Home » The Chevy Monza Mirage Proved That Riveting A Bunch Of Plastic To A Crap Car Just Makes It A Crap Car With A Bunch Of Plastic Riveted To It: Glorious Garbage

The Chevy Monza Mirage Proved That Riveting A Bunch Of Plastic To A Crap Car Just Makes It A Crap Car With A Bunch Of Plastic Riveted To It: Glorious Garbage

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As we endeavor to document the Glorious Garbage cars of the world, certain themes become evident. By far the most prominent connecting thread of these various cars, all glorious and all garbage, is the thread of being all show and no go. All filler, no killer, writing checks your butt can’t cash, all that sort of thing. Cars effectively wearing the costume of a more potent and capable vehicle are perhaps the most tried-and-true formula for entry into the Glorious Garbage tribe, and today’s entry fits this concept with delirious precision: the Chevrolet Monza Mirage.

Starting off as a steaming pile, the Monza Mirage version takes inspiration from a truly impressive race car and transforms that steaming pile into a steaming pile with big plastic crap stuck to it. And stripes. Let’s dig in.

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To understand the Monza Mirage, we need to first understand the two cars that, well, not really combined so much as one kind of tainted the other? Contaminated? Infected? I’m not sure. The first car was, of course, the Chevy Monza, the first car Chevy built with dual rectangular sealed-beam headlamps.

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Oh but there was more to the Monza than dual rectangular sealed-beam headlights, if you can imagine that! It was a car kind of doomed from the start, being a derivative of  one of GM’s biggest embarrassments, the Chevy Vega. Like the Vega, they were actually quite attractive cars, but also like the Vega, they kinda sucked. For what they were – conventionally-engineered rear-wheel drive cars that could have a V8 – they came too late for the muscle car era, instead being birthed into the cruel world of the fuel crisis, where whatever power they could have made was sacrificed on the altar of half-assed pollution controls, and more often than not came with the sad but earnest Iron Duke four-banger.

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GM had bigger dreams, though, with plans for an NSU-sourced rotary under the hood, sharing the same doomed dream as AMC with their rotary Pacer plans that also never came to be.

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They did look pretty good, especially the fastback body style with its big hatch, but these weren’t great to drive, they weren’t particularly efficient, the build quality was phoned-in at best, and overall they were fantastic cars for being an overworked person in the late 1970s and having, say, a heater control knob come off in your hand, causing you to just sit there, staring blankly at the gaps in your ill-fitting dashboard, wondering why life had to be so goddamn hard all the time and why couldn’t you just once feel really loved and what happened to the America you were promised and then before you know it, you’re sobbing and you just can’t bear to drive back to your empty apartment and prepare to go through all this yet again tomorrow. You just can’t.

The marketing for the Monza included such things as floating heads telling you things that just weren’t true, like how the Monza represented the car of tomorrow. Because it very much did not. The ones with the goofy jingles were a bit better:

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Overall, pretty grim, right? Well, it wasn’t all that bad. The Monza design was appealing enough that it became the basis for a “silhouette”-type of race car: a bespoke tube-frame chassis that bore the look of a production car like the Monza. That car was the IMSA GT Chevy Monza, and it was no joke. Here’s how Hemmings describes these cars:

Spearheading the effort was DeKon Engineering and its fleet of chassis built by racing legend Horst Kwech and Lee Dykstra. Each of the DeKon racers left the shop with a fabricated A-arm front suspension, four-link Panhard bar rear, 17-inch tires, a Ford 9-inch rear with an aluminum center section, a four-speed transmission and a Chevrolet 6.0L V-8 capable of 570hp. Of the 17 chassis assembled (chassis #1013 was not built), all but three were dressed with removable skin based on a production Monza.

These things ate Porsches on a bun with brown mustard and washed it down with the driver’s beer. They looked and sounded incredible; see for yourself:

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Fantastic, right? As you can imagine, Chevy saw an opportunity here to have an IMSA Monza-inspired street car version. To do this, they hired British Overseas Racing Team (BORT) from Grand Rapids, Michigan to design a kit of parts that could be added to normal production Monzas to evoke the IMSA Monza. Then, Michigan Auto Techniques Corporation (MAT) was hired to actually make the parts.

Really, the more you think about this, the stranger it all is: Chevy made a race car that was effectively wearing a Chevy Monza costume, and now they wanted to make a costume for the Monza so it looked like the race car. There’s some strange ouroboros shit going on there.

