By on April 19, 2010

It’s a good thing I came across this car. There’s a point in life where one starts to prune away the excess, getting rid of the stuff in the closets and basement that hasn’t been used in thirty years or more. And I admit that’s what I had done with the Dodge Royal Monaco: it just kind of got swept away with the detritus of the seventies. If one is going to have room for  new car facts and impressions, it’s cars like this that get hauled off to the memory dump first.

I guess its fair to say that there’s a reason for that: the Royal Monaco didn’t exactly leave a very deep impression in its day. Big, yes, but it’s just not a particularly memorable car, unless of course you’re a devoted Mopar fan. In which case you’ll probably point out why this car is really a ’75 or ’77. As if it mattered.

The new-for 1974 big Mopars had a serious lack of styling originality. After the bold new look of the ’69-’73 fuselage style,  the ’74s were blatant ripoffs of the 1971 Buick. Rarely has there been a more unabashed cribbing job in Detroit, right down to the sweep line running down to the rear fender mid line, not to mention the front end on the pre-5mph bumper 1974 model Dodge. It’s pretty pathetic really, although at least they picked a fairly handsome big barge to copy in the first place.

It was a difficult time for Chrysler, especially in the big car field. It was a category that was shrinking for everyone, and it collapsed during the ’73-’74 energy crisis. But while GM and Ford carried on, and planned a massive downsizing of their full sized cars, Chrysler got hit the hardest. And the timing was particular painful. Chrysler was on a different styling cycle with their big cars, bringing out the all-new (styled) fuselages in ’69, while GM held off until ’71 with their new Big-Boys. The fuselage wasn’t going to last, so Chrysler committed to a restyle for 1974, right into the teeth of the OPEC oil crisis and resulting recession.

Sales crashed, and never recovered. For example, just 35k units of the whole Royal Monaco family were built in 1976. No wonder its as rare bird and has fallen off my radar. I should amend that to mean the ’75 and up models with the heavily revised front end. The 1974 model is of course the unforgettable The Blues Brothers ex-cop mobile. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a mighty healthy percentage of these cars were built for police and taxi fleets.

The big 440 was still available for police work, although its power output was on a steady ten horsepower per year diet: 215 (net) in ’75; 205 (net) in ’76; and a mere 195 in 1977. The good old Lean Burn era! A healthy dollop of torque was still on tap, at the lower end of the limited rpm band. In a few years, the cops driving the 318-powered  St. Regis would be heartily missing their 440 Monacos. The rest of Chrysler’s V8s were of course on tap, starting with the 318, and working up through the 360, 400 and of course, the 440. Mileage in that era was abysmal, but the big blocks in those days were lucky to break into the double digits. Still, there will be those that feel nostalgic for these kind of cars; that’s ok, but just don’t try to convince the rest of us.

That new front end for the ’75s has a decidedly FoMoCo look to it; the 1973 Mercury Marquis, to be precise. So now the Dodge Royal Monaco is a delightful mash up of GM and Ford. And its quickly headed for oblivion, the junk yard of automotive history of that stellar era. Chrysler couldn’t afford a proper all-new downsized full-sized car, so after this Royal Monaco bid farewell after 1977, a rebodied midsized St.Regis took over its former role. That’s a story for another day, but it better be before too long, because those particular memory banks are getting a bit fragile too.

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29 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1976 Dodge Royal Monaco...”

  • avatar

    During my brief time at chrysler, in 1986, I crash tested a number of cars. And Chrysler, being too cheap or too poor, to have a computer controlled electric motor to drag cars into the barrier, used one of these, in state tropper form, to do the job. They hooked a cable to the back of one of these cars, looped it around some pulleys, and back to teh test vehicle. When I gave the command, the driver accelerated to 30mph, and held it steady till the test car hit the barrier. There was a breakaway connection at the bumper of the Dodge. The Dodge was also fitted with an extra-large speedometer, about 3 ft in diameter, so the driver could more accurately maintain 30mph.

    It was always neat to hear the healthy 440 pull away, just before we had serious work to do on the test.

    It was a bit f a disappointment to go to GM where the computer controlled electric motor did the job, no V8 noises, and absolute accuracy.


  • avatar

    Wow- typical craptastic malaise-mobile. They may’ve been hideously baroque-ugly, terrible to drive, and poorly built, but at least they got shitty mileage.

