A lot of people have a lot of time for Holden. It’s Australian through and through, knows its market and employs good people. It also churned out one or two brilliantly mad cars in the couple of decades before an idea-barren General Motors let it die. As we reported this week, all Holden-based activity will stop within the next year or so.
So this seems like an opportune moment to raise a glass to the plucky GM workhorse from Down Under. Never flashy, but perhaps mortally wounded by inherited mediocrity as the years and GM-sourced mainstream models went by, Holden nonetheless found space and time to create the wonderfully silly Monaro.
We’re not talking about the original, of course: the 1968 version was ultra-cool in its own right, but that was an era in which it was much easier to throw a big engine (up to a 5.4-litre Chevrolet V8) into an American-inspired body and get away with it. The 2001 Monaro arrived in a time when everything was more… sober.
Holden had displayed a conservative, softly-penned concept at the 1998 Australian International Motor Show. The public response to this V8-driven two-door saloon was far beyond Holden’s expectations, so hasty plans were made to actually build it. It took 22 months to manage it, delivering a 3.8-litre V6 and 5.7-litre LS V8 pairing.
Almost nobody wanted the V6. It was canned in the middle of 2004 when an updated version was launched. But Holden had created and launched a V8 muscle car for that new age. It sounded epic, drove like its rear tyres were wrapped in Teflon and provided big V8 thrills for what was very little money compared to Europe’s rivals. Back then it cost £28,650; an E46 M3 of the same year was about £44,000, plus options.
Of course, the interior materials weren’t exactly worthy of Harrods and you had to expect a few trim rattles, but the performance per pound was astonishing. Holden had engineered a big, heavy saloon that handled far better than it had any right to, and above all else it was just great fun. At any speed it would always put a smile on your face.
So, naturally, after a few years the Monaro came to the UK, re-badged as a Vauxhall to appeal to British loyalties but otherwise left untouched. We’d been given ready-made small-block naughtiness in right-hand drive, and suddenly US imports of left-sided Camaros and Mustangs made even less sense. The Monaro was cheap, hilarious and at times deeply, deeply anti-social. It was like the Lotus Carlton reborn.
To pick one of those early cars up today you need as little as £8000, and that’s before haggling. We found this silver missile on a late 2006 registration, with 82,000 miles covered, for just £7989. It has just under 350bhp and 369lb ft of torque, making the fairly hefty two-door good for 160mph and 0-60mph in six seconds; maybe a whisker less. Not thrillingly fast even by hot hatchback standards these days, but the glory was in the experience.
That big V8 oozed lazy charm and didn’t even need refuelling too often thanks to a 70-litre tank. You’ll spend almost £100 to refill it these days, though, so it’s not the easiest on the wallet. The advert contains few specifics about this exact car but we can see a manual gear lever and lowered suspension, which, the seller (Motorhub in West Yorkshire) says, is due to coilovers. They also say it has a full service history, which is great news if it’s been followed to the letter.
We love the Monaro. It’s a big, daft mutt of a car that just loves to play. It’s super-forgiving at the edges of grip and it has to be one of the easiest cars there is to powerslide. Go on, scratch it around the ears and it’s all yours.