Home » You Could Get A 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS With A 350 And A Manual Transmission, But There’s A Catch: Holy Grails

You Could Get A 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS With A 350 And A Manual Transmission, But There’s A Catch: Holy Grails


Not too long ago, Americans could buy a coupe from General Motors with a mix of sporty performance and a cushy ride. The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was an American icon that once dominated the competition but now doesn’t exist at all. A couple of decades before the Monte died, it lost its manual transmission. The last gasp of a row-your-own transmission in a Monte Carlo happened in 1984 with a limited-edition Monte Carlo SS, but there’s a catch: You had to be in Mexico to get it. Check out this Holy Grail.

Last time on Holy Grails, reader Carlos informed us that for less than a year, Volkswagen sold a version of the Passat that was about as close to a big GTI as America was going to get. The 2018 Volkswagen Passat GT borrowed styling from the GTI and applied it to the Americanized version of the Passat, known as the New Midsize Sedan, or NMS. It turned what was normally a car that blended into the automotive landscape into something a bit more sporty. The rare, 3,600-unit production Passat GT wasn’t just an appearance package, either, as it paired the fabled VR6 engine from the Passat SEL with a sport-tuned suspension and a sport exhaust system. Volkswagen also priced it under $30,000, making it somewhat of a V6 mid-size sedan bargain.

Today’s entry continues down the path of vehicles sold for just a single model year in a configuration that you could not find elsewhere.


Reader Sid Bridge takes us back to the Malaise Era, when the cars were blocky and the V8s struggled to horsepower equivalent to the naturally aspirated inline-fours of today. We’re going back to 1984, when Buick’s sinister Regal Grand National prowled the streets with its turbocharged V6 and the wedge-shaped Chevrolet Corvette mustered all of 205 horses from its 350 cubic inch V8. General Motors had a number of options for gearheads back then, and one of them was the Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

While perhaps not as famous today as a Grand National or even a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, the Monte Carlo was a volume seller, finding its way into over 100,000 driveways a year in the mid-1980s.

One Of Many Personal Luxury Coupes

1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

The story of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo starts in the 1960s. In those days, the personal luxury coupe was alive, well, and gaining traction. Ford had its Thunderbird, while Chrysler churned out the 300. The field of personal luxury cars was huge and even included Studebaker with the Golden Hawk in the 1950s and the Avanti even later. General Motors had vehicles like the Cadillac Eldorado and the Oldsmobile Toronado. In 1969, GM opened its next salvo on the personal luxury car and on the Ford Thunderbird with the Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

As Popular Mechanics explained in its June 1969 issue, the first Monte Carlo was Chevrolet’s variation on the G-body platform that was introduced the year before in the third-generation Pontiac Grand Prix. This wasn’t meant to be a muscle car, but an exclusive luxury model that also had some firepower under the hood. At launch, these had a 350 cubic inch V8 making 250 gross horsepower (165 net HP) and with the sporty Monte Carlo SS 454 package, you got a chunky 7.4-liter V8 making 360 thoroughbred horses (285 net HP). Perhaps GM describes its best in these quotes that Hemmings took straight out of the Monte Carlo’s brochure:

1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 08 09

“Elegant prestige car styling… dramatically emphasized by the longest hood ever produced by Chevrolet; Rich front end look with bright precision-cast grille…; Premium-quality interior trim and appointments; Rich simulated wood burl accents on instrument panel and steering wheel; and Deep-twist carpeting on floors, lower door trim panels, and lower edge of front seat back.”

Yet, despite Chevrolet boasting about luxury, the Monte Carlo launched at $3,123 ($24,717 today), or $1,838 cheaper than the Ford Thunderbird and even $862 cheaper than the Pontiac Grand Prix. The first Monte Carlo was developed under the leadership of Chevrolet general manager Elliott Estes, and styled under the direction of David Holls. When it launched, it was under the leadership of John Z. DeLorean.

In its first year, 145,975 Monte Carlos found a driveway compared to just 50,314 Ford Thunderbirds.

