"Weren't The 70's A Drag?"



Chevrolet's answer to the Ford Mustang II was not an updated Camaro, but an updated Vega.


Growing up in the 1970's had its challenges. Vietnam, Watergate, Nixon, two painful gas crisis, recessions, Jimmy Carter, Iran. Even the Yankees stunk for a good part of the decade. As John Lennon pointed out not long before he died, "Weren't the 70's a drag?"



There we actually two Monza models. The Towne Coupe pictured here and a fastback, 2+2 model. Oddly enough, the 2+2 featured vastly different sheet meal from the Towne Coupe.


The decade started out well enough; 1970 being the zenith of the muscle car era. That era came to an abrupt close with a perfect storm of events, mandates, occurrences and circumstances that turned, not just performance cars but all cars into pumpkins.  




More oddity; Monza sales were compromised  by Chevrolet's continued sale of the very similar Vega (through 1977). Additionally, in Chevrolet showrooms, Monza bumped up against sales of the supremely popular Camaro. With Camaro owning the narrow but popular affordable "sporty coupe" lane and Vega owning the value slot, up until Chevrolet pulled the plug on the Vega, Monza found itself squeezed.


Ford had a modicum of sales success with their 1974 Mustang II. Initially a slow seller, the 1973 OPEC embargo, which doubled the price of a gallon of gas, suddenly made small cars popular. Timing is everything. Chevrolet's answer to Ford's almost comically successful Mustang II was not an updated, downsized Camaro,  Camaro sales remained strong despite "The Energy Crisis", but an updated Chevrolet Vega. They called this pumpkin, "Monza".


This aluminum, overhead cam, 2.3 liter "Vega" engine was standard on the 1975 and 1976 Monza. An optional 262 cubic inch V-8, the smallest V-8 engine Chevrolet ever built, was also available through 1976. The Vega 4 cylinder engine was dropped after 1976, replaced by the new, Pontiac built, 2.5 liter, "Iron Duke" 4 cylinder engine. The 262 V-8 was replaced by the new (in 1976) 305 V-8 in 1977.


I found our subject late last spring while on a road trip back to New York. Reminding me of of a 262 cubic inch, V-8 powered Monza 2+2 I test drove years ago, I had to stop, take some photos and kick the tires for old time's sake. This old salt here enjoys a little nostalgia every now and then as much as anybody.


I really liked the performance of that 2+2, I think it was a '76,  but everything is relative; while I thought it the most powerful thing I had ever driven, I had a 250 cubic inch, in line six cylinder, '74 Mercury Comet at the time. Anything with a V-8 was going to feel sprightly if not out right sporty. I didn't buy the 2+2 because I wasn't fond of the fastback styling. If it was a Towne Coupe I might have a different story to wax on about.


Our car here, while the more handsome "Towne Coupe", it is, unfortunately, powered by the infamous, overhead cam, aluminum, Vega engine. Even if I was remotely interested, this engine canceled any flurry of automotive nostalgic flame I may have had. As brief as it was.


The last Monza rolled out of Lordstown in 1981. It was replaced by the front wheel drive Cavalier.


With its proclivity to overheat, bust head gaskets, warp its head and crack its block, that Vega motor was the Vietnam meets Watergate meets Richard Nixon of engines.  


Mr. Lennon was right. The '70s were a drag.