  • avatar

    These were rare birds even when new. And they were largely forgotten, even when they were new, as you note. The 1974 Dodges and Plymouths were such blatant copies of the big GM cars that most people figured they should just buy the real thing, and get better build quality and reliability, too.

    It’s interesting how quickly the sales of Dodge and Plymouth big cars crashed in the wake of fuel crisis, and then never recovered. The sales of Ford and GM full-size cars did rebound in 1976 (except for Pontiac), but sales of the Plymouths and Dodges fell off a cliff, and stayed there.

    Meanwhile, Oldsmobile, Buick and Mercury were selling every land yacht they could make.

  • avatar

    It amazes me, all the old timepieces you see around Eugene. This one looks to be ripe for a restoration, if you could find a fan of the beast.

    • 0 avatar

      The pay back wouldn’t make a resto on this one worth the effort. I’m looking at tin worm around the edges, the mucked up upholstery, peeling vinyl roof, bubbling under the vinyl on the C-pillar, etc.

      If someone is really longing for a car like this, go out and look for a Chrysler version from this era. At least those had fairly distinctive (if somewhat derivative) styling and better quality interiors. Plus, their more affluent original owners probably took better care of them.

  • avatar


  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    Yup-they were primarily used as police cars-here’s an example of a 77 Dodge police car that received a better fate than a future as a new fridge…

  • avatar

    If I was going to have an old Mopar other than the Charger, Challenger, Duster 340, etc, I’d have an Imperial like this one:

  • avatar

    What I found interesting with these was the styling. The 74s were never as good looking as the Chryslers, but looked handsom in a Buick kind of way. Everyone at Chrysler must have agreed, because they did major revisions for 75 which made the car look less like a Buick, but also ruined whetever good looks the cars had (particularly on the 2 doors).

    The bodies on these cars had a terrible cheap feel (much worse than the 69-73 fuselage models, which were no bank vaults themselves), and the less said about Lean Burn, the better. Even a big Mopar afficianado like me has trouble working up enthusiasm for these cars. A 77 New Yorker is my only Mopar ownership experience that left me deeply, deeply disappointed, and it was a heckuvalot better car than the Fury or Monaco.

    By 77-78, these cars were just ugly, Chrysler’s reputation for build quality had taken a huge hit (from already poor levels) and Chrysler’s customer base was significantly lower income by that time. It is no wonder that they lost ground in this segment to the better looking, better quality offerings from Ford and GM.

  • avatar

    I am a fan of Land Yachts, and no I won’t try to convince you. I’ve come to the conclusion that driving one of these was akin to driving a low flying truck would be today. Imagine your F150 or GM truck being just a few inches from the pavement. Same big torquey engines, same small cabin (compared to the overall size of the vehicle.) I know the similarities aren’t perfect but I just had to take a moment and grin. And no I wouldn’t want one today without some sort of more modern transmission and the engine balanced and blueprinted for better fuel economy.

  • avatar

    They were pretty darn good derby cars.

    Much of this 70s tripe has at least came to an end in battle – much noble than the lives they led.

  • avatar

    first thing i thought when i saw the first pic was “yikes that’s my 71 lesabre with a ford ltd on the front”
    in terms of shameless copies, is there anything more blatant?

  • avatar

    One has to wonder if not for the popularity of The Blues Brothers (to this day), if anyone would give these old, mid-seventies Chrysler monstrosities any thought at all.

    If not for being such POS tanks that just happened to perfectly fit in the movie, well, my guess would be that they’d have been long forgotten (except for maybe help creating just another one of Chrysler’s cyclical crisis).

  • avatar

    My paternal grandfather had a Royal Monoco (a ’75?) back in the day…a sedan, maroon with a tan top and a pearlescent tan vinyl interior…seemed pretty swanky to me as a kid.

    Looking back thru the lens of time, I’m kind of suprised at all the big mopar hate on the thread…GM’s vaunted full-size cars were pretty crappy by this time, cheapened-out and watered-down versions of their former glory…

    I don’t think the ‘malaise-era massive Mopars’ were any worse than their GM or Ford counterparts, they just suffered from buyer neglect because GM was still coasting on it’s former laurels and acheivements, and even Ford had much deeper pockets for advertising.

