By on July 17, 2018

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]

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72 Comments on “Rare Rides: A 1977 Chevrolet Monza – the Malaise Mirage...”


  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Why do some GM tachometers remain at where ever they were before the engine was shut off? In the instrument cluster shot, the tachometer appears to be still showing the RPMs it was at when it was last shut off (the other gauges seem to indicate it isn’t actually running).

    My 1996 Isuzu Hombre did this, as did several other GM products I’ve been in from the 90s and before (my former neighbor’s 80s Beretta, for one). My cousin’s 1995 Z-71 doesn’t do it, however.

    Its not really a complaint, just a curiosity.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      It wants you to know it’s still on the job even when it’s not.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I don’t know – the one in my ’76 Vega GT did that. It also did this weird thing where the tach would buzz for a second after start up, and pull the needle down some, momentarily.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Was about to ask the same thing!

      The Rallye clusters in A/G-Body Cutlasses did the same thing, where I first noticed this.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Yep, I’ve seen them in pictures (I tend to search for Oldsmobiles…a lot, lol).

        Funny, the ad can say “no engine” or “non-running” and yet according to the tach, its ideling great! Haha

    • 0 avatar
      ppxhbqt

      See if this article can’t get you started on how GM gauges worked until recently. It wasn’t just the tachs that did this.

      http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:ZVuQC8iNW6oJ:www.tachman.com/tshoot.htm+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Both of my late ’70s Z28s did this. I really have no idea why but it was pretty cool at the time I remember. It was like the tach was getting ready when you’d turn the key on by going back to zero. Maybe it was meant as a test function?

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    1977…Elvis died and we gave the Panama Canal back. The Clash debuted, as did the Atari game system. And Chevy coughed up this hair ball. You win some and you lose some.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Remember exactly where I was when I heard about Elvis. Had just purchased some 8-Tracks in the Muntz Music store at the mall, got into my car and had Buffalo station WGR-55 on the radio. They had their main DJ, ‘Shane’ on which was unusual for that time of day.

      If I remember correctly, Elvis was scheduled to perform in the Niagara Falls area sometime that year.

      Just one of the things that my Old Man had on most of us. He saw both the Beatles and Elvis perform live.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I wasn’t around in 1977, but why would someone buy a 305 Monza vs a 305 Camaro? Was there an especially large price difference?

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Maybe there is a significant weight difference? I don’t honestly know.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Ford had the same problem with the Maverick. Both with the 302, the Maverick was smaller, cheaper, faster, especially vs the early ’70s bloated Mustangs, for $1,000+ less.

        So Ford raised the price of the Maverick dramatically. I’m sure GM did the same to the Monza.

        The Monza was only $400 cheaper than the Camaro in ’77, but still smaller/cheaper/faster, with either V8.

        • 0 avatar
          Sub-600

          Maverick Grabber. I forget what the hot Mercury Comet was called.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          nadaguides.com/Cars/1977/Chevrolet/Monza/2-Door-Hatchback-2-Plus-2/Values

        • 0 avatar
          geozinger

          Ford could have had a killer car with the Maverick. I built my own in 1981 with a NOS 4-bbl 289 engine. Ford was so afraid of stepping on the Mustang that it knee-capped the Maverick to a 2bbl 302 only. Compared to it’s direct rivals, Valiant/Duster and the RWD GM X-cars, it was horribly outgunned without something in the 5.4-5.7 liter range.

          By the time the joke that was the King Cobra was released, the 2bbl 302 sported a whopping 120 HP; a Slant Six was almost as strong. A 305 Monza/other H-body or a 318 Aspen/Volare would beat the false King handily. Fortunately for the Mustang brand, the third gen came along and re-set the playing field.

          That $400 you’re referring to is a lot more in todays dollars and was a big difference back then. Also, the Z28 with 4 speed was pretty zippy. I don’t think any of the H-bodies could touch it, at least right out of the factory.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            In theory it should be faster… But wait, one had a “final drive” rear-end ratio of 2.73 and one had 3.73s. Guess which had which?

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Like most V8s of the time, the King Cobra had gobs of torque, around 200 lbs/ft, and right off idle, but you really wouldn’t know it, thanks to its gas pump friendly, OPEC fearing 3.00:1 axle ratio.

            Making most of its torque, early on, gave a deceptively low HP rating (think diesels).

            With 4.10s it would be a whole different animal, 2 bbls and all. Don’t ask me why I know personally.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        They were pretty light little machines even with a V8 and had an SLA front suspension and coil sprung torque arm rear suspension. It always seemed to me this was GM thinking out loud about a Mustang II style F-body.

