By Brian Earnest
Dave London isn’t one of those speculators who’s investing his greenbacks in a car, putting it away, and banking that it’s going to be a valuable collector prize some day. While that may indeed come true, London’s affinity for his undeniably beautiful and interesting 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe goes far beyond dollar signs and trying to get “ahead of the curve” on a car that is likely to gain in stature among collectors.
No, London simply digs the car, loves its NASCAR racing connections, and relishes the opportunity to have one of the few pristine examples of this relatively rare Monte Carlo variant that a lot of buyers appreciated when it was new, but not many preserved.
“My thing was always NASCAR,” said London, a resident of Franklin, N.C. “The cars that came out of NASCAR in the late 1960s and ’70s — the Superbirds and Daytonas and those kinds of cars — forget it. They just got too expensive for me. I was never going to have one of them.
“But this [Aerocoupe] was specifically built for NASCAR and it was a great opportunity for me to pick one up for decent money… and the production numbers are very low. I’ve had had mine for about three years, but I was looking about three years before that. So I’ve been into these cars for a while and I think I’ve got it narrowed to down to where I’ve got one of the top 50 cars in the United States. You just don’t see them come up for sale very often.”
It’s easy to start an argument in car hobby circles over whether any American cars from the 1980s were worth collecting. Nostalgia always accompanies time, however, and as the years have gone by there are countless 30- and 40-something car lovers gravitating back to the cars they had in their youth. Fox-body Mustangs, IROC Camaros, Pontiac Formula Firebirds and Trans Ams, Gen 4 Corvettes, Buick Grand Nationals and even the tiny Pontiac Fieros are certainly among the first 1980s machines that come to mind that have aged well. It would be hard to argue against putting the Monte Carlo SS on the list, too.
Like a lot of 1980s cars, the SS was more “show” than “go,” but it had plenty of attitude, cool looks, a popular body style and a lot of admirers who either had one, or wanted one. London was among those young fans, but when it came time to buy one, he didn’t want just any Monte Carlo SS. He wanted one of the Aerocoupes built in 1986-’87 that featured the unique, sloping rear window inspired by Chevrolet’s new design for its NASCAR entries. To accommodate the 25-degree slope of the rear glass, a smaller trunk lid was used. Only 200 Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupes were built for 1986, but that number jumped to 6,052 copies in 1987.
For ’87, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo coupe, model 1G, came in LS and SS versions. A V-6 was standard in the LS and the V-8 version listed for $11,746 or $440 more than the V-6. The V-8-only Monte Carlo SS (RPO Z37/Z65) had a base price of $13,463. The Aerocoupe listed at $14,838 without any add-on extras. The main difference between the 1986 version and the 1987 edition was the placement of decals on the front doors. All 200 of the 1986 Aerocoupes, which were actually finished by Cars and Concepts of Brighton, Mich., were white with burgundy interiors. The following year, when the cars were done completely on the regular Pontiac production line, they were available in white, black, gray and burgundy.
Powering the 3,528-lb. Aerocoupe was the high-output Super Sport version of the 5.0-liter (305-cid) small-block V-8, which produced 180 net hp. It came attached to a four-speed overdrive automatic transmission.
The Monte Carlos used body-on-frame construction and rode on 108-inch wheelbases. Disc brakes in front and drum brakes in back did the stopping. The carburated small-block could push the speedometer up over 115 mph, but magazine tests at the time found the cars clocked only high-16s for the quarter-mile.
“It’s less than 200 hp and it’s 3,500 lbs,” London noted. “It’s a typical ’80s car, but once you get it up to speed it’s a wonderful cruising car. It’s great on the highways. The problem is getting it off the line! [laughs]”
Monte Carlo Aerocoupe production continued until Dec. 11, 1987. When the short-run 1988 models were introduced, the Aerocoupe was no longer on the option list. A year later, the last of the rear-drive Monte Carlos were history and Chevrolet retired the name — at least temporarily.
London’s Aerocoupe was either one of the lucky ones, or unlucky ones, depending on how you look at it. The car was purchased new by a man in Colorado who only put 13,000 miles on it until sometime in the early 2000s, when the Aerocoupe was sold to a man in Pittsburgh. “He had it transported up to his home and he put it away in storage,” London said. “The guy only drove it twice in the entire time he had it until I picked it up … Unfortunately, storage is really bad for those things. It’s really like a barn find. It had all kinds of issues from sitting.”
The car had been buttoned up tight, so its interior remained clean and spotless. Many of the moving parts under the hood weren’t so lucky, however. “Basically, the air conditioning system from the heater core out had to be all replaced, and I did it as original as possible,” London said. “The compressor was totally frozen. The belts tore right up. It just didn’t work [laughs]. I think with modern cars you can get away with [storing a car] a lot better. It seems like almost anything before those years when air conditioning systems changed in ’93-‘94, everything before that gets really rough if you let it sit. I don’t think the AC was ever used in this car to be honest. I don’t think anybody ever turned it on.
“So the A/C was completely shot, the heater core blew, there were just all kinds of problems from the storage. It was kind of one of those heart-breaking stories when I went to get it: ‘What did I get myself into?’ My wife followed me all the way home from Pittsburgh, and we made it somehow… and now I’ve got the car pretty close to the way it was when it was first purchased. But it took a lot of effort to get that car back to where it is now.”
Not all was bad at first, though. After some thorough cleaning and polishing, the paint popped like new, and the upholstery was squeaky clean and almost smelled new. Cosmetically, the car was in great shape, and London knew he was lucky to find one that hadn’t been beaten up over the past 27 years.
“I think people looked at them as just another version of a Monte Carlo Super Sport, and people just did not keep them,” he said. “They just used them like they were intended … Most of the ones around today are modified and abused. The crowd today likes to put the big wheels on them! [laughs] To me, they look super silly.”
There were a long list of options available in 1987 for the Monte Carlos. Chief among them were T-tops, which were very popular. London’s Aerocoupe was a hardtop, which was his preference all along. “Everybody’s T-tops leaked. I think that’s a given,” he said. “I was lucky to find a hardtop version.” His car also has the top radio/stereo option available and Positraction. “There were all kinds of options back in the 1980s,” London noted. “Some of these cars even had the crank windows.”
Everything on the London’s Monte Carlo is as authentic as they come with the minor exception of the tires. The cars originally came with Goodyear rubber, “but they don’t make them anymore, so I had to go with Firestones,” he said.
Loyal Monte Carlo enthusiasts certainly appreciate the car for its condition and authenticity when they see it, but London has found that the cars have a much broader audience of fans who are just happy to see an Aerocoupe in the flesh again. Now that the cars have passed their 25th birthday, they have also gained a measure of “official” collector status.
“I would say definitely — they are getting more popular,” London says. “People are saying, ‘That’s the car I used to have or my dad used to have. I want one of those.’ It’s like every decade, probably. The ’80s are coming into their own now. They are never going to be real power packs. They just didn’t make cars that fast in those days, but people appreciate them for what they are, and originality is really the key. There’s just not many original cars left.
“Every single judged show I’ve won, just about. And as far as ‘people choice’ it’s about 50/50. It wins about half the time. The car just gets tons and tons of attention, it’s just amazing.”
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