My garage is home to some cool stuff. As I’ve mentioned in previous writeups, I love 50s and 60s Americana, and everybody who knows me knows it. But I have a secret. In a perfect world, with all the pole barn space one could want, I’d own a Vega or a Monza. Gasp!
I’ll just focus on Monzas today, even though I equally enjoy Vegas. I like all H-bodies: Skyhawks, Starfires, Sunbirds, Astres, whatever. I’ll blame the easily-influenced kid syndrome. I had an uncle who had a deep blue 1980 Monza coupe with the Iron Duke 4-cylinder and a 4-speed stick, and I spent a lot of time in the back seat of it when I was very young. Even as a 5 or 6 year old, I remember that back seat being a little cramped. I also remember being fascinated by the fact that it was a stick-shift.
In Michigan, H-Bodies were fairly commonplace when I was a kid. I live in a GM city, so even their Deadly Sins were gladly eaten up by our manufacturing community, and it must have had an influence on me. So today, even though I haven’t ridden in one in 30 years, I find myself mysteriously drawn to them.
I am, however, a realist. In the scheme of things, there are almost no 1970s cars on my “must-have” list. Even if I really, really wanted a Monza, the last survivors in Michigan have long since been converted into drag cars, and I don’t have much of an interest in one of them. So I’ve had to do the next best thing…buy dealer promos.
I try to be careful about what I collect, lest I become a hoarder. I like bicycling, so I own 15 antique bicycles. I like old alarm clocks, so I have 20 Westclox Big and Baby Bens. I like old cars (a lot), so I have five antique cars. I certainly don’t need to start buying up a billion promo cars. Besides, all of my favorites cost at least a hundred dollars. No thanks.
Fortunately for me and my long suffering wife, however, 1970s promo cars aren’t quite so expensive, so I’ve been able to buy a precious few of those and live my Monza dreams.
And why not? They’re certainly nice-looking cars, aping the Ferrari Daytona in a barely distinguishable way. The hatchback model was swoopy, and the bumpers weren’t too big by 70s standards. One of my favorite steering wheels of all time is the 1970s Chevy rally wheel with 4 spokes, and my 1977 dealer promo has that. My 1980 promo is a really nice shade of blue (I love blue cars), and is an example from the last model year (which is honestly meaningless).
Buying dealer promos is also my way of avoiding a car that, by all practical standards, was not very good. By 1975, the first year of the Monza, Chevrolet had apparently fixed many of the Vega’s foibles, but that just meant it might not fall apart on you instantly. The 140 “Dura-Built” engine had been tweaked to fix some of its early issues (adding a radiator overflow fixed some of them). Later Monzas came with the rough but durable “Iron Duke” 4-cylinder. Every once in awhile, I’ll still hear an Iron Duke equipped GM rattling down the road, still running. Throughout its six model years, Monzas could also be equipped with, depending on the year, several small-block Chevy V8s, and even the 3.8 Buick V6, which was the top engine choice in 1980.
On the racetrack, Monzas could, of course, be equipped with much more powerful engines. In fact, Monza-bodied cars were quite successful in IMSA GT racing in the 1970s, where their sporty looks could be accentuated by some actual performance. To commemorate those little beasts, Hot Wheels now sells small recreations of IMSA Monzas, so I’ve bought two of those, too. They even come in far-out 70s colors. I love it.
Over the last few years, in addition to promo cars, I’ve also gathered 1970s and early 1980s Chevrolet brochures. Because of this, I’ve been able to shop cars like a consumer of the time might have, and have come to the conclusion that my favorite Monza might indeed be the last, a 1980 Spyder, just like the one on the brochure cover above. A close second might be an earlier Spyder, like the silver ones pictured in this article (and in a recent CC).
So there. My dark secret is out, all over the internet. I love Vegas and Monzas, and I’m not ashamed. I’ve even found a more socially acceptable (well, as acceptable as a 36-year-old guy collecting toys can be) outlet for my H-Body dreams. Strangely, Vega promo cars are somewhat more expensive and sought after than Monza promos, so I only have one of them, but that’s a story for another time. For now, I’ll just drift off into my 6-year-old world of GM cars that have long since become a memory in Michigan. Nostalgia can be dangerous, but so much fun.