Muscle Cars You Should Know: Hot Air – The Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe

As a company, Chevrolet has had its share of vehicles that are gone but not forgotten. We ourselves have owned at least 3 Chevrolet products that were hot then but are now only found at hot rod shows. The buying public is a fickle lot, and tastes change over time.

Sometimes, a manufacture will so radically change a model that there is little to no resemblance from what it originally looked like to what it became at the end of its run. But what’s odd about the Chevrolet Monte Carlo is that it was actually pulled from the lineup not once, but twice.

Monte

When the Monte Carlo was debuted in 1970, there were two factions leading the charge at Chevy: the guys who wanted to build muscle cars (the Camaro was selling well as were the various SS badged models) and the luxury car guys. There was still the bigger is better, with opulence, mindset of many. This was mainly because the Cadillac brand was selling well, too.

Chevrolet didn’t dream to make anything resembling a “Cadillac SS” back then. A Cadillac was for cruising to Vegas in. It was for buyers who wanted comfort and style, not necessarily power and performance. That combination of plush and rush was the domain of cars such as Mercedes or the up and coming BWM’s.

You have to love Chevrolet when it comes to the names that they give their cars. They may have been betting they could cover two ideas when they named the Monte Carlo. There is Monte Carlo the iconic F1 race, and there is the Monte Carlo that conjures up visions of hitting the casino dressed in a tux and doing your best James Bond impression. Shaken, not stirred, if you please. It almost makes you think that Chevy was being tongue in cheek.

The first Monte Carlos, however, never seemed to be what you’d exactly call suave. They seemed more like a hockey enforcer. Big, blunt and coming at you full speed.

Monte

But Chevy could, and happily would, make a large-ish car that had a prominent grille, big seats and a big trunk and give it lots of power if someone wanted it. Something that could go head to head with the Dodge Charger or the Ford Galaxie, two other large cars that could be equipped with large engines. We loved that Ford tacked “500” onto the Galaxie hoping someone would think about Indy and correlate the two (As if).

The result was the Monte Carlo, and Monte Carlo SS. The Monte Carlo was typical of the style of car that had a long hood, spacious interiors and enough trunk space to make Tony Soprano giddy. It started out big, and though it got slightly smaller over the years, when put beside a Vega it was considered huge. The Monte Carlo went through 6 Generations of style changes before finally succumbing to history in 2007.

Even though Chevy regarded the car as a mid-sized vehicle, that first year Monte Carlo was a big car (of course all Chevy’s got bigger in 1968-72) that embodied the muscle car mindset but with more of the amenities the everyday driver wanted.

The rumor is that Dave Hollis, Chevy’s chief stylist, gave the Monte Carlo a definite Cadillac look and feel to it in an effort to be more things to more people. With available engine choices ranging from a 350ci “Turbo-Fire” all the way to the SS-equipped 360hp, 454ci “Turbo-Jet,” the power was there to be had. And due to the sheer size of the thing (the 2-door models had a 112-inch wheelbase and weighed a couple of tons) the cars were very stable at high speeds.

Monte

So it was no surprise that NASCAR teams took a liking to the Monte Carlo. From 1972 to 1980, what many call NARCAR’s “Golden Years”, the Chevrolet based NASCAR teams used the aforementioned handling traits of the Monte Carlo to put their guys out front. It was perfectly sized to fit a full cage into and still have room for the cigarette lighter. It could take a bumping and give as well as it got. Who can forget Dale Sr. and the blue and yellow Wrangler car, taking win after win? It was in a Monte Carlo that he earned the “Intimidator” moniker.

One place where the Monte Carlo was never tops was with airflow characteristics. The cars started out as a big grilled Caddy wannabe and got even more squared off over the years.

During this time, NASCAR learned that there was something called a wind tunnel but the last few incarnations of the Monte Carlo had more styling cues in common with a hood ornament-equipped shoebox than anything else. But Chevy had the answer.

07

That answer was the Aerocoupe. Part of the fourth-generation (1981-88) of Monte Carlo’s, the Aerocoupe was an available option in 1986 and 1987, and that seemed to be more of a way to keep the NASCAR guys in play than an actual offering to the public.

NASCAR required that the cars on the track at least had to look like the cars on the road, but the teams were modifying not only the grille (making it shorter), but also the rear window and trunk/spoiler area to get better airflow. Only 200 of the Aerocoupe cars were produced that first year; exactly the number NASCAR requires for a car body design to be legal. Hmmmm.

But what’s good for the Intimidator is good for everyone, right? Surprisingly, the Aerocoupe never really caught on but “why” is the question. It may have been that Chevy only offered the 1986 version of the car with a white exterior coupled with a burgundy interior. Yes, you read that right: only in white with a burgundy interior. Talk about going “all in” with a design idea! That color scheme may have flown in 1974 but for ’86? It was almost like they didn’t want to sell them.

mcac06That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a hardcore group of Aerocoupe owners/collectors that doesn’t find the combination alluring if not downright sexy. For many, these cars are sought after items not only because they are different than the other Monte’s out there, but because they are as close to a real NASCAR as we mere mortals are likely to get.

But to get close, you will need to have some expendable income. According to sites such as www.montecarloss.com/86Aerocoupe.html and www.classiccarcommunity.com, a nicely restored Monte Carlo Aerocoupe can set you back a minimum of $10,000. That’s not all that unreasonable when taken in the context of what other period (and earlier) muscle cars are going for.

In fact, $10,000 for a sweet Aerocoupe may be considered a bargain when considering what some other muscle cars are going for, and with the Aerocoupe you will be getting a car that NASCAR racers considered the best that the time had to offer.

 

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The Aerocoupe may have been an answer to a very limited question, but it was a question being asked by very important guys. Chevy wanted to keep their NASCAR teams and drivers happy, and they wanted to keep winning races. The ’80s may have been the last time you could buy a car that actually looked like what the racers were driving, and at that time Chevrolet was all about “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

We miss those days, but thanks to cars like the Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe, we can still remember them fondly.

About the author

Matt Emery

As an editor of Drive! and Classic Trucks magazines and staff editor on titles such as Dirt Sports, Off Road, and 4 Stroke Dirt Bikes, Matt Emery at one or another covered everything from the Baja 1000 to NASCAR, NHRA to the Bonneville salt flats and the Easter Jeep Safari to motocross. He now freelances to the Power Automedia online publications, among his many ventures.
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