By on June 30, 2006

new monte.jpgThe prairie town where I grew up offered exactly one wholesome diversion for teenagers: an eight-block stretch of Central Avenue known as The Drag.  On Friday and Saturday nights, you'd “shag The Drag.” You’d drive from 12th Street down to the city square, then back up to 12th Street, shouting at people you knew or people you wanted to know.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Your goal: make time with a girl from school or, even better, entrance an out-of-towner who had no idea of your previous track record (or lack thereof).  Of course, you had to come to The Drag in a cool car.  In the late eighties, one car bestrode our teenage world like a colossus…

There were plenty of acceptable Drag shaggers: the Chrysler Cordoba, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and Mercury Cougar XR-7 spring immediately to mind.   But there was only one King: the Chevrolet Monte Carlo.  Oh, the Monte.  That was the car you detassled corn for, spending ten or twelve hours under the unforgiving Iowa sun with your arms over your head with some college student (obviously majoring in sociopathy) telling you to work harder.  Six weeks of that was like ten thousand years in purgatory.  At the end, though, you had enough money for a '76 Monte Carlo, a set of Cragar mags, and the finest Sparkomatic tape deck K-Mart would sell you.  You were ready to shag The Drag.

First, though, you had to straighten up the car a little.  In the main, this involved applying approximately 3.8 cans of paste wax to your Monte's oxidized exterior.  You had to buff that wax off with one of your dad's old, ominously stained t-shirts.  Since you never got all the wax off, you’d then suffer the heartbreak of finding telltale beige smears all over your gleaming ride.  But young men always suffer at the hands of their hormones, don't they?  And it was all worth it– the first time you saw a girl stare a little too long at your car.  Then you saw her staring at you.  That was even better.

Profiling, of course, is about all those mid-Seventies disco sleds were good for.  They barely ran, thanks to asthmatic, emissions-controlled V-8 engines that put out maybe 160 horsepower.  Cornering was unlike anything this side of Twisted Metal.  If you hadn't replaced your hooptie's shocks recently– and why would you, as shock absorbers can't be seen by casual onlookers– you hoped beyond hope that you wouldn't roll over onto the door handles if you tried to take a curve at anything close to the posted speed limit.  Need I even mention the gas mileage?  These prime examples of the North American Vinyl-Backed Road Pig make a Hummer H2 look like a Segway.

For these reasons and many others, your parents were on record as being 100% against buying a Chevrolet Monte Carlo.  Your mom thought it was just the perfect car for that nineteen-year-old with the Steve Perry hair and the sparse mustache, the one who'd already knocked over a couple Stop 'N Robs and spent time in juvie.  No way was her little slugger going to cruise the street in the official car of the Future Felons of America.  Needless to say, your dad was more practical.  He knew exactly what that Monte meant for him: “Dad, can I borrow ten bucks for gas?”  

Your mom thought you should buy the neighbors' Mercury Lynx station wagon.  Your dad noted that there were a lot of nice, low mileage Renault Alliances in the newspaper.  “Hey, son, with all you'll save on gas, you can probably buy hamburgers and Cokes for all those girls you meet on The Drag!”  Right, dad.  All the chicks dig that 1.4 liter engine. Can I have one of your Manhattan Transfer tapes while I'm at it?

You knew your strategy.  You'd spent the entire summer circling every $1200 Camaro in the classifieds.  You talked about the '72 Charger your study partner's cousin was selling– the one he parked behind a barn in 1977.  Dad, did you know he's only asking $800 for it?  After a couple months of you chasing every dumb two-door in a five-county area, the Monte you eventually found practically sold itself.  

Looking back, the idea that a Chevrolet Monte Carlo could make anyone seem cool was completely preposterous.  Even then, you may have suspected that you may not have been cool.  But somewhere deep inside, where it counts, driving the Monte felt right.  If, at sixteen years old, it only took a couple of opera windows and an elk-grain vinyl roof to give you a shot of self-confidence, what the Hell.  It was a fair trade.  It was the full Monte.

