1970-1988 Monte Carlo
Chevrolet had its finger on the pulse of America when it introduced the Monte Carlo in 1970. Sure, other GM divisions were scoring well with luxury-minded personal coupes, including the resized 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix and the granddaddy of them all, the Buick Riviera, but that didn’t matter – the Monte Carlo was perfectly positioned to ride the crest of a new wave sweeping through the industry. It was stylish, well-appointed and priced just right.
Chevrolet produced six generations of the Monte Carlo through 2007, with the first four built on traditional rear-drive, perimeter-frame architectures. The first-generation models were built on the ubiquitous A-body platform, using the 116-inch wheelbase that was originally designed for four-door intermediates, like the Chevelle sedan. In fact, the original Monte Carlo shared much of its structure with the Chevelle, including the firewall and some of the glass.
The first-generation cars were produced through 1972, offering no less than a 350 engine as standard along optional big-block powertrains – including an SS 454 package with a 360-hp 454. Sales the first year were “only” about 159,000, but a plant strike suppressed production, not demand. Things would get better in the coming years. Much better.
Hitting Its Stride
By the mid-Seventies, the personal coupe was a hotter consumer trend than wide lapels and fondue pots – and the Monte Carlo was leading the charge. When GM redesigned its intermediate-sized cars in 1973, the Monte Carlo was part of the re-do, wearing an all-new, more formal appearance and long nose/short deck proportion that defined A-body cars of the time.
It was a good look and customers and critics alike agreed. Monte Carlo was named Motor Trend’s 1973 Car of the Year and sales blossomed to about 300,000 in 1974. A move to rectangular headlamps in 1976 distinguished the Monte Carlo from previous years, helping push sales to an incredible 353,000.
The third-gen Monte Carlo launched in 1978 and like other cars in Chevy’s lineup, it was downsized, shrinking by about 15 inches in length and more than 700 pounds – a reaction to the second oil crisis. Powertrains shrank, too, with a 305 engine the only V-8 in ’78 and the car’s first V-6 as the standard engine. Third-generation cars were also offered with the star-crossed 350-cid diesel V-8 and, in 1980, Buick’s carbureted turbo V-6.
Return of the SS
A significant restyle greeted 1981, but the Monte Carlo was still based on the same architecture that would see it through the end of its production cycle as a rear-drive car. The fourth-gen cars had a sleeker look, but the aerodynamic performance of a mobile home in a twister – an attribute Ford exploited on NASCAR super-speedways with their jellybean-shaped 1983 Thunderbird.
Chevrolet’s quick fix was a sloping front end that had to be included on production models to be racing-legal, so the Monte Carlo SS was reborn in 1983. It offered only a 165-hp 305 engine and a three-speed transmission, but again, the Monte Carlo was positioned to ride a wave of customer enthusiasm.
Customers snapped up the SS as muscle car nostalgia began to bubble up. Sales peaked at more than 41,000 in 1986. The ultimate Monte Carlo SS was the Aerocoupe, which added a sloping rear window to again enhance airflow performance on the racetrack. A couple hundred were built in 1986, but more than 6,000 were sold in 1987.
Nineteen-eighty-eight was the swan song for GM’s A-/G-body platform and traditional personal coupe. The Monte Carlo was admittedly a bit of a dinosaur when it went out of production, but was sorely missed the minute it did. It was a Zeitgeist car if there ever was one.
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