Vintage Reviews: Motor Trend’s 1977 New Car Issue – Chrysler Corporation

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Batten down the hatches and wait for the storm.  That had to have been the attitude of Chrysler executives as they faced the waves of new product news pouring out of their Detroit competitors for 1977.  The problem was Chrysler Corporation just didn’t have much of anything new to serve up, but they still dutifully pitched their wares to Motor Trend for the 1977 New Car Issue.

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These baroque beauties were some of Chrysler’s biggest hits for 1977.  The Cordoba offered minor changes, but remained a popular personal luxury choice.  Even in the face of the newly downsized Ford Thunderbird, Cordoba sales stayed quite strong, dipping a mere 3% compared to 1976.  The full-size Chryslers enjoyed a big surge in sales, attracting die-hard big car customers who wanted to get the traditional whoppers while they still could.  Newport sales rose 48%, while New Yorker Brougham, with its handsome ex-Imperial styling and ultra-posh interiors, climbed 84%.

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The Volare (and Aspen) had been bright spots for Chrysler in 1976.  The cars were good looking, practical and well-timed for the market, but in an unpleasant throwback to Chrysler’s 1957 troubles, the new F-Body designs were quality disasters.  In the days before social media and online posting, perhaps it took longer for that bad reputation to spread, as 1977 Volare/Aspen sales remained strong, rising 5% compared to the combined sales of Valiant/Dart and Volare/Aspen for 1976.

The B-Body Fury got a new “face” with stacked rectangular headlamps, while inexplicably the larger C-Body Gran Fury made due with dual round lights…  Fleets buyers apparently didn’t care either way, as Fury sales rose 16% while Gran Fury climbed 31%–off of low bases in both cases.

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Talk about badge engineering!  This page pretty much sums up the challenge Mopar faced with having no money and two different dealer networks to feed.  Plymouth got versions of the Dodge van and pickup truck, while Dodge cloned Plymouth’s Volare and Chrysler’s Cordoba.

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Not much was left of the Dodge big car line-up by 1977.  However, just like Plymouth had done in 1975, Dodge appended their full-size nameplate to the mid-size car.  No more Coronet, and voila, instant downsizing–now there was a “smaller” Monaco!  The big C-Body car soldiered on for one last year, however, blessed with the “Royal” prefix to its name.  Did the strategy work?  Well yes and no.  On a percentage basis, sales soared.  B-Body Monaco sales rose 100% compared to the Coronet, with C-Body Royal Monaco sales climbed 72% versus 1976.  But… those increases were based on a relatively low starting point.  Even with the huge percentage increases, combined Monaco and Royal Monaco sales only totaled 105,517 units for the year, which was about what Oldsmobile cranked out per month.  Plus, while most Oldsmobiles were sold to retail buyers, most Monaco/Royal Monaco units were likely fleet sales for taxi, police and government service.

So, for the Mopar cars covered by Motor Trend in the October 1976 issue, here are the sales by model:

Volare  327,739
Aspen  266,012
Cordoba  163,138
Fury  94,813
Monaco  63,684
New Yorker Brougham  62,127
Newport  57,880
Charger SE  36,204
Royal Monaco  36,101
Gran Fury  29,929
Town & Country  7,275
Gran Fury Suburban  6,236
Royal Monaco Wagon  5,732

 

However, Chrysler did have a few more tricks up its sleeve for 1977, not covered in this issue of Motor Trend, that helped the sales picture for the year.

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For starters, there were captive imports from Mitsubishi in Japan.  Since Motor Trend only covered domestic cars in the 1977 New Car issues, they left off both the Dodge Colt and the Plymouth Arrow.  Of course, they really weren’t Chrysler products, but they did help put food on the table for Dodge and Chrysler/Plymouth dealers.  The Colt actually turned out to be the second best selling car in Dodge showrooms for 1977 after the Aspen, with 69,963 units sold.  Over at Chrysler/Plymouth, 51,849 Arrows found homes.

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In the mid-1990s, “Dolly the Sheep” stunned the world as an early example of cloning.  Well, Chrysler had those scientists beat in 1977, with “Diplomat the Dodge.”  Really nothing more than a LeBaron with more conventionally stacked headlamps, the Diplomat gave Dodge dealers a “premium compact” to sell at a time when that segment was booming.  The vehicle being cloned was the new M-Body Chrysler LeBaron, an upscale version of two earlier Mopar clones, the F-Body Volare/Aspen twins.  Though only available for the second half of the 1977 model year, both Diplomat and LeBaron were welcome additions to the Mopar line-up, generating sales of 34,214 and 46,100 respectively.

So, all told, including the captive imports and mid-year additions, Chrysler Corporation car sales were up 24% to 1,358,996 units.  While Chrysler must have been heartened to post a sales increase in a year dominated by ample new products from General Motors and Ford, the harsh reality remained that Mopar’s three divisions were turning in less than half the sales volume achieved just by Chevrolet alone.