My garage is home to some cool stuff. As I’ve mentioned in previous writeups, I love 50s and 60s Americana, and everybody who knows me knows it. But I have a secret. In a perfect world, with all the pole barn space one could want, I’d own a Vega or a Monza. Gasp!
I’ll just focus on Monzas today, even though I equally enjoy Vegas. I like all H-bodies: Skyhawks, Starfires, Sunbirds, Astres, whatever. I’ll blame the easily-influenced kid syndrome. I had an uncle who had a deep blue 1980 Monza coupe with the Iron Duke 4-cylinder and a 4-speed stick, and I spent a lot of time in the back seat of it when I was very young. Even as a 5 or 6 year old, I remember that back seat being a little cramped. I also remember being fascinated by the fact that it was a stick-shift.
In Michigan, H-Bodies were fairly commonplace when I was a kid. I live in a GM city, so even their Deadly Sins were gladly eaten up by our manufacturing community, and it must have had an influence on me. So today, even though I haven’t ridden in one in 30 years, I find myself mysteriously drawn to them.
I am, however, a realist. In the scheme of things, there are almost no 1970s cars on my “must-have” list. Even if I really, really wanted a Monza, the last survivors in Michigan have long since been converted into drag cars, and I don’t have much of an interest in one of them. So I’ve had to do the next best thing…buy dealer promos.
I try to be careful about what I collect, lest I become a hoarder. I like bicycling, so I own 15 antique bicycles. I like old alarm clocks, so I have 20 Westclox Big and Baby Bens. I like old cars (a lot), so I have five antique cars. I certainly don’t need to start buying up a billion promo cars. Besides, all of my favorites cost at least a hundred dollars. No thanks.
Fortunately for me and my long suffering wife, however, 1970s promo cars aren’t quite so expensive, so I’ve been able to buy a precious few of those and live my Monza dreams.
And why not? They’re certainly nice-looking cars, aping the Ferrari Daytona in a barely distinguishable way. The hatchback model was swoopy, and the bumpers weren’t too big by 70s standards. One of my favorite steering wheels of all time is the 1970s Chevy rally wheel with 4 spokes, and my 1977 dealer promo has that. My 1980 promo is a really nice shade of blue (I love blue cars), and is an example from the last model year (which is honestly meaningless).
Buying dealer promos is also my way of avoiding a car that, by all practical standards, was not very good. By 1975, the first year of the Monza, Chevrolet had apparently fixed many of the Vega’s foibles, but that just meant it might not fall apart on you instantly. The 140 “Dura-Built” engine had been tweaked to fix some of its early issues (adding a radiator overflow fixed some of them). Later Monzas came with the rough but durable “Iron Duke” 4-cylinder. Every once in awhile, I’ll still hear an Iron Duke equipped GM rattling down the road, still running. Throughout its six model years, Monzas could also be equipped with, depending on the year, several small-block Chevy V8s, and even the 3.8 Buick V6, which was the top engine choice in 1980.
On the racetrack, Monzas could, of course, be equipped with much more powerful engines. In fact, Monza-bodied cars were quite successful in IMSA GT racing in the 1970s, where their sporty looks could be accentuated by some actual performance. To commemorate those little beasts, Hot Wheels now sells small recreations of IMSA Monzas, so I’ve bought two of those, too. They even come in far-out 70s colors. I love it.
Over the last few years, in addition to promo cars, I’ve also gathered 1970s and early 1980s Chevrolet brochures. Because of this, I’ve been able to shop cars like a consumer of the time might have, and have come to the conclusion that my favorite Monza might indeed be the last, a 1980 Spyder, just like the one on the brochure cover above. A close second might be an earlier Spyder, like the silver ones pictured in this article (and in a recent CC).
