Holden HK Monaro
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
The sleek, pillarless two-door was introduced six months after the rest of the HK 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 GMH
Managing Director Max Wilson, who was instrumental in the development of the Monaro design and engineering concept and who recognised its long-term potential.
The Monaro's shape was the result of a brand new Holden
design studio, although it was unashamedly based on the muscle cars of the US. The pillarless two-door design was a new concept for Australians, and with a choice of three models (Standard, GTS and GTS 327) and six engines, Holden
were catering for anyone who aspired to own a sporty coupe.
Most importantly, almost all but the most staunch Ford supporters fell in love with the design. It boasted potent performance and looked every inch the part with its long, wide body, flared wheel arches and sweeping roofline (modelled on the Oldsmobile Toronado
). In GTS form, the Monaro sported black rally stripes, unique wheel trims, paint finishes and a tail panel strip that replicated a full-width tail light.
In fact, all but the Belmont was to inherit the "tail light strip styling" along the rear of the bootlid - after pressure from GM in the US. The designers choose to increase the width of the mock tail lights in proportion to the status of the vehicle, and so it naturally increased in size depending on whether it was a Kingswood, Premieror Monaro.
Only the Monaro GTS had a full width strip, but unfortunately the Aussie sun was to quickly bleach away the red accents and reveal the fake tail light for what it was. Regardless, this was a far preferrable option to sticking with the Belmont's tail lights, that remained smaller than that of the insipid HB Torana
of the time.
The standard Monaro was powered by a 3.05 litre 186 six-cylinder engine teamed with a column shift three-speed manual. Other engine choices included a higher-spec 186S six and an imported 5.0 litre 307 V8, matched with four-speed console mounted manual or two-speed Powerglide
. In fact, there were some 19 Monaro engine and transmission
combinations, from the 161 2.6 litre right through to the awesome (for the time) 327 5.4 litre Chevrolet V8.
HK Monaro 186S
There was a price to pay if you fell in love with the looks of the Monaro, but were on a budget. The coupe's pillarless styling resulted in a weight penalty of more than 200 pounds over the sedan, brought about mainly by additional structural work around the under body area. On paper at least, it was hard to see how a Monaro six could hope to pace it with the more mundane - but considerably lighter - four door HK sedan. But provided you optioned the 186S engine, it was not.
The bog standard Monaro wasn’t all that much different to the sedan - the bucket seats were the same. As was the dash, steering wheel and trim – all identical – and even the gear lever
had the same long, floppy movement. Behind the wheel it felt much the same, but in 186S guise it was not quite as sedate as you would have expected, capable of a 102 mph top speed and standing quarter mile times in the low 18’s – which was not bad for a 145 bhp car weighing around 2900 lbs., and not all that far behind the 307 V8 automatic GTS, which topped 108 mph and covered the quarter in 17.7 seconds.
If you opted for the 186S engine, it made sense to also option the four speed manual gearbox, and we believe this is what most punters did. As far as practicality went, the Monaro measured up well in inevitable comparisons with the sedan. Interior space was good - five people could be seated quite comfortably - and headroom front and rear was adequate. The wide-opening doors allowed for moderately easy entry to the rear seat, although the levers which released the seat backs were a little fiddly. And the huge 25.7 cubic feet boot would swallow plenty of luggage.
The basic Monaro came very close to the Kingswood - and threws in a few items listed as optional on the sedan to boot. At release, the price of the base Monaro was $2,575, as opposed to the Kingswood's $2,414. A price differential so small by the time bucket seats, etc., were added to the sedan, it had the potential to sway a lot of Kingswood buyers. But by forking out the few extra dollars on the Monaro, you didn’t get an instant sports car. To get anything like sporty performance and handling, a deeper delve into the pocket was necessary.
To our mind, a base Monaro with any kind of sporting pretence needed you to option the 186S engine and all-syncro gearbox, power disc brakes, limited slip differential, a reclining mechanism on the bucket seats, heater/demister and radio. These would up the price to $3,007.50. Even then, your gearbox would be column mounted, and the three on the tree did not fit the bill of a true sports car. Worse still, the three speed box had a poor spread of intermediate ratios, which hindered acceleration above 60 mph. You would have the valves
bouncing at 33 mph in first, and second could just manage 60 mph.
