There was a time when you could easily associate different countries with the cars they made there. Those days are long gone. The automotive industry of the 21st century is a leaner, more efficient space, where platforms and technology are shared between brands and vehicles are built all over the world.
Take General Motors, for example. Sure, they’re an American company—but what about their involvement with Opel (Germany), Vauxhall (UK), and Holden (Australia)? It takes less than five minutes on Wikipedia to get a sense of just how diverse the industry has become in recent decades.
In any case, the car we’re looking at today was built in Australia, with an American Corvette engine. It’s a Holden HSV GTO—not to be confused with a Holden Monaro or Pontiac GTO—or even a Vauxhall Monaro, considering this thirsty beast prowls the tarmac of England.
It’s an amazing machine.
[tgp] Introductions: My understanding is you’re upgrading an already extensively modified Holden HSV GTO. Is that correct? Anything else you’d like to mention?
[you] When I first went shopping for a Monaro, the one stipulation I had was that it had to be a stock car. I wouldn’t move from that requirement. I always believe that a stock car provides the owner with a blank canvas. This allowed me to start modifying her to my own personal style and taste without having concerns about any previous work done and the potential quality of it.
The car only remained stock for about one month after I bought it. The LS provided a platform that I’d never really encountered before with avenues for modifications coming from both the USA and Australia. A lot of my initial modification didn’t involve changing any of the internals, it was more focused on the typical items like exhaust, headers, suspension and then eventually I started getting to that space where I wanted to introduce forced induction.
At the tail end of 2018 I added a supercharger to the car with water/methanol injection. During the setup of the car I started to see the limitations of those stock internals. Whilst the LS is a very capable engine and you can get a lot from it, there is a limit and that needed to be overcome.
I always think critically about tuning my car, how I drive it, and what I want to achieve from it. I really wanted to push the car further and for that to happen, the engine had to come out and I took the decision to rebuild it using forged internals. This has taken me down a road I’d never been and I started to talk about big numbers.
On HSV GTOs…
[tgp] The most important automotive opinions are those of real, actual owners. As an HSV GTO owner, could you share a little unvarnished truth with the rest of us? What do you love about them? What do you not love about them?
[you] One of the biggest burdens that the Monaro and indeed it’s sibling the VXR8 had to endure here in the UK was the association with Vauxhall brand. You have GM in the centre and then their branches, Holden (Australia), Pontiac (USA) and then Vauxhall (UK). Why is that association an issue? Vauxhall are not known for building good cars, and that reputation carries into any car they ever released and as such, it touched the Monaro and VXR8.
I love the way the Monaro looks, I don’t really feel that there is another GT out there with such an aggressive front on it like the Monaro, with its large front bumper with massive intakes on it coupled with the bonnet with two nostrils scooping up the air, it’s power from the 6L V8 engine being laid down by the back wheels in that enveloping coupe body is just stunning.
It’s a car that gets a lot of attention; not something I ever got used to and would slump down in my seat when people would stop and take photos on their phones. The V8 turns heads everywhere and the Monaro has such a mean look that people just get quite receptive to the car and it’s relatively positive which is nice to see.
But… I always felt that, for a GT car that ships with 400bhp straight off the bat, its stock handling was spongy and disconnected from the road. I was always confused about the design choices and configuration of the suspension setup. In my opinion it’s one of the real weak points of the car. I think choices were made that weren’t right and delivered a very uncommitted feel to the drive. On a positive note, it’s a problem that’s easily corrected with some modifications.
[tgp] How did you end up in this camp? Why have you stuck around as long as you have? And is there anything worth mentioning about driving a GM product—and I suspect a thirsty one indeed—in the UK?
[you] I first saw the Monaro back in 2005, I attended the British Touring Car Championships at Knockhill when I was working for Mitsubishi. Vauxhall were there with a stand which was heavily VXR focused at that point. They had just introduced these two game changers to the line-up—V8 muscle, the Monaro and the VXR8. In the centre of their stand, a steel grated platform, and sitting on it, rather menacingly, was a red Monaro VXR. I was sold. The car was just stunning. And I remember starting at it whilst promising myself one day I would own one.
I had owned quite a few cars over the years and no matter where I looked, I could never find a Monaro that was still stock and in good condition. They are a rare breed in the UK and, unless you land a lucky private sale, you may need to approach specialists to buy one. I was fortunate enough to find one on a private sale in the same place I was going on holiday.
The GTO community…
[tgp] How’s the GTO community doing these days? Where do y’all hangout, share tech, and whatnot?
[you] There are a few outlets [where] you can do this. Forums kind of went away and so a majority of people congregate in the Facebook groups. There are a few UK-based Holden pages that I’m part of, and there are also a good amount of USA and Australian based groups too. They are home to a lot of friendly people and a lot of knowledge is shared between people and we all try to help each other out.
This gearhead life…
[tgp] When you think about automotive culture in general, what stands out as being the biggest issue we should be working on together? What’s your biggest concern and what should we be doing about it?
[you] That’s quite a big question, there are a lot of problems with car culture in my opinion. Car culture has two main areas, the first being the friendship and community of like minded people whom you can associate with. The second is acting as a platform to express one’s own individuality and taste to people. Lately though, it seems that more and more people are happy to copy what’s been done and it’s become a rinse and repeat affair.
Tuning is a good example. People no longer seem to look for what’s best, what’s possible, and how it can be achieved with a goal in mind. They simply say, “Here’s my credit card. I’ll have a Stage 3 please.” This, to me, is the death car culture in some ways.
The second, less spoken about issue, is social media. It provides a platform whereby a person can have a completely stock or entry level car and yet have more exposure and be better represented than those who’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to them.
Whilst these things happen, it doesn’t mean everyone is going it, these are just examples of areas that, in my opinion, are eroding car culture.
[tgp] Who’s made the biggest difference in your life with cars? How so?
[you] I will dive straight in here and thank Luis Sola of APS Service Centre (Australia). This guy knows my car inside out. I had it mapped here in the UK and (with all due respect) they just didn’t have a clue what they were doing, and I had no power gains from it. Luis came in, remapped my car, and transformed it into what it should have been all along. Luis remotely maps my car live on the rollers and his advice and help has always been first class, even with the time difference, the guy is always happy to help, a wonderful human.
The second person would be Emily Reeves (@imemilyreeves) from Flying Sparks Garage. I met Emily when I first got the Monaro and we’ve remained long distance friends ever since or rather, “GTO Fam” as she calls it. We’ve discussed various mods in the past and shared common issues about our GTOs.
The world is getting smaller.
Depending on where you live, you might have read this one thinking Pontiac GTO or Holden Monaro or maybe even Vauxhall Monaro. Regardless how you recognize this amazing machine, we at TGP think the really cool thing about it is how it’s an amazing machine known around the world.
Nationalism—when it comes to cars, anyway—will always have a special place in the heart of the gearhead. American cars. British cars. German Cars. Italian cars. Japanese cars. Each culture brings its own finishing touches to the machines. But the economies of scale at play in the automotive industry today make it easier than ever to find common ground with our brothers and sisters abroad. Playing with cars brings us together.