So there. My dark secret is out, all over the internet. I love Vegas and Monzas, and I’m not ashamed. I’ve even found a more socially acceptable (well, as acceptable as a 36-year-old guy collecting toys can be) outlet for my H-Body dreams. Strangely, Vega promo cars are somewhat more expensive and sought after than Monza promos, so I only have one of them, but that’s a story for another time. For now, I’ll just drift off into my 6-year-old world of GM cars that have long since become a memory in Michigan. Nostalgia can be dangerous, but so much fun.
When the Monza came out with the square headlights I thought that was just the coolest thing on a car I had seen. Let’s see, I was around…ten years old.
Same here!!! And I was about the same age as well. The one thing I don’t understand is why Chevy came out with the sportier, more modern looking square headlight models first and then a year or two later follow them up with the much dowdier round headlight models
Sorry, can’t share your love for these. A law school roomie had a navy blue 80 hatchback. The thing felt like it weighed 4500 pounds, yet felt cheap at the same time. How sad was it when another roomie’s Mustang II was nicer to ride in and drive (and I would not have traded my 71 Scamp for either of them.)
But as a fan of 70s Volares and LeBarons, I can understand what it is like to love the unlovable. That is a nice promo, btw.
I’m a fan of the not well loved Edsel(all of them),Ford Zodiac/Zephyr 6 Mk3 and the 70 Dodge Coronet/Superbee.3 cars that are laughed at by most enthusiasts.I also like the pink Mopars from 1970,a Superbee or A body in Panther Pink/Moulin Rouge has been on my wish list since I first read about them
The Edsel has become a poster child for “lemon” as the Corvair is for “unsafe”. Some “enthusiasts” need to spend less time listening to mass media and more time acquainting themselves with automotive history.
The ’70 Coronet has a polarizing look, but it certainly has a fan base. I like them. In fact, I’d be tempted to choose a ’70 Coronet/Super Bee over a similarly equipped Charger (but not in pink).
That should have read Mk4 Zodiac/Zephyr 6 which Roy Brown the Edsel designer also worked on.
I see a lot of Vauxhall Cavalier/Royale Opel Monza/Manta in the lines. I’ve never seen one in the metal at shows or even read about them.Another car that’s new to me thanks for the great read
Cool promo. I’m going to have to find my Dad one like that light blue Monza so he can relive the days of his 78 Skyhawk. He liked it enough to buy it after a 76 Skyhawk that wasn’t exactly reliable.
“Hi, I’m Ed, and I like H Body cars.”
I still occasionally scan eBay/cList for early Vegas in stock condition. They’re mighty thin on the ground these days.
My ’76 140 / 4sp was little more than a turd in red metallic / red vinyl sheep’s clothing. But it being my first car for commuting to college (alternating with a CB750 on rainy days), it was an easy car to work on with JC Whitney catalog.
Added things like rear louvers, air horns, 60 series tires, fogs, stereo stuff, etc. Always kept the backseat folded down which looked cooler and would have been more comfortable than the boat-cushion seats were. Couldn’t / wouldn’t go fast but that wasn’t the goal anyhow.
Though now I wish I had kept its predecessor, Grandpa’s ’70 LeSabre HT sedan which ate too much of my budget to feed. Should have just parked it in a pole barn.
Here’s mine that I scored for $500 a few years back:
> I’ve even found a more socially acceptable (well, as acceptable as a 36-year-old guy collecting toys can be) outlet for my H-Body dreams.
I feel confident in saying that it’s entirely socially acceptable, on this site at least, for an adult to collect toy cars.
Oh, around here, it’s probably abnormal NOT to collect toys.
It’s not like we’re all going to get down on the floor and drive them around, are we? Are we? Kinda sounds like fun this Monday morning…..
Someday I will publish my CC ode to slot cars.
Didn’t get them out over Christmas, might have to fix that..
My only memory of one of these cars is my aunt having a white Monza coupe in the early 1990’s and it being a total POS. Granted it was at it’s newest 10 years old, but I recall going with my mother to pick her up in the cold, at a gas station where the car had quit on her.
