(Update: another version of this same review ran this past July. My apologies) CC reader Lee J. donated a couple of decades of his Road and Track collection to me, starting with January 1975. It’s been quite a trip down memory lane rereading them, as I was an avid R&T reader back then. Now that I have a new scanner/printer, I’m going to start feeding them out to you, chronologically. So without any further ado, lets check out how these two mini-ponys sporting V8 engines fared.
There’s a bit of irony in the names involved here, as the Corvair Monza directly led to the creation of the original Mustang. Back then they were hard to compare directly, as they were so different in their conception, the Corvair with its little rear engine boxer six and very sporty handling, and the Falcon-based Mustang with its modest handling ambitions and available V8. I wonder if there are any comparisons between them?
Well, in their reincarnated forms, they were quite similar. The MII “based on the Pinto” (R&T’s words, not mine) was of course the first American subcompact sport coupe, and the very-much Vega-based Monza quickly followed and gave it chase.
Of course, the Monza was supposed to be as radically different than the original, with a Wankel rotary engine. But for a number of (wise) reasons for a change, GM aborted its rotary shortly before it went into production. Instead, it came with the Vega’s rough and flawed 2.3 four, and optionally with the 4.3 L (262 CID) small block V8, making all of 110 net hp. That was just about the only V8 engine that could make the Mustang’s 133 hp 302 V8 look powerful. Curiously, my Encyclopedia of American Cars says the 1975 MII 302 V8 was rated at 122 hp.
R&T said that visually, the Monza was a “knockout”. Maybe fro some angles, but its slim Vega-based body looked too narrow from the rear especially. And the front is a matter of taste.
0-60 in 13.4 seconds. For just about the smallest and lightest V8 sporty car available at the time. The only consolation was that swapping in the 327 from Aunt Mildred’s Impala under the cover of night could be done very quickly and easily. And she’ll never know the difference, right? Maybe she’ll even wonder why her Chevy is running extra smoothly and whisper-quiet.
Although the Monza’s handling was hardly brilliant (and its Vega brakes were deficient), that quality was decidedly better than the Mustang’s. Yes, the Mustang was faster, but it came in for all kinds of harsh criticism for its noisy engine, harsh-shifting automatic, rough ride, crappy steering, poor directional stability, a very poorly controlled leaf-spring rear axle (the Monza had a four-link coil spring rear axle) that made it a buck like a bronco under challenging situations. Having 59% of its weight on its little 13″ front tires didn’t help either.
The Mustang was of course faster, and provided greater visceral thrills and sensations.
But for every day driving, the Monza’s solid body, more polished chassis, better ride and handling, and quieter engine was the preferred choice. Oddly enough, the outcome is not all that different than it would have been back in 1965 if a Monza and Mustang were being compared, except that the Corvair Monza would undoubtedly have had much better braking than the original Mustang. And the handling differences would have been much greater too.
As a little bonus, there’s this Styling Analysis of the Monza. Yes, there’s a lot of Ferrari in its profile.
If you’re interested in my take on the MII, here’s my rather acerbic CC of a 1976 MII Cobra.