(first posted 8/5/2016) If there’s any theme behind the Chevrolet chapter of this series, it’s that General Motors’ was rather fond of topping their lines with a sporty model. Some of the more famous performance Chevys have been called SS, RS and Z28, but who remembers less succesful nameplates like Eurosport VR and Mirage?
Celebrity Eurosport VR
Years produced: 1987-88
Total production: approximately 1621
The Celebrity Eurosport was one of The Big 3’s attempts during the 1980s to offer a more involving driving experience and European styling cues in their mainstream offerings. GM alone fielded multiple European-inspired editions of its FWD A-Body vehicles, including the critically-acclaimed Pontiac 6000 STE and the lesser-known Buick Century T-Type and Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera ES. The Eurosport, first launched in 1984, became a mainstay of the Celebrity range and spawned an intriguing yet pointless special edition, the Eurosport VR.
While the Eurosport used blackout trim and alloy wheels to emulate Euros like the Volkswagen Quantum, the Eurosport VR featured a body kit and wheels more reminiscent of cars from European tuning houses like Brabus and Alpina. The look had been previewed on the ’86 Celebrity RS concept which also featured an experimental all-alloy 3.3 V6 that never came to fruition.
Available on sedan and wagon Celebrities for 1987 (a VR coupe was added in 1988), the VR package cost an eye-watering $3,500, which was more than a third of the cost of a base Celebrity sedan. As with previous special editions like the Monza Mirage, GM contracted a 3rd party (here, AutoStyle Cars) to add the modifications which included a blanked-off grille and a one-piece urethane front bumper with air dam. VRs could come only with the 2.8 V6 and painted in either black, white, silver or red with matching wheels, however it could be specified as much or as little as the buyer wanted.
Interior trim was unique to the VR with gray, black and red velour seats with leather thigh bolsters and matching door trims; carpeting was blood red. Interestingly, the VR’s Code Red paint was borrowed from the Corvette and Camaro and was never offered on any other Celebrity models. What the VR should have borrowed was a proper tachometer, a glaring omission for a supposed sport sedan.
Despite the heavy outlay, the VR had the same V6 and suspension tune as the regular Eurosport. 0-60 was accomplished in around 9 seconds, decent for the time but nothing extraordinary. New for 1987 was a Getrag five-speed manual transmission option; three- and four-speed automatics were also available. While the VR gained the coupe body style as an option for ’88, it lost the fully body-colored wheels for plainer wheels with colored inserts, and was also robbed of the ’87 model’s unique interior trim. The cost of the option package came down but sales did not go up: only around 600 or so VRs were produced for its sophomore (and final) season.
Years produced: 1991-93
Total production: ?
The LTZ trim level has enjoyed a long life, first introduced in the late 1980s and only now being phased out by Chevrolet in favor of “Premier”. In recent years, it has signified the most highly specified trim level in a Chevrolet model range but at first it denoted meaningful performance enhancements like a bigger engine and/or a firmer suspension. Before the Impala SS was resurrected in 1994, the Caprice LTZ was the performance flagship of Chevrolet’s full-size range.
You may remember the LTZ from the gushing press coverage bestowed upon it by Motor Trend in 1991. The magazine specifically listed the LTZ as the winner of the prize even though it probably accounted for a tiny fraction of Caprice sales.
Basically, the Caprice LTZ was a Caprice with many of the handling enhancements of the police package. The LTZ was truly a stealth package, with nary a sporty cosmetic addition to be seen. The only visual differences were the lack of a stand-up hood ornament and whitewalls, some chrome on the exhaust tip, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel inside with an analog tachometer and digital speedometer.
Mechanical enhancements included a 3.23 limited-slip axle, sport suspension and heavy-duty brakes and cooling. What the LTZ didn’t share with the police package was its engine: it made do with the same 170-hp, 255 ft-lb fuel-injected 5.0 V8 as the regular Caprice, mated to the same column-shifted, four-speed automatic. For 1992, the LTZ received the 5.7, producing slightly more horsepower (180 hp) but a handy helping of extra torque (300 ft-lbs). For 1993, all Caprices received a variety of tweaks including a wider track and the loss of the rear wheel skirts, but the LTZ remained little differentiated in appearance from other Caprices.
