Curbside Classic: 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo – Finding Your Comfort Zone

(first posted 3/28/2017)    We all have our specific comfort zones, be it clothing, politics, food, or region of residence.  It’s what we’ve grown comfortable and familiar with for whatever reasons and any trigger of this comfort zone is, well, comforting.

If one is to apply this comfort zone philosophy to automobiles, the second generation Monte Carlo would fall into that realm for many of us.  How could it not?  Chevrolet sold some 353,000 Monte’s for 1976, allowing it to become quite familiar to many.  It was so familiar, its sales handily outpaced the Chevelle upon which it was based.  More interesting in this comparison is the Monte Carlo came in only one body style, not three (coupe, sedan, and wagon) like the Chevelle.

The newest second generation Monte Carlo from 1977 is now forty years old and many of us are of an age when we can remember these when they were sparkling new on the lot of the local Chevrolet dealer, an aspirational entry-level personal luxury coupe with a Chevrolet sized price tag.

The Monte Carlo of this era was a car with a seemingly broad spectrum of appeal, an appeal that endures with many to this day.  One particular 1976 Monte Carlo in the higher trim Landau series made a huge impression on a three year-old me, a silver car with a red roof and these turbine wheels that possessed enough bootylicious bowtie appeal for a contrary, no-nonsense fifty-two year-old man to have opened his rarely used checkbook.  How so?

My grandfather Albert bought one.

Technically, the Monte was for my uncle but he and Grandpa, ever the GM loyalist at the time, had made a business arrangement.  It happened this way as my grandfather would not have entertained any car he didn’t like himself plus he knew his youngest child, at a solid 6’8″ in height, was greatly limited in what he could comfortably drive.  The Monte Carlo was a great fit for my uncle as is the Chevrolet Suburban 2500 and Dodge Ram 1500 he now owns.

That a Monte Carlo was able to appeal equally to a three year-old, a twenty year-old, and a fifty-two year-old is a remarkable thing.  Seriously, how often does that happen?

An anecdotal story about the purchase of this particular Monte Carlo gives strong indications that resale on late model Monte Carlos was rather admirable during this period while GM’s desire to move the new metal was equally robust.  As my grandfather once relayed to me:

Jim Bishop Chevrolet, later Coad Chevrolet, as of 2016

“Jason, we went to Jim Bishop Chevrolet in Cape.  Your uncle went along with me and your grandma but I told him to keep his big mouth shut.  Pretty soon a salesman came out.  I was looking at a used 1975 model when the salesman asked me if I intended to use GMAC financing.  I told him I was considering it.  Hearing that, he told me he could sell me a new ’76 for the same price as a ’75.  So we picked one out, test drove it, and got the paperwork started.  When he told me what the final price would be, I told your grandma to write a check”.

“I thought that salesman was going to shit.  He said ‘Mr. Lambert, you said you were using GMAC’.  I corrected him as I only said I was thinking about it; I never said yes.  He started getting red in the face and I offered to go see Brennecke Chevrolet up the road in Jackson”.

“We drove that Monte Carlo home.”

A proud new owner of a Monte Carlo was a very frequent event for 1976.  It was selling in volumes that were starting to approach the exclusive neighborhood of the full-sized Chevrolet and a volume that one could argue might have met or surpassed the full-sizers had they not been downsized for 1977.  The trajectory of the Monte Carlo was in full blossom that year, a trajectory that would be the envy of any automaker introducing a new car today.

To think of it in a more contemporary perspective, Monte Carlo sales for 1976 were comparable to current Honda Accord sales in the United States.  For 1977, Monte Carlo sales exceeded the sales volume of the Toyota Camry each year from 2009 to 2013.

Perhaps this comparison is an apples-to-oranges proposition, but it does paint a vividly colored picture.

The first Monte Carlo eased off the assembly line for 1970.  Based upon the A-body Chevelle, the A-Special Monte Carlo was an immediate success for Chevrolet.  Coming about when muscle cars were about to wane and personal luxury was on the ascendency, Chevrolet was being remarkably prescient in market planning.

Where the first generation Monte Carlo displayed a degree of understatement, the second generation sprinted in the opposite direction.  With heavy body sculpturing inspired by cars from the 1930s, the word “baroque” was often used in describing the new for 1973 Monte Carlo.

Sales catapulted over 1972 levels and, apart from a hiccup in 1975, sales climbed every year.

All Monte Carlos from the beginning were powered by no less than a 350 cubic inch (5.7 liter) V8 straight from the Impala / Caprice line.  Manual transmissions were also available from the beginning, depending upon engine, but various sources state that few, if any, were actually manufactured after 1973.  The availability simply went away for 1976 when the three-speed Turbo Hydramatic was the sole transmission found in any Monte Carlo.

