Rare Rides: A 1977 Chevrolet Monza - the Malaise Mirage

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Today’s Rare Ride is a special, sporty edition of a rather mundane Malaise subcompact. It hails from a time when the American customer matched the color of their vinyl seats to their wide lapel. So let’s delude ourselves for a few minutes with the Monza Mirage.

This isn’t the first time we’ve featured an H-body on Rare Rides. That honor goes to this 1978 Pontiac Sunbird Safari Wagon.

Both of these vehicles were follow-up rides to the original H-body, Chevrolet’s Vega. The Vega led the pack with its introduction for the 1971 model year, soldiering on alone until 1973. That year saw the creation of the very similar Pontiac Astre. In 1975, the lineup expanded to include the Buick Skyhawk, Oldsmobile Starfire, and today’s Monza. And in 1976, one final model found its way to the H-body — another Pontiac, the Sunbird mentioned above.

Monza was available in three different body styles, all of them featuring two doors: coupe, station wagon, and a 2+2 liftback like we have here. The Monza was destined to stand out a bit from other GM models, as the company intended to ship it with a Wankel engine (licensed from NSU!) under the hood.

But as all manufacturers have found with Wankel, there were issues in emissions and economy, so the idea was dropped. Monzas were offered with several different engines, of four, six, or eight cylinders. They ranged in displacement from 2.3 to 5.7 liters. Today’s Mirage example has the reliable Chevrolet 305 V8 (5.0-liter).

The 2+2 Monza had some weight on its swoopy shoulders. Though it shared the showroom floor for two years with the Vega, it was intended as its replacement. Along with the more formal Towne Coupe model, the 2+2 aimed directly at that other compact economy car: the Mustang II.

Styling on the 2+2 was made possible by a plastic nose cone attached to the front of a standard Monza Coupe (see photos). 2+2 versions also featured an upgraded suspension; GM’s first implementation of torque arms at the rear. Said suspension was added as an upgrade to later vintage Vega and Astre models, and also eventually found its way to the F-body Camaro and Firebird. Important stuff!

Monza’s trim and options lineup received annual tweaks and modifications, including today’s Mirage model (’77 only). And perhaps more importantly, the Monza lineup absorbed all Vega models in 1978, as the old nameplate was discontinued.

True aftermarket Mirage examples were created by a company called Michigan Auto Techniques (MAT). General Motors contracted the company to take 2+2 models from Sainte-Thérèse Assembly in Quebec, and Mirage-ify them. All Mirages were painted white, with red and blue racing stripes. A modified air dam and rear spoiler were added, as well as wider, flared body panels. Interior color options were either solid red, or red and white two-tone as presented here. In total, MAT produced 4,097 Monza Mirages. Dealers also joined in the fun, creating their own aftermarket set of pretend Mirages.

Today’s Mirage has under 52,000 miles on the odometer and is largely original. It’s been resprayed at some point, and the racing stripes are now stickers instead of paint. Someone kept the tin worm away all these years, sparing it the fate of most Malaise compacts.

She sits at $9,100 presently, and has not met the reserve on eBay. The mannequin in the background would like you to purchase this Monza.

[Images seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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3 of 73 comments
  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Jul 18, 2018

    I can dig this car, at 9k- a budget LT1 swap, you'll standout out on the Horsepower Tour. Maybe tub the rear end, and it would be a fun drag car. I see potential, in an Austin Powers campy cool kinda way.

    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jul 18, 2018

      It would be more fun to climb to the top of the Empire State Building with 91 100 dollar bills, fold each into a paper airplane and toss them over the side than to ever have this steaming pile grace my driveway. I'd rather write a 9100 dollar check to the IRS than to the owner of this automotive excrement.

  • Graham64 Graham64 on Aug 20, 2020

    Does the toy car on top of the dash come with the car if purchased?

  • Add Lightness As a kid, it was Germany, then Japan, then Korea, now China. Italy was and still is, the maker of needy mistresses.
  • Add Lightness So now new Mach-E buyers have the choice whether they want to save $8,000 or become indentured the finance companies, possibly for life.Buy what you can afford, even if that means buying tools and learning new life skills.
  • Dale I like it. Not sure when we will be in the market for a 2nd EV, but this looks like a nice hatchback.
  • FreedMike Cute car. If it's priced right it could be a winner.
  • Theflyersfan By the end of the summer, it will be buy one, get one free with a free charger at home install.