For Bruce Johnson of Wellington, the acquisition of this award-winning Monaro was the final realisation of a boyhood dream
I can clearly remember the very first HQ Holden I ever saw. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, it was the first HQ Holden to be unveiled in Auckland, sometime in the early ’70s. I don’t recall the event to be perfectly honest, it may have been the Easter Show (when they actually had stuff on display), or a car show of some description, but the fact remains that I can remember the car as if it were yesterday. It was a white HQ Kingswood with a very red interior — everything from the carpet to the dash, steering wheel, column shift, bench seats and headlining was bright, bright red. The only thing that escaped the red paintbrush was the rubber on the pedals and the face of the speedometer.
What a car, it was as if a space ship had landed as crowds of curious onlookers gathered around to see the latest and greatest in automotive wizardry from Australia.
The new HQ made the earlier HK, HT and HG models look rather agricultural by comparison, and it was set to become arguably one of the most widely used and reliable workhorses ever produced in Australia.
As a teenager, I gained first-hand experience of just how robust these cars were. Friends of my parents owned a farm, and I would cycle from Howick to Mangere on weekends and holidays to earn extra cash by helping out. It was great fun, getting to drive tractors, trucks and farm bikes was a real buzz; and it was a lot more fun than the old Raleigh 10-speed. The farmer had just purchased a new HQ Holden, actually it wasn’t too dissimilar to the one I saw at the show some months earlier. As is the case with most farmers, machinery of any description is to be used to the limit, not hidden away in a shed somewhere gathering chook droppings, and the shiny new HQ was no exception.
The car was used to cart everything from the weekly shopping to hay bales, dogs, young calves and literally anything else that could be squeezed into it. I recall seeing it buried deep into a hedge one day with only the taillights faintly visible through the branches. When I asked what had happened, I was told that it was parked there to fill the hole in the hedge to stop the cows from escaping onto the road!
I remember thinking to myself how tough these cars must be built to withstand such abuse. And that particular Holden took it for many years without ever missing a beat.
The HQ Monaro was also introduced in mid 1971, available in three two-door hardtop models, which included the Monaro, Monaro LS and Monaro GTS. In early 1973, a Monaro GTS four-door sedan was introduced.
A completely new generation body design emerged with the HQ series, including the new Monaro LS (Luxury Sports) model. There were no six-cylinder versions of the Monaro GTS on offer, just the 253ci (4146cc), 308ci (5047cc) V8s or the top level GTS350 coupe.
The standard engine capacity was increased in the base model Monaro to 173ci (2835cc), whilst the Monaro LS offered drivers an extensive range of power options ranging from the tried and tested 202ci (3310cc) six-cylinder workhorse through to the American 350ci (5735cc) V8 engine.
The HQ Monaro was a monumental step up from the previous model, the HG, which was considered to be already ahead of its time. With its distinctive slanted front and a blacked out, sporty-style grille, purists reckoned the HQ Monaro was the first truly mean-looking sports saloon to have ever been manufactured in Australia — a strategic move considering it beat the Ford XA Falcon to market by a year or so.
The rear of the car, with taillights neatly recessed into the rounded chrome-plated bumper, was directly derived from the American Pontiac GTO, a design that Holden chose to include throughout the entire HQ range. Also incorporated into the new design was a controversial, larger rear window and a squarer rear-quarter window, thought by many to be not as sporty-looking compared to the earlier HK-HT-HG series. However, it is often now considered one of the best-looking body designs to come out of Australia.
Prior to 1973, the HQ Monaro GTS was void of any exterior body stripe ornamentation and the 5.7-litre V8 engine was, rather disappointingly, less potent than in previous HT/HG versions, especially when connected to the optional Turbo-Hydramatic three-speed automatic transmission. In an attempt to distinguish the new Monaro from the humble Kingswood sedan, Holden introduced sporty, bold and contrasting bonnet and boot lid paint-outs in 1973 coinciding with the release of the HQ.
Unfortunately for Monaro fans, the GTS350 reserves were slowly but surely eroding away. This lead to the deletion of specific ‘350’ decals on post-1973 cars, meaning that all Monaro GTS coupes and sedans were externally labelled with a generic HQ series ‘V8’ boot lid badge.
With HQ production ending in 1974 it also spelled the end of the GTS350 engine option, which was quietly and unceremoniously deleted.
Four Door Connections
Well, you’re either a Ford or a Holden man from boyhood, and Bruce Johnson reckons his feet have been well and truly planted in the GM camp from a young age. During his teenage years Bruce became firmly Holden focused, especially when it came to the Monaro and in particular the four-door variant as opposed to the two-door models, somewhat at odds with the mainstream who seem to think the four-door cars were not the real deal.
Bruce realised his passion for the HQ when he honed his driving skills in a relative’s 1971 HQ Belmont, and constantly yearned to own one from that time. However, a sensible approach to car ownership and a lack of funds meant Bruce had to compromise with a series of less charismatic ’60s and ’70s runabouts — the sort of plain-Jane cars that most of us have probably endured at one time or another.
