Establishing your own, separate identity outside of your parents’ household in young adulthood is a necessary stage of personal growth. This can take a lot of different forms, but in my own life, this idea manifested itself in many of the usual ways, including the way I styled myself including hair and clothing, habits, musical tastes, life philosophies, and many other such things. Growing up with a parent who was deeply narcissistic, I strove fruitlessly to gain that parent’s approval by trying to be “good” and the kind of son and person I thought would make a parent proud, not fully understanding at the time that such a pursuit in my case would be as endless and pointless as Sisyphus eternally pushing that rock up the hill. I had surrendered much of my own power, strengths, and persona in allowing someone else I had trusted to become something of a focus for me, instead of working toward fully realizing and embracing who I was. Thankfully, my own course was eventually corrected.
By the time I entered college, though, I was more of a mindset that I was simply entering “thirteenth grade” and was still very much married to the image of the clean-cut, respectable, do-right, feel-good dude that I had tried with some success to cultivate for and of myself up to that point. There were the preppy clothes, a conservative haircut (once my hair had grown back from my first, disastrous attempt at shaving my head against the grain), an antiseptic lack of any outward, discernable vices or questionable behavior, and a taste for the happy, peppy pop music that had quickly fallen out of favor with the rise of grunge, alternative rock, and grittier expressions of hip-hop and rap.
One of the beautiful things about life on a college campus is the exposure to all kinds of ideas and personal expressions a young adult would miss out on, otherwise. In this current age of learning remotely, with that mode currently being necessary amid the pandemic, I lament that some may never experience in their formative years of early adulthood the ability to discover other ways of thinking, being, acting, and doing through face-to-face interactions with other people. In my own case, I met many new and interesting people in that exciting time of my life, many with whom I am still happily in contact today.
I have always had a good mix of both male and female friends, but have always seemed to make female friends more easily. I started to feel uncomfortable with some of the guys on my dorm floor with whom I had nothing in common trying to buddy up to me in the hope of some introductions to, and action from, those ladies that I wasn’t getting. Life in the proverbial closet was both suffocating and yet a comfortable-seeming kind of pain for me, so I basically just checked out and tried to ignore that part of myself. By my second year of college, I had changed my entire look and demeanor into something much darker in what I later came to realize might have been an attempt to uglify myself on the outside to more closely align with how I felt on the inside. I realize this entry has been almost entirely autobiographical up until this point, but there is a tie-in with our featured car.
In my mind, there is not a more wholesome, all-American, and popular personal luxury coupe than the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The Monte may not possess that many superlatives, like being the most powerful, best-equipped, most luxurious, etc., as there were many cars like it during the reign of this type of vehicle from approximately the mid-1970s through the mid-’80s that may have done one or more things better than this Chevy. What I’m getting at, rather, is that when I think of the prototypical PLC – affordable for the masses, nicely styled, choices of available features, wide-ranging appeal, I think of the Monte Carlo as the singular, defining model.
For the first fifteen years of its life, it was the kind of car that appealed to a wide swath of the American, car-buying public, from young adults who wanted a comfortable and attractive cruiser, to more mature age groups who wanted a distinctive two-door, but had outgrown the smaller sporty coupes. Even the souped-up Super Sport models had a sort of all-star, suburban varsity athlete sort of middle-of-the-road-ness about them that made them seem like a “nice” sort of aggressive. The base Monte Carlos of the 1980s, though, were decidedly and unabashedly broughams. These were luxurious, vaguely sporty cars that you wouldn’t be ashamed to drive to church or the country club, with unoffensive, universal appeal.
Our featured blunt-front, base model Monte Carlo gave me Darth Vader vibes when I saw it in my neighborhood about four years ago. It’s not that I find it unattractive as it is, as I think it looks good with its custom grille and five-spoke wheels, dark window tint, and devoid of all external chrome badges. I have also seen Montes of this generation with tuxedo black paint like the example in the above brochure photo that looked ready for a night out at the theater. It’s just that this example’s specific combination of modest external modifications seemed to add up to an effect that was much more impactful than the sum of its parts. Stated another way, this car looked much more intimidating in the metal than it probably does in these pictures.
Under the hood and as determined by a license plate search, is a 5.0L V8 with what was 150 horsepower from the factory. A 3.8L V6 with 110 hp was the standard Monte Carlo engine for ’84. Base curb weight was around 3,300 pounds for the V8-equipped models, with the V6 models weighing about 100 pounds less and the SS models being about 100 pounds heavier. Sales for ’84 were solid at about 137,000 units. The revolutionary, new aero-styled Thunderbird sold 170,600 units in its second year on the market. The sales leader of this segment, the rear-drive Oldsmobile Cutlass two-door, was still the most popular personal luxury coupe that year, with 241,500 sold, not counting the 3,500 Hurst/Olds specialty models. Chrysler’s once-popular Cordoba, never a sales threat in the ’80s, had bowed out the year before.
Looking again at these pictures four years after I taken them, it seems like the owner’s mods had butched up this Monte Carlo’s appearance in a similar fashion to how the even-flossier Buick Regal was transformed visually into the fire-breathing Grand National. At the time, though, my impression was that an otherwise innocent-looking Monte Carlo had been altered into something that appeared much more threatening, as if to dare you to mess with it. These were some of those rare moments when I felt like taking a few pictures of a car as quickly and discretely as possible before scooting along on my way.
In the case of my own visual transformation in early adulthood, it’s clear from looking at pictures of me from that era that I was sending out a similar message for others to proceed with caution. Thankfully, nothing I ended up doing to myself, physically or otherwise, was irreversible as I continued along my journey to today, as appeared to be the case with this Monte Carlo, which looked like it could have been returned to a stock appearance without too much effort from this point. More importantly, though, it appeared that the owner of this classic Chevy seemed to love it just the way he had it. In cars and in life, this is all that ultimately matters, and comfort in your own skin, whatever that skin looks like, goes a long way.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, August 6, 2017.