        Very cool malaise era hot rodding material since they were so light and offered good versatility with the hatchback plus you could stuff them with whatever small block you could get your hands on. I had a few friends that snagged the unpopular 400 CID SBC (before the big bore block caught on) and dropped them in for an instant go fast machine since they weighed less than 3,000 pounds and that 400 was good for 350-400 horsepower with minimal work.

        Hooker made a cool set of headers where one of the tubes passed through the inner fender and down and back toward the collector.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      The Monza was smaller and lighter than the Camaro. The 305 in the Monza was a pretty decent motivator for the car; the 305 in the Camaro was much more sedate.

      I had two buddies in HS that had these cars either new or just a couple of years old. If you wanted your Camaro to scoot, you needed a 350.

    • 0 avatar
      ernest

      They didn’t. I remember having a Mirage on the showroom. As memory serves me, it took almost 2 years to make it go away. In ’78, the Buick V6 was available in the Monza, and that seemed to be the engine of choice. The CAR of choice was a Camaro, mostly with 350 V8’s, although Chevy required a certain number of 305 orders (production constraints).

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      They were in different size classes. Back then, sporty cars were very popular. 25 years from now, we’ll probably be asking why people bought a BMW X1.5 over an X1 (actually, I’m asking that right now but I seem to be in the minority). Popular vehicle types tend to bring very small niches.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I always liked the Monza shape, but the legendary GM build quality is evident in the photos.

    This Monza Mirage version is right in line with the Mustang II King Cobra of the time:
    http://thenewswheel.com/wp-content/themes/patterns/timthumb.php?src=http://thenewswheel.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/1978-Ford-Mustang-II-King-Cobra.jpg&q=90&w=660&zc=1

    • 0 avatar

      Very vaguely assembled and lined up.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I was thinking just that. I could almost hear the doors closing badly just by looking at the picture.

      These would have been a fun little car at the time, although the competition didn’t set the bar very high (aforementioned Mustang King Cobra, Aspen R/T…). I remember seeing the occasional Monza in the early 1990s, either in the classifieds or in the flesh. A lot of them were hopped up with aftermarket parts or just parts specced to related engines from much earlier model years. By then these and the similar offerings from Ford and Dodge usually seemed to be owned by people who were, uhhhh, rough around the edges “salt of the earth” kinds of people. There’s plenty of room in autodom for all kinds of different people.

    • 0 avatar
      Blackcloud_9

      Well, the King Cobra was cool because Farrah Fawcett drove one in Charlie’s Angels. Being 16 at the time, that was all it took.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Look at the hood fit and the rear spoiler. Wow. Hard to believe that could be acceptable. Even harder to believe a customer would accept that many assembly errors, Today’s cars are soooo much better.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    If only this ugly mess would just fade away like a real mirage.

  • avatar
    Sloomis

    Alright, call me a perv but take away the stripes and door decals and this would be a nice looking car imo.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    This was a replica of the racing Mirage Monzas that raced in the old IMSA series back in the 70’s. They were quite successful, taking down Porsche 911’s with some regularity. Think of this as an Indy 500 pace car replica, but a replica of the racer rather than the pacer.

    Due to the laws of the time, there was no way they were going to install a full-race 355 small block in these cars. The best you were going to get was a 305. IIRC, maybe the (California) CARB cars might have gotten the 350, as they only certified one engine for them back then.

    IIRC, but I don’t believe any of the street going Mirages had painted stripes, I believe they were all tape.

    For more information than you ever wanted on these cars go to: h-body.org

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    It has its share of faults…and yet its infinitely more appealing than pretty much any CUV ever.

    • 0 avatar
      9Exponent

      Stay hard, bro.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I bet good money my mother’s Kia Sorrento would embarass this thing at the gas pump, mechanic, and drag strip. I love me some vintage iron, but any crapbox built today pretty much beats this thing. These are truly a low point for the US Auto Industry. It was cars like this that made people buy imports.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Fix the dam**d log in on this site. Your IT people have less knowledge of quality control than an inspector on the Yugo assembly line. And appear to have the customer support skills of Malcolm Bricklin.

    As for this car, if anyone else could log in, I am sure that we would be reading multiple horror stories of working on a Monza with a V8 crammed into its engine compartment.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      It’s all stinkin’ the popup ads and they too crash and burn. Now there’s 2 “articles” that mimic a TTAC article, right down to the correct font and red “5 COMMENTS” button.

