40 Years of GTS: classic MOTOR

Celebrating four decades of the GTS legend, on a pilgrimage to where it began

40 Years of Holden GTS classic MOTOR

Our Damion has a plan. It seems that this month is the 40th anniversary of the GTS name in Australia and, unable to contain himself until the 50th, MOTOR’s eager Production Editor has rustled up a pile of Holdens bearing that sacred badge.

 This feature was first published in MOTOR Magazine's August 2008 issue

The Plan is to give their owners a taste of the Mount Panorama circuit that coated the name in glory… and me the experience of 40 years of evolution in one day. Commencing at dawn on Sunday, it is a good plan. But not perfect…

However, fired by passion, fuelled by scholarship and completely unfazed by any lack of response from my side of the car, the Young Master outlines the contenders in horrifying detail as he plies us to meet them in the latest-of-the-line LS3-engined HSV VE GTS which, even in dim lighting, is easily the most agreeable of the VE variants.

Granted, this is faint praise as the brute still has the stance of a phone box and the visibility of a bunker, but let’s cut it some sporting slack: because in that context it has merit, as 317kW usually does. But it’s the delivery of 550Nm of torque and the Magnetic Ride Control-equipped chassis that, numbers be buggered, impress on our journey. A journey back in time, and not only because we meet out in semi-rural Richmond.

Assembled there are an SBS diversity of souls linked by both a love of Australia’s uniquely bastard-born but circuit-sanctified cars and a staggering knowledge of their minutiae. Did you know that an original 350-engined HT Monaro’s prop-shaft was painted purple? I couldn’t have even made that up! What these folk don’t know, I am assured, isn’t worth knowing.

Neither, I’m thinking on a Sunday morning, is all they do know, but the first-of-the-series 1968 HK GTS 327 Monaro, created from the sow’s ear of the HK sedan by Holden stylist Joe Schemansky’s team, and presented today by Stephen Short, has an extraordinary presence. And, as the first to bear the brand − and justify it with a Bathurst win − it demands, and receives, respect. Boarding it, though, confirms that the past is a different place.

Pull on the seatbelt and it doesn’t budge. Adjust. And adjust to seats as slippery as a dancefloor that top out at mid shoulder-blade and address a thin-rimmed, hard-gloss, yard-wide wheel. How anybody raced that workstation (and the rules required they did) almost defies comprehension.

The red brute is no less demanding on the road: a car of almost religious purity, it offered few comforts. Neither air-conditioning nor automatic transmissions were offered and the high and hard-as-a-dog’s-forehead dashboard bristles with menace.

The absence of effective sound proofing and a harshness of ride give the HK an intimacy which no modern car would allow and the woeful ergonomics even allowed a console-mounted tacho. I ask you. But never mind… it won Bathurst and that allowed it any sin, then and now.

Cars that once changed hands for $4000 are now worth $140,000 + and the best part is you can still use them. John Bertuzzi’s 92,000 mile HT GTS 350 Monaro underlines the point; not that it doesn’t take some effort if you’re keen. And he is.

Probably the most original car on the guest list, it’s Factory Authentic down to its nuts, bolts and period radiator clamps. Even the battery is original – or its casing is at least – and contemporary tyres are professionally red-walled to look period perfect. But Factory Authentic doesn’t mean cotton-woolled concours and John’s entirely happy to use the westward roads to demonstrate what God gave us the 350 engine for.

40 Years Of Holden GTS Classic MOTOR HT GTS Jpg

That advance over the HK’s 327 reflects, along with subtle interior and exterior refinements, a solid year’s work back at the factory; work rewarded by the second, and last, Bathurst victory for the GTS badge.

The improvements show on the road, too, with a deeper, more primal sound, improved seating and more sensible instrumentation, but I suspect that all the love lies on the other side of the firewall for John: big V8s go back to his childhood and even today, his (and his wife’s) five cars have nothing less than five litres apiece.

Okay, some of the car’s old bones creak on the Bells Line of Road, but the heart is still there and when, years ahead, the last V8 is heard in the distance, I have a fair idea who’ll be driving it.

Realising that some of the finer points were escaping me on his daybreak briefing, Damion had offered a simpler definition of ‘GTS’; “It means” he’d intoned with due reverence “Forty years of too much power and stripes”. And he’s right. Two-doored, four-doored; serious racer to highway heavyweight, the badge has been a very broad church indeed.

As Peter Hennessy’s HRT-optimised 1996 HSV GTS-R proves. The rarest and wildest Holden ever to wear the GTS badge, the four-door R is a standout even in this company.

I still remember driving one at its launch and shrinking into the seat at every traffic light. This from an E-Type owner. But the thing was, and still is, outrageous, with its massive rear wing and carbonfibre detailing and bright ‘XU3 Yellah’ paint (the standard taxi colour in Melbourne) all adding to the clamour.

