By on June 23, 2011


When I first glimpsed this Malaise Era compact wagon in my local wrecking yard, I thought “Wow, I haven’t seen a Vega in a junkyard for years!” Then I saw the grille and realized that I was looking at an example of the very rare Monza wagon, which was a Monza snout grafted onto the discontinued-after-1977 Vega wagon. At the risk of enraging the small but very devoted Vega Jihad, I’m going to pronounce this thing The Most Terrible Station Wagon Detroit Ever Made.

This one has the 3.2 liter version of the venerable Buick V6 engine, which made a pretty-good-for-1979 105 horsepower. You could also get a ’79 Monza with a 130-horse, 305-cubic-inch V8, and one can only hope that a few of these were made with the V8 and the four-speed manual transmission.

The automatic transmission siphoned off much of that V6 power, unfortunately.

The Monza wagon listed at $3974, only 60 bucks more than the ’79 Chevette four-door. The Pinto Pony wagon could be had for $3,633. Meanwhile, the ’79 Honda Civic wagon was priced at $4,759.

I’m trying to dredge up some sadness that this car, which somehow managed to stay on the street for 32 years, is going to be eaten by The Crusher… but I just can’t do it. Next stop, Chinese steel factory!

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49 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1979 Chevrolet Monza Wagon...”


  • avatar
    Jimal

    “At the risk of enraging the small but very devoted Vega Jihad, I’m going to pronounce this thing The Most Terrible Station Wagon Detroit Ever Made.”

    I’m a Vega fan, so I’m trying to come up with some indignation over this comment, I can’t. I understand that for some very good reasons why “Vega as Worst Car Ever” has become the orthodoxy. Like most other people’s passion for a particular car, my love for Vegas, especially older hatches, isn’t based on logic. I grew up with a Vega and despite its very common problems (rust, oil burning) I would love to find one today. I know what their shortcomings are and I know what I would do with one if I could find one that was 1) not rusty and 2) not hackily converted to V8 power.

    • 0 avatar
      MoppyMop

      I’ve always had a soft spot for these pieces of crap too. Cosworths seem to be much easier to find in good condition than “normal” Vegas for some reason. Not sure if it’s the rarity prompting people to take better care of them, the upgraded cooling system saving them from death-by-overheat, the better rustproofing all ’75 and later models got, or the aluminum heads instead of iron…probably some combination of the above.

      • 0 avatar

        Ditto. In 1975 I had a ’72 Vega wagon in black, 2-bbl engine (but no GT package) and a 4-speed. Fun to drive but so many problems. If DeLorean had gotten his way over GM bean counters the result may have been dramatically different.

        As for the V-8 4-speed Monza, I had one of those too – a ’75 Fastback. the 262 was a great engine for that car and it was a ball to drive. Achilles heel – Vega brakes. It ate brakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can’t imagine how often the automatic models wore them out, back in the days before locking torque converters.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        At the time, there was speculation about special vehicles appreciating if stored. An example would be the 1976 ‘last of the convertible Cadillacs!’ Many of them were parked for years and years, waiting for appreciation that didn’t quite materialize before convertibles came back less than a decade later. I believe many of the survivor Cosworth Vegas were similarly stored for a decade or more before owners admitted defeat on the investment front and sold them or started driving them. Keep in mind that the Cosworth was ADVERTISED as one Vega for the price of two. There really wasn’t any reason to buy one other than hope that it would be valuable in the future. Meeting emissions standards has sapped the engine of most of the promised power, but it still competed on price with top of the line Camaros.

    • 0 avatar

      My formative early driving years were in the Late Malaise Era of the early 1980s, so I’ve experienced all the terrible compacts of the period. I’ve ridden in, driven, and wrenched on many Vegas and their “Italian Vega” cousins. Even the wretched Pinto, miserable Colt, and please-kill-me-now Chevette were nowhere near as comprehensively terrible as the Vega/Monza/Starfire/etc.

      The only reason I mention the Vega Jihad is the hate mail I got after writing some mildly disparaging things about the Vega on Jalopnik; some Vega fanatic declared a fatwa on some Vega forum and that was that. Vega Jihadis were sending me accounts of their cars going 900,000 miles between oil changes, remaining rust-free after 10 years’ immersion in the Dead Sea, and so on, these descriptions interspersed with threats and accusations of having been paid off by the Sendero Luminoso.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I remember that. I always think of them when I see people championing cars that I know are terrible based on my time as a service writer. I’ve yet to meet anyone in person who had such an anomaly of a car, but the internet seems to bring them out.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        @Murilee
        “Even the wretched Pinto, miserable Colt, and please-kill-me-now Chevette were nowhere near as comprehensively terrible as the Vega/Monza/Starfire/etc.”

