A drag racer turned circuit king needs more than the ordinary race car
Steve Hildred’s wicked HT Monaro is a pretty special car. It has a real presence about it, yet it’s quite subtle in many ways. And that is surprising, because Steve is an ex drag racer, and drag racers are renowned for their excessive tastes. Steve has managed to achieve barnstorming speed (it’ll lap Pukekohe in 63¯seconds) while maintaining the Monaro’s classic looks. It doesn’t even have any racing stripes. Yet it’s an all-out high speed weapon.
“The car runs a Barry Grant 750 double bumper carb and dart inlet manifold, which sit on top of a bowtie block”
Steve’s Monaro has been tearing up the tarmac for a long time now. It’s become an integral part of the scenery. Probably as much so as Steve himself. The pair fought off a fearsome line-up of rapid machinery to win the 2005 GDM Group Central Muscle Cars series. An impressive feat, that’s for sure. But this success was actually just the latest in a long line of what has been a pretty successful racing career for Steve.
The countless number of circuit racing victories Steve has clocked up over the years proves he’s a pretty mean steerer. But his racing career actually began in the aim and fire world of drag racing, which is where many of you would recognise him from. And modifying cars has always been in the blood. Serious modifying.
Not one of Steve’s early rods escaped without undergoing a heart transplant.
The first car, when Steve was 19, was a 10-year-old Ford 100E Prefect, into which he squeezed a Vauxhall¯6 motor. This doubled as both his daily transport and as a racer. The first legal drag race he had in this car was at the old Bay Park race track, which has long since been bulldozed to make way for housing.
Understandably, this would have been a pretty hair-raising machine, but Steve really lusted after V8 power. So after two years the 100E was flicked off, and replaced by an unsuspecting EH¯Holden into which Steve stuffed a 327 Chevy, with four IDA Webers, a Muncie gearbox, and a Ford nine-inch diff. This car was such a weapon, Hot Rod mag did a feature on it in its August 1975 issue.
The EH made for a good drag racer and cool family hack, but Steve was getting a bit more serious about his racing, and the EH had its limitations. The problem with the EH Holden is that it’s a bit of a hefty beast. Even the earlier ‘Humpy’ FJs are lighter, so off the EH went to a new owner, who promptly wrote it off, and a Viva wagon took its place. The Viva was more of a serious drag car than a combination daily driver. This car has actually enjoyed a few moments of TV prime-time fame, being implanted into the Armco at Meremere by a more recent owner.
Steve built the car up with a 350 Chevy, and caged it out, and it served him well for five years. But when he and wife Bev needed a new house, the Viva was put on the market.
Next up was a Ford¯T-bodied B/Altered, which ran an injected 350 Chev. Steve’s best quarter mile time in this car was an 8.5, although when running nitrous it went quicker still. He built the car in 1980, and ran it pretty much right throughout the rest of the decade.
Hooked on tarmac
But then one day, he and Bev went along to watch long-time friend Frank Pierce race his Ernie Sprague circuit-racing Zephyr at a Taranaki hill climb. And Steve was hooked. After 20¯years of drag racing, he decided he now wanted to go circuit racing. And to this day, Frank still gets the blame!
The first thing to do was decide which type of car he’d go racing in. Watching Paul Tunnel scare himself silly in a wild HT¯Monaro during one of the support races for the Wellington Street race event provided the answer. Paul’s Monaro was an all-out racer. But Steve didn’t want that. He wanted something he could drive to the track with the family, then kick his passengers out and go racing. It was a nice idea, but like all well intended low-key projects, it soon steered itself way off course. Steve got hold of a suitable HT Monaro, which he sourced locally. In the early ’90s, big Aussie coupes weren’t nearly as rare or expensive as they are now. So finding a good cheap car was pretty easy. This one was parked up on someone’s back lawn.
Once Steve began stripping it back, he found rust in the floors. The car came with a set of replacement panels, which had to be welded in. Then he found he needed to source a second car, to replace parts that were missing off the first one. So he went out and tracked down another one, which had been rolled and bowled, and parked in a barn. It had some of the necessary items he needed, so he approached the owner about buying parts off it.
“Wilwood brakes bring all 1460kg to a grinding hault in a hurry, with six-pots up front and four-pots in the back”
After a few return visits to take parts off the second car, the project took a slight change in direction. At this stage, Steve wasn’t planning on fitting a big multi-point cage in the car, because it was going to be a roady. But without a cage, he also didn’t fancy racing a car which had a new floor welded in, so he went and asked the owner of the rolled Monaro, which was rust free, if he’d like to sell the whole car. The exchange was made, the sorry-looking mess was towed to his workshop, and the first car was bolted back together and sold.
So now Steve had himself an HT which, while rust free, had a squashed roof. That meant he needed to source yet another car, from which to get a new roof. He found one in Wanganui. It was owned by the previously mentioned Paul Tunnel, who is actually a relation of Ian Williamson, whose wild Mustang we featured in NZV8 Issue¯1. Paul had a rough, cut-up HT which had the rear wheel arches chopped out, and the guttering shaved off the roof. So Steve took home Monaro number three, and set about removing the roof to attach to Monaro number two.
