Curbside Classic: 1977 Dodge Royal Monaco Brougham – La Fin De La Ligne

On September 25, 1973, Chrysler Corporation introduced a new generation of full-size car, sold by Dodge as the Monaco.  Also referred to as the C-body, the exterior was new as were many structural components.  This new Monaco was the Dodge successor to the “fuselage” cars that were introduced in 1969.

In early October 1973 the first oil crisis hit.  This crisis affected not only the United States but also Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Japan, and later South Africa.  By some reports the global price of oil quadrupled between October 1973 and April 1974.

The new Monaco weighed 300 to 400 pounds more than the outgoing model, despite a half-inch reduction in wheelbase, and now had a larger 360 cubic inch (5.9 liter) V8 as standard equipment.  This, combined with the timing of their introduction, helped make these new Monacos a challenging sell.

The Monaco was introduced in 1965 as a specialty vehicle to compete with the Pontiac Grand Prix.  Dodge Chief Engineer Burton Bouwkamp has stated the original intention was for the Monaco to not wear a Dodge label.  Bouwkamps’s concern was the Dodge brand was not upmarket enough to be a true competitor to Pontiac or the Grand Prix due in part to the Dodge name also being used on pickups.  Lynn Townsend vetoed Bouwkamp and the Dodge name was ultimately applied to the Monaco.

Ample distinction was made between the Monaco and the lesser, highly related full-size Polara and Custom 880 models.  Monaco interiors had better padded seats, a console, and other accoutrements with the outside having Monaco specific trim and tail lights.  All Monacos were two-door hardtops and, unlike the Polara and Custom 880, there was no choice of engine as all Monacos had a 383 nestled under the hood.  The premium for the Monaco was around $500 more than a base Polara two-door hardtop.

Dodge would sell 13,200 Monacos for 1965.

As was standard practice among the Big Three for years, 1966 saw Chrysler’s first round of monkeying with their initial Monaco formula.  This year saw the discontinuation of the Custom 880 series and the implementation of the Monaco nameplate being used on the same variety of body styles used by Polara, minus convertibles.  Except for the Monaco 500 that was intended to replace the Monaco in status, the Monaco was now simply better trim for a Polara.

1968 Polara line shown

If this usage of the Polara and Monaco names isn’t confusing already, keep in mind it doesn’t get any better.  The Monaco 500 disappeared for 1968 to coincide with the introduction of the Polara 500.  The Polara 500 disappeared in favor of a Polara Custom by 1972.  There was also a Polara Special for at least 1971, intended to denote cars built specifically for police and taxi duty with all such sedans powered by the 225 slant six.

All these spastic nomenclature tweaks brings us to 1974 when the final generation of rear-drive C-body was introduced.  In an attempt optimists could interpret as intended to simplify things, the Polara name was dropped entirely.  This new car was available as base Monaco, mid-level Monaco Custom, and top-tier Monaco Brougham.

From an episode of Kojak;

This change also reflected the never ending name debasement practiced by Detroit as the Monaco sank from halo car to taxi fodder in ten model years.

Much has been opined here over the years about the majority of these cars going to police and taxi fleets.  No doubt Chrysler heavily depended upon fleet sales during the 1970s but of the 78,000 Monacos built for 1974 only 4,874 were built specifically for police and taxi duty.  This equates to being only 6% of production.

To be fair, any car used as a taxi or by the police is in a high visibility use and is constantly moving which would help skew perception.

However given the absolute drop in sales of the C-body after 1973, and figuring there is always a fairly steady demand for police vehicles, that percentage no doubt climbed during the last three years of the big Monaco.

If one needed a sign the days of the 121 inch and greater wheelbase full-size car were waning, this was it.

Finding any history about the development of this generation of Dodge, or even this generation of C-body, has been elusive enough to be confused with being nonexistent.  All that is readily found are a few minor details such the availability of a factory anti-theft system.

Pictured is a 1975 Royal Monaco (a designation new that year, meaning Chrysler had monkeyed with the naming system yet again) which is identical to the 1974 from this angle.  It should also be noted there was a marked difference between the roofs of four-door sedans and four-door hardtops such as the one seen here.  The biggest visual indicator, besides roof pillars, is the shape of the back glass on the hardtop cars.

Here’s a 1971 Buick, the car that has been credited as being Dodge’s inspiration for the 1974 Monaco.  There are certainly similarities between this Buick and the 1974 to 1977 C-body Dodges although some sources have described the styling of the Monacos as being derivative.

Taking this thought a step further reveals several visual similarities among all the full-size cars offered by each of the Big Three at this time, such as the kick-up on the rear doors at the C-pillar.  Whether one views this Dodge as being cribbed or derivative, they aren’t wrong.  It always feels like a few degrees is all that separates those two words.

But to play Devil’s Advocate, think of mass market cars from the 1920s and beyond. They certainly had derivative (and cribbed) styling in many cases.  Derivative styling in auto design is an old practice and continues today, does it not?

