Chevrolet Monza


The Chevrolet Monza, introduced for 1975, was basically a Chevrolet Vega dressed for a night at the disco. This article lays out the Monza’s brief but entertaining history.

The Monza used the conservative rear-wheel-drive Vega chassis. But as the pictures in the following pages make clear, the Monza had swoopier bodywork than the Vega. This was especially true of the Monza hatchback with its Ferrari-inspired tail.

Classic Cars Image Gallery

The 1975 Chevrolet Monza 2+2, part of the 1975 Chevrolet Monza line.
The 1975 Chevrolet Monza offered OK performance for
 emissions-strangled 1975. See more pictures of classic cars.

The styling of the Chevrolet Monza was intended to complement the use of an innovative rotary engine. But Chevy shelved that idea amid concerns about the rotary’s relatively high fuel consumption and potential inability to satisfy ever-more-stringent exhaust-emission standards.

So the Chevrolet Monza instead used as its base engine the Vega’s rather anemic four-cylinder but surprised consumers by being one of the few small cars in its class to also offer a V-8 alternative.

Solid but unspectacular described both Monza’s performance and its early sales, which split about evenly between the hatchback and a conventional-roof coupe. By model year 1977, when the former Vega station wagon joined the line rechristened a Monza, sales of the car had begun to shrink. Continuation of V-8 power and several trendy trim themes couldn’t do much to boost overall demand.

Monza’s last model year was 1981, and its demise marked the end of Chevy’s efforts to produce a fun-to-drive rear-wheel-drive subcompact. Just around the corner was the Chevrolet Cavalier, which had front-wheel drive but little of Monza’s sporty spirit.

The 1979 Monza 2+2 Sport, part of the 1979 Chevrolet Monza line.
The Monza 2+2 had an attractive hatchback body style.
This is a 1979 model.

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1975 Chevrolet Monza

The 1975 Chevrolet Monza 2+2 hatchback, part of the 1975 Chevrolet Monza line.
The 1975 Chevrolet Monza 2+2 hatchback
topped the Monza line in price and style.

The 1975 Chevrolet Monza, Chevy's more stylish successor to the Chevrolet Vega, was originally to have a rotary engine. The rotary engine was to be built under license from the German Wankel Company. But that program fizzled due to concerns about fuel economy and emissions. Thus, the 1975 Chevrolet Monza was launched carrying conventional piston engines instead.

The 1975 Chevrolet Monza debuted as a slope-roof hatchback in S and 2+2 trim. Chevrolet described the Monza in the sales brochure as "our new small car." The 1975 Monzas wore rectangular headlights and a slot-style grille in a slanted nose made of resilient urethane.

Not only were they intended to be fun to drive, Monzas were designed for easy loading and economical operation. It added up to a winning formula, at least to Motor Trend, which named the Monza 2+2 its Car of the Year for 1975.

The Chevrolet Monza's base engine was a 140-cubic inch (2.3-liter) four-cylinder borrowed from the Vega and yielding 78 or -- in the 2+2 coupe -- 87 horsepower. Not strong enough? No problem, as Monzas could have a new 110-horsepower 262-cubic inche (4.3-liter) V-8 instead, or even a 125-horsepower 350-cubic inche V-8.

Monzas had radial tires and standard four-speed manual shift. Louvers that graced the B-pillars weren't merely decorative, but assisted in ventilating the interior via a low-speed blower.

Midyear brought a notchback Towne Coupe, which featured single round headlights instead of the 2+2's trend-setting rectangular quad units.

1975 Chevrolet Monza Facts

Model
Weight range (lbs.)
Price range (new)
Number built
Monza
2,675-2,753
$3,570-$3,953
136,203

The 1975 Chevrolet Monza 2+2, part of the 1975 Chevrolet Monza line.
The 1975 Chevrolet Monza 2+2 ran with a
125-horsepower 350-cubic-inch V-8.

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1976 Chevrolet Monza

The 1976 Chevrolet Monza 2+2, part of the 1976 Chevrolet Monza line.
The 1976 Chevrolet Monza was available
with a five-speed manual transmission.

The 1976 Chevrolet Monza got several changes compared to the inaugural 1975 Chevrolet Monza. A 140-horsepower 305-cubic-inch V-8 began to edge aside the 262-cubic-inch V-8 engine as the performance choice. And a five-speed manual gearbox was newly available for both V-8s.

The "Dura-Built" 140-cubic inch four-cylinder, as used in the Chevrolet Vega, got some refinements, including hydraulic lifters that ran quieter and eliminated any need for valve adjustments. The basic four developed 70 horsepower, but two-barrel carburetion upped the rating to 84.

