As the '60s evolved and the lines between GM's various brands began to blur, it was getting harder and harder to define what each division stood for. It used to be that if you wanted an inexpensive car, you bought a Chevy. You might option it up a little, but typically it competed with a similar model from Ford. The Caprice changed all that in '66. Now Chevy customers had a car that could battle with upscale offerings from its sister divisions, as well as Mercury. The old GM plan where customers graduated from Chevrolet to Pontiac to Olds to Buick to Cadillac was going the way of the hand-crank starter.
By the end of the decade, things were pretty much out of control. Buick, a luxury brand just a notch below Cadillac, was selling high-performance Stage 1 455s and the Opel GT aimed at the youth market. Pontiac's Grand Prix was like a low-level Eldorado. It wouldn't be long before Oldsmobile and Buick were selling rebadged Novas, and Pontiac had its own Vega. GM as the world knew it was over.
Someone in Bow Tie HQ must have had a heck of a crystal ball. The muscle car market was dying, while the personal luxury market was about to explode-and Chevy wasn't going to be left out. It introduced the '70 Monte Carlo as a Thunderbird rival at an upscale Chevy price. The new Monte was as formal as a black tuxedo. Its lines were equal parts elegance and restraint, two things not always in abundance in Detroit's offerings.
As the supercar was still alive in '70, Chevy realized there were those who wanted a little sporting flair for their luxury conveyance. Hence, the Monte Carlo SS454 was born. The package was as understated as the rest of the car. There weren't even any identifying emblems in '70 to clue your neighbors in to what you'd purchased. Maybe that was the point, but it couldn't have helped sales. Only 3,823 Monte Carlo SS454 models were built that first year.
For '71, the upscale ante was upped-there was now a spring-loaded hood ornament to help aim your Monte Carlo down the road. Discreet SS454 badges were placed on the front fender moldings. Understated to the max. There was a subtle, blacked-out rear panel with an SS insignia, but that was about it. In a nod to those who found hubcaps not to their liking, the once-optional 15x7-inch Rally wheels were included in the package. Best of all, despite a drop in compression, the 454 under the hood saw its horsepower rating go up 5, to 365 at 4,800 rpm. Torque was 465 lb-ft at 3,200.
The car you see on these pages belongs to noted classic and special-interest car collector Ken Lingenfelter. "I have always had a passion for these cars and, like all the cars in the Lingenfelter collection, I try to get the best example I can find," noted Ken, who recently purchased Lingenfelter Performance Engineering. "This is the best one I have ever seen. The color and options make it a very special part of the Lingenfelter collection."
Back when he was a teenager in '71, Ken was in the market for a new car and he had a hard time deciding between an SS454 Monte and an SS396 Camaro. The latter ultimately got the nod-not surprising given his age then-but the urge to own first-gen SS454 never left him. The Monte is one of the favorites in his extensive collection, which includes an amazing assortment of GM products, plus some of the most desirable and unusual Corvettes in history.
The engine is a matching-numbers original, and the suspension retains its factory Automatic Level Control system. It rides on Firestone Wide Oval tires in G70-15 size, just like it did in the Nixon years.
Inside, you'll find the beloved horseshoe shifter and woodgrain center console between the optional black cloth-covered Strato bucket seats. Other features and options include factory AM-FM stereo radio, power windows and locks, tilt wheel, and a remote-operated driver-side mirror.
The exterior is Mulsanne Blue, a stunning color then and now, and it's contrasted by a black vinyl top. The entire car was given a frame-off restoration by its previous (and fifth) owner, Ricky L. Wood (who laid down the paint). It was acquired as part of a group of other cars purchased from Wood's collection.
There would be no SS454 for '72 and though the Monte Carlo became famous for its performance on NASCAR's high banks, its true impact was felt on the street. It became one of the most popular personal luxury coupes on the planet from the mid-'70s through the late-'80s. As such, it helped direct billions of dollars into GM's coffers. And that was the ultimate plan all along.