July 22 1968 was the day Holden presented Australia’s indigenous coupe, the HK Holden Monaro.
New from the ground up the Monaro was designed, built and tested to cope with local conditions. It was the General’s hero car and in motorsport circles a response to the Falcon XR-GT launched a year earlier.
I’ll never forget the first time I clamped eyes on the Monaro GTS 327. It was metallic silver-blue and my dad was at the wheel. I remember the pillarless doors, the power, the noise, the console-mounted tacho, stubby gear lever and three-spoke steering wheel.
That first trip started my love of our homegrown modern era coupe that continues today.
But the Monaro was much more than just a car and for that we must thank then GM-H Managing Director Max Wilson for his foresight.
It was a paradigm change for Australian-made cars. Spearheaded by the Bathurst-bred GTS 327 the Monaro invigorated the Holden badge with excitement and sportiness, blending European flair with American muscle thanks to the 5.4-litre V8 engine. A first for the brand.
The Monaro was a magnet for Holden showrooms, pulling people in to get a glimpse of the Australian coupe.
Three models were offered. The entry Monaro was powered by a 161ci six-cylinder engine, Monaro GTS with either a 186ci six or 307ci V8 and Monaro GTS 327 with its brutish 5.4-litre Chev V8.
The Monaro nameplate came courtesy of Noel Bedford of Holden’s design team. Unnamed until shortly before its launch, Bedford was driving through Cooma NSW and spotted a council office sign reading ‘Monaro County Council’. It clicked with Bedford and after checking for copyright and its meaning – an Aboriginal word for high plain or high plateau – a hastily gathered board meeting approved the name.
Late in 1968 the Monaro became Holden’s first Wheels Car of the Year winner.
One year on the GTS 327 became the GTS 350 with the HT model, courtesy of an engine displacement increase. The locally made 253ci and 308ci V8s debuted in the HT model and then in the HG selling alongside the 350. Next came the HQ series and the V8-only Monaro GTS. The entry model Monaro had a 173ci six and the LS model anything from a 202 ci six to a 350 ci V8. Bonnet and boot stripes came with the first four-door Monaro GTS sedan in 1973.
Amid the 1974 global oil crisis the HJ Monaro was launched. Gone was the base model and GTS 350. Just the LS, GTS coupe and GTS sedan remained.
Shortly after the HX Monaro launch Holden killed the coupe farewelling it with the LE. It wasn’t even badged a Monaro, that was kept for the GTS four door.
Come 1977 Holden dropped the Monaro name from the HZ range just offering a GTS sedan and when the Commodore arrived in October 1978 also with a V8, it was game over for the Monaro.
Twenty-one years later at the 1998 Sydney Motorshow Holden whipped the covers off a coupe concept. The assembled industry VIPs were awestruck and it was immediately dubbed Monaro. Seeing it took me back to my childhood and the metallic silver-blue GTS 327.
Holden gazumped Ford at the 2001 Sydney Motorshow launching the production Monaro, torpedoing any hope of mass coverage for the new AU Falcon. Holden had allocated $60 million to the Monaro project while Ford put $700 million into the AU.
Soon after I drove the VT Commodorebased CV8 Monaro and in a week covered well over 1000 kilometres. I practically lived in it, loved every second and promised I’d own one.
The Monaro changed in look and specification with the VY and VZ Commodores and HSV gave us the GTO, GTS and AWD Coupe 4. The final VZ Monaro shared parts with the exported Pontiac GTO and in 2005 the CV8-Z became the Monaro’s final model.Pontiac GTOs and HSV models ceased June 2006. It was a short but remarkable lifespan.
My quest for Monaro ownership took until late 2017 when I found a superbly presented, original 2002 CV8. What does the Monaro mean to me?
When I turn the key and fire the big V8 into life, I remember looking across at Dad and that first ride in the GTS 327, like it was yesterday.
Sadly we’ll never see another homegrown Monaro. As Australia celebrates its ‘own’ coupe on its 50th birthday, I feel proud and fortunate to own a slice of Australian automotive greatness.