The Schenk Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS T5
Charlie consulted an engineer at GM and told him of his idea to convert Monte Carlos to five speeds. The engineer was skeptical, but liked the idea and decided to help. One of the first things they discovered was that the mid eighties Monte Carlo utilized the same floor pan as the 1978 model, which coincidentally was available with a four speed manual transmission. This meant that the same clutch and brake pedals and linkage used in 1978 could be used in the 1985 model. Furthermore, as in 1978, the 1985 Monte Carlos were produced with dimples in the transmission tunnel intended as guides for the hole required when installing a floor shifter.
It was a major concern that the project be built utilizing parts that could be obtained through the dealership. In order to warranty such a vehicle, the parts would have to come from GM. In fact, everything, including the transmission, was purchased new from the dealership's parts department with the exception of the Hurst shifter.
When the project was given the green light, they needed to choose a car as a guinea pig. Charlie's cousin had purchased a new SS Monte Carlo only months before, but decided to trade it in for a new Corvette. Thus, Charlie had a white SS on his hands with approximately 1500 miles on the odometer. Since the dealership was too busy to undertake the conversion, Charlie decided to farm out the project to his friend Ed Quay. Although Quay was in Pennsylvania, his shop, Ed Quay Race Cars, had worked previously on Charlie's drag cars and had an excellent reputation for quality workmanship.
After a lengthy period of time, the car was finished and Charlie drove it as his personal car while promoting the conversion package. However, the Schenk dealership was not set up to do the conversions and Charlie quickly realized the cost and time involved was just too great to be cost effective. This car would be the first and only one the dealership authorized from start to finish.
Having contacted Doug Marion at Super Chevy, Charlie was pleased to see a two-page feature on the car in the magazine's April, 1986 issue. The public reaction was strong and the dealership received numerous calls from parties interested in buying or building a similar car. Surprisingly, the most popular aspect of the Monte Carlo was the functional cowl induction hood; which in fact, was the most difficult and time consuming part of the job. While these hoods today are readily available in fiberglass and are even produced in steel by some companies, no such hood was available in 1985.
All in all, this car represents the best features which many people have worked hard to recreate on their own cars over the past 15 plus years. It is quite possible that this car is the first five speed conversion ever done as well as the first car to be fitted with an adapted steel cowl induction hood. Because Schenk could not produce the cars, Charlie Graf tried to help others with their own conversions. For a time, he kept a list of part numbers so that anyone could purchase the necessary parts and perform the work themselves.
Eventually, Charlie grew tired of the Monte Carlo and turned his focus on other projects. The Monte Carlo SS aerocoupe was now being sold through dealerships and Schenk managed to obtain two truckloads of the rare model Monte Carlo. With approximately 3900 miles on the odometer, the white Schenk SS was sold to a gentleman from New York.
After that, it's unclear for sure what happened to the car for several years. Around 1988, the car was placed in storage in New York in a climate controlled facility. In 1999, the tenant had fallen behind in his rent and the manager of the facility was forced to auction the car. With only 45000 miles, the car was driven to a new home in Florida. After a couple of years, the car was relocated to Dothan, Alabama. Finally, in 2003, the Monte Carlo was again sold and moved to Atlanta, GA.
The car is in very good original condition, only needing minor detailing and cosmetic attention. These will be addressed in due time. I am very pleased with the performance of the car and overall drivability. A recent trip from Atlanta to Charlotte netted 24 miles per gallon. As for Charlie Graf, the man with the five speed vision, the automotive work continues. The Schenk dealership is no longer in business, but Charlie is currently in the process of opening a performance shop in New Jersey; not far from the site formerly occupied by Schenk Chevrolet.
This car is a very unique representation of what the factory should have built. If you have any comments concerning the Schenk Monte Carlo, or knowledge of its history prior to 1988, please email John Crenshaw. My address is:
Originally Released 13 January 2005
updated 26 August 2007
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Copyright © 2001-2012 Marc Hichens