However, the 145 bhp motor managed to put most of its power to good effect despite this handicap, and acceleration times were quite brisk. Due possibly to a lower centre of gravity, the Monaro handled marginally better than the HK sedan. Ploughing understeer was easily induced when approaching a sharp corner at fairly high speed - oversteer couldn't be provoked at all on bitumen surfaces unless wild tactics were used. In general, the car handled almost neutrally when driven sensibly, with a slight tendency towards understeer.
Its softer suspension gave the Monaro a far more pleasant ride over rough surfaces than the firmly-sprung GTS models. Thanks to poor rear axle location, on corrugated roads the Monaro was not happy and badly broken stretches had the tail hopping from side to side, with a lot of attention required from the driver to maintain a straight line. However, the Monaro would perform a lot better in these conditions than some of its rivals. The power assisted disc/ drum braking combination would perform satisfactorily, although the front pads tended to suffer from overheating on the early models. It was possible to lock up one or both of the front wheels prematurely, but thankfully the Monaro would still pull up in a straight line.
The base Monaro was never going to be the ferocious beast that the GTS 327 was, but it was decidedly more tractable and far happier on rough roads - and it was a lot easier on fuel. One of the biggest points in its favour was the competitive price. Un-optioned it was a bit of a dog – even though it was arguably better looking than the Kingswood. Optioned up it still did not make a great car, but it was very good, and these lesser Monaro’s are now in high demand by collectors.
Monaro GTS 307
The 307 was the Monaro we all seem to remember, with those memories the Warwick Yellow with Black Trim combination. The basic price was A$3090 but there were plenty of options available, such as an automatic transmission and floor console - $350, D70 red band tyres
- $20.30, reclining bucket seats - $30, power steering - $109, and transistor push-button radio - $97.50. Perhaps apart from the auto, the rest were not really options at all if you wanted your car to be as special as the potential it had, and so the real price was closer to $3695.00.
The centre console mounted tachometer looked the goods, but was not as useful as you would have thought. The odd position was forced on GM designers by the lack of space elsewhere, and it obviously required you to take your eyes from the road. The strip style speedo would be replaced in the HT, allowing space to the tacho to sit adjacent as per the now customary set up. Rearward vision was never a strong point on the four door HK models, but it was woeful on the coupe. It was a challenge to see any part of the car through the window and reversing was therefore much more difficult.
Seating, both in front and rear compartments was excellent; rear head-room was ample and far better than you would have anticipated; interior finish was as good as anything imported, the exterior appearance was really stunning and was complemented by a law-attracting GT stripe. On the road there was little with which to find fault. Basically an understeering vehicle, the 307 coupe was very predictable and on tight corners the understeer would eventually switch to oversteer which could be quickly corrected.
There suspension was very firm, but it was not an unpleasant firmness that jarred your teeth, instead it was a road-holding firmness which kept all wheels well tied to the surface. The limited slip diff worked to perfection, and considering the 307 was equipped with the tallish, but standard 3.36:1 rear end, acceleration times were excellent and top speed was a quickly achieved 108 mph. The engine would run to 5000 rpm in top without a long wind-up and would literally cruise at close to that figure all day if required. Brakes were power assisted 10.7 inch discs up front and drums at the rear, and while not perfect, they were more than adequate for high speed touring and were relatively fade free. Although you had a 5 litre donk sitting up front, the fuel consumption of the 307 was surprisingly good, with 20 mpg possible around town.
Monaro GTS 307 Automatic
One of the lesser remembered models from the HK Monaro range was the 307 Automatic. A case where, in an era long before paddle shifters would at least do some justice to the inclusion of the tachometer
, a 1960s automatic would not. That made the centre console mounted tacho
completely useless - and the choice of location, forced on GM designers by a lack of space elsewhere, was dangerous as it required the driver to take their eyes from the road. Another complaint, but one that applied equally to all Monaro models, was the rearward vision - not good on the four door HK models
, but woeful on the coupe. It was almost impossible to see any part of the car through the window and reversing was carried out by the tried and tested 'bump and thump' method.
But, like the rest of the Monaro range, there was a lot to like about the 307 Auto. Seating, both in front and rear, was excellent; rear head-room was ample and far better than you would have expected by looking at the fastback design from the outside. The interior finish was good as, if you could stand that law-attracting GT stripe, the exterior appearance was really something. Rear seat entry and exit was good with swing forward front seats and wide doors and the boot would take about three large travelling cases with room for smaller items as well.
