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Retro Review: Chevrolet Monte Carlo

The Chevrolet Monte Carlo filled an important space in the lineup and became one of the most popular models in its long history.

Chevrolet Monte: A Bright Candle That Burned Out Fast

1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo - media.chevrolet.com

1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo – media.chevrolet.com |  Shop Chevrolet Monte Carlo on Carsforsale.com

The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was a workhorse for the brand that came out of the gates flying in 1970 and sold more than a million units within a decade. Its upscale styling, premium-esque materials, and attractive pricing made it one of the most profitable cars in the Chevrolet lineup. Now, half a century later we’re taking a deeper dive into the phenomenon that was the Monte Carlo and learning about how this flame burned bright and fast before flickering out of existence with little more than a puff of smoke.

Getting Off The Line

1972 Chevrolet Monte Carlo - carsforsale.com
1972 Chevrolet Monte Carlo - carsforsale.com

In the late 60s, the General Motors family was full of different models across its brands. Chevrolet itself had more than ten and the addition of another wasn’t a popular idea with its sales manager Lee Mays. Despite recommendations from both general manager Pete Estes, and John DeLorean (yes that one), Mays didn’t see the potential for a personal luxury car as the Monte Carlo would come to be known. Only after Mays was promoted to a position at Buick did the Monte Carlo actually get the green light.

Given the working name Concours during development, the Monte Carlo relied heavily on the Cadillac Eldorado as a basis for its styling. Its short decklid and long hood were clear nods to the Caddy but underneath the skin, the Monte Carlo was much more closely related to its own Chevy sibling, the Chevelle. It even shared some parts like the rear window, the trunk lid, the firewall, and the windshield. That’s appropriate too because much like the Chevelle, the Monte Carlo would quickly become known as a muscle machine which is something we can’t really say of the Eldorado.

Brutish Class

1971 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS 454 - media.chevrolet.com
1971 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS 454 - media.chevrolet.com

The Monte Carlo was intended to be more of a luxury vehicle than the Chevelle and for the most part, it was. It had slightly nicer interior materials and a more luxurious ride quality. At the same time, it shared many powertrain options with the Chevelle so it wasn’t short of grunt. The base motor was a 350 cubic-inch V8 with 245-horsepower. Multiple power levels through the use of various V8s were available. Chevy sold the Monte Carlo with either a two or a three-speed automatic or a four-speed manual transmission.

For the first two years of production, Chevrolet offered a special Monte Carlo SS and it remains highly desirable all these years later. Under the hood was a 454 cubic-inch big-block V8. It made 360-horsepower which was a ton for the time but what really shocked most buyers was the 500 ft-lbs of torque. Despite being a long car, that length was a little misleading. The engine of the Monte Carlo was set as close to the firewall as possible so among the muscle cars of its era, it’s one of the best around curves thanks to great weight distribution. The SS 454 benefitted further thanks to an upgraded suspension.

1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 454 V8 - carsforsale.com
1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 454 V8 - carsforsale.com

Over the next few years, the Monte Carlo was slowly updated with regard to styling and the SS 454 package was discontinued but buyers could still order many of the special parts individually. Nevertheless, the Monte Carlo would never be as potent as it was in this very first form. Once the third generation arrived in 1978, the car was largely neutered in terms of performance as the brand leaned much more heavily into the luxury features that it was originally focused on.

Slowly Fading From Relevance

1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo - carsforsale.com
1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo - carsforsale.com

As the fuel crisis took hold of the automotive industry, Chevrolet cut the Monte Carlo down in terms of physical size and power output. The 1978 Monte Carlo year saw 13 inches cut off of the overall length and a 305 cubic-inch V8 with just 145-horsepower was the most potent powertrain available. While still a rear-wheel-drive car, it simply wasn’t the powerhouse that drew so many to the brand in the early 70s.

By the fourth generation’s debut in 1981, a 3.8-liter V6 was the base powertrain. In 1983, Chevrolet tried to revive the SS and dropped another 305 cubic inch V8 under the hood but with just 180-horsepower it wasn’t exactly a trend-setter. Sales continued to decline until the car was discontinued after Chevy completed construction of the final 1988 model year units in late 1987.

1986 Chevrolet Monte Carlo - carsforsale.com
1986 Chevrolet Monte Carlo - carsforsale.com

In 1995, they decided to bring back the Monte Carlo name but really it was a Monte Carlo in name alone. Instead of building on a new rear-wheel-drive platform, Chevrolet simply renamed its two-door Lumina coupe the Monte Carlo and called it good. Interestingly enough, it did signal an attempt at playing the nostalgia card that would come in 2000.

That year, Chevrolet introduced a new Monte Carlo which still used a variation of the old Lumina’s platform and it still made the car in the same Oshawa, Ontario, Canada production facility but now, it had a few real Monte Carlo design cues. Stylized wheel flares returned as did tail lights that very clearly took inspiration from the 70s and 80s cars.

2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo - netcarshow.com
2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo - netcarshow.com

Most shocking might have been the inclusion of an SS trim level with a supercharged 260-horsepower V6 in 2000. Then in 2006, just a year before its eventual demise, Chevrolet sold the car with a 300-horsepower small-block V8 under the hood. Despite that, the writing was on the wall. The Monte Carlo was spunky but it was front-wheel-drive and wasn’t going to fare well against the new Camaro. Chevrolet discontinued the Monte Carlo in 2007.

Where The Chevrolet Monte Carlo Stands Today

2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo - carsforsale.com

1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo – media.chevrolet.com |  Shop Chevrolet Monte Carlo on Carsforsale.com

There’s no doubt that the first two years of Monte Carlo production are the models that most people want. Chevrolet hasn’t really offered a personal luxury coupe in the same fashion since then. Still, many of the luxury features of the generations that came after those first years can make the Monte Carlo desirable even now. The last few years of production likely offer the best balance of power, modern features, and value for money today.

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Stephen Rivers

Stephen Rivers is a car enthusiast who loves all things built with passion, extending to nearly all car cultures. After obtaining an occupational studies degree in sports medicine, Stephen turned his attention to sports cars. He was employed as an auto shop manager, spent time in auto sales, and worked as a software developer for a racing company, but Stephen began writing about cars over 10 years ago. When he's not in front of a computer screen, he's racing his own Bugeye Subaru WRX in as many autocross and rallycross competitions as he can.

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2 Comments

  1. Jay Bonk May 5, 2022

    Pretty good article. The reason the 1st Gen Monte Carlo is so long is because it was built on the chevelle station wagon chassis .

    Reply
  2. Doug May 6, 2022

    I owned a dark red metallic 1973 Monte Carlo. I bought it used in 1974 after being unable to find my desired 1972 Monte Carlo.

    The car had the 350 V8 with 3-speed Turbo Hydramatic transmission. I was 19 years old and remember the car handling like a dream, cornering flat and very controlled.

    Of the first generation Monte Carlo’s, I believe the 1972 had the best styling. For the second generation Monte Carlo, the 1973 is still my favorite.

    Reply

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