Home » The Final Chevrolet Monte Carlo Looked Faster Than It Was: GM Hit Or Miss

The Final Chevrolet Monte Carlo Looked Faster Than It Was: GM Hit Or Miss

2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Topshot
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The Pontiac Vibe was brilliant, right? Practical, well-priced, and generally reliable, it was a joy to cover for the last GM Hit or Miss. There’s just one problem — it’s really a Toyota underneath. So, let’s get back on track with something as GM as a Chevrolet with a bigass number three on the side. Yep, it’s the final Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Welcome back to GM Hit or Miss, where we jump in the pool of GM’s pre-bankruptcy product planning in an attempt to find a spot where the temperature’s just dandy.

1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

When it was first launched for 1970, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo was the peak of American personal luxury. It was long, potent, and poised for the open highway. Over the next 16 model years, the Monte Carlo would continue to be a strong seller in the marketplace, trading on traditional body-on-frame rear-wheel-drive construction and a balance between comfort and muscle. It was Chevrolet’s NASCAR Winston Cup entry, and it carried a distinct vibe of win on Sunday, sell on Monday. By 1987 though, the G-Body platform underneath the Monte Carlo had grown long in the tooth and was due for replacement. After a few years of essentially nothingness, out of the ether came a downsized, front-wheel-drive everyday family coupe. Its name? Lumina.

Lumina Z34

Alright, so Lumina isn’t the most evocative name in the automotive kingdom, but the Lumina coupe was a reasonably attractive car, especially in Z34 form. More importantly, it was built on GM’s W-Body platform, with advanced technologies like transverse leaf spring rear suspension, unibody construction, and available anti-lock brakes. Okay, so that does make it sound like America was living in the dark ages for a while, but the fuel crisis Malaise hangover was Four Loko-levels of potent. While the Lumina silhouette kept racing in NASCAR and cars kept rolling out of showrooms, something was missing: Brand equity.

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1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

In 1994, Chevrolet announced that it was bringing the Monte Carlo name back from the dead for what was effectively the second-generation Lumina coupe. It was a great use of brand equity that sold well enough, but something about it was always missing in my eyes. While the Lumina was angular and rakish, the Monte Carlo that immediately followed was bloated and blobby. The high-output 3.4-liter LQ1 V6 was a rev-happy marvel for the time, but the car as a whole felt largely forgettable, and that’s not what a Monte Carlo should be. For the next round, things were different.

2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 1

The people in charge of the final Monte Carlo took hefty swigs of Budweiser and issued a directive: Make it look like a goddamn NASCAR. With that directive in mind, Wayne Cherry and his team sculpted a roof, hood, and decklid so cup car-like that the actual race cars used street car sheetmetal, then carved out some Scalloped fenders as a throwback to the Colonnade cars. When the 2000 Monte Carlo rolled onto the auto show floor, it looked like it was ready for ‘Dega.

2000 Monte Carlo Ls Profile

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However, the bits underneath were geared more for bingo than for wheel-to-wheel brawling. Base models came with the 3.4-liter LA1 V6 from a Chevrolet Venture minivan churning up Dexron through a 4T65E four-speed automatic gearbox. Except it wasn’t exactly the same V6 as in the corporate minivan because the Venture was more powerful, making 185 horsepower and 215 lb.-ft. of torque to the Monte Carlo’s 180 horsepower and 210 lb.-ft. Yep. Needless to say, the base model wasn’t quick.

2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Ss 1

[Editor’s Note: These headlights always reminded me of Kermit the Frog‘s pupils. – JT]

Stepping up to the SS model swapped that weedy 3.4 out for a 3.8-liter naturally aspirated V6 making 200 horsepower and 225 lb.-ft. of torque. That seems alright in a vacuum, but then you learn that Car And Driver was only able to pull a zero-to-60 time of 8.6 seconds out of it. This means that the quickest original version of Chevrolet’s early-aughts racing-look coupe could be out-dragged to 60 mph by *checks notes* a Toyota Echo. Ever seen a badger bully a lion before?

2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Lineup

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Perhaps Car And Driver’s test car was a dog as other publications managed better figures, but that doesn’t mean that other outlets didn’t want more under the hood. In October 1999, Automobile magazine wrote that “with its legendary name and its strong NASCAR association, the Monte Carlo deserves better.”