    • 0 avatar

      You raise a valid point. But by the mid 70s, there were reasons that Chrysler was coming in 3rd in a 3 way race in the big sleds. Through 74 or 75, you could argue that they were no worse mechanically (other than the traditional Chrysler carburetion and ignition issues) than GM and Ford competitors. But by 76 when Lean Burn hit, game over. My 77 New Yorker NEVER ran right. When my family bought it, it was 5 yrs old with 34K miles. Babied. Beautiful. And never ran right. And 2 burned valves by the time it hit 55K.

      Body wise, NOBODY put out interiors as cheap and chintzy as Chrysler. Every seam in every vinyl seat had split when the car was 6 years old. Structurally, these cars were oddballs. The 4 door hardtops (no center pillar) were quite tight and rigid. The sedans (with the center pillar) was a juddering jellybody, unlike anything else in the Chrysler unibody era. I will admit that they were less rustprone than the Fords, and were in some instances tighter than the horrid GM big cars (thru 76) but everything you touched just had a cheap feeling. Even my 77 New Yorker did not feel nearly as solid as my dad’s Lincolns of the era (and remember that the New Yorker is the car that started life as the Imperial).

      So, as a bigtime Mopar fan, I have to agree with the general lack of love towards these cars. One of these would have to be mighty, mighty sweet to tempt me today, and even then, I would hope that my good sense would kick in before I actually part with any money.

  • avatar

    I’m wondering if the Royal Monaco is the Dodge version of the Chrysler Cordoba? I think the Cordoba did fairly well in sales–with Ricardo M. and “rich Corinthian leather.”

    • 0 avatar

      The Dodge version of the Cordoba started out as the ’75-’78 Charger, which was replaced by the ’78-’79 Magnum, and finally ended life as the ’80-’83 Mirada.

      The Cordoba kept its original name throughout its ’75-’83 model run.

  • avatar

    As rare as the Royal Monaco is in general, the two-doors must be an infinitesimal portion. I was alive and loving cars in the Malaise era, and I had no idea it ever came in a coupe.

  • avatar

    I wonder if the 74-77 mopar C-body has the highest fleet-to-retail ratio of any car ever made. Did any privateers buy this barge as new, or was every single one made as a police packagage to begin with? The ratio must be in the vicinity of todays Ford Crown Vic.

    Another question bogs my mind. What kind of people did buy these cars as new in the 70´s? What was the demographic? I can see that all kinds of people bought full-size in the 50’s and 60’s, perhaps culminating with the ’71 Impala, per Paul Niedermeyers discussion. But by the mid 70’s, this full size rush already seems to be passé and the butt of jokes? So, if you were in the market for a car in ’76, and you wanted a full size car, and put your fortunes in a Dodge Royal Monaco, what did that make you?

  • avatar

    I had a 77 Gran Fury sedan for a while, and my experience is a little different from Cavanaugh’s, specifically the fact that it had excellent body integrity. Very solid, no water leaks, upholstery tears, seams ripping, anything like that. I do agree with him though on the lean burn stuff. A couple of times my wife had the car out with real estate prospects and it refused to start. I’d come with the jumper cables, and just for kicks I’d try to start it before I hooked up the cables, and it would start. With 50 or 60k miles on it when I sold it, it ran like it needed a valve grind. Fuel mileage? 12mpg. It didn’t matter whether I was hooning it through the mountains – well, trying to – or up the freeway on cruise control: 12 miles per gallon.

    I saw the car several years later; the owner at the time had had some minor body damage repaired, rebuilt the engine, and was using it to tow a house trailer. He liked it just fine.

  • avatar

    Fans of the ’80’s TV drama “Hill Street Blues” know that front end extremely well. :)

  • avatar

    Chrysler had a problem with sibling rivalry that was as strong as GM’s, but didn’t have GM’s cash or market. While everyone at the adult table could agree to having a GM 5 brand strategy for Chrysler, the annual budgeting decisions always ended up in fights, preventing the strategy.

    They tried in the 1950s, but launching Imperial as a brand, caused Chrysler to go downmarket into DeSoto’s territory. Dodge decided to go after the smaller family car market, which pirated from Plymouth, who then went after Valiant during the late 1950s.

    So, by 1960, Dodge had tremendous success with their family Dart line-up, Plymouth had tremendous success nabbing Valiant, DeSoto was eaten by Chrysler, and Imperial folded up shop as a separate make.