On the road there is little with which to find fault. Basically an understeering vehicle, the 307 coupe was very predictable and on tight corners the understeer would eventually switch to oversteer which could be quickly corrected. There was no word for the suspension other than firm - very firm - regardless of the transmission chosen. But it was not an unpleasant firmness of the type which jarred your teeth, rather it was a road-holding firmness which kept all wheels well tied to the surface. The limited slip diff worked to perfection - but we have covered off just how good the HK Monaro was in other parts of this article - lets get back to that automatic transmission.
And, considering the Monaro was equipped with a tallish, but standard 3.36:1 rear end, acceleration times were excellent and top speed was a quickly achieved 108 mph. The 307 would run to 5000 rpm in top without a long wind-up and would literally cruise at close to that figure all day if required. While the automatic would not provide a little extra retardation that the manual Monaro afforded, the brakes were well enough up for the job, being power assisted 10.7 inch discs up front and drums at the rear - adequate for high speed touring and relatively fade free.
The automatic did use a little extra fuel - but it was still surprisingly good with 20 mpg coming up under "in town" conditions and the figure only falling to 15 mpg under very hard highway driving. We can understand a buyer opting for an Auto if they had to do the daily commute in traffic - but that would have been such a shame. There were some options we would have chosen, the power steering for example, but to be honest, we would not have chosen the automatic transmission. We wonder how many autos were retro-fitted as the cars became more valuable.
Monaro GTS 327
You don’t need us to tell you the 327 was a beast. Designed as a racer, it possessed strong understeer - and the spring rates were set so high that apart from giving a very, very firm ride, the wheels' grip was reduced by their pattering over undulations in the road surface. This made accurate car placement difficult on uneven surfaces and when bumps were encountered in mid corner, the nose would jiggle outwards off line. No problem for a professional driver – and after all that was what the 327 was aimed at. It was even fitted with a 25 gallon, baffled fuel tank.
The fat tyres
gave magnificent grip on dry bitumen and this, combined with the understeer, tended to make the steering a little heavy. A touch on the accelerator would quickly poke the tail out and reduce understeer, but releasing the accelerator in mid-corner would not bring the nose in. Front spring rates were too stiff to permit the weight transfer necessary for this.
The 327 was fitted with power assisted brakes
that required little pedal effort and were reassuringly free from fade or pulling to one side. Even if the ride in the 327 was firm, thankfully the reclining bucket seats were well shaped, offered good support and were perfectly suited to long hours along the highway. And inside the 327 was not such a bad place to be, with noise restricted to gearbox whine and exhaust
rumble. Induction noise from the fat, chromed air cleaner was only heard on full throttle acceleration, and wind noise was low. Boot room was generous despite the 25 gallon tank and room in the back seat was adequate for three.
Everyone knew the 327 was a competition car with competition acceleration response times and ride. It was suitable for the open highway, but not as good as the 307. Of course it is the 327 that today demands the highest prices with collectors – which is understandable given the performance and scarcity of these beautiful cars.
Racing At The Mount
Although the Monaro was destined to be a sales success, it also signalled to Ford the Generals clear intention that it would be a serious contender in production car racing - with the saying 'What wins on Sunday sells on Monday' being just as relevant in Australia as anywhere else in the world - perhaps even more so given the Aussie apetite for V8's. It wasn't long before the racing Monaro made its debut - and what a debut! - with a first race win by Tony Roberts and Bob Watson in a GTS 327 Monaro at the 1968 Sandown 3-hour enduro.
That year, the Monaro caused a Ford blood bath at Mt. Panorama, sweeping all contenders aside with a 1-2-3 finish. First was the car of Bruce McPhee and Barry Mulholland (privateers), with Jim Palmer/Phil West coming second and Tony Roberts/Bob Watson coming in third place. The Monaro had staked its claim on the Mountain, but with Ford winning the year before (1967
) it was billed as "The Decider" in 1969
. The Monaro maintained its winning form, when piloted to first position by Colin Bond and Tony Roberts. The GTHO of McPhee/Mulholland was always in close contention however, coming in 2nd place. And in third place was another Monaro, driven by Des West and a new up-coming driver, one Peter Brock
, who had recently joined Harry Firths team. The Ford verses Holden
rivalry has never diminished.