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How the Monte Carlo got its V8 Back: A Post About How the 2003 Mustang Concept Shaped the Future of General Motors

How the Monte Carlo got its V8 Back: A Post About How the 2003 Mustang Concept Shaped the Future of General Motors - Blog

The Monte Carlo has a rich history both on and off the tracks of NASCAR from 1970-1988 during its original 18 year run. The Monte Carlo name may have returned in 1995 as a two door Lumina, but the performance that once accompanied the vehicle had vanished. However, in 2003 when Ford unveiled the concept for the new Mustang, the American market was overcome with a desire for V8 powered performance cars once again. General Motors had to respond to this shift in market somehow and this post is about just how exactly they executed their response.

How the Monte Carlo got its V8 Back: A Post About How the 2003 Mustang Concept Shaped the Future of General Motors - Blog

Since its introduction to NASCAR in 1972, the Chevy Monte Carlo has been a legend. The Monte Carlo earned big wins both on the track and in the market until its discontinuation in 1988. As mentioned earlier, the car returned as a two door W-body and only received V6 engines. The Monte Carlo name also returned to the world of NASCAR in 1995, but the track car and road car were like night and day. Again, the Monte Carlo achieved big wins on the ovals and there were multiple special editions to commemorate that, but none of them were overly fast. Sure, beginning in 2004 the V6 had a supercharger attached to it for SS models, but it was nothing like the old V8 powered classics. The reason that there was no V8 was that around the time the Monte Carlo was re-introduced, the market just didn’t want classic American performance cars.

How the Monte Carlo got its V8 Back: A Post About How the 2003 Mustang Concept Shaped the Future of General Motors - Blog

Back in the early 2000’s tuner culture was all the rage, even in America. Not only did General Motors not need a performance oriented Monte Carlo, but they had problems selling the muscle cars they already had at this time. Due to slowing sales of the Camaro and Firebird, General Motors made the decision in 2002 to discontinue the F-body platform which the pair had been based off since the 60’s. Ford was experiencing the same sales slump with their Mustang but they decided to respond with a different tactic.

How the Monte Carlo got its V8 Back: A Post About How the 2003 Mustang Concept Shaped the Future of General Motors - Blog

In January of the year following the F-body’s discontinuation, Ford debuted a concept for the new Mustang. While the looks of the S-197 have become a common sight on the road today, at the time this car debuted it was nothing like any modern car that was being built. The car featured retro styling and instantly stole the spotlight. It was proclaimed as the most significant vehicle of the 2003 North American International Auto Show. I remember being a kid and hearing my dad (who isn’t too into cars) praising the stylish look of the new Mustang that harked back to the original models from the 60’s. Before the car even made it to production it was obvious that this Mustang would cause a shift in the performance car market.

How the Monte Carlo got its V8 Back: A Post About How the 2003 Mustang Concept Shaped the Future of General Motors - Blog

The S-197 Mustang hit dealerships in 2005. Sales immediately began to rise and in 2005 and 2006, sales were over 25% higher than in 2004. As is tradition with the Mustang, Ford’s competitors were quick to respond with performance cars of their own. Dodge began plans to resurrect the Charger name by basically taking a Chrysler 300 and giving it aggressive body panels with a cheaper interior. Chevy on the other hand did not have a RWD vehicle in their stable that wasn’t an SUV or pickup, so they had to think outside the box.

How the Monte Carlo got its V8 Back: A Post About How the 2003 Mustang Concept Shaped the Future of General Motors - Blog

To be more specific, General Motors had to think outside the country. After the initial Mustang concept had debuted, plans were immediately made for Pontiac to import the Holden Monaro and rebadge it as a GTO. The GTO was reintroduced to the market in 2004 and had mild success, but wasn’t even close to touching the Mustangs sales, even before the S-197 debuted. With international demand for the Monaro dropping, it was discontinued in 2006 and GM wasn’t going to have a sporty coupe to compete with the Mustang again. Plans for a new Camaro were already underway but Chevy would need something as a placeholder while the project was in development. So General Motors set out to develop a low cost performance engine that could fit into one of their existing models.

