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Aero War II – Chevy ups the ante with the Aero Coupe

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Chevy Monte Carlo SS Aero Coupe rear backlight; image by Terry McGean.

It was bound to happen–the factory-backed on-track battles had returned by 1986. The melee for track supremacy that took place long ago all but evaporated when Detroit left racing in the early ’70s. In the wake that followed, few makes found success on the NASCAR circuit. Chevrolet, with its fabled Monte Carlo, was one of them. True, the Petty camp threw Dodge into the fray with stunning success, and the Wood Brothers’ Mercury hit the superspeedways with a fury. However, late in the decade, Oldsmobile emerged as a force to be reckoned with on occasion, and eventually Dodge pulled the factory plug, leaving GM virtually in sole control. Teams sporting FoMoCo bodies could muster only sporadic pop shots.

Nineteen eighty-one introduced fans to new downsized creations, many featuring nearly vertical rear windows. Combined with a tall spoiler and a sleek nose, lift became a serious issue. Several cars became airborne, in most cases quite unexpectedly. While GM marched on, Ford teams struggled with what amounted to a cinder block on wheels, until 1983, when the Ford factory stepped in with a slick new Thunderbird, triggering a new round of aerodynamic design pursuits, which continues today.

The redesigned 1983 missile that Ford released on the track–and out into the buying public–began to steal the spotlight from Chevy, and by 1985, ran off with the headlines in spite of losing the title. To combat the issue, Chevy updated its aging Monte Carlo–to avoid a costly redesign–with a new rear window. A press release from Chevrolet dated December 6, 1985 (mid-way through the 1986 model year), states the following: “Chevy’s popular Monte Carlo SS receives a refreshing new sloped backlight after January 1…the new rear glass (available as model option B5T) enhances the car’s already aerodynamic characteristics, reducing drag coefficient from 0.375 to 0.365 in the wind tunnel.” The RPO code was changed to Z16 the following year. The release goes on to explain that the new glass will not only improve fuel economy on the highway, but also make the NASCAR version more stable…and about five mph faster.

The new rear window looked eerily similar to one found on a previous Chevy, leading to more than one rumor. The same release dispels that theory: “Forming the rear glass was a feat in itself, requiring hot-wire bending technology for a shape similar to the rear window on the 1977 Caprice,” the key word being “similar.” With the 25-degree slope of the new window, a new decklid had to be implemented, as well as a new package shelf. Maintaining access to the sizable trunk was imperative, so the smaller lid utilized a piano-type hinge with a single gas strut on the 1986 models; this was changed to two struts in 1987.

Unlike Pontiac, which designed its racing version of the Grand Prix 2+2 before the production model, Chevy started with the street version, applying the final design to racing trim before the start of the 1986 season. In short, it worked. The late Dale Earnhardt claimed the 1986 and 1987 NASCAR titles, and Chevy took home the manufacturer’s title those same years.

Aside from the window and short deck lid, each street Aero Coupe contains the standard SS 5.0-liter H.O. engine: a plant creating 180hp. Topped with a four-barrel carburetor and attached to a four-speed automatic, the homologation model still straddles a rear-wheel-drive platform.

Finding a 1986 edition might be difficult, though. Only 200 Monte Carlo SS Aero Coupes emerged from the Arlington, Texas, plant, all dressed in white paint, and sold only in the southern U.S. The following year, color choices expanded–a bit–and production rose to 6,052, this time from the Pontiac, Michigan, plant. Though seen on the track in 1988, the Aero Coupe vanished from the option sheet.

This article originally appeared in the July, 2007 issue of Hemmings Motor News.