1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 02 03

The Monte Carlo continued to sell well, being the strong competition in the personal luxury car market that GM wanted it to be. In 1971, the Monte found itself in NASCAR, where it stuck around off and on until 2007. Old Cars Weekly notes that the Monte Carlo stock car was a winner:

Since its NASCAR introduction in May 1971, the legendary Monte Carlo/Monte Carlo SS contributed to 24 of the 31 NASCAR Cup Series Manufacturers’ championship won by Chevrolet. Of the 23 NASCAR Cup driver’s championships won by Chevrolet drivers, 16 of the champions powered their way to the top prize with the help of the Monte Carlo collecting 396 wins in the process.


1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 04
Chevrolet via Old Car Brochures

The car we’re talking about today is from the Monte Carlo’s fourth generation. Launched in 1980 for the 1981 model year, this Monte Carlo was smaller than the first generation after the car got even longer in its second generation. Smaller cars were in vogue and the Monte Carlo, along with platform mates like the Buick Regal and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, were styled with the times.

The fourth generation, like the generation before it, was also available with a wide variety of engines. A buyer considering a fourth-generation Monte Carlo had a choice of engines ranging from a 229 cubic inch V6 to the 231 cubic inch turbocharged Buick V6 and even the infamous 350 cubic inch Oldsmobile diesel V8.

If you wanted to go fast, your best bet was the Monte Carlo SS, which sported a 305 small block V8 that made 180 HP. You got a sport suspension, dual exhausts, white-letter tires, a spoiler, a sport interior, and other touches. What you didn’t get was a manual transmission. A manual transmission hadn’t been offered to buyers in the United States since 1979.

The Grail

Monte Mexico

However, if you lived in Mexico? You got your own special SS version, and that’s the one that Sid Bridge says is a holy grail:

I remembered a really interesting Holy Grail car. As the former owner of a 1987 Monte Carlo SS, I loved that car but always thought it would be awesome if you could get it with a manual transmission. Alas, the car was never offered with a manual. Kind of never. One year only, in 1984, in Mexico, you could get a Monte Carlo SS with a 350 V8 and a 4-speed manual. Also interesting was that they didn’t come with a rear spoiler. It also came with different graphics, different wheels, and a different interior.

This is a car so obscure that I haven’t found a single road test for it and most sources writing about it are personal blogs and forums. At first, I questioned if it was real until I found an article by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as well as the car’s brochure.


I’ve yet to find an explanation, but for just the year 1984, buyers in Mexico were able to ride home in a Monte Carlo SS that was forbidden fruit to buyers in the United States. The 1984 Monte Carlo SS for the Mexican market differed in a few major ways.

The biggest, literally, was the engine. While the U.S. Monte Carlo SS had the 305 V8 making 180 HP, the Mexico Monte Carlo SS came equipped with a 350 V8. More cubes didn’t mean much more power as the brochure says that the 4-barrel Rochester Quadrajet-fed engine is rated for 188 HP. In addition to the larger engine, you got just one transmission choice: a four-speed Saginaw manual with a Hurst shifter.

Other, smaller differences include deletion of the spoiler, checkerboard-style wheels, different mirrors, and a different Grand Prix-style interior featuring power locks, manual windows, and SS branding.

That year was a great one for the Monte Carlo. Terry Labonte won the Winston Cup Series in a Monte Carlo that year and Chevrolet sold 112,730 of the cars that year. Just a fraction, 24,050 units, had that SS (Super Sport) designation. There do not appear to be published numbers for how many Monte Carlo SS units were sold in Mexico in 1984, but it’s assumed to be a low-production model.

What I can tell is that while these do seem to exist, I found exactly zero currently for sale and no archived for sale ads. I couldn’t even tell you what one of these might sell for if you found one. That might make this a holy grail in the more traditional sense.


If you’ve owned one of these, or know anything about them, I’d love to read about it in the comments or at my email: mercedes@theautopian.com.

Do you know of a “holy grail” of a car out there? If so, we want to read about it! Send us an email at tips@theautopian.com and give us a pitch for why you think your favorite car is a “holy grail.”

Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.

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67 Responses

  1. Holy Grail? Dumping Ground for crap left in the bin and want it gone? Only difference is the tranny? No power or speed difference? No desirability until decades later? I mean Holy Grail or another just so many with this paint color and a passenger side mirror. WTH is the definition of a Holy Grail? In history it is one of a kind. Not 2000 of 100000, not 1 of 4000 but only one left. The last 2 cars i have owned is my DD Isuzu VX only 10,000 ever built, nothing else like ot at the time and looks as modern today as ever. And my old project a Jensen Healey. Again the entire production was under 10,000. A car like no other. A 2 seater british sports car with a real fucking motor. A 907 Lotus. Many burnt up quick due to a plastic t fuel fiting. But no these are never covered. A Monte Carlo millions made and sold but a small subset is a holy grail. Not blaming Mercedes but the attempt to create a buzz. And a manual monte with no power or performance weghing 4,000 pounds isnt desirable.

    1. Others may not like this take, but it is the CORRECT take.

      I grew up in the era when these were new and got to watch what they turned into upon meeting their second through sixth owners.

      These turds had the legacy of being a trasbag dude’s car. Mullet, cigarettes, unpaid child support, cheap malt liquor. I mean nobody wanted these things because they were nothing special when new and they were garbage once they got past their first owner. Nothing luxurious here, just an ugly two door without a purpose. Corvettes were faster and handled better, Camaros were, well Camaros but the Monte had no purpose. Sure, you can make them go fast with enough money, but why? You could have bought a Nissan 280zx turbo at the time and had WAY more fun plus cool digital gauges–money better spent.

      I will absolutely die on this hill: the Monte was a loser’s car and nothing more. Let ’em rot in the junkyard. Just because it had a manual doesn’t mean anything. You can put a crown on a turd, but it’s still a turd. A holy grail has to be at least a little desirable.

    2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t “holy grail” a joke dragged over from the older site. DT used to write holy grail articles once or twice a week in earnest, and people called him out regularly for the same reason you did… Until eventually the tides turned and people accepted the holy grail moniker as a more of a term of endearment…. Something uniquely autopian (or that old German lighting site) to mean a rare-ish vehicle, but not rare in a Ferrari-Saudi-Prince-one-of-one way.

      A “holy grail” on this site typically means something obscure but not necessarily valuable. It’s holy-grail-ness comes from the fact that very few people appreciate it, but for those few… they REALLY appreciate it.

      I’m fine with this use of HG.

    3. You sound like fun at parties

      Also, you’re wrong

      Remember the Indiana Jones movie when they were looking for the grail? A whole lot of grails hanging out on that shelf, dude/dudette, and after all this time, all of them would have been priceless. Only one doesn’t dead you immediately, sure, but they all had increased value after two millennia

      Did you see what I did there, or

    4. I’ve never seen a manual MC SS, but I’ve seen quite a few Vehicrosses and Jensen-Healeys, which were regular production models. Since you sound new to this, what they cover here are rare weirdos within a greater production run car, sometimes something that can only be found on paper, not one-offs or similar, which neither of your examples fit into, either. Sure, the name of the column is a bit hyperbolic, but that’s kind of what they do here. What’s your suggestion as an alternative?

    5. In fairness, there are no published production numbers for this vehicle. It’s assumed to be rare (and it was a single-year model), not common like the U.S. version.

      As mentioned, this car does also come equipped with a different, larger engine, even if adding 45 cubes netted you just 8 additional horses. But that was the sad state of affairs of the V8 in the 1980s. The Corvette had just 17 more in the stable and that was supposed to be a halo car.

      At any rate, perhaps it’s time for a renaming of this series to something like “Rare Spec” or “Forgotten Cars.” It seems “Holy Grails” may not be landing the way that we think it should?

      1. “Rare Spec” fits, so far. That takes the subjective aspect of the “Holy Grail” designation out of it. I guess that sort of thing matters to some people.

