions were built from Pontiac GTO-spec bodyshells, allowing for the tough twin exhaust, and were run off onto a separate production line at the Elizabeth plant to enable the copious body mods to be carried out.

Before the V2 Series III Monaro bowed out, Holden ran a final edition CV8-R model, as they had done at the end of the Series II. A factory sunroof, unique wheels and a one-off Pulse Red paintjob ensured it would not get confused with a regular Monaro.

Monaro CV6: 473 units Monaro CV8: 7172 units

Monaro CV8-R: 663 units

HSV GTO: 1100 units

HSV GTO LE: 94 units

HSV GTS: 411 units

HSV Coupe 4: 28 units

VZ August 2004 – December 2005

THE final Monaro variant owed much to the US model it created, as many changes that had been made for the Pontiac GTO were directed back into the VZ Monaro range. A deeper front bumper and grille set-up better reflected the VZ sedan range, while the headlights and bonnet were pure GTO.

Engineers aligned the Monaro’s fuel tank position with the Pontiac version. Although this was done for legislative purposes in the USA, the trickle-down benefit was that the Monaro could wear the GTO’s beefy new twinexhaust system.

(June 2006 for HSV variants)

The 2005 VZ CV8-Z became the Monaro’s theoretical swan song, packed with upgrades like sunroof and lairy stripes. Mike Simcoe’s autograph adorned the final example, which subsequently sold for charity for over $187,000.

Monaro CV8: 1661 units

Monaro CV8-Z: 1605 units

HSV GTO: 880 units

HSV GTO LE: 99 units

HSV GTO LE Signature: 70 units

HSV Coupe 4: 106 units

However, the Monaro lived on, if not in name, and only briefly. Pontiac and HSV versions continued production until June 2006, with the GTO LE edition reflecting the name of the original coupe’s final iteration. This time, horsepower would not suffer at the hands of emissions control; all RWD VZ HSV coupes received the 297kw, 6.0-litre LS2 V8.