This is the car that brought personal luxury to the masses. The 1970-72 Monte Carlo. Sure, personal-lux coupes had been around for years, but generally they were flossier high-end cars. Cars like the first of its type, the Ford Thunderbird, which had more or less set the mold in 1958 with its low-slung lines, bucket seats and soon-to-be-ubiquitous center console.
Other makes immediately set their sights on the T-Bird, with cars like the Pontiac Grand Prix, Buick Riviera, and Oldsmobile Toronado. A case can be made for the 1967 Mercury Cougar as well, with its luxury touches, but really, it was still Mustang-derived and thus a ponycar, not a personal luxury car. Yes indeed, luxury coupe mania spread like wildfire throughout the Sixties, but there really were no offerings for the “Low Priced Three”, Chevrolet, Ford and Plymouth. Until 1970.
In The Year of Our Lord 1970, Chevrolet Motor Division was the 600-pound gorilla of General Motors Corporation. They made the money, they moved the metal, and you really couldn’t go wrong with any of their products, from Nova to Caprice.
The template for the Monte Carlo had been set a year earlier in the new 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix. From 1962 to 1968, the GP had been more or less a customized full-size Catalina, with plusher interior, more trim outside and other refinements. But it moved to the A-body midsize platform for 1969, as the 1968 GP had been a slow seller. Something new was needed. Thus, the model was moved to the midsize platform, and utilized the 116-inch sedan/station wagon chassis, to maximize the close-coupled look desired. This resulted in a really stunning automobile, with crisp sheetmetal and a loooooong hood!
In 1970, it was Chevrolet’s turn. The four-door, 116-inch wheelbase was used, just like it was on the GP, for the long hood, short deck proportions customers wanted. The rest of the car borrowed heavily from the Chevelle line, with most of the interior and roofline of the coupe used-just with a different sail panel and quarter windows.
A 1970 Monte Carlo had a base price of $3,123. Of course, this being GM in the Seventies, all sorts of options, colors and other accessories were available.
The Monte used the same instrument panel as the Chevelle, but with a hearty helping of Carpathian burled elm woodgrain. Fender skirts, color-keyed wheel covers, bucket seats, rear defogger, and various AM/FM stereos were available options.
All Monte Carlos were V8 powered. This was, after all, a personal luxury car! The base V8 was a 245-hp 350 CID mill; a 270-horse 350 and 300-hp “396” (in actuality a 402) were optional. The scarce Monte Carlo SS454 had, naturally, a 454 CID V8.
Believe it or not, a three-speed manual transmission was standard with the 245-hp V8, though it’s unlikely too many were sold so equipped. This was a boulevard cruiser, not a tightwad special, after all. Powerglide was still available in ’70, though you’d enjoy your Monte Carlo much more with the most excellent Turbo Hydra-Matic.
Plenty of new car shoppers found the Monte Carlo both pleasing to the eye and to the pocketbook. 130,657 were sold in its first year, a respectable figure by anyone’s standard.
No drastic changes presented themselves when the ’71s appeared in Autumn 1970. Why fix it when it isn’t broken? That was Chevrolet’s thought for 1971. The Monte Carlo was much the same as its inaugural year, with only minor trim changes. Base price was up to $3,416.
A new grille and new stand-up hood ornament freshened the nose. Parking lamps went from circular to rectangular. The well-known GM strike of 1971, however, threw a wrench into production. Still, 128,600 were still sold that year. If not for the strike, sales most likely would have been higher than MY ’70.
I should also mention that an SS variant of the Monte Carlo was also available in 1970-71. Dubbed the SS454, it was rather a Chevelle SS in a tuxedo.
It was a nice package on an already nice car, but as this was the tail end of the muscle era, sales were a spit in the ocean compared to total Monte Carlo production. 3,823 were built for 1970, and ’71 SS takers were about half of that, with 1,919 produced.
Most Monte Carlo buyers were more interested in comfort and whitewalls and woodgrain and, in general, Broughamage, than performance. Lux was in, sport was on the way out!
1972 Monte Carlos greeted shoppers with a bolder eggcrate grille with new parking lamps alongside. Otherwise it was pretty much business as usual. Base price was now $3,362. Fun fact: A 1972 Monte Carlo was Jim Carrey’s ride in the goofy 1994 movie, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
With the GM strike a shrinking memory, production ramped up to meet demand, and 180,819 1972 Monte Carlos came off the line. It was the best year sales-wise for the original MC.
1973 would bring Colonnade design and opera windows to the personal luxury Chevrolet, and a completely different look, but that’s a story for another time. But we’ll get to it one of these days, you bet!