      2. David staked out ‘Holy Grails’ long ago. I think merriam webster has updated the definition at this point. Keep rolling with it

        On the topic of old, inside jokes, why do I keep seeing the former employer referred to as the old lighting site or similar? Was there a something I missed?

        1. Just search genoptik to complete the meme in your head. That’s what I did back when. Or better yet, ask Microsoft’s AI chatbot; maybe it’ll rant about car websites, which would be very much on point.

          I still often read people’s use of it here as “German Lightning” which somehow seems even better to me, like some sort of cheap, horrible Detroit-area malt liquor.

      3. As a Gen X gearhead turning 51 next month, I’ll tell you this much: I spent the entire 1980s thinking that one of the biggest whiffs GM made in that decade was not offering the Monte Carlo SS with an actual performance package. I mean, the LB9 305 with Tuned Port Injection was right there, and along with the L98 350 TPI that the Z28 eventually borrowed in a detuned state from the Corvette, it was the first GM engine since catalytic converters that made people think “hey, maybe the future might not suck so bad after all” – the first faint ray of horsepower light breaking through the malaise. The General most likely thought that putting it on a Monte would pull buyers away from the Z28, but how many people would like the same performance in a car they could actually pick up the kids from ballet practice in?

        I tell you that to tell you this, with the full realization that I’m appealing to my own authority in a “hell, I was there” sense here: I was a pubescent Alabama white boy with a mullet and subscriptions to Hot Rod and Popular Hot Rodding, who wanted to be Burt Reynolds when he grew up and dreamed of someday having his license and cruising down to Panama City for the weekend with the t-tops out and blaring Van Halen on the stereo. I devoured every scrap of information about new American performance cars I could find, particularly GM ones. And I was today years old when I learned that Chevrolet ever made a 350-powered Monte Carlo anywhere on earth in the 1980s, much less one with a manual transmission. You could knock me over with a feather, especially considering how hard I wished they would do that very thing at that very time. You’re goddamn right it’s a goddamn big deal to discover that this car exists. It is, in fact, a Holy Grail. In fact, it’s more than that, it’s a bloody miracle. Screw this guy, Mercedes.

        And hey, tacotruckdave, unless you lived in the 1980s when people had to look to the past, not the future, for actual American automotive performance, do not try to tell me what wood or would not be a Holy Grail from back then. Do not try to tell me what wood or would not have been a big deal back then. You weren’t there, kid.

        1. I can relate to your experience Joe, even though I grew up 45 minutes north of New York City. Every mulleted dirtbag who cruised the 7-11 for smokes and word on the latest backyard kegger either had one of these or wanted one of these, if they weren’t already piloting an IROC. 60’s-70’s iron was already getting rare on the ground due to road salt, and anyway Janine with the awesomely feathered hair and tiger-stripe jeans wouldn’t be seen getting in your old stinky muscle car. You had to have Dio blasting from the newest ride you could, and these were at the top of the food chain. Holy Grail this is.

      4. I think our dear reader up there is taking the term “Holy Grail” too literally. Most normal humans get what you mean here, and I’d vote for keeping the title. He also just seems triggered by Monte Carlos in general. Shrug emoji.

      5. Please don’t change the name!!! One or two joy kills that lack reading comprehension are best ignored. I am glad you guys are so willing to listen to the kommentariat, but the customer is not always right (especially not when twenty other customers disagree with their spleen).

    6. As a counterpoint, I’d argue that for many of us here individually, “Holy Grail” fits pretty well for these types of vehicles. We’re not rich collectors with hangars full of vehicles, we’re the sort of enthusiasts who choose their rides very carefully and for reasons often other than objective rarity, performance, or popularity. The kinda people who’d get excited over a 30 some year old malaise era faux muscle car that nonetheless kept the flame burning in a fairly dark time, just b/c what a fun thing. And with a manual no less.

    7. Okay, how about the 83.5 mid year introduction SS you elitist turd? Less than 5500 built. Bench seat only that was dropped in 84. These were great cars for their time. Wish we could post pictures, I’d show you my senior pics with my great white whale and my second place trophy for the 96 KCIR high school drags.

