1968 Year In Review

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Ford Falcon XR GT
The legend that began the Falcon GT started with the XR in 1968.

Holden HK
A new word would enter the Australian venacular, the Kingswood replacing the Special. Bruce Mcavaney would have been so disappointed.

Holden HK

Only those that read the newspapers knew the new model HK was beating the offering from the Blue Oval at a rate of 2 to 1.

Holden HK Monaro
Beautiful from any angle, the HK Monaro.

Holden HK V8 Commercial

V8-manship makes sense. What the?

Toyota Corolla Coupe
Introduced in 1968, the Corolla has remained extremely popular to this day, particularly with Grandma's all over the country, and those not into V8 manship.

Iso-Rivolta
1968 would see John Lennon trade his psychedelic Roller for a Iso-Rivolta.

2001 - A Space Odessey
The wonderful 2001 A Space Odessey would be released, a true Kubrick classic.

The XR Falcon



In 1968 the XR Falcon model began the legend that was to be the GT. This family car muscled out 225HP thanks to the 289 Windsor V8. The start of the Falcon GT's was only sold in one colour - Gold. 596 of these made it into production. The GT versions of the Falcon are probably the most famous of the breed, and certainly among the most desirable and collectable today.

What inspired Ford of Australia to produce such a car can be reduced to a single word: Bathurst. In its early years, the annual 500 mile race at the mountain road course of Mount Panorama attracted many entrants driving a wide variety of foreign and domestic cars, including the first purpose built local Ford ‘race’ car, the Cortina GT500. But Ford wanted to showcase their domestic product, and with the Victoria Police requesting Ford build pursuit specials, it was logical that the GT would evolve.

The HK Holden



1968 would see the General release the all-new Holden HK - arguably the most ambitious series to date, bringing a large array of additional models and new mechanical features including an imported V8 engine. The HK also introduced the soon-to-be famous “Kingswood” name for the volume-selling model. The HK was bigger, lower, heavier and more rounded in appearance.

The two major model additions were the Brougham luxury variant and the Monaro sports coupe. The V8 engine was available on all models and proved such a success that a significant number of Holden buyers were still specifying 'bent-iron' engines more than 20 years later.

Obviously for fans of Unique and Classic cars, it was the sleek, pillarless two-door Monaro that was the highlight of the range. Introduced six months after the rest of the HK range, it would quickly take 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 new Monaro boasted potent performance and looked every inch the part with its long, wide body, flared wheel arches and sweeping roofline modelled on the Oldsmobile Tornado. Of the three Monaro models released, the most sought after then, and now, was the potent 'Bathurst-bred' GTS 327, fitted with a US-built 5.3-litre V8.

The Premier and Brougham



While the upmarket Premier was retained (and featured a different roofline to lesser models), the General released an extended version of the HK sedan, the Brougham, in July. It was over 20 inches longer than the Premier and featured the Chevrolet-built '307' V8 engine, automatic transmission, power steering and the most plush Hoiden interior to-date.

The Brougham name would be dropped in favour of Statesman from the HQ onwards, making the Brougham a rather difficult car to obtain, particularly one in good condition. Much like the Ford Landau, this lesser known Aussie car was one of the first to become collectable and, naturally, remains highly sought after today.

1968 would see Torana bodies being made in Australia for the first time, while work progresses on a V8 engine plant at Fishermans Bend. And just when it seemed things couldn't get any better for the General, Bruce MePhee and Barry Mulholland, driving a Monaro, won the Hardie-Ferodo 1000, giving Holden its first victory in the annual Bathurst endurance race.

The Holden Monaro



The base model Monaro did not sport a beefy V8, rather it was powered by the run of the mill Holden red six engines. For many, that made it hard for the Monaro to justify its sporting image. On paper, admittedly, it was hard to see how a Monaro six could hope to pace it with even the more mundane but considerably lighter four door sedan. The coupe's pillarless styling has resulted in a weight penalty of more than 200 pounds over the sedan brought about mainly by additional structural work around the underbody area and theoretically this should have been reflected in performance figures. Suprisingly, it was not.

