1973 Dodge Monaco
Jim Wilding has owned a mouthwatering selection of American cars over the decades, but his latest acquisition, this elegant ’73 Dodge Monaco turned out to be one of the rarest of the lot. We went along to Ace American Autos to take a closer look…
Words and photography: Jon Cass
FRESH PRINCE OF MONACO
For as long as he can remember, Jim Wilding has been a petrolhead at heart. “Growing up in the Fifties and Sixties, I was often to be found watching Highway Patrol with Broderick Crawford in his ’56 Buick Special or Seventy- Seven Sunset strip with Efrem Zimbalist in his ’62 Thunderbird convertible,” Jim remembers. “Along with others I’d witnessed on TV, I found American cars just that bit cooler than their European counterparts and I guess I became hooked for life.” Back in the day, even all Jim’s toy cars were based on American models and the subjects of his books contained the same theme too.
It’s no surprise then, that Jim selected a car with a major American influence as soon as he was able. “It was a ’75 Chrysler Valiant Charger two-door fastback coupe,” Jim smiles. “Although it was built in Australia, other than the steering wheel being on the opposite side, everyone assumed it was American anyway!” Bought when just six-months old, the 318 Valiant Charger boasted just 4000 miles on the clock, while the previous owner had been a Chrysler executive at Lynwood. “This was an era when Chrysler were importing their full range of Australian cars as their top of the range models,” Jim adds.
By 1980, the Valiant Charger had been replaced by an almost new ’79 LTD Landau imported from Belgium, but after five happy years of ownership, Jim struggled to find his preferred modern American replacement. “There seemed to be nothing available at the time, so I made a reluctant return to European cars,” he laughs. Fortunately, by 1993 American manufacturers had begun to take an interest in the UK market once again and Jim was able to return to his old buying habits. Without delay, a ’93 Buick Park Avenue soon sat on his drive while a ’97 Chrysler LHS, 2000 LHS followed, all bought brand-new. “My final brand-new American car was a Mercury Grand Marquis Ultimate,” Jim tells us, “although these had all been great cars, they didn’t quite possess the same character as a classic.”
That burning desire for a classic soon became fulfilled with nothing less than a ’65 Ford Thunderbird Special Landau, family-owned from new in Montana and with just 28,000 miles on the clock. “This was more like it,” Jim says, “I also bought myself a ’93 Cadillac De Ville to drive on a more regular basis.” A ’76 Lincoln town coupe came next and despite selling the car some years ago now, Jim is still in touch with the current owner 300 miles away. “It was a splendid machine,” he adds, “it belongs to a now very dear friend of mine, Clive, who is gracious enough to have me as a named driver on his insurance policy, for both the Lincoln and a Cadillac Brougham. Therefore, I still get to drive my old car every time I visit him.”
Now, Jim’s preferred method of buying his cars unseen from the USA is via Hemmings from private sellers in the States. “If you know what to look for in the images and the person you speak to can describe the vehicle accurately and answer your questions, you may be able to negotiate a good deal,” he explains, “fortunately, this process has worked out very well for me so far on three occasions.” This has led Jim into a self-confessed daily addiction of trawling through the appropriate classifieds to find his next car. “I’d noticed prices of Lincolns and Cadillacs had gone through the roof,” Jim continues, “so far, I’d always been focusing on top of the range, everyday family cars, but with a change in the market, I decided to switch my search towards something more, well, ordinary.”
A Seventies Chevrolet Caprice, Ford LTD and Plymouth Fury III were all considered, but it was another more unusual car that caught Jim’s eye first. “It was during my usual morning pursual of the classifieds and my second cup of coffee when, low and behold, I spotted this Dodge Monaco,” Jim recalls. “The mileage of 82,000 was slightly more than I would have preferred, but I just couldn’t stop looking at it.” Even during many visits to the States in the Seventies and Eighties Jim had never seen a ’72/’73 Monaco sedan; effectively, this model had unknowingly avoided his radar all those years.
Unable to resist temptation, Jim made contact with the Monaco’s previous and only second owner, Doug. “We got on like a house on fire, discussing life in Seventies Michigan,” Jim recalls, “he learned to drive in his parents’ Fury III and now he’d amassed 15 cars in his collection.” It transpired that Doug had bought the Monaco from the original owner’s estate primarily because his grandmother had bought an identical model new in 1973. “The original owner had kept hold of the car for some 33 years and Doug had it for the last 15,” Jim continues, “he liked the Dodge so much, he found himself driving it every day and was now afraid of putting too many miles on the clock!”