2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Ss 3

 

While it’s initial straight-line deficit was disheartening, maybe the Monte Carlo made up for it in other ways. Perhaps the relative rigidity of the W-body platform compared to many other mass-market large coupes of the time paid off in handling or something. Nope. As Car And Driver put it during a three-car comparison test with the Dodge Stratus coupe and Ford Mustang GT:

Comfortable? Yes. Roomy? Yes, tops in this group. Solid? No question, arguably the best in this threesome. But sporty? Sorry. This car is as frisky and fun-loving as an Arthur Andersen accountant.

It’s a shame because the old rear-wheel-drive Monte Carlo SS models were willing to indulge in hooliganism. In fact, Car And Driver described the 1985 Monte Carlo SS as a vehicle that “offers its driver a nicely balanced portfolio of acceleration, braking and handling, and NASCAR style.” It’s easy to see why, given how that 1985 model dashed to 60 mph eight-tenths of a second quicker than the front-wheel-drive SS and carried an armpit hair more lateral acceleration on the skidpad. Still, that didn’t stop Chevrolet from building special edition Monte Carlos with explicit ties to NASCAR drivers.

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2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Ss Dale Earnhardt Signature Edition

First came the 2002 Dale Earnhardt Signature Edition with its contrasting lip kit, Intimidator badges, and number 3 on each side. As corny as that sounds, it united America in a time of crisis, much like Creed at the 2001 Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving halftime show. Following this up would be no easy task, but the 2003 Jeff Gordon Signature Edition holds a certain appeal of its own, with blue ghost flames saying everything you really need to know about the early 2000s.

1997 Pontiac Grand Prix Gtp

The naturally-aspirated 3800’s status as the top engine felt even more insulting when you realize that Pontiac had a supercharged 240-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 in its Grand Prix GTP for years, and that thing was a scorcher. Motor Trend ran zero-to-60 in 6.6 seconds in a 1997 Grand Prix GTP and described it as having “the surplus power of a Titan IV booster.” The supercharged 3800 was a sledgehammer of a V6, but it took its sweet time to arrive in the Monte Carlo. In fact, the supercharged motor wouldn’t show up until 2004, at which point the family-sized speed war had kicked into high gear. If that supercharged motor had rocketry in reserve, the Nissan Altima 3.5 SE was packing a scramjet, vaporizing its front tires in pursuit of a sub-six-second zero-to-60 time.

2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 1

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For 2006, things got weirder and better. The Monte Carlo gained the headlights and hood from the then-new ninth-generation Chevrolet Impala, a new front bumper cover, and new fenders blending everything together. Look, it wasn’t the prettiest facelift of all time, but what laid under the skin was more important.

2008 Impala 3.5 L Engine With Cover

The weedy 3.4-liter base V6 was replaced by a 3.5-liter unit that took output up to 211 horsepower and 214 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s more horsepower than the naturally-aspirated 3.8-liter V6 made, so a 3.9-liter V6 with 242 horsepower and 242 lb.-ft. of torque was next up in the 2006 lineup. Once again, that’s more horsepower than the old supercharged 3800 V6 made (but less torque) without the complexity of a blower, which meant that GM needed something special as a range-topper. How about a V8?

2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Ss

Yes, six model years into its production run, the final Monte Carlo got its muscle back. The 5.3-liter LS4 V8 in the 2006 SS model pumped out 303 horsepower and 323 lb.-ft. of torque, leaning on a set of W-rated Goodyear tires to dash from zero-to-60 in six seconds flat during Motorweek testing. It also may have been a little too much muscle for the 4T65E-HD gearbox, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

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2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Ss 2

Unfortunately, the V8-powered Monte Carlo SS’ lifespan was cut short when Chevrolet pulled the plug on the entire Monte Carlo nameplate after the 2007 model year. After all, Chevrolet had a new coupe coming and this town wasn’t big enough for both a front-wheel-drive Monte Carlo and the Zeta platform fifth-generation Camaro.