        I’m going to disagree with you here…I’m going with the Chevette over the Vega and its derivatives. But there was one worse car I can think of…

        When I graduated from high school (’81), my dad offered to buy me a car. I was driving my mom’s previous car, a ’75 Olds wagon that was such a gas hog that every dollar I made at the local fast-food joint went right into the gas tank (I got my license in November 1979, right in time for the Iranian oil crisis), leaving me no money for beer, girls, or 8-track tapes. Sucked to be me.

        So, I was completely pumped to be looking at cars that got decent gas mileage. Since Dad was writing the check, he was steering me towards the…ahem…lower part of the price spectrum, so he made me drive anything that we could get a deal on. So, it ended up being between a Chevette, a Pontiac Sunfire, a VW Rabbit diesel (puke green, with vinyl seats and no A/C…in St. Louis), and my winner of the Bad Compact Sweepstakes: the Renault LeCar.

        The Chevette was obviously a steaming pile of excrement, but the LeCar was even worse…it swayed more than Keith Moon after a bender, and as a bonus, you KNEW that baby was born to rust itself into oblivion and live in the shop. I wondered why Dad even wanted to look at the LeCar after his first dabble into French motorcars – he briefly owned a Citroen SM that was such a atrocity that he once threatened to burn in front of the dealership – but it was his money.

        The Sunfire was actually pretty nice, but it felt like a girl car to me.

        I decided on the Rabbit, but had to kick in my own money to get Dad to upgrade to a gas model with air and a stereo.

        But the LeCar was the all time worst…if the Chevette was the “Ishtar” of cars, the LeCar was “Battlefield Earth”.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Cue rabid defense from former Kenosha worker who owned 10 Le Cars and got a quarter million trouble-free miles a piece out of them before they were each totaled by drivers of big, clumsy cars. I’ve seen it happen at carlustblog after someone commented on the horror that was the Alliance.

      • 0 avatar
        Jimal

        “…accounts of their cars going 900,000 miles between oil changes.”

        Not difficult if you have to add a quart every 200 miles or so. I seem to remember our first Vega going through a quart per tank of gas.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Having participated in one of those hacky conversions, the end result is one h*ll of a lot of fun. We tested out my buddy’s drag Vega on the street a couple of times, the thing was a beast.

      The main reason why this car interests me is because the wagon body style would really have great weight transfer characteristics.

      • 0 avatar
        indi500fan

        I’ve seen them in hot rod books lately with a (cheap) all aluminum LS motor from a Trailblazer and S10 rear axle. The motor is only slightly heavier than a Vega 4 banger.

        A truly vicious beast for a couple thousand bucks if you’re handy.

      • 0 avatar
        tiredoldmechanic

        I guess I’m guilty of Vega “hacking” myself. I built several V-8 Vegas over the years. What the hell else were they good for?
        They were fast, crude and fun. All but one were cheap too.
        I can’t say I’d want to drive one today but back in the day you could build a pretty fast ride if you knew how to get around the H-body built in problems. And there were many problems, Murilee is right. When I look back at some of the now valuable Detriot iron I cut up to harvest big blocks or TH400 transmissions I cringe, but I don’t feel at all guilty for hacking up a Vega.
        People used to give them to me for free just to get them out of thier yard. No sympathy here…

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @indi500fan: That’s freakin’ genius! I really have to start reading Hot Rod again…

      • 0 avatar
        Jimal

        Not all conversions are hacky, but H-bodies aren’t the stiffest structures torsionally. If you don’t do the conversion right you will eventually twist the unibody to junk.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      Paul, thanks for the head’s up, but that one is a year too new. I’m looking for something without the 5 MPH bumpers and the faux Camaro sugar scoop headlights. Hmm, I wonder if they are in fact the same sugar scoops…

      Anyway, I found a couple ’73 and earlier hatchbacks on Craig’s List. Alas, we’re moving soon so I won’t have project car storage for a while. I also need to come up with a turbo Ecotec/6 speed combo from a Solstice GXP or Sky Redline.

      Or perhaps I’ve said too much…

    • 0 avatar
      Kavoom

      Interesting. I had one of these with the 3.8. Bought in 80 in sort of a mint green they couldn’t sell it (had been on the lot for 18 months and they were obviously happy to get rid of it.) and I got it for 3K even. I also had a 76 metallic light blue Vega with the 5 speed Borg Warner and Holly Carb. Got great gas mileage was mechanically super sound. The doors all rotted off however shoulda cleared the drain holes.

