What a difference a decade makes. In the early part of the sixties, all of Europe was falling over themselves to imitate the 1960 Corvair’s clean and airy body design. Ten years on, American car design had been well sucked up into the depths of the Great Brougham Epoch, where crude plastic surgery all-too often replaced actual design, with bulging breasts and hips, poofy padded wigs, hood and buttocks augmentation, and oddly enough, fat implants on a massive scale; all of which came at the expense of the qualities modern cars once did espouse, and would do so again. So here we have the American and European COTY winners for 1973. And which one showed the way forward? Or maybe that’s a leading question.
Am I biased? Sure; for starters, I prefer to see breasts and hips where they belong,
instead of tacked on to the sides of a car.
I make no bones about it; in 1973, the new Audi 80/Fox was my lust object. There was a (well heeled for the times) grad student down the street from me in Iowa City that had a brand new Fox, and always parked it on the front lawn, as students are so fond of doing. Of course, I’d read all about it in auto, motor und sport, as well as the rave reviews in the American buff books, but seeing one in the flesh really made the juices flow. This is what I want…
The Monte Carlo? Well, let’s just say I was…um…impressed, in a strange sort of way. The whole 1973 Colonnade line-up was a bit overwhelming when it arrived; there were just so many unexpected aspects to them: their sheer size, the huge difference between the coupes and sedans, and the flamboyant styling.
A very impressive beast, if that was your thing. And it certainly was with lots of Americans. Obviously, not on the university campuses of 1973, but the suburbs were lapping up Monte Carlos like warm milk. These big coupes were the perfect replacements for the cramped Mustangs and Camaros Americans had stuffed themselves into a few years earlier; only in comparison to a pony car did a Monte Carlo seem somewhat roomy. And by the time you’re forty and driving off to the office, dreams of genuine performance cars had been replaced with more…sedate realities. No wonder he looks so put out.
Yes, let’s do make our own comparison between the Monte Carlo and the Great Road Cars of Europe. Where shall we begin? OK, GM rightfully could crow about the significantly improved handling in these cars, mostly though if they were equipped with the handling package. It’s to GM’s credit that they finally saw the light in the early seventies, and began to address the intrinsic deficiencies in most big American cars. These efforts would really pay off in the 1977 B-Bodies, but it started (mostly) here. And of course, it also ended mostly with that.
Because the “Great Road Cars of Europe” were more than just decent handling on a smooth road. If you were going to tackle an alpine pass with some zest, there were other considerations. But obviously, this was all marketing BS anyway. What Americans wanted in a Monte Carlo was a flashy comfortable ride with which to impress the neighbors, if it handled a bit better, that was icing on the cake. Ford had no trouble selling its wallowing competitors. But in 1973, GM was well aware of the ascendency of European cars, and paying lip service to it was their solution.
There wasn’t anything resembling the “Great European Road Cars” in the Monte’s interior, that’s for sure. Typical mid-seventies GM cheap hard plastic extrusions that showed every scratch were all to predominant.
As the smallest and cheapest Audi, the 80/Fox interior certainly wasn’t exactly plush, but it was very clean, with a well-organized instrument nacelle, genuine wood trim, and a high-quality padded dash cover, and typical VW/Audi firm seats. Needless to say, comparing these two cars is really a futile exercise, as their respective functions and markets were almost totally opposite.
The Audi 80/Fox marked the beginning of the whole modern era at both Audi and VW. It premiered the famous 827 SOHC four engine that found itself under the hoods of VAG products for decades, in all sorts of permutations. Even though the early ones weren’t yet fuel injected, the 1.5 and 1.6 fours were always eager to please, especially in the very light Audi. Handling was superb for the times, considering it was FWD. The 80 was badge-engineered into the VW Passat, and much of what was learned from the 80 was put to good use in the Golf/Rabbit that arrived a couple of years later. The 80 was the car that saved VW, period. And its direct successor, the Audi A4, has become one of the most successful products in its class.
The Monte Carlo was tried and true under the hood, and the overwhelming majority came with the classic 350/THM combo that gave adequate performance given the times. The standard two-barrel version made 145 hp; the four-barrel upped that to 175. The 245 hp 454 was still available too, but there was no SS454 version like in the old Monte.
The Monte Carlo S did come with standard steel-belted radials and suspension tuning, but externally there was little to tell them apart externally from its less-capable version. What was the take rate on the “S”? Who knows, but I suspect none too high.
There’s no need to go on; these two are as opposite as Dolly Parton and Isabeli Fontana. To each their own. But if you’re going to accuse me of bias because I showed pictures of new Audi 80s and a beater Monte Carlo, well, that’s because I’ve yet to find a Fox in the wild. But the hunt continues.