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23 Comments on “That ’70’s Car...”


  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Oh boy, DiscoRods…takes me back to those summer afternoons wasted on re-runs of CHiPs and Starsky and Hutch. Don’t forget how cool you were with the Monte’s rotating bucket seats.

    This article is simply Brougham-tastic. A wonderful tribute to low compression. I give it five out of five Landau bars. :-)

  • avatar
    elrayox

    And some Mid-West teenage boys grew up to drive Monte Intimidator SS’s 20 years later with a GM 3800 Series II supercharged V-6, delivering 240 horsepower. As expected, the Intimidator SS came in Dale’s favorite color – monochromatic Black. It included 17-inch chrome wheels and the legendary “Intimidator” logo on the deck lid, rear quarter panels, door sills and instrument panel. The Dale Earnhardt Legacy logo is included on the instrument panel and on the head restraints of the sport-contoured front bucket seats with leather seating surfaces. Dale’s trademark signature is included in the gauge cluster. Once a “bitchin’ Monte” driver, always a “bitchin’ Monte” driver.

  • avatar
    murphysamber

    God, I hate Monte Carlo’s. Growing up outside of NYC in the 80’s and 90’s; Monte’s were the chosen ride of Guidos named Vince, Tony, or Italian Stereotype of your choosing. Guys wearing Keds, rolled up jeans, and enough gold to fund a nation of those 33 cent-a-day kids that Sally Strothers keeps threatening to eat, are all that comes to mind when I see one. You can keep your Monte Carlo, and your KRS1 immitation too. I’ll take your sister Gina though. Again.

  • avatar

    Sajeev:

    Thanks. I forgot all about Landau bars. That really blows up my fender skirts.

    elrayox:

    Never seen an Intimidator. Got a link to some pics?

  • avatar

    murphysamber:

    You mean Mom was right?

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Wow! What a rush of memories! Yep, the Monte Carlo was the apex of cool back when I was in college, along with the Cutlass Supreme, Trans Am, and Mustang II!!

    I (briefly) had a 2002 tii – it was like I was an alien. Of course, the injector went, my choice was to sell it and return for my senior year, and I fell back in line with my purchase of a used mid-70s Lemans.

    The cars then had a lot more visual character, but the truth was they drove and handled like crap. And reliability sucked.

    This indeed is the golden age of automobiles.

  • avatar
    BarryO

    An all-black 73 Camaro with a leather (vinyl?) roof was my chariot. AH, the AM radio with single dash-mounted speaker…350 engine wasted on a 2 barrel carb…the drive-ins…those back seats…the leg cramps…and, why did she lean against the horn in dad’s driveway…

    It disintegrated into rust somewhere in the late 80’s, and I dumped it for $100 to some guy who wanted what was left of the engine. My brother in law had to meet the buyer for me, to get the money and sign the title, ’cause I couldn’t watch it get towed out of my life. Pathetic, huh?

  • avatar

    I hated the Monte Carlo so much I wrote a story about a guy who went around blowing them up, just because, well, someone should.

  • avatar
    _bradbury_

    The ’76 Monte Carlo. Oxidized red outside; sunfaded, stained red inside. Cheapass K-Mart deck with a rattle-loving set of (probably stolen) amps and subs. A mystery exhaust leak that puffed obnoxiously and lead to a wicked head buzz in stopped traffic. Even that anemic Chev 350 provided propulsion in excess of what the not-so-much-stopping-as-thinking-about-it breaks and long-since bald tires could safely handle.

    Then again, we weren’t in it to be safe. It was The Monte. We were damn cool.

    That was high school, my main man JP’s wheels. Proudly handed down from his old man (bought it off the showroom floor), who was planning to send it junkyard-bound until JP’s pleas got the better of him. In retrospect, I can’t help but think the old guy saw it as a chance rid himself of his male offspring AND that car in one shot….

    Thank you for this (and for taking me back a few years just now).

