The Chevrolet Monza was a rear-wheel drive subcompact sporty car introduced in the fall of 1974 as a 1975 model, along with its corporate clones, the Oldsmobile Starfire and the Buick Skyhawk. It was originally intended to compete with other small sporty cars, such as the Toyota Celica, Capri, Opel 1900 Coupe/Manta, and especially the new down-sized Ford Mustang II, as well as the rotary-engined Mazda RX-2, Rx-3 and Rx-4 coupes. The Monza nameplate was originally used on the 1960 through 1969 Chevrolet Corvair.
Oldsmobile had previously used the Starfire nameplate from 1954 to 1957 on the flagship Ninety-Eight convertible, and then again from 1961 to 1966 on a specially trimmed hardtop and convertible based on the B-body Oldsmobile 88 featuring a distinctive roofline, leather bucket seats, console and sporty/luxury trim as an early entry in the personal-luxury car market created with the 1958 Ford Thunderbird before the advent of the front-drive Oldsmobile Toronado in 1966.
Based on the General Motors H-platform—the same chassis as the Chevrolet Vega (and Pontiac Astre)— the new Monza design included an all-new version of the Wankel rotary engine, which delivered high performance from an engine much smaller than a conventional piston engine, yet still capable of developing the same amount of power.
Developmental problems with the rotary engine (not terribly different from those encountered by Mazda, the major proponent of the Wankel rotary engine) led General Motors to discontinue further development on the rotary engine. Notable issues included premature failure on engine seals and poor fuel economy. The latter was compounded at a time of comparatively high fuel prices following the Arab oil boycotts of 1973 and 1974. In addition, General Motors' abandonment of the rotary engine greatly affected American Motors Corporation. With an agreement to purchase power plants from General Motors, AMC designed the 1975 Pacer to utilize GM's new rotary engine. Because GM cancelled their rotary engine, and AMC could not afford to design and build one of their own, AMC squeezed the largest engine they could fit under Pacer's small hood - an inline 6-cylinder. A later re-design for Pacer allowed room for V8 power, but unfortunately, it was at the cost of fuel economy.
The Chevrolet Monza was originally offered in a 2-door fastback hatchback coupe bodystyle (which it shared with the Oldsmobile Starfire and Buick Skyhawk) that was referred to as the "2 + 2 Coupe" in sales literature. Initially there was a bare-bones Monza ‘S’ 2+2 model and a better-equipped plain Monza 2+2.
The Oldsmobile Starfire would be the smallest car bearing the Oldsmobile name since before World War II and the Buick Skyhawk was the smallest car to wear the Buick badge in more than 60 years.
Though the Skyhawk would be sold alongside the Opel Manta for 1975, it would ultimately replace the Manta as the small sporty car offering from Buick-Opel dealers in the U.S. Currency exchange rates had increased the price of European Opels to the point where they were not competitive with Japanese and American cars.
Since the rotary engine was cancelled, the base engine for the Monza was the same conventional 2.3 liter (140 cid) inline 4-cylinder (I4) engine, with a single barrel carburetor generating at 4200 rpm, shared with the Vega. Optional was the same basic engine with a 2-barrel carburetor that generated at 4400 rpm. Ironic, since many buyers had heard of the rapid engine wear problems with the Vega and bought this car as an alternative, only to get the same engine.
Also optional was Chevrolet's 4.3 liter (262 cid) V-8 engine with a Rochester 2-barrel carburetor that generated at 3600 rpm. Monzas sold in California and high altitude areas of the U.S. were available with a version of the 5.7 liter (350 cid) V-8 engine with a 2-barrel carburetor tuned to just 125 hp (93 kW).
The V-8 engine resulted in a very crowded engine bay. One of the spark plugs could only be accessed through the driver's side wheel well by jacking up the engine. Frequently the spark plug was not accessed at all. The comparatively heavy V-8 engine in the small Chevrolet Monza led to severe driveline vibrations due to a sagging front frame and suspension.
The Buick Skyhawk and Oldsmobile Starfire used the Buick-designed 3.8 liter (231 cid) V6 engine using a 2-barrel carburetor that generated 110 net horsepower at 4000 rpm.
