Where are they now: HQFORU

Rodney and Judith Menso have gone full time-warp on HQFORU

Photographers: Shaun Tanner, Ashleigh Wilson, SM Archives

Street Machine really hit its stride in the mid-to-late 80s. Mags back then were packed with cars that are still beloved and influential today, and the covers are seared into the brains of just about every nostalgia-minded punter. However, few issues are more iconic than December 1985, thanks to HQFORU, our first-ever giveaway car.

First published in the February 2024 issue of Street Machine

SM had built a few projects in its early years, but editor Phil Scott upped the ante in 1985 by assigning touring car racer, mechanical guru and columnist Kevin Bartlett to create a hot HQ Monaro that would eventually be given to one über-lucky reader. Over the next five months, KB oversaw its transformation from a mild-mannered 1971 LS coupe into a circuit racer-inspired icon. It involved a 350 Chev driveline, a renovated interior, and huge steel flares over fat mesh wheels for a look that still breaks necks almost 40 years later.

“There was a huge build-up with stories in the magazine,” long-time HQFORU owner Rodney Menso recalls. A Brisbane bloke named Dale Cooper won the giveaway in 1986, and the car changed hands a few times in the years after. It eventually landed with Jeff Granshaw in 1991, who then sold it to Rod in 1996. “I bought the car off Jeff, and with his help, my brother Trevor and a couple of other mates gave it a freshen-up in time for Summernats 12.”

It’s pretty damn hard to ignore the modification bug when you own a car for a couple of decades, so HQFORU gradually evolved. In 2010, the Monaro copped a 6/71-blown, Dart-blocked Chev from Jeff, a flat firewall, bare-metal respray and fresh interior fit-out to drag it away from the 80s and into what was then the modern era. Rod and his now-wife Judith (SM, Sep ’21) would later go back to the original aspo 350, with a reverse-cowl scoop over the chopped bonnet. They didn’t know it at the time, but the backdate would eventually turn into a year-long mission to send HQFORU back to the 80s.

“It’s actually Judith’s fault,” Rod laughs when asked about the retrofication. “Last Summernats we were walking through a pavilion and she spotted the Momo steering wheels. She said, ‘Ooh, that’s the same sort of wheel that was on the Monaro when it was given away. You should get another one!’ So we bought the yellow and suede Momo wheel, and that was it. When we got back, it was straight down to the shed, but we couldn’t just put the steering wheel on it; we had to do the whole thing again!”

Rod’s a car painter by trade, so he got stuck into stripping and spraying a flat bonnet and a few worse-for-wear body sections in Porsche Guards Red. He replaced the pointy front air dam with a blockier Repliglass unit that’s “pretty close” to the original, which had been lost by the time Jeff bought the car in 1991. Rod even re-ordered the original-combo plates as OG-style yellow ones. “The boot spoiler I redesigned a little bit, because it never sat really nicely,” he explains. “The rest was just a rub-back with 800-grit, a shot of colour where it needed it and a fresh coat of clear.”

There’s also some finer details to be spotted, like the Chevy Orange highlights on the grille, and heaps of 80s-spec goodness on the new small-block, from the yellow ignition leads to the winged hold-down bolts on the original engraved rocker covers. Inside is an even bigger game of spot-the-difference, with a cool ‘what’s old is new again’ vibe. Rod turfed the colour-coded fascia and aftermarket gauges in favour of the original GTS stuff, and swapped out all the red (save for the original harnesses, of course) for the contrasting grey-on-black trim the König seats wore in ’85.

Just like when SM built it the first time (or the second time, if you count Holden’s first effort), Rod and Judith faced a major time crunch, but instead of a looming mag deadline, it was a journey across two states and one territory to Street Machine Summernats 36 – “drive, push or tow” was the final objective on Rod’s to-do list. He thrashed to neaten up the chassis, Turbo 400 and nine-inch diff in the final months, while Tony from TDv Autosport sorted the electrics with a slick wiring harness from Bluewire Automotive. “I only found out if it went into top gear on Northbourne Avenue on the way back to the hotel after the first day at Summernats,” Rod says.

The only real mishap was just days before HQFORU was due in Canberra. “I ran over the grille, which was outstanding,” Rod laughs. “Jude had brought her car in from a test drive and we had to get it cleaned, so I quickly moved the Monaro. The grille was just sitting in place and as I drove out of the shed, I heard a funny noise and kept going. The funny noise got louder and there was the grille! I had to jack up the car to get it out; it was pretty bad.” It was too late to source and paint a replacement, but some careful gluing got it back in one piece.

Judith took on the Summernats 36 Grand Champion chase in HERLX, while Rod joined the Street judging in HQFORU, raking in lots of well-deserved love in the process. “The feedback has been very positive and a little humbling; one gentleman came along and told me he got goosebumps because he saw it in the flesh,” Rod says. “It’s good to be a part of the chain, if you know what I mean, and to bring a bit of interest to younger people who aren’t familiar with it.”

HQFORU’s fourth trip to the ’Nats ended with a Top 50 spot among the Street crew, but Rod’s favourite takeaway might’ve been meeting up with Kev Bartlett on the way home. “That was one of the coolest moments of my car career, I reckon,” Rod beams. “We’re friends with Todd Martin, who’s right into touring car history, and he knows Kev. He’s on the Sunshine Coast, so he could meet us when we were coming back, and that was an opportunity we just couldn’t pass up. Kev’s eyes lit up when he saw the car, like ‘Ooh, hello!’”

KB and the Mensos had a ball chatting about the Monaro and Aussie hot-car lore in general, including some of KB’s bigger ideas for HQFORU had time and budgets not been such a worry. “The engine isn’t the original, but I still have it in the shed in bits,” Rod explains. “When I was rattling off what’s in this one, KB went, ‘Spot on – that’s exactly what we would’ve done back in the day!’ It sounds like they told him he could do all this stuff with the engine or they could pay him, and I think Kev chose to get paid!”

If you didn’t get to see the car at Summernats, don’t despair. Rod’s rubbing back and buffing a few more sections of paint in time for an appearance at Rockynats 4, where it’ll see plenty of showing and cruising and have a crack at the street drags. The Mensos have never shied away from using HQFORU to its absolute fullest, and that’s not about to stop!