AUSSIE V8 GREATS
Nothing epitomises the subtle change in the Aussie car market more comprehensively than the Ford Falcon GT-HO series. The Phase III is seen as the pinnacle, though the gap between it and the Phase II – both cars have Bathurst wins to their credit – has narrowed.
Though economic times may not be quite as bullish as many would like, prices on premium cars are now not only holding firm but continue to climb.
In many respects this reflects what’s been going on overseas, particularly in the USA and European markets. Prices for mid and low-range cars may fluctuate and that may well be a reflection of the economic fortunes of their potential buyers.
However the top end of the market is a different story. Here we’re talking about a strata where the buyers may have started out as car enthusiasts, but they’re now serious investors. People used to joke about putting the superannuation away in the shed, but it’s become a reality for many.
Internationally there are now investment indices for the car market, and businesses have sprung up to serve this very different sector. These include high-end car storage and maintenance facilities along with restoration firms whose customers can see a
return in a restoration that runs well into six figures.
One reason we targeted a Phase II for this story (many thanks to car nut and owner Leo Khouri for trusting us with it) is it highlights the depth of the GT-HO story across the ‘phases’.
The history is recorded up to a point, though factory records are not perfect and there are subtleties to what went on as one model transitioned into another.
Here’s an example, raised by Unique Cars contributor Joe Kenwright a few years ago in issue 351: “For Bathurst 1969, the GT-HO Phase I had a larger 600 Holley four-barrel and 300hp (225kW). The GT-HO Phase II from mid-1970 was cited as the change-over point from the Windsor to the Cleveland 351. That’s not what happened.
“Early in 1970, the 351 Cleveland – built in the US since the third quarter of 1969 – was dropped into the XW GT. A special interim model that combined key XW GT-HO Phase I upgrades with the GT’s Cleveland engine was sold long before the Phase II arrived.
“Any Windsor-powered XW Falcon GT or ZC Fairlane 351 survivor is quite rare as the 351W was only available between June, 1969 and the February-March, 1970 changeover point. Fewer than 1300 XW GT Windsors were built. Although many Australian muscle car fans get misty-eyed over the Cleveland 4-barrel, not everyone feels that way.”
So there’s one myth busted. Plus, if you’re a Windsor rather than a Cleveland owner you have plenty of reason to be happy.
For us, the Phase II is a hugely significant
car because it managed to break Holden’s two-year hold on the Bathurst trophy. For the punter walking into a showroom to lay down close to $5000 of their hard-earned, it was a statement piece – even back in 1970.
Black-out panels, striping and a few other touches turned a family sedan into what was a truly flamboyant lump of machinery. It stood out in the traffic.
The basic spec included the 351 Cleveland, running upgraded 750cfm carburettor, cam, lifters and manifolds. The power claim was 300 horses and may well have been modest.
Behind that was typically a four-speed top-loader gearbox (a close ratio option was available) and a nine-inch Daytona diff, with a Detroit locker as an option.
The chassis ran independent front end with roll bar and recirculating ball steering, while the back managed with a live axle on leaf springs. Pretty well universal chassis tech for the day, though somewhat modified for this special GT variant.
They gloried in a reputation for being among the quickest four-door sedans on the planet and owners revelled in the big bold nature of the things. That and the unbreakable nature of the beast.
We’ve recently seen Phase IIs selling for the half million mark, and that may not be the end of it. It also means that, if you happen to trip over the near-mythical neglected example sitting in a shed somewhere, you have a pretty big budget to bring it back to life before you start to lose on the deal.
Working at this level means it not only pays to get the resto right, but it’s absolutely essential to ensure you are in fact working on the real thing.
And the good news? These are truly rewarding cars to drive. Not subtle, but better than the passing of the years and the march of technology might suggest. In many respects they deserved ‘GT’ status more than many of their contemporaries.
IF EVER there was a bellwether model for the Aussie classic market, it’s the Phase III GT-HO (more than the II). Many of these prime rarities change hands in private, so accurately gauging what’s paid for them is fraught with danger.
That said we’re always intrigued by the number of people who claim to know the ‘real’ prices paid in supposedly ‘secret’ deals!
The sensational part of the story is the apparent instability of prices through the global financial crisis of a decade ago. The top price paid was allegedly $900k, though the one we can verify was more like $750k. Those figures halved briefly and have now bounced back.
For us the real news is how quickly GT prices have been gaining.
TradeUniqueCars.com.au 69 BODY 4-door sedan ENGINE 5.8lt V8 POWER & TORQUE 224kW @ 5400rpm, 515Nm @ 3400rpm PERFORMANCE 0-100km/h 6.4 seconds TOP SPEED 220km/h TRANSMISSION four-speed, all synchromesh manual SUSPENSION Front – independent coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers.
