By Mel Francis

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Mel Francis at the wheel with Jim Musser in August 2011 at his facility north of Detroit.

 

This 2011 prototype is a design projection of how Chevrolet’s original 1963 Monza SS concept might have turned out, had it gone into actual production. It’s a tribute to Larry Shinoda, who designed it and some of America’s best known automobiles, the C2 Corvettes and later Boss Mustangs. It’s also a tribute to Bill Mitchell, who had the design foresight to dream of this being a lower-priced brother to the Corvette. This version is 6% larger than the original, and has more modern lighting, so that it can better blend with today’s denser, SUV-laden traffic.


 

I thought you might be interested in a project that I’ve had for a while, actually a long while.

I came of age, automotively speaking, in the early ’60s. I had naturally developed a strong desire to own a Corvette one day, but became smitten with the two Monza concept vehicles, the GT and SS as soon as they appeared. Like so many young dreamers, I hoped that GM would put the cars, at least the SS, into production. But as the years wore on, it became clear that pressures within GM were working against this and Corvairs in general were quietly put aside, in favor of Camaros and other more mainstream cars.

 

I’ve owned most of them over the years, a ’61 Corvette, a ’67, a ’77 V8 Monza, an ’82 Camaro, etc, but strangely, my thoughts would occasionally return to musing about what driving a Monza SS might have been like. My established career was that of an automotive prototype designer/builder, for other customers on projects that were never within the walls of the Tech Center, though there was a time when I seriously wanted to gain employment there, as a model-builder, at least. I always had liked the styling of Larry Shinoda since the SS resulted in a much cleaner, smoother line than eventually showed up on Corvettes, so I felt this could be a tribute to his design excellence, without any overwriting by other stylists.

 

 

In 2009, during a slow period in my consulting business, I decided to explore doing a prototype just for myself, that might answer that long-held question. But the project would be based on a ’65 convertible Corvair platform, so the original body would have to be upscaled, in order to fit the width of the production chassis. Stu Shuster was able to supply me with a couple of really nice studio shots of the SS, including a great side-view that would be helpful for photo-scaling. The body was upscaled by 6%, resulting in a wheelbase of 93″, just what the Porsche had grown to, after all those years of evolution on its own.

As the project progressed, modern headlights provided the solution to the headlight problems that plagued the original and an Opel GT windshield was grafted into the overall plan, since I really wanted to be able to drive the car on the public roads. A front spoiler was added as it was needed to gather air for a central cooling duct that connects directly to the fan intake and pressurizes it slightly at speed.

 


 

Photo Gallery of the Monza SR Prototype with captions

 


The Monza SM Prototype is Next

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Monza SM Prototype under development

 

Since the Monza SR is the Rear-engine version of the purpose-built S chassis, SM would then designate the Mid-engine version of the S chassis. It’s basically the same body, re-proportioned to carry the passenger compartment and engine within its 96″ wheelbase, just 3″ longer than the SR. It’s similar in concept to the original Monza GT, but this updated version would have no long, aerodynamic roof with a lifting hatch over the center cabin, deferring to regular doors and a removeable top.

 


 

You can see why it was easier to work on the SS version first. My original foam pattern was shaped with the V solidly in place, with the intent of making a plexi windshield that could be made in two heights, half and full. I was aware how distorted the view would be through the V area in the center, but I pushed on. I knew of no other windshields that would fit this car, even close, so I figured that I’d be stuck with a limited-use plexi-fairing, like on a touring bike, that simply wouldn’t have wipers and if it did, I wouldn’t use them, since they’d scratch.

It was only later, when I checked my mold on an Opel GT parked at a garage and saw how close the dimensions were, that I decided to use the production part instead. The SS has evolved from being a trailer-queen replica, to more of a roadworthy projection of what a production version would have been like, with the 6% upscaling, the addition of fender headlights, enlarging and deepening the doors, plus adding the central cooling tunnel.

During the seventies, I helped an associate execute a tilt-top on his design and the problems were numerous, with water-sealing and latching problems that made it less than safe. He had an electric/ hydraulic system that trapped him inside the car at one point and it was heavy, since he was using glass.

So in the end, building this mid-engine version is somewhat the same. The car will have these same concessions to egress, function and roadworthiness, just as you often see in the engineered transition from concept to production cars. Imagine if after being so impressed by the GT, you had first started working at GM, and Bill Mitchell walked into the studio, announcing that he had achieved approval for a production GT. The same problems would exist for the team and perhaps the same
solutions would have been reached.