In an acknowledgement for the need to achieve greater fuel efficiency, 1976 also marked another milestone for the Monte Carlo.  Engine sizes were down, with the standard engine (except in California) being the 305 cubic inch (5.0 liter) V8; the largest available engine was now the 400 cubic inch (6.6 liter) V8 as the 454 (7.4 liter) had seen its swan song in forty-nine state guise in 1975.

As an aside, this was when engines certified for use in California often differed from engines available in the other states.  It was a confusing time for buyers and is still confusing for those researching it now.  Like bell-bottom jeans, the downsizing of engines (and later bodies) was a sign of the times.

This Monte Carlo is sporting a distinct automotive sign of the times, one that is sometimes maligned in these parts but one I find magnificent.  Yes, I do love me some stacked headlamps.  The Monte carries them well, giving a visage of determined, clenched teeth assertiveness that replaced the wide-eyed enthusiasm of the earlier second generation models.  It would be a lie to say I didn’t gaze in amazement at those novel, stacked lamps on my uncle’s Monte Carlo, enamored of them on through my teenage years when the Monte went away.  That one single element of this car has positively imprinted itself into my brain is simply proof positive of how unique and different these stacked lamps were.

Let’s take a moment to discuss stacked headlamps as this Monte Carlo is hardly unique in having this trait.

Ford would use this styling element on the re-skinned Torino marketed as the LTD II, making it one of its most endearing traits.

For what it’s worth, this particular LTD II isn’t horrible but brochure models often look much better than the tan, base model sedans that were often the reality of the LTD II.

Of course, Chrysler jumped on the bandwagon for their mid-sized Dodge Monaco (and Plymouth Fury).  As many of these were ultimately equipped with a light bar and shotgun rack, the assertiveness of the headlights worked rather well in its favor.

Knowing a good thing when it illuminates them, Chrysler also used this trendy design element on the Cordoba.

Perhaps Chrysler went overboard when using them on pickups (and vans), but these do help make for the best looking pickups sold in America for 1979 and 1980.

Or maybe Chrysler didn’t go overboard as GM recycled the idea when they placed these double stacks on their pickups (and vans) from about 1981 to 1987.  This might explain my affinity for GM pickups from this period.

The stacked light theme obviously had stamina as these contemporary Silverados did not go over like a rock in a punchbowl.  Despite their turbulent times of late, there was enough heartbeat at Chevrolet to sell 600,000 of these in the United States for 2015 with another 46,000 in Canada.

At this point I fully comprehend I’m likely in the minority for fancying stacked headlights, but there is obviously an audience for them.  As someone recently told me upon professing this fondness, we all have our curious predilections.

It was those stacked headlamps on this Monte Carlo that pulled me into a comfort zone, an example found on a day that fully demonstrated the CC Effect.  How so?  The day I found this Monte Carlo was the day Paul published his CC on a 1970 Monte Carlo, expressing surprise we’ve covered so few Montes here.

From thinking back to long ago when these freely roamed the earth, this particular Monte Carlo is an unusual example.  With the base model wheel covers and lacking the vinyl toupee, this plain Monte presents itself in a candid, pure manner.  While not normally a fan of white, the lack of pigment does aid in the purity of look this Monte possesses, with its body sculpting accentuated by the red pinstripes.

This lack of adornment also helps convey the family similarities the Monte Carlo shared with the Pontiac Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Cutlass, and Buick Regal.  From this angle, these tail lights almost present an Oldsmobile vibe.  To borrow a Chevrolet tag line for the third time, this Chevrolet’s DNA runs deep with other GM products.

As is typical of my CC finds, this Monte Carlo was for sale.  Whether or not this base model Monte Carlo with a white vinyl bench seat interior is worth the asking price is beyond my concern although learning this Monte Carlo was being offered to a new home did make me stop to enter my zone of imagining and reminiscing.  I found myself reflecting upon the time when a young, innocent Jason gazed at this Monte’s sibling for extended periods of time, imagining an adult Jason driving a Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

While there is no better time that the present to chase one’s dreams, reality forced me out of my comfort zone.  But what a wonderful trip down memory lane this solid yet mildly bruised Monte Carlo offered to help warm an otherwise cold, dreary day.

Found January 19, 2015, in Jefferson City, Missouri

Related Reading:

1970 Monte Carlo:  A Modest Beginning To A Huge Hit (And Hips) by PN

My CC:  1976 Monte Carlo by Chris Green