A two-door Commodore Coupe in concept form was shown at the 1998 Sydney Motor Show and was the undoubted star of the show. Three long years later the third-generation Holden Monaro hit the road in December 2001.

The new Holden Monaro shared most of its platform with the Commodore sedan, but the body was 100 mm shorter than the sedan’s. Monaro can seat two passengers in reasonable comfort in the back seat, headroom may be problem, legroom is fine for most people.

The interior is more distinctive in its finish than the Commodore sedan and even the least expensive Monaro model has leather trim. The front seats have power operation and a smart release mechanism that makes them slide forward automatically to let people into the back.

The boot is voluminous, partly because it houses a space-saver spare wheel instead of a full-size unit. The rear seat backs don’t fold down to increase boot space. Styling changes with the introduction of the Monaro Series II in December 2002; and the Series III from August 2003 were relatively minor.

But the VZ Monaro of September 2004 had a much gutsier look thanks to the use of the bonnet scoops developed for the Pontiac versions of the coupe. That car was built in Australia and exported to the USA as part of an impressive program that worked nicely for the Australian automotive industry back in its heyday.

Two engines were initially offered in the new Monaro: a supercharged 3.6-litre V6 and a powerful 5.7-litre V8. Buyers overwhelmingly went for the bent eight and the V6 was quietly slipped from the scene midway through 2003.

Monaro V8 came with a limited slip diff, 18-inch alloy wheels, premium stereo system, Variatronic steering, 12-function trip computer, automatic operation, road-speed dependent windscreen wipers, a three-position driver’s seat memory and climate-controlled air conditioning.

Compared with the Commodore, Monaro’s suspension has a sportier tune. Some owners looking for a cruiser, rather than a bruiser may find it overly stiff. Others will grumble about road shock coming up the steering column. As always, try before you buy.

The V8’s steering is sharper and more responsive than the six, again because it’s aimed at the sports buyer. Holden Monaro is not as quiet as the sedan, though it's better in this regard on rough roads than many imported coupes, including those carrying upmarket German badges and selling for big dollars.

There are front and side airbags for the front occupants. They also get height-adjustable pyrotechnic front seat belts and anti-submarining ramps. ABS brakes try to prevent the need of the previously mentioned items.

Traction control complements the safety package, cutting back power if one rear wheel should rotate faster than the other. These were early days in electronic traction control and keen drivers will find it’s too intrusive and that it doesn’t turn off quickly enough.

Both Monaro models have an adjustable steering column, engine immobiliser, remote releases for the boot lid and fuel flap, power door mirrors, mobile phone point, a decent audio system with steering column controls, and driver's seat lumbar adjustment.

The Monaro V6 and V8 are both genuine performance cars, costing much less than imports with similar performance and handling. Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) introduced its hotter variants of the new Monaro in December 2001. However, it didn’t call its car ‘Monaro’, simply tagging it ‘HSV Coupe’.

The additional HSV body bits give the HSV Coupe a lower, more aggressive look. Some of the new styling harks back to the days of the old 1960s and ‘70s Monaros - check out the ‘gills’ behind the front wheels, as well as cues to the previous wheel covers in the new alloy wheels.

A fascinating version was the HSV Coupe 4, launched in December 2004 it uses a four-wheel-drive system to further aid traction. However, its added weight and the loss of most of the boot space meant it never really took off. Indeed, its rarity value may move it into collector status in the future, no promises though...

Spare parts are still available for these Monaro and are not over expensive, particularly if they are straight Commodore bits. It goes without saying that there are Holden dealerships in just about every town of any significance in Australia. Parts that are unique to the Monaro may not be stocked in more remote regions, but it seldom takes more than a couple of days for them to be transported from the spare parts facility.

Basic service and repair work can be taken on by good amateur mechanics. There's plenty of underbonnet space in a large car like this. Don’t touch any item that may be safety-related unless you know what you are doing. And it's wise to have a workshop manual at your elbow before beginning work.

Insurance premiums are usually higher than for the equivalent Commodore, reflecting the sporting nature of the typical buyer. But the costs are certainly not prohibitive. Monaros are generally bought by enthusiasts and are maintained strictly by the book. Ask to see the complete service record, a good one will probably add to the value of the car. Keep it up and you will find your Monaro easy to sell.

Despite doubters saying the new Monaro would be a fast-fashion item and wouldn’t last it continued to sell strongly for several years, before finally being discontinued in July 2006.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Engines should start easily and idle smoothly virtually from the moment they light up.

Check that the correct oil pressure is reached pretty well straight away. This is best done with the engine stone cold, preferably after and overnight stop.

Look for signs of body damage and for crash repairs. If there's the slightest doubt as to the body’s condition have a professional give it a thorough inspection.

Manual gearboxes should be quiet in operation and pick up lower gears during all changes with no graunching. The change action isn't the lightest around, after all these are large cars with big-torque engines, but if one feels too bad be very suspicious.

Make sure the automatic transmission changes smoothly and quietly, it should be virtually seamless except when accelerated hard.

We have seen damage on the bumper corners, these are big cars and can be hard to squeeze into tight parking spots.

Check the condition of the complete interior, particularly for signs of sun damage on the dash pad and rear shelf.

Look for scuffing of the front seat backs where people have squeezed through to the rear area.

CAR BUYING TIP

Before buying an enthusiasts car check to see if there’s an owners’ club. These can be exceptionally good sources of information - and someone may already know of the car you’re considering.