Holden Monaro GTS 327 - Lion's Pride

By: Mark Higgins, Cliff Chambers, Photography by: Nathan Jacobs

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Monaro GTS 327 was a pioneer of Australia's muscle car scene that gave the General success in many ways

A region in eastern New South Wales is where the Holden’s Monaro got its name and came to being after GMH executive Noel Bedford saw a sign ‘Monaro Shire Council’, as he drove into Cooma on holidays. He thought it sounded pretty good and not dissimilar to Camaro, GM’s American muscle car. 

On return to the office, he threw the name into the ring and senior management liked it and ran with it. 

Under GMH Design Director Joe Schemansky and HK Monaro designer John Schinella the coupe, named Torana during its clay model stages, took shape and was introduced in July 1968. 

Holden’s first coupe was a roaring success in showrooms, on the track, and with the media, giving the brand its maiden Bathurst and Wheels Car of the Year wins.

The Monaro was part of the all-new HK range and offered in three trim levels: Monaro, Monaro GTS and Monaro GTS 327.

The base model Monaro was a mundane affair, with its standard 161 cubic-inch six and three-on-the-tree manual or two-speed Powerglide auto. The GTS got a power boost thanks to its bigger 186S inline-six.

Back in the day buyers could mix and match specs far better than now and you could order a base Monaro with the optional 186 or 307 V8 donk, while GTS buyers could also opt for the 307 V8.

The GTS also scored bucket seats and a tacho hidden down on the centre console.

The flagship and reason for the Monaro’s existence was the GTS 327 and its 250 horsepower, 5.4-litre V8 Chev paired with a Saginaw four-speed manual, limited slip diff, a large 25-gallon fuel tank, tweaked independent front and live axle rear suspension, disc brakes up front, drums on the rear and 14-inch wheels running DR70-14 cross plys.

The Monaro GTS was offered in six vivid colours, Bright Blue Metallic, Ermin White, Inca Gold Metallic, Picardy Red, Silver Mink Metallic and the very familiar Warwick Yellow. In July 1968 you needed a hefty $3796 to get yourself a GTS 327.

Warwick Yellow was the hero hue.

The Monaro was conceived to win races with all eyes on the Bathurst prize. That Ford had won the previous year with the XR GT Falcon was a thorn in the General’s side and huge motivation to knock the Broady boys off the mountain. But more of that later.

In Guy Allen’s Unique Cars Monaro GTS 327 Buyers Guide (October 2020) he quoted the September 1968 edition of Wheels magazine reporting on the Monaro media launch. It went like this: "With predictable modesty, the GMH publicity boys have described the Monaro as a ‘shattering’ car… at the very least, however, the car is startling. A pillarless challenge to the Falcon GT." 

Gracing these pages is the Warwick Yellow Monaro GTS 327 of Keith Riddell. 

Keith turned 18 in 1968 and was keen on the Monaro but being an apprentice couldn’t afford one. He used to drive past Preston Motors, the Essendon Holden dealer every day. 

"One day I was heading home in my FB Holden, said Keith, "when I spotted a Warwick Yellow Monaro GTS 327 sitting in the showroom, that moment etched into my brain for life. 

"I couldn’t afford it so modified my FB. 

"Three years later I decided to buy a new car. I wanted a Monaro but couldn’t find one and ended up with a Glacier White Premier V8 with a three-on-the-tree manual that I still own 52 years on."

This V8 made this car so special.

Keith’s Monaro quest took a step closer in 1993 when his mate Rodney Horton went to the Summernats and got talking to his cousin, who told him of a Warwick Yellow GTS 327 for sale in Queanbeyan. 

Rodney bought the car which was complete minus the engine. He rang Keith and told him of his purchase and over the next few years, Keith pestered him, asking for first right of refusal should he want to sell it. 

Keith said, "Rodney rang me in December 1995 to say he’d bought a Camaro and couldn’t keep both cars and offered me the Monaro. I jumped in my car and raced over to Moorabbin and saw it in a factory and bought it on the spot. 

"I acquired another engine with the correct block and the guy had saved the rare air cleaner and rocker covers and all the nuts and bolts."

Over the next couple of years, it got some work done on it including the engine installation and it was registered in October 1997.

Keith said the Monaro was in good nick when he got it but with rust in the usual place in the quarter panels where the back windows are.

Together for 28 years.

The paint had faded and its last rego was in 1979 so it had sat idle for the next 14 years. It was sideswiped on the driver side and the rear quarter panel and front guard had been replaced.

"The body has a bit of bog and isn’t pristine", Keith said, "I didn’t want a show pony as I have a mate running an XU-1 in club race meetings and I wanted to do the same. 

"I didn’t want a pristine car that could get damaged. But it’s a genuine 81837K car with build number 137 and was manufactured in Sydney. From our research, it hasn’t been raced. It runs the correct and original suspension with four leaf springs with different valve ratings and part numbers on the shocks. 

