2 December 2016

Why aren’t 1970-77 Chevrolet Monte Carlos worth more?

The 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo was aimed at Ford’s “Personal Coupe,” the Thunderbird. And it defeated its target handily. The “Monte” outsold the T-bird three-to-one in its first year, with 145,975 units delivered, against 50,314 Thunderbirds.

With a launch like that, you’d expect the first generation Monte Carlo to be a prime collectible. But examples are rare today and less valuable than similar Chevelles, despite sharing the same mechanicals in a more elegant body.

Part of the problem can be blamed on their original images. The Monte Carlo wasn’t aimed at muscle car buyers, it implied exclusivity. That wasn’t what the average street-racer or poseur was looking for: They wanted cheap speed. At $3,543, the 1970 Monte Carlo SS cost about $500 more than the Chevelle SS 396; and worse, it was heavier (but only by a couple hundred pounds).

Dan Stafford has run Dan’s Garage, in Kennewick, Wash., since 1975. It’s a muscle car wrecking yard that specializes in GM products. He’s also owned a 1971 Monte Carlo SS 454 survivor for more than 30 years, and gave up trying to sell it ages ago. “All anybody wants to do is yank the motor and put it in a Chevelle,” he said. “They don’t realize how rare it is.”

The problem seems to be “popular then, popular now.” By successfully cultivating exclusivity when the Monte Carlo was new, Chevrolet reduced the number of enthusiasts who ever bonded with a Monte Carlo. Muscle car collecting is an emotional business, scarcity within a well-known model line is prized (think Shelby Mustangs), outside it not at all. At this point, it would make more sense to sacrifice Chevelles for Monte Carlos, if it weren’t for the Monte’s middle-aged image, because Chevelles are much less common.

Riding on the same 116-inch wheelbase as the four-door Chevelle sedan (the coupe rode on the shorter 112-inch frame), the Monte Carlo evolved from the 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix, which shared General Motor’s G-body platform, with a handsome 6-foot hood. While the engine remained against the firewall, the extra four inches in the wheelbase allowed the entire front suspension, bumper and radiator cowl to be moved forward, improving the car's balance.

The Monte Carlo was developed by Pete Estes, but introduced in September 1969 by John Z. DeLorean, who replaced Estes as Chevrolet’s general manager. DeLorean came from Pontiac where he introduced the original GTO in 1964.

The Grand Prix’s style was reflected in the 1970 Monte Carlo. It featured a luxury interior, simulated wood dash, multiple gauges and front disc brakes. Many had vinyl roofs and rear fender skirts, and options included air-conditioning, variable-ratio power steering, power windows and seats, bucket seats and a console. It sounds middle-aged doesn’t it?

A total of 3,823 buyers ordered the Turbo-Jet 454-cid V-8, rated at 360 bhp in LS5 form, while 10 brave individuals bought the 450 bhp LS6. This makes the SS 454 the most powerful and collectible Monte Carlo, the LS6s more so.

Car and Driver tested an LS5 Monte Carlo, recording 0-60 times in seven seconds and a quarter mile in 14.9 seconds at 92 mph. Heavy duty suspension included front and rear sway bars, and automatic level control at the rear.

The first generation Monte Carlo’s last year was 1972. The SS model was discontinued, though a Custom model offered a few SS options. These did not include the 454-cid engine in California, as it couldn’t pass emissions. Power was now calculated in SAE “net” terms, dropping the output to 165 bhp for the two-barrel 350-cid V-8, and only 270 bhp for the 454. The four-speed manual was deleted. Ironically, this was the best year for first-gen Monte Carlo sales – Chevy moved over 180,000 units.

By 1973 the muscle car era was over. The Monte Carlo was redesigned with heavily swaged fenders and hefty bumpers. The hardtop was now pillared, and tiny rear side windows visually lightened a padded vinyl roof. The 350-cid V-8 was down to 145 bhp, and the 454 to 245 bhp. Velour interiors were introduced and sales spiked to 233,689 units.

Engine strangulation continued in 1974, and the Monte Carlo changed little, except for bigger bumpers. Sales climbed again, to 312,217 units, while the 350 V-8’s output stayed at 145 bhp and the 454-cid dropped to 235 bhp.

The following year saw the last 454 engine, though it’s uncertain how many were sold. Monte Carlo sales totaled 258,909, and the baroque body style lasted through 1977, with stacked square headlights. There is little collector interest in the low-powered 1973-77 Monte Carlo, and even low-mileage examples barely make their original MSRP, when they come to auction.