      1. My parents bought one brand new back in ’83. Only new car either one of them ever owned. First car I ever rode in after being born. My parents may be gone, but that car, with only 78K miles, is still with me. Maybe I’ll post pictures once that’s an option. Maybe I’ll bring it to one of Mercedes’ member meets.

        1. Did you notice that the Old Site just added a White Whale feature, which is an exact rip-off of the Holy Grail here? I wonder if the name is a coincidence or if they read your post…

          Clearly Autopian is doing it right.

      1. Sadly, there are a few people here who insist on trying to make points in the most dickish way possible.

        It would be nice if they could behave a little better.

  2. You could also get its sister car, the Olds Cutlass Supreme, with a 260 V8 and a five-speed manual for a couple of years. 1978-79 maybe? I test-drove one once. Wasn’t fast, but it did make you feel like a NASCAR hero. Except for the velour seats.

    1. Wasn’t that even a Dogleg 5-speed? I’m certain Olds offered that on the prior gen Colonade Cutlasses (especially as the wheezy but sort of cool 442), but pretty sure it carried over to early G-bodies as well.

    2. I THINK you could get any of the A-body cars of that era with a manual paired to the 260 or a carbed NA 3.8 V6, but there were very few made. Some years ago I was VERY tempted to buy an El Camino of that era that had a 3-speed manual coupled to an NA 3.8 V6. It was also painted pale purple. I regret not buying it.

      1. Yeah, 3 and 4 speed manual Malibus were pretty common, but the 5 speed was strictly Olds, if I recall.

        And now that I think of it, my band director in high school had a Pontiac Grand LeMans with a 4 speed.

  3. My aunt had a US market Monte Carlo SS of that era. Lived in Houston and that thing got stolen like 4 times. It was stripped for parts because there were a lot of, well, certain group of people, that bought the pedestrian base models and then upgraded their rides with ‘hot’ SS parts. It was like there was a chopping list because certain parts would be taken. E.g. The passenger headlight and driver’s side exhaust manifold. Other times it was almost just a shell left. Her insurance eventually told her they were going to total it and if she bought another one, don’t come to them for coverage.

  4. The Monte Carlo SS was fun because it resembles stock racing cars of the day. I also believe GM missed out on some market share by shorting these on HP. I do think that the 4 speed manual would be a letdown over other transmissions. 5-speeds or more to have the most fun!

  5. I ended up buying a ’78 Monte Carlo after a debacle with overseas purchase through the PX. We bought it at a dealer in St. Charles, MO. The one that I bought was a beautiful dark red with red interior. On the same floor was its brother, an identically equipped version in a dark blue.

    Okay, so what. Well they both came with the 305 V8 and a four speed transmission. Unbelievable change in the personality of this car. Rowing your own gears might not have been as efficient but it sure as hell made it a lot more fun. The 305 wasn’t a power house but it was flexible and matched very well to the 4 speed. I spent my first 16 months of ownership in California, but upon transfer back to Germany, the Monte Carlo came along. Wonder of wonders! The Monte Carlo was a very good fit to Germany’s autobahns and wonderful secondary roads. The car was mechanically limited to 128 mph so I couldn’t run with the really big dogs but all mid-priced sedans beware!

    I sold the car to another GI in order to buy a local purchase 1977 Porsche 911 2.7 liter. Never looked back. Side note, he wrecked the Monte Carlo in a simple roundabout.

  6. I see it mentioned a couple of times that the SS decals are different, but I dunno, they seem identical to the US ones to my eyes. Am I missing something?

    1. The Mexican model doesn’t have the wraparound outline stripes (which would have been red and orange with the white). I think the word graphic is similar to later US model years, but I’d have to do more research than I want to (that is, none). Color of graphic is also different, but again, the later ones might have used that color.

  7. There’s an IG account that pops up for me from time to time that shares Mexican market vehicles for sale. Mercurys badged as Fords or Chrysler badging K-cars as the Dart are maybe well known by many of us, but it’s interesting how many more variants or powertrains (like manuals) they received that we didn’t. Or completely unique models and packages – like the A-body Cutlass Eurosport.