Incredibly, the ’73 Dodge remains totally original, unrestored, and has been meticulously maintained throughout its life. “We agreed a deal, helped by the fact Doug felt the car would be going to someone who could take care of it,” Jim adds, “many of these big sedans ended up destroyed in demolition derbies, so this car was a true survivor.”
Once the Monaco had been delivered to the UK, Jim was able to inspect the car thoroughly. To his delight, the description provided had been accurate and the only evidence of non-routine maintenance were two very minor panel repairs from parking dings. For the ’72/’73 model years, the Monaco received a bold new look featuring hidden headlamps which blend well with the sleek contemporary styling. Even the larger federal bumpers introduced in ’73 have been neatly incorporated into the design. Matched with the desirable Dark Green metallic (code JF8) paintwork, this is an attractive Seventies sedan, make no mistake.
Step inside and the spacious Brougham spec interior provides that typical retro feel just as you’d expect, and all seats, door cards, carpets and even the headlining remain original. We were lucky enough to be treated to a passenger ride in the Monaco thanks to Jake from Ace American Autos and as that lazy 400cu in engine V8 burbled into life with its three-speed Torqueflite trans, you couldn’t help but grin. While the handling and brakes aren’t the sharpest, driven in a more sedate fashion, we can imagine this car is capable of covering many fuss-free miles in its stride. “It had Chrysler’s all new electronic ignition fitted from the factory and the car has proved to be incredibly reliable,” Jim tells us. “I’ve used it for shopping, days out, holidays and even as my daily driver for a time.” In fact, other than replacing the usual servicing consumables, no other repairs have been necessary during his ownership. “I did import a set of BF Goodrich 855 x 15 one-inch whitewall tyres,” he points out, “I had the wheels powder-coated green at the same time to match the bodywork which help form a discreet band between the hub cap and tyre.”
Despite its attractive shape and comprehensive spec, only 29,936 Monacos were sold in 1973, just 6300 of these being sedans. Other engine options included a 360 cu in LA block V8 and Dodge’s familiar 440, offering 275bhp. “The lesser spec Polara model sold much better,” Jim says, “not only were they cheaper to buy, the American public by now preferred a grille with four headlamps.” 1973 proved to be the final year the Monaco badge appeared solely on Dodge’s top-of-the-line, full-size cars. After 14 successive years, the Polara name was dropped and by ’74, all big Dodges became known as Monacos.
This makes Jim’s example a very rare car indeed, not just in the UK, but over in the States too. “It’s the only example of this model I’ve ever come across in the classifieds over many years and I cannot find another for sale anywhere today,” Jim says. You could say Jim made a default return to his roots with this car as his first V8 also happened to be a Chrysler back in the Seventies, “I’ve remained a Chrysler fan all these years and the Monaco certainly hasn’t been a disappointment, one bit,” he smiles. Sadly, with a distinct lack of available local storage options, Jim has reached the point where he’s finally felt he need to let the Dodge go to its next caring owner who he hopes will continue to look after and maintain the car as well as he has.
Monaco was the top-of-the-line Dodge in ’73. Styling was carried over for ’74.
Hide-away headlamps were big in the 70s. You’d better like green!..
Squint and this could be a Lincoln! Big, comfortable and smart-looking, just how we like ’em. Immaculate, but ornate, door cards. Smart 1in whitewalls. Smart vinyl and plush polyester seats.
The Ace of Trades
Collecting Jim’s Monaco upon import at Liverpool docks was undertaken by Leeds-based Ace American Autos while Jordan and his crew were also happy to take care of fitting the required parts and sorting out the tedious UK registration forms. They even carried out a major detail to bring back the paintwork’s original shine. When Jim finally decided to pass the car on to its next caring owner, Ace took the Monaco along to various shows and meets where, unsurprisingly, it sold very quickly. In fact, we’re sure Ace wish they had a few more ’73 Monacos to sell, demand was that intense.
Just recently, Ace’s brand-new indoor showroom opened in Gildersome, near Leeds, with a current stock of over 20 American vehicles available from 1950 to brand new, muscle cars and pick-up trucks being their speciality. Ace are always looking out for future stock while for existing sales, along with workshop servicing and parts supply, Jordan can be contacted on 0113 340 0404/07732 354215. We’d like to thank Jordan and Jake for taking the time to step in for this shoot too.