We’re still about three weeks away from Movemeber, when millions of men fill out their upper lip or beard, partly to raise awareness of men’s health issues and partly for fun. Turn back the clock about 40 years, however, and every month was mustache month. Not just for Tom Selleck and Freddy Mercury, either, but for guys all over the country. And quite often, that lip foliage peered out above the steering wheel of a Monte Carlo SS.
Despite the glitz and glamour implied by its name, a Monte Carlo has always been more at home in Missouri than Monaco, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t cool. Built on GM’s rear-drive mid-size G-body platform that also included the Buick Regal, Chevy El Camino, Olds Cutlass and Pontiac Grand Prix, it’s a sporty-looking but not exactly fast piece of “mustache muscle” that can be had on a budget. Surprisingly, though, that budget is a lot higher than it was just a few short years ago.
The first, coke-bottle-styled Monte Carlos arrived in 1970, and by 1981 the Monte Carlo was already in its fourth generation. It was smaller and lighter, but also roomier than the Montes of the ’70s. Although a short-lived Monte Carlo Turbo model offered boosted Buick V-6 power, and despite the Monte Carlo making a lengthy go of it in NASCAR, a more serious performance model was conspicuously absent from the roster. Performance was coming back into the coupe market, however, particularly with the launch of the Fox-body Mustang in 1979 and the all-new Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird in 1982. For 1983, the Monte Carlo caught up when Chevrolet gave it a mild facelift and added an SS option to the lineup. It was the first Monte Carlo SS since 1971.
Buyers could choose between white or dark blue, while a small trunk spoiler, big decals, and Rally wheels let people know you spent the extra coin for an SS. Under the subtly muscular body was a Quadrajet-carbureted 305 cubic-inch small-block with aluminum intake, column shift 3-speed automatic, F41 suspension, Goodyear Eagle GT rubber, and an open diff. The price was a little over $10K, and options like power windows and cruise control pushed it to about $12K.
For the 1983 cars, the 305 small-block managed 175 horsepower and 225 lb-ft of torque. Not a tire-shredder, then, but this was 1983, and those numbers were still enough to have fun with in period. The 1984 Monte Carlo SS brought a five horse gain and optional limited-slip differential, while 1985 brought even bigger improvements. While the engine didn’t change, a TH200-4R 4-speed automatic and 3.73 rear axle made for livelier shifting and driving than the old 3.42-geared 3-speed. New optional bucket seats and floor shift gave a racier feel than the standard bench seat and column shift, while optional T-tops let your facial hair dance in the breeze. Silver, black, white, and maroon encompassed the revised exterior color palette while gray or maroon cloth were the interior choices.
For 1986, new five-spoke alloy wheels arrived along with different graphics and a third brake light, while the only other major change over the SS’s 1983-88 production run was the Aerocoupe. Built for 1986 and ’87 only, it followed the same aero-driven formula of NASCAR legends of the previous generation like the Dodge Daytona, Plymouth Superbird and Ford Torino Talladega. Built to homologate a more slippery shape in the quest for every last mph on NASCAR speedways, the Monte Carlo Aerocoupe isn’t as extreme as something like a Superbird, but its unusual sloped rear glass and revised spoiler are certainly distinctive. Chevrolet needed to sell 200 Aerocoupes for homologation and did just that in 1986, but for 1987 the company realized that plenty of folks would want to channel their inner Dale Earnhardt (who also had a mustache, of course) and drive a car that looked just like the Intimidator’s. GM obliged, selling 6052 Aerocoupes for 1987 at $16,325 apiece (about $44K in 2023 money).
The Monte Carlo went into 1988 without major changes as it was the model’s last year before being replaced by the Lumina. As far as most enthusiasts are concerned, the Monte Carlo story mostly ends there. A new Monte Carlo SS did arrive in 2000, but it was a fat front-driver with a V-6 engine, and despite several special-edition NASCAR models, the Monte Carlos you could buy at the dealership had almost nothing in common with the cars you saw Dale and Jeff driving on Sunday afternoon.
As for fourth-gen Monte Carlos, they were very popular when new and they remain so. Although the faster and more sinister Buick Grand National gets most of the G-body glory in the eyes of collectors today, far more people walked into a Chevy dealership and bought a Monte Carlo. While just 4714 sold in 1983, sales shot up to 24,050 in 1984, then 35,484 in 1985, and peaking in 1986 at 41,164. 1987 brought a still-substantial 33,204, and 16,204 followed in 1988. Total Turbo Buick sales were less than half that.
In addition to a strong supply of cars, Monte Carlos are plenty roomy for drivers who shop at the big and tall store, and lots of parts interchange with other GM cars. Other than rust in a few key areas, leaky T-tops and amateur-ish why-on-earth-did-they-do-that modifications on many examples, there aren’t any major issues to look out for.
Mid-eighties Monte Carlos have never been expensive cars. But, surprisingly, they aren’t exactly cheap these days, either. The median condition #2 (“Excellent”) value currently sits at $29,400. That’s 68 percent higher than it was five years ago, and 188 percent more than it was 10 years ago. Generally, the 1985 and later cars with floor shift, bucket seats and cooler wheels are more sought after, and you should expect to pay a few percent more for T-tops. Despite that, there’s little variation in value, as an ’83 model is worth $28,100 at the low end while an Aerocoupe is worth $34,400 at the top of the heap.
These numbers are even more surprising when we compare them to the other cars playing for the Chevrolet team in the mid- to late-Eighties. While the ’87 Buick Grand National has moved into an entirely different price point with a #2 value of $70K, the #2 value for an ’87 Camaro Z/28 is just $22,600. And for an ’87 Corvette? Just $18,500.
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, especially compared to the Corvette, which is much cooler to look at and will run circles around the Monte. But, as we saw with our comparison of C4 Corvettes and IROC Camaros last year, nostalgia can be a powerful market force when it comes to cars that are nearly old enough to have their own midlife crisis. Combined with the fact that there aren’t a lot of clean and unmodified examples left, it starts to become a little clearer why the best ones are getting more expensive.
Gen Xers, who came of age when these cars were new, make up 36 percent of buyer interest for 1983-88 Monte Carlos. Millennials make up the same share. They may not exactly remember the '80s in vivid detail, but they still play into nostalgia for that decade and, like Gen Xers, buy these cars at a disproportionately high rate.
It's hard to see values going up much further from here, given the wide variety of other great cars that are available in the $30K range. Which means that, as always, Monte Carlos will be a (reasonably) affordable celebration of mustache muscle.