  8. I used to cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway in a white MC SS that, according to the plaque on the dash, was the 3rd off the assembly line. It belonged to the daughter of a captain of industry who was a frat brother of a bigwig at GM. Even coming from a 74 Super Beetle, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the power (I think this is when my distain for automatics started), but I found it surprisingly capable in the corners for such a big car. For years I dreamed of having one with a Gale Banks Engineering turbo kit and a Doug Nash (I think?) 6-speed, but the one I came across when I had the cash was a bit too rough to pay $1300 for even in 95. And I had already figured out that I like lightweight cars more than big (relative!) power: my POS Subaru GLF was more fun than that beat-up MC SS

    1. Similar experience! My ex had a MC SS and, while not fast, cornered much better than it looked. My ‘84 Subaru GL was more fun, though, even being an auto (eventually replaced it with a 5-speed ‘83, which was legitimately fun with some minor improvements). Funny thing was the GL and MC had the same top speed in 3rd due to gearing (110 or “P” on the 85 mph speedo or using math and the tach to figure 5500rpm @ 20mph/1k).

  9. Shortly before my parents got divorced, they had a Monte Carlo SS, I believe a 1984. But alas, we did not live in Mexico and it was an automatic. My dad has to seriously downgrade after the divorce. He ended up in a Chevy Celebrity. My mom later bought a 1987 RX-7, but I did not live with her at the time and only rode in it a few times. My love for RX-7s and rotaries really started later when my step dad’s friend had a 1991 RX-7 that eventually became mine.

  10. Lots of times, for Holy Grail articles, I like to check my cataloging software here in my NAPA store, just to check if said Holy Grail shows up, to see how thorough we are.

    I had never heard of a manual transmission-equipped fourth-gen Monte Carlo in my entire career, but I checked for a clutch for one anyway. Sure enough, we listed it, with the qualifier, “Vehicles Built For Mexican Market”.

    People here may debate how we define Holy Grail within these articles but I almost always learn something.

  11. Mexican market vehicles from the ’80s were kinda odd because of the protectionist policies the Mexican government had regarding the automotive industry there. A large percentage of content had to be domesically sourced which means you end up with cars like this because GM de Mexico probably had a bunch of 350s left over from something. I’ve also seen several Mexican market Fox Mustangs which had 4 speed manual trans and Dana _something_ rear axles – something the US versions didn’t get.

  12. My nomination for the Holy Grail remains the 2.7-liter 2TR-FE inline-four sold *very* briefly after the launch of the then-new/current-new Toyota 4Runner.

    These found their way into models built between 2009-2010 and skipped the N210-gen 4Runners entirely in the 2000s. They made a short appearance during the Great Recession as gas prices started to climb. But then from an economic standpoint, it simply wasn’t viable to keep building cheaper 4Runners because the 4.0-liter unit was too popular with consumers.

    I nominate this vehicle because it is impossible to find data on how many of them sold, let alone produced. I’m eager to watch for one pop up on one of the auction sites and then hopefully someone, perhaps a Mercedes Streeter, can shed light on such a rare vehicle.

    Fun fact: the 2.7 is derived in part from the uber-reliable 2.7s that powered the first two generations of 4Runners!

    1. I wanted one of these pretty badly for a minute. I always preferred 4cyl taco’s too. I remember reading about it, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one for sale. I haven’t thought about this truck or searched for one in maybe five years. Kudos..

  13. Minor correction: this generation of Monte Carlo came out in 1978, not 1980. It got a different four-headlamp fascia in 1980 before getting a heavy restyle on the same body in 1981.

    I knew about these Mexican SSes, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen those Lear seats with that Broughamtastic upholstery on them.

    1. I had honestly forgotten those existed until I saw that photo. Now that I remember they were a thing, they were actually one of the best looking American factory wheel designs of the decade.

    2. Those wheels always reminded me of a checkered flag unfurling at the finish line (I’d bet money that’s what the studio intended)… one of those Easter eggs that made young kid me want to get into car design.

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