Number 26 of only 85 made and blessed with Peter Brock’s golden signature on the dashboard, Peter’s car, owned since new and wearing just 20,800km, is light-years ahead of the earlier cars in refinement. The semi-racing seats bear some resemblance to the human form, its dashboard looks merciful and the wheel’s chunky rim is actually something mortal man can grip.

Underneath, racing experience in his BMW E36 M3R has inspired Peter to equip the GTS-R with modified springs and dampers and cross-drilled, slotted brake rotors. So the thing goes real-world harder than it ever did and the wing does whatever it does without disturbing the vision. And from the inside, you don’t even have to look at it, Praise Be.

From the inside all you can see and feel is a still-raw car on the cusp of evolution…and savour the taste of both worlds. Rawness is but a memory for Robert Losurdo. He once owned both the HK and HT here present among a collection that, embracing all things grunty and Australian, has also included GT Falcons.

As treasurer of the HSV Owners Club and president of the Australian Muscle Car Club, it may be assumed that our Mr Losurdo knows a good deal about such brutes but that is strictly incorrect. He knows everything, and even in this company, has godfather status.

So his arrival today in a 2003 HSV GTS Coupe is a commendation of the return of the GTS badge to its original form, as a two-door with the 5.7-litre LS1 engine that matches the HT’s 350-cube armament and Chevrolet parentage. And then some.

Damn near 50 percent greater output and two more gears turn everything downhill quicksmart and if Sir requires more acceleration than this GTS Coupe provides, Sir might like to step out the door of the plane.

Remaining indoors is wiser, though, because the coupe is the first of this lot that actually feels truly cohesive…solid. As it should, with a new-car price of $105,000 making it the most expensive to ever wear the GTS badge. It rides firmly, but not uncomfortably, due in part to good seating intelligently employing leather and fabric where they should be for both physical effect and aesthetic benefit.

The exterior aesthetics, though, are somewhat more controversial. Based on Mike Simcoe’s lovely 1998 Sydney Motor Show-stopping VT Coupe form, it has received yet another (after the Pontiac aberration) nose job to Add Manliness.

Simcoe reputedly hates it and that’s the author’s privilege, but in truth it works relatively well. Whether it will still do so after 40 years, as the HK certainly does, remains to be seen, but I’m not embarrassed to arrive at Mount Panorama in it.

And there, in the GTS heartland, the stories begin again, facts and fallacies debated, and the comparisons and rivalries bubble up in good humour as the later cars are dubbed ‘plastics’ by the earlier model-owners, whose claims that their relics can’t be killed with a stick simply inspire a quest for a bigger stick.

And on it goes into the afternoon, disturbed only by Photographer Bean’s command for yet another angle or antic or briefly interrupted by the odd truancy around the circuit until, in fading light, our Mr Losurdo announces his departure to attend a Monaro Club meeting which causes me, if no-one else, to cry out into the coming night: “What’s left to say?!”

Perhaps now, not a lot. But on the journey home, it finally becomes very clear that the stories should be remembered and retold and these cars should be kept and used and shown. Because they are a part of our history that will not, I think, come again.

The goals are changing now and while there will always be a demand for cars that delight, they will do so in ways far more subtle – and sensible – than brute displacement. And we will be well served by them in every sense, I’m sure. Every sense but sound.

That lovely, lazy rumble on the way home from Bathurst is as pure a music as any machine ever made and as I listen, I can imagine the pleasure of owning a GTS. The only choice would be which. Because at the end of the day, if I had to drive one, it would be the last of them.

But to look at, it would be the first.

A big thank you to Rob Losurdo, John Bertuzzi, Steve Short and Peter Hennessey for giving us their time and knowledge. 

1968 - 2008 GTS Timeline

1968 HK GTS

The GTS legend began in July 1968, with the introduction of the two-door Monaro coupe. Monaro GTS was fitted with Holden’s 3.0-litre ‘186S’ engine but the top-line GTS 327 ran with the US-imported Chevrolet 327ci (5.4-litre) V8.

ENGINE: 5363cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 186kW @ 4800rpm
TORQUE: 439Nm @ 3200rpm
WEIGHT: 1488kg
0-97km/h: 7.6sec (man – tested)
0-400m: 16.4sec (man – tested)
PRICE: $3790 (1968)

1969 HT GTS

The HT debuted the ‘Aussie’ 253ci Holden V8. Top GTS had 350ci Chev replacing the HK’s ’68 Bathurst-winning 327. Better brakes for the GTS 350 provided more Bathurst stamina and suspension refinements better manners.