2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Ss Rear

As underwhelming as the final Monte Carlo was, I can’t hate it completely. It gave NASCAR parents something to be excited about, a little slice of Dale for their Monday-through-Friday commutes. It also marked the absolute end of the personal luxury coupe, even if there wasn’t anything massively luxurious about the final Monte Carlo. Despite mostly being a sheep in wolf’s clothing, it was a hit, and proof that sometimes people will sacrifice a little bit of practicality for a whole lot of style. Sadly, it’s also a case of Joni Mitchell’s age-old tale: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” Looking around at the automotive landscape in 2023, semi-practical mass-market large coupes are basically gone. No more Accord Coupe, no more Camry Solara, definitely no Monte Carlo, and even the Dodge Challenger is living on borrowed time. Oh well, the way the winds of change shift and all that.

(Photo credits: Chevrolet, Pontiac, Mecum, VX1NG – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

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Rafiology
Rafiology
10 months ago

This car is so badly proportioned, it could easily be an El Camino. The rear is too long and the bulging headlights do it no favours. Shoving a V8 in it was the last gasp of a dying behemoth.

Ariel E Jones
Ariel E Jones
10 months ago

The 2000 Monte Carlo, in my opinion was quite possibly one of the ugliest cars unleashed upon the American public. Like, ever angle, proportion, styling gimmick, was just, WRONG. I can’t imagine who signed off on the clay model, like, “Hell yeah. She’s, a beauty.” Further, it’s named after a race and it’s a complete turd. It’s not like some car that’s not really your style but you have to give it grudging respect for walking the walk. Like, “Yeah, she ain’t purty, but she’s all ate up with motor and runs like a raped ape.” No. Complete turd. Acceleration, handling, finesse. You name it. Build quality, turd. Turd.
Turd.

ScottyB
ScottyB
11 months ago

The post-Lunima MC which was really just a Lumina, was pretty sad, except for that one design cycle where the front and year styling were a few seasons apart, then it was hysterical.

A neighbor of mine has one now, and it has rust hole over near the rear wheel wheel big enough for a cat to crawl though.

Nick Owens
Nick Owens
11 months ago

I’ve always hated this car, and no amount of weak nostalgia for it will change that.

The first couple model years had such terrible fit and finish that they -all- had a misaligned crease between the door and the fender. They were off by enough that you could see it in traffic.

What an utter, unlovable turd.

Last edited 11 months ago by Nick Owens
Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
11 months ago

DID it look fast, though? I always thought these looked cartoonish and confused.

I still gotta respect the Dale and Dale Jr. versions, though. Raise hell, praise Dale.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
11 months ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

The ones equipped with the supercharged 3.8 were actually ok performers, and I dig the Intimidator edition. The funny thing is that I nominated the ‘04 Intimidator edition as a grail 30 mins after this story was published. They only made 4000 of them.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
11 months ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Yeah besides the boxed tail recalling a winston cup car the rest is a weird mashup of nods to ’70s baroque styling cues and bland ’90s Lumina references. And those godawful headlights. Which is kind of a bummer because by itself the boxed tail was cool and unique but the rest of it lacked any cohesive design language-of course maybe part of the problem was trying to style a car to look like a race series that IIRC was just a silhouette series by the late ’90s. Leaving no real reference for inspiration since under the headlight stickers they were all the same car. And agreed I don’t think anyone who didn’t already a Monte Carlo fanboy looked at these and thought they were fast.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
11 months ago

I never liked the styling of this gen of Monte Carlo… frankly the 2 door Lumina versions of the 90s looked far better.

However… calling them slower than they looked isn’t really a fair headline.

That’s kinda like saying that 1971 challengers were slower than they looked because they could be had with a 3.2L slant six making 105-125hp…

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
11 months ago

There are exactly two versions of this car around me in Southeast Michigan: Immaculate garage queens that have clearly been loved from day 1 and decrepit shitboxes with gaping rust holes and wheels that all sit at different cambers. They either get doted on like a Boomer’s C5 or they wind up as heaps that only stay on the road because Michigan doesn’t do safety inspections. I can’t think of another car quite like that.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
11 months ago

I hate these things. All stickers, no go, and just godawful design. The kermit headlights don’t have anything to do with anything else on the car, the taillights looked like those were designed by a totally different team, the rear bumper and decklid look melted and distorted, and then when they were done with the car they realized they forgot reverse lights, so they grabbed some generic ones and slapped them around the plate.

