I laughed when we went sideways at 60mph, and I was still laughing when we did it at 75mph, but during the heart-pounding seconds when race driver Nathan Priddy wrenched the Monaro’s steering wheel left-right-left in a blaze of staccato jerks, I went quiet. Because we were on a straight stretch of road. Not flat, but straight, the tarmac rising and falling with increased abruptness on a road laid to test a car’s bump absorption, its suspension’s capacity to keep tyres in touch with terra firma when speed and the surface are trying to throw it free.
We’re here in Australia, Holden’s natural habitat, to sample The Holden Monaro on both track and the Great Ocean Road. As you may have guessed, the Monaro comes from a company that is refreshingly uncomplicated about why lots of us love cars, and admits that many of us enjoy their powersliding capabilities.
Start by imagining a coupé version of the recently deceased Vauxhall Omega, but if that thought inclines you to stop reading, you need to know more – not least because it is coming to the UK, badged as a Vauxhall. You need to know that this Vauxhall is powered by the Chevrolet Corvette’s 5.7-litre all-alloy small block; that the V8 spins six gear clusters; that it drives independently sprung rear wheels; and that there’s anti-lock and a traction control system that can be switched off.
Completely. This is a muscle car, Australian style, and it’s a genre Holden has a bit of a history with, the company having produced Monaros past that did the smokey pony car bit with that tyre-ripping lack of subtlety that is so appealing.
The ’68-’70 Monaro, an antipodean facsimile of the muscle-bound American coupes, makes this modern version look modest. Actually, it’s not. Especially if it comes painted Devil Yellow. That’s because it’s big – almost as big as the Bentley Continental GT – and sizeable enough to seat four adults in real comfort, along with a fair haul of luggage.
The combination of this and that fat V8 make the £28,650 Monaro a unique package here in the UK. Perhaps its closest rivals are the Nissan 350Z, though that is two seats and two cylinders down – or MG’s ZT 260, which comes with two extra doors, but 70 horses fewer from its Ford V8. Or you could spend tens of thousands more and get yourself a German coupé from Mercedes or BMW.
It’s hard to imagine this Holden matching the sophistication of any of those cars with such a red-neck spec. Surprise number one, however, is that the cabin is a comfortable and contemporary-looking habitat, if not truly special. Mock stippled aluminium decorates a centre stack from which a pair of Saab 9-5 cupholders perform their dance, the instruments include LCD displays, the gearlever and handbrake are fashioned from a pleasingly tactile mix of leather and faux aluminium, and the pedals are metal-faced to boot.
The big, squashily supportive seats are electrically adjusted. You may even find the lumbar knob too, stuffed tight as it is between backrest and B-pillar. So we’re not driving a piece of pre-history here, even if the Monaro is looking a bit dated.
This, then, is our weapon for the Great Ocean Road, and I find myself wondering what kind of car it will be. Blind assumption suggests a somewhat raw device that’s long on power and short on subtlety. However, the drive from the Holden headquarters in Melbourne to the dual carriageway that will take us to the Southern Ocean demolishes those thoughts. The Holden proves a quiet, comfortable, almost soothing machine with which to cut clear of the city.