ENGINE: 5734cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 224kW @ 4800rpm
TORQUE: 515Nm @ 3200rpm
WEIGHT: 1504kg 
0-97km/h: 8.1sec (man – tested)  
0-400m: 15.6sec (man – tested) 
PRICE: $3995 (1969)

1970 HG GTS

The last of the ‘originals’. As before, GTS carried 186S or 253ci Holden V8 with GTS 350 (in two levels of tune for manual and auto trans) the mean man. Motorsport duties were handed over to the more
nimble six-cylinder LC Torana.

ENGINE: 5734cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 224kW @ 4800rpm
TORQUE: 515Nm @ 3200rpm
WEIGHT: 1530kg
0-97km/h: 7.5sec (man – tested)
0-400m: 16.0sec (man – tested)
PRICE: $4174 (1970)

1971 HQ GTS

Initially launched as a two-door with a choice of 253, 308 or 350-cube V8s. The success of limited-run SS-badged sedans in 1972 prompted Holden to launch the GTS/4 sedan – the first four-door GTS – in 1973 alongside pretty HQ GTS coupe.

ENGINE: 5734cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 205kW @ 4800rpm
TORQUE: 488Nm @ 3200rpm
WEIGHT: 1451kg
0-97km/h: 8.0sec (man – tested)
0-400m: 15.7sec (man – tested)
PRICE: $4630 (1971)

1974 HJ GTS

With falling demand and a fuel crisis, 350 Chev retires after HQ, leaving Holden 308 as optional top donk in both Monaro GTS coupe and GTS sedan. Brash new US-inspired nose didn’t blend well with coupe’s carry-over rear lights.

ENGINE: 5044cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 179kW @ 4800rpm
TORQUE: 427Nm @ 3000rpm
WEIGHT: 1438kg
0-100km/h: 10.4sec (auto – tested)
0-400m: 17.9sec (auto – tested)
PRICE: $5138 (1974)

1976 HX GTS

The two-door Monaro GTS is binned with the HJ, leaving GTS badge to be carried only on Monaro sedan with strangled-for-emissions engines. The 600-run LE was the sole HX coupe, but was more of a two-door Caprice than a tough GTS.

ENGINE: 5044cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 161kW @ 4800rpm
TORQUE: 400Nm @ 3100rpm
WEIGHT: 1475kg
0-100km/h: not available
0-400m: 17.2sec (auto – tested)
PRICE: $7016 (1976)

1977 HZ GTS

Last of the line was loaded with luxury, but with influence of German suspension bloke Peter Hanenberger evident in superb Radial Tuned Suspension, making it the best handler of the lot. Last GTSs built after Commodore arrived.

ENGINE: 5044cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 161kW @ 4800rpm
TORQUE: 400Nm @ 3100rpm
WEIGHT: 1475kg
0-110km/h: 11.9sec (man – tested)
0-400m: 16.8sec (man – tested)
PRICE: $8619 (1977)

1992 VP GTS

The GTS badge returns to Australian roads in late 1992, this time as HSV’s – not Holden’s – top road warrior. With special 200kW EFI V8 and upgraded VN Group A brakes, it tackled Ford’s born-again 25th Anniversary EB Falcon GT.

ENGINE: 4987cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 200kW @ 5200rpm
TORQUE: 410Nm @ 3600rpm
WEIGHT: 1633kg
0-100km/h: 7.31sec (auto – tested)
0-400m: 15.75sec (auto – tested)
PRICE: $53,750 (1992)

1994 VR GTS

Not since the HQ has GTS run a 5.7-litre (350ci) V8, but thanks to an HSV/Harrop  stroker crank, GTS delivers 215kW and 14.0sec quarters. With an HSV-only six-speed manual ’box and clever Hydratrak diff, it was the torque of the town – a real GTS.

ENGINE: 5710cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 215kW @ 4800rpm
TORQUE: 475Nm @ 3600rpm
WEIGHT: 1600kg
0-100km/h: 6.6sec (man – tested)
0-400m: 14.8sec (man – tested)
PRICE: $59,324 (1994)

1995 VS GTS

Ian Callum styled VS GTS offered 5.7-litre stroker and polished three-spoke alloys. Driveline identical to 246km/h VR GTS, but 250km/h speedo and firmer ride and handling package were introduced, with Touring and Sports options.

ENGINE: 5710cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 215kW @ 4800rpm
TORQUE: 475Nm @ 3600rpm
WEIGHT: 1600kg
0-100km/h: 6.19sec (man – tested)
0-400m: 14.8sec (man – tested)
PRICE: $62,677 (1995)

1995 VS GTS-R

‘XU3 Yella’ is the jam on the wildest-looking GTS ever, the VS GTS-R. Many of the 75 built are ordered with 230kW ‘Blueprint’ engines. Holden Racing Team spanners tightened the stroker’s tolerances for more power.

