COAL: 1977 Dodge Monaco – Royal? Not By A Long Shot


Some of the vehicles I’ve owned over the years are ones I’ll always look back upon fondly. Even at their most temperamental, it’s difficult to fault them in my recollections, what with so many good times to outweigh the difficult ones. Seeing them in pictures or telling their stories will always bring a smile to my face.

But not every vehicle I’ve laid hands on was a champ. There are some whose stories tend to fade away sooner than others – either because they just weren’t that remarkable, or because one’s mind tends to block out certain things in the interest of one’s own well-being.

In the case of this Monaco, there’s no doubt that it falls under the latter.


Remember the barn-find Cherokee that I shared several weeks ago? Well, it wasn’t the only thing in that barn.

Its bunk-mate was this green Monaco… 44,000 miles, zero rust, another potential cream puff. I asked the old lady who owned the place about it; at the time she wasn’t prepared to let go of it. But it didn’t really matter. I wasn’t terribly interested in it anyways, having just scored a sweet 4×4 that would be taking up all my free time and work space – so I had no problem leaving it lay.

Several months passed. Fall turned to winter, and winter turned to spring. And then, unexpectedly, I got the call one afternoon – she was ready to cut the Dodge loose.


But there was a catch. She didn’t want to sell it to me; rather, she wanted to donate it to the local youth center, where I was the technology coordinator and after-hours volunteer fleet mechanic.

After meeting with the center’s director (a longtime friend), we laid out a plan: she’d handle the paperwork, and I’d take care of getting the car out of the barn and roadworthy. Once all the ducks were in a row, the car would be put up for sale, and I’d deal with the potential buyers. Then, after the car sold, the proceeds would be used to buy ten new computers for the center’s computer lab (which I had already managed to negotiate a terrific price on some weeks prior, and whose purchase was delayed only by lack of funding).

The old lady would get a tax deduction, the center would get new computers, I’d get to be relieved of the headaches involved with the old computers, and some lucky buyer would get a smokin’ deal on the malaise Mopar of their dreams. It was a win-win-win-win!

Having rounded up a battery and several gallons of gas, the center director and I set out in my pickup to retrieve the Monaco from its resting place, half a dozen miles away. I prepped and piloted the green hooptie while she followed in the truck – one of the very, very, very few times I’ve let anyone else (short of immediate family) drive one of my vehicles. Yes, I remember those sort of things.


After limping the wreck back to the center, I knew it was going to need some serious attention. The Super Six under the hood was running on what felt like 3 cylinders (when it stayed running), the tires were leaking quicker than I could refill them, various bits and pieces were missing from the body and interior, the rear end was sagging from worn-out suspension… and on and on.

The following weekend was a whirlwind of activity. I hit every junkyard in the area, and managed to find replacements for most of the missing or damaged parts (with the noteworthy exception of one wheelcover). I swung by the local auto parts store and picked up everything needed for the usual tune-up regimen. Used tires were purchased and mounted. A $15 set of shackles quickly and cheaply remedied the tail-sag situation.

But even after a thorough tune-up, the motor still didn’t run right. The plugs, wires, and points were all good, timing was set correctly, the carb had been gone through, there were no vacuum leaks, fuel was fresh and pressure ample. But yet, under acceleration it still stumbled, missed, and generally acted gutless. I never did determine why.

The old lady had mentioned something about grandsons, valve adjustment, and “never quite ran the same” – but I declined to jump down that rabbit-hole. After all, it was running good enough to go down the road under its own power… and how many free hours did I really want to spend wrenching on this pig?


The other pesky issue I couldn’t remedy was the interior. It cleaned up well enough, but the cloth seats were getting to be thread-bare in various spots. The front left bottom was particularly bad. But since there were no donors to be had, I just left it alone.

Having volunteered away the weekend (and a few additional evenings), the car was finally ready to sell – now all we needed was a buyer. So I put an ad on craigslist the following Friday and waited. And waited. And waited. A full week passed without any serious inquiries. Considering we were only asking $1500, I was amazed at the lack of interest.

Sixteen days later, a call came in. The man on the other end of the phone said he was in southeastern Wisconsin, and he wanted to buy the Dodge for our full asking price. Hurrah! Thanks for supporting our local youth!

But again, there was a catch: he wanted to ship it from here to there, and the transport company wasn’t willing to make a pickup outside the Minneapolis metro area (which the car was about sixty miles away from). Once again, the folks from the center put on their best puppy-dog looks, and before long I found myself volunteering to drive the Monaco down to meet the transporter.


So here we go again, another Saturday night with me and the green six-bang pig – plus my old man a short ways behind with his truck, prepared for the inevitable. I gassed it up, aired it up, and hit the highway.

The first forty miles went well. It was gutless, but once it coughed and puffed its way up to speed, it had no problem keeping itself there. As I neared the Cities, my wreck even ended up catching the attention of some young guys in a ratted-out ’62 Bel-Air sedan who wanted to ride along with me.

But just as I hit the first-ring suburbs, it happened – chug, chug, chug, cough, coast. I thought I’d run out of gas. My rolling momentum was enough to get me off the highway and into the parking lot of a bank, where my dad rolled in behind me and readied the gas can. But after pouring in three gallons and cranking until the already iffy battery gave up, I was still dead in the water. So we pulled out the tow strap and tugged the Monaco down the street, where we parked it on the lot of a recently shuttered Dodge dealership (how ’bout that!). I left a note on the window, then hopped in the truck to go grab another battery.

It was dark by the time we returned. The replacement battery was installed, ether was sprayed, the wrenches came out, fuel lines were blown into – and at last, the freaking pig came back to life. We wasted no time in covering the final twenty miles.


The next morning, I was finally able to wash my hands of the Dodge. The center got its new computers a week later. And I got to keep the remainder of the cash as reimbursement for my expenditures in prepping and selling the car – a princely sum which covered exactly 30% of what I’d spent. Oh well… at least everybody got something out of it.