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.