The market for the first A-body Monte Carlo (1973) is surprisingly quiet. Even the SS 454 models (unless they are the very rare LS6) seldom bring much more than $20,000 at auction. Yet the model has everything going for it, from looks to performance.

If you don’t fancy an automatic SS 454, (since four-speed SS 454s are proverbial unicorns), you can find the occasional four-speed 350-cid Monte Carlo, of which several thousand were sold in 1970 and 1971. The package is a sporting proposition: larger than the Camaro, and more elegant than the Chevelle.

Monte Carlo fans know there’s no profit in the short run, but eventually collectors will realize how few are left and hopefully care. Maintenance and mechanical restoration should be easy. Many Monte Carlo parts are interchangeable with Chevelle components. There were more than one million Chevelles sold from 1970-72, and Chevelle running gear was almost the same in 1968 and 1969, so the total number of donor cars probably exceeds two million units.

34 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Randy Here December 5, 2016 at 17:23
    These cars had the longest fan shroud in the history of humankind.
  • 2
    Mike McFarland Fort Wayne, Indiana December 5, 2016 at 21:33
    Wish I would have kept my '71 454SS. I was in my early twenties and starting a family and needed the money. Sadly, the teen-ager I sold it to wrapped it around a tree. He was saved, but the Monte was not. Now that I'm in my fifties I'm continually looking for another one.
  • 3
    henry branford ct 06405 December 7, 2016 at 17:54
    Growing up in ct these cars where a dime a dozen the Monte ,the chevelle ss ,the chargers,the challengers,the cudas,and barracudas,the road runners, the camaro's now you do not see them anywhere they all cannot be in peoples collections !
  • 4
    Bluegrass Bob Duh December 7, 2016 at 17:57
    I'm seeing more and more Montes (and more 70s cars in general) at shows, cruises and just out on the road.
  • 5
    Mark Australia December 7, 2016 at 17:59
    While influenced by the success of the Thunderbird, it is erroneous to make comparisons regarding sales. The Thunderbird in 1972 retailed for well over $5,000 and in later years a lot more due to the addition of equipment. A more direct comparison would be the Ford Elite. Basically an entry level personal car as per the Monte Carlo.
  • 6
    rick long ilsand December 7, 2016 at 18:45
    I love this car. my 71 is not stock anymore. looks and drive,s great. got it in the high 12,s pump gas street tires . I need more tire
  • 7
    Tommy Mitchell Fort Worth, Tx December 7, 2016 at 18:47
    You didn't mention it but a small block 400 was available in some years.
  • 8
    Hi-Fi71 Ontario December 7, 2016 at 20:12
    According to historical sources I've seen, there were no LS-6 454 Monte Carlos ever made.
  • 9
    Sean DuVall Metro Atlanta December 7, 2016 at 21:18
    I've had a '72 for about 6 years now and I love it. It has been restored and likely looks as good as it did when it was originally sold in Ohio in 1972. It seems that any time you see a 1st generation Monte on the road, it's either on life support or it has 30" rims on it. Mine's pretty much bone-stock and that's how I plan on keeping it.
  • 10
    Frank Spadafore Detroit Mich December 7, 2016 at 21:24
    Bon Jovi's new video for the new single "This House Is Not For Sale" as Jon driving a 75-77 Monte Carlo.
  • 11
    Keith A Kosanke Eagle River Wi December 7, 2016 at 21:39
    I worked at a Chevrolet dealer In Milwaukee back then. I ran the new car set up department. And also ordered all of the Hi performance cars for inventory stock and customers. We stocked everything from Z28's Chevelle , Nova's . I do remember ordering a number os SS Monte Carlos with the 454 & 4 speeds. Wish I could have afforded to buy and store a number of these cars. I do have one my first brand new car bought at the age of 19 years old. Still have my 1967 Chevelle Malibu 2dr Ht L79 327 325 Hp 4 speed . Sad part about these Monte's is they made great short track stock cars on dirt and asphalt. Still see them racing. Same with the Grand Prix center part.
  • 12
    Jeff Sparta Hawley, Pa. December 7, 2016 at 22:24
    I had a 72 with a 402 and loved that car. Sorry I sold it...
  • 13
    Stachoo Traverse City, MI December 8, 2016 at 13:35
