My Curbside Classic: 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Landau – Hope You Like Green

(first posted 5/28/2012)   My green Monte Carlo. After 13 years, it’s become my mascot. In 1999, it was advertised in a local paper here in the Los Angeles area. We went to go check it out, and found, literally, an old-lady car. Turns out it had belonged to Ida May Moore, who bought it when she was 76 years old in 1976, and never bought another car.

When she saw that lime green “demonstrator” at the local Chevy dealer in Redlands, CA, she just couldn’t resist. You see, green was her favorite color, as told to me by her old friends who ended up handling her estate and selling the car a few years after she passed on.

She even left a green tire gauge in the glove compartment. It didn’t hurt that GM happened to use a matching green for the Monte Carlo owners manuals that year. It was meant to be!

The Monte Carlo was a runaway hit when it was introduced as a popular-priced personal luxury coupe in 1970, sort of a bargain mini-Eldorado or Riviera, one year after Pontiac’s Grand Prix was downsized with great success. Both the GP and Monte Carlo were stretched from GM’s mid-size A-body platform.

Like the 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix, which used the Tempest/LeMans sedan’s 118″ wheelbase, the Monte Carlo rode the Chevelle/Malibu sedan’s 116″ wheelbase instead of the coupe’s 112 inch span. All of that extra space was for the hood.

From the beginning, Monte Carlo shared a lot with the Chevelle it was based on, but offered more – more style, more hood, more luxury, but for not a lot more money. For 1973, it was restyled in the latest “neoclassical” retro-1930s look filtered through a ‘70s eye, with huge round single headlamps, aggressively sculptured sides, and narrow opera windows. It was no longer a hardtop but technically now a 2-door sedan, and those opera windows didn’t roll down.

Fast forward to 1976, and the formula was still the same, with the addition of stacked rectangular headlamps, huge 5mph bumpers in back (the 1973 had them only in front) and a few trim changes, including a new grille. As had been the case since 1973, you could get your personal luxury Chevy in plain Monte Carlo and fancier Landau versions. Several different interiors were available, and bucket seats with a console and floor shift were a popular option.

A 305 CID V8 was new, and the standard powerplant. You could also get 2- and 4-barrel 350s and a 4-barrel 400. The 454 CID V8 had been discontinued on Montes after 1975. Regardless of engine, all ’76 Montes had the proven three speed Turbo-Hydramatic automatic transmission.

Being a demonstrator, Ida’s Monte was loaded. For starters, it was the Landau model, with standard half vinyl roof, upgraded 50/50 split seating up front, special Turbine II wheels, and upgraded trim all around. It also had cruise control, power windows and locks, tilt, 8-track stereo and a lot of other gadgets that weren’t really all that common on a Chevy in the mid-70s.

Best of all, it was color-coordinated, so its white interior was complimented by green “environment” (that would be the dash and carpets) to coordinate with the lime green exterior. All in all, a nice combination. And with 22,000 miles on it, it drove pretty well. The air conditioner even worked! After checking out the car, I woke up the next morning and all I could see was GREEN. I had to have that car!

She’s not perfect. You’ll see plenty of little dents and flaws on Monte. That’s original paint you see. Original vinyl top. Original interior. Pretty much original everything! You only get that once, and I enjoy preserving it.

When driving the Monte, the first thing that might surprise you is that its 350-cubic-inch V8 actually motivates the car pretty well, and it handles nicely for its 3700-lb. weight. For her size, she’s amazingly agile.

This car has presence, from its mile-long doors (yes, they’re heavy but they aren’t sagging too much yet), to its even-longer hood, to its tiny back seat with “private” opera windows.

The 3-speed Turbo Hydramatic transmission has no trouble at all bringing Monte up to a nice freeway velocity, pretty much devoid of wind noise. And really, although this car is not driven daily, it’s honestly been very reliable over the last 13 years and about 15,000 miles that I’ve driven it. The style may be baroque, but underneath, it’s just a solid Chevy drivetrain and body-on-frame construction that has held together pretty well. Of course, having a first owner who took pretty meticulous care of it and hardly drove it didn’t hurt.

I am a classic car aficionado, to be sure, and I’d owned a couple of classic cars before this one and several afterward, but the only real keeper so far is this Monte. Some like the GM colonnades and some don’t, but for me, the combination of color, condition, originality and ‘70s style made it a must-buy. 13 years later and counting, I can’t imagine letting her go!