The iconic V8 Holden sports coupe was the king of the racetrack back in the 1960s; they also ruled the road in a time when V8 spelt performance and the Monaro had more than most.

Fast-forward to 2001 and those classic images were rekindled in the form of a new-age Monaro sports coupe based on the Commodore instead of the Kingswood.  There was plenty of interest in the new Monaro and the market greeted it with great excitement, but once the initial enthusiasm was satisfied demand began to slide.

The VZ Monaro released in 2004 was an attempt to freshen it up for the local market, while at the same time toughening it up for the American market where it was sold as a Pontiac GTO.  The GTO was a legendary car in America and the Monaro had a tough task to win over US muscle car fans.

Ultimately the sleek, slick Australian coupe failed to excite them in sufficient numbers to make it a viable long-term model in the US and it quietly disappeared from Pontiac dealerships before Pontiac itself vanished.

MODEL WATCH

The Monaro was as much an icon inside Holden as it was outside.  There were plenty of Monaro fans at Holden who over the years bemoaned the absence of a sports coupe with the iconic name.  Their dreams to have a new Monaro became reality in 2001 when the Commodore-based V2 Monaro was unveiled.

The V2 Monaro started out as a behind-the-scenes, hush-hush project run by a handful of Monaro devotees who reckoned the VT Commodore could be converted into a coupe relatively easily and they set about proving it by building a one-off prototype.

Few knew about the 'coupe' project, it was even kept secret from the top brass, who only got to know about it when it was finally ready for public viewing and there was no option but to own up to its existence.  The coupe prototype was first shown at the Sydney Motor Show in 1999 where it won public acclaim, which was inevitably followed by questions about when it would go on sale.

That happened in 2001 when Holden launched two models, the V6-engined CV6 and the CV8 with a 5.7-litre V8 engine.  The CV6 failed to attract much interest and by the time the VZ was launched in 2004 there was just the Gen III V8 engine under the revised bonnet.

Visually the VZ was identified by the twin nostril bonnet scoops, which were added primarily to win over sceptical Americans who thought the Monaro was too soft to be a real GTO.

If the bonnet scoops gave the Monaro a visual boost the new rumble from under the bonnet added some much-needed growl.  With 260 kW at 5600 revs and 500 Nm at 4000 revs the VZ coupe boasted 15 kW and 35 Nm more than the previous model and Holden proudly proclaimed it to be the most powerful model it had ever produced.  Camshaft modifications improved the low to mid-range torque delivery, giving the VZ Monaro better throttle response and a sportier feel.

The VZ Monaro was available with either a six-speed T56 manual transmission, which boasted shorter gear ratios for a punchier feel right through the speed range, or a four-speed 4L65 for a smoother drive.  To rein in the extra performance Holden increased the braking performance with larger front disc rotors front and back, larger twin- pot callipers, and a new brake booster and master cylinder.

It was only natural, with the Monaro's position in the Holden model range that it came packed with features.  Included in the list were automatic air, cruise, leather, fog lights, power windows and mirrors, immobiliser, remote central locking, and 10-speaker sound with a CD stacker.

IN THE SHOP

There are few reports of issues with the Monaro; it is standing up well to the test of time.  The LS1 V8 had some issues with piston rattle and excessive oil consumption when it was first released back in the VT II of 1999.

Problem engines were rebuilt with new pistons, which fixed the problem, but it's worth listening for a light rattle as the engine is revved off idle.  Valve lifters can also be an issue as the kays climb, listen for a light tapping noise at idle, particularly when cold, which might signal a sticking lifter.

IN A CRASH

ANCAP rated the Monaro at four stars, a good rating for 2004, and reflection of the safety equipment the coupe carried.

For starters there was a responsive chassis with sports settings, powerful brakes, backed up by ABS antilock braking, optimum brake force distribution and emergency brake assist for maximum stopping power when most needed.

If all of that couldn't avoid a crunch the Monaro also had a comprehensive array of front and side airbags for protection.

AT THE PUMP

Holden quoted fuel consumption figures of 15.3 L/100 km and 13.7 L/ 100 km for the manual and auto models respectively.  A carsGuide test of the manual at the time returned an average of 13.8 L/100 km.

It needs to be noted that while the VZ Monaro would run on regular unleaded, it needed premium to achieve the best performance and economy.

LOOK FOR

Sexy coupe looks
Classic cred of Monaro badge
Spirited V8 performance
Sports handling
Gas-guzzler

THE BOTTOM LINE

The best looking car produced in Australia for years, with V8 grunt and the handling and braking to match.

RATING

80/100