By Mel Francis
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
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
Many thanks to Mel Francis.