Category Archives: Chevrolet Monte Carlo

Stars, Strikes and the Grandest of Prix

As we noted earlier, when reporting on a cream puffy ’76 Ford Elite, we’re big fans of Dan Epstein’s baseball cum-cultural cypher Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76.

Bicentennial Pon-ton

Bicentennial Pon-ton

Yes, 38 years after Sparky Anderson’s Cincinnati Reds swept the World Series in four straight games, demolishing the Yankees, in the third year of the reign of Steinbrenner with Billy Martin at the helm, there’s a book that puts it all into funky perspective.  So does this stellar, “as is” 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix.  It’s one of the era’s “personal luxury coupes,” on par with Chrysler’s Cordoba, that Ford Elite and Chevy’s Monte Carlo. They all had long hoods, short rear decks for that bicentennial “eleganza” air.  Grand Prix shared its GM A body architecture with Monte Carlo and, in fact,  it was the same platform used to underpin Buick’s Century and Olds Cutlass Supreme.

What a difference a dozen years makes

What a difference a dozen years make

The pillar free hardtop, the most sought-after body style of the ’50’s and ’60’s, as seen in this breathtaking ’64 Grand Prix, was swept into the dustbin of automotive design history. That breezy look was replaced by cars with a fortress-like aspect; the rear windows, etched with decorative scroll work, were fixed in place. GM described the look, set off by frameless side windows and a thick pillar aft the front doors, as  “Colonnade” styling. It’s as much of the (Gerald) Ford era as was Oscar Gamble’s outtasite ‘fro.

“They Don’t Think It Be Like It Is, But It Do”  - Oscar Gamble

“They don’t think It be like it is, but It do” – Oscar Gamble

Feds to lead: get out!

Feds to lead: get out!

This Grand Prix carries a reminder that lead was on the way out of gasoline at that time.  New cars, from ’75 forward, were equipped with catalytic converters, incompatible with that toxic additive that had been poisoining us for decades. ’76: the year we began to breathe easier.

Collonade coupe

Colonnade coupe

Speaking of no-lead, this ’62 Pontiac, badged “Grand Prix,” was caught tanking up the other day but it’s not what it appears to be. Note that Pontiac didn’t offer a Grand Prix convertible in ’62, the first model year for the most sporting full-size Pontiac.  Huh?

Faux Prix

Faux Prix

It’s really a Catalina convertible to which every possible Grand Prix-specific piece of trim, inside and out, has been appended.  It’s a masterful creation, filling a perceived gap in Pontiac’s model line more than a half century after the fact.

We found a ’76 Grand Prix in very impressive condition here for under $10K.  You can’t go wrong with this kind of true personal luxury at a low price like this. I’s the biggest bargain we’ve seen since the Kansas City Royals shelled out a measly $126,000 to pay George Brett’s salary in 1976.  His batting average was .333 the year American celebrated its second century.

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Bicentennial FoMoCo boogie

Elite all reet

Elite all reet!

Right after we encountered a 1976 Ford Elite we got in touch with Dan Epstein, author of Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76. The book is out in a few weeks to coincide with the ramp up of this year’s MLB season.  Stars and Strikes chronicles such performers as Mike Schmidt, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych and George Brett in the context of a remarkable time in sports and cultural history but Dan suggests that a car like this would be driven by a journeyman player from the days before the era of free agency.  He thinks it would be a good fit for Mets’ outfielder John “The Hammer” Milner who hit 10 grand slam home runs over the course of his career but, due to hamstring issues, never achieved superstar status.

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Elite was Ford’s answer to Chevy’s Monte Carlo and Chrysler’s Cordoba and followed the same basic formula of those “personal luxury” coupes: long hood, short deck, rococo interior and de rigueur vinyl top.  Opera windows were all the rage back then and Ford upped the ante with a bifurcated two pane affair that virtually screams “class.”  While the car was based on the mid-size Torino, it was its own model and predicted the direction for the downsized Thunderbird that debuted the following year.

Opera window double down

Opera window double down: let the sun trickle in

No Torino

Torino? NO!

While we’re on the subject of baseball and 1976, check out this Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser wagon of that vintage.  With three rows of seats and easy loading thanks to the “clamshell” glide-away tailgate, it offers room for the starting nine and lots of cargo carrying capacity. By the way, this Olds is, arguably, the very last American car with tail fins, minimal though they were.

Team player

Team player

Speaking of “rich Corinthian leather,” David Less, our Feral Cars man in Memphis, shot this raging red Cordoba just the other day.  That vinyl-topped half roof is the embodiment of “swank” to these bulging eyes.

Rich Corinthian, etc.

Rich Corinthian, etc.

Let’s add another ’76 opera windowed coupe to our Stars and Strikes overview. This Lincoln Continental Mark IV, shot by Feral Cars scout Amy Treco, sports an oval opera window with etched glass plus vinyl roof top corona.  We bet Pete Rose had one just like it.

Mark IV for LXXVI

Mark IV for LXXVI

Dan points out that one of the touchstones of the magic year was the release of The Bad News Bears, starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal. Matthau’s character was Morris Buttermaker,  a boozy ex-minor leaguer turned pool man.  We found a still of his pool equipment-laden ’64 Cadillac convertible, the implication is that driving a twelve year old car back in ’76 branded you as a loser.   A vintage Cadillac makes you a loser?  We beg to differ!

Bad News Cad

Bad News Cad

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Chevy rolled the dice: Monte Carlo

Chevy's broad strokes take on personal luxury

Chevy’s broad strokes take on personal luxury

When Ford’s Thunderbird grew from two-seat roadster to four-place grand tourer in 1958 the car business took note of the market for “the personal luxury coupe.”  Other makes soon fielded entrants into the new sector, some with great aplomb.  Think: 1963-’65  Buick Riviera, ’62-’64 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk, ’63-’64 Pontiac Grand Prix, ’66-’70 Olds Toronado, ’75 – ’79 Chrysler Cordoba. As Jimmy Durante might have suggested, everybody wanted to get into the act.

A Malibu lurks within

A Malibu lurks within

For the 1970 model year, Chevy adapted its mid-size Chevelle platform to do duty as a snooty upscale personal luxury coupe dubbed Monte Carlo, not to be confused with Dodge’s Monaco the nameplate of which dates back to 1965 — so there!   Monte Carlo followed the personal luxury coupe styling convention of long hood, short rear deck, thick C-pillar and vinyl roof, denoting formal, yet sporting, elegance rather than straight-up muscle car macho.

Monte Carlo was a runaway success with sales of over 130,000 the first year, generating significant profits for the company insofar as development costs were minimal thanks to shared architecture with the lesser Chevelle.  The model’s slogan was “At $3123, a lot more car than it has to be.”  The subtext seems to be that Chevy is doing you a favor selling you such a nice Malibu for comparatively little money.

Did Prince Rainier get to skim any of the profits or did he put the touch on Dodge five years earlier?

Did Prince Rainier get to skim any of the profits or did he put the touch on Dodge five years earlier?

Many surviving first generation Monte Carlos have been customized and/or turned into street hopping lowrider cars as in this video.  In light of that reality, we like this minimally messed-with example, finished in Laguna Gray, that we found sans wheel covers.  Not sure about the red outline around the grill that matches the left rear wheel’s sidewall; they didn’t come from the factory this way.

Here’s a must-see commercial from the car’s introduction, wherein government agents harass a hard working paisan because they confuse his new Chevy Monte Carlo with an expensive imported exotic.   It’s a great example of Nixon era paranoia.  Did someone just say “I am not a Malibu”?

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