1972 Holden Monaro HQ - Holden's Highway Star

 

Historic Holden Monaros aren’t all about racing stripes, bonnet scoops and trippy colours. This beautifully detailed HQ LS owned by Stuart Glass shows Holden also made more classic Monaro sports coupe models

Words: Paul Owen   |   Photos Tom Gasnier
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By New Zealand standards, the Monaro Highway linking Canberra and north-east Victoria is yet another unremarkable stretch of Aussie road. Yet Holden chose the name of the highway to christen a series of historic sports coupes. The name is now appropriately linked more to the cars than the road, as these mobile Monaros are far more exciting to encounter than the sleep-at-the-wheel-inducing highway.

We probably think first of the 1968 Wheels Car of the Year, the original HK Monaro, whenever that name is mentioned, as that car also won the Bathurst 500 in its debut year. Norm Beechey, the racer most associated with the HK, also took third place in the inaugural Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC), winning two of the five rounds of the new series.

Beechey would later give Holden its first ATCC title in 1970, driving a 410kW HT Monaro GTS350 that he and chief mechanic, Pat Purcell, had bored out from 5.7 to 6.0 litres. Holden toned things down considerably for the second-generation Monaro, introduced in 1971 in HQ form. The Monaro’s bearing of the Holden standard in ATCC competition was taken over by the inline-six-powered Torana GTR XU-1, and with a media witch-hunt being conducted against Aussie muscle cars at the time, Holden initially gave the second-gen Monaro a new, more conservative image.

The LS (luxury sports) edition of the HQ Monaro is the car that most displays Holden’s change of direction with its sports coupe. The quad headlights and wood dash fascia seek to link the LS as a performance version of a Holden Premier, along with the similar chrome trim and side mouldings, although the this particular car was optioned with the instruments and gauges of the GTS.

Add taillights integrated into the rear bumper, a huge wrap-around rear window, and tasteful rather than eye-searing exterior colours, and the HQ LS is a bit of a Q-car in the way that it can fly under the radar. For some Holden fans, like Hamilton’s Stuart Glass, the Monaro LS offers classic looks with V8 performance.

“The HQ sits nicely between the HK and HJ as arguably the best looking Holden”

Holden offered the model to the public with a full range of engine options, from a 3.3-litre inline six to the 5.7-litre V8 shared with the mighty GTS350 Monaro. Glass’s car has a 308 (5.0-litre) V8 under the bonnet, arguably the sweetest unit of the lot. It drives the three-speed Tri-matic automatic gearbox that was fast becoming the transmission of choice at a time when Holden was phasing out production of three-pedal Monaros.

For Glass, the LS was a nice change from his previous Monaros, an HK 327 Bathurst “that I should have kept”, and an HQ GTS350 that he owned in the 1990s and still keeps tabs on. That GTS350 didn’t have matching numbers, whereas the LS is exactly as it left the factory, and has travelled 131,000 miles while still wearing its original black FS number plates. Also original is the colour, Dublin Green Metallic, while the sports wheels and red-walled tyres were factory options offered by Holden.

“FS is a number plate prefix common to the South Island, and I bought it ‘sight unseen’ after noticing it advertised in Christchurch on TradeMe (three years ago). “I did send a mate around to have a look at it. He had looked over another HQ for me down there, and he confirmed that ‘this is the one for you, Stu’.”

Previous custodians of the 17-owner LS include a former All Black and a Christchurch man who owned the car for a long period from 1989 to 2007, and mostly kept it stashed in the garage. “I contacted him and he confirmed that the mileage is genuine as it had only gone around the clock once during the time he owned it.”

Glass sold his VX/Y-generation Monaro CV8 to free up funds for the LS purchase. Although not as messed up as the HQ Monaro driven by The Nightrider in the original Mad Max film (although some car movie buffs consider The Nightrider vehicle to be a modified LS, the lack of four front headlights on it suggest that it was either a base model or a GTS, which had twin headlights), Glass found that there was plenty to do when he finally got the LS to Hamilton.


“It only had a 10-psi radiator cap on it so it had lost a fair bit of its coolant by the time I got it home. Luckily it had been trucked to a mate’s place and only driven from Cambridge. It also had a padlock and chain wrapped around the brake pedal as they’d lost the key, and it had some horrible driving lights mounted in the grille.”

Glass quickly embarked on an 18-month full engine bay and underside restoration, including repainting the bay, re-taping the wiring loom, and changing the plug leads back to black after a previous owner had changed them to red. New original hoses and clamps were sourced from historic Holden parts specialist, Resto Country, in Australia. The result is an engine area that looks cleaner than the average family’s dinner table.

“I haven’t spent a lot of money on it, but I have spent a lot of time, doing most of the work myself. It took quite a few winter sessions to strip all the undersealer off it using a heat gun.” As part of the engine bay work, the front end of the car received a respray due to the removal of the radio aerial from the mudguard. More time was spent on the suspension. The LS now sits 35mm lower on heavier springs, with a thicker sway bar and new mounts and bushes.

“The HQ had terrible understeer because the Americans (GM engineers) insisted upon it, but with a few tweaks you can get them handling reasonably well. I recently drove down to Taranaki for a car show in a convoy of HSVs, and had no trouble footing it with them.”

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Although the LS looks so original that spectators at car shows often approach Glass to remark ‘I had one exactly like that’, he hasn’t finished getting the LS into pristine condition. He’s keen to address the wind whistle at the driver’s door roof rail with new weather strips all round. New side glass won’t display the ring scratches of the originals, while a replacement rear differential is awaiting assessment, blasting and painting because the original diff is getting a bit vocal. “They’ll be jobs for next winter.”

Glass’s face has a look of anticipation as he makes the last comment. “I really enjoy working on the cars, but I do get them to a point where they start to bore me a tad.” Will it happen with the LS? “There’ll be another project for sure – maybe an HQ SS, a very rare car in New Zealand; they were essentially an optioned-up Belmont four-speed V8.”

Why the fascination with HQ Holdens?

“They’re cult cars now. The next Holden – the HJ – is in my opinion the ugliest car imaginable. Customer groups were saying around the time of the HQ release that they’d like something chunkier, so Holden gave them something that looked more American.”

“The HQ sits nicely between the HK and HJ as arguably the best looking Holden. When the HK was released in 1968 it was squarer, and mine didn’t hold me as much as an HQ, despite it being a Bathurst Monaro.”

“I’ve had two Kingswoods, a Premier, and two HQ Monaros in the 1990s. I went a bit quiet in the 2000s but cars never leave you.”

Glass also owns two BMWs – a 2003 M5 that was the last of the E39 generation cars built for NZ, and a 2003 530 Motorsport which he said were picked up once depreciation had really done its thing.

Glass bought his HK 327 Bathurst for $18,000, owned it for just three years, then sold it for $16,000. Currently, a web-dealer in the UK has one listed for $US86,000. Perhaps there’s a lesson learned there when it comes to him retaining the HQ Monaro LS?

“Classic cars don’t really have a value until there’s a transaction if you think about it. Then the new owner has a different idea of value…” Although the LS has won a best original Holden award at a local car show, “it’s not a car that attracts the general public.”

“Perhaps it’s the colour, but people (at car shows) tend to go for the modified cars as they like all the bling.” Glass obviously prefers to keep things as original as possible.

“The more you spend on modification, the more you’ll probably lose in value.”

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