If you were going to save some coin and opt for the smaller engine, the pick of the bunch was undoubtedly the mildly warm 186S. In standard form, all six-cylinder Monaros were mated to an all-synchromesh three speed gearbox which was adequate, but not exciting. From the drivers point of view, the six-cylinder Monaro didn't feel all that different to a stock Holden sedan - the bucket seats were the same as those available in the sedan, dash, steering wheel and trim were indentical and the gear lever had the same long, floppy movement. In fact, behind the wheel it was easy to forget that you were driving Holden's then-latest new generation jet-setter.

While the base models of "Australia's first sports machine" may not have been quite what the advertisements wanted you to believe, these cheaper versions did come with ome practical appeal - and they were not all that slow either - when fitted with the 186S engine, that is. Capable of cracking the ton (or 102 mph to be precise) with a relatively short run-up and covered the standing quarter mile in 18.3 seconds - 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.

As tempting as saving some coin on the engine may have been, in the transmission department any Monaro should have been optioned with the four speed manual gearbox, and these proved to be the most popular in the Monaro range. 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 was decidedly unsporting!

Pricewise, the basic Monaro came very close to the Kingswood and threw in a few items listed as optional on the sedan to boot. The October 1968 basic Monaro price 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 was priced to sway a lot of potential Kingswood buyers. But by forking out those few extra dollars for a Monaro, you didn't really get an instant sports car. To get anything like sporty performance and handling, a deeper delve into the pocket was necessary.

Other options commonly ordered, apart from the aforementioned 186S engine, were power disc brakes, limited slip differential, a reclining mechanism on the bucket seats, heater/demister and radio. All of which made for comfortable motoring but upped the price to $3,007.50. But the wise money was spent on the four-on-the-floor option. The stock column mounted 3-on-the-tree version had a poor spread of the intermediate ratios, which hindered acceleration above 60 mph. First ran out of valve-bouncing breath at 33 mph and second could just manage a panting 60 mph and all this activity was controlled by the cumbersome, floppy, column lever. Terrible. However, the 145 bhp motor managed to put most of its power to good effect despite this handicap, and acceleration times, as mentioned earlier, were quite brisk.

Due possibly to a lower centre of gravity, the Monaro 6 handled marginally better than the HK sedan - around .4 of a second faster than a similarly engined 186S HK sedan fitted with the the same type of tyres. Ploughing understeer was easily induced when approaching a sharp corner at fairly high speed, while 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.

Some road testers lamented that GMH, and for that matter the other members of the Big Three (Ford and Chrysler) had not invested in the design of a better rear axle location. On corrugated roads, for example, 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 performed a lot better in these conditions than some of its rivals. As for the power assisted disc/ drum brakes, these could take some punishment although continued abuse would see the right front pads suffering from overheating after a time.

So what can we say about the Monaro 6? It was not the growling, 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. The main attraction was obviously the competitive price - but that lower cost of entry was best avoided if your budget did not extend to the 4 speed gearbox. We seriously doubt any survivng Monaro's have the stock 3 speed still installed - but we have been wrong before.

The Monaro 327



The 327 Monaro was an absolute beast of a car. Designed for the track, provided the bitumen was as smooth as a billiard table, this thing was, for the time, arguably the best Australian car built. The problem was, on rougher road surfaces (which, believe it or not, there were more of back in 1968), things were not quite so serene. There was strong understeer exaggerated by the front tyres which were still being scrubbed in and the spring rates were 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.

Even for an experienced driver, this made accurate car placement difficult on uneven surfaces and when bumps were encountered in mid corner, the nose would jiggle outwards off line. 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.

From a standing start on a wet pavement, the Monaro had to be taken away very gently or it would spin its wheels uselessly. Brakes of the GTS 327 worked efficiently whenever called upon. Power assisted, they required little pedal effort and were reassuringly free from fade or pulling to one side. This combination of hard ride, and tricky handling on bumps proved to any lucky owners that their new steed, the GTS 327, was primarily a racing car. (That is if the 25 gallon, baffled fuel tank didn't).

Behind the wheel the ride of the GTS 327 was very firm but the reclining bucket seats were well shaped, offered good support and after hours at the wheel would not produce any discomfort. Noise inside the car was confined to gearbox whine and exhaust rumble. Induction noise from the fat, chromed air cleaner only intruded on full throttle acceleration - something attempted with caution even if it was not wet. Wind noise was low. Boot room was generous despite the 25 gallon tank and room in the back seat was adequate for three.