    I bought a new black on black on black '70 Monte for $3,200 out the door and babied it for 9 years, putting 91,000 miles on it, selling it in '79 for $1,000. It was truly a wonderful driving machine. I loved it. Felt I had to sell it as I went to work for Ford Motor Company and didn't want to appear disloyal in any way. Back then, even salesmen who drove non-Ford cars, would rent a Ford when visiting the Ford facilities. Actually, I appreciate that kind of brand loyalty and I welcome loyalty when it comes to buying American brand vehicles today in support of our American Economy. Thanks for the pictures and the article. Monte Carlo was a great car in that first year.
  • 14
    Edward Greenberg NY December 8, 2016 at 13:44
    Sorry, I just looked at one my neighbor in Florida owns. Spotless, mint and I wouldn't give it a second look if it was driving by. Looks like a tank in most colors and if not "dressed up" in some fashion. His vehicle is 100% stock and utterly bland.
  • 15
    Don California December 8, 2016 at 15:43
    I still have my 1970 SS454 Monte Carlo that I bought new off the showroom floor. 55,000 original miles, and she's a real beauty. It has been a fun car to own and drive, in 1979 it ran 12 seconds flat, but the engine is now back to less than stock--reduced to 8 1/2 to 1 compression ratio.
  • 16
    Lauren Bolks Gilbert, AZ December 8, 2016 at 17:17
    When I first saw the 1st generation MC, I thought they would be an instant collectible. I bought a new '71, 270hp/350ci that is loaded with options. I still have that car to this day. I, too, have wondered what have happened to the values compared to the Chevelles. My MC is only missing the 454, bucket seats and door locks. It has every other option. I drive this car regularly. In 1983 it was retired to car shows and cruising. I get great compliments every time I show the car. Two recent car shows I received the best unrestored car of the show!
  • 17
    Steven Csajka Florida December 8, 2016 at 06:56
    How about the Chevy Nova 1968 to 1972 will these get to the money as the Chevelle and Camaro
  • 18
    Steve Witham Florida December 8, 2016 at 07:17
    Mike, there was someone in Martinsville that had a new one back in the day but the name escapes me. It was either black or dark green. I remember the discreet SS badging on the front rocker panels.
  • 19
    Joe Central VA December 8, 2016 at 08:07
    We have a '70 in the family. Nice looking car. I never understood why the 70-72 models did not attract more interest. As for the '73 and later, the styling was too 70s fake-luxe for my tastes. I think that held down prices when so many other Colonnade GMs were better looking.
  • 20
    Mickey New York December 8, 2016 at 20:30
    Interesting article. But several inaccuracies. First off, there has yet to be a documented LS6 Monte Carlo come out of the woodwork. Secondly, there were no 1970 to 71 Monte Carlo SS454 4 speeds built. Yes there were probably about 3000 4 speed 350 Monte Carlos built and under 200 402 big block 4 speed cars. I converted my 350 automatic Monte Carlo into a four-speed car about five years ago. It was the easiest conversion I've ever done. As the author states, so many parts are interchangeable with the Chevelle. I ordered all Chevelle parts except for one. That being the brace on the frame rail that the Z-bar attaches to. That part is exclusive to the mother called. The Chevelle in the Monte Carlo both came down the same assembly line. My first car was a 1970 Monte Carlo. And I've had at least eight of them ever since and I have never been without one.
  • 21
    Brian Weymouth Tecumseh Ontario, Canada December 8, 2016 at 08:34
    I was told the original 1970 Mone Carlo body was really set out to replace the Oldsmobile Cutless. But a last minute decision was to keep the current Cutless A body. You can see the evidence of this, if you conpare the 1971 Oldsmobile 98's rear bumper corners. The styling is identical.
  • 22
    Christopher Demsky Georgia December 8, 2016 at 09:56
    About 10 years ago I came across one of those very rare "Unicorn" 1970 Monte Carlo 454 SS models that was sporting a Factory Ordered 4-speed transmission. Even though this was not suppose to be an available option, if you ordered a Tow Package and some other option you could override the must have Automatic and get it with the 4-speed. This car was bought new by a Dr.'s wife way back in 1970. This was a Georgia car it's whole life and virtually had no rust on it. The guy wanted $6,500 for it, but I did not have the available funds at the time to buy it.
  • 23
    Wayne Good Kent Washington December 8, 2016 at 10:08
    I own a 1970 SS454 last vin # 138570B151332 so I believe there were 159,xxx built not 146xxx like some websites so were built !!! Original color gold with white painted top !!!!
