There was once a time when the term restomod meant taking a car from the ’50s or ’60s and upgrading it with a modern-style suspension and drivetrain. The fact of the matter is that our definition of an “old car” is on a sliding scale, and many of our favorites from the ’80s now qualify for this classification. One such case is Byron, Illinois, resident Mike Personette’s 1988 Monte Carlo Super Sport. While it doesn’t feel like this car is all that old, it’s knocking on the door of 30 years. Like it or not, these cars are the next generation of classic GM muscle cars, and Mike’s is an awesome example.
Mike bought the car in 1997 as a very well preserved survivor with only 14,000 miles on the odometer. At the time, it was only 10 years old, but it had been protected from door dings, bad weather, and everyday wear and tear. Mike continued to preserve the car, keeping the original black paint in tip-top shape, and doing the same with the original maroon upholstery. Mechanically, the car was sound, and even after owning the car for nearly 20 years, it still only has 24,000 miles.
Despite the car’s excellent condition, Mike wanted his Monte Carlo to be a little more exciting, so in January 2013, he decided to give the car a makeover. Unlike most makeovers, Mike wanted to keep the exterior and interior stock appearing, but upgrade all of the car’s mechanical systems. His sons Marc and Matt stepped in to help, and the trio of Personette gearheads decided that an LS swap was the right choice to replace the wimpy 305-cubic-inch small-block, which made 180 horsepower from the factory.
With the wide range of choices within the LS family of engines, Mike was faced with an important decision. He chose the Chevrolet Performance LS376 crate engine, which is an LS3-based engine that has been converted to use a four-barrel carburetor. It all starts with an aluminum block, fit with a nodular-iron crankshaft, powdered-metal connecting rods, and hypereutectic pistons. The short-block comes in at 376 cubic inches (6.2 liters), and features a 10.7:1 compression ratio, which is street-friendly and ready for pump gas. Atop the block is a pair of L92-style aluminum cylinder heads that utilize 2.165- and 1.590-inch valves inside a 68cc combustion chamber. All this is combined with a Chevrolet Performance ASA camshaft, which features a 226/236-degree duration split at 0.050-inches of lift, and a max lift of 0.525-inch on the intake and exhaust. Mike dropped the LS376 crate engine into place using a Holley engine swap oil pan and Hedman 1-7/8-inch headers to make for an easy installation.
The fuel system consists of the stock tank, plumbed with a Walbro in-tank electric pump to feed the Holley 770-cfm Street Avenger Ultra carburetor. Lighting the fire is an MSD 6LS-2 box, which controls the stock GM coils. Cooling system upgrades include an AFCO direct-fit aluminum radiator with a shrouded dual-electric fan system powered by a Painless fan controller. Behind the carbureted LS engine is a Chevrolet Performance 4L70E automatic transmission, fit with a Yank torque converter that stalls to 3,200 rpm. A Compushift II transmission controller keeps the four-speed automatic in check, while a Twist Machine paddle shifter setup offers a fun alternative to the stock floor shifter.
Moving farther back is a bulletproof Moser Engineering 12-bolt housing. Inside is an Eaton Truetrac differential, Moser 30-spline axles, and a 3.73:1 gearset, while a Denny’s “Nitrous Ready” driveshaft is ready for serious abuse. Attached to the rearend is a set of Spohn adjustable upper and lower control arms, as well as a Spohn Pro Touring rear sway bar.
Underneath, the Monte Carlo didn’t need a lot, but Mike concentrated on the areas that would improve the car’s performance to match the newfound horsepower. He lowered the car’s center of gravity by two inches with drop spindles up front and drop springs out back. Then, he moved onto brakes, installing Baer discs on all four corners. The front setup is a Track4 system, consisting of 13-inch drilled, slotted, and zinc-plated rotors, along with major clamping force from T4, four-piston calipers. Rear brakes consist of a Baer SS4 setup, with 12-inch rotors and S4 four-piston calipers. Rolling stock consists of YearOne N90 wheels that measure 17x8 and wear 245/45R17 Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber.
Aesthetics are very close to original, aside from a Goodmark 2-inch cowl-induction hood to make room for the carbureted LS intake. Otherwise, the paint, trim, and decals are all original GM stuff from nearly 30 years ago. Inside, you’ll find much of the same, with original upholstery throughout. The only interior modifications are the upgraded in-dash tachometer, the Momo Tuner steering wheel, and the Speed Hut transmission temperature gauge in the console. The plush bucket seats are original, and Mike can comfortably roast the tires, while listening to the original AM/FM radio—complete with cassette player—and crank up the original air-conditioning system.
The result of two years of wrenching is a very simple and clean car that gets a lot of attention. The original paint and original-style wheels, along with the sanitary LS swap, make this Monte Carlo SS look like something GM should’ve built. And although it looks like a stocker, you can bet this well-preserved G-body is ready for action with 525 horsepower on tap and plenty of great parts to back it up.