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Motoring: Holden Monaro - 1968

Billed as Australia's first fully home-grown sports coupe, the Monaro was a member of Holden's ambitious 'New Generation' HK range, launched in 1968. A clear and deliberate statement of national identity in its design, title and marketing concept, the Monaro was conceived and developed in an era of massive social and cultural change. It reflected a more exciting, youthful image and broke new ground by embracing the concept of personalised transport. Along with its HK counterparts, the Monaro delivered the biggest choice of options yet offered by Holden and, with a full-throated roar, ushered in the golden era of the lion-badged V8.

The sleek, pillarless two-door was introduced six months after the rest of the range and soon took pride of place in Holden dealer showrooms across the country. Its 'boy racer' appeal was universal - a tribute to the foresight of the then Managing Director of GM-H, Max Wilson, who was instrumental in the development of the Monaro design and engineering concept and who recognised its long-term potential.

In late 1967, with nine months to go until its launch, Holden's new sports coupe was still without a name. Holden had sifted through hundreds of suggestions, none seemed to have that special ring. Then Noel Bedford, a technical stylist and member of Holden's design team, was driving through Cooma, New South Wales, Australia on holiday when a sign on the council offices took his eye: 'It said Monaro County Council in western-type lettering that reminded me of 'Marlboro Country' and Camaro. It seemed to me so simple and logical. Why didn't somebody think of it before? I was quite excited and couldn't wait to get back to work.' After quickly checking for copyright and dialect meaning, an impromptu board meeting instantly approved the name.

It was originally introduced in 1968 as a two-door pillarless hardtop coupe based on the full-size Kingswood sedan, and available in three models : the basic Monaro coupe, Monaro 'GTS' coupe and Monaro 'GTS 327' coupe. The cars could be ordered with a choice of six cylinder engines of 161 ci (2.6 L) capacity (base only) or two versions of 186 ci (3.0 L) capacity (GTS with the uprated 186S only), or a 307 ci (5.0 L) capacity Chevrolet-sourced V8. The exclusive 'GTS 327' model was powered by the Chevrolet 327 ci (5.3 L) V8.

In early 1969 the Monaro range was awarded Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for 1968. The model then continued through two minor facelifts, with firstly the HT Monaro range released in 1969 followed by the HG Monaro in 1970. With the HT Monaro, 'GTS 327' became 'GTS 350' following an increase in engine displacement with the fully-imported Chevrolet V8 engines. There was also an automatic version of the 'GTS 350' introduced which used a lower power version of the 350ci engine coupled to a 2-speed Powerglide transmission. HT Monaro also marked the phasing out of the 5.0 litre Chevrolet V8 and the introduction of two locally made V8 engines, the 253 ci (4.2 L) and 308 ci (5.0 L). Just prior to introduction of the HG range, Holden made available as an option - except with the Monaro 'GTS 350' - a new locally-produced 3-speed automatic transmission, called the Trimatic.

Some HT series Monaro 'GTS' coupes were exported to or produced in South Africa from imported parts by the Thomas Bradford Co. Later they were sold under the Chevrolet SS name instead, with revised front styling unique to this model and incorporating four headlights and large turn indicators in the front edge of the fenders above the bumper. Some or all of these had 350 ci (5.7 L) engines.

A completely new generation body design emerged with the HQ series in July 1971, including the new Monaro 'LS' (commonly believed to mean "Luxury Sports") model. There were no longer any six-cylinder versions of the Monaro GTS, just 253 or optional 308 V8s or the top level GTS 350 coupe. The base model Monaro standard engine was enlarged to 173 ci (2.85 L) whilst the Monaro LS had a broad spectrum of engine options from a 202 ci six through to the 350 ci V8. The new coupe design had a much larger rear window and a squarer rear quarter window; it was somehow seen as not as sporty looking compared to the earlier HK-HT-HG series, but is often now considered one of the best looking body designs to come from an Australian producer. Until 1973 the GTS did not wear any body stripes as such and the 350 motor was a little less potent than before, especially with the optional Turbo-hydramatic 3-speed automatic transmission. This probably contributed to a downgrade of the Monaro in muscular image terms, as did the replacement of the bigger coupes with the 6 cylinder powered Holden Torana GTR XU-1s as the chosen GM car for Australian touring car racing. The introduction of bonnet and bootlid paint-outs in 1973 coincided with the release of a four-door sedan version of the Monaro GTS.

A heavy facelift adding optional front and rear spoilers and the dropping of the base Monaro and top-shelf 'GTS 350' and similarly-powered LS coupe characterised the introduction of the HJ series in late 1974. Monaro coupe was manufactured as Monaro LS and Monaro GTS, and the sedan version of GTS carried through, often now proving more popular than the coupes. The HJ Monaro LS coupe is close to the rarest regular production car made in Australia with only about 300 produced. There were approximately 600 HJ Monaro GTS coupes produced up until introduction of the HX series in mid-1976.

New emissions regulations heralded the HX Monaro GTS and with it, the decision by Holden to cease manufacturing the Monaro in two-door coupe form. So, to see it off, 580 examples of a 5.0 litre V8 limited edition coupe were produced, appropriately called the Limited Edition, or 'LE' for short, and all painted an exclusive metallic colour called 'LE Red'. Surprisingly, the LE was not referred to or badged as a Monaro, but in most enthusiasts' eyes it is the last of 'the real Monaros'. There was no Monaro coupe in the HX line-up, but the name was emblazoned on a single, extroverted GTS four door.

Although the Monaro name had survived into 1977 as the HX Monaro GTS sedan, with the coupe now a part of history, Holden decided to delete the name altogether from the new HZ Holden range. With the development of Radial Tuned Suspension, Holden transformed the bland characteristics of their full-size sedans and introduced a sporting variant called simply 'GTS'. But, with the November 1978 introduction of the new mid/full-size VB Commodore sedan and its availability with V8 engine power, the days of the HZ series appeared numbered. The HZ GTS was however a great driver's car and featured a four headlight grille and front and rear spoilers and in its final year of production in 1978/79 had the 5.0 litre V8 fitted as standard equipment.

Ultimately, the VB Commodore proved very popular in both six-cylinder and V8 form, such that all full-size HZ Holdens were phased out of production in 1979/80 to be replaced only in panel van, ute / one-tonner form - and the totally revamped Statesman sedans - in the compressed WB Holden range released in April 1980.

HJ Monaro

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