’76 low rider, American re-made
To many car buffs, there is no sweeter sound on earth than the deep-throated rumble of a V8 engine.
But now, with global automakers scrambling to design and produce electric and self-driving cars and with major markets like China, France, the United Kingdom, and Norway announcing their own timetables for ending sales of new internal combustion engine-powered cars, it looks like the end of the road for eight-cylinder automobiles.
Climate change and global warming have forced the automotive industry worldwide to shift gears as the internal combustion engine’s emissions are viewed as accelerating the generation of abnormal, extreme weather patterns like the increase in monster hurricanes, droughts, floods, rising sea levels, and melting polar ice.
Small wonder that in the United States, the birthplace of the legendary American muscle car, the passion and nostalgia for restoring, showing and enjoying the big, powerful, gas-guzzling V8 classics of the 1960s and 1970s has intensified.
Muscle car era
The muscle car era began with the intro of the 1964 Pontiac GTO, and boomed with the production of the 1968 Shelby Mustang GT 500, 1968 Plymouth Road Runner Hemi, 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1, 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429, and 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454, among others.
Some experts say that the muscle car era ended with the 1974 model year as high gas prices, new emissions controls and soaring insurance rates dampened sales.
Although the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am came out in 1978, by the late 1970s, muscle car performance was a mere shadow of what it had been when the wildest ones packing giant torque-rich V8s ruled the market.
Nonetheless, the sleek lines, powerful engines and machine strength of the big cars of the ’60s and ‘70s—even models not considered real muscle cars—continue to captivate restorers, hobbyists and classic car collectors to this day.
Here is the story of one such hobbyist, Tim Nichols, who in 1991 acquired for $400 a 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo notchback coupe from a man who worked in a junkyard.
The ’76 Monte Carlo, rear wheel drive and categorized as a low rider, grand tourer and/or personal sports car, dominated the coupe segment in the ’70s.
A total of 353,272 Monte Carlo units was manufactured and marketed by Chevrolet from 1970 to 2007, although not continuously.
The ’76 Monte Carlo had handsomely sculpted body sides, stacked quad headlamps, a horizontal slot grille and flat taillights.
The engine was a naturally aspirated small-block 350 cubic inch V8 with a 2-barrel carburetor mated to a 3-speed hydramatic gearbox producing 145 horsepower (SAE net)/3,800 rpm and max torque of 353 Nm/2,400 rpm.
Those specs did not make the Monte Carlo a muscle car, but Nichols planned to modify the engine to prep it for the private stock car racing held Friday nights at a half-mile oval track in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, about an hour away from his home.
Although the Monte was in running condition when he bought it, Nichols discovered, when he took apart the car that half of it came from the junkyard.
No problem. Nichols was just getting out of college then, working in a machine shop. His place of work proved handy for it was there that he learned the skills that enabled him to manufacture new parts and modify the Monte Carlo.
For example, he replaced the OEM 2-barrel carburetor with a 4-barrel performer unit, replaced the hydramatic with a manual gearbox, and handcrafted a pistol grip stick shift similar to the one popularized by Chrysler in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Nichols shod the rims with Hoosier tires. Tire width in front is 6 inches and the maximum 8 inches (200 mm) at the back.
By 1994, Nichols said, he had transformed the Monte Carlo into “half a race car.”
Although he never got to race it since he still has to change the suspension, he does not regret buying it from a junkyard for $400 and spending about $6,000 to rebuild and recondition it.
The ’76 Monte Carlo has served him well. “I drove it from Connecticut to Chicago in 1994, and must have put at least 100,000 miles (160,934 km) on it.” He can’t tell the exact mileage, though, because the Monte has no odometer.
Now that the ’76 Monte is 41 years old, it is semi-retired and driven only on weekends and holidays. Stock car racing is no longer an option.
“Short ratio gearing requires me to limit speed to 50-55 miles per hour (85-88 kph),” Nichols explained. “Otherwise, the engine will overheat. Since the car doesn’t have a speedometer, I just maintain 2,500 rpm max.”
Given those specs, Nichols’ 1976 Chevy Monte Carlo is hardly a muscle car, though it looks like one with its low ground clearance, outside length (5,403 mm), outside width (1,971 mm), and 2,946 mm wheelbase.
The size of Nichols’ car, the unmistakable V8 growl and the spectacular two-tone body color of flaming red and stark black never fail to turn heads.
But that wasn’t the purpose Tim Nichols had in mind when he bought the Monte Carlo from a junkyard 26 years ago. For those like him who appreciate classic cars powered by internal combustion V8 engines, restoring an old V8 car to make it useful again is a possible dream.
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