  • 24
    Ken Ann Arbor, Michigan December 8, 2016 at 11:17
    In 1977 the Monte Carlo was handily defeated by the awesome new Ford Thunderbird!
  • 25
    John PA December 8, 2016 at 11:44
    My son got a 1972 Monte for his 16th birthday and we've restored it over the last couple years. He wants the 454 of course when it's all his but the rebuilt and modded 350 sounds great. 700R4 with 3.42 gears makes it quick but 2100 RPM at 70 MPH. Nice!
  • 26
    Gary Karn Homer Glen,Il December 8, 2016 at 11:52
    I bought my 71 SS in May of 77 for $2300 it had very low mileage and was loaded with about all options.I mainly but it because it was same color green as my 70 Nova .The car is mostly all original and now has only has 53,000 miles .I love taking it to local car shows because most people have never seen one and I have only seen 3 others in the area .Having only seen 1 go through the auction it reached about 28,000 and didn't sell I often wonder why they weren't worth more . I raced mine in the NMCA Nationals in the mid 80 ' s were it ran low 14.00 to high 13.80 not bad for a heavy car. I drove the Monte to California in 79 when I was 25 and now that I am retired I am planning another trip.
  • 27
    Tom New jersey December 12, 2016 at 07:20
    I am a dedicated mopar guy; however, I did purchase a 71 Monty. I have 2 say, it was the most satisfying car I have ever owned . Back in the day we referred to the perfectly built car as a "factory freak ",. Well, I had one. A memorable trip, to Miami. Down 95 running @ 80-90 miles per whenever possible. The car ran fresh as a daisy , never burned a drop of oil. Unfortunately a blazer decided to climb up over her in 74 ending its existence love & enjoy my 69 RR but will never forget my 71 Monty
  • 28
    Karl Princetown NY December 14, 2016 at 17:15
    First new car was 77 Monte. Red w/ white vinyl top, white buckets. 305 cid. Dependable and easy and inexpensive to fix and maintain. had it as daily driver for 12 years, 187,000 miles. Wish I could buy another one.
  • 29
    Ripleydale Canada December 20, 2016 at 11:17
    Always loved the lines since I was in high school (70's) and the fact it's a bit different. A bit of a doubled edged sword for first generation Monte pricing. Half or less the cost of a similar Chevelle to purchase, but they all cost the same to restore. Another plus is the availability of parts, no doubt in part because of the similarity to Chevelles and the huge volume of used. You can still see SS's for sale at decent prices even though they only made around 5000 of them in total. I love how you could get a bench seat idiot light SS with zero options, or a bucket/console, gauge, AC, PW, etc. car within that 5000. Easy to get upside down in a Monte when restoring, so best if you want to keep it. Agree with Mickey from New York although I think the whole MC community would love to be PROVEN wrong. I see them in the spotlight more and more, from lowrider to 1/4 mile killers. Keep taking them to the shows and I think we'll see the uptake continue for an affordably priced muscle car.
  • 30
    Bob Bushwty Phoenix AZ January 11, 2017 at 21:26
    I always loved the early Monty's. I remember racing a black 70 Monty on an old Indiana back road back in the 70's while I was driving a friends 70' GTO convert. I beat the Monty but almost lost it. Whew! I just bought a bone stock 71' Monty SS454 with 50K original miles and am digging into anything I can read on these beast. They just look bad to the bone!
  • 31
    Augusta Vigil Colorado February 22, 2017 at 22:43
    My daughter has a 1977 Monte Carlo for sale in Denver
  • 32
    Bob Rzepka Cleveland Ohio March 5, 2017 at 18:43
    I once owned a '74 Monte Carlo and was trying to do a title search to see if it was still out there. I guess it can't be done. If anyone has a clue on how to find it, your info would be appreciated.
  • 33
    Ralph Calgary Canada June 10, 2017 at 11:55
    I too have loved the first gen Monte's for a long time so last year I bought one to restore. I agree with the earlier comment on restoration cost being similar to Chevelles and other more valuable cars. Mine is a base 350 but It is what I want, wife hates it! lol
  • 34
    Ralph Calgary Canada June 10, 2017 at 11:59
    I too have loved the first gen Monte's for a long time so last year I bought one to restore. I agree with the earlier comment on restoration cost being similar to Chevelles and other more valuable cars. Mine is a base 350 but It is what I want, wife hates it! lol

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