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Never mind the NASCAR association; or the bad-boy reputation. Never mind that the Chevrolet Monte Carlo is as quick as it looks, with a 303-horsepower, variable-displacement small-block V8 as its top engine choice. Never mind the neo-muscle-car image the Monte Carlo carries. The Monte is primarily about style. Always has been. Always will be.

The Monte Carlo was born in 1970 as a high-style variant on a more mundane mid-size sedan, and as a high-value alternative to more expensive personal luxury coupes. Its mission, at which it succeeded brilliantly, was to deliver a lot of visual importance for relatively small monthly payments. A big-bore SS version was there from the start, but initially the SS sold at a trickle compared to a torrent of base-model coupes with all the luxury options.

The Monte quickly developed a dual personality: Although conceived originally for visual effect, its unusual proportions seemed to give it an edge in handling balance at medium-length NASCAR oval tracks. By the late 1970s, the Monte Carlo was Chevrolet's standard-bearer in stock-car competition. Then with each successive generation, Chevrolet refined the Monte's shape to improve its high-speed performance. The Monte Carlo is now the winningest nameplate in the history of NASCAR, which is certainly something to crow about.

Something comes over us when we're in a Chevy Monte Carlo. It's hard not to fantasize we're rocketing down the front straight at Talladega with 42 stock cars glued to our rear bumper. Or maybe we're going through the inner loop at Watkins Glen, bounding off the curbs as we go through the big chicane. The Monte just has that look about it. It has that feel about it, too, making it an enjoyable and appropriate car for winding down a rural road in the South with the windows down. It still draws admiring looks in these parts.

Like we said, it's all about style.

Last year, 2006, Chevrolet face-lifted the Monte Carlo. The new look is smoother, more mature, more sophisticated. At the same time, a V8 engine became available, for the first time in a Monte Carlo since 1987. Changes for 2007 are relatively minor.

We always bond with the Monte Carlo whenever we drive one. It's roomy and comfortable and easy to operate. Despite its race-track breeding, the Monte Carlo offers more interior volume than any of its non-GM competition. It's fast and fun to drive. It's stable at high speeds for long runs down the interstate and it's great fun on back roads, the same kind of roads that form the roots of stock car racing. The SS promises the kind of performance that Monte Carlo buyers haven't seen in a long time, along with a chance to feel connected to a winning tradition.

We're expecting this to be the last year for the Monte Carlo, with production ending in August 2007. So act now if you want to buy a new one.

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