You know young impressionable children shouldn’t be exposed to bland, mediocre or generally crappy cars. The psychological effects can be life long and can even stunt the automotive growth cycle
+5 on that steering wheel- in my Vega GT, it looked and felt “just right.” Have seen them in Camaros where they look too small to my eye. And, even though this is an “open” meeting, I can admit here that I have also had a secret longing for the early Monza Town Coupe (with the squared off front, though, without the vinyl roof).
Those Town Coupes had nice proportions, but totally wrong for a small car. The trunk was about eight inches deep. Makes you wonder if the buyers even looked before signing.
My parent’s neighbor had a Vega as a second car and he replaced it with a red Monza fastback. Both cars looked appealing sitting in his driveway.
I occasionally strayed and looked at more “practical” cars such as these back in the day, but I was shopping used and the build quality and practical limitations (8 inch trunk indeed!) of these cars became more apparent with age and I always went back to A bodies that got broughamier and became B bodies.
Promo cars have always fascinated me. Too bad I’ve never had a crack at any in real life. (Closest I’ve come was a set of new model posters for 2009, which went straight from the dealer to my shelf without being opened. Will they ever have their day? Who knows…)
Seems like there isn’t a lot of documentation out there on the interwebs about those promo cars, either. I would have thought someone out there would have compiled an index of some sort, but I haven’t found any such thing.
OK, I’ve gotta get photographing and writing. Sitting in a glass cabinet in the library is my favorite remembrance of my childhood: Chevy dealer promo cars from 1953 thru 1965. And a ’76 Monza in green (given to me when I picked up my red one at the dealer).
Oh, I think we need pictures of those!
I share your joy of Monzas! I have always loved them since I was a kid!
I collect diecast cars and jump at the chance when I find a Monza I dont have. An older brother of a friend of mine had a brown 1979 Monza Spyder V8 and I thought it was one of the coolest looking cars around!
My love of Monzas does extend to all GM H cars and Vega/Astre as well!
Hold your head up high!
I made the AMT Monza Spyder model as a kid, so I like the early Monzas too.
A university roommate had a 79 notchback, it was a dreadful thing.
I have a Promo of a 1975 Monza, that was white, but teenage me painted it. Ruined its collector value.
More valuable is a 1970 Caddy CDV promo I have, that I also painted, 🙁
But wasnt planning to use them as retirement funds.
Some you can. My ’63-65 Corvettes go for $500-600 each (that’s without box). Which absolutely stunned me when I first realized that. The rest? Probably average $25-50 each.
If the plastic wasn’t damaged by the paint, it’s possible to strip the paint to restore them. It works best if you can disassemble them to work on individual pieces. I use Easy Off spray-on oven cleaner. Some people soak them in brake fluid. Then scrub the parts gently with a toohbrush to loosen the paint and rinse it off with mild soap under running water.
In agreement with G.W here, I like these, though not quite as much as the AMCs of that era. It’s the right size, in suitably naff colours and with a vast array of largely pointless accessories. In a word it has the ‘chuckle’ factor; you know? the kind of car that when you see one, you cant help but admire the owner, especially if they are a long time one.
I liked the look of the Monza, Starfire, and Skyhawk. I did then, and do so now. And I still think the Vega in it’s original style is very handsome. I even liked driving these cars. I had an ’82 Z28, and my former spouse had a Vega which bracket the Monza chronologically. I can see nothing but poor build quality and terrible power train durability from these. Like my early Hondas, I wanted to like them so much but these were bitterly disappointing.
And to Christopher, I say good luck with your project, I hope we get to see more on it.
The first time I ever saw a Monza in person was in 1977 or 1978, when I was 7 or 8 years old. The L.A. Museum Of Science & Industry had a cutaway hatchback 2+2 model in the center of the floor. You could press a button at the base of the display and made the wheels turn and other neat stuff. It was also a V8 model. Even way back then, my tiny preadolescent brain somehow knew that these cars were kind of unique, and I always liked their looks.
