For most of us, 2020 has been an unprecedented year. The pandemic has caused dramatic changes to many people’s lives. It may also be a quieter Christmas for those of us that have restrictions in place to limit numbers at social gatherings. Nevertheless, with all the negative things that have happened over the last year, maybe now is the time to treat yourself to a Curbside Classic. After all the sacrifice over this last year, you deserve it, right? Cruising around in a classic is an easy way to have fun while socially distancing and allows you to get out of your house. I think I may have found the ideal car for that Curbside Classic Christmas gift – this Christmas tree green 1973 Monte Carlo.
As most of us know, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo was introduced for the 1970 model year using a modified A-body Chevelle platform to create the first low-priced personal luxury coupe. It was an interesting concept in that it had 4” more wheelbase and 9” more length than a Chevelle 2-door, and all of that added size added nothing to the car’s functionality. It all went into the massive long hood which gave that Monte Carlo that desired look of personal luxury. For what was basically a long hooded Chevelle with a formal roofline turned out to be highly profitable for Chevrolet and a sales success.
In the fall of 1972, General Motors released its redesigned 1973 intermediate line which included the Monte Carlo. Like the 1970-72 models, the 1973 Monte Carlo used a 116” wheelbase but it grew about 4” longer and 2” wider. Chevrolet took the opportunity to make the Monte Carlo more distinctive from the Chevelle and add many neo-classical styling touches. Compared to the relatively plain Chevelle, the Monte Carlo was quite baroque. Its curvy fenders, formal roofline with a “V” shaped backlite (like the Cadillac Eldorado) and the soon to become ubiquitous opera windows were all in step with the PLC styling trends, but made for love or hate styling. Interestingly enough, the opera windows were actually a Chevrolet idea conceived for the Monte Carlo, but Cadillac pulled rank and used them on the Eldorado first. The styling may have been polarizing, but more customers seemed to like it over the more conservative 1972 models.
The big news wasn’t the styling through, it was the engineering. With John Z DeLorean taking charge of the Chevrolet Division in 1969, he had direct influence on the 1973 Monte Carlo. DeLorean was a proponent of cars with good handling and his influence led to the major chassis engineering improvements. Although the 1973 A-bodies used a seemingly similar perimeter chassis design with the same short-long control arm front suspension and 4-link rear suspension as the 1972 models, there was more than what meets the eye.
DeLorean told Chevrolet’s engineers to put the feel of a Mercedes-Benz into the Monte Carlo and for it to have confident European-like road feel. Being at a Chevrolet price point meant that there would have to be significant compromises, such as using a live rear axle over Mercedes’ independent suspension, but the engineers final result was excellent. It was realized that radial tires were an important part of Mercedes ride and handling. So radial tires were included as part of the Monte Carlo suspension design. This required changes to the front suspension geometry as the radial tires of that time did not have the same self-aligning torque (tendency to drive in a straight line) as bias ply tires. Engineers increased the caster angle by 5 degrees to improve straight line tracking and increase steering effort. To improve the steering feel, a faster variable ratio steering box was used which had 3 turns lock to lock and improved on center feel. Unlike its lesser Chevelle A-body brethren, the Monte Carlo also used a steering dampener to help alleviate vibrations on rough roads.
The front suspension geometry was heavily revised. Its design was essentially the same as the excellent 1970 F-Body cars which were well known for their good handling. Detroit engineers of the time claimed that radial tires produced “low-speed harshness” so the suspension geometry was changed to overcome this problem. The side-view swing arm slope is the angle at which the upper and lower control arms are in relation to one another. By increasing this angle from 2 degrees to 6 degrees negative slope, this eliminated any harshness from the suspension without compromising the handling. Compared to the previous 1964-72 A-bodies, the 1973 models had improved bump steer curves and improved camber curves. Longer trailing arms in the rear suspension created less acute convergence angles. Suspension travel was also increased by approximately 1” to improve rough road ride characteristics and resistance to bottoming out.
