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The story behind the HSV HRT Maloo concept, from HSV's ex-boss

By Chris Thompson, 21 Jul 2020 Features

HSV HRT Maloo concept

Chris Payne was at HSV’s helm in the early 2000s, when the HRT Maloo was revealed

“That car was a true skunkworks activity,” former HSV general manager Chris Payne tells us.

Since we reported earlier in the year that the HSV HRT Edition Maloo concept went up for sale, Payne contacted us in the hopes he could shed some more light on the car, HSV at the time, and of course, the boat that was paired with the concept ute.

Payne’s conversation with us also gave us an insight into HSV as a company in what he calls a golden era, and we’ll bring that part of the interview to you soon, but here we’re telling you the story of the HRT Maloo, and what it meant to HSV at the time. Then, Payne was head of sales and marketing, before his time as general manager.

Here it is, the HRT Maloo for sale

If you need a quick refresher on the ute itself, it was a one-off show car built for the 2001 Sydney Motor Show, fitted with a 6.2-litre Callaway-tuned V8 making a huge massive 350kW and 600Nm.

A similar engine, Payne tells us, was housed in a Clubsport owned by then enginineering boss Brad Dunstan, who had a massive input into the Maloo. Back to that.

“It was pre-Monaro…” Payne continues, “something that wasn’t that well known was that part of what gave it the dramatic appearance was its windscreen and modified doors from the Monaro.”

The HRT concept’s sleek, swept-back windscreen does in fact set it apart from a regular Maloo ute.

“It was being worked on in the background when [ex-Holden boss Peter] Hannenberger had come back into Holden and was putting a lot of pressure on the organisation to grow.

“Of course, he really struggled with the appearance and aggressive styling of some of the cars at the time. He would often say that some of the road car designs were somewhat vulgar compared to what he’d be used to from his European experiences.

“But the Maloo was a more refined muscular approach than we’d ever done before. We think we got it right and the whole racecar-roadcar thing to work in sync and we had a fair bit of HRT involvement in the Maloo to keep that strong link.”

Throwback: Our first feature on the HSV HRT Maloo from 2001

In fact it’s likely HRT’s involvement in some of HSV’s operations, whether official or just as conversations between mates, that resulted in the famous HSV Response R8 by Malibu speedboat that joined the HRT Maloo on stage at the 2001 Sydney Motor Show.

“[HRT boss] Jeff Grech and I were thick as thieves at the time, John Crennan loved the aspiration of it all. Jeff was running the race team and with me running HSV sales and marketing, he even suggested an HSV motorbike and an HSV jetski.

2001 HRT Edition Maloo concept rear tonneau cover

“I hope the boat we did isn’t ever forgotten. The motor show was sort of looming and enough was never enough. The idea of the boat came about, we got friendly with the guy who had the Malibu boat licence to build and sell the boats in Australia. A guy called Xavier West.

“Brad and I jumped in the car and went up to Albury to try to understand how we could make this HSV boat come to life. We tried to team the boat with the car at every opportunity… which was a bit tricky because I’m pretty sure that boat never had a towbar on it. It wasn’t fully credible to have a boat hanging off the back… but I think at the time it was pretty well-received.”

We pressed Payne to see if he might reveal the whereabouts of the boat, or if he knew where it might be, and we were given the response we probably should’ve expected.

“The boat still exists, I remember the Monday morning we had plenty of people ringing up to try to buy one. It’s in somebody’s private collection.

“I’ve got a clue where it is, but that’ll be up to the owner if they want to declare that or not. Maybe MOTOR might get a ‘road’ test of it one day.”

Though we’re not holding our breath for that, and we might have to do so if anyone ever does let us test their speedboat, the legend of the HRT Maloo and the Malibu speedboat launched a series of… well, we’ll let Payne tell you.

Here are the road tests we are comfortable doing... on the road

2001 HRT Edition Maloo concept wheel

“That was the beginning of a series of an almost annual series of show cars we’d build as a key marketing lever we tried to pull.

“All those cars have got a backstory, particularly for the people involved. You look at some of the specs and it was a bit of a war of words between us and Ford. Even just things like… milling the 20-inch wheels on that car, a solid billet of magnesium, it was many thousands of dollars at the time.

Some more of Holden's hot concepts

“The naming of cars was always fun at HSV, we had a naming committee which I was on. Wasn’t a lot of research and science to it, we’d all have our say, but Crenno would always come in and have 10 votes. But Maloo was always such a strong name, and everyone knows what it means.”

Just in case you don’t it’s a word from one of many Aboriginal languages, and it means ‘storm’ or ‘thunder’.

“The HRT part was logical too because they had a genuine input when it came to that car.”

2001 HRT Edition Maloo concept badge

That input, perhaps as well as that of US-based tuner Callaway, is why then FPV boss David Flint called the HRT Maloo and its impressive outputs “scary” and “irresponsible.”

But what did HSV think of these words?

“Our view on it was you can never have enough power. We just lived and breathed it. The high performance demands of us in the road car business were directly from the behaviour of Holden on the racetrack. We just didn’t understand the comments, it didn’t make sense.

“Ford was running a different race and we were going our own way. We used to have a scoreboard at the time which showed monthly sales or touring car wins and of course we’d be miles in front. The dynamic was very different, and we were very ‘below average’ losers.”

Though Payne might not put it in these words exactly, HSV relished being ‘the winners’ and were proud of what the company had achieved, so much so that the Sydney Motor Show was often a perfect opportunity to ‘show off’ the work of a crew of petrolheads working in Clayton.

2001 HRT Edition Maloo concept engine

“We really used the Show back in the day, it was a massive part of our marketing. We wanted to shock and awe at the Sydney Motor Show. It wasn’t always rosy between Holden and HSV, and there were times we were begging for forgiveness and not asking for permission.

“Things like, uh, pushing a boat onto the Sydney Motor Show car stand was something we didn’t actually clear with many people at Fisherman’s Bend. We got a few frowns when they saw a boat there and I had to fight for it not to be dragged off.

“But Peter loved it, it’s all part of the cut and thrust of the time.”

We’ll bring you ‘part 2’ of our interview with Chris Payne on his years at the helm of HSV in the near future. Stay tuned.

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