Several years back, for a while I was friends with the youngest son of Ed Iskenderian ( of Iskenderian Racing Cams ) . We were both taking a smog check technician training class at El Camino College. He had a Monza- ’75 or ’76 with the 3.8 liter Buick-built V6, factory four-speed manual and a mild performance cam from his dad’s company. That little sucker was quick, and he flogged it mercilessly the handful of times I rode with him in it.
I recently did a Google satellite image search of the Isky facilities and the car is still around- slowly decaying on the huge back lot, with a rear quarter window broken out and the wheels removed, chassis sitting in the dirt. 🙁
I drove a ’76 Starfire SX in high school. Banana yellow, black vinyl seats with woodgrain interior accents, 3.8 V6 and 4-speed manual transmission. I “erased” the silver and woodgrain trims inside- literally- with one of those giant pink rubber erasers. I didn’t mind Broughamification but just not on a bright yellow sporty car. It did have that great brushed metal 4-spoke steering wheel too. I drove it for years and never once had issues. A friend had a newer yellow Monza with a 3.2L V6, which I believe was a de-bored 3.8.
That’s the one! Mine came with steel wheels and chrome center caps- at least when I got it in ’81. I got rear-ended and when they redid it I paid extra to have the whole thing shot in Corvette yellow including the bumpers and added black and red stripes to break it back up. I loved that car!
My 1975 Monza turned out to be a good car to drive to Fairbanks on the Alaska highway. The design of the headlights meant that it was easy to duct-tape a piece of clear plastic over each pair of headlights, and the considerable slant of the windshield meant that flying stones were more likely to bounce off at an angle rather than break or crack the glass. It handled and performed well enough to make it easier to pass trucks or slower cars on gravel portions of the road. When we got back home I washed probably 100 pounds of mud off the car, and when it still acted like the wheels were out of balance, I removed one and found a lot of mud on the inside surface of the wheel. After I washed all the wheels on the inside, everything was smooth again.
I hear that the Alaska highway is almost all paved now, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that people who live in that area and drive on unpaved roads get accustomed to never having the wheels in balance.
By coincidence, Hooniverse posted a recent blog about the 1975-79 V8 Monza http://hooniverse.com/2014/01/03/hooniverse-obscure-muscle-car-garage-the-1975-79-chevrolet-monza-v-8/
One guy posted a interesting idea about the Monza relative, the Buick Skyhawk then I quoted:“Certainly, properly built up these things can fly and be a lot of fun. With the Buick 231 V6 as a bolt in, I often wondered how a Grand National turbo V6 would do. I’d assume less weight on the nose to spoil the handling than the V8 and still plenty of power.”
It strange then GM didn’t taught of using the squared headlights version for the recycled Vega wagon variant. It could had give a cooler look.
I painted the woodgrain dash cover flat black, and also the headlight bezels on my family’s 75 Skyhawk. Looked a little like a Spyder.
Time to share our model/die-cast/promo cars….I’m an adult but they aren’t not in the closet anymore!
Is that an 86-91 Taurus on the top self? Score!! I never knew you could get one of those in that scale.
It was a SHO and I turned it into an MT-5, because I had one. I filed down the ground effects, changed out the Yamaha V6 to a I4, etc.
That blue Towne Coupe in the ad looks really good. And I am about the last guy that usually likes vinyl tops and all the other brougham accoutrements…But that one looks great, a nice counterpoint to the Mustang II.
A very nice collection of items you have there, thanks for sharing!
H body 4 spoke steering wheels FTW!
Mine was a 75 Starfire 4 sp, 231 V6. DOBI suspension parts and a turbo-muffler and good radials on East TN backroads in the early 80s, and it was Thunder Road going to University…
BTW, the Buick V6 is/was nearly as heavy as a SBC.
I know this is not a Monza, but had to show that there are some stock Vegas around. Drove this just a couple days ago. This picture was a car show last spring. The Corvair wagon is ours, too and we have a Cosworth Vega to boot.
I see you even have the original-style air cleaner. Not bad! Those can’t be easy to find nowadays. You’re making me miss my old ’76 hatchback.