The 1975 Monza 2+2, Buick Skyhawk and Oldsmobile Starfire, along with several GM full-size models, were the first cars to adopt the newly approved quad rectangular headlamps and had a strong resemblance to the Ferrari 365 GTC/4. The Monza 2+2 was longer and weighed 180 pounds more than the Vega. This was the first GM product to incorporate a torque arm rear suspension (rear coil springs with 2 links) - its design was later incorporated into GM's third and fourth generation F-bodies (Camaro and Firebird).
In April 1975, a third Monza was added to the line. This was the Monza ‘S’ Towne Coupe, a notchback coupe with a conventional trunk that used completely different sheet metal than the 2+2 hatchback coupes. It featured single round headlamps, instead of the dual rectangular headlamps found on the 2+2. The Towne Coupe was built in response to the sales success of the Ford Mustang II notchback coupe, especially the luxury version, the Mustang II Ghia. In many ways, the Towne Coupe looked like a cleaned-up version of the Mustang II notchback coupe, with styling features borrowed from Chevrolet's own redesigned-for-1975 Nova. The Monza Towne Coupe was shorter and lighter than the Monza 2+2 and had slightly more head room.
Production of the Chevrolet Monza for the 1975 model year totaled 66,615 (with 41,658 equipped with 4-cylinder engines and 24,957 equipped with V-8s).
In 1976 saw the introduction of Chevrolet's new 5.0 liter (305 cid) V-8 engine with a 2-barrel carburetor generating at 3800 rpm replacing the previous 5.7 liter V-8, but only for California and high altitude customers. The rest of the world was limited to the I4 and 262 V8 until the following year, when the 262 was discontinued.
Late in the 1976 model year, a Sport Front End Appearance option package made the quad-headlamp front end clip from the 2+2 Hatchback available on the notchback Towne Coupe.
The Monza Spyder option package was first offered for the 1976 model year and would be offered throughout the 1980 model year. It featured 2-barrel carburetor version of the 4-cylinder engine as standard, along with a floor console, F41 suspension with large front and rear stabilizer bars, special shock absorbers, and a host of appearance features that distinguished it from other Monzas. The Monza Spyder nameplate was originally used to designate the high performance turbocharged Corvair model produced from 1962 through 1964 model years.
1976 saw Pontiac get a version of Monza, the Pontiac Sunbird. Initially available as a notchback coupe which shared its body with the Monza Towne Coupe, the Sunbird had unique front-end styling using quad rectangular headlamps and a split grill design. The Sunbird came with the same 4-cylinder engine as the Monza as standard. The 2-barrel carburetor was an option on the 4 and the 3.8 liter (231 cid) V-6 engine found in the Buick Skyhawk and Oldsmobile Starfire was also available as an option.
From 1977 through 1979, there was only one V-8 engine available in the Monza, the 5.0 liter (305 cid) V-8.
The Monza Mirage was produced in 1977 only, by Michigan Auto Techniques, an aftermarket company contracted by GM. The Mirage was painted cameo white, with red and blue racing stripes along the length of the car. It also featured flared body panels, and a special airdam & spoiler. The vehicles were built in GM's St. Therese plant, and sent to MAT for modification, after which they would ship to the dealer. There were approx 4,097 Mirages made from MAT, but there were also Mirages created by dealerships, which were un-traceable. There are only an estimated 25 to 30 Mirages left in running order.
1977 saw the Pontiac Sunbird get the 2+2 hatchback coupe body-style, in addition to the notchback coupe. The Sunbird hatchback used the same front end clip as the notchback coupe. The 2.5 liter (151 cid) "Iron Duke" 4-cylinder engine using a 2-barrel Holley carburetor and generating at 4400 rpm became the new standard engine for the Sunbird, however the 2 versions of the old 2.3 liter (140 cid) aluminum 4-cylinder engine with 1 or 2-barrel carburetors were still available as options, as was the more powerful 3.8 liter (231 cid) V-6.
The 2.3 liter (140 cid) aluminum inline 4-cylinder engine with 2-barrel carburetor became standard on the Oldsmobile Starfire for 1977, while the Buick 3.8 liter (231 cid) V-6 became an option.
