The cars we loved.

1980-1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Turbo: The Other Super Sport?

1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Turbo Sport Coupe

1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Turbo Sport Coupe

Any discussion of American turbo cars usually centers around various Buick Regal, Ford Thunderbird and a few Pontiac Trans-Ams. Unknown and nearly forgotten by many was the short lived Chevrolet Monte Carlo Turbo, a car that like the lone ’89 Trans-Am, was a recipient of Buicks turbocharged engine.

Turbo Hood Detail

It seemed odd actually that Chevrolet waited until the very last of the 3rd generation G bodied Monte Carlos to stick Buick’s turbo 3.6 liter V6 under the hood. Buick had been using turbocharging since ’70s to beef up the gas mileage of its midsized and occasionally full-sized cars. Chevrolet decided that turbocharging the Monte Carlo would give its top engine more power with better gas mileage, something the domestic manufacturers were desperately trying to figure out how to do as the ’80s dawned.

In 1980, the first turbocharged Monte Carlo appeared. Using the Buick 3.8L V6, it produced a healthy 170 hp sent to the rear wheels. That was 15 hp more than the biggest 305 V8 offered for the Monte Carlo that year. By 1980 standards, that was enough power to pass for a performance car, but a quick survey of the outside suggested otherwise. At first glance there was little to distinguish the turbo model from any other run of the mill high trim Monte Carlo. Closer inspection of the hood revealed a hood scoop with prominent “TURBO” badging stamped on its side indicating that this Monte was special.

1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Interior

Inside it looked pretty much like any other Monte Carlo too with baroque styled seats that looked more at home in a living room than a car. In keeping with the Monte Carlo’s luxury sport mission, it was loaded with the luxuries of the day including a t-top. Once again, only the “TURBO” badge on the dash suggested something special was under the hood. The turbo was a rather expensive option over the regular 3.8, but with 32% more power and better gas mileage, it was worth it.   The turbo option sold over 13,000 units, but might have been more popular if lag was not an issue and looked more like a “sport” model on the outside. It had the same wire wheels and white walls as any standard Sport Coupe. If you got to Landau with the turbo, it even had the padded vinyl roof.

When the fourth generation Monte Carlo debuted in 1981, it up the ante on refinement, while staying close the previous generation’s design. It still had the body on frame construction of the old car, but was sleeker with a .48 cd vs. the ’80 models .53. The big news this year was an electronic fuel and emission management system called “Computer Command Control (CCC)”.

With still no V8 optioned SS model in the lineup, Chevrolet brought back the Buick 3.8L V6 turbo as the top engine. This time the CCC system was able to improve performance by reducing lag to the point of making the ’81 model faster than the 80’ with the same horsepower.  The CCC system was not designed to improve performance as much as economy and emissions, but it ended up improving drivability anyway.

The new car was also handsome and conservatively styled with wire wheels, white walls and plenty of chrome. Still, no special external treatment for the turbo models beyond the hood hump and plaque inside.  Chevrolet did offer a gauge package in 1981 that had everything but a tachometer and boost gauge (even on turbo models). Maybe the guys at Chevy were trying to hide the fact that the turbo was there.

Lag was still a problem and many drivers complained that the engine did not seem as responsive when they floored it at speed. A 0 to 60 time of 11 seconds was fair, but was far from a drag star. The Monte Carlo really shined when cruising on the highway. Chevy buyers had become accustomed to the instant gratification that comes with V8 torque (or used to). Despite the lag, the ’81 when ordered with the F41 sport suspension was a nice handling car. Not only did it handle well it was as fast as any F body once the turbo kicked in. Why, it was only 20 hp shy of the 1981 Corvette!

In the end the old rule about no replacement for displacement would win over as the turbo option was retired after only 3,027 were sold for the ’81 model year. The Buick turbo was not intended for performance at this stage in its development. Had Chevy held on until sequential fuel injection was introduced in 1984, the Monte Carlo SS or whatever they might have called it might have stolen some of the Grand National’s fire.

1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Turbo Sport Coupe

1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Turbo Sport Coupe


10 comments on “1980-1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Turbo: The Other Super Sport?

  1. krashman67
    January 5, 2013

    My Girlfriend (now wife) had a 1980 Monte turbo for a few years back in the day, and it did indeed suffer from the dreaded turbo lag. It was basically a mid sized luxury car that came alive on the top end. Nice car, but that engine bay sure was crowded. As I recall, it was comfortable and handled fairly good for its time. While i appreciated the turbo, always wished it had a V-8 instead. The turbo added a bit too much complexity for the added power. Of course the Buick Grand National brought this platform to the next level-wish we had one of those!

  2. Verla
    November 26, 2014

    You have got a serious ability blogging.
    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this!

    • autopolis
      November 27, 2014

      Hey thanks, I was trying to write something about every car I’ve ever liked.

  3. Craig Voigt
    January 18, 2015

    Where can I find a 1980 Monte Carlo hood scope emblem?

    • autopolis
      January 19, 2015

      I would try your local junkyard. Many yards are connected to a national parts search network that might be able to locate the part for and ship it to you.

  4. Dean Ford
    August 14, 2015

    I loved the 1980 Monte Carlo as it was the car I learned how to drive with. I knew every inch of that car and could park it with precision! I am looking for the same model now, if anyone has any leads… cream or “off white” in colour.

  5. Carlos Escamilla
    April 22, 2016

    I have a 1981 montecarlo turbo like new,
    is a nice car

  6. dave smith
    April 24, 2016

    In response to craig voigt looking for a turbo monte hood emblem to buy. I have the turbo scoop with the turbo emblems on it. It is in very good condition. If anyone is interested in buying the scoop and emblems please text 309 721 8104 with any questions

  7. Mercury cougar
    April 21, 2018

    Great post full of useful tips! 

  8. Doug Asmus
    May 16, 2020

    I purchased a 1980 Monte Carlo Turbo Coupe from Tropical Chevrolet in Miami Shores, Fl., new. It was Black with an Orchard (off white) Bucket Seats and a Orchard (off white) vinyl top. It had Wire Wheel Hubcaps and WSW tires. It was a good looking car. After driving the car over 40,000 miles, I took it back to Tropical Chevrolet in Miami Shores, Fl. that the car was hard starting after the engine got warmed up. They could not find anything wrong with it. I took it to a friend of mine who owned a Texaco Station right next door to Tropical Chevrolet and he looked under the hood and saw the turbo engine and he said the problem was the spark plug wires needed to be replaced as back in the day the turbo engine in this car got very hot and after awhile fried the wires. I took it back to Tropical Chevrolet and told them what I learned and they replaced the wires and plugs and did not charge me anything because I brought it to them and they could not figure it out what the problem was. It ran great after that. I wished I still had that car as it was a looker. Doug Asmus in The Villages, Fl

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This entry was posted on January 29, 2012 by in 80's Cars, Chevrolet and tagged , , , , , .


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