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These Montes are owned (or formerly owned)
by Mike McGillis
This is a long one so get a cup of coffee or soda and sit back. There may be bits of this story that parallel your own.
My love affair with Monte Carlos started back in 1976 when my Dad brought home a brand new ’76 White with Burgundy Landau Top Monte. This car was decked out. Burgundy bucket interior, power windows and locks and even the power moon roof. I was just 6 years old but I was enamored with it. I loved to sit in the driver’s seat, pretending to drive and play with all the controls. We only had it for one year before my parents sold it to my uncle for a down payment on a new house but I always lusted after that car.
Flash forward to 1987 and a brand new driver’s license. Looking for my first car I ran across an ad in the paper for a blue 1975 Monte. My Dad and I went to look at it. It was a re-painted dark metallic blue with a full white vinyl top and white interior. I fell in love with it right there. My dad was very skeptical for he saw all the rust and problems with it while all I saw was myself cruising around with my friends. He helped me buy it and my journey began.
I learned a lot of basic mechanic skills on that car. Everything from water pump replacement to stereo installations. It lasted me well into college until the floorboards were rusting out. I still miss that car. Seems like we all miss the connection our first car has with our high school years.
Well as college took all my time and money I sidelined my love affair and concentrated on how I was going to survive in the real world.
Back in freshman year in college I attended a car display at a local Chevy dealer and there I became acquainted with the Monte Carlo Club of Iowa. At the time my ’75 was really rusting out but it let me know there were others out there that had the same kind of passion for the model that I had. This was my first introduction to the club president and her husband. She was boisterous and friendly and he was passionate and encouraging about my interest even though my car was light years from show quality. Barb and Ernie Bruster encouraged me to join the National Monte Carlo Club to learn more about the cars and people in the club. I did and savored each issue of the magazine.
After being out of college for a couple years I stumbled across the club again at a show not far from where I was living. Ernie and Barb were still heading the Iowa club and were just as friendly as the first time I’d met them. We got along marvelously and became close friends. I started attending shows and club events with them and my passion for the breed was really stoked.
In 1998 I was at a point where I could purchase another Monte. I went on a hunt with Ernie and looked at a few prospects but nothing really clicked until I saw an ad in the local paper for a car right in my area. By this time I was really jonesing for car and it probably clouded my objectivity. I went to look at it and it was a triple black ’74. Full black vinyl top, black cloth bucket interior and rally wheels. The rest of the conversation was a blur and by the end of the day I was driving it home.
Now this car was a 20 footer. It looked great from 20 feet away but once you got up close it was evident it needed a lot of work. I mentioned earlier that I learned a lot of basic mechanic work on my ’75, well I was going to get a real education with this car on body work. Everyone I showed it to just scratched their head and said, “You paid how much for this piece of…?”
I however saw the beauty underneath and what it could be. At the time I was living in a duplex with a one car garage. It all started with just wanting to tinker with it and maybe clean up the engine bay. Paint a few things under the hood. Make it look a bit more presentable. Well, in order to get to “this” part, I had to take off “that” part. Before I knew it I had the whole front end torn apart.
I thought, ok well I’ll only repaint the front end and fire wall and put the rest back together. Well, in order to get the firewall nice I gotta pull the evaporator housing. While I’m doing that I might as well replace the heater core. Well getting to the heater core would be easier if I didn’t have to contort over the seat so I better take it out. You can see where this is going. Before I knew it I was in the middle of the Snowball effect. One project kept leading into another and by god if I was going to do it well I was going to try to do it right.
Well restoring a car in a one car garage with only a foot on either side to move back to front is danged near impossible. Luckily my great friend Ernie Bruster took pity on me and offered a stall in his large garage for me to work on my car. We rolled it onto a trailer and moved it up. From there the work really started. My understanding of rust really came into its own. This car had spent all of its life on the salt covered roads of Iowa and Minnesota.
I will insert my Public Service
Announcement right here and now.
Back to the story. I spent practically all my spare time up at Ernie’s. In between I was scavenging junk yards for parts. At that time there were next to no parts available for the second generation and NOS parts were few and far between. Luckily I was clued in on another National Club member Phil Kmett - MonteMania in Arizona. I called this guy up not knowing what to expect. He was the nicest and most helpful anyone could be and new exactly what I needed. He became my number one source for parts and got to be on a first name basis with him and his wife Nancy. He was instrumental in helping resurrecting this monster project I had gotten into. By this time I started calling this car Frankenstein since it had so many parts from other cars.
The hood, doors, quarter panels, deck lid and untold body parts were from different cars. By this time I had also amassed a basement full of car parts. I couldn’t do laundry without stumbling over boxes filled with wiring harnesses and interior parts.
Ernie and I would spend countless evenings and weekends wire brushing, sanding and painting and just when I thought it would never end the build up began. I finally started seeing progress and couldn’t wait to get it finished. But I knew we had to take our time or we would regret it later. The suspension went back together, the engine mounted to the frame and before long the whole running gear was ready to go.
The body itself was something neither of us had experience in working on so I decided to let a professional tackle it. I found a local body guy who came well recommended and was opening his own body shop. My car would be one of his first customers.
For those of you who have gone through this experience you know that when you entrust your car to someone running a business you need to be patient. Regular body shops make their money on steady insurance work to keep the doors open and food on the table. Well because of this, other projects tend to come second. Being my first time restoring a car, and his first time starting a business, we both misjudged the time it would take to complete the project. A couple months turned into a couple more months, and a couple more months. I was eager to get my car done but he wanted to do a good job so the project lasted all winter and into the spring. I would make periodic visits to his shop which, for artists is a real pain in the ass. Each time I would take pictures and at times I could not believe the amount of prep work and metal work it takes to properly repair the decades of rust a car can accumulate.
Finally one spring Saturday I was able to drive it out of his shop and onto the flat bed for the ride home. She was like a beautiful woman with no make up on. I couldn’t wait to get her home and start bolting on all the parts I had in my basement. But first we wet sanded and buffed the finish glass smooth. This is step that makes the difference on a clear coat paint job in my opinion.
From there the build up was rapid and I got more eager as the days proceeded. We worked through a lot of teething problems that were to be expected but finally my baby was re-born. We rebuilt her drive. The smile on my face was a mile wide when I took her for her first 600 mile trip to the Monte Carlo Nationals and was pleased to take a conservative class award. It has also taken many first places at local shows.
I don’t get the chance to show it as much as I’d like but I drive it whenever the weather permits and sees the Des Moines cruise spots every Wednesday and Saturday night during the summer.
During the whole experience I learned a good life lesson. I found that the journey was what I enjoyed the most. Those hours of blood sweat and tears I spent working on the car with good friends were what made it most enjoyable. Finishing and driving the cars was just icing on the cake.
Since then I have been an active member in the Monte Carlo Club of Iowa and we have enjoyed many local shows and National conventions. I’ve continued to be a Monte fanatic and at one time was stabling my ’74, an ’86 SS which has its own story, and a daily driver ’87 LS. It got a bit much taking care of that many Chevys so I currently am down to owning a ’02 SS and my ’74. I don’t think I’ll ever sell my ’74 but I have not owned a first generation yet so that may be the next chapter in my Monte Madness story.
Well if you made it this far I can
tell you have the same bug. Enjoy those Montes and I’ll see you in
Nashville next year!
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