From the July 1985 issue Car and Driver.
One can’t take life too seriously when looking inside a Monte Carlo SS, a Buick Regal Grand National, or – to a lesser extent – an Olds 442. These cars are meant for carrying large numbers of friends and large amounts of beer. beach. No one worries about middle America or school prayer when the Beach Boys sang in the sixties while cruising down the highway in a car.
Television and weekly newsmagazines would have us believe that every young person in America in the sixties and early seventies was on the barricades, throwing tear gas canisters back at the police and praying from an old VW bus that he would make it over the border. Can reach Canada. The truth is that most children have never seen a barricade or even received a whiff of tear gas. Hordes of America’s fiery youth drank beer, drove hell, drove around in cars not unlike the three we have today, and waited to see if they were going to be called up to Vietnam.
Nostalgia is what these three vehicles are. When you’re playing any of the three for more than about five minutes, you’re going to wish you brought along all your Frankie Valli/Dale Shannon/Jan and Dean/Lovin’ Spoonful cassettes—not to mention everything Never produced by Phil Spector or recorded by the aforementioned Beach Boys. With “My Little Runaway” blasting from the speakers, you’re not really concerned with the fact that these cars have been left in the dust by modern automotive technology. You don’t mind much when some teen in the Omni GLH Turbo does the same.
We’ve long admired the presence of the Buick Grand National and the Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, and we finally moved on to get three of GM’s more or less muscle cars together for the test over the rather pleasant weeks we spent driving. Through the 442’s old snowdrifts and the slopes of a bad Michigan winter. It is possible – to some extent – to predict a car’s good, bad, and ugly high-speed dynamic characteristics based on its behavior at low speeds on snow and ice, and the 442 behaved admirably when tossed at local lows. – Coefficient surfaces. Thus, when the weather started to clear and spring arrived, the three of us lined up for a nostalgic romp through what was left of Muscle Car Land.
This is the meanest looking Buick ever. It’s also the fastest, because it weighs marginally less, and because its turbocharged V-6 engine puts out 20 more horsepower than either the Olds or the Chevy (200 to their 180). The Buick certainly makes the biggest impression on the crowd. It actually carries the same sense of menace as an attack helicopter, and its exhaust note has a lovely, moaning rap that’s guaranteed to raise a young male’s pulse rate about fifteen points.
The Chevy looks more like a NASCAR stocker, and of course, that was the idea. As clunky as a standard Monte Carlo, it’s nevertheless one of NASCAR’s most successful racing shapes, and Chevrolet’s stylists didn’t have to do much to capture the race cars’ character in the SS. Everything about the Chevy skews toward that notion except for the interior. The paint-and-decal scheme, wheels and tires, suspension settings, front and rear aero aids, and a blaring V-8 noise all combine to enhance the Darlington 500 effect.
Olds doesn’t seem to take heart in this competition. Other than its wheels and tires and a handful of 442 decals, this could be any other Cutlass two-door sedan. Likewise, the interior is all Cutlass, so the car becomes less a theme car or character car than a regular Cutlass with some meaningful performance options. In fact, we’d all be pleased to see the old front-engine, rear-drive Cutlass leave the factory equipped like our 442. , Then the Oldsmobile division could devote itself to making the 442 a performance-and-personality package that would really make a statement.
Chevrolets, Buicks, and Olds all share a common body shell, as well as an automatic transmission, front and rear suspension, brakes, tires, and front-seat frame. Each division was able to fiddle with spring and shock-absorber rates, antiroll bars, bushings, and steering ratios, and to set up its own engine and torque-converter calibrations. (None of the three offers a manual gearbox, bad luck.) When you drive all three back-to-back, the extent to which their respective divisions are able to separate them from each other is astonishing. . All three driving seats feel the same, which is to say lousy, and all control relationships are more or less the same, but after that, all three cars start to fall apart.
Like we said, Oldsmobile is the least impressive of the three. It’s powered by a five-liter version of the old Olds 350 V-8, and the emphasis is on low- and midrange torque. The cast iron engine is outfitted with the same Rochester four-barrel carburetor that’s on the Chevy, and power flows through the same four-speed automatic transmission, but there the similarity ends. The factory specified tire pressures of around 35 psi, and this made the 442 a bit stiff and thumpy. Yet the overall feeling in the 442 was one of softness and unhurried wheel movement. Thus we were a little surprised to find that the Olds was quite happy to accelerate on our test roads—Southern California’s Mulholland Drive and Angeles Crest Highway—even when the pavement was rough and the shoulders were bruised. Like real muscle cars of yesteryear, with their loose suspension and fuzzy steering, one threw the 442 into a corner, allowed the suspension to compress all the way, and then swung it around on rubber bump stops. Worked fine despite all kinds of early warnings of impending disaster.
