It’s funny to think that this time five years ago, Paul Niedermeyer was hanging out the sign and turning on the lights here at Curbside Classic. With a loyal band of followers, Paul took the fascinating insights and entertaining and well-researched articles he had been sharing on The Truth About Cars and created this wonderful website. And it was a Dodge Diplomat SE very similar to this, the same color in fact, which was one of the first cars ever written up on Curbside Classic.com. Paul’s detailed piece on the Diplomat SE was dedicated to regular commenter EducatorDan. This piece is dedicated to our editor-in-chief Paul.
If only the Diplomat could be a metaphor for Curbside Classic, as that would make for a lovely tie-in for this fifth-anniversary post. Alas, this old Dodge and Curbside Classic couldn’t be less alike. The Diplomat SE was a relic from the 1970s: reliable, sure, and comfortably familiar, but a car that was rapidly being left behind. Available only with a 318 cubic-inch V8 and three-speed automatic transmission by 1984, the Diplomat was a rear-wheel-drive sedan in a showroom full of front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder sedans, coupes, hatchbacks, wagons and extraordinarily popular minivans. While Diplomats were popular with taxi companies and police departments, the SE was a slow-selling but long-lived retail-oriented model with a plush velour interior and somewhat of an identity crisis. After all, the SE received an almost identical front end to the related (and more popular and pricier) Chrysler Fifth Avenue.
Curbside Classic was a new idea. Other automotive blogs existed but Paul fostered an eclectic atmosphere, where one day you could be learning about Steyr-Puchs and the next day discussing your favorite Broughams. Shortly after founding the site, Paul allowed contributors like myself to share our writing with you, our loyal readers. This collaborative atmosphere resulted in the Curbside Classic community reading automotive historical pieces from writers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Honduras and more. And it’s not just our talented writers that make this site such a delight to visit. It’s you, our readers, who visit us daily and contribute some of the most civil, intelligent and insightful comments ever seen on an automotive website. Curbside Classic proved to be something very new and very different: it was more 1986 Taurus than 1986 Diplomat. There’s an automotive metaphor that is a little bit more apt.
This Diplomat was less fuel-efficient than the larger and more spacious Chevrolet Caprice and Ford LTD Crown Victoria with which it battled for sales. It would be easy to just dismiss it as a 1976 intermediate in fancy dress, not fast or fuel-efficient or luxurious enough to be worth writing about. But that’s what Curbside Classic is about: every car has a story. Somewhere out there, for every car that failed in the marketplace or was blasted by critics, there are fans who have fond memories about it. There are fans who want to talk about why they loved the car. Maybe you clicked on Paul’s Diplomat article because your father or grandfather’s last car was a Diplomat. Perhaps you drove one for a taxi company before you changed careers, or your mother drove you to school in one. Maybe you had a peculiar fascination with these cars that you never could explain and you’ve been waiting to read about them again and share your thoughts.
It’s not just the story of how the car came to be developed and launched, but who purchased the car and how they used it. Who owns this Diplomat SE? I photographed it in beautiful Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. Although its wire wheel covers are long gone, it is in pretty solid condition. Is this a one-owner car, still driven by its elderly owner? Did it change hands and become the property of a younger car enthusiast who appreciates its charm?
Those of us who stop and look and photograph a car like this on the street may be chided by our friends or loved ones. They don’t understand. We are automotive enthusiasts and this is a community for us. I thank Paul for establishing it and for my fellow contributors for assisting him in providing wonderful content every day and helping this site grow. But I also thank you, our loyal readers, for helping keep this site alive. 5 years? Sooner or later, this site will be a classic!
Related Reading, from Curbside Classic’s first month: