Curbside Classic: 1966 Dodge Monaco 500 – A First Love Song In C Major

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(dedicated to CC’s Mopar Maniac, Jim Cavanaugh, who will undoubtedly relate)

Eighteen years ago, when John Gallo was all of fifteen and only had a learner’s permit, he saw this ’66 Monaco 500 hardtop with a For Sale sign sitting on the street near San Jose. It was love at first sight, and he just had to have it. Can you blame him? And after being in storage in California for the last fifteen years or so since John moved to Eugene, he and his first love are finally reunited again. We should all hide away our first teenage loves–cars or otherwise– for our later years, especially if they’ve been chosen as well as this one.

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I’ve known John for some ten years or so; we first crossed paths due to our mutual interest and professional activities with old houses, and we’ve walked by his house on our regular walks for all those years, often stopping to chat. I didn’t take him for a “car guy”; our conversations inevitably were about lifting houses, foundations, rentals, money pits, kids, cash flow, and a few other related subjects. But then one day, this splendid ’66 Monaco shows up in front of his house? Got a visitor from California, Johnny?

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Yes and no. The Monaco had been put into storage within a couple of years of its acquisition, and John wasn’t expecting to be re-united with his love quite so soon. Let’s face it, most of us probably expect to be a bit older than 33 when the longing for our first love really kicks in. Something about his brother calling him and telling him to come pick it up–now!–changed the plans, so here it is, a bit sooner than expected. If only my first crush at fifteen still looked this good…

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These big Chrysler C-Bodies from 1965-1968 are all seductive, especially for those that don’t go in for big bulging hips. Long tails, yes.

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But in addition to their exterior rectilinear rectitude, these cars have lots of inner goodness, just for good measure. All our crushes should be so sweet inside. The fuselage cars that came in 1969 were dramatic on the outside, but really showed the drastic cost-cutting on the inside. Of course, that was common throughout the industry starting about that time, and the Oohs! and Aahs! of encountering new cars ended when the door was opened. Not with these…

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The Monaco’s twin instrument nacelles are dramatic, and echo a theme that Chrysler had used before on the Imperial a few years earlier, to good effect. All too soon, a loveless slab of flat plastic would replace them.

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Yes, I would have been a very happy camper in the back seat of one of these, instead of our dull and dreary ’65 Coronet wagon.

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Of course, that delightful cane webbing probably wouldn’t have held up so well in our family, especially when someone vomited or spilled a milkshake in the back seat.

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A true love’s inner goodness needs to extend to what’s under the the (big) hood, and the Monaco doesn’t disappoint.

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The Monaco 500–as the top-of-the-line big Dodge–came standard with the 325 horsepower four barrel 383. Oh joy! The only optional engine upgrade was the 350 horse 440, but in pre-smog form, the 383 acquitted itself very nicely in the C Bodies. I have happy memories of tearing across the heartland in a Fury with one under the hood.

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John’s Monaco has some 91k original miles on it, but he decided to treat the 383 to a rebuild, as it wasn’t running quite right. It still didn’t afterwards either; turns out it was a bad distributor. Oh well…But it sure runs sweet now, and looks so good in its fresh paint.

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Except for the engine work, this is a very original car, just like John first saw it with its For Sale sign. Which means it’s an endless work in progress; the rear fender “Monaco” emblem was just acquired, but the “500” that goes with it is still being hunted down. It’s out there somewhere…

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John was able to peel all those decades of registration stickers to get to the first one on the front plate. Nice!

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I wish I’d bought a nice car at the age of fifteen, and the foresight to keep it for my later years. I even had a job at that age, but somehow managed to piss away my weekly earnings. Maybe I just didn’t see the right car sitting there for sale. There’s something about true love that gives us the will forces to accomplish things we’d never otherwise do, sooner or later. Or at all, hopefully. Now what car might have done that for me at fifteen? Hmm….

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 Postscript: I just ran into John on our evening walk, and we talked about his car some more. And he mentioned that he’s given some thought to selling it, lacking a garage. I told him that if he does, he’ll never forgive himself in another fifteen years or so. Building a carport or shelter is easy enough for a builder. What’s your advice for John?