Euro Torana - 1983 HDT Monza
During his time running the Holden Dealer Team and its accompanying HDT Special Vehicles road car business, Peter Brock offered a number of homologation special Commodores for Group C and Group A touring car racing. As well as the Commodores, Brock investigated expanding to Opel based models, including a Kadett GSi, and most famously the V8 Monza.
Prior to 1978, Holden homologated Group E Monaros and Toranas, and then Group C Toranas themselves. Once Ford pulled out of touring car racing, Holden could no longer see the point of competing. As a result, Peter Brock’s Holden Dealer Team (funded by Holden dealers rather than Holden themselves), were forced to diversify into road cars to homologate Commodores for Group C to replace the Torana.
In 1981, Brock went to Europe to race a Porsche 924 at Le Mans with Jim Richards and Colin Bond. They failed to start the race, but the trip wasn't a complete waste of time. While in Germany, Brock was loaned an Opel Monza and was very impressed by it. "I loved it. It was a very nice car, very well engineered. And I loved the look of it. This was a good looking vehicle”, he said in 1983.
He could see the potential of the Monza. Based on the same GM V platform as the Commodore, itself a modified Opel Rekord, it could accommodate the Group C SS Holden V8. It also had independent rear suspension, giving it nicer handling than any Australian car at the time. Peter thought the combination of European chassis and Australian V8 engine would make it one of the world’s best sports cars. In 1983, Brock purchased a Monza and brought it back to Australia.
Unlike its predecessor, the 1983 Monza did not share any body panels with the Commodore, but underneath, it remained identical. This meant that it was easy for HDT to replace the Monza’s front crossmember engine and steering rack with those from a HDT Commodore SS, including the Group 3 5.0L V8. The engine was mated to Borg Warner's new T5 five speed manual. The engine was unchanged from the Commodore, producing 184kW (247 HP) at 450 rpm, 67 HP more than the 3.0L Opel.
The V8 did not have the same impact on the Monza’s handling as putting six cylinder engines in the Ford Cortina, Chrysler Centura and Leyland Marina had in the 1970s. The Holden V8 was actually lighter than the Opel six and sat further back in the engine bay. The HDT Monza ended up having better weight distribution than the six cylinder Opel Monza
The brakes were also upgraded with Corvette-style units featuring finned discs. These weren’t featured on a Commodore until several years later. It would have also been the first Holden fitted with ABS brakes, which were instead not introduced until the VQ Statesman in 1990.
Having established that it could be done, the next step was to figure out how to put it into production. Rather than importing complete cars and stripping them, HDT decided to try and source incomplete cars from Opel.
As Peter explained in a 2001 interview:
"I ended up going to Opel and organised how to buy the car in semi-finished condition, it was a very old assembly line they were doing the Monzas on, in Russelsheim and it was a double-storey job.
"I walked along the assembly line and we realised that at one particular point [on the line] it had the fuel tank in it; it had no diff or engine or trans but it was fully trimmed.
"So we said, ‘Right. As it turns around the corner here, we’ll pull the car off the line and put it in a box and we’re cooking with gas!
"We could buy the rear end complete with the tail shaft, but we didn’t need gearboxes, didn’t need engines. And the landed price in Australia would have been very cheap. We were set. From memory, the cost of getting the trimmed body shell, with the dash in it; no engine, trans, radiator; ready to accept all the Commodore mechanicals – was about $14,000.“
He believed that it could sell for $35,000, $8,000 more than a Commodore SS at the time, but far less than other European coupes. The Monza was first seen in public at the Canberra Motor Show in 1984, where a local dealer ordered eight of them.
The prototype was loaned to Wheels and Modern Motor magazines, with the latter describing it as “the most exciting car to emerge from an Australian workshop in recent years”.
Holden put a stop to it. Brock believes that they saw it as a threat to the Commodore. He thought of it as an enhancement to the Commodore range. The cost of complying with Australian Design Rules was also given as a reason for the HDT Monza not reaching production. It was reported that ADR compliance would push the price up to $50,000. What might taken into account in the business case was the export potential. In exchange for incomplete Monzas for completion and sale in Australa, Holden and HDT could have exported V8 engines and the associated componentry to Germany for installation in left hand drive Opel Monzas.
Even though the Monza had been ruled out for production, it played an important research and development role for both HDT and Holden. Brock kept testing it at Holden’s Lang Lang proving ground, with the aim of fitting IRS to one of his Commodores. With Ford rumoured to be working on IRS for the 1988 EA Falcon, Holden, too, was interested in IRS development and made use of the Monza to do so. Brock released his first car with an independent rear end in 1988. Unfortunately it was in his last HDT car, the polarising Director in 1988. The VN Commodore did not offer IRS however. As with ABS, Holden did not offer IRS until 1990, in the VQ Statesman. The Borg Warner T5 would also make it into a production Commodore in the 1988 VN.
Once Brock was finished with the Monza in the late 1980s, it was sold to a private collector. In 2005, owner Phil Walmsley gave Brock the opportunity to drive it for the first time since he sold it in 1985 and was impressed by how he was still familiar was with it after 20 years. Walmsley said Brock still lamented not being allowed to produce them. Early last year, Phil put it up for auction, citing that it was time for somebody else to enjoy it. It was expected to sell for around $120,000. It failed to meet it's reserve and was passed in. A one-off like the Monza should be extremely valuable, but its lack of racing pedigree and relative obscurity limits its appeal to buyers.
The HDT Monza combined the best elements of European and Australian performance cars, and would have made an excellent halo model for Holden. It would have also made for a much better touring car, particularly in the early days of Group A. It may not have reached production, but it it played an important technical role in the development of later Commodores. It remains one Peter Brock's most under appreciated road cars.