This is, in my opinion, one of the ugliest cars of all time, and the absolute gold standard for terrible automotive design.

Der Foo
Der Foo
11 months ago

I almost bought one of the faux SS models. My local Chevy dealer had ordered some that had the regular V6 (not 3.8L) with the SS ‘appearance’ package. Everything was regular Monte, but with SS badges and seat stitching.

What killed the deal, thank God, was that during the price negotiation, the salesman was scribbling numbers on a blank sheet of paper, then pushing the paper over to me and saying “Just sign on the page and you got yourself a new car.” I could see that once I signed, they would pick the highest number on the page and try to make me stick to the “Buyer’s Agreement”, if you could call it that. Plus, they had two big salesmen blocking the opening to the cubical. Finally we ‘agreed’ to $21,000, but the salesman added three floating “o” below the price, effectively making it look like it could be $21,888. He wouldn’t rewrite the numbers and got all sorts of offended. I got up and tried to leave, but the linebackers didn’t move. After yelling some bad words at them and attracting some attention, they parted and I left, never to return.

That dealership was known as the Monster Truck Chevy dealer because their radio advertisements sounded just like monster truck racing commercials, but with different words being said.

Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
11 months ago

I always chuckled at this vehicles name. It’s like the total opposite of what comes to mind when I think about Monte Carlo the location.

Cyko9
Cyko9
11 months ago

I was always a little confused, too. Like it was supposed to be luxury, but the look was middle class muscle. Which kinda worked, but if you wanted a modern Grand National, you weren’t getting it in this car.

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
11 months ago

Also see: Buick Park Avenue, driven by exactly nobody who lives on Park Avenue.

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
11 months ago

There are few cars I like less than that final Monte Carlo. Yuck, ugly in every conceivable way.

I’ve seen a million kermit-eyed examples a la Torch’s description, but I can’t recall ever seeing the refreshed face before. But maybe I didn’t bother to notice.

Marc Miller
Marc Miller
11 months ago

What about a first-generation Monte Carlo with the 454? Pass anything but a gas station?

Anthony Buford
Anthony Buford
11 months ago

Notice the biggest critcs of these Never drove or owned them. Besides being unkillable, I thought they were stylish, solid cars. I dove a 2000’s for many years.
Only needed AC/heater fan, water pump, tires, brakes. All changed by myself. There are still many around when I don’t see many other GM’s from this era, outside of
5/6th owner trashed Pontiacs. No regrets!

Cerberus
Cerberus
11 months ago

It’s too bad sales didn’t support the argument for another gen based on the Zeta platform, though the preceding lackluster junk certainly didn’t help. That said, they seemed to sell well for at least a little while. A guy I had gone to elementary school with who had his own martial arts studio (or I should write it “martial arts” as he’s a pathological liar and it later turned out that he made up all his qualifications, such as they might have been) had one he thought was pretty badass. My 2.3 Mazda3 would have smoked it. He later wrapped it around a tree, drunk, and a year or so after that, a woman he had imprisoned in his apartment and tortured for months escaped and he was arrested. He’s still got probably 8-10 left on his sentence.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
11 months ago

I saw these all over in the ’00’s. Never saw the point. But they clearly sold well enough for GM. When the muffler went they could be identified by the sound. Those 3400’s never sounded good IMO.

Aron9000
Aron9000
11 months ago

These were such hot trash when they came out. Im not talking reliability/durability/comfort cause they were good on that front, GM had the w chassis cars pretty dialed in on that point.

Just they were so damn ugly IMO, both inside and out. Then the FWD v6 layout while you were cosplaying as NASCAR, just felt so wrong/phony/lame. They had the v8 supercar racing in Australia. Which was based on real production cars, you could walk into your Holden dealer and buy a v8 Commodore SS. And real life cosplay as Mark Skaife with a real street version of the race car. I know NASCAR at that point was no longer production car based, but still wouldve been cool if we had a Rwd v8 Monte so you could do smoky burnouts like Dale

The real kicker is GM introduced a sexy Grand Prix coupe 3 years earlier. And that had some balls under the hood with the supercharged 3.8. Same car with better engine and sleek styling