The parts that MAT ended up making were as follows, with fenders made of injection-molded polyurethane plastic and pop-riveted to the body:

  • Front fenders (2 pc.)
  • Rear fenders (2 pc.)
  • Front spoiler (3 pc.)
  • Rear spoiler (1 pc.)
  • Extrusions and end caps (6 pc.)
  • Decals and striping (17 pc.)
  • Blacked-out headlight and lower front grille openings

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So, if you wanted to get a Monza Mirage, you had to order a white Monza 2+2 hatchback, then get the dealer to order all of the Mirage body crap, which they would rivet and sticker on.

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That was it! There were no actual performance upgrades offered to back up those wide fenders and patriotic stripes! You could have one of these with a three-speed automatic transmission and the base 2.3-liter inline-four that made all of 70 horsepower, granting yourself the dizzying joy of driving a very aggressive-looking (from, you know, 20 feet away) race car with a worse power-to-weight ratio than a stock VW Beetle.

Of course, you could order it with a four- or five-speed manual transmission and the biggest V8 available, the five-liter with the two-barrel carb, but even then it’s still the mid-1970s and you’re looking at about 140 hp. We’re still very much in the all-show, no-go camp here.

 

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Of course, plenty of carmakers had their looks-fast-but-that’s-it cars, but what really pushes the Monza Mirage into Glorious Garbage territory is just how half-assed all the add-on bits actually looked and felt.

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From a distance, the overall package looked pretty good! But as you got closer, it was pretty obvious it was all big chunky plastic stuck on the car, and the plastic trim that hid the lines of rivets somehow drew more attention to the afterthought nature of the whole thing. Plus, as you can imagine, those riveted plastic chunks were perfect rust traps, which means if you actually manage to find one of the 4,000 or so Mirages actually made, it’s likely going to look like this:

Barnfound Mirage

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That’s a Monza Mirage seen in a BarnFinds ad, and you can see the iron oxidelightful results of slapping water-trapping plastic outer shells on your car, especially on that rear fender area up there in the lower right picture.

I’ve gone on a lot about the Garbage aspect here, but I don’t want to neglect the Glory, because it is there. The Monza was, without question, one of the better car designs of the 1970s, and the wide-fendered version definitely has appeal.

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If you had one of these today, in reasonably good shape, you’d make most healthy, well-adjusted humans smile at least a little when they laid eyes on this. It’s such an artifact of an era, all full of (maybe forced) Bicentennial optimism and brash charm. It’d be a pretty easy car to drive and live with, once you dispelled the idea that you’d be winning any pink slips at stop lights, because who cares? It’s got that blood-red interior and it velourishly comfortable and you know whoever drives this thing has some fun stories to tell and is down to have a good time, because how could they not?

So, with that in mind, I’m happy to welcome the Monza Mirage into the Glorious Garbage fold. It’s a steaming pile, sure. But a steaming pile of fun.

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David Hollenshead
David Hollenshead
5 months ago

The Chevy Monza is a hard car to find since they will accommodate a Chevy 350 and came with an available manual transmission & rear wheel drive. Most of the remaining Monza’s are either an automatic drag racer or a manual trans performance car even with the stock 305 V8 or a modified V6. The fastest wheel driven car at Bonneville for many years was a Chevy Monza V8 based car. Of course the rivet on panels was just trash, but some of the cars that were forced to wear it were not trash underneath…

Doug Schaefer
Doug Schaefer
9 months ago

I dailied a 1980 Monza from 1986 to 1992. It was crap.

The clutch was cable operated and the cable was poorly made. It would get water inside and rust, slowly getting stiffer. Eventually the force required was more than the firewall attachment could take and the firewall would tear and you’d have no clutch. Repair was replacing the cable and welding the firewall.

The curve of the body meant that GM installed the upper hinge pins from the bottom up. Evidently they didn’t cover gravity at GM engineering schools. GM also went cheap with hinges welded to the door and body and replaceable pins and bushings. Bushings were cheaply spec’d too and wore fairly quickly and when they did, your upper hinge pin would fall out while driving. Then you couldn’t get out of the car, you had to ask your girlfriend to get out first and you’d have to crawl out the passenger side. (She still married me and we’ve been together almost 32 years.)

The timing gear was plastic and failed on freeway on the weekend in rural NW Ohio. Somehow I found a mechanic to fix it and I kept going on home.

At the end it had some kind of wiring fault that meant the starter would keep cranking after the engine started and that led to a couple of minor engine fires. I drove it for a few months by parking on a hill and roll starting it. Living in Cincinnati that was relatively easy to do. I sold it to a guy who was going to give it to his wife. I wonder if they’re still married.

Still, they were good looking and above average handlers for the time. It was garbage, but I kinda miss it and want another one.

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