The cars we loved.
As you might have guessed, this blog is all about cars. Any auto blog about almost classic American iron worth it’s bandwidth should mention something about the ‘old General Motors”. In a nutshell, you could say they made a few good and many bad ones. They changed both very little, especially if it was easy and cheap to build. Eventually this type of philosophy cost them market share and eventually some of it’s divisions. Despite the problems, there were some interesting cars to have come from the old GM during the ’70s and ’80s. One of them, the Chevy Monza, was one of GM’s more interesting compacts from the 70’s.
Available from 1975 to 1980 the Monza used GM’s H platform, the same as the Vega (the car it eventually replaced). Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac all had versions of this car, but the Chevrolet was the most pure design of the bunch. All H cars came as notch-back coupes, fastback hatches and sometimes a two door wagon. Originally developed for a Wankel engine, GM later decided to take the path of least resistance and offer 4, 6 and later an 8 cylinder engine. Mechanically it was typical of most GM cars of the era, but it’s design was said to be inspired the Ferrari Daytona 365 GTB (hence the Ferrari related name ‘Monza’ from the 50’s).
The sloped rear hatchback and thin C pillars were unlike anything around at the time with the possible exception of the Ferrari Daytona and AMC Pacer. It was a beautiful design, especially as a hatch. The flowing profile would not be used on many other GM products Stateside, but in Europe, it seemed more common. The public and the media were taken with the Monza’s hatchback shape making it a popular seller. Motor Trend magazine named the Monza (in all its forms) the “Car of the Year” in 1975. Sales steadily increased due to the diverse line up of price ranges, configurations and engine options. The styling never hurt either.
Many early examples of the base Monza were equipped with inline four cylinder engines (2.3 to 2.5-liters) with right around 80 to 90 hp. Later a 4.3-liter V8, the smallest ever offered by GM would make the Monza almost worthy of its fancy name with 110 hp. Those were almost pocket rocket specs, but the Monza was no hot rod. While it handled reasonably well, it was essentially a scaled down version of GM midsize cars. An even larger V8 engine making 125 hp was available in high altitude areas, but it offered no more performance than the standard V8.
As a an American compact during the ’70s with sporting pretensions, the Monza found itself in the center of a small but growing aftermarket tuner market. Body kits were available from companies like Auto Techniques that made a standard Monza fastback resemble the popular IMSA GT Monza race cars.
Engine options would get reshuffled in time with Pontaics trusty old 2.5 liter ‘Iron Duke” four cylinder becoming the standard engine, replacing the Vega sourced inline-4. There would still be a V6 option, now with 105 hp by 1978. The top Monza engine remained a V8 with a healthy 145 hp. Chevrolet would not only use Ferrari as inspiration for the sporty hatchback, it would use Ferrari-like naming conventions to denote its sportiest Monza; the Spyder. Although there were no convertible Monzas, Chevy used the term Spyder that is usually associated with Ferrari drop tops.
The connection may have not phased the typical Spyder buyer, as it functioned as a cut rate Z28, although it looked better than it performed. Despite having a big V8 under the hood the Spyder could only manage a 0 to 60 in the mid 10 second range (with a 3 speed Hydro automatic). Cars equipped with the five speed manual were only slightly faster.
For what was passing for a small car by American standards, the Monza was well appointed inside. A console and sport style steering wheel gave it some of the ambiance of the Camaro or Monte Carlo. Some versions like the notchback Towne Coupe could be equipped very much like a mini Monte Carlo, complete with fake wood accents and chrome. Even the base stripped down S models featured a console and sport suspension.
Sales were good, helping Chevy almost erase the memory of the Vega. As a rear wheel drive model, the Monza represented GM second attempt at a modern small car. The market was moving rapidly to front wheel drive, making the Monza and other smaller cars from Chevy like the Chevette seem dated. Chevy’s most successful attempt at a small car was yet to come: the J-car bodied Cavalier.