The 19746 Chevrolet Monza was available in two models: the dressy Towne Coupe and the 2+2 hatchback coupe. Total 1976 Monza output came to a modest 80,905 cars.

The coupe outsold the 2+2, and a new formal version of the Monza Towne Coupe debuted for 1975. It had "cabriolet" equipment that included a special vinyl roof and opera-type quarter windows for what Chevrolet called a "very sophisticated, classic look."

A new Spyder package was available for either body. This featured sport equipment that included the 84-horsepower engine, console, larger stabilizer bars, special shocks, and steel-belted radials. A new "stitched" instrument panel pad in 2+2 hatchbacks had woodgrain ornamentation, and the hump between bucket seats was reduced in height. A three-speed gearbox was standard, four-speed optional.

1976 Chevrolet Monza Facts

Model
Weight range (lbs.)
Price range (new)
Number built
Monza
2,625-2,668
$3,359-$3,727
80,905

The 1976 Chevrolet Monza Town Coupe, part of the 1976 Chevrolet Monza line.
The Monza Town Coupe outsold the
2+2 hatchback for 1976, 46,735 to 34,170.

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1977 Chevrolet Monza

The 1977 Monza Spyder package, part of the 1977 Chevrolet Monza line.
The 1977 Monza Spyder package was a
sporty addition to the 1977 Monza series.

The 1977 Chevrolet Monza was highlighted by the addition of a two new options packages, both named Spyder, but one aimed at appearance, the other at performance.

The 1977 Chevrolet Monza Spyder package was actually two distinct entities: one, a $274 performance package; the other a separate $199 deal that was available on hatchbacks only and brought appearance add-ons.

The 1977 Chevrolet Monza also got a special-edition Mirage package, which arrived midyear but lasted only that half-season. The Mirage option mandated white paint and added bolt-on "aero" fiberglass panels, special sport striping, and a sport suspension. The Mirage package was inspired by a modified Monza that competed successfully on the SCCA racing circuit using a high-performance small-block V-8.

The 1977 Chevrolet Monza Towne Coupe now offered a dual-headlamp front end or a Sport variant that copied the 2+2's quad-lamp nose. Towne Coupe rear ends adopted tri-color taillights.

Monza dashboards contained round gauges in a brushed-aluminum instrument panel. An 84-horsepower four-cylinder engine was standard, but many Monzas were ordered with a 145-horsepower 305-cubic-inch V-8 instead. The Cabriolet Equipment group was deleted, but a Cabriolet vinyl roof and opera windows could still be installed.

Production of the 2+2 hatchback beat the Towne Coupe by a modest margin: 39,215 to 34,133. The sales brochure touted Towne Coupes as "smart and sassy," the 2+2 as "precise, agile and confident."

1977 Chevrolet Monza Fact

Model
Weight range (lbs.)
Price range (new)
Number built
Monza
2,580-2,671
$3,560-$3,840
73,348

The 1977 Monza Spyder package, part of the 1977 Chevrolet Monza line.
The 1977 Monza Spyder package included a
rear spoiler,as seen on this 2+2.

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1978 Chevrolet Monza

The 1978 Chevrolet Monza 2+2 coupe, part of the 1978 Chevrolet Monza line.
The 1978 Chevrolet Monza offered new
front-end styling and an expanded lineup.

The 1978 Chevrolet Monza line expanded to include a station wagon, actually a rebadged holdover from the Chevrolet Vega, which ended production after the 1977 model year. Chevy simply grafted a Monza front end onto the old Vega wagon.

The 1978 Chevrolet Monza also gained a new base coupe and 2+2 hatchback with round headlights in an upright front end with a crossbar grille. The final addition was a Sport series with a sloping nose and rectangular headlights.

"Take the wheel, have some fun," the Monza sales brochure advised. The new Spyder 2+2 hatchback in particular promised to fulfill Chevy's claim that it was "a car to quicken your pulse."

There was action underhood, as well, as Chevrolet's sporty subcompacts were available for the first time with V-6 engines. Buyers could choose V-6s of 196 cubic inches (3.2 liters) or a Buick-built unit of 231 cubic inches (3.8 liters). Horsepower was 90 and 105, respectively. The 145-horsepower 305-cubic-inch V-8 remained optional in all but the Vega-based models.

Gone at last was the troublesome aluminum Vega four-cylinder engine. It was replaced by an 85-horsepower Pontiac "Iron Duke" 151-cubic-inch four. This was standard in all models.