So, the GTS 327 was really a competition car with competition accelerator response and ride. It was really only marginally suitable for road use given the types of surfaces experienced by the driver of 1968. Of course, there was another Monaro version that seemed to be, at least when being used as a daily drive, just that little bit easier to live with. That car was the Monaro 307.

The Monaro 307 5 Litre



If there is an image of a Monaro that you best remember, perhaps because of all the publicity shots from the time, we think that car would be the Monaro GTS, Warwick Yellow with Black Trim - iconinc. The 307 V8 version ran a tallish 3.36:1 rear axle ratio; basic price was $3090 but the options fitted jumped that price up - 307, 5 litre V8 engine, 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, would result in a total cost of $3696.80.

The centre console mounted tachometer has become such a feature of the revered HK Monaro, but many drivers from the time claimed it to be completely useless - the position forced on GM designers by a lack of space elsewhere, is was almost dangerous as it required the driver to take their eyes from the road. Perhaps way less than current phone addiction and the resultant loss of concentration. The rearward vision was not particularly good on the four door HK models, but was 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 - not really recommended.

But that is aboout all the criticism there was for the Monaro. Seating, both in front and rear compartments was excellent; rear head-room was ample and far better than anyone had anticipated when they first layed eyes on the pre-release production photos; interior finish was as good as anything both here and internationally at that price point, and the exterior appearance was really something. Even today, it looks fast and designed with purpose. The E-Type Jaguar may have been voted the most beautiful car ever build, but damn it if the HK Monaro was not far behind.

Importantly on a 2-door car, the rear compartment 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 was little with which to find fault. Basically an understeering vehicle, the 307 coupe was very predictable and on tight corners the understeer will eventually switch to oversteer which can be quickly corrected. There was no word for the suspension other than firm, very firm. 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; get one wheel in the dirt and the other on bitumen and there would be little penalty in acceleration time difference. Considering the car 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 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, power assisted 10.7 inch discs up front and drums at the rear, were adequate for high speed touring and were relatively fade free - particularly when judged against the opposition of the day.

Fuel consumption was surprisingly good with 20 mpg coming up under "in town" conditions and the figure only falling to 15 mpg under very hard highway driving. The 327 may have been the car may lusted after, but the 307 engined version (with a manual shift rather than automatic) was easier to live with day-to-day, still offered copious amounts of power and roadholding, and of course had the all important V8. If you are reading these Unique Cars and Parts "chronicles" of years past, you must remember that in 1968, it was only 20 years earlier that the first Holden rolled off the production lines - and it had virtually no options. In the preceding 20 years, GM-H managed to offer, for the small size of the Australian market, an enormous range of cars including the very sporty Morano coupes. The "people's car" has indeed come a long way.

The Toyota Corolla



1968 would mark the year that Toyota would introduce one of Australia's, if not the world's, most popular cars - the Toyota Corolla. By then, Toyota was rapidly gaining a reputation for building innovative, reliable and quality built affordable cars, while the British car manufacturers were quickly gaining a reputation for building yester-tech unreliable and underpowered jalopies.

Toyota fans who had been refraining from reaching for chequebooks for some months finally had the "hot" version of the popular Corolla is available mid-year. Developed by A.M.I, at its Port Melbourne plant, the "SL" turned out to be a slightly more luxurious Corolla with about 10% more pep, which sold at roughly the same price as the then current automatic version. The extra power output of about 7 bhp was achieved by improving the breathing and by fitting a free flow extractor exhaust system - torque, too, was up slightly over the standard Corolla.

All this meant that the already agile Corolla had been given a performance boost that put it even further ahead of its rivals but it was still far from being a Cooper eater. From the outside, the SL was fairly readily indentified. Full wheel trims, badges and a matt black panel across the rear all served to warn other road users that this was no ordinary Corolla. A.M.I also offered a special Porsche-type yellow which was only available with the SL model. The interior, too, was paid some attention; the perforated vinyl material was cross-stitched and instrumentation included an 8000 rpm tachometer mounted on top of the dash.

