When we think of successful Holdens in Australian touring cars, it is Toranas and Commodores that come to mind. But it was the Monaro that scored Holden’s first Australian Touring Car Championship win with the iconic HT GTS 350 in 1970.
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The Ford versus Holden rivalry in Australian touring cars truly came alive in 1968 when underdog Bruce McPhee and co-driver Barry Mulholland (who drove just one lap) won the Bathurst 500, leading a Holden top-three sweep. A year earlier Ford had scored the first win for a V8-powered car in the Mount Panorama endurance race, so Holden’s response gave birth to a rivalry that continues to this day. But while McPhee and Mulholland’s win with the HK Monaro GTS 327 will go down as the first win for Holden, it was the upgraded HT Monaro GTS 350 that truly marked Holden’s arrival as a major player.
The HT Monaro GTS 350 first appeared in mid-1969 and represented an evolution over the HK, featuring a 300bhp (224kW) Chevrolet 350 5.7-litre V8. The engine upgrade was in response to the release of Ford’s XW Falcon GTHO Phase I in 1969, which was powered by the 351 Windsor 5.8-litre V8 engine. By now V8 power was deemed the only option for the Australian-made cars on the race track.
There were also some minor styling changes to the new Monaro, but it was the arrival of a new team to run the HT that would have the biggest change. The Holden Dealer Team was created by long-time Ford works boss/driver Harry Firth in 1969 to replicate the success the Blue Oval had with one powerhouse team, with the HT Monaro GTS 350 the weapon to launch the new-look outfit at the 1969 Bathurst 500.
The Holden Dealer Team entered three cars, with Firth handpicking a number of rising stars to drive the HT Monaro GTS 350s: Peter Macrow and Henk Woelders in the #42, Peter Brock and Des West in the #43 and Colin Bond and Tony Roberts in the #44. With McPhee and Mulholland switching to a Falcon due to a lack of support from Holden, and the Ford works team featuring a formidable line-up that included brothers Ian and Leo Geoghegan and its own rising star Allan Moffat, the expectations of defending the title for Holden fell on this new team.
The new team would deliver when Bond and Roberts claimed the win. There was an element of good fortune, with the Ford works entries plagued by tyre troubles, leaving its best-placed entries off the podium in fourth and fifth, but the Holden Dealer Team had all three of its entries in the top six, with Brock and West joining Bond and Roberts on the podium.
The Bathurst champs backed up with a win in the Surfers Paradise 12 Hour race in January 1970, proving the success at Mount Panorama was no fluke.
The HT Monaro GTS 350 was proving to be the car to have. 1965 Australian Touring Car Championship winner Norm Beechey upgraded from the HK Monaro GTS 327 for 1970, increasing the capacity of the engine from 5.7 to six litres, producing 550bhp.
Beechey made a disappointing start to the season at Calder Park after a tangle with a lapped car left him down the order, though he bounced back with victories at Bathurst and Sandown to put some pressure on five-time champion Ian Geoghegan and opening-round winner Moffat.
Geoghegan and his Ford Mustang won the fourth round at Mallala ahead of Beechey, while Beechey’s teammate, Jim McKeown in a Porsche 911S, won the following round at Warwick Farm to enter championship contention. But Beechey won the penultimate round at Lakeside, holding off Jane in the final stages. A retirement to Geoghegan handed the championship to the Monaro racer.
It marked the first championship win for Holden, courtesy of a driver who had won the title for Ford five years earlier.
The new champion didn’t need to enter the final round at Symmons Plains, where a win for McKeown secured a one-two finish for the Shell-backed team.
Beechey continued racing the HT Monaro GTS 350 in 1971 and 1972, though unreliability dented his chances of securing another championship, dropping to fifth in 1971 and ending his season prematurely in 1972.
Increased competition from Moffat’s Ford Boss 302 Mustang and Jane’s Chevrolet Camaro left the once-mighty Monaro struggling to keep pace.
The Australian Touring Car Championship and new-look Bathurst 1000 ran under the same technical regulations for the first time in 1973, with the end of the Improved Production rulebook and creation of a new production-based Group C class ending the reign of the Monaro, Mustang and Camaro.
The Holden Dealer Team would grow from strength to strength and take the fight to Ford’s Falcon with its pint-sized Toranas. While they were a far cry from the muscle-car Monaro, the success of the HT Monaro GTS 350 would lay the foundations for Holden’s future successes.
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