In Motion Classic: 1981 Chrysler Cordoba LS – All Dressed Up With Nowhere To Go

003 - 1981 Chrysler Cordoba LS CC

I was on my way home after work this past Friday evening with an arm full of groceries, when I spotted a classic, early 1980’s American luxury car at an intersection near my house.  That other car was not this Cordoba.  The stoplight had been kind and had given me a chance to speed-walk up to the crosswalk, set my groceries down, and wait for the light to change so I could photograph that other car.  Turning my head just to look around in impatience (as that light seemed to be taking forever to change), I caught a glimpse of this and my jaw dropped.  Helloooooo, gorgeous.  At that point, I was in the most serious conundrum a car-fanatic photographer could be in…which of these two classics should I focus on within what would be a window of probably less than ten seconds?

I chose the ‘Doba, temporarily forsaking the other car (which will be written up at another time).  I apologize for the blurry, subpar quality of the above shot, but the clock was ticking and I had to do something.  Had I not been so focused on that other car, I might also have gotten a shot of the LS’s defining feature: that Dodge Mirada-esque, body-colored front nose cap.  Our own Brendan Saur has written up a different ’81 Cordoba LS in a great piece posted several years ago.  There’s not much I can really add to the comprehensive detail in which Brendan covered this automotive footnote to the “old”, pre-Iacocca Chrysler Corporation.  All the same, I felt my example was too rare not to share.  This is, literally, the first second-generation Cordoba I have ever photographed in the wild.

007 - 1981 Chrysler Cordoba LS CC

Researching just a few facts, I discovered our featured example was one of only 7,315 LS submodels produced for ’81, out of just 20,293 total Cordobas that year.  I identified this one as an ’81 by the owner’s custom license plate, though the LS was available from between ’80 and ’82.  The LS’s base price that year was $7,199 (about $19,700 / adjusted) with the 85-hp 225 Slant-Six, while the 130-hp 318 V8 cost $64 extra (about $200 more in 2016 money).  Given this car’s starting weight at around 3,400, the extra premium for the V8 would have been well-spent.  Shockingly, the better- and more athletic-looking LS cost about 10% less than the non-LS Cordoba, and even undercut its Dodge Mirada sibling by $500 – no small change now, and certainly less so in 1981’s economic recession which had started that July.

1981 Chrysler Cordoba ad CC

I have always loved these second-generation Cordobas.  My dream-‘Doba would actually be a first-generation model (perhaps a ’77) in a dark color, fine Corinthian leather, and t-tops (with a garage to store it in to make those leak-prone roof panels less of an issue).  I do prefer the very first iteration of the Cordoba but, to me, the linear, elegant looks of the downsized, neo-hardtop second-generation trump those of just about any other car in its segment offered in the early 80s.  Visually, these cars seem more Mark V than Monte Carlo.

I had spent a not-insignificant amount of time at Chinonis Chrysler-Plymouth when I was growing up in Flint, Michigan, riding along with Mom or Dad to take our hapless, ’77 Plymouth Volaré for one of its many trips back to the dealership for recalls or repairs.  I would be just as excited to go to the dealership as they would be disgusted.  These new-style Cordobas would be sitting in the showroom next to impressive Imperials, boxy Reliants, and sporty Horizon TC3’s – outshining all of them to my young eyes with their near-perfect aesthetic qualities.

008 - 1981 Chrysler Cordoba LS CC

Like the redesigned R-body full-sizer (covered here by Tom Klockau), I felt the downsized Cordoba (and its Dodge Mirada twin) looked fabulous and should have sold much better than it did.  It had lost weight, gotten stylish, new threads, and should have been a hit at the personal-luxury party.  It’s a sad fact, though, that even the best-lookers seem less attractive if lacking in confidence.  With Chrysler’s ever-increasing concentration on its smaller, front-drive models at that time, it seemed to have given up on its original (and originally successful) personal luxury car long before the last of the just-under 13,500 final-run ’83s rolled off the line.

(Continued in Part 2…)

Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Friday, April 22, 2016.

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