Mechanical specifications, with the exception of the exhaust system, remained the same as with the standard Corolla - that meant that disc front brakes were yet to come to light (a pity) and wheels and tyres, too, were identical to the standard car. Road testers of the era were quite impressed. On the road, it was quiet and vibration-free and there was none of the throaty resonance that you would usually expect with easy-breathing exhaust systems. The gearbox had the same ratios and synchro on second was somewhat slow. The engine's ability to rev and its good pickup from low rpm was quite exceptional for a mildly modified 1.1 litre car of this era.

Limiting rpm to 6500, we managed 25 mph in first, 47 mph in second, and 70 mph in third. The car ran to an indicated 85 mph in top very quickly before running out of road, and the manufacturer's claim of 93 mph would seem to be fairly spot-on. 0-50 was claimed by A.M.I, to come up in 9.3 seconds, 60 mph in 13.3 seconds and the standing } mile in 19.5 seconds.

In other motoring news, the sales figures for 1967 are released, showing that 430,379 motor vehicles were sold in Australia; The latest edition of the UBD Sydney street directory shows about 25,000 streets in the city spread out over 862 square miles; John Lennon traded in his psychedelic Rolls-Royce Phantom V for a 230 kmh Iso-Rivolta; Young Aussie racing drivers Greg Cusack, Leo Geoghegan, Kevin Bartlett and John Harvey are tipped as stars of the future.

The 15th New Zealand Grand Prix



New Zealand's world champion racing driver, Denis Hulme, was rushed by ambulance to hospital after a collision with Southlander, Laurence Brownlie in the closing stages of the 15th NZ Grand Prix at Pukekohe in January. Hulme had concussion and lacerations to the face; Brownlie had a broken leg and foot and severe shock. Chris Amon (NZ) won the Grand Prix after a magnificent drive in his red Ferrari Y6 2.4 litre racer. It was the 23 year old international drivers' first major win in a single seat racing car. Amon hounded Jim Clark in the Lotus-Ford V8 for 45 laps until Clark's motor failed, then went on to a comfortable win at the end of 58 laps of the 1.7 mile circuit.

The finish of the race was dampened by the accident in the 56th lap in which Hulme, at the time lying third to Amon and Australian Frank Gardner in the Brabham Alfa V8, collided with the smaller Brabham-Ford driven by Brownlie. Hulme, driving a Brabham-Ford 1600cc car, had performed remarkably to keep the small car up with the leaders. He came up on Brownlie along pit straight and was unable to pass him before reaching the long back straight, although he attempted to pass at the Railway Corner.

According to eye-witnesses, Hulme was passing Brownlie towards the end of the back straight when the cars touched wheels. A race official said Hulme's car appeared to climb straight over the back of Brownlie's who spun off to the left, hitting a pole and skidding along a fence, while Hulme's car went to the right and hit a wire safety fence. Pieces of both cars were spread along the track for about 200 feet. Immediately after the accident, an inquiry was instigated.

Hulme's removal from the race left Australian Frank Gardner secure from threat in second place, and the British driver, Piers Courage, was rewarded for his persistence by taking third in his little McLaren Ford F2 car. Jim Palmer of Hamilton (NZ) put up a tremendous performance to come from a late start, a quarter of a lap behind, and finish fourth. He had fluffed the start and the field was over 18 seconds away before he got off the grid. Next came Australian Paul Bolton, by then living in New Zealand, who had not been able to stave off Palmer with his ageing 2.5 Brabham-Climax (the car which Hulme drove in 1967).

Forced out early in the race by clutch and fuel trouble in the V12 BRM, New Zealander, Bruce McLaren wasn't at all happy with the performance and reliability of the car. He said he wasn't able to drive fast enough to notice how the track was, and summed up the drive as "disgusting". Chris Amon led away from the start, but the lead didn't last long. By the time he and Clark were halfway along the back straight, the green Lotus had shot past the red Ferrari. Amon was not to be shaken off so easily - grimly he stuck to the tail of the Lotus for lap after lap, never more than a couple of hundred yards behind.

