CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

'72 Monte Carlo, Yeah or Neigh?

Hey guys, first post here. The title pretty much sums it up. I’m looking to get a nice ride but being 18, I have around a 5k budget. For those of you who didn’t just pass out laughing, I was thinking about an early 70’s Monte Carlo. It seems like I can get one in decent shape on Craigslist for around that much and I feel like its more my style than a miata. I’m willing to work on the car and a little rust or a worn out interior isn’t going to scare me away; the most important thing is that it’s fun to drive. I don’t know too much about cars so I really want to hear what you guys think. Thanks.

P.S. For those of you who saw my username and were thinking of suggesting a Prius or something peddle-operated, please don’t take it seriously; it was the first thing that popped into my head.

Well, I don’t know how fun a 70s Monte will be to drive. It’s a big old boat of a car that will probably get about 15 MPG if you’re lucky. Despite the V8, it’s also slow compared to relatively modern cars. If it’s a 72, it shouldn’t be too encumbered with pollution controls. I would avoid anything newer than that. Try to find one with disc brakes if you can. If you live anywhere it snows, it will take some getting used to a rear-wheel drive car in the snow, and it will rust like crazy. Door hinges were a weak point with some GM cars of that era too–the doors sag. It has no air bags, but will probably win in just about any collision. It will require more frequent maintenance than something newer. You may have to learn to adjust the points, and become acquainted with the quirks of a carbureted vehicle in cold weather. (and hot) Anyone with a minimum of tools can steal it in a few minutes. If you need air conditioning, you will need to convert it to R134a or pay a fortune to get it charged with R12.

Having said the negative things, a 70s Monte Carlo will be a head turner, especially for younger folks that didn’t grow up driving cars like this. It should be reasonably reliable. The power train is durable and smooth. Chevy 350 motors are nearly bulletproof as long as you don’t run them out of oil or overheat them too much. Maintenance should be easy, and there’s a ton of room under the hood to reach anything. You won’t have to worry about 100 vacuum lines or a catalytic converter. There are countless performance mods for cars of this era and power train, if you lean that way. You can practically live in the back seat. The A/C is cold enough for a walk-in freezer (when it works) on GM cars of this era.

Good luck and let us know what you do.

A 72 Monte is a bad-handling, gas guzzling, terrible in a crash potential rust bucket. Other than that, what’s not to like?

Finding one of these 30-40 year old relics in half-way decent shape will be quite a chore…1975 is the big technology change year…1975 on up had electronic ignition and a CAT…1974 and down have no electronics…They use body & frame construction but had little rust control. Finding a rust-free car will be very difficult. By modern standards, braking and handling are terrible…You will be fixing something every day…Think Twice…

I appreciate the feedback so far- you’ve given me a lot to think about. If not the Monte Carlo, could I get your picks for my budget (doesn’t have to be a muscle car)?

If you are going off to school,how about a 68-72 or 73-85 Chevy truck. A nice short box. Find one with a 6 or small V8. Easy to work on lots of parts. Not to bad on gas 18-20 if you keep foot out of it. Nice ones can sill found cheap. Put a topper on it and now you got a camper and more cargo room. Dressed up they can be a real head turner.

If you’re getting a vintage car like that, you may want to think about doing the maintenance yourself. To bring it to a mechanic gets expensive quickly.
If you are in a position to do the work yourself, that’s great. It is fun to get greasy, work with your hands and see the results of your labor.
While older cars are just fun the drive for various reasons, keep in mind that there’s nothing worse than having to work on a car because it has to take you to school or work the next morning. That takes the fun out tooling around in a vintage cars very quickly.
You’ll very quickly start thinking of your cool car as an old car. It will take the fun out of that hobby for life.

I suggest you get a modern ‘driving appliance’ first. Sure, they are not fun to drive but it gets you from A to B. Get something reliable and not crazy expensive.
Then, later, when you can afford to have two cars and maintain them both, get a vintage car.

Just my 2 cents, but I owned a '72 Monte Carlo (350 with the TH350 trans, no overdrive) and it was a great car. On several lengthy vacations out of state it would get 20-21 MPG on the open road with the car loaded down and the A/C running. The car had about 140k trouble free miles on it when my wife and I traded (big mistake) it off.
I actually wished that I had the car back although I would prefer the 454 engine option, even if the fuel mileage did take a hit.

