Rare Turbo: 1981 Chevy Monte Carlo

Before the Monte Carlo SS, there was a rare turbocharged model which could pass for a sleeper given the era in which it was produced. This particular example appears to be in fine shape, with some tasteful OEM upgrades and a colorful history. Mileage is low at just 48,000, and the seller is asking $11K. Find the turbocharged Monte here on craigslist. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Marc G. for the find, and be sure to go here if the ad disappears.

The turbocharged Monte Carlo utilized Buick’s 3.8L mill, which produced a respectable 170 b.h.p., and ironically was more than the beefiest V8 offered that year. It’s too bad turbocharging wasn’t more of a success for GM, as they were effectively light-years ahead of the curve compared to their competitors. Now that turbocharging has become standard operating procedure for better performance and fuel economy, the world seems to have forgotten GM was out of the gate early in terms of adoption.

The seller notes that this Monte Carlo was used in a film called Angry Men about the space shuttle Challenger explosion (never heard of it – the movie, that is). I imagine it was used to portray a new car at the time, and when this one rolled off the dealer lot, it came with several options, including: power windows, air-conditioning, vinyl bucket seats, center console, Delco AM/FM stereo 8-track tape stereo, color keyed floor mats, delayed entry/exit auxiliary lighting, cornering lights, rear window defogger, cruise control, and more.

If you’re not a fan of the later SS wheels, the seller has a few other options to choose from, including these fancy wire hubcaps. According to the seller, just over 3,000 turbo models were made in 1981, which does set this example apart. It would appear based on the listing that he is quite firm on the price, which I’d consider high at the moment. While survivors in turbocharged-guise are hard to find, $11K may be outpacing the market by a fair amount. Anyone disagree?

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  1. 4504 Member

    loved those opera windows! you just knew that anybody who drove such a vehicle had real class!

  2. dan

    Sold my 84 years ago and miss it . All I need 10,999 and a garage and I am in .

    I think 11 is not such a bad number

  3. Evan shealy

    Uh… Turbo Trans Am of that year had 200 hp, which is more than 170.

  4. michael h streuly

    The movie angry men has not been released yet. Thats why no one has heard of it. Nice car.

  5. Mr. TKD

    I’m intrigued, but not at that price.

  6. Lawyer George

    Needs a second tail pipe to make it look really cool. A black interior would spiff its looks a bit–but at least it is not any shade of green. I see this at about $7500.00

  7. glen

    These are such nice looking cars.I had an ’85, same colour as this, with the base v6.It wasn’t a powerhouse, but I enjoyed driving it, especially on the highway.

  8. glen

    These are such nice looking cars.I had an ’85, same colour as this, with the base v6.It wasn’t a powerhouse, but I enjoyed driving it, especially on the highway.

  9. Troy s

    I seem to like this body style more now than when they were new, especially with those SS wheels. Nice cruiser in its current state, but the potential of that engine is well known.

    • Rick Rothermel

      a little too much, and a little too soon. Thank heavens SOMEONE resisted the perverted lure of the cursed vinyl roof!

    • 70kingswood

      the potential of later EFI and intercooled 3.8s are well known this older unit it kinda blah… but the cars nice enough and loaded plus it has the cool turbo hood. 8k if its close to perfect!

      • Superdessucke

        Yeah. This motor is not to be mistaken with the SFI 3.8 Intercooled 3.8 turbos which terrorized our streets from 1986-87 in the GN and all too briefly in 1989 in the Turbo T/A Indy Pace Cars.

        Totally different beast. This had a carburetor, not fuel injection. so the tech was about as sophisticated as Duct taping a nozzle of nitrous oxide inside of it.

        Since this is a 1981 model, I believe it will have the GM computer command control (CCC) which was new for that year. But it was a pretty primitive system and engine management electronics had advanced light years from that by 1986.

        This car really has to be put in context. Remember, in 1981, a new Z28 equipped with a 350 V-8 only had 175 HP. And the big bad Corvette only had 190. So it was a pretty big deal to get 170 out of a V-6.

