50 YEARS OF MONARO

HOLDEN’S COUPE WAS PROMOTED WITH BOLD RACY IMAGERY

1968-69 HK MONARO

It’s a big thing to throw the corporate dice and go through the long and expensive throes of developing a new car. Plenty of makers have done it and many have seen their plans turn to ash because they’ve misread the market.

So you might forgive the GM-H folk if they were a little jumpy during the launch of the new Monaro. In many respects it was as significant for the local market as Ford’s Mustang had been for the USA.

It was to be a busy year, with some 147,200 cars sold, including all the HK range. The coupe was available in three major models: Monaro, Monaro GTS and Monaro GTS 327. With the available mix and match options for engines and transmissions, there were 19 variants.

Surprisingly you could for a while order a base 161 with three-on-the-tree (no synchro on first), but the number built was tiny. Up to 268 is the best figure we can find (see Norm Darwin’s excellent book Monaro Magic) and the 186 was the six of choice for most.

From there you had three major streams: Monaro 186 or 307, Monaro GTS with the same engine capacity options, or Monaro GTS 327. The prices started at $2575 for the Monaro, $3078 for the base (186) GTS and $3790 for the 327.

The GTS 186 and 307 packages included interior trim that was near enough to Premier in its level, with the addition of a console tacho, plus numerous exterior details. Perhaps more importantly, there was a real effort made to tidy up the handling, with a quicker steering ratio and upgraded suspension.

The 327 meanwhile scored wider wheels and track, plus a lower stance along with the mechanical upgrades. From the rear, the big give-away was the row of four exhaust pipe tips with their distinctive burble.

Total HK coupe production reached 15,637.

Vital Stats

1968-69

HOLDEN HK GTS 327

ENGINE 5354cc SB Chev OHV V8, Rochester 4V carb

POWER 186.5kW @ 4800rpm

TORQUE 441Nm @3200rpm

GEARBOX 4-speed Saginaw manual

SUSPENSION Independent – unequal w/bones, coils, tube shocks(f). Live axle – semielliptics, tube shocks (r) BRAKES: Disc (f), drum (r) WEIGHT 1495kg

1969-70 HT MONARO

Incredibly, the HK had been on the market a bare 12 months when it was superseded by the HT. This was a whole lot more than just a facelift model, though there were the inevitable changes to trim and graphics.

However the big news was the new range of engines coming through. The US-sourced 307 to be phased out, while the local 253 joined the line-up, eventually followed by the 308.

Thanks to the ongoing performance wars, particularly with Ford’s Falcon, a GM-sourced 350 V8 became the premium powerplant.

For many, the 253 was a revelation. Some 36 kilos heavier than a 186, it claimed 185 horses versus 145 for the S version of the six. The 308 meanwhile claimed 240 horses and the 350, when mated to a manual transmission, some 300hp.

The auto version of the 350 ran lower compression and some 25hp less. Despite the power drop, the auto was widely praised as a quick and easy-going road car.

Holden also got stuck into the chassis, with some changes intended to provide a smoother ride. Most significant according to the Holden release of the day was “the new Y-frame engine cradle which isolates the engine transmission assembly from the passenger compartment, and the new front end geometry setting which gives an improved steering feel and greatly improved directional control”.

Incredibly, the 161 engine remained as the base powerplant for the Monaro. As with the HK, the orders must have been few given the upgrade to 186 was not a lot of money.

A year had seen the prices rise a little, but not so much that you’d be picketing the factory gates. The base price was now $2651, while the base GTS with 186S engine and Opel four-speed manual was now $3183. The mighty GTS 350 with its distinctive bonnet ‘nostrils’ started at $3995 – substantial money but still something of a bargain.

Production numbers reached 14,172, including export cars.

Vital Stats

1969-70

HOLDEN HT GTS 350

ENGINE 5733cc SB Chev OHV V8, Rochester 4V carb

POWER 223.5kW @ 4800rpm

TORQUE 515Nm @3200rpm

GEARBOX 4-speed Saginaw manual

SUSPENSION Independent – unequal w/bones, coils, tube shocks(f). Live axle – semielliptics, tube shocks (r) BRAKES: Disc (f), drum (r) WEIGHT 1495kg

1970-71 HG MONARO

By the time Holden got to the HG – which was sold July 1970 to July 1971, the old body shape was not the main game. At least not behind the scenes.

Holden was concentrating on the final touches for the biggest technical and styling make-over in some years – the really, we’re talking a transition model, chiefly with cosmetic upgrades that leaned towards a simpler and bolder look.

The Trimatic transmission had made its way into the range by now, though it had also been fitted to a few of the late HTs. Really, the big news (if there was any) on the mechanical front was that disc brakes were now standard on all the V8s.