How the Monte Carlo got its V8 Back: A Post About How the 2003 Mustang Concept Shaped the Future of General Motors - Blog

General Motors took one of their 5.3L V8 truck engines, produced the block out of aluminum rather than iron and then dipped into the Corvette parts bin for a bit of extra performance. Then they modified it for a transverse mount, front wheel drive setup by shortening the camshaft and removing the water pump so that it could be mounted elsewhere on the vehicle. The final product was labeled the LS4 and made about 300 HP. The W-body was the only platform with vehicles large enough to place the new motor in.

How the Monte Carlo got its V8 Back: A Post About How the 2003 Mustang Concept Shaped the Future of General Motors - Blog

The beauty of developing it for the W-body was that General Motors had multiple vehicles based off the W-body across multiple brands. This allowed them a low cost option to inject a bit more performance across these brands. The Pontiac Grand Prix GXP was the first to receive the LS4 in 2005. The Monte Carlo SS would follow suit the next year. The Monte Carlo SS was meant to fill in for the Camaro until it was ready for its scheduled production of 2009. The Impala SS also got the LS4 in 2006, but this isn’t too surprising being how popular the model was. Additionally, around 2006 Chevy started pimping out the SS badge onto just about any car they could. I’m not sure if they were trying to overcompensate for not having a Camaro but they slapped those SS badges onto just about everything. There was even an SS Malibu! The other W-body to receive the LS4 was the Buick LaCrosse Super and if you want to learn more about that, check out one of my previous blogs entitled “Buick’s Forgotten Gem”.

How the Monte Carlo got its V8 Back: A Post About How the 2003 Mustang Concept Shaped the Future of General Motors - Blog

The LS4 powered W-bodies sold alright, but none of them were even close to touching the sales of the Mustang they had set to siphon sales off of. There is no doubt that the Monte Carlo had no hope to compete with the V8 Mustang given that it was powered by the wrong set of wheels and was about the same price. In fact, the Monte Carlo had the 3rd lowest sales out of the four V8 W-body models made, falling just short of 15,000 units sold in its two year run. Oddly enough, over half of all LS4 motors produced found their way into an Impala SS most likely due to the standard Impala having the highest sales out of the four.

How the Monte Carlo got its V8 Back: A Post About How the 2003 Mustang Concept Shaped the Future of General Motors - Blog

Sales reflected just how much more successful the Mustang was over the V8 W-bodies. The Mustang would run virtually unchallenged for three years until Dodge began production of their new Challenger in 2008. Chevy planned for a new Camaro based on the Zeta platform to go on sale in 2009, however the project was pushed back to 2010 due to changes in emission standards and the downturn of the American economy.

How the Monte Carlo got its V8 Back: A Post About How the 2003 Mustang Concept Shaped the Future of General Motors - Blog

The retro trend that the Mustang started with their 2003 concept is something that can still be seen fifteen years later. Year after year we have seen proper muscle cars coming out of Detroit. Cars such as the Demon and GT500 have already secured their place in the history books as legends of the muscle car community. While the W-bodies with the LS4 may not have been popular or great sellers, it did give cars with a rich history one last time to shine with proper V8s under the hood. The Monte Carlo may have been discontinued in 2007 to make way for the incoming Camaro, but it went out with SS logos as a badge of honor. For the first time in decades, the Monte Carlo people were watching fly around the tracks for NASCAR at 190 MPH had similar performance to the Monte Carlo people saw driving around town. For the final two years of the Monte Carlo’s life, it was a true performance car again.

How the Monte Carlo got its V8 Back: A Post About How the 2003 Mustang Concept Shaped the Future of General Motors - Blog

As always thank you so much for reading, please feel free to give feedback on anything from topic choice to overall writing style, I am always trying strive for quality over quantity. That being said I am hoping to be able to do more blogs like this now that summer is over. For my next post I am currently planning on doing a review of my Toyota Solara.