Photos by: the author
No question about it – the G-body Monte Carlo SS was only of the best-looking cars of the 1980s. It had the perfect proportions established by GM’s A-bodies nearly 20 years earlier, matched with angular design cues that gave it a more contemporary appearance. Even today, it simply looks right from every angle.
The only problem with it was the anchor under the hood. It was the mid-1980s, after all, and high performance hadn’t quite reemerged in Detroit. Nothing more than a mild 305 was offered in the car. It was rated at 175 hp in 1983 and 180 for the rest of the production run. And while there’s no denying the satisfying feel of low-rpm torque from the venerable Gen-I small block, it simply didn’t have the stones to match the car’s NASCAR-inspired good looks.
In a well-known three-way G-body comparison test published by Car and Driver in 1985, the Monte Carlo SS needed 7.8 seconds to run from 0 to 60 mph and a long 15.9 seconds to cover the quarter-mile. The editors could only coax a 117-mph top speed out of it, too.
Thirty years – yes, 30 years – later, a new Malibu with a 2.0-liter turbo engine will zip to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds, cut a quarter-mile in the mid-15s and, with 259 hp instead of 180 hp, race all the way up to 150 mph. Times have indeed changed.
But there’s nothing a big dose of horsepower won’t fix in a Monte Carlo, which makes the proliferation of LS swaps into G-bodies a win-win scenario – great looks with the power to back them up. Michigander George Walz, a G-body fan whose garage includes two Monte Carlo SSs, an intercooled Grand National, a 1986 Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 and 1983 and ’84 Hurst Olds, took that approach with one of his Montes. It’s a 1985 model that is stuffed with one of Chevrolet Performance’s Connect and Cruise crate powertrain systems. The kit included the engine, transmission and all the controllers and wiring harnesses required to get them hooked up.
Walz selected the LS3-based 525-hp LS376 engine that was paired with the 4L70-E four-speed automatic, representing a nearly 300-percent increase in horsepower over the original 305.
The car was previously owned by an acquaintance who had disassembled the car in Walz’s shop way back in 2000 and, like so many of us, ran out of the funds to keep his project moving. It basically sat untouched for 12 years until Walz announced he was going to put the car together.
“I wanted something done with the car,” he says. “It was a shame to let it sit for so long. The owner said he’d never have the time of the money to do the project, so he gave me the title to it.”
“[The Chevrolet Performance Connect and Cruise kit] had everything – the engine, the trans and the wiring harnesses,” he says. “I knew there was going to be some fabrication involved and I was up for that, but buying a 500+horsepower engine and matched transmission with the all the necessary harnesses saved a ton of time.” – George Walz
Walz knew he wanted to swap in an LS engine and started researching his options and liked what he saw with the inclusive Connect and Cruise package.
“It had everything – the engine, the trans and the wiring harnesses,” he says. “I knew there was going to be some fabrication involved and I was up for that, but buying a 500+horsepower engine and matched transmission with the all the necessary harnesses saved a ton of time.”
As Walz found out, however, having the LS engine and even dropping it into the Monte Carlo’s engine compartment was only half the battle. He and his buddy Steve Lee tackled it all and learned much along the way. Walz also gives props to his wife Louise for lots of the legwork in chasing down parts.
“There are a million little details that go along with one of these swaps that you don’t hear about,” he says. “We made our own engine mounts and the frame had to be notched to clear the front-end accessories; and of course we had to make the air intake system. Those were pretty straightforward fabrications, but then we had to marry the new engine and transmission’s electronics with the 1985 Monte Carlo’s.”
In fact, a number of the Monte’s systems weren’t electronic at all, such as some of the gauges. Walz wanted to retain as much of an original look and feel as possible, so simply inserting a fabricated gauge panel wouldn’t do. Instead, he sent the original instrument cluster to Redline Gauge Works, who removed the original gauges and installed the guts of new Auto Meter instruments with custom faces that look original.
