How many cars during the 1980s, regardless of origin, could be configured to present such different personalities as did the Monte Carlo and was able to achieve this while having only one basic body style?
Likely few, and the the Monte Carlo would undoubtedly be a contender for any such title. So let’s add another to its roster of personalities – the Aerocoupe.
Before further elaboration we first need to talk about the Monte itself and how its various personalities sprang forth.
Falling in line with what was sweeping General Motors and the other American manufacturers in the late 1970s, the Monte Carlo was downsized for 1978. In comparison to the 1977 Monte, wheelbases were down 8 inches, weight was down 600 or so pounds, a V6 could now be found under its long hood for the first time, and sales were down about 50,000 units from 411,000 the prior year.
To its credit, GM carefully stuck to it’s Monte Carlo playbook. The Monte could only be had as a two-door coupe and, in what had become a Monte Carlo trademark, some form of side sculpting remained intact. How successful this look was on this particular car is a very subjective thing.
The Monte kept the same basic look for 1979. Model year 1980 could, in retrospect, be viewed as an unusual type of hybrid. Using the 1979 tail, the four-eyed face was a strong preview into what would grace most Monte’s until their hiatus which began after the 1988 model year.
No doubt opinions vary but this new beak was definitely less overwrought (although overwrought was a Monte Carlo trademark of sorts), providing a degree of elegance via simplicity that had been on sabbatical.
The metamorphosis would be complete for 1981 and, like a caterpillar turning into a monarch, the final result was infinitely more aesthetically pleasing in its final form (another admittedly subjective statement and let’s not count those tires and wheel covers in that assessment).
For one who has never used the phrase “design language” in his life, the body sculpting, albeit toned down and refined, along with the vertical tail lights effectively reincarnated the design language of the phenomenally popular 1970s models and successfully translated it into a distinctly new era. The reshaping of its rear flanks also eliminated the saggy ass appearance of the prior three model years, providing a much more square shouldered look.
With the use of shoulder pads being so prevalent in clothing during the 1980s, this square shouldered look was a timely and relevant one.
So successful was it, a similar concept was carried over to the Monte Carlos of the mid-2000s. In particular, vertical tail lights such as these were keeping in the Monte Carlo idiom.
As had always been the recipe, the Monte Carlo was intended as a personal luxury coupe. There had been the SS454 performance variant early on, but those were few. For most, the Monte Carlo was an affordable and attractive isolation chamber, a car that provided a degree of sophistication for a marginal premium.
For 1983, Chevrolet introduced the Monte Carlo SS, It was a nod of glowing respect to the initial SS models, one that had more standard under hood motivation than all those lesser, more plebeian Montes.
It also gave a slicker schnoz for racing purposes.
Wisely, Chevrolet opted to not name the car “SS305”. After such legendary engines as the 327, 350, 396, 427, and 454, any reference to the comparatively petite 305 would have likely backfired. The SS was the second personality to appear from the Monte Carlo during the 1980s.
If examining the verbiage in this picture, reading about a “high output” 5.0 liter V8 pumping out 180 horsepower in 1984 isn’t an oxymoronic statement if you keep it in context. If it still seems oxymoronic, you simply had to be there there; at that time, this was pretty heady stuff compared to what had devolved into the norm. It was a 20% bump in output from the regular 305 (5.0 liter) V8 making 150 horsepower – an amount comparable to, but mainly higher than, many other V8 engines of the time in the 5.0 to 5.2 liter range.
This extra oomph propelled a 3,400 pound 1985 Monte Carlo SS from a standing start to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, less than a second slower than a 1985 Camaro IROC-Z28. That 7.7 seconds is comparable to a 1980 Corvette or a 2011 Chevrolet Suburban 4×4.
It’s the need for extra oomph that spurred creation of the Aerocoupe. At the time the Monte Carlo was the de facto Chevrolet stock car in NASCAR races and there was one particular car that was eating its lunch.
The Ford Thunderbird.
While we won’t focus on racing results, let’s just say the success on the track between the Monte Carlo and Thunderbird was palpable, just like it was in the showroom.