Rear – live axle with coil springs, telescopic shocks BRAKES disc front, drum rear power-assisted PRICE NEW @ $5000
If ever you needed proof of where Australian tastes lay when it comes to shelling out for locally-built classic cars, look no further than top-echelon Holdens.
First-gen Monaros (HK, HT and HG) and A9X hatches are worth more than the interim XU-1. Why? There are a number of factors, but the fact is the V8s pull the big dollars.
Which V8? It doesn’t seem to matter too much, so long as it’s either the 327 or 350. While it was the 327 that was the pioneer engine for the local brand, it was the 350 that cemented a long-term relationship with the market. The small block 350 was a hugely important engine for GM worldwide and it regularly appears on ‘best-ever V8’ lists.
It debuted in the 1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS and, though it was eventually overshadowed by the LS series, it remained in production until 2003. Like its contemporaries from other marques, it saw service in a weird and wonderful array of gear, mostly on land and often on the water.
There’s no question the early Monaros were a landmark car not just for Holden but for the local market overall – a proper high-performance coupe that could
double as family transport. Really, when first launched in 1968, the Monaro was in a market segment of one.
Which helps to explain the extraordinary excitement we’re seeing around them today.
As we pointed to in the preceding Ford piece, there is a serious investor market operating for Australian cars, and these Monaros hit all the key markers: unique, glamour models, race history, high performance.
While a good Monaro has always been worth decent money (you could have bought a top-echelon HG series for somewhere in the vicinity of $4200 in their day – about half the price of the equivalent American import), they’re now heading into the upper atmosphere.
We’ve seen a couple of $300k-plus results in recent times, and it seems over $200k is the new normal. Even more humble models are getting sucked along in their wake: a GTS 186 S sold last year for $80,000.
Though the chassis spec may make you cringe a little these days, a 350 GTS could cover ground pretty damn quickly. In a December 1970 story for Wheels magazine, Mel Nichols wrote about a long, long, drive in an HG. Talking of one segment: “The road between Nyngan and Bourke is 130 miles of dead straight, flat highway. We tackled it in daylight, ready really to open out the Monaro for the first time.
“It cruised effortlessly and pleasantly for both driver and passenger at 120mph with plenty in reserve. After 50 miles at an almost constant 120 we pushed the accelerator right down and the
Monaro was soon showing 133mph on the clock. This corrected to a genuine 130mph and it was no problem to hold it mile after mile with no other car in sight.” In case your head is struggling with the conversion, that’s cruising at 193 and then 210km/h.
Under the paint, the HG manual GTS 350 scored the four-barrel Rochester Qaudrajet carburettor and an engine claiming 300 horses. Transmission was a four-speed M21.
If you opted for the Powerglide auto, you scored a 275-horse engine.
Which transmission you chose also altered the suspension you scored: more track-oriented with the manual, and more comfort with the auto.
The chassis was very conventional for the time. Up front you had an independent set-up with a stabiliser bar, while out back it was a live axle and leaf springs. The diff was a Salisbury limited slip unit. Steering was recirculating ball. Brakes (remember those cruising speeds?) 268mm discs up front and 254mm drums out back.
Looking across the broader HK-HG Monaro market, there’s a bit of confusion over what they’re worth. Yes, we’ve seen some record prices lately, but they’re generally been for well-documented examples of premium models in great condition. What if yours doesn’t quite meet that description?
Much will depend on what it is. If you happen to have a premium manual 327 or 350 in a sorry state, the numbers for doing a big resto are now adding up. Keep in mind that, done by a professional, the bill could easily whip past the $100k mark and double that for a full-on pro concourse rebuild. Once upon a time that would have seemed insane – not so much now so long as it started life as the model you think it is.
Thorough research and some advice from a dedicated club expert will be invaluable.
If it’s a lower-spec car, you would be wise to get some quotes and work it out from there. Paint and panel are always the killers when the bills start coming in, so that’s the area to watch. And if you can do the work yourself? Clearly there are some big opportunies.
In any case, whatever it is and almost regardless of its condition, it seems to be an appreciating asset.
THERE WAS never any real doubt, but the recent surge in prices for premium Monaros has underlined their value as collectibles.
Auction bids have fluctuated by big percentages in recent times and we suspect it will take a little while for values to settle.
However they have now comprehensively moved out of reach of the average punter.
HQ Monaro prices are clearly being dragged along in the wake of the HK-HT-HG series.
And what about the modern cars? At risk of sounding repetitive, we reckon a good clean CV8 or similar (particularly a manual) is good buying right now.
HQs were largely ignored for years, and the same has been happening with the later generation.
BODY 2-door coupe ENGINE 5.8lt V8 POWER & TORQUE 224kW @ 4800rpm, 495Nm @ 3200rpm PERFORMANCE 0-100km/h 7.5 seconds TOP SPEED 210km/h TRANSMISSION four-speed, all synchromesh manual SUSPENSION Front – independent coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers.
