The HK Monaro, released the 22nd July 1968, owed its existance to Holden's Technical Developement Centre, established in 1964, and its American founding staff's enthusiasm. American Joe Schemansky set to work on the HR facelift as styling director but a tribe of the new GMH young guns were set loose on developing other new Holdens.
It was the first real Australian 'sports car' although Ford had beaten Holden to the punch with already offering a V8 in a sporty version of it's four-door Falcon called the GT. Some experts consider the Monaro to have been the most important car in the history of the Holden V8 even though it was sourced from the U.S.A. Holden when releasing the Monaro sent out the clear intention to Ford that not only was it going out there to be competitive, but it was going out there to win races and this it did at it's first meeting. The feirce rivalry between Ford and Holden off the track was sparked with both marques having moved into the 'muscle car' market with products that were the same as what the public saw on the race track. Bathurst was seen as the perfect marketing tool for these new muscle cars as the the race was for production cars and the cars on track were virtualy the same as you could buy in the showroom of your local dealer. If a car won on Sunday it sold on Monday and both GM-H and Ford wanted to cash in the perception that the cars were identical to the race cars. This was not true as they were sold with a tolerance +5% or -5%, this way the street version recieved the -5% and the race versions recived +5% performance.
Holden's stylists had already come up with the HK series and it had about as much grace as a worn old sandshoe. To expect, and indeed introduce the coupe from this model was a huge challenge for the new group of stylists. The original production Monaro coupe roofline was so striking that even the blunt HK front looked like it belonged to something that actuatually moved. The new coupe had such an impact on Holdens of the day because the HK four door sedan looked so ordinary. John Schinella, a young American stylist rapidly shot up Holden's ranks to become assistant to Schemansky, is credited for much of the inspiration in the first Monaro. Ted Schroder, another American import is also acknowledged for the finer points of the Monaro style.Interior designer Marjorie Schroder, wife of Ted, added the stitch patterns, inserts, centre consoles and other trm choices that were far superior to the HR series Holden. The alien invasion as the stylists were known as had strong links to Oldsmobile. The HK Monaro shared the Oldsmobile Tornado's same rear pillar design that blended seemlessly into the rear quarter panels. The rear wheel arch blisters and the almost constant slope from rear windows to boot were also Tornado features that were incororated into the Monaro.The pillarless sweep of the rear side windows can be seen in the Oldsmobile Cutlass Holiday hardtop. Schroder and Schinella's details included the first Aussie designed full wheel covers with all the elaborite badge work and blackouts of the day. The stainless steel covers tended to come loose at the slightest bump and cut the fingers when cleaning but they looked the goods.Paint filled wheel arch accents, grille and tail panel blackouts and the loud GTS striping brougt even the base model Monaro six cylinder to life.
There were no less than 19 Monaro engine and transmission combinations ranging fronm the 161 ci Aussie red six to three on the tree to the classic Chevrolet powered 327ci V8 Bathurst Monaro with four on the floor. It came eqiuipped as the base Monaro (Kingswood) or the GTS. Given the limitations of standard drum brakes and handling, the feeble entry level 161 was as relevant to many Holden buyers as the most powerful V8 models. The Monaro shared the same 111 inch wheelbase as the sedan that was lengthened to match the XR Falcon. It was always a big car and remained a different concept from the chopped wheelbase of the Valliant Charger.
The first run of the Holden Monaro was one of the shortest in Holden history and explains why such unusual option mixes are hard to find. Buyers of the HK Monaro GTS, especially the much sought after HK327 "Bathurst" GTS should take care to make sure that the car they are purchasing is the real McCoy as by now many started there life as an entry level Monaro.
Not long after the first Monaros hit the streets, the GTS 327 began to be hurled around Australian racetracks with sensational success. A first-up win by Tony Roberts and Bob Watson in a GTS 327 Monaro at the 1968 Sandown 3-hour enduro set the scene for Bruce McPhee and Barry Mulholland to pilot their Warwick Yellow Monaro to victory in the '68 Hardie-Ferodo 500 at Bathurst. Named for its 5.3 litre 327 Chevrolet V8, this gutsy performer sported a Chevrolet Saginaw four-speed manual transmission, bigger wheels and tyres, a larger fuel tank and improved engine cooling. The first 'Great Race' proved a clean sweep for the Monaro marque, with the combinations of Jim Palmer/Phil West and Tony Roberts/Bob Watson claiming second and third for a classic all-Holden, all-Monaro podium finish. The following year, Monaro again proved its mettle, with Colin Bond and Tony Roberts claiming victory and the young Peter Brock, also driving a Monaro, finishing third. The Mount Panorama circuit proved a fitting battleground for the fastback coupe named after an Aboriginal word meaning 'high plateau' or 'high place'.
These successes fuelled the now-traditional Holden/Ford racetrack rivalry and earned Holden the Bathurst 'King of the Mountain' title it retains to this day. The popularity of the Monaro remained high throughout its model life and its legions of admirers keep theflame burning bright. Over the Easter 2000 break ,more than 10,000 enthusiasts turned up over four days for the "Monaros in the Millennim bash at Wangaratta, Victoria. Over three hundred lovingly cared-for, restored and modified Monaros - the biggest collection ever gathered in one place - basked in their admiration.
This represented the birth af the magical Monaro era that was to run to the release of the HX Holden Monaro and LE Coupe in 1976 for the purists but actually ended in 1980 with the demise of the HZ GTS.
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