Car of the Week: 1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

Story and photos By Brian Earnest

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Asking Jerry Maerz what he likes about his 1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo is sort of like asking somebody why they like the smell of bacon, the sight of a beautiful sunrise or the sound of their favorite song on the radio.

What does he like about his beautiful ’77 Monte? Everything!

“I just really loved the body style on it. ’73 was really the first year of that type of body and every year it seemed like it was getting better and better,” said Maerz, a resident of tiny Arena, Wis. I had bought a [1975] Chevelle, but after I had it for a couple of years, I knew I wanted to get the Monte Carlo.”

And when it comes to 1977 Monte Carlos, there are probably few finer than Maerz’s stellar red-and-white coupe. It is as near-perfect as a 34-year-old car showing 30,000 miles on the odometer can be. The white upholstery is in spectacular condition for a car of such vintage. Ditto for the paint. The unique swivel seats still work and look great, and everything on the car is original with the exception of the tires.

Even Maerz is surprised he has been able to keep the car so pristine. “Over the years, I’ve just basically used a lot of McGuire’s wax on it and I’ve always kept it clean and washed it down,” he said. “It’s been stored and never seen winter at all, even in the early days. That was always the plan. I always had another car that I could drive, and this was going to be my better car. I always had a place to store it, and it was always going to be for use in the spring of fall. I like using it in the fall. That’s been about it.

“I would have never guessed it [would still be this nice]. We’ve just hung onto it all these years and it’s been kind of my baby. It’s still here and it’s still with us.”

The popular Monte Carlo was in its eight model year as a “personal luxury” coupe by the time the 1977 models came out, and by then, Chevrolet seemed to be perfecting the “Monte” formula. The cars were stylish, sleek, rear-drive coupes with plenty of amenities and enough cross-over appeal to attract both buyers of family cars and fans of the sports/muscle cars.

With its 3,852-lb. curb weight, the Monte Carlos actually outweighed some of Chevy’s full-size offerings, which had been downsized and now shared the Monte Carlo’s 116-inch wheelbase.

Changes to the 1977 Monte Carlo were minimal, but the cars did receive a restyled grille between stacked rectangular headlamps. New wider tail lamps had horizontal divider bars and a new hood ornament on “flip-flop” pedestal carried the Monte Carlo crest surrounded by a bright ring. Seven interior trim fabrics and seven vinyl tops were available. The Monte’s chassis had new front springs for a softer ride, plus improved corrosion protection.

The 305-cid. (5.0-liter) V-8 rated at 145 hp returned as the base engine. The 400-cid V-8 was no longer available, but the 350-cid (5.7-liter) V-8 four-barrel with 170 hp was optional. Turbo Hydra-matic was standard with both engines. Other standard equipment included power steering and brakes, electric clock, hide-away wipers, deluxe wheel covers, heater/defroster, carpeting, lighter, inside hood release, wheel opening moldings and GR70 × 15 steel-belted radial tires.

Buyers could choose between the base “S” coupe or the the Landau coupe, which added a vinyl roof, dual body-color sport mirrors (the left one remote-controlled), pin striping and Turbine II wheels. Maerz had his car turned into a Landau version through a dealer package offered by Suburban Motors in Black Earth, Wis., and a now-defunct company called Madison Landau in Madison, Wis. “The Landau roof that you see on there was a dealer option,” he said. “They had a deal going, I think it was a $300 package, where you got the roof, racing mirrors and pinstripe. They came out with the regular padded roof from the factory, but they were having problems with the chrome… It had a covering on there that would crack and peel off. With the dealer package from Madison Landau, the chrome strip across the top was nicer and didn’t crack and peel.

“When it came in, my car was an all-red car. Madison Landau did the roof, the mirrors and the stripe. The stripe would have normally been a decal, but this is an actual stripe because that’s part of what Madison Landau did with the cars. And they put the racing mirrors on the car. Those were stock, but they didn’t come on the car.

“And the top just looks fantastic. They did a great job with it. It looks like it was put on yesterday.”

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but Maerz has occasionally kicked himself for the one big option he chose not to order on his new Chevrolet. “It’s probably something I should have done, but at the time I was young and foolish — it does not have air conditioning, but I put every other thing on it,” he said. “I wanted the swivel bucket seats, I wanted the console. I put the Rally wheels on it.

“Instead of putting in the air conditioning, I put in the biggest stereo they could make,” he added with a laugh, “with an 8-track tape player!”

The total bill, according to Maerz, came to $6,300 before he took the keys. “I think I gave them about $3,000 out of my pocket,” he recalled.

At the time, Maerz said he had to decide between the 1977 Monte Carlos and the 1978 models, which had not arrived yet. He decided to pull the trigger on a car he knew he liked, rather than gambling on a car he hadn’t seen yet. “I was thinking of looking for a new ’78, but I talked to a dealer, and I said, ‘Well, what are the ’78s going to be like?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, but they’re going to be a whole lot shorter.’ I thought, ‘I’m going to go with what I’ve seen,’ so I went and bought ’77, which was the last of that body style.

“Originally, when I ordered it, I wanted a different color. I wanted black with a buckskin interior, but then I found out how bad the paint was. The paint on the black cars was really, really soft. So we changed colors and went with the red, and the dealer said the white would really be nice, so I ended up with a white interior. It’s very, very tough to keep clean … but the white looked nice and when we put the mud flaps on it, it really made the package.”

Since then, the Monte Carlo has only been out of commission once, when Maerz began noticing some transmission noise at about 14,000 miles. “The transmission would whine terribly,” he said. “It was just this terrible noise.

“Well, they had a transmission filter on there that was from, like, a Vega or something, and the bolts were not even in place! It just scared the heck out of me. They couldn’t believe it at the dealership, either … But they replaced the filter and it’s been OK. It’s been fine ever since.”

Maerz said he had a bit of a challenge finding matching narrow white-stripe tires for the Monte Carlo when it was time for new rubber. He finally found some that had briefly been on a Cadillac. “You can’t find tires for this car with that 3/8-inch whitewall,” he noted. “I checked all over before I found these.

“I still have the original tires. And they are General tires, and you can’t get those anymore, either.”

Many car owners who have owned a particularly prized automobile seem to share a similar story of a time when they nearly parted with their favorite car. Maerz admits he, too, had one of those near-miss episodes. “Back in the early 1980s, we had some money problems and problems with our home and property, and I said ‘We should get rid of the car,’” he recalled. “My wife said, ‘Don’t you dare!’ And that’s why we still have it. I’m glad we didn’t get rid of it, that’s for sure.”

When the Maerzes first took their Monte Carlo home, there was no shortage of similiar cars on the road. Chevrolet built a whopping 224,327 of the 1977 “S” coupes and another 186,711 of the Landau versions. There are still a good number of them around, but a scant few were preserved as carefully as Maerz’s machine. “The thing about this body style, too, is there were so many of these car used for racing, and I used to go to a lot of racing and everybody give me a hard time,” he said. “‘I need that rear fender panel,’ ‘I need that quarter, for my race car.’ I don’t think so!”

Got a car you’d like us to feature as our “Car of the Week”? E-mail us and tell us about it: brian.earnest@fwmedia.com
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