Then look across the showroom at the Z28 ls1 v8 Camaro for similar $$$ That thing HAULED ASS and looked bitching IMO. Also you could cram more crap into the Camaro once you folded down the tiny ass rear seat thanks to that big hatch. I owned the Camaro Z28, couldnt think of any reason why somebody who was into v8 and NASCAR would buy that turd Monte Carlo

Chronometric
Chronometric
11 months ago

“NASCAR Style”, words rarely collocated.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
11 months ago

Every time I see a Monte Carlo I imagine an ash tray filled with lipstick smeared Virginia Slims and a dozen empty, sample size, cheap perfume bottles rolling around under the seats.
I have no basis for this association, it just happens.

Last edited 11 months ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
LikesCars
LikesCars
11 months ago

I’ve always thought the last Monte Carlo design looked like a designer thought “what if a blob fish was a car?!”

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
11 months ago

My first car was a 2000 monte Carlo with the 3400. I loved it, I loved the look, it was amazing comfortable, and took 4 teenagers on a 10 day road trip with room to spare in the trunk, and scored 33mpg the whole time. Would I buy one now? No. But in 2006 it was $4k and was an amazing first car. It was mercilessly put down when someone decided to turn left in front of me and I nailed them at 50. Bent the car up so badly, and the passengers in the Kia Sportage were pretty banged up, I walked away without a scratch. For a teenager driver I couldn’t have asked for more

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
11 months ago
Reply to  Brandon Forbes

^ This is a great story. There is something to be said about any brand/model of car that is built well enough to save your ass. You’ll always look at them in a different (more positive) light.

Industrial_design_guy
Industrial_design_guy
11 months ago

Hands down one of the most useless cars gm ever made. Those last ones were absolute hot garbage. I’m referring mostly to the style and substance of the car. It would be hard for me to pick a car I hate more or respect less.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
11 months ago

I knew the big-coupe segment was done when the Monte Carlo got only the new nose as its’ 2006 refresh, even more so than when Ford had done the same thing to the Taurus wagon a few years before – there had actually been a long tradition of giving wagons half a facelift, since they were bought for utility. Coupes *were* the style leaders in their heyday.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
11 months ago

You really just called a Honda Accord a large coupe and compared it to a Solara and a Monte Carlo. Both of which are dramatically larger, because an accord is not a large car.

V10omous
V10omous
11 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

2008 Accord Coupe: 191″ x 72.8″ x 56.4″

2007 Monte Carlo: 196.7″ x 72.9″ x 55.8″

2008 Solara: 192.5″ x 71.5″ x 56.1″

Gotta say, that doesn’t scream dramatically larger to me. The Accord has been pretty big for a while.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
11 months ago

My 2007 Saturn Aura had an updated version of that 3.4, which was the 3.5 LZ4 V6, as the base engine for that model year only. The upgrade engine was the then-new 3.6 DOHC V6 (paired with the equally new 6-spd auto — the 3.5 came with the old 4-spd).

I wasn’t mad about it. By this time the venerable V6 had gained variable valve timing, which I believe was a first for OHV engines. It got great gas mileage for a V6, but still performed more than well enough compared to the economy-car engines I had been driving for years. And in fact for its subsequent model years, the Aura had the 2.4 Ecotec 4 as its base engine. I didn’t mind that engine in general, but I can’t imagine it was as fun to drive as that OHV V6.

Last edited 11 months ago by Mr. Fusion
GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Fusion

My dad had a 2008 with the 2.4, which for that year you still could get the 3.5 as an option and I did drive a few in that time so I’m familiar with both. You could definitely tell it could hustle faster than the 2.4 could keep up with, but it did well too. My biggest gripe was the transmission – 4 gears were fine for the 3.5 but the 2.4 could have used more. But both certainly proved to be the more reliable powertrains.

Now the 2nd-gen VUE, that was a slug with the 2.4 – maybe it was how the throttle was programmed, but it was a heavy vehicle too at 3600lbs, about 200lbs heavier than the 2.4 Aura. It more just…oozed away from a stop. It was odd at the time if you got an XE AWD you got the OHV 3.5 (with the 6AT), but I get it, AWD added nearly another 200 lbs, it would have been slower still.

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