      Sometimes it helps to “refresh” repeatedly, instead of “logging in” repeatedly.

      TTAC is becoming the grimy junkyard of forums, when you were expecting a marble tile showroom with wifi and espresso.

      As far as the Monza, I’d take the V8 option and happily release the motor mounts and put a floor jack under the pan to work on it.

      They couldn’t have been much worse than 302s in Fox cars, just for spark plugs and starters.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I had a set of those wheelcovers on my ’76 Vega GT for a little while (the original owner swapped the GT wheels and tires off before I bought it, so it had the base steelies). One day while driving on the freeway (LBJ Freeway in Dallas), one of them passed me, and flew to who knows where (yes, I pulled over and searched for it). I took the rest off, and later found a set of GT steel wheels. I still have the other three wheelcovers in my storage shed.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    I was caught completely off guard by the deplorable condition of that engine bay. The rest of the car is well restored…. don’t know why since it is an ugly car.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      It hasn’t been “restored” restored, just repaint/stripe and otherwise freshened up as necessary. The engine compartment remains ASIS, 51K miles.

      One of these wouldn’t be worth restoring to sell at a sharp loss.

  • avatar

    This triggers a memory of a Cosworth Vega, black over gold, which sat in my local dealer for three plus years. It was $6k ? at the time…more than a Camaro. The engine turned dash was mezmerizing. I was sad to read a test later that basted it.

    I had a friend with the Maverick and 2 bbl….he crashed it. The only faster cars in the town were an old school 442 with manual, and a firebird 455.

    Kneecapping cars is a normal thing.
    V6 Fiero
    Porsche Cayman
    Cadillac ATS-V

    You can’t be faster than XXX, so….

  • avatar
    Johnster

    Actually, the Monza (and the first generation Sunbird) was available in four body-styles. In addition to the 2+2 Hatchback Coupe, the notchback Towne Coupe, and the Wagon there were a handful of 1978 models that used the Vega hatchback bodyshell. I would imagine that the bodies were leftover from the 1977 Vega and Astre model runs.

    “The Old Car Manual Project” website has a 1978 Chevy Monza sales brochure featuring the Monza ‘S’ hatchback using the Vega bodyshell and a Monza front-end clip.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    What a dreadful crapbox. I couldnt find actual spbecs for the 305 equipped cars, but my 84 Horsepower Saturn SL would have given any of the v8 ones I could find a view of it’s taillights. What a pile of garbage.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I mean there was some ugly stuff in the 1970’s…I look back on wide ties, avocado green appliances, Afros, platform shoes, Travolta, Bell Bottoms…you name it. But Holy Fnck…this car might be the worse thing to come out of the decade and that includes such radio gems as “Crocodile Rock” and the “Grease” soundtrack. This may be the worst car ever made. Period.

    • 0 avatar
      Sub-600

      Other ‘70s bargain prizes included wood paneling, disco, WIN buttons, bicentennial minutes, the Dorothy Hamill haircut, Donny & Marie, leisure suits, and mood rings. The Monza seamlessly fits right in.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        CHiPs, the colors orange, brown, and pea-soup green, pet rocks, leisure suits, shag carpet… dig it?

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          I would counter with the belief that the popular music (circa 1970 to 1975 anyhow), movies, and network television fare were all superior to what we have now. Who in today’s media compares to Johnny Carson, or Walter Cronkite, or Howard Cosell or Frank Sinatra, or Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles and George Carlin?

          As for vehicles, well I am a sucker for an early to mid 1970’s Lincoln. Or a D3 PLC of the same era. And the vehicles from from 1970 to 1972 were not totally strangled by emission controls.

          As for styles, I truly believe that bell bottoms will one day return as will the Farrah hairstyle.

          • 0 avatar
            Sub-600

            There were plenty of good pop culture aspects to the ‘70s. There were well written tv sitcoms like All in the Family, MASH, Barney Miller, and Taxi. Every decade has good films but the ‘70s were exceptional, too many to list. Cronkite, Huntley & Brinkley, and Harry Reasoner gave you the news, not 30 minutes of Op-Ed. I blame Dan Rather for starting the trash we call news now. I had a ‘70 Plymouth GTX and a ‘72 Mark IV, two of my all time favorites. Carson is irreplaceable, Leno and Letterman proved that. I saw Dangerfield once, I laughed so hard I missed half of the jokes. Timeless humor. The ‘70s weren’t all bad.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            There was some really good music and TV to come out of the 70’s and I have no problem proclaiming it to be better than today in those respects @Arthur. The problem with saying it was the best ever is that the 1990’s did in fact happen.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Well Mr. Vandelay, I will certainly give you 2 shows from the 1990’s, but only if you pretend to be an architect and buy me a big salad. And Al Bundy’s mighty Dodge