The main thing to try and avoid is one with major rust. At 40 years of age it may take a little digging.

For what it’s worth, I’ve also owned a '74 Monte Carlo although the cool factor is not not as high and it was weighed down a bit more with government mandated garbage.
It was a decent car but it took some wrestling to eventually get the fuel mileage up in the 20 range.

Realistically, 40 years ago the Monty wasn’t a bad choice, but ANY 40 year old vehicle is going to need a very thorough going-over by a good mechanic before buying. And be wary of a “little rust”. On a vehicle that age, it’s usually just the tip of the iceberg. Restorers taking old cars with “a little rust” usually end up replacing entire body sections.

Besides, the early '70s was a period when manufacturers were just beginning to deal with the results of the new emissions controls. I’ll spare you the details about dieseling engines, burned pistons (they leaned out the mix and raised the operating temperature withuot fully appreciating the effect it would hav ion the engines), and various other problems. It was not a good time in the industry.

And you may have trouble finding someone who understands carbs if you have a problem.

I advise you look for something like a 2002-2006 Ford Focus.
Still domestic, safer, cheaper to run.

My wife owned a 1974 Chevrolet Monte Carlo when we got married. We kept the car for several years. The engine was the 400 cubic inch V-8 with a 2 barrel carburetor. I think the best mileage was about 17 mpg on the road. The car had a real rust problem. We had body work done and a new paint job, but decided that it was time to sell the car.

It was smooth and comfortable for the time. The design is inefficient–very little interior space for the length of the car. I wouldn’t recommend the car.

Can you even find a Monte of that vintage for $5k that doesn’t require body or engine work to get it going?

And, as for the Miata you mentioned, call up and get a quote for a Miata for yourself for auto insurance. Chances are you wouldn’t be able to afford the insurance for it and still be able to put gas in it.

http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1970-Monte-Carlo-SS-454-/150859630163?pt=US_Cars_Trucks&hash=item231fef4653
http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1971-Monte-Carlo-/271023198471?pt=US_Cars_Trucks&hash=item3f1a3dd107

I also owned a 72 Monte Carlo. Wasn’t the greatest handling car in the world. But it did ride nice once you replaced the stock shocks.

Careful of rust. Mine had a lot of rust. I guess you can find one that live in the south for 40 years…but I’d be very careful about a little rust car that’s 40 years old.

I did find them easy to work on. Big engine compartment. Mine had the chevy 350.

Good luck.

I liked GM but just couldn’t buy Chevy. Only owned one. Friend had a MC of that vintage but wasn’t really impressed. I bought a new 74 Cutlass though and rust was a continual problem even brand new with proper care. Later on in the 80’s they started to get rust treatments a little better, but back then was still a big issue. I guess I’d be looking for something more up to date.

When I read this post I thought “How could a 2-1/2 ton car riding on mattress springs be fun to drive? I could probably take a slalom twice as fast in my Odyssey”. Then I remembered the old Pontiac Tempest convertible my nephew had for a while. My Versa could run rings around it, but man, it was neat to cruise around in it!

A fun project can be a retired police/government car…Investigate a P71 Crown Victoria…WWW.crownvicnet.net has a section where hobbyist’s have posted pictures of their prized cars…You can have a lot of fun on a budget here…

The Monte Carlo was made to be like a full size car but 700 or so pounds lighter. It is supposed to get a little over 20 MPG highway. That was good for 1972 but 4WD pickup trucks now get that kind of fuel economy. Maintenance won’t cost anything compared to cars of today unless you need brake rotors or drums but that won’t happen often.

Buy a daily driver (4 cylinder) before you buy a classic car. With a big car like that you’ll have to fill the tank every 4 days.

Amongst the poor handling cars of the 1970’s the Monte Carlo is a favorite for racers at the local track for the bomber class (stock sedan 114"+ wheel base).

In the video the #96 car is a 1972 Monte Carlo, the # 96X is a 1975. There are a half dozen others on the track (1975-1977).

The rules state that the cars must be stock but all but a few change their springs.

And add just a wee bity of negative camber…just a wee bit, mind you.

This class is very restricted on modifications and excessive camber isn’t allowed.

Over-exaggerated camber is not permitted. Maximum of 1” in or out permitted on either side
of the car. Camber will be measured with a carpenter square; with one end of the square flat on
the ground, with other end of the square up against the outer edge of the tire, and then
measured to the inner edge of the tire
.