Chevrolet had made improvements in its suspension execution and handling since the late 1960s. However, in most cases one was required to order an upgraded suspension package to get these handling benefits. More often than not, most Chevrolets left the factory with soft wallowing suspensions.
The concept for the 1973 Monte Carlo was for it to be pleasurable to drive due to its good handling. The radial tire suspension package would meet this goal. This suspension package included radial tires and front and rear sway bars to increase the roll stiffness (base suspension only had a front bar). But how could Chevrolet ensure that most Monte Carlos ended up with this excellent suspension over the base level suspension with bias ply tires? Most buyers were unwilling to purchase an upgraded suspension and dealers typically didn’t order cars with upgraded suspension. In addition, the corporate bean counters surely wouldn’t allow for such extravagant items as radial tires and rear sway bars on a base level car; they had to keep that base price low.
So to make most Monte Carlos equipped with the good suspension, John Z was up to his old tricks again. As stated, base model Monte Carlos came with bias ply tires and a basic suspension as well as a three-speed column shift transmission. However, if one wanted to upgrade to an automatic transmission, well then you had to step up to the Z76 Monte Carlo S option package. And guess what the Monte Carlo S came with? That’s right, the radial suspension package. In fact, the Monte Carlo S model option wasn’t much more than that, as it consisted of extra sound insulation, GR70-15 radial tires and a rear stabilizer bar. In addition to the Monte Carlo S, there was also a Z03 Landau option package. This included all items in the Monte Carlo S package, along with a Landau vinyl roof, landau nameplates, fender accent striping, dual body coloured sport mirrors and 15 x7 Turbine wheels.
The 1973 Monte Carlo brochure hardly makes mention of the base model. Chevrolet limited the availability of many of the creature comfort options that were seen as desirable in the personal luxury cars. The ploy worked as both customers and dealers alike had little interest in the base model cars. Very few base models were produced, only 1.7% of Monte Carlo production to be exact.
The 1973 Monte Carlo proved to be quite successful. Despite its larger size and its more polarizing styling compared to the 1972 model, the personal luxury car buyers loved it. Sales shot up from 163,085 to 290,693. That’s a whopping 78% increase!
It was well received by the motoring press and in fact won the Motor Trend Car of the Year award. Motor Trend gushed over the ride and handling of the Monte Carlo, saying that they felt it was superior to both the Grand Am and the Cutlass Salon. They said “The point is that somehow the Monte Carlo seems just as ready as the Mercedes for a flat-out run to Zandvoort or Spa Francorchamps, or Nurburgring or Monza, and that kind of engineering superiority hasn’t happened in an American car since a Duesenberg won at LeMans in 1921. The Monte Carlo, you see, has what the Germans call “speed feel.” Maybe that statement is a bit over the top, but you get the idea, it was a revelation in ride and handling.
I recently came across this very green 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that is the subject of this article. The combination of the green paint, brown vinyl top and the green interior is not only very period appropriate but it also looked quite festive to me at this time of year – reminding me of a Christmas tree on wheels.
This particular Monte Carlo is said to be an original unrestored car with only 41,000 miles. It has been owned by the same family for 43 years. All the paperwork and maintenance records are included with the car. It has some desirable options including air conditioning, swivel bucket seats, console and a floor shift. Other than the repaint and the addition of a new dual exhaust with Flowmaster 50 mufflers, it is said to be an original survivor car. It has a 350 under the hood, although it does not say if it is the 145-hp 2bbl variant or the 175 hp 4bbl variant. Either is perfectly adequate for modern traffic.
The car was original purchased in Grants Pass, Oregon and is still residing in the same state. So I am sure the ideal climate of the Pacific North West has help preserve this car. That said, despite its nice appearance up top, it does have a fair amount of rust on the undercarriage. Nothing appears critical, but it’s certainly more than I like to see.
Regardless, this Monte Carlo would make a fine Christmas gift for a fellow Curbsider that wants to enjoy their classic. While it’s easy to assume this ’73 Monte Carlo is just another wallowing over-styled brougham era beast, now you know that the Monte Carlo is the gift that keeps on giving; a brougham that can handle.