More significantly, the brand’s performance mantle had passed to the new and compact kid on the block, the Torana GTR-XU1. It was quicker in a straight line (5.6sec versus 6.6 to 100km/h) and had the bigger car for lunch around a race circuit.

Holden had in fact toyed with the idea of upgrading the Monaro’s hero powerplant to something like a Camaro Z/28 unit, with 360 horses, to make it a more convincing top order Ford GT challenger. However it was not to be.

In the end the GTS 350 soldiered on with subtle mechanical alterations and somewhat more luxurious suspension settings. In a straight line it displayed a little less acceleration than an HT but a slightly higher top speed at 130mph.

Though the original shape Monaro was quietly being wound down as a cruiser rather than a racer by this stage, it was still enjoying modest export success to South Africa. Early cars (from HT series) looked very similar to Australian models and some of them have been repatriated over time. However there was also a Chevrolet SS version, built with CKD packs at Port Elizabeth, that featured a unique Chevrolet SS-branded nose cone with quad headlamps.

Total production reached 6147 examples.

Vital Stats

1970-71

HOLDEN HG GTS 350

ENGINE 5733cc SB Chev OHV V8, Rochester 4V carb

POWER 223.5kW @ 4800rpm

TORQUE 515Nm @3200rpm

GEARBOX 4-speed Saginaw manual

SUSPENSION Independent – unequal w/bones, coils, tube shocks(f). Live axle – semielliptics, tube shocks (r) BRAKES: Disc (f), drum (r) WEIGHT 1495kg

1971-74 HQ MONARO

Was HQ the best of the Monaro body shapes? There’s definitely a school of thought that it’s the pick of the litter with the most elegant body shell.

The launch of the HQ series was literally revolutionary for Holden and, in sedan form, led biggest-ever production numbers. Lots of coupe styles were trialled before the final shape was agreed, including a convertible T-top and hardtops with wrap-around rear screens. Tempting as they sound, the end result was brilliant, and it offered more mechanical configurations and trim choices than before.

The 161 engine was finally upgraded to a 173 with three-speed column shift. From there the engine list ran 202 six, plus 253 and 350 V8s. The model line was Monaro starting at $3330, Monaro LS (Luxury Sport) starting at $3570 or Monaro GTS starting at $3720 with the 253 engine. You could also order a 308 in the GTS.

Top of the heap was the Monaro GTS 350 starting at $4633. with a manual transmission behind a 275-horse version of the V8. Though not as quick as some earlier cars, the GTS 350 was admired for being a far better Grand Tourer drive.

With this generation, we finally got to see a sporty-looking four-door Monaro. The whole dressed-up sedan idea had been trialled with the wildly successful SS, becoming a Monaro GTS reality from 1973. Available with the 253, 308 or 350 V8s, sedan pricing started at $3766.

GTS coupes and four-doors were marketed side-by-side with the catchline: “They’ll make you enjoy motoring all over again.”

HQ coupe production numbers, according to Norm Darwin’s guide, climbed to 13,872 with just 403 of the premium GTS 350 two-doors rolling off the line. The number of four-doors is substantial but far more difficult to verify. A popular estimate for GTS 350 four-door production is 800.

Vital Stats

1971- 74

HOLDEN HQ GTS 350

ENGINE 5733cc SB Chev OHV V8, Rochester 4V carb

POWER 205kW @ 4800rpm

TORQUE 488Nm @3200rpm

GEARBOX 4-speed Muncie manual

SUSPENSION Independent – unequal w/bones, coils, tube shocks(f). Live axle – coils, links, tube shocks (r) BRAKES: Disc (f), drum (r) WEIGHT 1429kg

1974-76 HJ MONARO

A significant swing in the market, away from coupes saw Holden concentrating its efforts on the four-door for the next generation Monaro, the HJ. Launched in October 1974, the coupe had the American-influenced squared-off front treatment but still carried the HQ-era However the sedan was HJ front and rear.

Despite the two distinct body shells, the range had been trimmed back drastically. Gone was the base model range, plus the previous stars of the show – the 350s. The rationale for the disappearance of the big powerplant was the local 308 could be developed to make as much power and didn’t carry the tax penalty suffered by an imported engine.

So now your choices started with the Monaro LS coupe range starting at $4816, the GTS coupes at $4906 and the GTS four-doors at $4804.

Trimatic autos were standard equipment on LS 202 sixes and 253 V8s, while the 308 came with a Turbo-Hydramatic. Standard in the GTS was the 253 with a four-speed manual. You could of course upgrade to the full five litres and/or auto.

Making life confusing was you could in fact accessorise a Kingswood up to GTS appearance and spec, though it made no sense as the ‘real’ package was cheaper. However the ease of conversion means that there are a fair number of Kingswoods that have been retrofitted with the good gear.