      Anyway, took the wheels (much nicer than the Buick) off the Vega put em on the Buick. It was a surprisingly responsive car. Kind of fun actually. You stepped on the gas with that car and it would go. I kind of liked it but the ex took it and I moved on to a yellow Geo Storm in a station wagon another they couldn’t get it off the lot deal. I was going for the cheap deals on new cars during that period buying ones they couldn’t sell but I was OK with starting with that 76 Vega Hatchback. Next came the copper Mazda RX7, but that it another story…

  • avatar
    DPerkins

    Decent utlility, rear drive, durable V6 engine. Nope, not the worst ever, but the damage done by previous Vegas left this car with no hope of success.

    I wish we could find relatively solid, rust free examples like this one up here in Canada.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    If Chevy would have just reverse-slanted the B pillar, it could have been a downsized Nomad! Oh! the wasted/missed opportunity!

    If anyone cares to know, I actually considerd a Vega wagon very briefly when contemplating for about five minutes about re-enlisting in the air force in early 1973.

  • avatar
    tced2

    I had a ’77? Sunbird notchback with the Buick V6 and 4-speed manual. Silver exterior with dark red interior – a real treat – an interior in some other color than black or tan. A fairly decent car to drive – not good mileage. The tranny was the eventual downfall – it leaked a lot. Eventually replaced with a ’78 Cutlass Supreme Brougham.

    • 0 avatar
      ZekeToronto

      Acckk! My very first car (at 16) was identical, except burgundy inside AND out (with the fading silver stripes on the doors). My Dad was a Pontiac dealer at the time and although the ‘Bird was appreciated, I sold it within a month and bought (I’m so ashamed) a new TR7. What I remember most about the Sunbird now is how truly horrible the transmission was … worst manual tranny ever.

      I still have a soft spot for the H-bodies though; in particular the kammback Vegas and Astres kicked off my lifelong obsession with shooting brakes.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        @Zeke:
        “My Dad was a Pontiac dealer at the time and although the ‘Bird was appreciated, I sold it within a month and bought (I’m so ashamed) a new TR7.”
        Frying pan, meet fire…

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      My first car was a very similar ’75 Skyhawk with the odd-fire V6 and the 4-speed. Mine was white with a ratty tan interior. I bought it for $150 in 1986. The car was a POS, but it was my POS and I learned to drive manual on it. I tried accessorizing it by installing thinks like Moroso tall valve covers and an open element air cleaner. The problems with this were 1) the valve covers were for the later, even-fire engine, and were shaped slightly different than the odd-fire heads, so they leaked, and 2) in order to run the air cleaner I wanted on the 2-barrel I had I had to use a cheap plastic adapter that monthly would break, dropping the air cleaner onto the throttle linkage and hanging the throttle open. Fun.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Crikey – you could still easily replace the fan motor for the heater from the engine compartment side on this puppy.

    A 3 liter today can easily make 240 hp. I’ll bet the 3.2 was more of a low rev driver.

  • avatar
    brettc

    Good god…was the headliner in that POS made out of peg board? I bet that was a horrible driving and looking car even when new. Cars have come a long way in 32 years.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      It was a “leathette” material over a thin layer of fiberglas? with holes punched in it. The theory was that the sound waves would enter the holes and get trapped – resulting in some noise reduction. Sort of like acoustical tile. I can’t especially comment on whether it worked or not. But it was probably not as cheesy as it appears.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        The perforated headliner material was rather common at one time. I can remember our 60’s era Fords having them. I really don’t know what the purpose of the perforations was, though.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        @geozinger:

        The perforated headliners were in Chrysler products in the 1960’s too. My aunt had either an early-60’s Dart or Valiant and it had that masonite-type perforated headliner. Only reason for them? THEY WERE CHEAP!

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Zackman: IIRC (don’t take that bet), our Fords didn’t have a shell headliner. It seems to me when the headliner finally would rot, you could poke your finger up into the underside of the roof.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    The most terrible wagon Detroit ever made? It would make sense that the Vega was worse than the Monza. My personal pick would be the 1958 Studepackard wagon, which looks like it was inspired by a nightmare.

  • avatar
    obbop

    I didn’t see “Monza” anywhere.

    I believe it is the rare Chevy Burt Englewood.

