The 1966 Dodge Monaco attempted to improve on the impressive debut of its predecesssor. Senior Dodges in general received a tasty facelift for 1966. The lower bodyside ridge now carried up and over the front wheel well to newly pointed fenders with taller bumper ends. The barbell grille was wider at the ends and narrower in the middle, squeezed by a new hood and bumper. Slim, vertical die-cast grille bars had a "blip" in the center, forming a subtle bright horizontal accent (as on the Charger). Designed by Dick Clayton and Carl Cameron, this classy front was typical of their work: well handled forms combined with precise detailing.
Out back, new decklid and taillight designs formed an intriguing series of broken planes, the work of Frank Ruff. The lamps were still wedges outboard of the trunklid, but tapered in toward the middle of it, where a body-color panel carried DODGE or MONACO in tall, thin letters (designed by Cameron).
Each inboard taillight section comprised two horizontal concavities. Polaras filled these with bright, vertically textured die castings. Monacos again used red lenses, only this time, thanks in part to Ruff's efforts, everything lit up to create a readily identifiable nighttime signature. With this, the senior Dodges had "barbell" graphics at each end, a nice touch not widely appreciated at the time.
In 1966, all the top-line big Dodges bore the Monaco name. Granted, Monaco had more romance to it than Custom 880, but this move only diluted the image of the 1965 specialty hardtop, which was lamely relabelled as the Monaco 500 for 1966. It was another last-minute decision, made sometime between April 23 and May 20, 1965.
Equally puzzling, the Custom convertible and six-window sedan departed along with that name. This left a "regular" Monaco line with a four-window sedan, two- and four-door hardtops, and two- and three-seat wagons priced from $3,033 to $3,539. The 500 started at $3,604.
Engine choices were also rearranged. Standard power for regular Monacos was a two-barrel 383 with 270 bhp. This was also a no-cost option on the 500, which otherwise came with a four-barrel 325-bhp premium-fuel version that was optional on lesser Monacos. Available for all big Dodges was Chrysler's biggest V-8 yet, the new high-performance wedgehead 440. Curiously, it rated only 350 bhp in Dodges, 15 fewer than in comparable Plymouths and Chryslers.
The new regular Monacos were not hastily rebadged Customs (which would have had Polara taillights, by the way). Rather, they were upgraded to some trim and features originally planned for the "real" Monaco -- things like a bright die-cast hood windsplit, stand-up "fratzog" hood ornament, and those impressive red taillights. Trouble was, this only further blurred distinctions between the specialty hardtop and other 1966 Monacos.
According to retired Dodge design manager Bob Gale, the Monaco 500 narrowly missed out on being more exclusive. Chrysler planners and stylists had created a new two-door hardtop roof for the 1966 Chrysler 300, with wraparound C-pillars and a smaller backlight. This was offered to Dodge, but according to a still-incredulous Gale, "Bill Brownlie turned it down. He didn't think it looked as good as the Dodge roof!"
With all this, the big sports-luxury Dodge quickly lost its special status, becoming a sort of upmarket Polara 500 (but with no convertible option). This demotion was a by-product of ousting Custom 880 for the more saleable Monaco name, which wasn't a bad idea.
After all, Chrysler had done the same thing with good success by replacing Saratogas with non-letter 300 models for 1962. But the 300 label had been around seven years at that point and had a strong performance image, whereas Monaco had no "hot car" reputation and was "traded down" after only one year.
Learn more about the most exclusive 1966 Dodge Monaco, the Monaco 500, on the next page.