The HT Monaro upgrade exhibited even more of the self-assured and extroverted attitude of the people who chose to drive it. The most dramatic change in the HT facelift was a new multi-louvred plastic grille with a raised centre section and Monaro black-outs.
The GTS had bold centre bonnet stripes in black or gold, flanked by new bonnet scoops. The scoops did little to assist in cooling the motor, and were purely a design element in helping differentiate the updated Monaro. Interestingly, the same style was applied to the new Monaro nearly 40 years later.
The HT also featured beefier two-section taillights separated by a blacked-out tail panel, thicker side stripes and black sills that made the GTS look even sleeker. The larger tail lights of the HT were considered a priority by designers, and Phil Zmood is credited with creating the major design elements of the new model.
Wild new colours included Sebring Orange and Daytona Bronze were now available, and a full set of circular instruments replaced the HK's console-mounted tacho
and strip style speedo
. More contoured bucket seats with optional houndstooth check cloth inserts and a 'grippier' steering
wheel were in keeping with the HT's added refinement and special detailing. A new Y-frame engine cradle and neoprene front suspension
bushes isolated harshness from the cabin.
The track was widened and fatter rubber bushings in the rear leaf spring eyes matched the gains in the front. The HT was also first to get the Aussie V8, initially as a 253
(4.2 litre), and for many Monaro buyers, it was the perfect choice. With all the design changes incorporated into the HT lineup, the base HT Monaro lost some of its exclusivity. Now all models - from the Belmont up - were given a Monaro-inspired styling flow from the rear window to the boot. Indeed this new look would ultimately spell the end of the Coupe.
As the Holden sedans progressively lost their stiff rear quarter styling and gained more performance options, a deficit of two doors would soon become the Monaro's main distinguishing feature! The Aussie built 253
(4.2 litre) was initially mated to a 3-speed column shift manual with a "Powerglide
" 2 speed auto option available. The 5.0 litre 308 V8
version was introduced as Chevrolet 307 stocks ran out. Chevrolet's new 350 (5.7 litre) V8, which came in different auto and manual specifications, arrived later, giving engineers extra time to 'fine tune' the GTS 350 sports suspension
so it could be the first Holden to offer low profile radial tyres
as an option.
The limited build GTS 350 manual could also be ordered with rally wheels, another Holden first. In 1969, the first year under Harry Firth, Holden Dealer Team Monaro 350s came first (Bond/Roberts) and third (West/Brock) outright in the Hardie Ferodo 500 at Bathurst. HT GTS motor sport victories in 1970 included the Surfer's Paradise 12-hour race (Bond/Roberts), and the Australian Touring Car Championship (Beechey). At the time, there were some who mourned the passing of the HK's raw and more direct feel, although such criticism was usually only levelled at the lesser Monaro's. The GTS-350 had many commentators of the day putting it ahead of the mighty GT Falcon, sighting the very sorted suspension
tweaks and low profile radial tyres
as far superior to the Dunlop Aquajets then being fitted to the XW.
GTS 327 vs. GTS 350
There was no doubting the HK GTS 327 was a good car. In historical context, it was the General's first attempt at a worthy opponent to the GT Falcon
, and it more than proved its mettle on the race track - but - as a road car it was something less than perfect. Uncomfortable to ride in on anything other than a freeway type bitumen surface, heavy to handle at anything other than racing speeds, and very noisy at pretty near any given point. Still 1968 was GM-H's initial endeavor in this field and the FoMoCo folk already had a couple of years' development on them.
The HT GTS 350 went a long way to addressing the shortcomings of the HK 327, leastwise making it a car that would have been easier to live with on a day-to-day basis. Externally it was almost identical to the lesser engined GTS cars and the only points which gave it away were twin driving lights, dual exhaust
pipes and, naturally, the 350 badge. The story was much the same inside with the interior following standard GTS lines.
But the big news was with the then new 350 V8.
This engine developed 300 bhp at 4800 rpm, which was ten horsepower up on the GT Falcon
, while the torque figure of 380 ft. lbs. was 5 ft., lbs. down on the opposition - in short the two "big bangers'' were almost identical in power output and these specifications were borne out in test performance figures. Most road testers found the GTS 350 fractionally quicker than the GT up to 80 mph, but at 100 mph they were again almost identical.
GTS 350 vs. GT Falcon
From zero to 50 mph took 5.2 in the GTS, 6.3 in the GT; to 80 mph occupied 12.5 in the GTS and 13.1 in the GT; to 90 mph was 16 seconds dead in the GTS and 16.3 in the GT and the magical "ton" came up in 20.1 for the GTS and 20.3 for the GT. The General's product was fastest over the quarter mile, taking only 15.6 sees, as against the Ford's 16.1. Roadgrip was better with the GTS, the tyres
obtaining better traction off the line and acceleration commencing with a minimum of wheelspin.
And while the two cars were a mile apart in appearance, they were almost identical in many important specifications. The wheelbase of the GTS was 111 inches, the GT Falcon
was the same; length of the GTS is 184.8, the GT was .2 inches shorter; GTS front track was 58.38 and the GT was 58,9; rear track was GTS - 58.38, the GT - 58.5. Obviously designers in both the Blue and Red corners shared similar ideas of what was required to make performance cars.
Behind the Wheel
Like the GTS 327, the seating position for the driver still left something to be desired and even with the seat on full rearward travel it was impossible to obtain anything approaching a straight-arm position. Instrumentation was greatly improved by the relocation of the tacho ahead of the driver. The comprehensive range of gauges were located in two small dials, one to the left and one to the right of the main panel - and these were easily read; controls are also reached without effort, although the handbrake was still well removed from the reach of a safety-belted driver - a time before the inertia reel seatbelt.
The stubby gearshift lever was centre console mounted, positive although very notchy in action, and clutch operation was both heavy and noisy. But the gearbox in the GTS 350 car was a 100% improvement on the unit fitted in to the GTS 253. The brakes
on the GTS 350 were also better than those on the HK, well able to handle the car's 125 mph plus performance - for most private owners. The same could not be said of track going versions, as experienced by luckless driver Spencer Martin, who had the brakes
of his 350 vanish completely as he approached Shell Corner during the 1969
Sandown 3-Hour - with dire consequences. Strangely, an identical happening in 1968's 3-Hour event robbed the Perfectune entered 327 of the race lead, although in the Bathurst race the cars circulated with very little brake trouble of any sort.
Better Suspension Tune
Suspension, with stiffer shockers, heavy duty stabilizer bar up front and rear radius rods was harsher than with the "normal" GTS range - but it was a major improvement on the HK's spine-shortening ride. Naturally enough, both cornering and general handling
were well above average with a quite controllable tail-out attitude being easily provoked by cautious use of the accelerator. By 1969
both the GTS 350 and Falcon GT were shod with Dunlop's E700HR "Aquajet" tyres, but many road testers felt the GTS 350 had the edge with its suspension
tune. As was the case with the previous model, the rear vision of the GTS was woeful.
Today we all know just how collectable the GTS 350 is. Take away the historical context, and the HT was a better car than was the 327, in so much as it was one you could live with day to day, and was not an all-out track special. It still retained the good looks, was as equally hard performing, was great value and at a pinch could even double as a family sedan. Even now, over 40 years since its release, It remains the type of car which is appreciated by a good driver, provided that driver realises its potential power and is capable of keeping this power under sensible control - in a car devoid of computer aided anything.