Whether it was consumers’ dislike of the new aero styling or just a general cooling of interest in the full-size market, Caprice sales plummeted after the new generation’s sophomore season: from around 210,000 units down to 110,000. Sales remained relatively steady after that but never rose again to 1980s or even 1991 levels. While sales breakdowns aren’t available for the LTZ, it is fair to presume it did not account for many Caprice sales. Private buyers who wanted extra performance and dynamic ability were much more receptive to the Impala SS, with its gutsier performance and bolder styling, and by its final season the SS outsold both Caprice sedan and wagon combined.
Monte Carlo Turbo
Years Produced: 1980-81
Total Production: 16,866
Chevrolet had introduced, with Oldsmobile, a turbocharged engine in 1962. The Corvair was the only recipient of the technology, and the turbocharged flat six was an option in Chevy’s rear-engined compact. However, the turbo was gone after 1966 and the Corvair itself didn’t survive much longer. Oldsmobile’s Jetfire was even less successful, and GM put the technology on a shelf somewhere in their engineering center and let the dust and cobwebs gather. But the 1970s were a tumultuous decade for automakers, an oil crisis and emissions standards requiring urgent attention to the issue of fuel economy. A turbocharged 3.8 V6 was developed and launched in 1978, but it was decided that Buick would be the “turbo” brand. Still, some exceptions were made to this rule and that was how the Chevrolet Monte Carlo Turbo came to exist.
Like its platform-mates, the Buick Century and Regal, the Monte Carlo was also available with more mainstream V6 and V8 engines. Unlike the Buicks, the turbo V6 was a regular option and not tied to a specific “Sport Coupe” or “Turbo Coupe” option package. To a greater extent than in Buick’s marketing, the turbocharged Monte Carlo was pitched as more of a V8 substitute than a performance option. This was underscored by Chevrolet making the turbo V6 available in any available Monte configuration: you could build a Monte with wire wheels, bench seat and column-shift and tick the turbo option box. Visual differences were limited to badging and a modest hood scoop. As with the regular V6 and V8 Montes, no manual transmission was available. The carbureted turbo V6 produced 170 hp and 275 ft-lbs of torque, more than the 267 or 305 V8s, but GM did little to advertise the enhanced performance and instead boasted about the turbo’s fuel economy. With almost identical ratings to the base V6, the turbo’s fuel economy was commendable given the increase in power.
The 1980 Monte Carlo had received a new fascia with two headlights each side but it had retained the car’s trademark hips. For 1981, the Monte Carlo was restyled again along with its other A-Body coupe counterparts. Styling was more aerodynamic but the cleaner side detailing made it much less distinctive, the ‘hips’ virtually gone. The turbo option carried over, offered alongside Chevy’s new 229 cubic-inch V6 and 267 V8 (or, in California, the naturally-aspirated Buick 231 V6 and Chevy 305). But with only 3,027 turbo Montes sold in 1981, Chevrolet quickly realized the technology wasn’t gaining any traction – perhaps due to its own low-key marketing – and the option was shelved before model year 1982. In its place, Chevrolet introduced two of their infamous diesel engines. The turbo 3.8 would go on to reach tremendous heights in performance, but it would never be seen in a Chevy again.
Impala SS (’61)
Years Produced: 1961
Total production: 453
Who would have imagined that a rarely-ordered option package on the full-size Chevy, with a production total of just 453 units, would become one of the longest-running performance nameplates of all time? The SS badge may have had an inauspicious start but it eventually came to be used on all manner of high-performance Chevys (and some not-so-high-performance Chevys), culminating in its use as an actual model nameplate with the 2013 SS.
Like the current SS sedan, the ’61 Impala Super Sport was a genuine performance package. For the low price of $53.80, the buyer received a tachometer, power steering, sintered-metallic power brakes, heavy-duty front and rear coil springs and shock absorbers and heavy-duty tires. For future years of the SS option, these would be individual options as the SS became predominantly an appearance package.
