Those of us who keep an eye on the collector car auction scene will no doubt have seen the recent Lloyds auction of the 1969 Holden Dealer Team Monaro known as 57D. I first became familiar with this car and its former owner Rob Coulson about ten years ago; but before a review of this car’s origins and life a little historical background is warranted.
In 1968 Holden launched its new HK range which included a ground breaking two door coupe christened “Monaro”. For the top of the range Monaro 327 GTS Holden raided Chevrolet’s parts bin for the 327 V8, Saginaw four speed gearbox and ten bolt differential. Development was spurred by Holden management having decided to make an exploratory foray into Series Production racing with their new 327 GTS, thereby challenging the dominant Falcon GT competition. However there was a problem, General Motors had a global ban on motor racing so some subterfuge was going to be required.
In order to mask their participation Holden had David McKay a journalist and owner of the Sydney based Scuderia Veloce racing team establish the Holden Dealer Racing Team. With the provision of financial and other material support through Holden and a number of dealers three GTS 327s were entered by the Holden Dealer Racing Team for the 1968 Hardie Ferodo 500. These cars were all registered in the name of GMH and like many competitors were driven to and from Bathurst. Fortunately for Holden after six hours and forty four minutes of racing Monaros filled the first three places with the nearest Falcon finishing a distant seventh.
Encouraged by this success Holden management decided to continue their racing involvement, but for a variety of reasons elected to part company with David McKay and Scuderia Veloce. Consequently Holden were in need of another means of disguising their motor racing activity. In a stroke of good fortune Ford had decided to dispense with the services of their long term motorsport manager Harry Firth, so Holden swooped and the Holden Dealer Team was born. Ironically, the HDT was to operate for almost a decade out of Firth’s workshop in Queens Avenue Auburn, which had formerly housed the Ford Works Team.
For 1969 the fledgling Holden Dealer Team built four HT 350 Monaros with the cars being supplied by various Holden Dealers around Melbourne. 57D was supplied by Campbell Motors in Preston and was the first to be raced by HDT as a single entry for the Sandown 300 on September 21st 1969. The Sandown 300 was eagerly anticipated with the Holden and Ford heavyweights locking horns in a pre cursor to Bathurst which was just a little over two weeks away.
Of course Harry Firth was anxious to make a good impression on his new Holden masters and show up the Ford competition under their imported American team manager Al Turner, sadly history records that it was not to be a happy day for Holden and the HDT.
Firth had selected two of the country’s top drivers in Spencer Martin and Kevin Bartlett to drive the new Monaro. Initial practice results were good with 57D setting second fastest practice time to secure a position beside Allan Moffat on the front row of the grid. At the flag fall with Spencer Martin at the wheel the Monaro held station in second position before being passed by Fred Gibson in a Falcon at around the twelfth minute.
Maintaining third place Spencer Martin continued to circulate for the following half hour until around the forty fifth minute when things went seriously wrong. Approaching Shell Corner at the end of Sandown’s main straight at over 100 mph Spencer applied the brakes only to find the peddle went to the floor with speed unabated. Being well experienced Spencer knew that a head on collision with the armco at high velocity was to be avoided at all cost. Jamming the gearbox down to third and hauling on the handbrake the Monaro jumped the armco backwards tearing out the petrol tank and starting a large fuel fire.
With the doors jammed closed Spencer had to exit to safety out of the driver’s side window. The fire was quickly extinguished and upon examination damage to 57D was for the most part superficial. However, a most inauspicious start for HDT with Holden demanding to know why things had gone so spectacularly and publicly wrong.
Back at HDT headquarters the pressure was on to determine why the brakes had failed and ensure that the problem did not reoccur at Bathurst. Ultimately it was determined that a simple brake pad mix up had occurred during practice with road pads being installed rather than race pads. After some forty five minutes the road pads had wilted under the pressure of racing causing the brake fluid to boil.
To further assist braking at Bathurst homologated changes were also made to the panel under the front bumper to direct air onto the brakes and slotted wheels employed for additional brake cooling. Of particular significance an examination of the engine disclosed scoring of the bores and a chrome moly piston rings were subsequently adopted by HDT for their race engines.
There was no time to repair 57D before Bathurst and the three other HDT Monaros were duly entered for the 1969 race. No doubt to the relief of Firth and Holden a HDT Monaro secured first place with Colin Bond and Tony Roberts whilst Des West and a young Peter Brock having his first drive for HDT finished third. By Bathurst 1970 the Torana XU1 had become Holden’s front line racing car and the Monaro era ended with victory in both 1968 and 1969.
57D was subsequently repaired and sold within the internal Holden tender system in May 1970 to an employee, Tony Connelly for $3,205. In 1999 Rob Coulson persuaded Tony to sell him the car which then underwent a light restoration back to its 1969 specification and livery. Rob was an enthusiastic owner enjoying and showing 57D regularly until 2017 when he made the difficult decision to sell. The car was listed for auction by Lloyds and after an intensive marketing campaign was knocked down to a successful bidder in Queensland for $500,000.
Then in June of this year 57D was offered to the market again by way of auction through Lloyds. Despite Covid and global uncertainty the Monaro sold for $715,000 underwriting the strength of the collector car market.
The other three HDT Monaros seem to have disappeared following their disposal by HDT. Certainly one went to Bob Morris and another to Laurie Nelson and these continued racing into 1970 and beyond. However one of the cars, claimed to be 43D the Brock/West car from Bathurst, was auctioned through Graysonline in 2019. Despite extravagant claims by Greys there is a significant cloud hanging over this particular Monaro with experts pointing out that the body shell is from the wrong plant to be an HDT car and the three ID tags do not match each other or the specification of the HDT cars. A true case of buyer beware, perhaps reflected in a sale price of $450,000. Still a considerable sum but well short of the sums achieved for 57D which has a clear and undisputable pedigree.