Nothing about this 1976 Chevy Laguna S3 would stand out to the jaded high-end car collector; simply put, it ain’t no 427 COPO Camaro or Hemi Superbird. That’s precisely why you—the regular hard worker with a high-octane jones—want to aim your eyeballs at MotorTrend+ during the afternoon of Friday, July 8, 2022, for coverage of the Mecum Auctions Orlando event. This Frost Green Metallic 1976 Chevy Laguna will roll across the auction block at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center as lot number F243 as the high-rollers are (hopefully!) refilling their mint juleps and counting stacks of hundys for that Hemi Superbird bid, and will be no wiser to the fact that a rare and unusual piece of history has slipped through their fingers. So listen up.
The Chevy Laguna S3 was made for four years, between 1973 and 1976, and was built on GM’s colonnade-style A-body intermediate chassis, a platform that spawned upwards of 10 million vehicles across GM’s Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac brands. Although it is in the same lineage as the vaunted Chevelle, the Chevy Laguna has fallen on deaf ears by virtue of having been born in the wrong decade—smack-dab in the middle of the Malaise era. Nevertheless, as GM’s volume platform, it was important to win in NASCAR, and here’s where things get interesting.
Chevy Laguna S3: the “Other” Aero NASCAR Warrior
Photo: Getty Images/RacingOne
To an entire generation of enthusiasts, the aero-warriors from Mopar and Ford—the Dodge Daytona, Mercury Cyclone Spoiler, Plymouth Superbird, and Ford Torino Talladega—are the ultimate collector cars. But for a slightly later generation, it is Chevy that reigned terror on the NASCAR competition, winning the manufacturer’s cup 8 out of 9 years between 1972 and 1980—twice with the slant-nosed Laguna S3, in 1976 and 1977.
Related: When the Aero Battles Took NASCAR by Storm
In that time, the Chevy Laguna was so dominant in NASCAR that it was prevented from competing by a restrictor-plate requirement for the carburetor, something that wasn’t required of any other make or model of car.
Like we said, some 10 million colonnade A-bodies were built between 1973 and 1977, but only 16,888 aero-nosed Chevy Lagunas were built (7,788 in 1975 and 9,100 in 1976), making them exceedingly rare today. Chevy wanted to win in NASCAR and headed to the wind tunnel to create the Laguna’s new air-splitting, downforce-inspiring fascia. Combined with a sleek wind-cheating greenhouse, the Laguna regularly set records and won races, putting a huge target on Chevrolet’s back. At the end of the 1977 season, NASCAR had had enough and slapped the restrictor plate on the Laguna for the 1978 season. No matter; Chevy still won the manufacturer’s cup in 1978, running a Monte Carlo instead. As a footnote, GM did an end-run on NASCAR by running the Oldsmobile Cutlass 4-4-2 and Cutlass S, which garnered 11 NASCAR wins in 1978—thanks to a similar aero-sculpted nose of its own.
1976 Chevy Laguna S3 Provenance and Quality
This particular 1976 Chevy Laguna was sold to Barbara Mattern of Wellsville, Ohio on March 4, 1977 by Mike Turk Chevrolet in East Liverpool, Ohio. (Its current owner seems to be based in Florida.) The original sales document is included with this Laguna, along with an exhaustive binder filled with documentation of the restoration and performance modifications. This tells us it’s not a quick car-broker flip, but a labor of love assembled by a DIY Laguna-lover. What strikes us is how complete the car is, right down to items that are almost always missing or broken, among them the OE urethane nose, egg-crate grille inserts, C-pillar window louvers, dashpad, and Strato-bucket swivel seats—you never find a Laguna with all these things intact.
1976 Chevy Laguna S3 Customization
You’ll note the fender and rear-deck call-outs heralding “Cale Yarborough Special,” but even though he was dominant in the Laguna during 1976 with 9 wins, there was no Cale Yarborough Special in 1976. (The Cale Yarborough Special was a 1969 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II and the decal design from that car was reproduced for this Laguna.) The call-out, though not legit, is certainly appropriate, given Yarborough’s racing history in the Laguna S3. The owner has also frenched-in some fender air-extractors from a same-year Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, an appropriate and well-integrated “hack” that has been done so well, it looks factory.
The rear spoiler is intriguing as none came with the Laguna from the factory. The 1977 Pontiac Can Am (another GM colonnade A-body) did have a spoiler, but this isn’t it. We don’t know what this spoiler is from, but it looks perfect on the car, and like the car’s other mods it’s well-integrated visually. The staggered 18-/20-inch BBS wheels are heroic. They’re perfectly sized on this big A-body, and proper massaging to the ride height has these wheels owning those bulging fender flares perfectly. All sheetmetal is original except for the quarter panels, which are frequently rotted on these cars and represent a significant cost to replace on the seller’s part. We like that the federally-mandated 5-mph rear bumper has been de-uglified by narrowing it, and the body gap has been likewise narrowed. The original silver paint has been replaced with a 1970-vintage Frost Green Metallic in basecoat/clearcoat, a stunning and flattering color on this car.
