The cars we loved.
The Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna Type S-3 was sportiest version of all the cars offered on the vast A body platform. A platform that included sedans, coupes, convertables and even small pickups. The Chevelle and Monte Carlo were the two largest bi-products of this platform and with a split emphisis between personal luxury and all around utility. On the utility side there was the Chevelle and its many variants that included the popular Malibu and the equally popular but eventually phased out Chevelle muscle car. For years the sportiest Chevelle was the ledgendary SS model with its large V8 engine and rear wheel drive platform. It was a little late to the muscle car party and was more or less scrapped by the time the first fuel crisis of the 70’s had ended.
In 1973 a new uprated Chevelle with the Laguna designation offered Monte Carlo like luxury. It was just as easy on the eye if not more so. Now with swiveling bucket seats, larger V6 engines and a more comfortable ride, the Laguna had nearly everything the Monte Carlo offered and more. The swiveling seat option is probably the most innovative feature. Maybe Chevy was on to something. A full 20 years before the population became mostly fat or old, the General was figuring out ways to make it easier to get into and out of it’s low slung cars.
Once inside, the setup was very much like the Monte Carlo. Also like it’s sister car, it was rear wheel drive but had a front suspension influenced by the Camaro and Firebird. Unlike manyGM cars of this vintage, the Laguna featured a full coil spring rear suspension instead of the more common solid beam rear axel. The emphisis on ride quality hints at the overall mission of the S-3 as a comfortable sporty gran tourer.
While it’s Chevy cousin no longer offered a SS version after 1972, it was not until that the 74 model year that the Laguna would fill the gap with the Type S-3 model.
While other Laguna’s were available as coupes and sedans, the Type S-3 only came as a coupe with the new colonnade hardtop design. They were attractive coupes for time with body colored plastic endura bumpers. Power options were many, ranging V6 and V8 two and four barrel designs with power up to 145. That power came with 5.7 liters of V8 displacement. A 3-speed Turbo-matic transmission was standard with a four speed manual available only with the largest V8 engine.
For its time the Laguna Type S-3 was considered very aerodynamic, with its rear spolier and wedged front end. The S-3 model was not offered in 1974, but preparations were being made by NASCAR drivers to modify the S-3 for racing. The end result with its large front air dam and modified rear spolier became a popular with many drivers between 1974 up to 78 when it was outlawed. The NASCAR influence spread to the production car with a refined spoiler package. By 1976, the Type-S-3 shared many appearance features with lesser Chevelles. Despite making a name for itself on the track, the S-3 was overshadowed by the less pretentious Monte Carlo and even the Malibu Classic coupe in the sales department.
Truth be told, the performance of the S-3 was no where near that of the Chevelle SS in its muscle car hey day. Taking over 9 seconds to reach 60 mph is worse than many 2 liter family sedans today. The fuel economy was poor also, averaging somewhere close to 13 mpg on the highway with the largest engine (remember that was only 145 hp in the 5.7). To make matters worse over at Pontiac, the Trans-Am’s SD-455 engine produced more power and got better gas mileage. No to mention that it was pulling a much faster and better looking car.
All of this caught up with the Laguna line and by 1977, it was replaced more or less by the Malibu. To Chevrolet’s credit, it chose not to use the SS name for its sportiest version of the Chevelle after 1972. By then the Chevelle as we knew if from the muscle car era had become emasculated by federal emissions and EPA standards.
The Laguna is now a mostly forgotten footnote in the sad story of GM’s struggles after the muscle car era. Although attractive, the Laguna S-3 remains a rare, hard to find example of what went wrong with GM and the domestic auto industry in one of the darkest periods of the industry. Despite all of that, as the most popular muscle cars become more expensive and rare, second rate variants like the Laguna may yet have their day in the sun at the Barret Jackson’s of the world.