For the 1978 model year, the Monza would receive a fairly significant facelift. Sport models, available in 2+2 hatchback coupe or notchback coupe body-styles, used a modified version of the previous quad rectangular headlamps, now above a full-width open-slot grill. The base ‘S’ models all adopted a new front end with large round headlamps. The Chevrolet Vega and Pontiac Astre had been discontinued at the end of the 1977 model year and the Vega's hatchback coupe and 2-door station wagon (Kammback) bodies were added to the Monza ‘S’ line and given Monza ‘S’ front end clips. The Monza ‘S’ was available in 4 body-styles, the previous 2+2 hatchback coupe, the previous notchback coupe, and the new hatchback coupe and a 2-door station wagon that had previously been available as the Vega.
The Pontiac Sunbird line-up grew to add the hatchback coupe and Kammback station wagon models from the Astre line as Sunbird models, but they kept the old Astre front end clips.
The 1978 Chevrolet Monza ‘S’ and Pontiac Sunbird effectively replaced the Chevrolet Vega and Pontiac Astre.
The base 2.3 liter engines were discontinued for 1978 and replaced by the 2.5 liter (151 cid) Iron Duke 4-cylinder engines in all Monzas, Sunbirds, and Starfires.
New engine options for the Monza for 1978 were a Chevrolet-designed 3.2 liter (196 cid) V-6 engine with a 2-barrel carburetor that produced at 3600 rpm. Replacing the 3.2 liter V-6 in California and high-altitude areas was Buick's 3.8 liter (231 cid) V-6 engine. Four-cylinder engines and the 3.2 liter V-6 were not available in high-altitude areas. The V-8 engine option was only available on the 2+2 hatchback coupe and the notchback coupe.
The Chevrolet-designed 5.0 liter (305 cid) V-8 engine became available as an option in the Oldsmobile Starfire.
For the 1979 model year, the Monza ‘S’ hatchback coupe body-style that had previously belonged to the Vega was discontinued, along with the Monza Sport notchback coupe. This left the Monza ‘S’ 2+2 hatchback coupe, notchback coupe, station wagon and the Monza Sport 2+2 hatchback coupe.
The Chevrolet-designed 5.0 liter (305 cid) V-8 engine was available as an option in the Pontiac Sunbird hatchback and the notchback coupe and the Astre-based hatchback coupe was discontinued.
The 1980 model year was the last one for the Chevrolet Monza and its derivatives. The Monza ‘S’ station wagon was dropped, as was the 3.2 liter (196 cid) V-6 engine. While the 2.5 liter (151 cid) 4 remained as standard, the only available engine option was the 3.8 liter (231 cid) Buick-designed V-6. The lineup consisted of a Monza Sport 2+2 hatchback coupe and Monza ‘S’ 2+2 hatchback coupe and notchback coupe.
The Pontiac Sunbird station wagon was dropped. The V-8 engine option was dropped from the Chevrolet Monza, Pontiac Sunbird and Oldsmobile Starfire.
The H-body Monza, Starfire, Skyhawk, and Sunbird were replaced in the spring of 1981 with the new front-wheel drive J-cars which were designated as early 1982 models including, the Chevrolet Cavalier, Oldsmobile Firenza, Buick Skyhawk, and the Pontiac J2000. Oldsmobile has previously used the Firenza name as an option package on the Starfire. The Pontiac J2000 would become the Pontiac 2000 and a convertible model would be called the Pontiac 2000 Sunbird. Eventually all 2000s would be renamed Sunbird, and then later Sunfire.
Because the forthcoming J-body cars were to be sold as 1982 models, there was an unusually long production run of 1980 H-body models in order to provide sufficient inventory to carry dealers into the 1981 model year.
A modified version of the car, known as the Dekon Monza, was raced in the IMSA Camel GT road racing series in the United States.
Just like the Ascona C in Europe, the Monza was also replaced by the Vectra in Brazil. Initially Chevrolet sold both the Vectra and the Monza together, the Vectra A was launched in Brazil in September 1993, but in 1996 GM stopped making the Monza after the Vectra B was introduced in May of that same year in the Brazilian market.