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Do you think anyone who has travelled to Monte Carlo, would ever purchase a Monte Carlo ?

  • avatar
    qfrog

    As a child of the 80’s I have no idea what you lot are talking about… tho it was enjoyable to read. Mark I hope you eventually got your Monte Crisco because even I know renault spells trouble.

    elrayox:

    I think the fault of the current Monte Crisco is the look… honestly it is just this side of being offensive enough to involuntarily induce vomiting in onlookers. It suffers from typical GM crap-o-la interior appointments and an exterior that is about three good drafting revisions from being in proportion. Sure it has the get up and go, but nobody asks the ugly girls out… so whats the point.

  • avatar

    Johnny Canada:

    You raise an interesting question, the answer to which is almost certainly “no.” I mean, I’ve lived in both Dakotas, and there’s a certain mid-sized pickup truck which has never tempted me.

    qfrog:

    I did manage to avoid the Renault, though I spent a lot of time behind the wheel of a Chevy Citation in my early driving years. In fact, I think I’ve driven every dreadful mid-80s GM product except the Camaro.

  • avatar
    210delray

    Ahh… the memories. I guess I’m a little older than many of you, because I got to drive one NEW…

    When my mother decided to replace her painfully plain ’67 Chevy Bel Air 2-door sedan in 1972, my brother and I sort of talked her into getting a Monte Carlo. She was considering another large Chevy, but our garage turned out to be too short to hold it!

    The Nova was deemed too small, and actually the Malibu 4-door would have been perfect, since we were living with our aging grandparents at the time. But my mother had always had 2-doors, so it wasn’t too hard to “convince” her to go for the Monte Carlo, huge doors and everything. By the time she made her purchase decision, the redesigned ’73s were out, so we got one of those.

    My brother and I were in 7th heaven! Unfortunately, since I was away at college at the time, I wasn’t able to drive it much during the school year.

    We thought it was one of the best looking ’73 cars, and evidently the public agreed, as GM sold a ton of them. It had the 350 V8 with 2-barrel carb (the standard engine), but only 140 hp! It had the column-shifted 3-speed automatic.

    Ours was dark blue with no vinyl top or fake landau irons (thank goodness), 1-speaker AM radio, crank windows, bench seats, no cruise, and those new-fangled radial tires (plus a/c)!

    It was a hoot to drive, compared to the dowdy ’67 Bel Air with the 250 Six and 3-on-the-tree. Gas mileage: uh, not so hot: 8 mpg in town (winter), 9 mpg (summer). But the trips were really short, since we lived in an inner Pittsburgh suburb, where everything you needed was very close. When I drove alone a few times to college with it on the PA Turnpike, I was able to coax it to 18 mpg in the summer with the a/c on, and 19 mpg in the winter.

    But, when I asked my favorite girl out to dinner when I had the car briefly at college, she turned me down!

    Then again, a few years later, my wife-to-be rode next to me in the middle seat when Mom came out to visit me in grad school. (Mom was NOT in the back seat.!)

    As they say, thanks for the memories!

  • avatar

    My dad had a 1973 Monte Carlo bought brand new. It had the now-virtually extinct four-barrelled 454 under the hood.

    It only hung around for a few years because I came along to replace it.

    I think my dad still sheds a little tear everytime he sees me, knowing I was the reason he traded it in on a brand new, um, Vega.

    Oh the shame.

  • avatar
    vallux06

    Mark
    I wouldn’t know about the Monte, it was never sold in Europe.
    In the late ’70 in Europe, you had 2 choices to be considered “cool”. Either a Ford Capri or the Opel Manta.

    My first car in ’79 was a (American!!) Chuck Jordan designed 1973 Opel Manta “GT” in original picket fence green(!!! and enough space in the weel wells to set up and run a “HO” train set on a board if you were so inclined.

    The comments ranged from: “Nice color, you couldn’t wait for a brown one??” to making fun of the 175/75 tires on 13″ steel weels, Lol.

