Cars & Coffee events in Brisbane tend to attract the same people so I almost always end up seeing the same cars. I went to a meet last year and expected to see largely the same fleet but, to my delight, the most bizarre of coincidences happened. I found two cars never sold in my country and which I never thought anybody would import. And that’s how the first time I ever saw an Opel Monza in the metal was also the first time I saw a Chevrolet Monza in the metal.
Despite their shared name and overlapping production runs – the Opel was produced from 1978 until 1986, the Chevrolet from 1975 until 1980 – these two Monzas couldn’t be any more different. The Opel sat at the top of its model range, the Chevrolet close to the very bottom. Both were hatchbacks (although the Chevrolet also came in a coupe and a wagon) and both were rear-wheel-drive. The Opel had a range of six-cylinder engines and, later, four-cylinder engines; so did the Chevy. And that’s about where the similarities end.
The Chevrolet Monza, in hatchback coupe form, measured 179.3 inches long and 65.4 inches wide. The Opel was bigger but, being European, was hardly gargantuan for a flagship coupe – it was 184.7 inches long and 68.3 inches wide. That meant it was actually considerably smaller than Chevrolet’s “compact” Nova although its rear seat was no more cramped.
Like the featured Opel Monza from earlier today, this Chevy at Cars & Coffee has some unfortunate cosmetic addenda. It can’t disguise the inherent attractiveness of the Monza’s body, however. It seems odd to refer to a 70s domestic economy car with patchy build quality as “pretty” but the Ferrari-aping design sure turned heads. In contrast, the notchback Towne Coupe and the wagon were handsome, while the “regular” 1978-80 hatchback coupe was inoffensive but a retrograde step from the original (later “Sport”) hatchback.
While this Monza has been heavily worked over, the fender badge is indeed correct – the Monza was available with a 5.7 litre (350 cubic-inch V8) and a two-barrel carb but only in 1975 and only in California and high-altitude areas; other markets had the short-lived 262 cubic-inch V8 that year.
Despite its size, the 350 produced just 125 hp and 235 ft-lbs and wouldn’t hit 60 mph in any less than 10 seconds. It was also only available with a three-speed automatic so, unsurprisingly, this example has been modified in yet another regard.
The owner wasn’t around when I photographed their car so I couldn’t ask what they’d done under the hood. Suffice it to say, though, this car has probably had much of its emissions gear yanked out, among other performance improvements. These were tidy handlers in their day, at least compared to the rival Ford Mustang II. Sticking a V8 in the front did make it slightly nose-heavy, however. With the 262 V8, the Monza had 58:42 front/rear weight distribution.
A Monza is an odd choice of Chevy to import. Camaros don’t quite have the same iconic status as the Mustang here and are far less common on Australian roads so they seem like the natural choice for somebody who wants to import a classic, high-performance Chevy. I salute Monza Man, however, for bringing over something a little unfamiliar. There are precious few Monzas left in their home market, most having rusted away or been modded and hooned to death. To find one in Australia was a bizarre but entirely pleasant stroke of luck.