CC Capsule: 1978 Chevrolet El Camino & ’79 Monte Carlo – The Thrill Of Youthful Discovery

006 - Suddenly It's 1979 CC

Another day’s evening commute yielded these two finds, seen from the L on a residential side-street.  Spotting either of these two vehicles by themselves would have been a treat.  Seeing them both together parked on the street within ten yards of each other was like winning $50 on a scratch-off lottery ticket.  Childhood flashbacks immediately ensued.

My visceral reaction to seeing two GM vehicles from my formative years was pure thrill.  I find the 70’s to be one of the most intriguing decades for cars.  There were many sweeping changes that rocked the auto industry, with safety and fuel efficiency concerns, as well as government regulation coming to the forefront.  Different auto makers, both in the U.S. and abroad, came to different conclusions in terms of how to get it all done and still manage to sell cars they thought people would want to buy.

004 - 1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo CC

Few could argue against that many cars of that era were compromised in the execution of their goals, but I’m interested in how the problem-solving component of the human brain arrived at some of these answers.  Sometimes the thought process is as intriguing as the actual solution. I’m thinking specifically of AMC’s wide, small car, the Pacer, as a case in point, and I do like the first 1975 – ’77 Pacers.  They are gobs more interesting than any modern packaging wonder (i.e. Honda Fit) could ever hope to be.  Cars of the 70’s ranged from sensible to downright wacky, and I love the 70’s for being that malaise-ridden automotive freak show.

Chevrolet was faced with downsizing its immensely popular and widely-imitated Monte Carlo personal luxury car, and also maintaining some degree of resemblance to the car it replaced.  Visually, I feel they succeeded.  While not my favorite Monte, this one looks mighty fine to me, especially riding on those Chevy Rallies with raised, white-letter tires.  Plus, there’s absolutely no mistaking it for anything but a Monte Carlo.  This car was downsized, attainable, blue-collar luxury done right.  Similarly, with the downsized El Camino, GM managed to incorporate the new Malibu’s front end sheet metal into a package that managed to improve the looks of what preceded it, with much of the utility left intact.

A more important, personal reason why cars of the 70’s have always captured my imagination is that I remember that time of my life when I was four or five years old, and couldn’t learn enough about the names, makes and models of every car on the street.  A trip to the grocery store with Mom could turn into a car-spotting safari.  “‘Grand Prix’?  Why is ‘Prix’ pronounced like that, when there’s the letter ‘x’ at the end?  Why isn’t that truck called a ‘Chevro-let’, and why does its name rhyme with ‘play’?  That’s not how they’d pronounce that on ‘Sesame Street’!” Vehicles like this pairing from the late 70’s were new around that time, and were a common sight in the Rust Belt factory town where I grew up.

008 - 1979 Chevrolet El Camino CC

Seeing these two exotically-named Chevy siblings reminded me of a time when everything car-related could keep me entertained for hours, with my brain soaking up every tidbit of visual information it could like a damp sponge.  There are only so many times I can read the same paragraph about a certain year, make and model car written by a particular editor of Consumer Guide, on the same well-worn page of my automotive encyclopedia.  I’m thankful for the memory of what it felt like to make new automotive discoveries, and also for forums like this one, which facilitate the sharing of fresh perspectives that remind me of when learning about cars felt so new and exciting.

All photos are as taken by the author in Lakeview, Chicago, Illinois.
Monday, April 7, 2014.