  • avatar

    Not that is an interesting. I never even knew there was a wagon version of this. It is a shame it is off to the crusher but I have to admit I wouldn’t be tempted to own it myself.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please!
    Are you wearing your protective archeological uniforms as provided by the university? Please be courteous and respect our code of ethics. No touching. Please direct any questions to Dr. Martin!

    Are we listening? Thank you!

    What you see before you is the automotive equivalent of an ancient indian burial mound. This one in particular is an extremely rare one.

    Most of these mounds decomposed immediately. GM, made this one. In the age of pre-environmentally friendly vehicular design, this mound, specifically called a “Vega/Monza” was designed to decompose automatically. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first example we have of the self-decomposing car. This car is rarer than hot dogs or Twinkies because they decomposed faster in dumps than Ball Park Franks and even the celebrated Hostess Ding Dong.

    Questions abound! As we look into the Monza’s interior, we can better see how human beings lived in those ancient times. How did they live? How did they reproduce? How did they ever find such a mound of crap such as this car attractive? Were they forced to buy them? Were these cars given away? Were they used as a form of human sacrifice, as we do recognize the financial sacrifice made to keep these mounds on the road?

    “Lighter” Remarkable! And look – this appears to be a kind of ash receptical built right into what is called the “dashboard”! Were these ancient people smoking while they drove? How did they drive, smoke and push this heap of trash up and down hills?

    Look at the front – see that? This is a crude engine. Not only was it supposed to propel the Monza forward, it was also used to create great clouds of oily smoke, but for what reason, we still do not know. We believe this engine had the equivalent power of four draft horses, or sixty eight giant voles.

    Did copulation occur in the back of this vehicle? If it did, it was very ugly and probably quick. So, we know these ancient humans had natural sex drives, even though Vegas probably stiffled most of their other natural drives. And by considering the attractiveness of the Vega/Monza, we can probably assume that the owners and drivers of these vehicles were probably lucky to even get lucky.

    Any questions?

    Did men actually drive them?
    We believe that men did drive these cars, but before doing so, wrapped their genitals tightly in denim pants two sizes too small. After having jammed their manly parts tightly into polyester undergarments. Thus hindered, they were able to slide horizonally into the uncomfortable driving positions in these vehicles.

    Did they worship them?
    Some of the more primitive people did in fact worship these cars. They spent almost every bit of money they could to keep them running, we have photographic evidence that owners often fell to their knees in abject grief before them, and we see by the numerous tow hook scars we find on them, that most likely these cars were towed more often than self propelled.

    Our next stop is to view what was called an auto magazine, entitled “AutoWeek”.

    • 0 avatar
      ZekeToronto

      “Did copulation occur in the back of this vehicle?”

      With hindsight, I’m certain the reason the old man gave me a notchback H-body as my first car (instead of the more ubiquitous hatch or wagon) was to prevent just that. Joke was on him tho, as I even managed it in the tiny (85-inch wheelbase), 2-seater Triumph that followed. Teens are very flexible, especially when motivated!

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I was lucky in that regard…my first car was a ’75 Olds wagon. Lay down some blankets back there and you had a nice little mobile hotel room…complete with stereo speakers on either side and badass A/C, which was a real advantage in St. Louis in the summertime. Best make-out car ever.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    Vega, this Monza’s progenitor, was one of the first corporate project center developed vehicles at GM. Prior vehicles had been developed through the car divisions.
    It was a disaster! The did not meet their weight or performance targets and they rusted away, at least in the Great Lakes region. My girlfriend (now wife) bought a new ’74 Vega. By 1980, both fenders and the hatch lid had rusted through. We discovered 3/4 of the windshield was also debonded due to rust when I repainted it. I liked the looks, red with black interior and it was a 4 speed car. When the exhaust fell off and there wasn’t even much to wire it back up, we let it go for $500, though it looked brand new with fresh paint and nice interior.

    The Monza Coupe (“H” special) was originally planned to be powered by GM’s rotary engine. They spent $50 million on its development but fuel economy and emissions regulations killed the program. The Arab Oil embargo drove release of badge engineered versions to give Olds Buick and Pontiac a small car. The short lived interest in gas mileage gave way to V6 and V8 engines. The front structure of the early cars designed for a much lighter rotary engine actually spread apart so that the front suspension could not be aligned under the weight of those heavier engines.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Didn’t realize they made the Monza in a wagon. And I’ll say it since no one else will: That’s a fine looking little wagon. Yes, the Vega/Monzas were crappy in just about every way imaginable, but props to whoever penned the wagon.