ENGINE: 5710cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 215kW @ 4800rpm
TORQUE: 475Nm @ 3600rpm
WEIGHT: 1600kg
0-100km/h: 6.6sec (man – tested)
0-400m: 14.8sec (man – tested)
PRICE: $76,000 (1995)

1997 VT GTS

The VT HSV range delivered a GTS with more power – 220kW thanks to better breathing and smarter EFI. A more aero-friendly bodyshell saw the VT GTS crack 250km/h in pre-launch testing. Last GTS to be powered by the Holden stroker.

ENGINE: 5737cc V8, OHC, 16v
POWER: 220kW @ 4800rpm
TORQUE: 475Nm @ 3600rpm
WEIGHT: 1740kg
0-100km/h: 7.6sec (man – tested)
0-400m: 15.5sec (man –tested)
PRICE: $76,000 (1997)

2000 VT II GTS

By VTII, the 220kW ‘Iron Lion’ Aussie V8 is gone. So – again – is HSV’s GTS until the LS1-based Callaway Engineering (USA) C4B ‘tier two’ engine arrives. With a special diff and six cogs, it’s a sweet sounding 300kW sub-6.0sec screamer.

ENGINE: 5665cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 300kW @ 6000rpm
TORQUE: 510Nm @ 4800rpm
WEIGHT: 1721kg
0-100km/h: 5.9sec (man –tested)
0-400m: 14.0sec (man – tested)
PRICE: $90,500 (2000)

2001 VX GTS

Follows on with same mechanicals but spawns the limited-run SV300 - a C4B-powered, manual-only affair boasting more luxurious appointments such as climate control. Still, the GTS remains the quickest HSV ever made. 

ENGINE: 5665cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 300kW @ 6000rpm
TORQUE: 510Nm @ 4800rpm
WEIGHT: 1700kg
0-100km/h: 5.4sec (man –tested)
0-400m: 13.57sec (man – tested)
PRICE: $92,100 (2001)

2002 VY GTS

Following the original HK Monaro GTS’ formula – two-doors and a thumping V8 – the 300kW C4B engine finds its way into HSV’s Monaro-based two-door to create the first HSV Coupe GTS. The hero colour is ‘devil’ – a super bright yellow.

ENGINE: 5665cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 300kW @ 6000rpm
TORQUE: 510Nm @ 4800rpm
WEIGHT: 1680kg
0-100km/h: 5.7sec (man – tested)
0-400m: 13.74
PRICE: $94,750 (2002)

V8s - The GTS' Heart and Soul

The GTS has always stoked the toughest V8 engine in Holden’s range, from the 1968 HK’s 327ci (5.4-litre) through to the latest 6.2-litre V8. In its original guise, the GTS was available as a six-cylinder (186S), but the real hero of the badge has always been Holden’s premium V8, with 5.0-, 5.4-, 5.7- and 6.2-litre V8s seeing power rise from 186kW to 317kW.

327 (5.4L) V8
Debuted with ’68 HK, the US-import was replaced by (also imported) 350 in ’69 HT.

ENGINE: 5363cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 186kW @ 4800rpm
TORQUE: 439Nm @ 3200rpm

253 (4.2L) V8
First Aussie V8 debuted in 1969. Used until HZ GTS; Carried on until 1984 Comodore.

ENGINE: 4142cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 138kW @ 4400rpm
TORQUE: 355Nm @ 2200rpm

350 (5.7L)
Debuted in 1969 HT, making the model the quickest of all GTS’ until the ’92 VP GTS.

ENGINE: 5734cc V8, OHV, 16v
224kW @ 4800rpm
515Nm @ 3000rpm

304 (4.9L)
First injected GTS mated solely to 4-speed auto in VP; EFI V8 debuted in 1988.

ENGINE: 4987cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 200kW @ 5200rpm
TORQUE: 410Nm @ 3600rpm

5.7L Stroker
Stroked version of Aussie 5.0-litre; used in VR/VS/VT Series I GTS and Senators.

ENGINE: 5710cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 215kW @ 4800rpm
TORQUE: 475Nm @ 3600rpm

5.7L C4B
Callaway-tuned, debuted with VTII in 2000; stronger and tougher than LS1.

ENGINE: 5665cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 300kW @ 6000rpm
TORQUE: 510Nm @ 4800rpm

6.0L LS2
Debuted with E-Series; better bottom-end torque; is still in Holden’s current range.

ENGINE: 5967cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 307kW @ 6000rpm
TORQUE: 550Nm @ 4400rpm

6.2L LS3
Debuted in 2008 Series II HSVs; more mid-range punch and an even better growl.

ENGINE: 6162cc V8, OHV, 16v
POWER: 317kW @ 6000rpm
TORQUE: 550Nm @ 4600rpm



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