Rear – live axle with coil springs, telescopic shocks BRAKES disc front, drum rear power-assisted PRICE NEW @$4200
Scratch around the period ads for this car and you’ll trip over a wonderful vision: a publicity shot of former World Champion Stirling Moss casually leaning up against a car just like this one, with two young female admirers hanging out the windows. .
Launched in 1970, the VG series brochure featured sedans in various states of trim, wagons and of course the coupes. Mixing and matching of engines and transmission meant there were myriad variants, which is typical of the period.
But really the big news for the brand was the launch of the Hemi six, developed locally at a reported cost of $33 million, over five years. And that’s why Moss was involved – primarily to explain and promote the advantages of the new engine.
The 245ci (4.0lt) powerplant was light and Chrysler rightly claimed it was a potential competitor for many contemporary V8s. That said, the good old 318 (5.2lt) Fireball V8 remained King of the Hill for the brand locally, and was at the top of the list of engine options. It claimed a healthy 230 horses in two-barrel form (though only a little ahead of the top-line 4-barrel Hemi six at 211) and had a
reputation for being pretty much indestructible.
The Fireball 318 is also known in Chrysler-speak as a second-gen LA engine and has an incredibly long lifeline (1964-2003), seeing service in cars, trucks, boats and industrial applications. It runs ‘wedge-shape’ combustion chambers . In case you were wondering, the LA designation stands for Light A (there was an A-series predecessor) and not the more obvious city name.
If you could afford a Regal Hardtop 770 like this, you were making a bit of a statement: that you had some cash to throw around, wanted something that was luxurious for its day, and didn’t mind sinking the right slipper to get a bit of performance.
You could in fact order the 245 Hemi in this car, though in 185hp form. In either case, you scored a three-speed auto with centre console shifter. The Regal also copped additional chrome, two-tone paint or vinyl roof and fancy hubcaps. Inside there was a pretty comprehensive instrument cluster, bucket seats with special trim and a few additional decorative touches.
The chassis was a pretty basic affair, with a torsion bar independent front end and a live rear axle sitting on elliptical springs. Steering was by worm and ball.
You scored dual circuit brakes, though whether there were front discs and power boosting involved depended on the model.
In the case of the Regal 770, you scored the premium package.
This would have set you back near enough to $4000 back in the day – a substantial amount of money. For that you got what qualified locally as a big car and a very big coupe. The basic platform had been introduced with the previous VF series, based on the Dodge Dart.
If you check out the car on these pages, owned by Sotirios “Sam” Xerizotis, you’ll see it’s an exceptional survivor. One of those cars you’d be very wary of over-restoring.
Sam had recently got the paint professionally touched up and minor panel dent removed, which we reckon is the way to go. This car is in that state where it’s questionable whether the cost of a full restoration could be justified on financial grounds, and it seems smarter to keep it as a tidy runner.
It didn’t just turn up in our photo studio by accident – we actively went hunting for one and, thanks to the local Chrysler club, tracked it down. The reason? This is a great example of a mid-level collectible car that hasn’t yet seen values spiralling into the stratosphere.
Right or wrong, if there’s the choice of an original six or V8, collectors will pay a premium for the latter and something like this would be a pretty safe place to park your money.
Working in its favour at the moment is that a lot of the potential owners grew up knowing older relatives who had cars of this era, and they bring back fond memories.
Just as important in this price range is the car remains a usable classic – reliable, easy to drive and comfortable. For the restorer, some parts such as trim can be a bit of a challenge.
As for the mechanicals, parts supply for the essentials is plentiful.
These hardtops are very high on our ‘buy’ list at the moment. They still represent value, particularly in a market where importing mid-priced American alternatives is becoming increasingly difficult.
ONE OF the issues for the would-be hardtop buyer is keeping pace with the expectations of the market.
While they’ve unquesrtionably always had their fans, the prices have firmed up in a big way over the last few years. There’s no significant race history with these cars, so you won’t see GT-HO levels of pricing (then again who knew Kombi prices would be where they are?!), but the loss of local car manufacturing and a new generation of fans coming through has created plenty of interest.
As with all collectibles, condition is critical.
A good Pacer will command premium money, but the full luxo 770 won’t be far behind.
Owners are generally asking $20-40k for coupes.
BODY 2-door coupe ENGINE 5.2lt V8 POWER & TORQUE 172kW @ 4400rpm, 461Nm @ 2400rpm PERFORMANCE 0-100km/h 8.5 seconds TOP SPEED 180km/h TRANSMISSION 3-speedauto SUSPENSION Front – itorsion bars, telescopic shock absorbers. Rear – live axle with coil springs, telescopic shocks BRAKES disc front, drum rear power-assisted PRICE NEW @$4000