        So this is a very interesting piece of U.S. automotive history. Unfortunately, it’s from an era that’s not very interesting, so I think that his asking price is a bit optimistic. Still very cool though.

    • Steve

      My cousin had a copper colored regal with the same engine. Pretty uninspiring. It got yanked for a sbc (350) after the 3.8 gave up the ghost (lost oil pressure ,iirc). For the record, im not sure what GM was exactly “way ahead of” on the turbo deal. The early carbed turbo cars were Kind of a PITA and didnt make huge power in return. The first fuel injected “hot air” (non intercooled) ones didnt make a huge difference power wise and i never knew anyone personally who owned one to compare the trouble they had compared to carbureted. It wasnt until the intercooled version came along (1986?…1987 for sure) that the really stood out. Finally got it right One (or two?) years and gm unfortunately decided to kille the g body… too bad there was no tpi 350 Like in the f body…then a while later they did the same with the b body impala ss/ roadmaster/

  10. jw454

    I had a 1984, dark brown/dark brown. It was a very good car and had a very comfortable ride. The carbureted V6 was no rocket ship but, it got me there and back quite well. I was very pleased with it.
    The seats in the feature car are the same as the ones that were in my 1980 Cutlass. They were also quite comfortable.

  11. leiniedude Member

    I like it. I would put two of the wire caps on the passenger side though. Sporty one one side, classy on the other.


    Didn’t the Challenger blow up in January of 1986? So it wouldn’t have been a new car then. I’ll buy the movie not the car.

    • Miguel

      From a distance you can’t ell them apart the 1981 – 1986.

    • Pete

      What?, people in 1986 didn’t drive 1981 cars that still looked like they were in good condition? Come on now. Now if they used a 1990 car for a movie set in 1986 then that would clearly be an error on the prop masters part. My mom had a silver 79 Monte with a POS 305 in it. She traded that for a 82 Cutlass with the same engine. ( ‘)( ‘)

  13. joebazots

    Had a burgandy 81 w/ T-tops. Too bad it wasn’t one of these turbos, but the anemic 305. Good memories in that car. Hope this one finds a good home, though I think they are a little optimistic on their ask.

  14. 72 Monte Carlo

    This body style was a nice recovery from the bug eyed, squatty look of 78-80. I traded my original 72 Monte in on an 83 that was a nice little cruiser, but as joebazots pointed out, the engine power was weak.

  15. Chevelle SS

    Had a real pretty ‘81 in deep Burgundy metallic with a 267 V8. Really enjoyable car for it’s time. This one intrigues me but I have to wonder why the passenger side kick panel is loose. That’s where the CCC PCM lives.

  16. Fiete T.

    Believe you could get the turbo Monte Carlo up to the end of the G-body line.

    • Miguel

      There was no turbo model after 1981 or 1982. There certainly wasn’t any when I worked at the dealer in 1987.

  17. Jim Thonadon

    The ad says “Supercharged turbo”, I am confused. There is a difference. Supercharger works all the time and turbo charged kicks in on demand. Maybe someone can clear this 72 year old’s confusion!!

  18. Zapp

    Vividly recall test driving a similar ’79 Century Turbo Coupe with the same motor back in the day. It wasn’t exactly as powerful as I expected in a straight line, but sure was a nice driving car. I’d love to own this Monte.

  19. Del

    Mildly uninteresting

    Bought an SS New in 2000

    Now that was a nice Monte

    Drove it for 13 years and got 4000 for it

  20. RetroRick

    The. Build quality and materials used in these G bodies were even worse than their proportions especially the ridiculous front overhang. I’ve owned an one was more than enough. Junk.

  21. David Miraglia

    nice for a Monty

  22. Kevin

    I had a 85 with a 4.3. Plenty of umph to push the family around. Drove it for over 200k trouble free miles and saw it on the road 2 years after I sold it. Great car!

  23. Ascauto

    It appears that he may be correct. This is from IMDB for Angry Men

    • Tom

      According to the shown pictures the color of the seats do NOT match those of the movie car.

