Welcome to another edition of the Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage, where we discover cars that were never really thought of as Muscle Cars, and to try and change your mind about them. In the mid 70′s the Muscle Car was all but dead, or was it? Chevrolet introduced a new compact rear-wheel drive car in 1971 called the Vega. Now, a lot has been written about what a piece of crap the Vega turned out to be, and I can’t dispute that. However, the chassis designed for the Vega was pretty good, and when properly tweaked, it could be a champ. So GM produced a sexy little brawler using the chassis of the Vega, incorporated some design influence from Ferrari, dusted off a name last used on the Corvair, and dropped in an optional V-8. But is it a Muscle Car? Let’s find out if the Chevy Monza belongs in the Garage.
The Chevrolet Monza 2+2 was originally offered as a 2-door hatchback body style which was shared with the Oldsmobile Starfire and Buick Skyhawk. The Monza was 4 inches longer and weighed 180 pounds more than the Vega from which it was derived. There are reports that it was nicknamed the Italian Vega by John Z. DeLorean (yes, that John DeLorean) because styling has a strong resemblance to the Ferrari 365 GTC/4. The Monza 2+2 and its variants were among the first cars to adopt the newly approved quad rectangular headlamps. Monza’s standard engine was the Vega 2.3 liter aluminum-block inline 4-cylinder with a single barrel carburetor, generating 78 horsepower with an optional 2-barrel carburetor version that generated 87 horsepower. That doesn’t sound like a lot of power, but Chevrolet’s new 4.3 liter (262 cid) V-8 engine was optional. It featured a Rochester 2-barrel carburetor that would generate 110 horsepower. Monzas sold in California and high altitude areas of the U.S. were available with a version of the 5.7 liter (350 cid) V-8 engine with a 2-barrel carburetor tuned to put out 125 hp.
Both of these engines could now be made into performance powerhouses, with the help of mods such as 4-barrel carburation and free-flowing headers. Or you could just install a crate engine with EFI. Remember, the reason they generated such low horsepower ratings back then was due to the newly enacted emission regulations, lower octane gasoline, and brand new catalytic converters that were never on the market before 1975.
The 1975 Monza 2+2 and its variants feature GM’s first use of a torque arm rear suspension, also adopted for the 1975 Cosworth Vega that was introduced mid-1975, and later, all 1976-77 Vegas and Astres. The design was also incorporated into GM’s third and fourth generation F-bodies, Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, so these cars could be made to handle their way around a road course.
Production of the Chevrolet Monza for the 1975 model year totaled 66,615 (with 41,658 equipped with 4-cylinder engines and 24,957 equipped with V-8s). The Chevrolet Monza 2+2 also won Motor Trend magazine’s “Car of the Year” award for 1975. In 1976, we saw the introduction of Chevrolet’s new 5.0 liter (305 cid) V-8 engine with a 2-barrel carburetor generating 140 horsepower at 3800 rpm. It replaced the previous 350 CID (5.7 liter) V-8, but only for California and high altitude customers. Again, the 305 could be made into a real performance bargain.
The Monza Spyder option package was first introduced in 1976. It featured a 2-barrel carburetor version of the 4-cylinder engine as standard (with the V-8 as an option), a floor console, F41 suspension with larger front and rear stabilizer bars, special shock absorbers, and appearance features that distinguished it from other Monzas. The Spyder nameplate was originally used to designate the 1962-1964 Corvair turbocharged model. From 1977 through 1979, the 305 V-8 was the only V8 offered.
The 1977 Monza Mirage was produced by Michigan Auto Techniques, an aftermarket company contracted by GM. The Mirage was painted white, with red and blue racing stripes running the length of the car. It also featured flared body panels and a special air dam and spoiler. The vehicles were built in GM’s St. Therese plant and sent to Michigan Auto Techniques for modification, after which they would ship completed cars to the dealer. There were approx 4,097 Mirages made from MAT. This is a wild package if ordered with a V-8!
The V-8 was offered in Monza 2+2 Coupes until 1979, when the Buick V-6 became the only optional engine offered in the line. So I have to ask: is the Chevy Monza 2+2 with the V-8 an Obscure Muscle Car, and is it worthy of the Parking Lot, or should it just be an anemic member of the Vega Family? Let me know, and debate away!