My first car was a ’75 Ponitac Astre SJ Safari that my dad and I pulled out of a friend of a friend’s back yard. After getting it legal enough to pass PA inspection (thanks to a friendly mechanic who didn’t look too hard at the chewed-up mismatched Vega passenger door and the rust holes in the quarters and floorpan) I drove it for a few months before the transmission finally departed this life.
It was a fun car to hoon around in and even as a clapped out thirteen-year-old beater with three different colors on the body panels it was a good looking car. If I could find a Monza or Sunbird H-body wagon I’d snap it up in a minute to relive my youth.
I have no love for the Vega and think the car was crude and ugly. The Monza was a different story. I still don’t know why GM could not have milked out that car for a few years more then they did and ether delay the J Body cars for a few years or sold the H body cars along side the J body cars for a few years( they sold the FWD X body along side its successor FWD A-body from 82-85 so it is possible to sell them both side by side(of course the A body showed what a total POS the older X body was so likewise the old H body would have shown what a POS the new J cars really were) )
Or they could have put the tired assed Chevette out of its misery and ended production and offered the Monza instead(both were classified subcompact at the time)
I liked the Monza and believe that it looked fresh enough to hang out in production till at least 1983. The car sold well for the 6 years it was made.
As for the dealer promos, I have several from the mid 1990’s(Several 1994 S-10’s, Blazers and a 1995 Camaro convertible all in the GM boxes. I got them on ebay 5 years ago for $5 plus free shipping. I need to take a pic of them
If the H body had had the kind of chassis development it should have, they could well have done what GM Europe did or what Toyota would do with the E80 Corollas – coupes on the carryover RWD platform with the new FWD in 4/5 door models only.
Cool! I have one as well, a metallic mint green ’78. I just need to figure out what box it’s in…
I have a ’78 Monte Carlo promo in root beer brown too (Dark Camel in GM-speak).
A ’78 Monte Carlo, huh? 🙂
I went promo-crazy on E-bay several years ago & scooped up a bunch of oddball (cheap) cars.
The ’71 GP in the back was from my half-sister’s mother who passed away last year — I used to play with it when I was a kid.
Is that a GE or Sears clock radio?
Leon I think that one is a GE. One of my non-car collections is old clock-radios. I wish I knew more about them (and repairing old electronica in general!). Do you know much about them?
I would have thought the Monza’s hatchback would have some vinyl or something covering the bare metal like what a Saab 900 had, but then I remember this is malaise era GM we are typing about.
Oh, we’re just a bunch of big kids playing with miniature cars around here. Here’s my 1/24th scale 1975 hatchback Vega from Motor Max.
Didn’t Motor Max make the “Fresh Cherries” series of diecast cars? I was surprised how nicely done & complete those are.. I ended up with three different color Pintos and a Gremlin or two…they were only like eight bucks apiece.
I should have cleaned Wal-Mart out when they stocked them…
I don’t remember the Fresh Cherries. It would be nice to have a complete Pinto/Vega/Gremlin set… The Trifecta of American Subcompacts! The Vega that I have is more or less a well-detailed toy as oppsed to a Franklin Mint-type miniature that you keep in a case. I got it at a place called the Miniature Car Dealer in the Pike Street Market in Seattle.
I had a number of friends who had the H-body Skylark, Starfire or Monzas back in the day. A young lady I was particularly enamored with had a Skylark Nighthawk, we had a lot of fun in that car. Another buddy of mine had a Starfire with the 3.8 Buick V6 and a five speed. Not a bad car, but a bucket of bolts, in terms of assembly. It’s major redeeming values were the Buick V6, the five speed and the fact that it had the same steering wheel as my 1972 442.
He hated it though, as he’d had a Fiat X-1/9 and a A1 VW Scirocco before. Actually, I can’t blame him. If you weren’t used to real sports cars like those two, a Starfire wasn’t too awful bad. But, if you’d had the real thing…
My wife came awfully close to getting her own 1980 Monza Town Coupe, only her feeble FICO score (being a trainee sous-chef just out of high school) kept that from happening. The 1977 403-powered Olds 88 Royale she got instead more than made up for it.