"The engine has got a cam in it and what they call the old fuel injection heads but you don’t know until you look at it and see they’re different. Bob Watson has driven it and reckons it’s pretty good and was pleased I hadn’t played around with the suspension. I added power steering as the old 16:1 ratio boxes were impossible to turn. It’s a fun thing to drive and a dream come true owning this Monaro."


HOLDEN’S ORIGINAL Monaro changed the way Australians thought about their Own Car.

For just $315 above the price of a Belmont sedan you could own a Monaro in six-cylinder, column shift manual form but still sharing its shape with the cars that in 1968 would dominate the Bathurst 500 endurance race.

That GTS 327 version was nirvana for Monaro lovers. Under the bonnet was a rumbling Chevrolet V8, inside on the console where no one could see it the first tachometer ever installed in a Holden. Outside were striking colours like Warwick Yellow and Bright Blue, with the all-important GT stripe running front to rear. 

Tacho looked great but hard to read.

Figures released by Holden many year ago confirmed that 15,637 HK Monaros were built, with more than half being the six-cylinder 186S GTS. Perhaps surprisingly, 1192 of the GTS 327 were made.

The top spec models didn’t benefit from any extra rust protection or special treatment though, and over the years numbers have dwindled to perhaps a couple of hundred genuine cars. 

That word genuine is important too, because many lesser Monaros in years past have acquired Chevrolet power units and GTS 327 features.

The item that can’t be faked – not legally anyway – is the 81837K Build Number Prefix which identifies the car as an HK GTS 327 coupe.

Looking back at 2005-07, some ambitious buyers were pricing their cars at $300,000, however it would take until 2017 before one actually made $302,000. 

It was followed three years later by a jump to $320,000 before a seriously sad ‘survivor’ car during 2022 attracted a winning bid of $200,000. 

Prices since then have stayed flat as interest rate hikes influenced the speculative end of the older vehicle market. There remains every chance though that an exceptionally good and authentic 327 will again exceed $300,000.

Authenticity is an obvious requirement and scarce colours can add value as well. Documents that track a car’s history right back to its original selling dealer confirm provenance and can help values.


Not only was the Monaro racing off showroom floors, it was also racing to victory in Australia’s biggest race, the Hardie Ferodo 500 where Bruce McPhee and co-driver Barry Mulholland won and gave Holden its first Bathurst win. 

Before the 500 nine Monaro GTS 327s lined up at Sandown Park, Victoria in September for the 3-Hour Datsun Trophy race, the Bathurst curtain raiser.

Bathurst winner's signature.

Two Victorian rally aces Bob Watson and Tony Roberts, both new to circuit racing and on provisional race licences teamed up and won. 

It was the pairs’ third ever circuit race and three weeks later, armed with full competition licences they headed to Bathurst for the Hardie Ferodo 500, as one of eight starters in a GTS 327 Monaro and finished third.

We caught up with Bob to ask him about those times. 

Bob Watson began working at Holden in 1958 undertaking an engineering cadetship and by 1968 had moved into the experimental area working on chassis development, initially on the Holden HR suspension and disc brakes then onto the HK program. 

"Fairly early on Holden decided they wanted to run a car at Bathurst," Bob said.

"So senior managers John Bagshaw and Peter Lewis-Williams went to Detroit and sourced a powertrain, the 327 engine and Saginaw gearbox and it went from there. 

"John Finlayson was the senior guy and he and I did all the ride and handling work on the Monaro. We’d go to Holden’s Proving Ground at Lang Lang every day, put our helmets on and played racing drivers (laughs).

"John was very knowledgeable on shock absorbers and that sort of stuff. We had a 289 Falcon GT to benchmark ourselves on, and soon realised we had a better car." 

Bob had been rallying for the Holden Dealer Rally team for five years and Tony Roberts was a draftsman at Holden.

They met in the GMH Motoring Club which at the time had upwards of 1000 members and competed against each other and as teammates in rallies.

"There’s a bit of a background story about the Sandown race. Tony bought the Monaro and popped in an entry for the event and then we saw in the CAMS manual there were no speed records set for that category of car. 

"We decided to have a crack at a record attempt at Sandown in August. We hired the track, ran under CAMS supervision and ended up setting 16 Australian speed records in the Monaro before racing it at Sandown."

The Roberts, Watson Monaro GTS 327 en route to victory at Sandown Park.

By the time of the Sandown event both Tony and Bob were very familiar with the car and track.

According to Bob the series production rules allowed you to adjust the front suspension, modify the exhaust after the entry into the first muffler and you could blueprint the engine.

"Our engine was done by Brian Sampson of Motor Improvements and gave us another 500 revs up the back straight at Sandown," Bob said.

You could also change brake pads.

Bob claimed the Ford representation was quite strong and Harry Firth, who ran the Ford team, knew Watson and Roberts from rallying and was keeping an eye on them.

"I think we qualified third and we decided we weren’t going to change brake pads in the race," said Watson. 

"There was a compulsory pitstop to change drivers and refuel and we decided to have a go on one set of pads. The other Monaro runners didn’t have our experience with the car and didn’t know how long the pads would last. 