The GTS series did run stiffer suspension, which seemed to be a mixed blessing, depending on who was doing the review. It tidied up the handling in some circumstances, but it was less popular over rough roads. If nothing else, a GTS sedan with the spoilers and the distinctive graphics looked like it meant business.

Production numbers reveal a huge swing away from coupes, a trend that started late in the life of the HQ, with just 943 HJ two-doors being built and 4574 sedans (5517 total).

Vital Stats

1974-76

HOLDEN HJ GTS 5.0

ENGINE 5044cc Holden OHV V8, Rochester 4V carb

POWER 179kW @ 4800rpm

TORQUE 427Nm @3000rpm

GEARBOX 4-speed manual

SUSPENSION Independent – unequal w/bones, coils, tube shocks(f). Live axle – coils, links, tube shocks (r) BRAKES: Disc (f), drum (r) WEIGHT 1480kg

1976-77 HX MONARO

If the market for and the future of the Monaro brand seemed a little shaky with the HJ, the HX did little to alleviate those concerns. The coupe continued to be relegated to also-ran status.

In the meantime Holden (and others) was struggling to meet then new ADR27A emission requirements without strangling the performance and economy of its powerplants. Road tests of the day marked this with a note of disappointment.

For example Motor Manual published, in January 1977, that its GTS test car had, “Flashy looks, lots of options, big burbling V8… and vague handling, poor fuel economy, bad finish, and lazy engine.” Ouch! Now before you stalk outside and set fire to your HX, keep in mind that was then. The fact is most people would now be very happy to have one of these beauties in their driveway.

Clearly inflation had struck as GTS sedan pricing now started at $7016. The base model had a 253 with four-speed manual, though you could option the M21 manual or Trimatic with that engine. If you opted for the 308, you got the M21 or Hydramatic 400.

Adding some depth to the offering was the LE Coupe, available with 308 and Hydramatic 400 only. It was framed very much as a personal luxury car. The story goes that Holden had 627 coupe bodies left over and wanted to see them used. Legendary designer Leo Pruneaux (the ‘father’ of the SS) was called in.

He ended up combining the distinctive maroon and gold paint scheme with the top-line drivetrain (including LSD) and rich internal fittings that included some Statesman influence. The LE Coupe clearly showed its roots, but didn’t have a Monaro badge on it, anywhere. It was also pricey, at $11,119.

In the end 580 Le Coupes were built plus 2079 GTS sedans.

Vital Stats

1976-77

HOLDEN HX GTS 5.0

ENGINE 5044cc Holden OHV V8, Rochester 4V carb

POWER 161kW @ 4800rpm

TORQUE 400Nm @3100rpm

GEARBOX 4-speed manual

SUSPENSION Independent – unequal w/bones, coils, tube shocks(f). Live axle – coils, links, tube shocks (r) BRAKES: Disc (f), drum (r) WEIGHT 1480kg

1977-79 HZ GTS

The last hurrah of the Monaro name (for a couple of decades, at least…) was the HZ. We have a copy of Holden’s own contemporary publicity material listing it as a Monaro GTS, but there wasn’t a Monaro logo to be seen anywhere on the car or the brochures. This has been the considerable controversy over the years, over whether or not the HZ GTS is a Monaro.

It was perhaps ironic (or sad) that this last car was the pick of the handling packages thanks largely to the introduction of Radial Tuned Suspension with the HZ range. With GM’s usual coil springs all round, it was set up to make the sedan’s point respectably and was clearly a cut above its predecessors in that department. A contemporary Modern Motor magazine cover summed up the general feeling with the headline, “At last! The Holden handles.”

Visually it scored some of the premium gear: spoilers were now standard, as were the hooded rear view mirrors. Underneath, you got disc brakes all round.

The powertrain offerings were essentially as before. The 253 V8 was the base offering, with an M20 four-speed. You could option that with the sportier M21 manual or the Trimatic auto. Splash the cash a little and you could go with the 308 plus M21 or the Hydramatic 400 auto.

Quite late in the day, May 1978, the big engine became the standard offering. Pricing started at $8482 and the options list remained long. For example, you could add airconditioning, power windows, cassette player (remember them?), power steering and even wire wheels.

By now the GTS had become handsome rather than elegant and was seen as the flagship of the HZ range. Sadly it was to die out, as plans to develop a new line of big cars based on the WB platform fell over.

Production came to an end in early 1979, with 1438 cars.

Vital Stats

1977-78

HOLDEN HZ GTS 5.0

ENGINE 5044cc Holden OHV V8, Rochester 4V carb

POWER 161kW @ 4800rpm

TORQUE 400Nm @3100rpm

GEARBOX 4-speed manual

SUSPENSION Independent – unequal w/bones, coils, tube shocks(f). Live axle – coils, links, tube shocks (r) BRAKES: Disc (f), drum (r) WEIGHT 1540kg