When people think of Chevy’s personal luxury car, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, few make the connection to the 1958 Thunderbird. Yes, it is true that Ford’s baroque “Squarebird” ignited the mid-size, personal luxury car boom and its influence rippled through the auto industry for years. In hindsight, there might not have been a 1972 Monte Carlo if the four-seat T-Bird hadn’t paved the way.
The market was booming for big swoopy two-door coupes and someone over at GM decided that medium-priced personal luxury coupes would be the next big thing. Pontiac went first with its mid-size 1969 Grand Prix and it was such a big hit, that Chevy got a fraternal twin in 1970 and called it the Monte Carlo. By the late ’80s, two-door coupes were deemed passe and within a decade most of the aforementioned cars were sent to the scrapheap in the sky.
The first-generation Monte Carlo was made for three model years. The 1972 model was unique because of its minor facelift. Gone were the round headlight bezels, replaced by square units, and the grille was revised with integrated turn signals. For many, 1972 was the last year of cool Monte Carlos as the 1973 model grew in size and was ladened with emission controls and safety bumpers.
The first gen Monte Carlo was a very successful car for Chevrolet selling close to 500,000 units over three years. In 1970, Chevy sold 145,976 units, in 1971 it moved 128,600 cars, and in 1972, a whopping 180,819 Montes crossed the showroom floor.
That brings us to our feature car, Troy Bisbee’s 1972 Monte Carlo with Chevy’s Gen-II LT1 power. It is a very nice take on Chevy’s first personal luxury car and it has been a labor of love. Troy, a truck driver from Eagan, Minnesota, found the old Chevy seven years ago, and over two years, gently restored and modified the car as you see it today.
Troy found the car locally, but it was originally an Arizona car. He told us, “The car was light blue with a bench seat when I bought it and had 64,000 miles on the clock. The car looked straight and we discovered that it truly was a rust-free, no-accident car when prepping it for paint. A rare sight for a car of any age in Minnesota!”
The most unique aspect of this build is Troy’s choice of engine; he didn’t go with an LS engine. Some folks might ask why. We say why not? Chevy’s Gen-II small-block V8 was the last hurrah before the LS took over the world. It was a breath of fresh air when it debuted in 1992 in the Corvette.
It was a compact, simple engine bristling with new tech and producing a respectable 300hp. The Opti-Spark distributor would become infamous because of its location under the water pump, not the best place to store electronic devices. Yet, from someone who owns a 1995 LT1 Corvette, it is a stout, reliable powerplant that helped pave the way for its younger, more famous sibling. The Gen-II LT1 would see duty in F-bodies and GM full-size cars through 1996 and then died a silent death when the LS debuted in 1997.
Troy bought the old LT1 for $500. It was salvaged out of a wrecked 1993 Corvette. Troy swapped in the engine, along with an ECM from a 1993 Camaro. He also added a 4L60E four-speed automatic transmission to upgrade the entire driveline. TPI Specialties in Shakopee, Minnesota, freshened up the old mill, bringing it back to a factory-fresh configuration. As you would imagine, Troy made sure the usual suspects, a.k.a. the Optispark and water pump, were replaced with new units while the engine was out of the car.
Troy’s Monte Carlo came from the factory with a typical GM shade of blue, but that is one area where he deviated from the GM rulebook. Troy massaged the metal himself in his garage and then sent it out to be professionally painted. He chose a non-GM shade of blue to sharpen up the car’s curb appeal and help set it apart from any other 1972 Monte Carlo. We think it looks great with the matching vinyl top sans fender skirts, which was an option back then.
All of this rides on essentially stock running gear. Troy beefed up the suspension with tubular arms up front and new shocks all the way around. Troy opted for air shocks out back, to give his Monte the perfect stance. The finishing touch was a very nice set of factory-appearing but modernly sized 17-inch Rally wheels wrapped in NITTO 245/45 (front) and 255/50 (rear) tires.
Inside the cabin is where Troy took the most liberties to deviate from stock. He ditched the bench seat, added some factory buckets, and then had most surfaces of the interior swathed with blue vinyl and white suede. He added Dakota Digital gauges in place of the OEM set and a big, Bluetooth-equipped sound system was installed to ensure good tunes on every cruise. A future upgrade is to add a factory console but for now, the transmission selector remains on the column.
This isn’t Troy’s first Monte. He drove a 1976 model to high school so he’s had a soft spot for Chevy’s luxury for years. He currently owns four cars including a 1969 Corvette. He told us that of all his cars, he enjoys driving the Monte Carlo most. “It’s not the fastest car in the world,” he says. “But the fuel-injected LT1 runs so strong and smooth, that it’s my go-to driver.”