(first posted 10/27/2015) The past two decades have revealed Chrysler to be the automotive king of special editions. After all, the final count of PT Cruiser special editions was almost a dozen. Chrysler’s LX-body 300 has featured special editions like the Motown, Glacier, Walter P. Chrysler Executive Series, even a designer limited edition, the John Varvatos Luxury Edition. Then there are the various limited edition Chargers, Challengers, et all. But Chrysler has been at this game for a while, and a look back through time reveals a very interesting and eclectic bunch of special editions.
Chrysler Sebring TSi
Years produced: 2006
Total production: ?
The 2001-06 Sebring may have been one of the most attractive sedans in its segment, but unfortunately it revealed something troubling about its corporate parent, DaimlerChrysler. The Sebring had been left to stagnate in one of the most brutally competitive segments in America, saddled with a weak and unreliable V6 and a low-rent interior. It was a far cry from the heady days of the mid-1990s when Chrysler was on a roll and its new “Cloud Cars”, including the Sebring’s predecessor the Cirrus, were sweeping the awards circuit. With an all-new Sebring due to arrive in 2007 on an all-new platform shared with Mitsubishi, Chrysler decided to send the second-generation JR sedan off with a new top-of-the-line model. This flagship sedan would dust off the TSi nameplate, last seen on the range-topping versions of the Eagle Talon and Vision.
The Sebring TSi included attractive 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, subtle ground effects, fog lights and a chrome exhaust tip. The changes could be heard as well as seen, thanks to a different exhaust tune.
Inside, Chrysler implemented some attractive changes with two-tone perforated leather seats, accent stitching, leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel and, interestingly, genuine California Walnut accents. All of these were pleasing additions but the basic Sebring interior was one of the worst in the segment in both design and material quality.
Performance modifications were limited to a sport-tuned suspension. The 2.7 V6 was the same as in lesser Sebrings, with 200 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. The mid-size horsepower wars of the 2000s had seen to it that, by 2006, these were some rather underwhelming figures. Although a five-speed manual had been available on the related Stratus V6 sedan from 2002 until 2003, the Sebring sedan had never received one and the TSi was no exception. Instead, the only transmission was Chrysler’s four-speed automatic with “AutoStick” manual shift control.
The TSi was an elegant addition to the aging Sebring’s lineup. It certainly was more appealing than the restyled R/T option package on the moribund Dodge Stratus sedan that year (pictured). Chrysler’s design language was changing from sleek, curvy if somewhat bulbous forms to more angular, upright and chunky shapes, most excitingly expressed by the 2005 300. Those expecting the 2007 Sebring to resemble a smaller version of the hot new 300 would be disappointed. If the 2001-06 Sebring didn’t already look attractive, its successor sure made it appear so.
Plymouth Silver Duster
Years produced: 1976
Total production: ?
Although it was simply a two-door Valiant with a sleeker rear-end, the Plymouth Duster proved to be a hot-seller. The Duster was competitively priced, well-sized and could be specified with 340 and 360 cubic-inch V8s that made for some excellent bargain performance. As Plymouth’s compact coupe, the Duster was also well-positioned to receive various special editions. There was the Feather Duster, covered previously, which featured lightweight aluminum parts for a weight saving of around 187 pounds; Dodge’s version was known as the Dart Lite. The Duster Twister resembled the Duster 340 but came only with the Slant Six or 318 V8. The Space Duster had a fold-down rear seat. The popular Gold Duster was more a full-fledged model than a special edition as it was offered from 1970 until 1975. The final special Duster would replace the Gold Duster for 1976, and was known as the Silver Duster.
Proudly placed on the front cover of the 1976 Plymouth Valiant brochure, the Silver Duster was, not surprisingly, only available with silver paint. However, the exterior was spruced up with a red vinyl canopy roof and curious accent striping that dipped at the rear wheel and then kicked back up to join the taillights. Inside, there was an available “Boca Raton” cloth and vinyl interior. While silver is now a painfully ubiquitous automotive paint color, it was less popular in that decade of “earth tones”, the 1970s. Conversely and perhaps for the best, you certainly can’t find something like Boca Raton cloth in any of today’s cars.