I found myself dismissing these H-bodies when they first came out, it was not until I had spent some time in the Buick version that I realized these could be pretty decent little cars. I guess the economy special 4 cylinder versions turned me off. Sometime in the 80’s, I got a ride in a V8 Spyder and that really changed my mind, but by then my muscle car lust had taken over and nothing but a new V8 muscle car would do. Now, I could see me rocking a Spyder. Or a Starfire Firenza. Or a Sunbird Formula. Or a Skyhawk Nighthawk…
Tim B: where did you get the models of the Cougar convert and the Mercury Capri?
In 1978, I got to drive a co-worker’s yellow, Olds Starfire (V8/auto) in order to run an errand. Compared to my 1973 Charger Rallye (340/auto), it didn’t seem all that great, although I liked the looks of it. So, what I was commenting to say was that back in the day, I actually liked the looks of the Monza and related cars. And, yeah, I still like the looks of them.
My brother and I had a 78 sunbird hatch in the same blue as your dealer promo. But wait there’s more to it than that… My uncle gave it to us after an aquaintence of his abandon it behind his barn after it died on him. It sat there for a long long time before we lucky recipients got ahold of it. After figuring out that it either had a bad bearing or crank we drug a mid 70’s chev half ton out of its slumber behind the same barn and had its old 350(camper special) running well enough to yank it and the 3.8 from the sunbird and ram the 350 with the trucks 4 speed into its new home, with the help of our mechanical genius grandfather we made the motor mounts and shortened the driveshaft and had it running inside of a month of after school and weekend work. That little car was a rocket and would boil the hides through fourth gear and thanks to a granny low first could pull stumps if needed. But wait there’s more…
after about a month of running it up and down our long driveway and waiting for the time we could finally get our liscences the police came around and confiscated the bird and detained us while they figured out that we had been given the abandoned car not two months earlier. Turns out the dumba$$ that abandoned it had hit and killed a lady in a crosswalk before he left the car behind my uncles barn. We never seen the car again and we where kinda happy the we didn’t after learning its story. The end
That IS a dark H-body secret! Yikes!
Sudden Impact was on last night. Wasn’t this Sondra Locke’s car in silver?
My sister got one of these due to an accident settlement. She ended up with a 1980 Monza Spyder, black with gold graphics. Being 13 at the time, she would drive me to school every day. For some reason, I can’t look at a Monza without hearing side two of Molly Hatchets Flirtin with Disaster album (cassette). Every day. For an entire school year. She ended up trading it on a 81 Capri bubble back.
On a side note, I ended up meeting Mr. Molly Hatchet (Danny Joe Brown) about 5 years later when I was a roadie. One of the nicest and humblest people I’ve ever met.
The bubble back Capri wasn’t until 1983. I had a 82, new.
Recall ain’t what it was 30 years later…
My mother got a new 1976 Monza hatchback with the famous bicentenial interior. This was her first car that wasn’t a station wagon, she drove that car until the late ’80s. My first used car was also a 76 Monza but mine was the Towne coupe, red with a vinyl landau top and whore house red interior. I got it in 1984.
Of all of the GM cars of the 1970s the Monza/Starfire/Skyhawk was the one that most symbolized GM’s giving up any pretense that the brands meant anything at all. The cars were barely differentiated and one would be hard pressed to distinguish which was which at 50 feet. At least the Nova/Ventura-Phoenix/Omega/Skylark cars had different headlight treatments.
I can still recall seeing these cars at dealer lots with the wrong brand steering wheels.
I think I’m ready to sell my 1975 Town Coupe small block V8. Can anyone tell me what its worth or how to find the right buyer?
I drive it everyday. It has been painted white otherwise it is nearly original condition.
It is not a practical car for my daughter to take to school.
Does anyone know if the Mercury Comet & Cyclone 4 doors) exist as miniature model ?