  • avatar
    readallover

    Not really that rare. The Vega was cancelled in 1978. So for 1979 the Monza was carried on alone and adopted the Vega wagon as its`own.

  • avatar
    BoredOOMM

    I am curious if the 79 shown here has the special motor baffles to allow horizontal shipping.
    One of many painful childhood memories that scarred me for life is the Vega Wagon.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    While we’re talking Vegas, did those vents below the rear window have a function?

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I believe they were part of the Vega’s flow-through ventilation system, which is mentioned in this nostalgic article:

      http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/comparisons/archive/chevrolet_vega_vs._ford_pinto-archived_comparison

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        OMG, thanks for that bit of nostalgia. Wow, those two cars kicked off the malaise era with a bang! That article should be required reading for every GM, Chrysler, and Ford employee. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it.

      • 0 avatar
        MadHungarian

        Every GM car had louvers like that in 1971 when the flow-thru ventilation systems were introduced. Cars had then on the trunk and wagons had them on the tailgate, the Vega wagon being the only anomaly with the rear fender location. The vents were removed on every single GM car in ’72 EXCEPT the Vega wagon, where they stayed to the bitter end. Wonder why. The other odd thing is that the vents are in exactly the same location as the air intake vents for the air cooled rear engine on the 1961-62 Corvair Lakewood wagon.

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    I to was taken in my the siren call of the Vega, I had a ’72 than ran well with few problems until I hit 20K, then all the problems began. I wouldn’t say it was the worst car I ever owned-that dubious distinction goes to the ’80 X car I owned. When I lived in Arizona a good friend of mine bought a ’72 Pinto about the same time I got the Vega. Fast forward to 1984-I was in Arizona visiting him-and he still had the Pinto! He was going to have to get rid of it shortly as it no longer passed the emissions test but otherwise it was in amazingly good shape. I considered a Pinto, but was put off by its slow steering and relative crudeness compared to the Vega. In retrospect, I should have purchased a Pinto; I know they come in for a lot of criticism, but it retrospect it was vastly better than the Vega. That says a lot of about what a pile of **** the Vega was!

  • avatar
    detlump

    Yes, the flow thru vents were also located in the kickpanels in front of the doors. There was a knob to open or close them, instead of AC.

    My first car was an orange over black 77 Sunbird notchback with the V6 and auto trans. It was my grandmother’s car for a few years before I got it. It had a “Radial Tuned Suspension” badge on the dash. The trunk was very shallow since the fuel tank was underneath. The car came from Canada but was still in MPH. It looked good in orange, though the paint faded quickly and the wheel wells seemed design to trap snow and dirt to give a home to rust.

    Also, being RWD, it was not good in the snow. I recall I replaced two tires with Pneumant tires that were on sale (from East Germany). Pretty cool. I had a tight budget. The front springs wore out, too.

    But it was my first car and I will always hold a soft spot for it. It got me through high school and a few years of college.

    I also liked how the taillights were copies of the M-B design, with alternating high and low bands (castellated I would say).

  • avatar
    Toy Maker

    I’m sure that concave wheel (cover?) could fetch some money..

  • avatar
    catbert430

    One of my neighbors had a 1975 Buick Skyhawk hatchback and, in 1975, I thought it was the most beautifully styled car ever.

    I had to keep reminding myself that it was a tarted-up Vega to prevent any thoughts of actually buying one.

    I bought a VW Dasher (B1 Passat) instead. It was a repair nightmare as well, but at least it had good handling and brakes plus the novelty of FWD in a RWD world.

  • avatar
    DPerkins

    Here’s a nicer example:

    http://dayton.craigslist.org/cto/2450080347.html

  • avatar
    CougarXR7

    I chuckled when I saw this. Last summer I scored a rust-free ’77 Monza 2+2 hatchback for $500. The young fellow I bought it from works at a nursing home and bought it from the family of an elderly female resident who owned it and passed away. He drove it for a couple years and then parked it.

    Being a lifelong gearhead and professional mechanic, and growing up in the 70’s and 80’s I’m well aware of these cars’ many shortcomings. Nevertheless, I always liked their styling and their handling capabilities.

    Mine is a factory 305 / TH350 car. I intend to make it a street legal psudo-drag car with an all-aluminum small block or LS1 conversion, fiberglass front clip, Wilwood or Brembo brakes up front, and the S-10 five-lug axle / brake conversion in the rear.

    Due to So. Cal’s draconian smog laws the factory 2-barrel carb must remain, but K&N makes a breathe-through air filter top that should feed it extra air just fine.


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