"After the pitstop we were running third with an Alfa in second and Alan Hamilton leading in a Porsche. 

"Hamilton’s co-driver was a lot slower than him and the Alfa lost a wheel so all of a sudden we were leading the race (laughs).

"I’m trundling around and behind us was Alan Jones, in another 327 and we had a fair lead. Five laps before the end the brake pedal went rock hard. We’d worn the pads out and the metal backing plates popped out of the callipers, so there was nothing. I’m throwing the car sideways into corners to wash off speed, the crowd must’ve thought I was a lunatic. We were losing 8 seconds a lap with no brakes. 

"Jones was catching me and there’s the guy holding the chequered flag. But it’s a timed race so nobody knew how many laps were left and each time I came down the straight I’m thinking, come on you bastard wave that bloody flag. 

"In the end we did get there and we won by 8 seconds. It was unbelievable and total euphoria."

Winners are grinners. Roberts with champagne glass and Watson celebrating the Sandown win.

The car was then prepped for Bathurst at Bill Patterson’s Holden workshop and they picked up sponsorship from Pat Cullen, a Liverpool (NSW) Holden dealer and BP. 

"We were going to trailer the car to Bathurst and got as far as Broadmeadows but the trailer was wobbling so badly we rolled the Monaro off it, loaded it up with what we needed and drove it to Bathurst," Watson said.

The Bathurst track was horrible and like driving on a country road with broken edges and dips and patches. Watson and Roberts hadn’t seen the track before practice and were well off the pace. 

"Thanks to our rallying backgrounds, though working for Ford Harry Firth took Tony and I aside and told us where and when to do what around the track," said Watson. "We immediately improved our lap times by around 12 seconds and qualified fifth." 

"It was incredible and we finished fourth, but a car in front was running oversize valves and was disqualified, so we ended up third." 

"After the race we were sent to Bathurst Motors to have the flywheel weighed. The crew had left so Tony and I pulled the gearbox out, had the flywheel weighed, put it back together and drove it home to Melbourne the next day."


Body & Chassis

Assuming the car is authentic, then comes the in-depth examination which is best undertaken by someone very familiar with the Monaro body. Cars that have been recently restored and selling for serious money should show no signs at all of rust or excess filler. Cheaper ones might show age-related bubbling, paint fade and brightwork pitting but that can all be rectified. Initially look for bulges and bubbles in the rear quarter panels, turret edges and sills. Make sure when the doors close there are consistent gaps and they don’t need to be lifted to shut properly. Hinge repair kits are available. Look hard for rust or repairs around the rear spring hangers. Reproduction bumpers are available at $700-800 each, with original HK-HG bars in usable condition at $300-500.

Engine & Transmission

Once, when GTS 327s were just another old Holden being maintained as best they could by struggling owners, engines from any kind of V8 Holden were fitted, as were mismatched cylinder heads or the wrong transmission. Check the engine number against registration or delivery records and slash the amount you pay if the motor isn’t original. Cars advertised as mechanically sound need to be just that, with no oil leaks, exhaust smoke or reluctant oil pressure. A non-stock carburettor will detract from value and may make the car drive strangely. The original four-speed gearbox is likely to whine and send vibrations through the gear-lever but be wary of clunks when shifting or a shuddering clutch.

Suspension & Brakes

Monaros with leaf springs worked better on the road and as competition cars than later models with all-coil suspension. The rear leaves must be in good condition though and the condition of swivels plus the metal around mounting points is vital to safety. New leaves and shackles, coils, bushings, ball joints and steering arms for the front are available and not yet expensive. Brakes from new were inadequate for a car of this weight and performance and the one departure from original that sensible owners will undertake involves upgrading the braking system.

Interior & Electrics

Interior condition is vital if a GTS327 is to be classed as ‘exceptional’ seat frames need to be in proper alignment, move easily when adjusted and with backs that lock into place first time. Correct trim kits in vinyl with matching door cards are available at around $4000 plus fitting. Be prepared for the seats to need new rubber cushioning and maybe a few springs. Both are jobs for a professional trimmer. Windows including the rear quarter glasses need to be checked in case the winder mechanism is jammed due to age and infrequent use. Jammed windows can be a symptom of water entry and rust too. If saggy, a hood-lining is your only issue, a new one costs around $300.

Vital Stats

NUMBER BUILT: 1192 (GTS 327 only)

BODY: Integrated body/chassis two-door coupe

ENGINE: 5363cc V8 with overhead valves and single downdraft carburettor

POWER & TORQUE: 183kW @ 4800rpm, 439Nm @ 3200rpm 

PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h: 7.6 seconds, 0-400 metres, 16.4 seconds

TRANSMISSION: 4-speed manual

SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, wishbones, shock absorbers & anti-roll bar (f); live axle with semi-elliptic springs, radius rods & shock absorbers (r)

BRAKES: Disc (f) drum (r) with power assistance

TYRES: DR70-14 cross-ply

From Unique Cars #482, August 2023

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