  • avatar

    vallux06:

    My dad had a ’74 Capri. I don’t know if anybody ever thought it was cool. I liked it, but I’m not sure anyone else did.

    I really love hearing all these stories about the dreadful cars in our collective past.

  • avatar
    vallux06

    Mark,

    In ’74 For had the black/black Capri John Player Special (JPS)with the 2.6 litre triple carb and Koni shocks setup from the Ford Taunus 26M. Definitely the fastest best handling avordable GT out there.

    I cannot tell you how many Capris the JPS spawned, with the original orange or beige paint reflecting through the (spray can) paintjob.Lol!!

  • avatar
    buzzliteyear

    I’m a little too young to have driven during the 70s (got my license in 1983), and I don’t think Monte Carlos were *ever* cool in Southern California. But I did have a couple of cool 1970s rides.

    1) A ’76 AMC Gremlin. Mustard yellow with brown/beige plaid vinyl upholstery. No A/C, No power brakes. We called it “The Escape Pod from Hell”. Other than the water pump failing and throwing the fan blade into the radiator, it was surprisingly reliable.

    2) A ’75 AMC Matador. Now that was a hooptie. A friend of my father just gave it to us for free. Two looong doors, two-plus tons of road-hugging weight. An anemic V8 (304 ci?). It was great for doing bootlegger turns and donuts during rainy nights, or hauling beer to the ZZ Top concert. We kept it until the transmission crapped out.

    Those sure made me appreciate the cars I drove later in life…

  • avatar
    eslai

    I loved this article. I was in grade school in the eighties and it’s awesome to see 80’s nostalgia from a different set of youth-culture eyes! You really dont’ hear much of this kind of eighties nostalgia yet. Well I suppose Adam Sandler kind of did it in The Wedding Singer, but it doesn’t feel the same.

  • avatar
    David Holzman

    Robert’s comment gave me my biggest laugh of the week so far. Blowing up Monte Carlos would have been fine with me. My first car, in 1970, was a 1962 Ford Falcon. It had the kind of power where you floored it and it felt like another person had started pushing. Holes in the floor. I didn’t care. I loved the car. My father, whose car it had been for the previous 10 months, gave it to me instead of a plane ticket when we went to California for my last year of high school. Getting over the Rockies was quite a strain, especially after the sky opened up as I entered Utah from Wyoming, because I kept having to lift my foot from the gas so that the vacuum powered windshield wipers could do their job. I drove it back to Mass the following summer, passing a lot of cars by the side of the road, their hoods pointed heavenward in supplication. I hit 100k in Lovelock, Nevada, which was a major milestone in those days. I got 30 mpg at 50 mph (in an effort to preserve my pride and joy, I almost never went faster than that), and 600 miles to the quart.

  • avatar

    eslai:

    Thanks. Who needs some VH1 special with a bunch of actors and comedians you’ve never heard of, when you can come here and get your 80s nostalgia?

    David Holzman:

    I sometimes have a theory that car owners bond more intensely with flawed cars than with perfect ones. I’ve had hard time parting with some of the cheap heaps I’ve owned. I didn’t grieve my Accord when I dumped it. How can you love a car that doesn’t need you?

  • avatar
    taxman100

    Forgot the Grand Prix – that was one sweet ride as well. I recall the pinheads whose parents had money drove MG’s or Fiat Bravo’s, but the real Americans drove 2 door GM personal luxury cars, and wondered if those guys were “light in the loafers.”

    I, on the other hand, had to share with siblings a 76 Maverick 4 door with a 200 inch straight 6 and AM radio only.

  • avatar

    Mark,

    I agree that the flawed cars often get the love, and that was definitely part of the allure of the Falcon, although I also liked very much the way it looked. (But when the thing threw a rod, what with the transmission going from my frequent clutchless shifting, I let it go, because I knew it’s time was up. (The ’77 Corolla did a much better job of withstanding the clutchless shifting.)) But I love my Accord, too, of course for entirely different reasons. I’m sure I’ll love my Porsche best of all when I finally get it.

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