As the full-size market in the United States was predominantly the domain of GM and Ford, with Dodge being little more than an interloper, perhaps Dodge (and Chrysler) was simply listening to that old adage of when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

While appearances are subjective, our featured Dodge still has its own unique merits.  It generally escapes the fluffy look found in the various GM B-bodies of this period.  Long ago this author stated the 1973 Impala was a car trying its best to have a pot-belly and a receding jaw line.  Did it get any better for 1974, 1975, 0r 1976?  No.

Despite prior defenses of the bodaciousness of the Ford over the competition, that story quickly changed.  The 1974 to 1977 Monaco does make the contemporary Ford Galaxie / LTD appear rather slab-sided and clunky in comparison.

Perhaps it isn’t fair to compare a Dodge to a Ford or Chevrolet, which were the lowest priced cars from their respective manufacturers.  However, Dodge had injected itself into the low-priced realm over time and there was less than a $50 difference in the base price between a Royal Monaco and a Plymouth Gran Fury in 1977.  That’s hardly enough to break the Dodge into a different price strata.

For model year 1975 Dodge made a few tweaks that would hang around until final year 1977.  The most obvious tweak was the Royal Monaco receiving a unique nose, the same nose that graces our featured car.  This was the standard Monaco nose for 1976 and it was back to being on the Royal Monaco only for 1977.

This nose has been compared to that of the 1973 Mercury Marquis.  The similarities are there but there are also distinct differences as the winged messenger has a much more obnoxious front bumper and pointier fender tips than does John and Horace’s namesake.  Plus the Mercury has been highly endowed with plastic decor on the headlight covers.

So while perhaps not everyone agrees with these assessments, there is irrefutable evidence Dodge didn’t fall victim to every classic 1970s design gimmick.  If that sounds bizarre, here’s proof…

Ford saw fit to add all manner of visual distractions to their LTD, most notably fender skirts.  Ford had a fender skirt fixation on more than just the LTD as it also extended to the mid-size Torino.

And this presentation of steel semicircle pseudo-luxury didn’t stop at Dearborn.  The frivolity of fender foofaraw traveled around the 1970s Detroit Metro area like a bad rash as it also infected Chevrolet (and Pontiac and Oldsmobile and Buick and Cadillac and Mercury and Lincoln and even the Chrysler brand).  Were Dodge and Plymouth the only two American cars to escape such frippery in the 1970s?  Well, there was AMC and Checker.

These two Chevrolets are from 1976; the Ford is from 1975 with such trendy yet tasteless adornment continuing until 1978.

Dodge never fell for this gimmick….at least in the 1970s, anyway.

The Monaco thankfully never went the festooned fender route, making for a much more tasteful and elegant find over forty years later.  In comparison to the pre-downsized competition, this Dodge looks downright dignified.

Despite these defenses about Mopar goodness, by 1977 the Monaco was not looking as fresh as it once had.  While the Dodge in this sales video is a highly trimmed example, the contrast between it and the new 1977 Chevrolet Caprice also seen in the video is considerable.  It’s a great demonstration of two methods to achieve the same purpose.

Credit needs to be given to Dodge for effectively and convincingly making a case for the Royal Monaco over the Caprice.  Given the mild uptick in sales for 1977, one can’t help but wonder if a few big car diehards moved over to Dodge from elsewhere.

One element about the Monaco was the spectrum of ways these came equipped.  Many were undoubtedly rather spartan but our featured example isn’t.  The drivers seat is a rather inviting place, a place where likely several of us would like to spend some time.

As we all know, the Chrysler Corporation in 1977 was not an overly fun place.  Financial woes were wreaking havoc and the need to downsize was staring them in the face.  Having no real resources to effectively downsize, Chrysler did about the best thing they could.  They began transitioning out of the full-size car and promoting a mid-size using the Monaco name which began for 1977.

There are times in life one must do something unenjoyable while wearing a happy face.  That’s what can be seen in this picture.

While the 1977 mid-size Monaco was nothing more than a redecorated 1971 Coronet, Dodge gave it their all in making it appear contemporary.  However, this brochure cover is borderline depressing as it clearly reflects the challenges of Chrysler at that time.

Frankly, this Dodge could be a 1976 model as easily as it could be a 1977 or a 1975.  Like it matters.  The same sentiment applies to whether this Dodge has the standard 360 or optional 400 or 440 V8.  What is known is this Dodge is in the care of a younger gentleman.

Something tells me this gentleman knows he has a very special Dodge, one that is rare simply due to natural attrition.  While it may not have broken any new ground in its appearance it truly is the end of a long and distinguished line.

Found by Editor Dave Skinner, May 2019, two blocks from Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, D.C.


Related Reading:

Gone and Forgotten by PN

Royal Monaco Wagon by PN