  24. Matt

    My 90 suburban has opera windows

  25. ChevyTruckGuy

    Did anyone else notice that this car has a “Landau” dash emblem, along with the smaller “Turbo” badge, underneath? Landau emblem, but no Landau roof. Vinyl removed from the roof, car re-painted? Houston, we might have a problem…(sorry, couldn’t resist).

  26. Tom

    Where are the SS emblems?

  27. Tom

    The Monte Carlo Turbo appeared slightly different from other Monte Carlos that year because in addition to the turbo motor it also was equipped with a small hood scoop on the left side of the hood. It also had Turbo 3.8 badges with Chevrolet bowtie on the sides of the hood scoop, on the trunk lid, and on the right side of the dash.

  28. ACZ

    Considering what was available in V8s, in the late 70s and early 80s, these were a lot of fun to drive. My favorite was the 78 through 80 LeSabre turbos. The only thing you needed to do was to replace the power piston spring, in the carburetor, with one from a 455 Stage one. That woke it up rather nicely.

  29. Don Page

    If he has a lot of documentation (build sheet,chain of ownership, etc) & if it’s not restored, his price maybe about right. I’m the second owner of a 79 Buick Century Turbo Coupe with 23,000 actual miles. It is a highly optioned car with the build sheet, original dealer purchase paperwork, & a copy of the original title. It is original & not restored. I think my car should be worth at least that much & even more considering that it is even more rare then the Turbo Monte Carlo.

  30. Marathon06

    Nice car and in good condition but this Monte Carlo will not sell for anywhere near $11k. If priced in the $6-7k range perhaps it would sell. Also…..the Seller is not interested in any other offers, nice! Keep in mind you can purchase a Monte Carlo SS which is a far better car for $11k all day long in better colors as well. Good luck hoss.

  31. Derek

    Beautiful car not as bloated as the mid 70s versions. Ten times prettier than any of the cheap plastic bubbles they make now. Early 80s cars are just now being appreciated. the 3.8 was probably one of the best engines GM had back then. I have it in my 85 Olds Cutlass Ciera Convertible and they are bulletproof and get great gas mileage.

  32. Karl

    I look at this car and my first thought is “turd” is this car going to be a collector car in MY lifetime? and like Steve said above GM was a “pioneer in turbocharging” really? GN aside, the only real success GM really showed in my book was with supercharging the 2 stroke Detroit Diesel engine, now in the later years they were also turbocharged on top of the supercharger. Gas engines in the 80s, not so much?

  33. Robert Graham Marsh

    I’ve had my share of Monte Carlos and my oldest had 2 SS and we are a bowtie family ,my other son has a 86 SS that is mine now and in going to drop a crate engine in it and I just might bid on this one

  34. Oliver Felix Rojas

    As a 45 year old owner of a 1993 Buick Century with column shift and a 3300V6 my perspective is that he is dead on for requesting this amount of money. At the same time, author is right, it is a high price. What I think sets this vehicle apart from others is its rear wheel drive chassis and engine. These are among the last living examples of a quasi integration of wholesome 60’s tech and style integrated with 70 thru 80s technology and computer aided design. I am so grateful to witness this barn find. Seeing it re-sparks memories of the one or two turbo Monte Carlos I saw in the Springfield, VA area during the eighties and I am thankful to know a few still exist.

  35. Neal

    Cool stuff.
    I’ve had a few questions about Chevy power from this era.
    Why the switch to the 305 engine of the 350 (and/or 327?) was so successful?
    Also, why are all the GM turbocharged engines based on the V6 platform? Why not turbocharge the V8?

  36. Joe

    For 11k I can still get a nice GN.

    • Don Page

      A nice GN of 11K ! For that price you MIGHT buy a high mileage, beat up, rode hard & put away wet 1982-85 GN but all you would have would be a POS & a money pit !!!!!

  37. Roger

    I’ve owned my 81 Monte turbo for over 30 years. It was a featured car in Hemmings Muscle Machines in 2005. I think $7500 would be a closer appraisal.

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