To differentiate and denote respect for the original GT, I’ll call this version the Monza SM, with the M designating Mid-engine, just as the present SR designates Rear-engine. The design challenge is to keep enough of the spirit and flow of the original GT, that people can easily make the connection. One area that really could use some design work is the interior, with some nicely upholstered sections, rather than all the hard carbon fiber surfaces in this car.

 


 

Photo Gallery of the Monza SM Prototype with captions

 


 

Check out Mel Francis’ Flickr page!

Many thanks to Mel Francis.

11 Comments
  1. Too fine for words, KUDO’s on a great job… I want one… The Monza SS has been one of my favorite designs for years, had even considered doing one for myself. Glad to see someone did one.

  2. Andy Prieboy

    Congratulations, Mel. Great to see your excellent work highlighted on this wonderful site. Mel is a true treasure. He is very generous with his knowledge and artistry and has helped preserve many a lost car. He has also created quite a few beauties himself. I visit his flickr photostream every time he posts a new wonder.He always has time to kindly answer the questions of an awestruck amateur.

    Great work, Mel.

  3. Dick Ruzzin

    GARY,
    Simply amazing! You say nothing about the hours, which I am sure are very numerous. It looks great, congratulations on a wonderful interpretation of a really outstanding example of the best of GM Styling (At the time.)

    Dick Ruzzin

  4. Michael A. Greer

    Yes, a beautiful job, and thanks for sharing your thought processes and reasoning for doing what you did and when. You made it all look so easy, ha. You have certainly captured the original spirit of the car and translated it forward to top anything out there today. Am not a fan of the new ‘vette and other super cars. There truly isn’t a need for 500+ hp on a street car, and with all the new materials, eventually they are gonna fly right off the road, ah. Keep us posted on the SM. The advantages of the rear engined Corvair are now legend, pity they didn’t continue them…

  5. I was also fascinated by the Monza SS concepts and of course anything Larry Shinoda did was …WOW! So a double WOW! here in this beautiful execution. And hey, it not only looks sleek and beautiful… but it sounds wonderful out on the road too! Fabulous job. Congratulations on a well-done result. Love it.

    Can’t get over the similarity of the lower front end lighting to some of Jim Hall’s Chaparral race cars. Looks like they would transfer right over.

    Oh… and the no idea who is playing the trumpet, that’s first class too!

    Great stuff!

  6. Tom Weber

    Beautiful proportions on the Monza SM Prototype! Very pleasing to the eye! most importantly, thank you for telling us WHY you chose a certain design route over another.

    Question: Could the rear window glass from a Buick Reatta be tweaked to fit your roof and rear deck?

  7. Mel Francis

    Thank you very much guys, for all of your encouraging comments! I knew when I started the Monza project, that I was messing with a revered icon and my efforts would be carefully scrutinized by folks who were probably in the studios, when the originals were created.

    Dick- I counted about 23 months from start to finish. I had a partner who helped fund the project and was able to employ another custom-builder to work with me.

    Michael- I too, am a fan of less horsepower. Too bad the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky were cancelled. We still need a mid-engine 6 cyl American sportscar out there in the market..

    Leon- The fellow in the picture with me, Jim Musser, was instrumental in the ‘cross-pollination’ of these cars with the Chaparrals. And Larry Shinoda was instrumental in the styling of the first Chevy-Chaparrals, so his nose-embedded lighting carried over on the 2A, through 2D models.

    Tom- Tempered glass, like the rear window in the Reatta, is impossible to modify without breakage, but formed Lexan parts can be coated to be so scratch resistant, that they can even be used for windshields, these days. This way, the rear and side windows will be custom-formed, and will fit the car exactly.

  8. Keith Ashley

    Great execution. A possible solution to the glass issue is acrylic plastic used for aircraft windshields. It can be custom formed over a mold. There is a place in the Flint area which does these.

  9. John Barbour

    Beautiful project. I remember well the ride I had in the original Monza GT on the track while at the GM Tech center in 1965 during the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild. Memorable.

  10. econobiker

    It is incredible about how much that modern lighting benefits the shape and aerodynamics of vehicles versus the DOT round 7″ singles and 5 3/4″ duals that were required for so many years.

    And some cars would have benefited greatly from “areo” headlights such as the AMC Pacer which would have lost the headlight hood bulges and looked much more like a 2/3 larger Honda Civic Hatchback about 20 years in advance of the Honda.

  11. David McIntosh

    I saw the original Monza GT coupe at Art Center in the fall of 1964 at my graduation.
    Have loved that design ever since. When I went to GM, I saw photos of the SS roadster and was drooling to buy one to continue my love affair with the Corvair. Unfortunately it never made it to production. It is great to see one actually made and running. Congratulations.

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