Although Clark has the edge on sheer speed, Amon was matching the double world champion in handling all the way - and sometimes he was outhandling the Flying Scotsman. By the fifth lap, the green Lotus and red Ferrari were lapping the tail of the field, and Clark was recording laps of better than 101 mph. They had opened up a gap of several hundred yards on the next trio, Gardner, Rodriguez (BRM V8) and Hulme, who in turn were clear of McLaren (BRM V12) and Courage (F2) with Bolton a half lap behind. Meanwhile, Palmer, left stalled on the grid, was cutting his way through the field and had, by this time, reached 12th place, closing rapidly on the 1.5 litre leaders.

In this smaller class, Brownlie had taken the lead from Roly Levis and Graeme Lawrence in similar cars, the order changing later to give Lawrence second place in the class. Aucklander Peter Yock, spun his Lotus BRM off at Railway Corner and holed the radiator; Levis also spun, letting Lawrence through, and at the same time Rodriguez called into the pits for his first clutch adjustment.

Clark put in a race record lap of 60.2 seconds, just under 105 mph, but it was Amon who kept the pressure on to turn in a lap of 59.9 seconds, becoming the first to break the "magic barrier" of one minute in race conditions. By this time, McLaren's race was finished, and a couple of minutes later so was Rodriguez' in the two litre BRM V8. On lap 30, the leader was still Clark with Amon in close attendance, both well clear of Gardner and Hulme.

Courage had been lapped by all four, and Bolton and Palmer (now seventh) had also been lapped. At this stage of the race it looked as though everything was settling down, and it was only a matter of Clark holding off Amon. The first touch of drama came when Clark's motor sounded rough coming past the pits on the 45th lap. His hand went up in the air as he rounded the sweeping stables curve and he ran onto the grass and stopped with suspected timing gear breakage.

Then Palmer and Bolton received the attention. They had a tremendous dice until the Hamilton driver passed the Australian into fourth spot - his usual spot in the NZ Grand Prix races. On lap 50 only Amon, Gardner and Hulme were on the same lap, with Amon slackening his headlong pace and Hulme creeping up on Gardner who was experiencing mild electrical problems. Caught in the slower traffic, Hulme lost a little ground on lap 56, then moved up to pass Brownlie on the back straight.

He was overtaking Brownlie on the slight bend where the cars begin to brake when the accident occured, putting paid to his chances of bringing a small, underpowered car into a major placing. Palmer held off Bolton to the finish, and following Brownlie's removal from the scene Lawrence moved up to sixth place and first 1.5 litre car home. The New Zealand Grand Prix was watched by about 37,000 people in brilliant weather.

Formula One Championship:

Graham Hill (Britain) / Lotus-Ford

1968 Bathurst Winner:

Bruce McPhee & Barry Mulholland / Holden Monaro GTS 327

NRL Grand Final:



VFL/AFL Grand Final:



Melbourne Cup:

Rain Lover (J. Johnson)

Wimbledon Women:

Billie Jean King d. J. Tegart (9-7 7-5)

Wimbledon Men:

Rod Laver d. T. Roche (6-3 6-4 6-2)

The Movies:

  • Bullitt (number #1 in our Top 5 Car Chase Movies)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Funny Girl
  • The Lion in Winter
  • Oliver!
  • Barefoot in the Park
  • You Only Live Twice
  • Camelot

Gold Logie:

Brian Henderson (Bandstand, Nine)

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture - Oliver!
  • Best Actor - Cliff Robertson (Charly)
  • Best Actress - Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl)

The Charts:

  1. Hey Jude - The Beatles
  2. Those Were The Days - Mary Hopkin
  3. Star Crossed Lovers - Neil Sedaka
  4. Scarborough Fair - Sergio Mendes
  5. Love Is Blue - Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
  6. White Room - Cream
  7. Macarthur Park - Richard Harris
  8. To Sir With Love - Lulu
  9. Love Child - Diana Ross & The Supremes
  10. Honey - Bobby Goldsboro

Farewells:

  • Jim Clark (Arguably the greatest F1 Driver - ever)
  • John Coltrane (Jazz musician)
  • Woody Guthrie (Folk musician and artist)
  • Langston Hughes (American Poet)
  • Alice B. Toklas (American literary figure)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. (American civil-rights leader)
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