TRACK READY & PROVEN

THE MONARO TURNED OUT TO BE MORE THAN A STYLISH COUPE – IT SOON EMERGED AS A SERIOUS TRACK WEAPON

WORDS MARK HIGGINS

The Holden Monaro proved to be a remarkably versatile competition car in circuit racing, rallying, tarmac events, long distance marathons and even Rallycross.

It all started at Melbourne’s Sandown Park on September 15 1968, where the Monaro GTS 327 made its racing debut and won the Datsun Three-Hour touring car race, with another Monaro in second.

Victory went to rally aces Tony Roberts and Bob Watson with Clive Millis and Alan Jones, (later to be our second F1 world champ) second and completing the podium was Alan Hamilton in a Porsche 911.

Three weeks later and the Monaro GTS 327 triumphed at Mt Panorama with Bruce McPhee and Barry Mulholland winning Australia’s biggest race in Australia’s first coupe and giving Holden its first Bathurst victory. It was a clean sweep by the Monaro with Jim Palmer and Phil West second followed by Sandown victors Tony Roberts and Bob Watson finishing third.

The next month saw the running of the gruelling London to Sydney Marathon and among the 100 entrants were three Monaros.

One retired, but Doug Chivas and Barry Fergusson finished 12th with Doug Whiteford and Eddie Perkins (father of racing driver Larry) fourteenth.

In 1969 Holden had its own works team, run by Ford defector Harry Firth. After 500 miles the Monaro GTS 350 of Colin Bond and Tony Roberts took the honours, with Peter Brock, making his Bathurst debut, third in another works GTS 350. The Monaro had seen off the big bucks challenge of the Ford factory and its all-new Phase I GT-HO Falcon.

Despite its win this was the Monaro’s last appearance with the works team in the Bathurst classic, with Holden turning to the lighter and more nimble Torana GTR XU-1 for its Series Production racing in August 1970.

One driver who stuck with the Monaro was privateer Ron Dickson who fronted at Bathurst in 1973 and 74 with a four-door Monaro GTS 308 complete with an automatic transmission.

Rallycross came to Australia in 1969 and the big Monaro GTS 350 was a front-runner for many meetings until it being replaced by the GTR XU-1.

Norm Beechey and his Improved Production Monaro GTS 327 won two rounds and finished third overall in the 1969 Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC).

Before the GTR XU-1 arrived in August Colin Bond and Tony Roberts teamed up again to win the Rothmans 12-hour race in the GTS 350 at the Surfers Paradise raceway in early 1970 and in February the Monaro competed in the South Pacific Touring Car series, a support event to the Tasman Series.

Stormin’ Norm Beechey built a Monaro GTS 350 for 1970 and won the Australian Touring Car Championship, a first for an Australian car, while in the Australian forests Colin Bond drove a Monaro GTS 350 to second in the Australian Rally Championship.

“THE MONARO HAD SEEN OFF THE BIG BUCKS CHALLENGE OF THE FORD FACTORY AND ITS ALL-NEW PHASE I GT-HO FALCON"

Two years later Bob Jane debuted an HQ Monaro GTS 350 in the ATCC and when the category was scrapped, he raced it in sports sedans until the mid-70s, joined by Ian Geoghegan in another lightweight Monaro. Monaro sports sedans competed until the early 80s and then, like the road car, the Monaro’s motorsport activities went into hibernation.

Fast forward to 2002 where Peter Brock became a favourite of the Targa Tasmania crowd flinging his purpose-built tarmac rally Monaro CV8 around the Apple isle course.

That same year Holden entered a Monaro in the first Bathurst 24 hour race. Built and run by Garry Rogers Motorsport, it was fitted with a 427ci 7.0-litre V8 and an aero kit based on the Commodore Supercar.

Driven by Garth Tander and fellow V8 Supercar drivers Steven Richards, Nathan Pretty and Cameron McConville, the Monaro qualified second and took an early lead only to stop to replace its fuel cell losing 13 laps, then it jammed in gear losing more time. Incredibly it fought back from near last to win the inaugural 24 race.

Later that year the HRT 427 road car was announced but with an asking price of $215,000 only two were built.

The 2003 Bathurst 24 hour win was another triumph for Holden with the Monaros beating the world’s best. After starting first and second the winning Monaro of Peter Brock, Greg Murphy, Jason Bright and Todd Kelly beat their teammates by 0.3505 seconds. Nathan Pretty went on to finish third in the Nations Cup series with Peter Brock fourth in a second Monaro.

The Monaro's final year of competition saw James Brock join Peter and Nathan Pretty in a third Monaro in the Nations Cup with Pretty second in the series followed by Brock junior fourth and Brock senior sixth.

In a perfect ending to its motorsport career, James Brock gave the Monaro its last race win at the 2004 Nations Cup Championship event at Mallala in South Australia.