While the former was built in a limited series of 200 cars, the latter is a mystery with an enticing story. In the eighties, Charlie Graf was one of the two owners of Schenk Chevrolet in New Jersey; he wasn’t particularly fond of the SS and decided to make a good one. (Not better, since he wasn’t thinking that high of the stock automobile). That’s how the elusive five-speed manual Monte Carlo SS of 1986 emerged.
The Schenk Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS used a Borg-Warner T5, had a cowl induction hood, 44 other parts sourced from General Motors, and a floor-mounted Hurst Shifter. The build was easier than expected since the mid-eighties; Monte Carlos utilized the same floor pan as the 1978 model. Incidentally, the older car had a four-speed manual transmission, and the dimples in the transmission tunnel (intended as guides for the stick shifter) made the conversion all the more convenient.
But before putting out the package for customers, the ugly side of this transmission-swap job emerged: it was too costly for the dealership, so Schenk Chevrolet of New Jersey didn’t build customer cars. Other than the prototype and one other example, seen in the video below at last November's Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals, all the others were built in Pennsylvania.
The current owner, Phillip Madden, bought it in 2021 through the Facebook marketplace, and he was unaware of what the car was at the time. The intention was clear – LS3-swap it and plant a six-speed in it. However, being a discerning gearhead, he ran a background check of the car and found it the only Schenk Monte Carlo SS five-speed with a front bench seat.
The engine is the standard 305-cube L69 ‘High Output’ small-block found in Camaro IROCs in the mid-eighties, and the rear is the 3.73 Positive Traction found on any regular 1986 Monte Carlo SS. What this car does not have is an air conditioning system. Since the engine wasn’t a power-puncher, with 180 hp (183 PS) and 240 lb-ft (325 Nm), horsepower-robbing ancillaries could be discarded without remorse.
To convince General Motors to issue a factory warranty on these cars, Charlie Graf, the dealership's co-owner who offered the conversion package, turned his attention south. Across the Rio Negro, to be specific, at the Mexican market, where a four-speed manual Monte Carlo was sold. Since the only significant modification Schenk did was to replace the gearbox, it was easy to get GM to offer a manual alternative for the SS in its homeland.
In April 1986, the test mule was showcased in the Super Chevy magazine – read the article in the photo gallery – and that got the excitement going. Coincidence or not, this example featured in the attached video was ordered on April 7, 1986, with a sticker price of $13,314. Surprisingly, the hardest part of the job was sourcing a functional cowl-induction hood that fed 750 CFM (21 cubic meters/min) of fresh air into the Rochester Quadra-Jet four-barrel carburetor.