Dale Earnhardt Lives!
1978-87 Chevy Monte Carlo
Except for the ponycars that we'll get to later, the '78-87 Chevy Monte Carlo is the only model in this article that was actually popular with hot rodders when it was new. It fell out of favor as the new car smell was replaced with the aroma of outgassing vinyl and dry-rotting velour, but they are making a comeback as a one of the coolest-looking midsize cars from this era.

Technically, Monte Carlos were produced from '70 to '07, but we generally dismiss the W-platform cars (including the Lumina) built after '87. The fourth-generation cars are the best looking; these were built from '81 to '88 ('88s were actually built in '87), they are still plentiful, and were available with 305 and 350 V-8s. There were also a lot of them built with V-6 engines and even a 350 diesel V-8, so shop carefully. Much like the Impala and Caprice cars, the gasoline V-8 isn't anything to brag about, but it makes swapping in a good small-block that much easier.

These cars look good both as drag race cars and as Pro Tourers. The SS model was available in '84-88 and included a dechromed look and a rear spoiler. From '86 to '88, an Aerocoupe model was available. These were built with a unique rear window, shorter trunk lid, and a very flat rear spoiler. These are rare (only 200 sold each year to meet NASCAR homologation rules) and are generally avoided by hot rodders for aesthetic and cost reasons.

If you like the size and basic look but want to be different, there were also Buick Regals, Oldsmobile Cutlasses, and Pontiac Grand Prixes.

Model years: '81-88 Monte Carlo
Most desirable: '84-87 Monte Carlo SS
Engine you want: 305 or 350 V-8
Why you want it: One of the few cool non-ponycars from the era
Price range: $4,000-$6,000

Heavy Metal
1973-77 GM A-Body
Heavy metal music was just gaining ground as the portly third generation of Chevelles and related A-bodies debuted. The poor timing of bigger-is-better thinking coinciding with an oil embargo and smog regulations forced Detroit into a lot of not-ready-for-prime-time technology. As a result, they were some of the least performance-oriented cars of their day. Fear not though-we are up for the challenge now, and these '73-77 A-bodies can be made into killer street machines.

Now that these cars are old enough-in fact, they are the oldest cars in this article-we've now forgiven GM for Elvis-like bulging and underwhelming engines, and we see the cars for what they do offer, and that is a great chassis, a few years of big-block production, and cars with just enough style to be considered classic. They are also the first in the Chevelle lineage that could actually turn corners pretty well.

The Buick, Olds, and Pontiac brands were chock full of their versions of this A-body, often sporting interesting design cues. Just as Chevy stuffed a few of its A-bodies with a 454 as a last hoorah, some of the BOP versions received 455s to match their brands.

This era of A-body has been embraced by the aftermarket (as well as our own Johnny Hunkins), and you can now build one of these cars in just about any style you want, and with the performance that they deserved when they debuted 30 years ago.

The Laguna was the high-performance model in the Chevy lineup. It was used by Bobby Allison, Neil Bonnett, Cale Yarborough, and other teams in NASCAR racing, inspiring our own '75 Chevy Laguna project car. Because they are older, finding a decent one means that someone has done some work on it or taken really good care of it.

Model years: '73-77 GM A-bodies
Most desirable: '73-75 big-block cars
Engine you want: any V-8
Why you want it: Living large with big performance and handling capability
Price range: $3,000-$7,000