Curbside Classic: Holden HG Monaro GTS – Heavy Metal on the Grassy Plain

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One of the truly fun aspects in writing for CC is finding a car and then being able to tie various experiences or observations to it.  The fun twists itself in a savory challenge when setting out to write about a car that you have never seen nor have any prior degree of familiarity.

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image source:  www.gmauthority.com

Sure, I have seen Holden derived products.  The Chevrolet Caprice PPV is making some minor inroads with law enforcement.

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Even the Monaro derived Pontiac GTO is seen with some degree of frequency.  However, I have never viewed any car with an actual Holden nameplate.

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Holden is not a name commonly heard in these parts.  Being a resident of the incomparable State of Missouri, Holden is a name that is only heard with mention of former governor Bob Holden.  Since he was defeated in his re-election bid nearly a decade ago, the Holden name is starting to fade from memory.

The only other times I ever hear the word “Holden” are when I’m exposed to those unknowingly practicing Mangled English™; examples would be such things as “quit holden the cat by its tail” or “this bra ain’t holden me the way it used to.”  It’s just not a commonly heard word.

In that parallel automotive universe known as Australia, the word “Holden” is as commonplace as is “Chevrolet” in North America.

Holden was founded in 1856 as a saddlery manufacturer by James Alexander Holden, an English immigrant to Australia.   Established in Adelaide, Holden became a part of General Motors in 1931 and is currently based in Port Melbourne, Victoria.  Holden had sold one million cars by 1962 and would sell another half-million in the next six years, employing nearly 25,000 people by 1964.  The Holden brand has long been a fixture in the Australian and New Zealand markets (although it didn’t start to export vehicles to New Zealand until the 1950s).

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While Holden is a word  with a definite source, what in the world is a Monaro?  Yes, that purple car is a Monaro, but what does “monaro” mean?  As I learned, it is not a simple answer, but it certainly points in a particular direction.

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We all know the Aboriginal people have been in Australia infinitely longer than any European and many places in Australia have names reflective of this influence.  The official story is GM named the Monaro for the Monaro District in New South Wales.   As spelled it means “high grassy plain” or “treeless”.  However, it also appears “monaro” is a derivative of the Aboriginal word “maneroo”.  While Maneroo was the name of a 19th Century Aboriginal leader in what is now the Monaro area, the word “maneroo” can also refer to a woman’s breasts or the temperature reactive parts thereof.

Knowing this puts a different spin on this advertisement touting the Monaro as being, amongst other things, “one of the most flattering accessories a woman can have”.  Whoever wrote this ad copy is either quite naïve or profoundly sly.

Production of the Monaro is modest in comparison to North America, where tens of thousands of any given car model may be sold.  The combined population of Australia and New Zealand is quite comparable to the State of Texas and Monaro HG production of 6,147 seems rather healthy in this smaller scale market.

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The Monaro seen here is the third and final series of the Monaro’s first generation.  The Australian car market does not use model years so much as series and generations of cars; these lettered attachments make for such a rich and unpredictable alphabet soup.  In an effort to clarify the Monaro, I am providing a way (of sorts) to remember Monaro nomenclature.  Take it for what you will as we all have our way of remembering things, but it has certainly done me favours in remembering the generations.

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HK Monaro:  The original, introduced in 1968.  Upon getting the red-light for production, one co-worker looked at another and asked, “Kicking in for some amber fluid, mate?”  Thus the use of the letter K.

The HK was introduced two years after Holden became the first manufacturer in Australia to install seat belts on all it models.

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image source:  www.wikipedia.org

HT Monaro:  This replaced the HK in June 1969.  The T stands for “Ta”, Holden’s way of expressing appreciation for the initial success of the HK Monaro.

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HG Monaro:  This replaced the HT in July 1970.  If you look at this Periodic Table, Hg is the chemical symbol for mercury; Mercury is the patron god of financial gain and the Monaro line helped deliver such to Holden.

The unaccustomed, such as myself, need to find a way to make sense of it all.  For further immersion on this brew of names, Scott McPherson has a terrific explanation of the process used for the Holden Commodore here.

The primary external physical differences amongst the three series are grille and tail light treatment with the GTS badging on the HG not having the red insert in the badging.  The original HK GTS gave the choice of an upgraded 186 cubic inch straight six and a 307 cubic inch V8.  The GTS 327 had a Chevrolet sourced 327 cubic inch V8.

Later GTS models would make use of a 350 cubic inch V8  and an Australian produced 308 cubic inch V8.

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Apparently, seeing an HG Monaro GTS in a natural state (as opposed to some hideous enhancement, over-restoration, or clone) is as frequent as finding a blue lobster.  Plus, what makes this discovery even richer is this particular Monaro GTS isn’t equipped with some predictable V8.  No sirree, this goddess in non-original purple is sporting the base offering 186 cubic inch straight six!  This was not just any ordinary six banger; no, this 186 is one of the upgraded 186S engines, a power plant  that is rare among the ranks of the Monaro GTS legion.

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This S makes for a stupendous, savory, seductive symphony of straight-six sound sure to stimulate salivation.  Australia knows how to make a durable and powerful straight six; having only about 500 ml of oil in the crankcase likely wouldn’t stop this old girl from making a blazing trail across the Outback.  Combine this durability with it being a General Motors engine, where maintenance schedules are merely an idle suggestion, and this 186S engine is appealing on a number of levels.

Take such mechanical goodness, wrap it up in a curvy and attractive shell; it’s no wonder the Monaro GTS is viewed so fondly by our friends in Australia.  The reason for the fondness is quite obvious.

One of the best elements about being involved at CC is the profound exposure to cars from other countries combined with the cornucopia of experiences everyone has had with them.  An ongoing theme is the resemblance of cars from North America to those from Australia – and vice versa.  However, where I will find an Australian car to have design influences from multiple North American manufacturers combined with unique traits, this Monaro does not seem to mimic anything from North America.

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Examination might produce a quick whiff of something, like the shape of the window curving toward the C-pillar might momentarily resemble a ’72 Olds Cutlass.  Yet as soon as the resemblance is there it quickly disappears.  The chrome trim around the headlights may give off a Nova vibe but then it quickly morphs into Dodge Aspen lite, only to morph again into something unique to my eye.  The engine emblem, seen above, is undeniably GM derived, but it is still special unto itself.

I find myself drawn to this Monaro much like a koala is drawn to a eucalyptus tree.  Fawning over a car isn’t something I do very often, so this Monaro certainly appeals to me in unexpected ways.

If I ever get to Australia, I want to drive the tar out of a Monaro be it a GTS or plain-jane base model.  If I can learn to shift with my left hand, that is.

(Special thanks to Don Andreina for providing pictures of this Holden Monaro.)

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