1976 Chevy Laguna S3 Performance Upgrades
This 1976 Laguna has been treated to some significant performance upgrades. The original small-block V-8 has been replaced with a mild 1974-vintage 454ci big-block sporting Holley Sniper fuel injection and a mild performance camshaft. (No big-block was offered in the Laguna for 1976). We estimate the power on this engine as-equipped at around 350-400 hp. This powerplant is mated to a shift-kitted Turbo 350 three-speed automatic—it’s not a four-speed even though the photos make it appear otherwise. (Makes sure to check out the remaining photos in the gallery.) The rearend is a stock 10-bolt with 3.05 gearing and an Eaton posi differential on air shocks. Wilwood four-piston disc brakes at all corners bring stopping power into the 21st century. For some wonderful and strange reason, the owner has retained the original four-speed shift lever, console, and pedals—probably because they’re so rare—and we’re guessing the automatic trans was scored with the big-block.
Where Our Expertise Comes From: PHR‘s Project Laguna
The author knows firsthand the trials and tribulations of finding a good S3 Laguna project car and searching for serviceable parts; he owned a 1975 S3 Laguna that was a magazine project car at Popular Hot Rodding from 2007 to 2014. During this period, we learned that few Lagunas remain, and they’re jealously guarded by a small cabal of enthusiasts, many of whom inhabit the web forum known as G3GM, a clearinghouse for fans of the 1973-1977 GM colonnade A-body. Whoever scores this Mecum Laguna will have a ready-made gallery of appreciative fans, not to mention an important resource for parts and information on these cars.
The Chevy Laguna’s rarity hasn’t yet impacted its value, due to its being manufactured in the mid-1970s, but that’s changing fast. Performance models from the malaise era are gaining popularity, and rare ones like the Chevy Laguna (and other same-year colonnade coupes like the Pontiac Grand Am, Buick Century, and Olds 4-4-2) will be the first ones to go up in value. Speaking of which …
What’s a 1976 Chevy Laguna S3 Slant-Nose Worth?
In pristine shape (a “5” out of a possible “5” score), an all-stock 1975-’76 Chevy Laguna S3 slant-nose sells on average for $20K according to our current price guide. We paid $6K for our 1975 Laguna in 2007, and it was a “3” out of a possible “5” condition. After restoration, many high-performance upgrades, and paint, it was sold—including its 560-hp 408ci solid-roller small-block and paddle-shifter conversion—for $25K in 2014. (Shown above.) Time to put on our Antiques Road Show hat: Based on our Laguna experience we think the build-out and aftermarket equipment of the auction car coupled with inflation puts this 1976 Chevy Laguna at around $35k. (We think sane buyers and the sellers should be happy to transact a car like this at that price.) Auctions, however, can sometimes deservedly drive a price higher if lots of folks start bidding.
What’s more intriguing, however, is the possibility that the opposite could happen, as it often does when multiple bidders start chasing big-money cars as investment opportunities. We’ve seen less-popular malaise-era cars come up at auction in the past year where a lack of bidding interest held bids low, and in cases where their reserves were met, some fantastic bargains were reaped. So the question is, can you keep a secret about this Laguna until July 8? If you can, you might score the deal of your life!
1976 Chevy Laguna S3 “Slant-Nose” Details
- Frame-off restoration completed in 2021, less than 1,000 miles ago
- 454ci Chevrolet big-block, 1974 date code
- Rebuilt Turbo 350 automatic transmission with shift kit
- Handmade shifter and fused pedal assembly to appear like a four-speed car
- Mild hydraulic flat-tappet cam
- Holley Sniper fuel injection
- Four-wheel Wilwood power disc brakes
- Griffin aluminum radiator
- Serpentine belt system with GM Performance air conditioning compressor
- Two-Stage 1970 GM Frost Green Metallic urethane paint
- All original sheetmetal except rear quarter panels
- Functional Pontiac Trans Am fender air extractors
- Custom rear bumper
- New windshield and back light, original side glass
- 2 ½-inch exhaust system with Flowmaster mufflers
- New gas tank and fuel lines
- 10-bolt rearend with 3.05:1 gears and Eaton posi, rear air shocks
- BBS wheels (18-inch front, 20-inch rear), Cooper tires (275/40R18 and 275/40R20)
- New OE upholstery, refurbished swivel bucket seats, carpets, and door panels
- Custom dashboard with Auto Meter gauges
Mecum Auctions 2022 Schedule on MotorTrend and MotorTrend+
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- July 8-9: Orlando, Florida / 12-6 p.m. ET on MotorTrend and MotorTrend+
- July 28-30: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
- August 19-20: Monterey, California
- September 8-10: Dallas, Texas
- October 14-15: Chicago, Illinois
- November 11-12: Las Vegas, Nevada
Watch a Full Episode of Roadkill! Cross Country in a Hemi-Swapped 1955 Chevy Gasser
On episode 30 of Roadkill: 2,600 miles, 530 cubic inches, 700 horsepower, six speeds, 17 mpg, and two fun visits with some friends. David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan take their Hemi-powered 1955 Chevy gasser around the block once, then hit the road on a 2,600-mile journey from Los Angeles to the 2014 HOT ROD Power Tour kick-off party in Concord, North Carolina. On the way, there are breakdowns and two surprises: a stop at Midwest Street Cars with Justin “Big Chief” Shearer and Shawn “Murder Nova” Ellington from Street Outlaws, and another with Rutledge Wood. Sign up for a free trial to MotorTrend+ and start watching every episode of Roadkill today!
Rare 1976 Chevy Laguna S3 “Slant-Nose” Surfaces in Orlando!
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