Curbside Classics: 1981 & 1982 Chevrolet Monte Carlos – Yin & Yang

This month will mark the first time in seven whole years that I will have spent time with either / both of my two first cousins.  That’s really a lot of time, when you think about it.  This span can mean the difference between the fifth grade and high school graduation.  Different presidential administrations.  The beginning or end of a long-term relationship.  Births.  Deaths.  Needless to say, I’m beside myself with excitement to be visiting with my aunt, uncle, two cousins, and their spouses and kids.

My cousins and I share the same grandparents on our moms’ side, who are sisters.  This got me thinking about how only two generations of separation in a family tree can produce “branches” that, while still connected to the same tree, can be very different from one another.  I’m the only adult grandchild (of five) with no children of my own.  I’m also brown-skinned, whereas my cousins both have blond hair and blue eyes – though there is more than a little family resemblance.  Our grandparents now have great-grandchildren with ancestry representing three different continents, which I think is a wonderful American family legacy to be a part of.

Our two featured Monte Carlos also have origins that are very much the same, though they differ (at least externally) in their respective, apparent conditions.  Both are early examples of the “aero”-reskinned 1981 / ’82 models, as identifiable by their front grilles.  They both also sport a two-tone paint job, in very handsome external color combinations.  The car in traffic features the “Jade Green” and “Light Jade Green” combo.  I’m assuming the parked car is an ’82, given its grille and the absence of its color scheme in an ’81 sales brochure I was able to locate online.  (At the time of this writing, I could not find an ’82 brochure to verify the two external colors of the parked example.)

This generation of Monte is one where, on two-toned examples, the darker color looks as good on the bottom as it does on the top – which is not necessarily the case with every car with this treatment.  Much like my cousins and I grew up in different states, the car in traffic was spotted in my neighborhood in the north side of Chicago, Illinois, and the parked one was seen in downtown Omaha, Nebraska.  I feel spoiled by (and am completely enamored with) life in the third-largest city in the United States, but I also love Omaha, with its mixture of arts, culture, history, shopping, performance arts, Midwestern charm, and more cultural diversity than outsiders might assume.  It’s a very clean and friendly city.  Both Chicago and Omaha have things to really love about each place.

Part of what makes travel so much fun for me is to see a different perspective – a view of how people in other regions live from day to day.  It all usually also gives me a renewed appreciation for my own, familiar, comfortable environments when I return home.  These two cars may have had very different trajectories in life given their appearances, but they still seemed to be doing just fine at the time of these pictures, in their respective parts of the country.

I have always liked the ’81 restyle of the Monte Carlo, which was my favorite of this refreshed generation of G-Body personal luxury coupe, against the Pontiac Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Cutlass and Buick Regal.  Aside from the Monte’s new, slightly generic face, the smoothed-out sides still carried more than a hint of the bodyside sculpting of the popular models of ’70s.  Its butt-lift also did wonders, raising the horizontal surface of the trunk for better aerodynamics (and aesthetics), and reinstituting those handsome outboard taillamps.

The new, slicker Monte Carlo’s sales increased for ’81 by 26% over the prior year, going from about 149,000 to roughly 188,000.  Unfortunately, sales would plummet by half for ’82, with only about 92,000 sold that model year – the very first year after its eleven-year-old introduction in which annual Monte Carlo sales would dip below six figures.  People should remember the MC’s sales drop for ’82 when assessing the relative failure of the same-year Ford Thunderbird, which similarly saw its sales drop also by half that year, to 45,000 from roughly 87,000 in ’81.  By another comparison, popular personal luxury coupe class leader Olds Cutlass sold 166,000 copies in ’82, against 286,000 the year before.  Eighty-two was a recession year, and car sales, in general, were in the toilet.

For ’81, the Monte Carlo’s standard power came from a 110-hp V6 displacing 229 (or 231 cubic inches for California models), with optional mills including a blown 231 with 170 horses, and also two small-block V8s with either 115 horses (the 267 – a debored 305) or 150 hp (the 305).  The turbo was dropped for ’82, but a new 262 diesel with 85 hp was newly available that year.

I can imagine that any two-tone MC equipped with the diesel became “three-tone” in short order, as I remember many diesel-powered cars of this era with prominent soot stains from exhaust out back.  This always sort of reminded me of the hard water stains on the fixtures in my / our grandparents’ farmhouse in rural Ohio – not pleasant, but a certain inevitability.

As I prepare to visit my extended family, I am reminded of the importance to pick up the phone from time to time.  My cousins and I aren’t exactly polar opposites like the metaphorical “yin” and “yang”, having some commonalities, but I think our differences have made us appreciate each other even more.  We may now be living completely different lives in different states and environments, but my recollection of these two very similar Monte Carlos with opposite color schemes (which may well have originated from the same plant) served as a timely reminder that family is family and that, ultimately, none of us are so different after all.

The moving car was photographed in Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Wednesday, August 8, 2018.

The stationary MC was photographed in Downtown Omaha, Nebraska.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015.

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