This is the third and final of the three GM “mid-sized” cars that R&T tested in 1973, following the Grand Am and Cutlass Salon. Their motivation was to determine just how “European” they actually were in relation to the amrketing claims being made for them. Somewhat curiously, it turned out that the one with the most “European” handling was the one that looked most extremely American, with no outward suggestions at an European pretensions. The new Monte Carlo, with its massive hips and exaggeratedly-long front end was a swaggeringly American as it got, and it sold accordingly well.
But “underneath baroque architecture” there was some serious effort to raise the bar in handling qualities for mainstream American cars, thanks to John DeLorean.
The tested Monte had the optional 245 hp 454 (7.4 L) V8, which unsurprisingly made it the fastest of the three. Acceleration for the 4500 lb coupe was “impressive”. (0-60 in 8.6 sec., 1/4 mile in 16.6 sec. @86mph). What was surprising is that it got the best fuel economy of all three, managing 14.5 mpg. Everything is relative.
The Monte’s styling was obviously highly subjective; R&T called it “outlandish”. Sounds about right. The driver has to strain to see over and around the endless hood and fenders, and the view to the rear sides through the little opera windows was of course lousy. The anti-Mercedes.
The interior was a mixed bag. The instrument panel with optional full “gages” was appreciated, but the absurdly thin “dune buggy design” swivel bucket seats were very much not. I’d forgotten that these swivel seats were totally different than the standard plush seats; what a dumb idea.
The good stuff was hidden out of sight, under those voluptuous front and rear fenders. DeLorean, long an admirer of Mercedes chassis design (remember his swing-axle Tempest?), made an effort to impart some of that Mercedes magic in the Monte’s front suspension, which had to be revised to work with the new standard radials anyway. the goal was better straight-line stability, steering feel, and responsiveness. The key change was 5 degrees of castor in the steering geometry. Normally that would result in excessively heavy steering, but the way around that was easy: make power steering standard!
Steering ratio was reduced, and power assist decreased. Eureka! Better steering feel and handling prowess without any sacrifice in that Jet-Smooth ride! Better late than never.
Spring rates were increased somewhat, a rear anti-roll bar was standard, and perhaps most importantly, shock valving was revised for better wheel control.
In addition to these specific changes, the new front end suspension geometry was designed to yield a relatively softer ride despite stiffer springs, and to be more compliant to road deflections. How does it all work?
The steering was deemed the best ever in a US car, equal to the ZF power steering in the BMW, if not as good as Mercedes’. Light, with a decided on-center feel and some relation to tire force. Downright un-American. Steady state cornering was good, but not exceptional, with the Monte slotting in between the Grand Am and the Cutlass Salon.
R&T felt that “given a wide road..the Monte will hold its own against a Jaguar XJ6 or BMW Bavaria on normal roads. However when the going gets rough, so does the Monte”. The classic American car problem, even if somewhat better than before and others. “It doesn’t float as badly at high speeds or bottom as easily as the GA or Salon, but it still doesn’t approach a European touring sedan in these respects.”
If the Monte’s excessive weight and “outlandish” styling weren’t so overwhelming, it might have had a chance to be even more competitive to European sedans. As it was, it was closer to how R&T felt a car should handle than any big car out of Detroit. “It’s just too bad that size and gimcrackery are still so much a part of the American way”.