Curbside Classic: 1976 Dodge Royal Monaco – Gone, And Forgotten

(first posted 10/12/2011)     It’s a good thing I came across this car. There’s a point in life where one starts to prune away the excess, getting rid of the stuff in the closets and basement that hasn’t been used in thirty years or more. And I admit that’s what I had done with the Dodge Royal Monaco: it just kind of got swept away with the detritus of the seventies. If one is going to have room for new facts and impressions, it’s cars like this that get hauled off to the memory dump first.

Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but if someone had said (prior to seeing this car), “conjure up a visual image of a 1976 Royal Monaco”, I would have drawn a blank. Or a blob. I mean, I would have known the general shape of the big Dodges that year, but the details? Forget it!

I guess its fair to say that there’s a reason for that: the Royal Monaco didn’t exactly leave a very deep impression even in its day. Big, yes, but not deep, unless of course you’re a devoted Mopar fan. In which case you’ll probably point out why this car is really a ’75 or ’77. As if it mattered.

The new-for 1974 big Mopars had a shocking lack of styling originality. After the bold new look of the ’69-’73 fuselage style, the ’74s were blatant ripoffs of the 1971 Buick. Rarely has there been a more unabashed cribbing job in Detroit, right down to the sweep line running down to the rear fender mid line, not to mention the front end on the pre-5mph bumper 1974 model Dodge. It’s pretty pathetic really, although at least they picked a fairly handsome big barge to copy.

It was a difficult time for Chrysler, especially in the big car field. The category that was shrinking for everyone, and it just collapsed during the ’73-’74 energy crisis. But while GM and Ford carried on, and planned a massive downsizing of their full sized cars, Chrysler got hit the hardest. And the timing was particular painful. Chrysler was on a different styling cycle with their big cars, bringing out the all-new fuselages in ’69, while GM held off until ’71 with their new Big-Boys. The fuselage wasn’t going to last, so Chrysler committed to a restyle for 1974, right into the teeth of the OPEC oil crisis and resulting recession.

Sales crashed, and never recovered. For example, just 35k units of the whole Royal Monaco family were built in 1976. No wonder it’s such a rare bird and has fallen off my radar. I should amend that to mean the ’75 and up models with the heavily revised front end. The 1974 model is of course the unforgettable The Blues Brothers ex-cop mobile. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a mighty healthy percentage of these cars were built for police and taxi fleets.

The big 440 was still available for police work, although its power output was on a steady ten horsepower per year diet: 215 (net) in ’75; 205 (net) in ’76; and a mere 195 in 1977. The bad old Lean Burn era! A healthy dollop of torque was still on tap, at the lower end of the limited rpm band. In a few years, the cops driving the 318-powered  St. Regis would be heartily missing their 440 Monacos. The rest of Chrysler’s V8s were of course available, starting with the 318, and working up through the 360, 400 and of course, the 440. Mileage in that era was abysmal; the big blocks in those days were lucky to break into the double digits. Still, there will be those that feel nostalgic for these kind of cars; that’s ok, but just don’t try to convince the rest of us. Or at least me.

That new front end for the ’75s has a decidedly FoMoCo look to it; the 1973 Mercury Marquis, to be precise. So now the Dodge Royal Monaco is a delightful mash up of GM and Ford. And it’s quickly headed for oblivion, the junk yard of automotive history of that stellar era. Chrysler couldn’t afford a proper all-new downsized full-sized car, so after this Royal Monaco bid farewell after 1977, a re-bodied midsized St.Regis took over its former role. That’s a story for another day, but it better be before too long, because those particular memory banks are getting a bit fragile too.