Holden Monaro Convertible: Australia’s Mercedes-Benz SL that almost was

When Holden pulled out of Australia in 2017, quite a lot of prototypes, design sketches, and tales got here to the floor.

That features the story of what was going to be the Holden Monaro Convertible, Not Marilyn, the Monaro-based convertible constructed for the 2004 Melbourne motor present, however the unique primarily based on a VN Commodore.

A telephone name about one specific Monaro Convertible sparked my curiosity. It is a automobile that wound up within the palms of a former senior engineering worker, earlier than being offered to a pal of mine.

Not solely did we get behind the wheel of the automotive, it got here with complete documentation displaying the design, engineering, and advertising and marketing course of Holden and HSV had been planning to observe in a bid to convey the automobile to manufacturing.

Whereas our major focus right here is new automobiles, this story is just too good to remain hidden.

The historical past

Relating to manufacturing a brand new mannequin, carmakers want a chunky marketing strategy to ensure it is sensible and can ultimately earn them a revenue.

Within the late Nineteen Eighties, Holden Particular Automobiles (HSV) was a brand new firm on the block. Based in 1987 by late UK motor racing supremo Tom Walkinshaw, the model’s specialty was taking Holden merchandise and enhancing their efficiency.

The late ’80s had been all about extra energy and aggressive design. By the point 1989 rolled round, HSV had produced its first automotive: the VL Commodore SS Group A SV.

It was Holden-badged and created for the aim of racing homologation.

Following this, HSV rolled out the VL-based SV88 and a pair of six-cylinder Commodores. It wasn’t till the era change to VN that HSV obtained critical about modifying Commodores.

That is the place this story began.

How the Monaro Convertible happened

Bear in mind motor exhibits? Australia had two main exhibits that had been held every year – one in Melbourne, and one in Sydney. They had been an amazing alternative for carmakers (native carmakers specifically) to gauge curiosity in ideas earlier than they hit manufacturing.

HSV needed to introduce a high-performance four-seat luxurious convertible, and needed to make use of the 1989 Sydney motor present because the take a look at mattress.

Within the background it was already engaged on the HSV SV5000 and the subsequent iteration of its racing homologation automobile, the VN Commodore SS Group A SV.

In March 1989, HSV pitched the concept of ​​a luxurious convertible Commodore with the grunt to tackle its European competitors. That competitors included the Mercedes-Benz SL, which in SL500 guise featured a naturally-aspirated 5.0-litre V8 making 235kW of energy

The marketing strategy included a prototype that might be assembled in time for the Sydney motor present to gauge the general public’s response.

The prototype could be primarily based on a Commodore Berlina (the mid-luxury specification) and would come with HSV SV5000 operating gear. That meant switching out the V6 drivetrain within the Berlina donor automotive for an even bigger, extra highly effective V8.

The V8 from the SV5000 featured high-compression pistons, a selected camshaft, consumption system, headers, and a twin exhaust. It pumped out a formidable (on the time) 200kW of energy, and was meant to be able to taking it to the SL500 from a efficiency standpoint.

Earlier than the concept may progress any additional, HSV commissioned a Melbourne design company referred to as KAF Artistic to give you an artist’s impression of the automotive and help with the enterprise case. The design confirmed an understated two-door convertible with a cloth roof.

Along with the design, HSV constructed a enterprise case that might be pitched to administration to get the venture off the bottom. It proposed:

  • One prototype to be constructed for the 1989 Sydney motor present
  • 25 automobiles to be constructed within the first 12 months, which this may see it categorized as a low-volume manufacturing automotive
  • 100 automobiles to be constructed within the second 12 months, which might push it into the subsequent compliance bracket and require extra compliance work, together with crash testing
  • Estimated beginning worth of round $90,000, equal to round $200,000 at present

Engineers got the inexperienced gentle to have interaction Maverick Motors in Melbourne to design and engineer the conversion from four-door sedan to high-performance two-door convertible.

Maverick Motors quoted HSV $43,000 for the work required to make the prototype occur. In at present’s cash that is slightly below $100,000, which does not look like unhealthy worth given the work concerned.

Maverick Motors kicked off the method of conversion in August 1989. It was all the time going to be powerful to fulfill the October deadline for the Sydney motor present, given how a lot work was concerned.

