The cars we loved.
The Monte Carlo has a long storied history of being everything from a poor man’s Cadillac to a hillbilly hot rod. Over the course of its nearly 40 years, it’s been all of these things and more. Switching from rear to front wheel drive and up to 8 cylinders, the Monte Carlo has covered a lot of ground in its role as GM personal luxury coupe. By 2000, the Monte Carlo name had reappeared after a 7 year absence. Now in its Sixth generation, it was redesigned with the best cues from its past, distancing itself from the Lumina Coupe it replaced. The Monte Carlo was based on the full-sized Impala sedan and competed most directly with Ford’s Thunderbird and later imports like the Honda Accord coupe and Toyota Solara.
The Monte Carlo’s mission was to provide luxury with a touch of style. The long wheelbase, MacPherson struts suspension and heft of the car made it a comfortable highway luxury cruiser. The luxury part came from a long list of options and a comfortable leather interior. The refined interior extended to the well designed dashboard was one of the first ergonomically inspired designs from GM, resembling import cars in its overall appearance with its smaller buttons and controls (unlike most GM cars of the time).
Despite the luxury touches, the Monte never strayed too far from its NASCAR fan base. Three models were available, the LS (3.4 L), LT (3.8 L) and SS with the LTs 3.8 L supercharged. Even with the rather big supercharged OHV V6, the Monte Carlo could only manage 200 hp. The high tourque V6 was enough to propel the 2000 SS from 0 to 60 in 7.3 seconds. Not bad for a heavy front wheel drive 4 speed automatic (better than any V8 powered rwd SS car from the 80’s).
Even if the Monte Carlo was a little short in ultimate performance, Chevrolet was able to capitalize on the Monte Carlo being the most winning nameplate in NASCAR history by offering several special edition models. The most popular was 2004’s Dale Earnhardt Sr. inspired “Intimidator SS”, a slightly customized SS with a subtle ground effects package and badging. Other less subtle special editions were available, some with loud NASCAR inspired graphics and add ons that resembled an actual stock car complete with blackout rims and white letter tires. Not for the faint of heart or subscribers to good taste. Fortunately, for the performance fan who did not want to attract too much attention the regular SS was always available unmolested.
In saving the best for last, the Monte Carlo got closer to its roots with the introduction of an advanced variable valve 5.3 L V8 in 2006. Horsepower was increased across the board, but the SS received the most dramatic increase to 303 hp. Still powering the front wheels, this was the first use of a V8 in a Monte Carlo since the 80s. The 2006-07 models also got a subtle restyling with a front end that more closely resembling the Impala sedan. The press was unmoved, complaining that the Monte Carlo was always fun to drive, but suffered from poor execution. In all fairness to Chevrolet, the quality of the Monte Carlo improved with each year and was better than ever.
While still popular, the Monte Carlo was canceled after the 2007 model year. There was some speculation that the Monte Carlo would return as a Zeta platform based car, but GM has announced no such plans to date. NASCAR seems to have moved on the still in production Impala. It would be a shame if Chevrolet allowed one of the few remaining nameplates it had with so much heritage just slip away.