By this stage, the car was no longer going to be a road/race car. It would only be an all-out racer, although it did become road registered, and still is to this day. Steve did virtually all the work on the car himself, including building the roll cage out of Southward steel tubing.
At a time when many of the classic V8s competing around the country were fairly rough beasts, Steve’s Monaro was a work of art. The quality workmanship, care, and attention to detail ran right throughout the car, right down to the shiny new bolts which held the front panels on. Nothing was overlooked.
More than 10¯years later, the Monaro is just as magnificent. The paintwork, by The Paintshop in New Plymouth, is still as glossy. Outwardly, the car looks exactly as it did when Steve first built it, but beneath the skin it has constantly evolved.
Currently, the car runs a Barry Grant¯750 double pumper carb and Dart inlet manifold, which sit on top of a Bowtie block. The Pro heads and camshaft have been fettled by Steve. Valves are all Manley, titanium 2.150¯intake, and steel 1.625¯exhaust. Pistons are JE, rods are Eagle, and crank is a balanced Calais, while a big alloy Griffin radiator keeps the whole lot cool.
Steve is a bit secretive when it comes to power figures, not wanting to give too much away, but it’s over 600hp (447kW). Exactly how much over, only Steve and his dyno machine know.
Steve ran a Top Loader gearbox in the car for many years, but after this broke a couple of times he replaced it with a four-speed Nascar Jerico ’box. Down the rear, the Monaro runs a 10-bolt Chevy with floating hubs. Wilwood brakes bring all 1460kg to a grinding halt in a hurry, with six-pots up front, and four-pots in the back. The big rotors measure 13¯inches up front, and 11¯inches in the rear.
The Monaro has a nice stance to it. It sits on five-spoke, three-piece Simmons wheels, which measure 16¯by¯10¯inches at the front, and 16¯by¯12 at the rear. Steve has done a nice mini-tub job to fit those big rear feet inside the bodywork while avoiding having to flare the guards.
Adjustable Koni shocks are fitted all round, with two-inch drop spindles at the front. With the get-up-and-go this car has, you’d assume all the panels and doors had been replaced by lightweight fibreglass items, but with the exception of the bonnet, she’s all steel.
The first outing for the newly completed machine was at the Hamilton street race, which is possibly the worst place you could debut a new car. And to make matters worse, it rained.
Steve has raced the Monaro consistently and enthusiastically for the 11¯years since. He’s a regular visitor at Manfeild and Taupo, and has made the trip down to Ruapuna on a couple of occasions as well. He used to trek up to Pukekohe a fair bit to run with the Auckland Muscle Car series, but as muscle car numbers continued to grow in the central and lower North Island, Steve decided he wanted to create a series which catered to these cars. In 2003 Steve, along with fellow Taranaki racers Rhys Humphries, Tony Williams and Wayne Fabish, created the Central Muscle Cars series.
They structured the rules to allow for virtually all currently competing non space-framed muscle cars built before 1983. And right from the off, the class was a massive success.
Having GDM Group come on board as sponsor was a huge boost, and car numbers continue to grow. After two seasons, the class is still gathering momentum, and new cars are being built all the time. So it seems only appropriate that Steve won the series this year — the series he created, in the car he built.
1969 HT Monaro
Engine: Bowtie block. Calais 3.48 stroke — balanced crankshaft; Eagle six-inch steel rods; JE 12.5-1 pistons; JE chrome moly rings; camshaft: owner-designed and all top secret. Power range: 3500 to 7500rpm. Pro Heads flow 300 plus cylinder heads; 2.150¯Manley Titanium inlet valves; 1.625¯Manley stainless steel exhaust valves; TD shaft mount 1.5, 1.6 rockers; Manley 5/16-inch pushrods; Dart inlet manifold; Holley fuel pumps with surge tank; Barry Grant 750 double pumper carburettor; HEI distributor with 6¯AL¯MSD. Griffin radiator.
Driveline: Tilton 7.25-inch clutch. Jerico four-speed gearbox; 10-bolt Chevy diff with floating hubs.
Suspension: Koni adjustable shocks; two-inch drop spindles.
Brakes: Front, Wilwood six-pot, 13-inch rotors; rear, Wilwood four-pot, 11-inch rotors.
Wheels/Tyres: Front, Simmons three-piece 16×10-inch wheels, 310/650-16 slick tyres; rear, Simmons three-piece 16×12-inch wheels, 290/640-16.
Performance: Around 600hp (447kW). Pukekohe: 63¯secs, Manfeild: 1.13¯min, Taupo: 41¯secs (lap times rounded to the nearest second)
Occupation: Self employed Automotive Technician (Steve Hildred Motors)
Previously owned cars: ‘60 Ford 100E Prefect with Vauxhall 6 engine, ‘64 EH Holden with 327 Chevy, ‘70 Viva Estate with 350 Chevy, B/Altered Ford T with fuel injected 350 Chevy.
Sponsors: Ian Roebuck Crane Hire, Total Paint Supplies New Plymouth, The Paint Shop New Plymouth, Redline Oil, The Tucker Truck.
Special Thanks: Bev Hildred, Alex Ward, John Ingle, Rhys Humphries.