American Cruisers: Dodge Monaco

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Though not as popular as other mainstream cruisers, the Dodge Monaco still sold decently well, but its legacy is assured thanks to a certain Jake and Elwood Blues.

The Monaco doesn't have quite the same cache of cool that the other cars in this series have had. At least, it wouldn't, if it weren't for one fact. The Dodge Monaco served as the Bluesmobile in the 1980 film "The Blues Brothers," and that makes it a cool car no matter what. Of course, there were plenty of other things to like about the Monaco, and really, anything available as a convertible and with a 440 V8 qualify as a cruiser. The Monaco was first thought up as a competitor to the Pontiac Grand Prix, which had debuted in 1962.

But by the time the Monaco hit dealerships in 1965, it was also serving as Dodge's full-sized option. The Monaco was therefore offered as a coupe, convertible, sedan and wagon. It was hardly the only car at the time to have been offered with so many body styles, but it wasn't something which was being done with the competing Grand Prix. But at first the Monaco was offered only as a two-door hardtop, and was based on the Custom 880. The Monaco nameplate replaced the Custom 880 in 1966 on all body styles, and the original coupe became the Monaco 500. This would be dropped in 1969 when the second generation of the car debuted.

The second generation of the Monaco received a new look which was in keeping with Dodge's new "fuselage" styling. This styling worked well on smaller cars like the Charger, but it didn't translate all that well into the bigger Monaco, and the result was a slightly dull appearance. Sales declined until a facelift in 1972 improved things slightly. But the Monaco was never a very strong seller. This would become even worse when the third generation of the Dodge model debuted in 1974. This was a bad year for sales of full-sized cars, as the energy crisis was now in full effect, and that affected the Monaco as well.

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This would have been bad enough as it was, but the media also took notice and blasted Chrysler for coming out with new big cars at such an inopportune time. Customers did not flock to Dodge showrooms, but the car would manage to stay alive for a bit longer. It was a 1974 model Monaco which appeared in "The Blues Brothers". It was introduced by the character Elwood Blues thusly "It's got a cop motor, a 440-cubic-inch plant. It's got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks. It's a model made before catalytic converters, so it'll run good on regular gas. What do you say? Is it the new Bluesmobile or what?"

A new and slightly smaller Monaco had debuted in 1977, but this had lasted only until 1978. So the appearance in "The Blues Brothers" in 1980 was a posthumous dose of cool, too late to save the car. The nameplate was revived for 1990 through 1992 for a rebadged version of the Eagle Premier, itself a rebadged Renault. We covered this in another series, so we won't go into detail about how truly awful this car was, but rest assured this was a Monaco in name only. Without the need to boast impressive performance figures, the big American cruiser was able to weather the storm of the energy crisis much better than muscle cars managed.

The American performance sedan might be a sadly neglected niche, but an inexpensive straight-line cruiser has always been pretty easy to find. Slouching behind the wheel of one of these cars with the radio on, no place to be and all the time in the world to get there is one of those things which really cultivates a love for automobiles. A love for cars that doesn't extend beyond their function as an adrenaline pump is an incomplete appreciation. And a cruiser will make you a more well-rounded enthusiast.

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