Fortunately, Bruce acquired a company vehicle at a relatively young age and had one from then until starting his own business in 1987. It wasn’t long before he managed to purchase his first new car, a 1987 Commodore VL 3.0-litre which. according to Bruce, was “a bloody great car — even with its Nissan motor.”
Bruce admits his wife doesn’t quite share in his passion for cars, but this has never deterred him from continually trading his cars up or down over the years. However, the urge to own a mint classic HQ Monaro refused to go away.
Even a busy family life raising four children as well as a growing business — along with two HSV Clubsports, a 1995 185kW model and a 2001 255kW example — did little to dampen Bruce’s views, and he remained firmly focused on that elusive HQ Monaro.
Eighteen months ago his long held ambition was finally achieved — hitting the age of 50 apparently being the spur that finally pushed Bruce into seeing if he could get what he truly wanted. Happily, his mission was successful.
Bruce had some fairly definite ideas regarding the HQ Monaro he wanted, and not any old car was going to do. The car Bruce was after had to be totally original and unmolested, definitely four doors and finished in Duchess Gold Metallic with black stripes, just as he remembered and yearned for as a 16-year-old. Engine capacity was not important, as condition was going to be the deciding factor.
The search would not be easy as Bruce soon discovered, with many of the so-called ‘concours mint’ condition cars he examined turning out to be nothing like what their owners had portrayed them to be — to many, ‘mint’ was more akin to the sauce you put on your roast lamb.
At this stage Bruce became somewhat deflated by the whole idea, and thought the only way he would get what he was after was to jump the ditch and go through the drama of bringing one back from Australia.
However, as luck would have it a friend told Bruce about a nice clean car that was for sale in Auckland, and he decided to travel up from Wellington with his wife to have a closer look.
Bruce clearly remembers driving a rental car out to Kumeu and sighting the car for the first time — even at a distance of 50 metres, he recalls looking over at his wife and saying — “It’s mine!”
On closer inspection the HQ Monaro was everything Bruce had been searching for and was beyond anything he had looked at previously, or since for that matter, and the car’s appearance and condition was obviously the result of much love and patience.
Early Auckland Holden Car Club members Tracey Smith and partner Mike Bell owned the car, and starting with a superbly original Monaro, they had painstakingly and meticulously restored and reassembled the HQ piece by piece. Bruce can’t sing their praises highly enough.
This four-door HQ GTS Monaro was first registered new in Mount Maunganui, and has had a number of owners who have obviously continued to look after and care a great deal for it over the years. The interior of the car is the same as when it left the GM-H plant in 1974, totally original, while the Monaro’s 253ci (4146cc) V8 motor and running gear are as tight and true as the day it first rolled off the production line.
Tracey and Mike’s passion, commitment and desire to restore this real head-turner was evidenced when they cleaned up virtually everything at the 2007 Holden Nationals.
Naturally, it was a massive wrench — for Tracey especially — to part with the car, and more than a few tears were shed when it was loaded on a transporter and sent south to Wellington.
Bruce knew he had indeed brought a seriously good car, an opportunity confirmed by boyhood mate and rebuild guru, Mike Baucke (no stranger to the pages of NZCC), owner of The Surgery in Wellington. Once the car arrived in Wellington Mike cast a professional eye over the Monaro, checking it out from top to toe. He cleared up one paint imperfection and declared it one of the best private rebuilds he had seen, big praise from someone Bruce utterly respects in the restoration industry.
Bruce’s pride and joy is his weekender — but only if the rain’s not out. It’s not hard to believe that this magnificent HQ Monaro attracts hoards of admirers once it’s parked up — never too far form Bruce’s sight — although he admits to being a lot more relaxed about driving it nowadays than he was when he first acquired the car.
Bruce gets a real buzz watching people pull over for a better look, wondering what’s in their thoughts, maybe reminisces about the Monaro they, or someone they knew, once owned.
Bruce is firmly of the mind that he is only the current caretaker of this beautiful machine — the result of ticking one of life’s boxes and the achievement of a boyhood dream.
1974 HQ Holden GTS Monaro – Specifications
Engine Holden V8
Capacity 253ci (4146cc)
Bore/stroke 92.1 x 77.8mm
Valves Two valves per cylinder/ohv
Max power 138kW (185bhp) at 4400 rpm
Max torque 355Nm (262lb/ft) at 2400 rpm
Fuel system Twin barrel Bendix-Stromberg carburetor
Transmission Tri-matic automatic
Suspension F/R Coil spring independent/ four link with coil springs
Steering Recirculating ball/power assisted
Brakes Power assisted disc
Overall Length 4762mm
Kerb weight 1429kgs
Max speed 183kph
0-100kph 11.1 seconds
Standing 1/4 mile 18 seconds
This article is from Classic Car issue 222. Click here to check it out.