Australian Performance: Holden Monaro


This is what most Americans identify as a true muscle car and it even came stateside for a short time.

For some Americans, the Australian tendency to build their muscle cars with four doors seems strange. Well, this one should make you happy. The classic Holden Monaro is very much the sort of car that Americans think of when they think of muscle cars, and the modern version was deemed neo-muscle car enough to have been sold in the US as the so-called reborn Pontiac GTO, short-lived though it may have been. Still, the effort was their and the engine was right.

The Monaro debuted in 1968, and though it was a completely different design than any of GM's American cars, a number of Chevrolet-sourced engines were used. This included the top-trim GTS 327 trim of 1968, which as you may have guessed used Chevy's 327 V8 engine. This was replaced by the 350 V8 in 1969, and the trim became the GTS 350. The car would have a number of racing successes as well, including that all-important win at Bathurst in 1968. It was named Car of the Year for 1968 by the Australian car magazine Wheels. The classic Monaro would last only until 1971, when it was replaced by a completely redesigned body style.

The for the 1971 Monaro, Holden gave the car an even more aggressive and muscle car type of look. That is, with one noted exception, the addition of two more doors. A coupe version was still offered, but if you wanted it, you could buy it in muscle sedan form. This is the kind of thing which has driven American muscle car enthusiasts nuts, for example with the new Charger, but it's something which Australians seem oddly indifferent to. A V8 and rear-wheel-drive are essential, but the number of doors is fairly inconsequential. Just as they had in America, Australian muscle cars would enter a decline starting in 1974.

By 1976, the Monaro was effectively dead, and production would end completely in 1977. Since the Monaro was a unique model, and not a hot version of a mainstream car, reintroducing the model to the lineup would take a long time. When the nameplate was finally revived in 2001, it would essentially be a coupe version of the Commodore sedan in order to help keep development costs down. This was derived from the Zeta platform, one modified by Holden from the European-market Opel Omega B, a car which had been sold in the US as the Cadillac Catera.

Two engines were offered, one being a supercharged 3.8-liter V6, the same one found in several American cars at the time, including the Pontiac Bonneville SSEi and Grand Prix GTP. The other was a 5.7-liter V8, which also came from America. The styling was less aggressive than previous models, but it was still sold in quite a few different markets. The US-market version of the Monaro would wear a badge held dear by many Americans, that of the Pontiac GTO. This version of the Monaro is interesting, not only to us as Americans, but also for what it taught GM.

The GTO was introduced to the US in 2004, by which time interest in muscle cars had reached a high not seen since the early Seventies. GM looked at the Monaro, recognized that they had a very good platform, and brought it over to meet this increased demand. GM seemed to think that the name and V8 alone would sell car, but naturally there were a couple of problems with this. First, they styling was bland, making the GTO look more like a big, expensive Grand Prix than a proper muscle car. The other problem was the overreliance on that name. Dealers anticipated a high demand for a new GTO, even this one, and big premiums were added to the already high price.

Test drives weren't allowed by most dealers, and by the end of the first year of sales, these same dealers had gone from adding big premiums to offering big discounts to anyone still willing to take one off their hands. The problems with the styling were exacerbated as one car after another came out from competing companies which simply did the neo-muscle car better. The 300, Charger, and fifth generation Mustang, the LS2-equipped, 400-hp '05 and '06 GTO could outrun any of them, but it just didn't matter. The competing cars looked better and were also cheaper.

The Monaro would end production in 2006, with the final car off the assembly line sent to America. GM would try again in 2009 with the current Camaro, but this time they did it right. The styling is spot on, and even though the platform was designed in Australia, the cars are actually assembled in North America, thus keeping the down versus importing fully-built cars. This is a car which is so popular that exports had to be delayed because GM couldn't build them fast enough to meet the demand just in America. The Monaro is one of those great examples of how similar the Australian and American markets can be, even if they do drive on the other side of the road.

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