The car's name and appearance were radical, although the Monaro was an affordable coupe sharing many parts with mainstream HK models. Its striking roofline was modelled on the front drive Oldsmobile Toronado coupe, which was the most sensational US release in 1966. The Monaro shared the same rear pillars, which blended seemlessly into the rear quarter guards and an almost constant slope from rear window to boot lid. Other Toronado features, like the stylish rear wheel arch blisters, also worked well on the more compact Monaro.
Exterior GTS styling included a tail panel that replicated full-width tail lights, offset bonnet and side stripes, cooling slots in the front guards, stainless steel full wheel covers and grille blackouts. Inside there were new stitch patterns, ventilated trim, an alloy-spoked steering wheel and centre console.
Three models were offered in 1968 - the Monaro, Monaro GTS and Monaro GTS 327 - and a choice of five engines. The base Monaro came with the '161 (2.6-litre) engine, a six cylinder '186 (3.0-litre) and a 5.0-litre V8 ('307) engine.
The Monaro GTS offered the 3.0-litre ('186S engine) and the 5.0-litre V8, while the high- performance GTS 327 'Bathurst Special' had a US-built 5.3-litre V8. All up, there were 19 Monaro engine and transmission combinations.
The base Monaro was equipped with a three-speed column shift and had a top speed of 137 km/h. As a consequence of no B pillar, body weight was up on the Monaro, requiring the entire under-structure to be redesigned to provide the required body rigidity. The roof was lowered 4 -inches and the seats placed closer to the floor to maintain headroom. Rear vision was very poor and the cars were prone to rusting as Holden used thick unprotected steel, assuming the body would outlast the mechanicals! The 161 and 186 engines struggled to live up to the Monaro image and drum brakes provided average stopping power.
Handling was also average. The original Monaro has gained iconic status over time, but in truth, the first Monaros were very average, although visually striking vehicles. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, the Monaro grabbed the motoring public's imagination, helped in part by back-to-back Bathurst wins.
The pick of the first Monaro range was the GTS 327. Priced at $3,090 it had a claimed power of 188kW and a top speed of 185km/h (about 115 mph). Zero to 100 km/h was reached in 9 seconds, which was more than half the base model Monaro!
The 327 used the same US-built engine as used in the Chevrolet Corvette, Impala and various Pontiacs. It was also equipped with an imported heavy duty Saginaw gearbox, imported 10-bolt Chevrolet rear axle and axle locating arms.The GTS 327 had a 114-litre fuel tank instead of the standard 75-litre unit found in other Monaros. If filled half the boot! Inside the 327 featured the first tacho found in a full-size Holden.
Unfortunately it was located in the centre of the dash and hidden behind the driver's left knee! The first Monaros had many faults, but the wick was lit on a car that has in recent years been embraced as a Holden classic.