60% of the Time, Driving One Worked Every Time
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo is like your father. Chances are you might think about it in her later years – uncool, mundane, and unable to get a second look from the hottie your mom once was. No doubt the 1995-2007 front-wheel drive Monte Carlos was about as tight as a car could get.
But the first Montes – 1970-1988, and in particular the cars of the 1980s – now those were hot stuff for young Cassanovas like your dad.
Birth of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The Monte Carlo first appeared for the 1970 model year as a sequel to Pontiac’s first “personal luxury” car, the Grand Prix. The Grand Prix was the brainchild of John Z. DeLorean, who at that time was running Chevrolet, although he was not involved in the development of the Monte. The latter was a response to new trends in the automotive industry: before emissions even killed horsepower, promising young people were moving away from muscle cars to affordable luxury cars. They were less interested in impressing neighbors and more interested in impressing themselves – the birth of the “me” generation.
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo is evolving
The Monte was restyled in 1973 with strong fender lines and an intentional resemblance to the Cadillac Eldorado. Chevrolet compared the Mercedes 280SEL for the design and handling of the front suspension, which seems rather laughable today. But we named the Monte Carlo Car of the Year 1973 mainly because of its epic styling and good manners on the road. The second-generation Monte was only in production for five model years, but it became a design icon of the 1970s.
The Monte Carlo was scaled down for 1978, along with all of GM’s other midsize cars, and once again its styling made it look a lot like an Eldorado, although the classic fender lines of the old Monte have been indelibly engraved in the sheet metal. If you were willing to double the sticker price with options, that was really a poor man’s Eldo. But it was the 1981 restyle that really brought the G-body Monte Carlo into its own. With four headlights, more subtle wing pleats, and a reproduction of the 1973 taillights, the Monte Carlo has reached a new level of freshness.
What made the Monte Carlo 81 -88 unique? Perhaps it was the fact that, amid a massive shift in the automotive landscape as automakers rushed to embrace small, front-wheel drive cars and respond to imports on their own battlefront, the Monte Carlo remained stubbornly traditional. It was by no means a step back; it was pretty old school cool.
The car seemed oblivious to the changes taking place around it. Over the course of the 1980s, cars became rounder, more space efficient and less distinctive. But the Monte Carlo was a throwback, and damn proud of it: Boxy and upright, with a ladder frame, rear-wheel drive, and long block overhangs on the front and rear axles. Some might have thought it was old fashioned, but no one would tell it in Monte Carlo’s face. Monte Carlo was bad-ass, and it imbued whoever drove it with that same bad-assedness.
Chevrolet Monte Carlo Performance
There was, of course, a factory hot-rod version of the Monte Carlo – the Monte Carlo SS, introduced in 1983, which had a 175-horsepower 305 (5.0-liter) V-8 and an aero front fairing of “European style”. Technologically, the Monte Carlo SS was nowhere near as interesting (or as fast) as Buick’s turbocharged Grand National and GNX, but it was a much better seller. The SS bred the Glassback Aerocoupe as a NASCAR homologation special, of which Pontiac had its own version. The Monte even had a 170-horsepower version of the Grand National’s turbo V-6 for 1980 and 1981, and for true masochists it could be obtained with the V-6 and V-8 versions of the infamous Oldsmobile diesel engines. .
Chevrolet Monte Carlo sales
While I don’t have the sales figures in front of me, I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of fourth-gen Montes came out with a humble 110-horsepower, 3.8-liter V6 and a TH-200 automatic transmission, a combination that offered slow acceleration and premature transmission failure anything but guaranteed. Montes used Chevrolet’s 3.8 and 4.3-liter V6s, which were a hell of a lot more durable than the trouble-prone 3.8-liter Buick V6 used in other versions of the G-body. This Buick engine would later be reorganized as the 3800, and it would go from one of GM’s worst engines to one of its best. But the pokey V-6 fueled the success of the Monte Carlo.
Sales of Monte Carlo declined as the 1980s wore on, and it was quietly killed off in mid-1988 when the front-wheel-drive compact Beretta stepped in as Chevy’s youth-market coupe. But the Monte Carlo remained popular, not only because of its boxy vintage vibe, but because it was one of the last cool domestic coupes to offer good engine swap possibilities.
Any aspiring hot-roder could buy a cheap six-cylinder Monte Carlo, then drop a small-block Chevrolet V-8 and back it up with a rugged THM-350 drivetrain. Install a set of glass bags and 4:11 rear gears, bribe the local smog store, and now you’ve got proper credibility on a Saturday night, a car with modern accents that would chirp its tires in second gear, everything like a classic muscle car. And even though a Monte Carlo pilot didn’t have the money for a 350 with a Holley twin-pump and chrome “Heartbeat of America” valve covers, he had plans – and plans plus a Monte were enough to make you cool.
Chevrolet Monte Carlos today
So what happened to all those Monte Carlos laden with dreams? They have generated some interest in the low-rider community, which should come as no surprise. Uncluttered SS models, on the other hand, remain easy to find and surprisingly inexpensive. If you remember how popular these cars were in the late ’80s and early’ 90s, you’re probably surprised that you don’t have more nostalgia for them. I guess for most homeowners, they hit their mark a long time ago. After all, your mother married your father, right?
|Specifications of the 1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo|
|PRICE||$ 7,299 (basic)|
|ENGINE||3.8L OHV 12-valve V6 / 110 hp @ 4200 rpm, 170 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm|
|DISPOSITION||Coupe 2 doors, 6 seats, front engine, RWD|
|L x W x H||200.4 x 71.8 x 53.9 inches|
|0 to 60 mph||15.0 s (east)|