October got here and went, however the prototype nonetheless wasn’t full. By the point January 1990 rolled round, HSV had formally killed it. The venture missed all its essential timelines, and the prototype construct confirmed that it was going to be too laborious to make the venture work as something greater than a one-off.

Regardless of its challenges, HSV nonetheless needed to finish the prototype. Maverick Motors saved at it till March 1990, when the venture was formally full.

The adjustments had been big. Not solely did Maverick trim the wheelbase, they put in unbiased rear suspension (not normal on a VN Berlina, however normal on the SV5000) behind a second physique that was fused to the unique. In addition they swapped the engine and driveline, and made all of it work with an aftermarket electrical roof.

In complete, the adjustments included:

  • The wheelbase was shortened by 140mm, and the entrance doorways lengthened by 220mm
  • The windshield was lowered by 50mm to enhance the profile
  • The facet glass was remade to go well with the brand new dimensions
  • The electrical folding convertible roof was imported from Michigan, and created by an organization referred to as Idea Vehicles
  • The physique was painted in Maranello Purple

The automotive was handed over to HSV, which transported it to the corporate’s headquarters in Notting Hill.

The next work was accomplished after it arrived:

  • The V6 engine was switched with the 5.0-litre V8 from an SV5000
  • HSV tuned the springs and dampers
  • The GM TH700 four-speed computerized was switched with a an SV5000-tune GM 400 four-speed auto
  • A Momo steering wheel was fitted, and the inside trim was up to date to incorporate HSV-specific colours

What occurred subsequent?

I do know what you are pondering. It was a VN, why is the automotive pictured right here a VP?

After being accomplished in Might 1990, it underwent its personal facelift.

It acquired a set of 17-inch alloy wheels from the VR Clubsport, the entrance fascia from the VN Group A, and fender extensions. It additionally went from Maranello Purple to Heron White with a Holden Racing Crew (HRT) livery.

It was then used as an HRT and HSV promotional exhibit within the paddock at a number of Australian V8 touring automotive motor racing occasions throughout 1993 and 1994.

Throughout this era it was reportedly take a look at pushed on the Calder Freeway north of Melbourne by nine-time Bathurst 1000 winner and racing legend Peter Brock, who mentioned it is “sensible, let’s hope these go into manufacturing.”

In 1995 the automobile was retired and saved at HSV, the place it lived till 2012. From there it was held privately earlier than being offered to my pal.

What’s it prefer to drive?

Our time behind the wheel was solely transient, however I personal a 1993 Holden Commodore SS with HSV enhancements so sitting inside this was surreal – particularly given it has simply 1500km on the clock. It turns over like model new, and feels new all through.

The roof operation is digital and has a last handbook latching mechanism to seal it shut. It even got here with a roof cowl to hide the roof parts when it is down.

The shortening of the wheelbase meant second-row passengers have subsequent to no leg room. Shoulder room was additionally robbed by the facet portion of the roof mechanism, however rear-seat passengers did get their very own window switches for some hair within the wind motion.

Boot house was additionally minimize to accommodate the roof folding mechanism.

Unusually, whenever you view the Monaro Convertible from a distance it really seems to be proper as a drop-top. It cuts a nice line and the improve to VP spec actually rounds off the entrance edges of the automotive.

It nonetheless has the muscly V8 rumble that was synonymous with the Australian-built 5.0-litre V8.

Might this have ever competed with the Mercedes-Benz SL500? It is extremely unlikely. But it surely’s an amazing disgrace it by no means obtained its second within the solar.

The subsequent time Holden tried a convertible was in 2004 with the Monaro-based Marilyn convertible.

Little doubt Holden confronted the identical challenges with making the numbers stack up, which, I reckon, is a superb disgrace!

What now?

The brand new proprietor is hoping to get the automotive out to exhibits, to ensure it stays a part of Australian motoring historical past and never hidden away.

There are a stack of one-off gems like this concerning the place that may ultimately come to the floor. Let’s hope it is not lengthy earlier than we get to see the subsequent one.

I am certain you are all questioning, what’s it price? With current traditional Holden auctions seeing figures of over $1 million, this might be a traditional keeping track of.

Click on the pictures for the complete gallery

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