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First drive: VZ Monaro scoops up power

Scoop: Holden builds a faster, smarter VZ Monaro - complete with bonnet scoops!

Holden’s latest Monaro sports coupe is also its most powerful car ever

13 Sep 2004

YOU'RE looking at the Monaro that was never going to be.

Back in late 2001, when the Commodore-based two-door made its sensational return to our roads after a 25-year absence, the frank assessment from Holden was this would be a short-term model.

Made possible by new math-based development techniques, Holden had devised a business case which would allow a substantial profit on 7500 sales, and then a departure before it all went a bit stale.

Ah well, that was this then and this is now. And that now means Monaro is the basis for the reborn Aussie-built Pontiac GTO with a sales potential in the US market that allows the local version to continue on in our showrooms.

Having said all that, this VZ iteration may well have happened anyway with or without the US, considering Monaro has exceeded expectations by selling 8700 examples since its November 2001 launch and continues to show life as both a cash generator and range flagship.

It’s just that what we see here is not what we would have got without the US, and probably nowhere near the $15 million allocated to develop it.

As VZ represents the biggest update to Monaro since its launch, Holden is predicting a kick in sales to go along with it to around 300 per month. That’s up from the current 2004 average of just over 200 per month for Series III.

The inevitable price increase should not be an impediment to that ambition, as it climbs just over one per cent to $60,490 for the single Monaro CV8 model.

The most obvious sign of the over-riding import of the US market are those two bonnet scoops, designed by Holden stylist Richard Ferlazzo to Pontiac requirements.

Almost purely cosmetic, the scoops are a GTO design signature. But there just wasn’t time to get them completed for the first Monaro/GTOs to go on sale in the US late in 2003.

Pontiac is hedging its bets by offering the scoops as an option

The result was some US media and fan criticism of the styling being a bit tame, accompanied by slower sales than expected, with around 5600 GTOs accounted for in about nine months on sale.

Holden and Pontiac had hoped for around 18,000 sales in the first year. And while some of the blame appears to lie with the distribution process within the US sending too many cars to the northern states in winter, the need to put more ‘Goat’ (a GTO nickname) into the car was recognised.

Job's fixed it seems, but even so Pontiac is hedging its bets by offering the scoops as an option. Yanks can get their hood sans scoops if they want to.

In Australia, where Holden is in the midst of an anti-parts proliferation campaign, there is no such choice. Your Monaro comes with hood scoops, or not at all. Of course, if you really can’t cope with holes then a Series I, II or III bonnet will fit straight on.

But the spin from Holden is that market research showed that potential buyers love the scoops and prefer them over the more traditional look. The debate went all the way to board level where the marketing graphs and charts eventually took sway over the alarm bells ringing in the minds of some very senior Holden executives.

The grimace on Holden engineering boss Tony Hyde’s face during the launch as he said "don’t they look great" perhaps summed up the mixed feelings within the company.

Such was the debate, it’s understood that the final green light for Munroe bonnet scoops was given just two months ago.

But while the scoops and much of the sheetmetal are shared on both sides of the Pacific, there are styling touches the Yanks don’t see.

The new front fascia including the hexagonal mesh grille, the headlight shape (but not the lens shape), gaping lower air intake and the vertically stacked fog and parking lights are for the Holden version, as well as the Chevy that goes to the Middle East and the Vauxhall version for the UK.

Those light stacks are not only striking but clever, because they overcome the NSW and South Australian ban on running foglights in the day. There’s no ban on parking lights is there ...

The running lights also merge well with the two circular tail-lights which sit vertically in the rear cluster. While that detail’s a carry-over, there is a new rear fascia with a hexagonal lower mesh insert shared with GTO. Just to complete the look, there are 95mm chrome exhausts exiting either side.

13 center imageThose bazookas and the new sheetmetal pressing for the right rear three-quarter panel are hints of how much GTO mechanical development is now driving Monaro.

The Monaro’s fuel tank moves up between the rear axle and seat in common with GTO (done to meet US safety legislation), hence the new sheetmetal for a relocated fuel filler. The shift of the tank allows the GTO’s full length split dual low restriction exhaust to be fitted, which plays a key role in boosting top-end power as well as the exhaust note.

Also coming from Pontiac is a different camshaft (LQ4) used on the US iteration of the Gen III 5.7-litre V8, which pulls the power and torque further down the rev range to improve launch feel and midrange. A larger 95mm diameter air intake system and mass air flow sensor also come onboard, although that change is spread throughout the VZ Gen III range.

When used with 95 RON PULP fuel, the result is the most powerful Holden-badged production car ever, pumping out 260kW at 5600rpm and 500Nm at 4000rpm. That compares to Monaro Series III’s 245kW and 465Nm, and VZ Commodore SS’ 250kW and 470Nm.

But there is a very important point of difference for GTO in the engine bay. From the 2005 model year it runs the new 6.0-litre LS2 engine, which isn’t due to start flowing into mainstream Holdens like Monaro until the all-new VE arrives in the first half of 2006.

But that engine is still close to local launch. The fact that Monaro’s engine is now tagged "LS1 plus" confirms the replacement of Holden hothouse HSV’s LS1 V8 with the LS2 should be only week’s away when the Z Series arrives.

There’s one VZ engine change you won’t see in Monaro and that’s the Alloytec

Other engine-related changes are familiar from VZ. There’s upgraded cooling capability and a new engine management system which allows an electronic throttle and a massive upgrade to the latest Bosch traction control, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist systems.

There’s one VZ engine change you won’t see in Monaro and that’s the Alloytec. As far as Holden is concerned, the old supercharged CV6 proved there wasn’t a market for anything other than a V8.

Move to transmissions and the GTO rears its head again. The Tremec T56 gearbox has shorter ratios in all but fourth gear and has been labelled M12. It’s exactly the same ’box as goes into the Pontiac.

The Monaro and Pontiac also now get the heavier-duty 4L65 four-speed auto that’s already seen here in HSVs and commercials, although it has a slightly different torque converter and 3.46:1 final drive ratio that now matches the manual.

Both gearboxes should make the transition to VE, along with a new six-speed auto expected to grace higher specification models.

GTO also contributes to the brake upgrade, which is now the biggest package of any Holden. Front ventilated discs are 320mm x 32mm, painted red and topped off with a twin pot calliper from the new C6 Corvette. The rear discs are also ventilated and measure 286mm x 18mm. Expect that set-up – or something very close to it - to flow through to VE.

The chassis is one area pretty much untouched. The power steering upgrades flow through from other VZ models, but not the changes to the front suspension. The deep dish alloy wheel design is new but not the low profile Bridgestone Potenza tyre size at 235/40.

Holden does claim an improvement to more rear grip at higher speeds as the split exhaust pipes allow the rear underbody to act as a deflector, reducing lift on the car at 100km/h by a claimed 16 per cent.

There is a notable change to weight, which is up about 50kg to 1692kg for the manual and 1698kg for the auto.

On the new ADR 81/01 fuel consumption guide, the manual rates at a hefty 15.3L/100km, versus the auto at 13.7L/100km. That’s up for both over the old ADR fuel consumption regime and particularly unhelpful to the manual because Holden now has less control over parameters involved in testing such as gearchange points.

Changed, but far less significantly, is the interior. There’s a high-mounted oil pressure and voltmeter gauges in the same type of housing seen in HSVs and the Holden all-wheel drives, and a glossy black surround for the centre stack and console.

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