In factory retail configuration, the coefficient of drag for the Monte Carlo was 0.375 where it was 0.35 for the Thunderbird. More drag takes more power to achieve the same speed and Chevrolet was at a deficit. They were faced with a dilemma of how to address this as having Ford outperform them was simply against the natural laws of the universe.
At this point we need to stop and ponder the Monte Carlo itself. This is directly from the 1986 brochure for the Monte Carlo and it delightfully encapsulates the divergent dynamic that was overtaking the Monte Carlo. Note the THREE (!!!) different header panels available on the same car in the same model year.
To be fair, this was the time of transitioning to the flush mounted headlamps as neither the 1985 nor 1987 brochures show this, but still. This “Three Faced Monte” really sounded like a card game.
In a sense, this scattered approach is reminiscent of an old movie…
The Three Faces of Eve was about a woman with a split personality. There was straight-laced and innocent yet tormented Eve White (the aero headlamped Monte Carlo Luxury Sport Coupe, a name that contains a certain degree of torment itself); there was Eve Black, the fun loving socialite (Monte Carlo SS), and then there was the personality that was somewhere in the middle (the Monte Carlo Sport Coupe).
This all begs a question… What was Chevrolet’s target?
Necessity is the mother of invention. Chevrolet was on the receiving end of very pointed complaints from the various racing teams due to the poor aerodynamics of the G-body. The popularity of the Monte Carlo had declined considerably in the prior decade with annual sales now the 125,000 range, with just over one-third of them being SS models by 1986.
So Chevrolet got creative; in a way, it was quite similar to what Ford did when it created the Sports Roof Galaxie for 1963 or what Chrysler did by making the Dodge Daytona in 1969.
The rear glass was extended at a 25 degree angle with the trunk lid being shortened and incorporating a small spoiler. The header panel from the SS was retained. Two hundred units, just enough to meet NASCAR rules, were built in 1986. The following year found 6,052 Aerocoupes spilling forth from the Chevrolet factory.
While this wasn’t a cure-all for the Monte’s aerodynamic ills on the race track, it helped slow the bleeding. The all important coefficient of drag dropped an entire hundredth to 0.365. While frontal area is a different story entirely, this lowered coefficient of drag brought the Monte Carlo Aerocoupe in line with a 1986 Ferrari Testarossa. Or a 2008 Cadillac Escalade hybrid.
It’s pretty obvious an ad-writer at Chevrolet was pretty clueless; that advertised coefficient of drag of 3.65 is likely comparable to that of most single family dwellings.
It needs to be mentioned Chevrolet wasn’t alone in making aerodynamic improvements to the G-body for racing purposes. Pontiac did similar to the Grand Prix, calling it the Grand Prix 2+2. Even more rare than the Monte Carlo Aerocoupe, only 1,224 copies were built for 1986 only.
Given the different header panel for the 2+2, something not found on any other Grand Prix, it certainly suggests the standard Grand Prix was even less aerodynamic than the Monte Carlo SS.
For about two years I’ve been seeing this Monte Carlo Aerocoupe all around town. It’s been parked at a variety of places but never at an opportune time to nab pictures. My chance finally came back on a Sunday evening in May. My wife and I had stopped at a grocery store on the east end of town and this Monte was parked at a repair facility adjacent to the store.
Oddly, I took no interior pictures. The interior is regular Monte Carlo with the blueish seats having upholstery that is frighteningly similar to what I had in a 1993 Buick Century I owned a few years ago.
Thinking back, I’ve only seen one other Aerocoupe in my life – and that was thirty years ago. It was parked in this building, in the showroom of what had been Jim Bishop Chevrolet in Cape Girardeau. If memory serves, that white Monte Carlo Aerocoupe languished there for quite a while.
But it’s good to see this low volume speciality car being used as it was meant to be. Being a Monte Carlo, an example of what the GM of yore did best, there is little doubt this Aerocoupe will still be around in another thirty years.
Found May 6, 2018, in Jefferson City, Missouri
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