Ford may have given Australia the Falcon XR GT in 1967. But you could argue Australia’s first true muscle car didn’t sprout until a year later.
Before you burn your MOTOR collection, Ford fans, we’re not rallying the eviction of the ’67 Bathurst trophy. But if you lined up the XR against everything considered ‘muscly’ over in the States during the 60s, it’d look like a cougar trying to blend in with lions.
Ford’s Mustang, Pontiac’s GTO, Dodge’s Challenger, AMC’s Machine were the pin-ups and while these car’s weren’t defined by specifics, things like a big American V8, sloping roof, and two doors were the main markers. The latter criteria’s lost on the XR.
Australia’s first two-door coupe wrapped around an American V8 instead was the HK Monaro GTS 327, the second legendary non-Commodore in this line-up. “The new range of Holden coupes announced with typical GM-H flourish on July 22,” we said in September, 1968, “ends forever Australia’s age of motoring innocence”.
Holden’s answer to the Falcon XR GT wasn’t something ‘Mustang-bred’. It was a thoroughbred, applying the muscle maxim to its looks, performance, and spirit. Its pillar-less body was just as stiff as the sedan’s, a littler broader too, while its lines were softer and timeless compared to American counterparts.
The fact it was revealed months before the race that stops a nation was not at all a coincidence. Both Ford and Holden were very well established in Australia by then and while they knew building Aussie cars, in Australia, for Aussie people, was good for business, they also realised winning races was, too.
So the Monaro’s engineers went after the good stuff when fitting out the top model. A 327 cube Chevrolet small-block, that earned its extra capacity with bigger bores, was fitted. If anything it hinted at the fact that this was a racing special – you couldn’t have the 5.4-litre with air-conditioning.
That didn’t matter because sucking through a Rorchester covered four-barrel carbie, and blowing out a freer exhaust, it made a still-respectable-today 184kW at 4800rpm and 443Nm at 3200rpm. Holden could have dropped in the 327 and dusted its hands on a job well done, but Bathurst beckoned.
So a standard Opel-sourced four-speed was ditched for a Corvette unit, complete with close-ratio gears and short-shift throw. The floating rear-end was pinched from Camaro-Chevelle, which housed an LSD which could be specified with a wide-range of final drives. All the way from 3.08 to 4.88.
Upping grunt solved only one problem. Fatter roll-bars, stiffer rates, and torsion rods beefed up its sidestep. While the front-discs copped power assist and the fuel tank rose to 94 litres. In all the frivolity a rev-tacho was added at the bottom of the centre console and in our hands the coupe could blast to 97km/h in 7.6sec and went on to a 184km/h V-max.
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Priced $3790 in ’68, it would cost circa $50K in today’s money after inflation. Unleashed at Mount Panorama, it caught Ford with its pants down, taking first, second, third, and fifth outright. At one point it bettered the XR GT’s best laptime from the year before by 5.7 seconds – and at the race’s end left the highest-placed Ford Falcon in seventh place.
It was a crushing defeat and a defiant way to step into the ring. Australia had its first ‘muscle’ car. And Holden had its first Bathurst victory. As we’ll see with our next three legends, these milestones would change the brand and local motorsport forever.
HK Monaro GTS 327 Specs:
On sale: 1968-69
Engine: 5359cc V8, OHV, 16 valve
Power: 184kW @ 4800rpm
Torque: 443Nm @ 3200rpm
0-97 time: 7.6 seconds (claimed)