It's tedious and annoying, isn't it? When you see it in a comment section, your brain just sort of cringes. Just like mine does when I see the Holden lion badge, if I'm honest. But I have to admit, few cars can claim as many firsts as the Holden Monaro, and I kind of want one. But first, let's refresh your memory:
All very cool, I was caught by surprise when Clarkson actually liked it, but really the 2001 V2 Monaro was just a Commodore with the back doors welded shut. Its grandpa, the 1967 HK on the other hand, was Holden's first V8, the first Holden to win at Bathurst, and was the first Australian-made car to win the Australian Touring Car Championship. Not a bad CV, wouldn't you say?
The story, which involves some fantastic skulduggery from the marketing department, goes back to the mid-1960s when Holden looked more like an Australian version of Toyota. They sold lots of cheap and serviceable family sedans, taxis, commercial vehicles, but nothing much in the way of fun. It seems weird today when Holden is notorious for its thumping megalitre V8s, but they'd only done their first performance car a few years earlier, the EH S4 Special, which only gave 86kW (115hp). The S4 had come second at Bathurst in '63 and might have even been first had it not been for the rat cunning of Harry Firth and his factory-backed Ford Cortina Mk. I GTs. Unfortunately, second was as close to glory as Holden was going to get for a while yet, as Ford embarked on a massive race program to claw back some of Holden's vast 50% road car market share.
That plan came together in 1967 with the XR Falcon GT, a family car preposterously given the V8 out of a Mustang, and Holden collectively crapped themselves. They had a competitor in the pipeline, but now it was going to have to be delayed while they stretched the width and wheelbase to match the comfort and legroom offered by the Falcon. No problem: in the meantime they talked their bosses at General Motors into importing a handful of Camaro SS 350s that almost nobody in Australia could afford. Once you paid the import fees and converted them to right-hand drive, they cost a whopping $7,600 - more than a decent house! But with its swoopy styling and monstrous 5.7-litre small block V8, it got all of Australia abuzz. Just as planned.
The Camaro nudged everyone towards wanting muscle cars after all, and with the ground prepared Holden rolled out their baby - the HK Monaro GTS 327 (the only time something really was "new and improved"). It shared styling cues with the Camaro, but it had four seats, a usable boot, suspension that could actually cope with Australia's roads, and at $3,790 was half the price of its American cousin. Best of all, thanks to an engine pinched from the locally-assembled Impala, it boasted 187kW (250bhp). Holden's next most powerful engine was only 108kW: that was a massive step up.
On the first Sunday in October, 1968, they took it to Bathurst for the first 500 to be sponsored by Hardie-Ferodo. Bruce McPhee took pole position with a lap time of 2 minutes, 56.7 seconds (pretty leisurely by today's standards!) and then drove 129 of the 130 laps himself. Barry Mulholland took over for only a single lap mid-race, and only because the rules required a co-driver, but after nearly seven hours of racing McPhee's consistency had ground the opposition down. Holden's first V8 muscle car had delivered their first long-awaited Bathurst win, in dominant 1-2-3 fashion.
As often happens, however, the spirit skipped a generation. The 70's-era HQ is still a legendary car every Holden fan wants, but it was still a soft, asthmatic thing compared to its hardcore dad. The grandkids on the other hand followed right in its footsteps. By the new millennium the V8 Supercar formula prevented the rebooted Monaro from racing in the Bob Jane T-Marts 1000, so in November Gary Rogers Motorsport took it to the rival 2003 Bathurst 24-Hour instead. As with gramps, it took a fair bit of cheek to enter them at all - the cars themselves were all-Australian, but the engines had arrived in a box from 'Merica (this time, the 427ci V8 from the racing-spec Corvette). That meant there was no road-going counterpart, and the fact that GRM weren't thrown out on their ears is still a sore point to some. But either way, the massacre was glorious: the Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis had no answer to the Monaro's handling, durability and that epic 7-litre donk, and when the timer ran out they were lying first and second - and had given Peter Brock his tenth (unofficial) win at The Mountain.
Not bad for a little Aussie battler, eh?