Production of the seven Monza models totaled 138,832 cars. The basic coupe and the Sport 2+2 ranked as the most popular body styles, with Estate Wagons being the least popular.

1978 Chevrolet Monza Facts

Model
Weight range (lbs.)
Price range (new)
Number built
Monza
2,643-2,777
$3,622-$4,247
138,832

The 1978 Chevrolet Monza 2+2 coupe, part of the 1978 Chevrolet Monza line.
Production for the 1978 Monza 2+2 coupe was around 65,072.

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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1979 Chevrolet Monza

The 1979 Chevrolet Monza 2+2 Sport, part of the 1979 Chevrolet Monza line.
At $4,624, the unique 1979 Monza 2+2 Sport
was the priciest Monza for this year.

The 1979 Chevrolet Monza linup was trimmed to four models, from seven for the 1978 Monza. Sales, however, climbed to nearly 164,000 cars, compared with 138,832.

The 1979 Chevrolet Monza continued to appeal to first-time car buyers in particular, thanks to prices starting at a reasonable $3,850. Added standard equipment for 1979 helped, too.

"More car," said the sales brochure, and "more kicks." Extra standard features for 1979 included an AM radio, tinted glass, bodyside moldings, and sport steering wheel.

The "S" hatchback was deleted, as were the Estate Wagon and the Sport notchback coupe. Only one Monza kept the sloped Euro-look front end: the 2+2 Sport hatchback. Others had an upright front end with a freshened grille. The Spyder performance package cost $164, the Spyder appearance package added $231.

Powerplants got a little more pep. A more-potent standard 151-cubic-inch (2.5-liter) four-cylinder with a redesigned cross-flow cylinder head and two-barrel carburetor developed 90-horsepower -- five more than in 1978.

Monza buyers could choose from three optional engines: 105-horsepower 196-cubic-inch V-6, 115-horsepower 231 V-6, or 130-horsepower 305 V-8.

All Monzas had a color-keyed instrument panel, and all except the base coupe had a center console. Corrosion protection was improved, too, but the Monza's days were numbered.

1979 Chevrolet Monza Facts

Model
Weight range (lbs.)
Price range (new)
Number built
Monza
2,577-2,676
$3,850-$4,624
163,833

The 1979 Chevrolet Monza 2+2 Sport, part of the 1979 Chevrolet Monza line.
Of the 163,833 Chevrolet Monzas built for
1979, 67,398 were hatchbacks like this.

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1980 Chevrolet Monza

The 1980 Chevrolet Monza, part of the 1980 Chevrolet Monza line.
Production of the Chevrolet Monza
came to a close with the 1980 Monza line.

The 1980 Chevrolet Monza brought down the curtain on the Monza's six-year run, and did it with a truncated lineup.

The 1980 Chevrolet Monza lost its Vega-based wagon variant, reverting to two-door hatchback and notchback coupe body styles. It also lost its V-8 option. That left just the standard 86-horsepower 2.5-liter (151-cubic-inch) "Iron Duke" four-cylinder engine and Buick's 110-horsepower 3.8-liter (231-cubic-inch) V-6 to haul around more than 2,800 pounds of Monza.

As often happened during the mid-1970s and into the 1980s, "paint-on performance" substituted for horsepower, and the Monza hatchback embraced this philosophy though the Spyder package.

Front and rear spoilers and gaudy hood and flank decals certainly made the Spyder look fast. But even with a four-speed manual transmission backing up the 3.8-liter V-6, a Spyder could barely break 16 seconds in the 0-60-mph dash. In fairness, that wasn't terribly slow by 1980 standards. But today, with 0-60 times of under nine seconds not uncommon for even economy cars, it might be branded downright dangerous.

Nevertheless, production of the Chevrolet Monza actually increased slightly in 1980, reaching nearly 170,000 units, up from 163,833. That was not a bad showing for a cramped car with lackluster performance and relatively poor fuel economy.

It was not good enough to save the Monza, however. Chevrolet decided to shelve the antiquated design and let the Chevrolet Camaro and new Chevrolet Citation X-11 absorb whatever was left of the sporty-coupe market.

1980 Chevrolet Monza Facts

Model
Weight range (lbs.)
Price range (new)
Number built
Monza
2,617-2,729
$4,433-$5,186
169,418

The 1980 Chevrolet Monza Coupe, part of the 1980 Chevrolet Monza line.
The Chevy Monza coupe could be ordered
with this dreadful "Cabriolet" roof cover.

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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.