CC Capsule: 1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo – Exotic Destinations

(first posted 4/25/2018)      What’s in a name?  Often times plenty.  It’s why many actors, musicians and other persons of note have been known to the world by names other than those they were given.  Have you ever met an attractive person, and at the first exchange of names discovered that theirs is one that probably hasn’t been common or popular since early in the last century?  I admire folks that rock such names with confidence.

It’s kind of like the same thing with cars.  The right model name can conjure up images of power, youth, and / or freedom.  Just imagine if “Special Falcon” had been chosen by Ford over “Mustang” for its affordable sporty car.  No doubt, the car itself would still have been a smash hit simply based on its own qualities, but would it have been as big a success if it had been called something else?

Other cars’ model names that I can think of that seem to fit their essence in my mind are “Riviera”, for Buick’s premier personal luxury car, Oldsmobile’s early “Starfire”, with its abundance of dazzling, sparkling chrome (though this name didn’t fit quite as well on the latter-day, H-Body Monza-clone), and Mercury’s graceful and ferocious-looking “Cougar”.  This brings me to our featured car, so-named for the exotic, otherworldy waterfront area of the principality of Monaco.  Perhaps with “Monaco” already in its lineup, Dodge should have jumped on the “Monte Carlo” name before Chevy did, though, to be fair, the first-year, 1970 Monte Carlo was something of a pioneer in terms of being an affordable personal luxury car for the masses.  Nobody at Chrysler Corporation saw that trend coming.

The downsized-for-’78 A-body platform on which the Monte Carlo and bread-and-butter stablemate Malibu was based was hardly exotic, though I’m sure that was part of its still-familiar appeal.  I’ve struggled with the idea of having shrunken something like a personal luxury car for practicality – a type of car which is supposed to be somewhat ostentatious, by definition.  Not everyone seems to like the looks of this generation of Monte, but I do.  Shedding something like 800 pounds in base form over its 3,800-lb., Colonnade-era predecessor (literally over one-fifth of its starting weight) enabled it to come standard with a V6 (a 231-cubic inch V6 with 105 horsepower for ’78, and then a 94-horse 200 V6 for ’79), though I’m sure most of these cars were V8-powered.

The main issue many folks seem to have with it is how stylists applied many styling cues of the previous generation to these scaled-down dimensions.  Aside from its slightly droopy tail (which, admittedly, was a look that was in vogue at the time), I think this downsizing was executed fairly well, blending certain heritage cues with new ideas.  Risks were taken, and while not all of this MC’s angles are great, credit is to be given for the amount of fresh thinking that went into its overall appearance.  About 317,000 Monte Carlos of all stripes rolled out the door for ’79, outselling even Chevrolet’s popular Camaro, which was not far behind with about 282,600 units.

Our featured example was located in the decidedly not-exotic, transitional neighborhood of Uptown, just about six years ago.  Aside from a busted header panel, it looked to be in good shape.  I loved the juxtaposition of its curves against the arched entryway of the beautiful, brick building behind it.  The linear, geometric design of its taillamp lenses also rhymed with the grid of bricks in its background.

I always liked that the Monte Carlo had two, combined proper nouns that made up its model name.  It had seemed to make it sound just a little fancier than it would have, otherwise.  I’ve known a handful of individuals over the years who go or went by two names instead of just one, like “John Paul” or “Sarah Jane”.  It’s almost as if their parents might have thought to themselves when first addressing them as infants, “Nope.  ‘John’ isn’t quite distinctive enough.  We’ll address him by his first and middle names from here on out.”  I should talk.  I have a bunch of names on my birth certificate, but I’ve usually always gone by just “Joe”.  At some point in school, some of my friends started addressing me as “Joe Dennis”, as if hyphenated.  That’s fine with me, and I suppose I then deserved to be called that for a while, since I had started to answer to it.  I like to keep things simple, though.

“Endless Nights Monte Carlo Monaco”, as sourced from

Regardless, I get that “Monte Carlo” is a proper noun and the name of an actual place.  What I wonder, though is how many buyers made any kind of connection between the personal luxury car from GM’s Everyman Brand and the beautiful vacation destination in Monaco.  Did Ford, Mercury, or Lincoln Capri owners make that connection between any of those so-named cars and that beautiful island in southern Italy?    Did driving a Dodge Aspen make its owners want to go skiing?  Even to cite an example I had just used above, it’s doubtful that all Buick Riviera owners felt like they were alongside the French Riviera while driving or riding in theirs.

I suppose all of this is beside the point.  All vehicles need names, and I miss the creativity that had so regularly gone into them before the norm for many brands had become alphanumeric combinations.  (Thank you, Lincoln, for reversing this course.)  A seven night stay in Monte Carlo in May of this year, as departing from Chicago, would cost roughly $4,000 for hotel and airfare, which is not far from the cost of some reasonably nice examples of ’79 Monte Carlos for sale on the internet as of this writing.  I’m on the fence in terms of which I would enjoy more, between the car and the trip, but one thing is true – the Monte Carlo’s name definitely added something indefinable to its essence, and for that, the ones responsible for naming it get props from me.

Uptown, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, June 3, 2012.