Norm Beechey’s original HK Monaro isn’t nearly as famous as his 1970 title winning car, nor is it a car that could be described as hugely successful, but it is extremely significant in Holden racing history.
The car was handicapped by a short gestation and development period, and a sometimes fragile Chevrolet V8 attempting to transmit power (nudging towards 500bhp) through narrow tyres regulated to fit within stock wheel wells. There was also plenty of quality opposition to contend with, Pete Geoghegan with his finely honed championship winning Mustang, and the formidable Trans-Am Fords of Bob Jane and Alan Moffat among them.
Even by the standards of the day, Beechey’s new ride wasn’t particularly highly modified - certainly not on debut. Engine wise it was familiar territory, the 327 was pretty much identical to the unit in the Chevy Nova Beechey had been campaigning, it was simply a matter of applying existing know how and experience. American Forgetrue pistons replaced the production items, resulting in a 10.5:1 compression ratio. Melbourne firm Hamar fashioned a bespoke set of tuned length extractors to draw gases from the modified cylinder heads, which were crowned with the same 58mm cross-over Weber configuration as the Nova. Engine temperatures were kept in check by a Corvette aluminium radiator. The gearbox, limited-slip differential and steering remained stock GTS, as did the brakes; albeit fitted with competition linings and the front discs being fed cooling air through hand crafted aluminium ducting.
Remarkably the Monaro’s suspension received very little in the way of modification. At the front, Armstrong adjustable shock absorbers were employed with the factory springs and sway bar. Stiffened springs, tramp rods and Armstrong adjustable shocks worked hard to keep everything in order out the back. The car wasn’t lowered at all, largely due to the limited space for the 7 inch wheels and Firestone racing tyres.
Against the odds, Beechey defeated arch rival Geoghegan at Calder on debut in late 1968, at this early stage the Monaro wore its standard ‘Warwick Yellow’ paintwork. To the unrestrained delight of the assembled GMH executives, Beechey out accelerated Geoghegan’s Mustang down Calder’s main straight in the run to the flag, taking the narrowest of wins (see far right).
As if to prove his new Monaro’s abilities, Beechey trekked to Caversham in Western Australia the following weekend, knocking a full second off his lap record in the process of winning the Western Australian Touring Car Championship. Two weeks later the Monaro rolled out at Symmons Plains, where Beechey led home Tasmanian local Robin Pare at the wheel of his Mustang in two programmed scratch races. Once again the Monaro set a record pace, equaling Beechey’s best Nova lap time. All didn’t end well on the weekend however, pushing hard in a later handicap race, Beechey crunched a front guard against the armco, but the Beechey/Monaro combination had laid down the gauntlet and looked the goods to be a strong challenger for 1969 Australian Touring Car Championship.
The early promise of that late 1968 campaign didn’t really covert into major success during the 1969 season. Now resplendent in it’s more familiar bright blue Shell Racing colours, the Monaro struggled in the heat of battle against heavy hitters like Moffat, Geoghegan and Jane. While powerful, the wet-sumped 327 wasn’t particularly durable and Beechey was hampered by marginal brakes and that limited rubber footprint. However, it’s the 1969 championship series that makes this car so significant in the General’s local competition history. Beechey rounded out the championship by winning the final two rounds of the Australian Touring Car Championship. It’s these wins at Surfers Paradise and Symmons Plains that make this car significant, as it made the Monaro the first Holden - ever - to win Australian Touring Car Championship races.
1969 was the only season the car competed consistently at a national level, and its only season racing on the east coast for that matter. At the end of the season Beechey sold the coupe to West Australian property developer and racer Peter Briggs. The now Shell yellow Monaro underwent a rebuild by mechanic Terry LeMay prior to a March 1970 debut at Wanneroo Park.
“My first taste of pure power was driving my ex Norm Beechey Monaro on skinny tyres around the newly constructed Wanneroo Raceway,” said Briggs. This legendary Australian muscle car took Peter to the top of the podium, winning the WA Touring Car Championship in 1971.
Peter raced the car successfully for two years until business and financial difficulties forced him to abandon racing, and hand the car over to mechanic LeMay as payment for his services. This was 1973 and, at the time, the Monaro was just another ageing race car. The high quality performance parts in the car however, were very desirable, and Terry needed to recoup some cash. He soon sold the car to local Perth speedway driver Leo Gommers.
It was Leo’s intention to utilise the ex-Beechey car as a reference point for his own speedway Monaro. After many years laying idle and taking up space, Gommers transported the stripped HK shell to rural Narembeen - 300km east of Perth - where it was to rest for nearly twenty years on the property of fellow speedway driver Ian Metcalf. But the story doesn’t end there.
In 1989 Metcalf was contacted by Gary Smith, a friend of WA motorsport identity Don Behets. Gary was keen to take the Monaro on as a restoration project, a deal was done and the car was soon on a trailer to Perth, and subsequently back to Victoria. Over the next decade, Gary slowly breathed life back into the GTS until he too sold the car to current historic touring car driver Milton Seferis. With other projects taking precedence over any further restoration of the Beechey Monaro, Seferis put the car up for sale in 2001. It wasn’t long before a buyer emerged and the Monaro, along with an expensive inventory of parts, headed for Sydney. Holden’s original V8 ATCC challenger hasn’t been seen in public since.
However... as a result of my research into the car I received an unexpected telephone call from the current Sydney based custodian. He was reluctant to divulge very much, however he did assure me this mighty Monaro was in safe hands, but the car was many years away from full restoration. Over 40 years since her last race, it seems this legend lives on!