The powertrain lineup was quite simple, consisting only of the 225 cubic-inch Slant Six, 318 cubic-inch V8 and the hero engine, Chrysler’s 360 cubic-inch V8 with 220 hp and 280 ft-lbs. The vast majority of Dusters carried the more humble engines, with the 360 only accounting for a tiny fraction of sales by the end of the Duster’s run. For 1976, Chrysler had introduced the new F-Body Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare which were initially met with much critical acclaim. The aging Duster’s final year of production volumes were less than a third of 1975 volumes, with 34,681 manufactured. How many of those were Silver Dusters is unknown.
Dodge Lancer Pacifica
Years produced: 1986
Total production: 500
Around twenty years before the name would appear on a luxury Chrysler crossover, the Pacifica name was used on two highly-specified Dodges. The Daytona Pacifica took over from the discontinued Chrysler Laser in 1987, offering Daytona buyers such niceties as heavily bolstered bucket seats available with leather upholstery. In 1986, the Pacifica name was used on a limited edition Dodge Lancer.
The Pacifica edition was named for Chrysler’s Pacifica Advanced Design Studio in Carlsbad, California which opened in 1983. Although the Daytona Pacifica was a full-fledged trim level from 1987 until 1988, the Lancer Pacifica was only a limited edition and just 500 were produced for the Californian market. All were white with color-keyed wheels and ground effects and the 146 horsepower 2.2 turbocharged four-cylinder, with some featuring a five-speed manual transmission. Despite the low production numbers, these aren’t completely extinct and numerous Lancer Pacificas have popped up on Mopar enthusiast forum classifieds.
Dodge St. Regis Touring Edition
Years produced: 1980
Total production: 438
Despite the name, the Touring Edition was not a typical Detroit sport edition of the St. Regis with a heavy-duty suspension and bigger tires; if you wanted those, you had to tick the option box for the Open Road package. Although the distinctive, 10-spoke aluminum road wheels (keyed in either red or gold) suggested sportiness, the Touring Edition was really just a luxury edition of the St. Regis. Other Touring Edition exterior features included a padded vinyl roof, pinstriping and badges; it wasn’t quite as fussy as the New Yorker, but it was more distinctive than the base St. Regis.
Where the Touring stood out most was inside. All Touring Editions came with leather-and-vinyl seats in either red or cashmere, Featherwood appliqués, power windows, leather-wrapped steering wheel and more luxurious trim on the doors. The cost of the Touring Edition package was $1677, a pretty hefty sum considering the St. Regis’ base sticker price was $6724. However, a Chrysler New Yorker was still $2k more. It appears that as with the regular St. Regis, Touring Edition powertrains were limited to the 225 cubic-inch slant six and 318 (2 or 4-barrel) and 360 (2-barrel) cubic-inch V8s.
Despite their proven mechanicals – the R-Body platform was heavily based on the 1962-vintage B-Body platform – the new full-size Mopars had a rocky launch due to various build issues. Thus, deliveries to dealers were delayed and 1979 sales figures likely disappointed a corporation already in some of its darkest hours. If the ’79 sales figures were underwhelming, 1980 sales figures were an unmitigated disaster. Blame Chrysler’s corporate woes, blame the economy or blame the effects of the oil crisis: 1980 St. Regis sales figures sunk to 17,068, almost exactly half the 1979 figures. There weren’t many takers for the Touring Edition, and it did not return for 1981 when St. Regis sales dipped another 4000 units. That year would prove to be the St. Regis’ last: Chrysler was embracing front-wheel-drive, and K-Car-based models would proliferate through the model lineup during the 1980s. After all, there was plenty of talk that gas prices would continue to rise. Alas, this did not happen and Chrysler missed out on a resurgence in full-size car sales.