“All the major readouts for the LS engine needed to be changed, even the oil pressure gauge, which didn’t have the correct range,” says Walz. “The tach is new and so is the speedometer, which now has a modern digital odometer, but at a glance, it looks like the original Monte Carlo SS gauges.”
Careful integration and subtle attention to detail in the car includes more than the powertrain. While keeping the unmistakable appearance of a Monte Carlo SS, it incorporates features such as the 1987-88 rear bumper and SS graphics package. That dark blue exterior color was never offered by Chevrolet. Walz thought it would look good in contrast with the stripes and he was right.
“All the major readouts for the LS engine needed to be changed, even the oil pressure gauge, which didn’t have the correct range…” – George Walz
“It’s the darkest blue I could find – and pretty much looks black until the sun hits it just right,” he says. “A few people thought I was crazy to have the car painted that color, but it looks great.”
The car also wears the 17-inch aluminum wheels from YearOne that mimic the design of the N90-code 15-inch wheels that were introduced on the Monte Carlo SS in 1986 (they were originally used on the 1980-81 Camaro Z28). The larger rims fill up the wheel houses nicely and the stance of the car is improved with Global West tubular upper and lower control arms and a tall spindle conversion that helps lower the car. There are also new, 1-inch-diameter stabilizer bars, front and fear, and new coil springs all around.
A set of Wilwood four-wheel disc brakes with 13-inch rotors gives the more powerful Monte the stopping power it deserves and in the rear, those big rotors are attached to a 12-bolt axle fitted with an Eaton TruTrac limited-slip diff and a set of 3.73 gears.
“My goal for this car was to retain the great styling of the Monte Carlo SS, but updated everything and give it modern performance,” says Walz. “I’m thrilled with how it turned out. It looks just like my vision for it and it runs amazing. LS engines are the best thing to come along in high-performance since I don’t know when.”
We couldn’t agree more. This Monte Carlo SS epitomizes everything we love about G-bodies and LS power, blending them into an enviable, unbeatable combination of style and performance.
- CAR: 1985 Monte Carlo SS
- OWNER: George Walz
- ENGINE BLOCK: GM LS3
- DISPLACEMENT: 376 cubic inches (6.2L)
- CRANKSHAFT: GM nodular iron
- PISTONS: GM hypereutectic aluminum alloy
- CAMSHAFT: GM ASA Hot Cam with .525/.525-inch lift, 226/236-deg. duration
- CYLINDER HEADS: GM LS cast aluminum with 2.165/1.590-inch valves
- COMPRESSION RATIO: 10.7:1
- INDUCTION: GM LS3 composite
- OILING: Stock LS3 with GM Muscle Car oil pan
- EXHAUST: Hedman headers with 1-7/8-in. primaries and 3-in. collector; custom 2.5-inch exhaust system with Flowmaster mufflers
- FUEL DELIVERY: GM LS3 42-lb./hr.
- TUNING: GM Connect and Cruise control system
- TRANSMISSION: GM 4L70-E
- CONVERTER: GM 11-inch
- REAREND: DTS-built 12-bolt with Eaton TrueTrac differential and 3.73 gears
- SUSPENSION: Global West G-Plus front control arms with QA1 coil-overs and tall spindles; Global West rear tubular control arms; QA1 1-inch front and rear stabilizer bars
- CHASSIS MODS: None
- BRAKES: Wilwood four-wheel discs with 13-inch drilled rotors and 6-piston front/4-piston rear calipers
- WHEELS: YearOne 17×8-inch aluminum N90-style
- TIRES: BFGoodrich g-force TA – 245/45R17 front and rear
- HP/TQ.: 525 hp / 489 lb-ft (GM ratings)
- BEST 1/4-MILE ET: N/A
Barry Kluczyk is a Detroit-based automotive writer and photographer with more than 20 years of experience contributing to magazines and Web sites, as well as authoring three automotive how-to books. He’s also a committed GM EFI enthusiast who’s previous projects included a nitrous-fed 1994 Z28, a rare L98/six-speed C4 Corvette and, most recently, a 2002 Camaro SS with a modified LS2.