It was available only with Chevy’s 348 cubic-inch V8 in 305 hp (2-barrel carbureter) and 340 and 350 hp (4-barrel carb) tunes, as well as Chevy’s new 409 cubic-inch V8 with a 4-barrel carb and 360 hp and 409 ft-lbs of torque. The 409 was a bored-and-stroked 348 V8 with a new block and various other modifications; only 142 of the 1961 Super Sports were equipped with this larger engine. A four-speed manual transmission was standard, a so-called high-performance version of the two-speed Powerglide automatic available only on the weakest of the 348s.
Unlike many years of the Impala SS, the ’61 was not available with a six-cylinder engine. What made the ’61 even more unique was its availability on all Impala body styles, even the two-door pillared sedan (!), four-door hardtop sedan (!!) and wagon (!!!) Alas, the few so equipped seem to have disappeared. A ’61 SS wagon would be an unbelievably rare treasure.
Years produced: 1977
Total production: 4,097
The Monza was a handsomely rebodied version of the already rather attractive, if unreliable, H-Body Chevrolet Vega. But while the Vega was only ever offered with four-cylinder engines, the Monza had pretensions of athleticism and offered both V6 and V8 engines. As it was marketed more as a sporty personal offering than a humble econobox – the 1976 Chevette was Chevrolet’s more targeted offering for that market – there were various intriguing offerings during the Monza’s run. The wildest-looking was the Monza Mirage, a classic “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” special edition.
Before we look at the Mirage, though, it’s worth looking at some of the other unique Monzas. If you didn’t realize there were passionate Chevrolet Monza enthusiasts out there, you haven’t been to Monza Homestead or H-Body.org, the definitive sources of all things Monza. Both sites will send you down a subcompact Chevy rabbithole.
Back to the Mirage. This special edition was styled to resemble the Monzas raced in the IMSA GT Series. As the promotional material states, ordering a Monza Mirage required you to select the 2+2 body style in Antique White. Interior color was up to you, as was the powertrain: for 1977, the Monza was available with only two engines, a 305 cubic-inch V8 or the aluminium-block 2.3 “Dura-Built” four-cylinder shared with the Vega. You would select the Mirage option, costing less than $700, and your Monza would be sent to Michigan Automotive Techniques Corp to be outfitted with the purely cosmetic package. These add-ons included a front air dam, fender flares and a rear spoiler. If you wanted any mechanical improvements, you would need to pay an extra few hundred for the sport suspension package. Think of the Monza Mirage as more like a Mustang Cobra II than an Aspen Sport Coupe: you could have all the show with no meaningful improvements to performance or handling.
If you did do as Chevrolet recommended and choose the optional 305 V8, you would have been pleasantly surprised to find it produced much more power than the short-lived 262 V8 of 1975-76, pumping out 140 hp and 245 ft-lbs of torque while hauling around only 2800 lbs or so of Monza. Model year 1977 would be the best year for performance Monzas, as horsepower figures would continue dropping each year and the V8 option was discontinued for 1980.
Despite the flashy styling, the take rate for the Mirage package was disappointing for GM and plans to continue the model into 1978 were shelved. While this kind of painted-on performance appealed to some, the regular Monza 2+2 was beautifully styled and the body kit simply muddied the lines. But what did the most damage to the Mirage was the considerably cheaper ($199) appearance package known as the Spyder. This trim outlived the Mirage, surviving until the Monza’s last season in 1980 and selling around 6-8k units each year. After all, it had most of the flash, the same amount of dash, and all for less cash.
That’s it for Chevrolet, GM’s lowest rung on the Sloan ladder and yet a brand not afraid to reach up. We’ve almost finished our coverage of General Motors’ menagerie of brands, having covered Buick (Part 1 and Part 2), Cadillac (Part 1 and Part 2), Pontiac (Part 1 and Part 2) and Oldsmobile. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Oldsmobile, as well as a feature on GM’s other North American brands.