    By 1962, Dodge thought it would find more success by expanding their Dart line-up, stealing from Plymouth. Dodge decided to get their own version of Valiant, and called it Lancer. Chrysler took over Imperial and expanded further down the chain with their Newports, covering the old DeSoto market. This was a total disaster as their newfound love of smaller Furys and Polaras met with larger Fords and Chevrolets. Dodge grabbed a Chrysler Newport and rebadged it as a 600, and renamed it’s Lancer as the new Dart. Plymouth ended up selling stripped big cars and Valiants and Chrysler held steady.

    By 1965 Chrysler struck gold with it’s 1965 auto line. It mined that vein for four years. Plymouth offered three versions of Fury, Dodge offered Polaras and the Grand-Prix-esque 2 door Monaco.

    Then 1969. Chrysler slumped, Plymouth soared and Dodge blurred. Chrysler offered three version of the same car, Plymouth offered a stripped version of it, and Dodge offered the same as Plymouth and Chrysler, but expanded Monaco into a 4-door, with Polara as stripped. This held until 1973.

    Then 1974. Oil prices skyrocketed, impacting Chrysler’s marketing plans. No one wanted their new cars. Worse, after a decade of consumer brand confusion, few could figure out what brand served what market. Plymouth had the entry level line and Chrysler had it’s traditional line. Imperial was relaunched and utterly flopped.

    Dodge had little to no market image for it’s full sized cars. While Dodge had a nice sporty image for it’s pony cars, it tried to be a DeSoto-like large car maker at the same time. Folks bought Plymouths and went upscale to Chryslers. Dodge changed their auto names so many times, no one knew what they were. Monaco, which started as a full-size Grand Prix fighter, ended up a family car, and Dodge still tried to sell large cars under the Royal Monaco name, designating some kind of luxury. By 1974 and the Oil Crisis, Dodge was too weak to fight reality. So, that is why we see this era’s Dodge and wonder – WTF? No one knew what it was, and neither did Dodge.

    It wasn’t as popular or as well known as the Plymouth Fury. It wasn’t upscale enough to be a Chrysler. This era’s Dodge lived in No Man’s Land, Middle Child Syndrome, all rolled into one, sold by a brand known for sporty small cars. Yeah – it sucked in every way possible.

  • avatar

    My father had a 1973 Dodge Monaco coupe and I thought it was beautiful at the time and still do see beauty in the lines.

    I remember going to the dealer’s showroom to see the new ’74s when they came out and wondering why they were so ugly.

    In those days, new was supposed to be better. In the case of the 1974-7 full-size Mopars, it wasn’t.

  • avatar

    I have one good thing to say about this yacht:

    The hood would make a good roof for my deck.

  • avatar

    I just dont think these ’70s beasts merit the term, “classic.” The Classic era went strong (in my ever so humble opinion) from the end of wwii to 1965, when it started its precipitous decline. By 1970 or ’71 or ’72, it was over. The gorgeous style just went out of them. This Dodge just doesn’t hold a candle to its classic forebears. Call these things “Curbside Detroit Decliners” or something like that.

  • avatar

    I immediately thought of William De Vaughn’s “Just Be Thankful For What You Got” when I saw this Curbside Classic.

    The absolute perfect song to listen to on 8 track while cruising around in this car. It’s from 1974 too. Bet it was inspired by the new big Chryslers… lol.

    For those who have no idea what I am talking about listen to this:

  • avatar

    Right. The Dodge 600 was a K car. The 880’s were Dodge Newports with V8 engines!

    With a shrinking market, Dodge was the loser in the Chrysler “odd man out” games in 1974.

    Plymouth actually increased sales at Dodge’s expense, rising to number 3 brand, thanks to the eroding economy, the Valiant’s attractiveness during the oil crisis, the blurry image of Dodge’s large car line up, and the Newport doing downscale to a level that robbed Dodge too.

    With Plymouth sitting strongly, the new Cordoba got a Dodge twin, but no Plymouth version. This save the Chrysler brand, but didn’t help Dodge, which by 1975 was already forgotten for the rest of the decade. Lee Iacocca and Plymouth’s sales slump is what rescued Dodge and killed off Plymouth by 2000.

  • avatar
    Coyote Duster

    sick of the blatant mopar bashing on this page, in the 50s-60s chrysler was leading the big 3 in terms of innovation.

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