Buick was another matter entirely. Buick promised everything on its exterior and the power of its amazing V-6 engine, but was really unhappy when the road was rough and rutted at the same time. It seemed that the shock absorbers gave up. And since the engine’s performance was far superior to that of the other two, it only took a short squirt of throttle to get itself well and truly launched into the next corner. after about three such corners, filled sturm und drang And flying elbows, we learned to control the pressure on the thrust pedals.
Buick’s 3.8-liter turbo V-6 is a great engine to look for in a great car. Its performance is so good that it cries out for a more stable platform than the one offered by the Grand National. Let our technical editor describe it in more detail:
“Although it has only three-quarters the displacement and uses the same pushrod valve gear as its competitors’ V-8 engines, the Buick motor easily outclasses them both. Its power source is a computer-controlled AIResearch T3 turbocharger. which is allowed to generate up to 15 psi of boost under favorable conditions. The proper fuel quantity to match the engine’s deep breathing is determined by the same computer, which also uses mass-airflow sensors and various temperature and pressure sensors. Sensors are used. The dose of fuel to each cylinder is then very precisely measured by firing the electronic injectors sequentially. The computer also determines optimum spark timing and with the high-precision, distributor-less ignition system ignites the charge of each cylinder. The result of this exotic technology is a nice, round 200 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque.”
The Monte Carlo’s L69 engine is an American classic: a 305-cubic-inch version of the 30-year-old Chevy small-block V-8. Think of it as either a carbureted Z28 engine or a regular old Chevy V-8 with a 9.5 compression ratio and a Corvette camshaft. Either way, it delivers a very enjoyable 180 horsepower. Not quite as spectacular as Buick’s turbo V-6, but more than adequate for the styling and profiling, it propels the Monte Carlo at speeds that would have been unimaginable five years ago.
These cars are true enthusiast vehicles, in which case they don’t really matter much. They are performance cars that don’t really go that fast; The looks and smell of flash cars and the roar of race cars, but the soul of a mom-and-pop sedan. But it’s amazing how much fun they are. And that’s the whole point. People stare at him. they look great. As automotive graphics go, Buick is far from perfect, but Olds and Monte Carlo have their own songs to sing.
Each one of the three deserves a better interior. The seats just don’t get it, but our guess is that the target customers for Olds and Chevys don’t worry much about seats and ergonomics—that’s for the Porsche folks and other posers. Buick, however, is different. Firstly, it’s a bit more expensive, and it’s so black, so sleek that one really should be able to open the door and be stunned by a gorgeous high-tech interior including an up-to-date package. analog equipment.
The Monte Carlo SS was our overall favorite, with the Buick in second place. The Monte Carlo doesn’t go as fast or look as the Buick Grand National, but the Monte Carlo offers its driver a well-balanced portfolio of acceleration, braking and handling, and NASCAR style. It’s clear that Chevrolet put a lot of thought into this car, because it delivers. The decals and special trim hide that without any gloom. The car is what it says it is, and does what it thinks it should do. It cruises along the freeway like an adult automobile, yet handles the bumps and hums of Angeles Crest and Mulholland Drive like a great big sports car. Hailing beers and friends to the beach for a volleyball tournament this weekend must be sensational.
1985 Buick Regal Grand National
200-hp Turbocharged V-6, 4-Speed Automatic, 3460 lb.
Base/As Tested Price: $13,565/$16,289
CD Exam Results
60 mph: 7.5 sec
1/4 mile: 15.7 sec @ 87 mph
100 mph: 22.9 sec
Braking, 70–0 mph: 198 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft.-diameter skidpad: 0.80 g
CD Observed Fuel Economy: 17 mpg
1985 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
180-hp V-8, 4-Speed Automatic, 3530 lb.
Base/As Tested Price: $11,608/$14,430
CD Exam Results
60 mph: 7.8 seconds
1/4 mile: 15.9 seconds @ 86 mph
100 mph: 25.6 seconds
Braking, 70–0 mph: 204 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft.-diameter skidpad: 0.80 g
CD Observed Fuel Economy: 18 mpg
1985 Oldsmobile 442
180-hp V-8, 4-Speed Automatic, 3570 lb.
Base/As Tested Price: $11,745/$14,366
CD Exam Results
60 mph: 9.1 sec
1/4 mile: 16.6 seconds @ 83 mph
100 mph: 31.3 sec
Braking, 70–0 mph: 204 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft.-diameter skidpad: 0.78 grams
CD Observed Fuel Economy: 14 mpg