Chrysler Newport Cordoba
Years produced: 1970
Total production: 3741
The Chrysler Cordoba personal luxury coupe was launched in 1975 and was immediately successful. Originally planned as the Plymouth Grand Era, Chrysler decided its titular division could offer a “small” car despite promising to never do so. Up until then, Chrysler had only offered full-sizers (or what were once standard-size cars, before the arrival of compacts and intermediates). The Cordoba nameplate wasn’t new, however. In 1970, it had been used on Chrysler’s full-size Newport.
A spring special for 1970, the Newport Cordoba was only offered as a two-door hardtop or four-door hardtop; regular Newports could also be had as a convertible or four-door pillared sedan. Initial impressions are that this just looks like a big, plain, brown Newport, one of the most visually bulky cars of the era albeit cleanly-styled. However, the Cordoba had numerous attractive additions.
The brown vinyl “Espanol” roof actually had a distinctive pattern to it, albeit one far more subtle than the contemporary “Mod Tops” offered by the Chrysler Corporation. Parts of the wheels and grille were color-keyed to the Cordoba Gold paint job. The hood was decorated with an Aztec eagle medallion. The side mouldings had an Aztec pattern. Inside was even more desirable. Where fake wood would generally be in a Newport, the Cordoba had shiny gold, patterned inserts. A similar pattern appeared on the vinyl seating.
With the standard 383 cubic-inch V8 and three-speed manual transmission, the 2-dr Newport Cordoba’s list price was $3,769. It’s unlikely that many Cordoba buyers would have settled for the standard transmission; with the three-speed TorqueFlite automatic, power steering, white sidewall tires and AM radio, the price was $4,241.65. Overall, the package didn’t cost much on top of the standard Newport and it offered a distinctive and yet surprisingly subtle aesthetic.
Chrysler Newport Mariner
Years produced: 1973
Total production: ?
While the Newport Cordoba was featured in print advertisements and other press material and the ’73 Newport Navajo is similarly documented, the Newport Mariner appears to have been lost to antiquity. Even many devoted Mopar fans have not heard of this nautically-themed special edition. The only press photographs easily located are in the fantastic book Cars of the Sensational ‘70s (by James Flammang and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide.)
The Newport Mariner wasn’t the only special edition to follow a nautical theme, but it felt very appropriate on such a large land yacht. The interior was white vinyl with blue/aqua upholstery and carpets. The exterior was similarly colored and topped off with porthole side rear windows. Newspaper clippings indicate this was not just an auto show special and some did find their way to dealers but production numbers remain a mystery.
Chrysler Newport (with Sportsgrain option)
Years produced: 1968-69
Total production: 1,140 (1968)
In 1968, Mercury offered its range-topping Park Lane fastback and convertible with “yacht panelling”. This was a similar style of wood applique to the Colony Park wagon, designed to evoke Mercuries past like the ’46 Sportsman convertible. Perhaps by coincidence, Chrysler offered a similar option for ’68 on the Newport. This was known as the “Sportsgrain” option.
Photo courtesy of Auctions America
The cost of this option was $126, and it was available on Newport hardtops and convertibles rather than the more prestigious New Yorker. Production numbers for the Sportsgrain option were a total of 965 hardtops and 175 convertibles, very similar numbers to the yacht-panelled and slightly more expensive Mercury.
Photo courtesy of Paul Balze, aka splatter graphics on Flickr.
Despite these numbers, Chrysler decided to offer the option for 1969 on the completely restyled “Fuselage” Newport hardtop and convertible. There must not have been a noticeable improvement in sales – full-size convertible sales were trending downwards, after all – and 1969 would be the option’s last year, and the Newport convertible’s penultimate. Indeed, Chrysler did not release production numbers for the ’69 Sportsgrain Newports. Although the larger, plainer body made for a better base for such an option, its arguable whether such a throwback feature suited the Fuselage body’s modern, minimalist aesthetic any better than it suited the ’68.
Chrysler has always offered variety when it comes to special editions. This week, we saw everything from monochromatic white paintjobs to wood panelling to an Aztec gold theme. What was your favorite?
N.B. Considering the obscurity of the vehicles featured in this series, it is sometimes hard to source free-use or press photographs. If any photograph owners wish for me to take down their images, I will happily do so.