Looking very much the way it did when it left the factory, this time-warp Monaro runs a rare 307 powertrain
It really doesn’t matter where your brand loyalties lie, seeing this 53-year-old V8 coupe roll into sight and park a few metres away is something to stir the soul. Pretty much the epitome of that old chestnut, "They don’t make ’em like they used to."
Think back to 1969 and it was an important year for both Holden and the image-building Monaro range. The HT series represented a largely cosmetic update, aside from significant changes at the performance end of the range with the introduction of the 350-cube Chev V8. At the same time it continued making serious inroads into the world of competition.
For many the most significant win was the Bathurst 500 enduro in 1969, when Colin Bond and Tony Roberts took a Harry Firth-prepared car to victory ahead of arch-rival Ford. The car they beat was an XW GT-HO driven by Bruce McPhee and Barry Mulholland, ahead of another Monaro driven by Des West and then-rookie Peter Brock.
Race HT Monaros seemed to be everywhere, with the icing on the cake coming from Norm Beechey, who used one to take out the 1970 Australian Touring Car championship.
All that is part of the legend for owner Gabriel ‘Gabby’ Kairouz, who wanted a car built the same year he was. "I come from a big family and my brothers are all into muscle cars. I wanted to buy something from 1969, the year I was born. I loved the car when I saw it and restored it and haven’t looked back since."
He recalls first seeing this early HT 20 years ago, after tracking it down via the old Trading Post classifieds paper. "I loved the colour and shape," he says. "It was pretty good, except for the motor sitting in the boot!" Having established the car and engine had all the right numbers, he handed over the cash and set about a restoration that included mechanical, paint and trim. It must have been a decent job, as the car has hardly been touched since.
Look closely and you’ll see myriad original components and details, right down to the factory hubcaps – which these days are like the proverbial hen’s teeth.
Pop the bonnet and you’re in for a bit of a surprise. Taking pride of place is a 307ci (5.0lt) V8 mated to a two-speed Powerglide transmission. Perhaps the ultimate combo for a lazy Sunday cruise.
The 307s are these days a relatively rare engine in this generation and it was replaced by the 308 in late 1969. Some 500-600 are thought to have been fitted across the HT range, with many going into Broughams, and more like 100-150 of those into GTS Monaros.
Let’s take a quick squiz at where the HT came from. Back in 1968, Wheels magazine tested the HK range preceding this car, with writer Bill Tuckey doing the honours.
He commented: "GM-H calls it ‘Australia’s first sports machine’. That may be a bit presumptuous but it certainly is sporty.
"It may not be all things to all drivers as GM-H hopes. But it comes pretty close. The basic 161-engined version is a good cheap buy for the family man who is still the terror of the tracks deep down inside there somewhere.
"It is economical (will probably give around 30mpg at a 30mph average) and the back seat is big enough for the kids and the boot is big enough for the family’s holiday luggage. Access to the back seat is adequate too – unlike many other two-doors.
"From then on you build your Monaro to suit your taste. Gears can be manual or automatic, on the floor or on the column.
Engines range from the 161 through the 186 (standard and "S") to the 210bhp V8 and the super-hot 250bhp V8.
"Handling varied considerably up through the range too. But the stick-with-itness of the GTS 327 was eye-opening, thanks mainly to increased-rate front springs and special rear-axle radius rods."
The story also picked up some interesting comparative results from the assorted engine/transmission combinations.
GTS 327 16.2 sec
GTS 307 (4-speed manual)
GTS 307 (automatic) 18.6 sec
186S (4-speed manual) 19.1 sec
186 (3-speed manual) 20.3 sec
Top quarter mile speed (mph):
GTS 327: 124.2
GTS 307: 109.6
GTS 307 (auto): 107.6
GTS 186S: 99.9
Monaro 186: 91.7
Those numbers may look gothic these days but were respectable for the time. In the HT, the 307 claimed 210 horses (157kW) at 4600rpm and 300ft-lb (408Nm) of torque at 2400rpm.
Meanwhile, Gabby’s example sticks very close to what would have rolled out of the showroom all those years ago. That’s a view backed up by some spectacular results from the very few shows he has entered it in. Such as the state titles this year where it won the factory-original class.
However it’s not just show judges who respond to the car. Evidently if you drive this thing, you need to get used to being pulled up for a chat. "People talk about how they used to own one," says Gabby. However it was the woman who one day pulled him up in Acland Street in St Kilda who takes the prize. "I was born in one," she declared!
Gabby shakes his head and looks a little bemused when we talk about what’s happened to the prices of premium chrome bumper Australian cars, like this one. "It’s crazy, especially over the last five years. To me it’s not about the money – I just love it and enjoy it," he says.
Across the years, Gabby has had a few key people sign the GTS, including Harry Firth, Holden designer Phil Zmood plus drivers Norm Beechey and Bob Jane – all of whom played a role in building the Monaro legend across the decades.
And now? The car is used as an occasional cruiser. "I just take the wife out, go on a Sunday cruise, bit of breakfast, lunch, that’s it. Enjoying it," says the owner. "I wish I could take it out more and will when I retire." That sounds like a pretty good plan...
Story: Guy Allen
Photos: Ben Galli