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Iron Lion – 1973 Holden Monaro GTS

20 June 2023

With a short and simple two-year build, here it is: Chris’s Monaro, the peak of an H-Series Holden, built tough and ready to shred

Words: Rixsta Sammons Photos: Glen McNamara

Because of his father’s admiration for Holden, there were many Holdens in Chris’s household when he was growing up; there was always one around. Before seat belts were mandatory, Chris has extremely fond recollections of riding to Saturday sports in the back of his dad’s Holden HQ sedan and sliding around in the backseat. It’s memories like this that have kept the Holden passion alive in Chris and his family today. 

Owning many Holdens in his life, from a VE Murphy Edition to a VZ R8 Clubsport, and a few in between, the idea to own the pinnacle of an H-Series Holden — being the Monaro — had crossed Chris’s mind. Before pursuing the HQ, Chris had favoured the HT model but was open to the HQ as well, and his wife had always loved the HQ. So when an HQ Monaro popped up for sale at a classic car show down in Christchurch, a slight nudge from the wife saw Chris making the trip to check it out.

The Monaro appeared to be in good condition upon arrival, but Chris wanted to make sure it was sound, so he hired a local panel beater to check it out. It turned out that the owner had been sincere when he said that the car was “rust-free”, and once the local panel beater gave it the thumbs up, all that was left to do was take it for a test drive. In the ad, the seller also said that the car’s original engine had been replaced with a 350ci L98 tuned port injection Corvette engine. They set off for the test drive, and it was at the first intersection that the seller began “swinging doughnuts”, according to Chris. He was not put off by the antics, and was far from shy of the loud pedal himself; it was at this point that he knew this car was for him, and the purchase of the Monaro was completed. 

Chris spent the long drive home to Matakana thinking about changes he wanted to make to the Monaro to make it more unique. Although the 350ci L98 outperformed the regular V8, it was no crown gem and was “quite ugly”, according to Chris, who had plans to alter the engine bay in the future. He did not touch the Monaro in any way for a long time after he had taken possession of it. On a particular Sunday afternoon, Chris decided it was time to take it out for the day. After getting the family loaded up, they headed out to Waipu Car Day, which is a car show in the North Island, where they would make their unofficial debut with the vehicle. Quietly creeping into the event, not to make a scene, and with the car not even having been washed since Chris purchased it, they had no intention to power park the car to show it off. After finding a shady tree, they parked up and set off to admire the cars at the show. It came as a surprise and completely out of the blue to them when they were awarded the best Aussie car at the show during prize giving. Driving home, chuffed, Chris thought to himself, ‘It might be about time I began bringing some of my ideas to reality,’ and that couldn’t have been more true when they broke down with major engine issues.

With prizes in one hand and a car that didn’t run in the other, now was the time that Chris had to get his A into G and get it sorted. During this time, he remembered a good friend who had a sleeved 350ci Chev block sitting under the workbench which would make good foundations for the devised engine build Chris had in mind. With this big-ticket item purchased, Chris could get the ball rolling. Having always wanted a blower for the Monaro, it meant that the internals of the Monaro’s new heart had to be strong and reliable. A plan was devised to build the 350ci Chev motor that Chris had bought and he called on a trio of talented shops and close friends — Mike From NXT LVL Automotive, Murray from Muzza’s Motors Ltd, and Al from Al’s Blower Drives. This saw a plan devised among them all to build Chris one hell of a motor that was going to withstand any torture he could give it. 

With the 350ci block sent down to Murray at Muzza’s Motors, it was first machined to Murray’s specifications by Regal Automotive. Once machined, Murray installed a 4340 steel stroker crankshaft, forged I beam conrods, and Mahle Motorsport pistons, resulting in a high-performance 383ci Stroker. A set of port-matched Dart Iron heads held down with ARP studs, matched to a custom blower spec camshaft, were installed, giving the engine plenty of lung capacity, and enough strength to handle a blower. It was unfortunate that Covid was peaking during this time and made the build stagnant for a while, causing issues with shipping and parts, but Chris was more than happy to wait. It was a year later that he got the call after dropping off the engine to pick it up — excited was an understatement, says Chris. With all the waiting for the engine, it did give Chris time to create a relationship with Al from Al’s Blower Drives. With the engine at home, Al was able to spend the afternoon with Chris at his house fitting the new 8-71 TBS supercharger to the engine; the engine was built for it and Chris was eager to get it running.

The next step was to get the car and engine to Mike at NXT LVL Automotive. Chris thought it would be a quick “drop the engine in the hole and drive away job”, but he was wrong, and Mike wasn’t in the game or known for doing rushed jobs. Chris had to wait another six months while Mike and the team installed the new engine, as well as a slew of ‘oh, while you’re there, you might as well do that’ tasks. New Pacemaker HPC-coated headers were installed, as well as a custom 3-inch exhaust with 3-inch mufflers and 2½-inch tips. 

A complete deloom and declutter were also performed to clean up the engine bay. Waiting for Mike to complete his work had given Chris the chance to think about new shoes for the wild lion, and after seeing plenty of YouTube clips on Mr. BAD HQ, a set of identical 20×8-inch V-Rod exposed front and rear wheels were ordered, and wrapped in 245/30R20 Vitora custom made in the USA. 

With the call from Mike to Chris to say the car was not only ready but also certified and fully road legal, the excitement was through the roof. “It has been two years too long,” Chris says, and he was excited and anxious to see what this Monaro could now do. First was fitting his new custom wheels and a slight altitude adjustment with a set of lowered Pedders springs, giving the Monaro a fresh new stance. With its first outing booked in for Pukekohe, a chance to stretch its legs didn’t go as planned for Chris, with the gearbox imploding on itself. As a saving grace, it proved that the engine was in good order, and the weakest link had failed first. Chris has since replaced the gearbox with a Tremec T5, Billet flywheel, and Mantic clutch.

Even though Chris still has a few minor issues to work out (re-carpet the boot and touch up the bonnet cut-out), the car and his dream of how the engine should look are both realised. The journey for Chris and this Monaro has been a short and pleasant one. Despite the occasional pinch of Covid along the way, it’s been a reality of smooth sailing, with Chris making memories and meeting good friends along the way. The car was built well and built tough, and if the pictures in the article haven’t convinced you already, it’s an outstanding performer. 

With this build for Chris and his family finishing up just in time for summer, maybe he should attend that car show again, this time being more loud and anxious; we could bet it would not be surprising if he won Best Aussie Muscle for the second time around. 

This article originally appeared in NZV8 issue 213