            Otherwise despite their orange and brown furniture and clothing, the 1970’s cranked out a great many classic shows. And some of them even featured some very era appropriate cars.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    If confronted with this, or that Trump Balloon from London with 4 wheels affixed with a designed in Australia LS motor, and a repeal of the chicken tax shoved in the glovebox, I bet Big Al From Oz would drive that Trump Balloon all day and twice on Tuesday.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Art,
      In Australia we had our own version of this fugly looking GM product. It was far prettier and around the same size. It ran a GMH 308 (90 degree V8) and if I can remember around 250hp. A picture is in the link.

      I think Australia overall created more attractive “muscle/pony” cars than the US. But we did have a couple of fugly ones, mainly from GMH.

      As for the Baby Putin Admirer ballon, I heared it will follow Trump around the US now.

      Trump doing well, Japan and the EU are creating the largest trading bloc, I hope other nations join in.

      https://www.google.com.au/search?q=a9x+torana&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiSt6_3pqjcAhUZd94KHV2EAikQ_AUICigB&biw=1589&bih=1134#imgrc=DwApBA-UOt4STM:

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    And this Vs. a Cadillac Cimmaron with the base Cadillac ATS Instrument cluster retrofitted and a picture of JohnTaurus projected on the dash by hologram reading his posts over the car’s audio system…well you know DeadWeight would rock that Caddy

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    And EBFlex would drive a 1.0 ecoboost Fiesta with a Poweshift retrofitted to it before he’d be seen in this. Again, the Vega and all of the crap it spawned might be the worst wheeled transportation ever conceived by man. I’d rathe feed a donkey 20 pounds of exlax, strap it to a cart and drive that cart than go near one of these colossal pieces of sheite.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    what a pile

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    It is much easier to be an arm chair critic and criticize the past. I am not a fan of avocado green, harvest gold, or burnt orange but having owned a couple of 70’s cars they were not all crap. I had a 73 Chevelle DeLuxe with a 350 V-8 2 barrel which was one of the smoothest and best running cars I ever had. The 77 Monte Carlo I had was a beautiful car but it did not run as good as that 73 Chevelle–the Monte had a 305 with a 2 barrel. My wife had a 77 Accord which was an excellent car. I am not saying that we should go back to the 70s but not all the cars were bad.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Art, I agree, the most plebeian cars today probably outperform the Monza V8, or even my 86 VW GTI.

    That said, most cars sold in the US in the 70s were crap. The American cars ran worse than American cars from the 1960s. The Japanese cars did not–because there were no Japanese cars in the 1960s.

    The Americans had over 80% of new car sales in the mid-70s. If half those people were dissatisfied, that’s a lot of people who probably won’t buy your product.

    Japanese cars were sold as “modest, high-value” cars in that era. Expectations were lower. Because the cars were SIMPLER first, and generally better built (second), they had fewer dissatisfied customers.

    My family’s experience with a 1975 Pontiac was better than most people’s of any car–we got a good one! No driveability issues, kept it 10 years (and we got it used).

    It was slow and thirsty, but no slower than average. Typical malaise, built to a high standard

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    If the spark plugs have not been replaced lately it will cost you as much as you pay for this POS to get that done.

  • avatar
    ceipower

    What a horrible car.

  • avatar
    FalcoDog

    “Today’s Mirage example has the reliable Chevrolet 305 V8 (5.0-liter).”

    The internals of this engine were made out of moldy cheese.

  • avatar
    Blackcloud_9

    Ahh…so many memories. Still remember the commercial from another badge and flare “Special Edition” Monza called the Spider.
    “Along came a Spider (Yoww!), Monza 2+2, Chevy! Chevy!”

    My older brother had the Olds Starfire version of this car with the 231 V6. Bits and pieces fell off with great regularity. The doors were very heavy so the door pulls would pull out from the door rather than pull the door closed.

    It is urban legend or truth that you basically had to pull the 305 V8 engine to reach the spark plugs?

    • 0 avatar
      drachenfels

      ALL the GM 2 door vehicles had the problem w/ the hinges wearing out, and the door drooping at the back as they aged… I remember having to roll down the window, and lift the door up to close it in camaro/monte carlo/monza/vega vehicles as they aged… Lets not talk about the squeaks and creaks as you made your way down the road.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      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.


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