Any serious car lover over 40 in the US might remember the Chevrolet Monza, but would they know that there were well over a half-dozen cars around the world using that same name? GM and its many subsidies have a long history of name sharing. The Monza name goes back to the 60’s with the Covair and applied to cars ranging in size from sub compact to full size, depending on where in the world you were. After surveying the platforms using the name Monza, it becomes clear that we in North America got the short end of the stick.
While production of the US built Chevrolet Monza was winding down, in Europe Opel was just ramping up their version in 1978. Based on the large Opel Senator luxury car, the German built Monza was an altogether different car than the smaller US built Chevrolet. To further stress the differences, the Opel Monza was built as a performance GT from the start in much the same way as the American Mustang had sprung from a FOX based sedan, the homely Fairmount.
While it may have been a stretch to call the Opel Monza a ponycar, the two cars did had rear wheel drive and a clever hidden hatchback styling. Later versions of the Monza, especially the GSE, had performance similar to the Mustang GT before it bounced back from its dark years of turbo four-cylinder experimentation. From a design standpoint the European Monza had more in common with the J cars in America than the Mustang. The first generation Cavalier Type 10 hatch and its platform mates seem to have
85 Cavalier Type 10
received some of their inspiration from the European Monza. They even came with less powerful four and six cylinder engines and shared a similar silhouette.
GSE Digital Dash
With GM quality being what it was in America and in other markets during the 70’s and 80’s, its safe to say that the German built car was probably the best using the Monza name quality wise. There was a close twin made in England called the Vauxhall Royale Coupe, but it was not available in as many configurations as the Opel version. Monza’s typically had 4 or 6 cylinder engines. Fitted with 4 speed manuals or 3 speed automatic transmissions. After 1982, a styling update resulted in a more aerodynamic look that was cleaner yet more aggressive. The most sporting Monza was the GSE introduced in the final year of the ‘A2″ style in 1986. The GSE featured a large rear spoiler, special alloy wheels and a subtle graphics package identifying it as a GSE in a script that Pontiac would use in the 80’s with its LeMans hatchback. Inside the all black interior with a special LCD display dash was highlighted by Recaro sport seats.
The most impressive changes were under the hood and between the rear wheels. GSE were propelled by a tuned version of the 3.0 inline 6 that produced 180 hp to the rear wheels via a limited slip differential. Performance was respectable, even for a 3,000+ lb car. 0 to 60 could be had in 8.5 seconds (with the manual) and a top speed of 133 mph could be reached Reviewers praised the GSE for its torque and road holding abilities.
There were a few third-party tuner editions that improved upon the GSEs overall performance. There were also a few proposals that never materialized. One of the more interesting plans came from Australia’s largest Holden dealer and successful race driver Peter Brock who hoped to import Monzas to Australia to sell as Holden Monza Coupes fitted with Holden built V8 engines. Needless to say, it never happened, as Holden found other ways to fill its big coupe void.
1978 Opel Monza
The GSE like all Monzas were popular, with over 43,000 GSE units sold in 1986. Even with the success of the Monza, trends would eventually conspire to end production. The market in Europe was changing, bringing about the end of the line for the Monza. Large coupes were falling out of favor in much of Europe as the market seeming to be embracing pocket rockets at the lower end of the spectrum and sporting sedans at the opposite. Meanwhile as the Monza name faded in Europe, it was popping up in other parts of the world, like South Africa, Venezuela and Brazil with cars that were totally different, but all sharing the Monza name. Assuming each market lived in a vacuum, there was no reason to get confused by GM’s name recycling as each version of the Monza was target to a specific market for particular reasons. It likely that the name will again appear in some future mode, as it has sporting connotations thanks to Ferrari. In the US it may take another generation or more for the public to disassociate the name Monza with the sad little H Body cars of the 70’s and 80’s.
1986 Opel Monza GSE rear