The Most Obscure Special Editions And Forgotten Limited-Run Models: Mopar Edition, Part IV

(first posted 1/16/2018)     Chrysler has a rich history of special editions and limited-run models, many of which I’ve covered in Part One, Part Two and Part Three of this series. In this part, we’ll look at celebrity and performance tie-ups, alluring trim packages, and a special edition that pilfered its name from a crosstown rival.

300 Hurst

Years produced: 1970

Total production: 485-501

Chrysler’s fuselage cars, introduced in 1969, were not only huge, they looked huge. Looming ominously over their wheels, they carried so much visual bulk they looked like they were standing still while they were moving. As a result, it’s hard to imagine a sporty variant of these, even of the 224.7-inch-long coupe. Well, they made one: the 1970 300 Hurst coupe.

Made in conjunction with the Hurst Performance Group, these are considered by many to be a continuation of the 300 “letter-series” line after a five-year absence, even though they don’t carry a sequential letter (‘M’ was next). The 300H, as Chrysler’s press material called it, was the most expensive Chrysler-branded Mopar for 1970 with a list price of $5,939, a considerable $1700 above a regular 300 hardtop coupe. No convertible was offered, although one was built as a promotional vehicle.

The Hurst package took the more powerful version of the regular 300’s 440 cubic-inch V8, the 375 (gross) horsepower, 480 ft-lb TNT, and mated it to a regular three-speed Torqueflite (sadly, with no Hurst shifter). The big V8 hauled all 4000-plus pounds of 300 to 60 mph in around 7 seconds. Heavy-duty suspension was included, as well as a 3.23:1 axle ratio and a sway bar. 300 Hursts came loaded with power bucket seats, steering, deck lid release and windows. For an even more luxurious touch, all Hursts came with saddle leather bucket seats, the very same used in Imperials. A console was optional.

A vinyl roof – that unnecessary affectation that marred the effect of the 300’s subtly curved, fuselage sides – was not available on the 300 Hurst. This is because the 300H was painted in Hurst’s signature two-tone white-and-gold (Spinnaker White and Satin Tan) paint job with “Apricot and Dark Chocolate” accent striping. Once 300Hs rolled out of the factory, they went to Hurst who fitted a specially-designed fiber glass hood with a functional hood scoop and hood latches. The rear quarter panel end caps and the decklid – with integrated spoiler – were also done in fiberglass.

The extent of performance modifications by Hurst was limited. This is purportedly because approval for the 300 Hurst came as 1970 Chrysler production was already underway and the project subsequently had to be rushed along. Nevertheless, the 300 Hurst was a distinctive and exclusive option and another worthy member of a long line of alluring letter-series Chryslers.

New Yorker Brougham Salon

Years produced: 1978

Total production: approximately 2000

Just looking at the name, you might wonder what this car is doing on here. After all, wasn’t there was a New Yorker Salon that ran for several years in the 1990s? Ah, but this is the 1978 New Yorker Salon. See, Chrysler had a funny habit of reusing special edition and trim level nameplates. The Newport Cordoba preceded the Cordoba, for example, as the Chrysler New Yorker St Regis preceded the Dodge St Regis. The ’78 New Yorker Salon dusted off an old trim level designation (from the ’63-64 New Yorker) that would later be reused by various Chryslers and Plymouths well into the 1990s.

An option package with silver paint would hardly be special nowadays but in the 1970s it had a bit more visual impact, even if the Salon wasn’t the only special edition in the 1970s to be painted silver (see: Ford’s Stallions, et all). For $631, the Salon package added the aforementioned Silver Crystal paint – in a special high-gloss formulation – as well as a silver vinyl roof, subtle red striping, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and aluminum road wheels. Salon interiors could be had in either red or dove gray crushed velour, with leather optional. It may just have been the most attractive of the 1974-78 Mopar C-Bodies and was a classy way to end a long line of truly full-size Chryslers.

LeBaron LS Coupe and LS Limited Coupe

Years produced: 1980

Total production: 948 (LS), 2257 (LS Limited)

Chrysler’s erstwhile “compact”, now “midsize”, soon-to-be “full-size” rear-wheel-drive LeBaron entered the 1980s with an entirely new appearance. With a more upright silhouette and chiseled lines, the LeBaron looked even more formal. Alas, the shapely coupe also went under the knife and its styling arguably took a turn for the worse. It lost its curvaceous hips and moved to a shorter, 108-inch wheelbase, losing three inches in overall length. The only consolation was the availability of a handsome new option package, the LS Limited.

The LS Limited was one of two option packages for 1980 in addition to a regular sport appearance package that merely added road wheels and sport mirrors. The other, named simply LS, added a wire grille texture with a mounted “medallion”, as well as non-functional fender louvers (à la the Dodge Mirada), different wheel covers, and bucket seats.

The LS Limited swapped out the LS’ wheel cover design for wire wheel covers but added a center console and snazzy two-tone paint. Like all other LeBarons, it could be had with either the Slant Six or the 318 V8. Also included in the LS Limited was, according to Chrysler marketing material, something called “trunk dress-up”, as well as “deck lid skid strips”. In layman’s terms, the latter was something that looked like a trunk-mounted luggage rack but was even more functionally useless. Well, at least it was subtle. And at least the LS Limited’s two-tone paint made good use of the sharp creases of the new sheet metal. Buyers preferred the LS Limited, even though it cost $600 more than the $350 LS package. Maybe it was those deck lid skid strips.

For 1981, the LS and LS Limited packages disappeared, although elements like the two-tone paintjob were still options. No sign of the deck lid skid strips, though.

Monaco SS

Years produced: 1978

Total production: 1540

And you thought the Ford Escort was the only domestic car sans Chevrolet bowtie to wear the vaunted SS nameplate. Yes, Dodge applied the SS name to a vaguely sporty version of the ailing Monaco coupe in 1978, despite having a wide variety of heritage names to choose from.

Unlike its Chevrolet namesake, the SS package on the Monaco wasn’t a performance package and was limited to tri-color striping and vinyl bucket seats. The name was an odd choice for such a simplistic option package and buyers largely avoided it, with many opting instead for the new Gran Coupe option package (which included a V8, vinyl roof, and other luxury bric-a-brac) or ponying up another grand to get the new Magnum XE.

One has to wonder: which obscure, non-Chevrolet SS was more popular? This, or the also one year-only Escort SS?

Imperial fs

Years produced: 1981-82

Total production: 427

It’s a pity so many factors conspired against the Imperial—a recession, Chrysler’s financial problems and poor image and an unreliable fuel injection system, among others. For a luxury flagship based on a humble compact platform, the Imperial was fairly well differentiated (at least visually—the leaf springs out back begged to differ). And like Lincoln had been doing for years with its designer editions, new Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca called upon a famous name he knew for a special edition of the resurrected Imperial: Frank Sinatra.

The “fs”, as the Sinatra-themed special edition was badged, added $1000 to the Imperial’s substantial $18,311 list price. Sinatra personally picked out the Glacier Blue paint – it matched his eyes, natch – and all fs models had a matching Glacier Blue interior in either Kimberly Velvet cloth or soft Corinthian leather with thick platinum-colored carpet. The blue was really quite eye-catching, especially when paired with the Imperial’s available snowflake wheels. Unfortunately, many buyers chose wire wheels instead.

Frank himself appeared in promotional material and even sang a song, “It’s Time For Imperial”.

Like all other 1981 Imperials, the fs had the most extensive utilization yet of digital instrumentation. Unlike other 1981 Imperials, the fs had a unique lockable, woodgrain mini-console underneath the dash. It contained three cassette trays with 16 Frank Sinatra cassettes. There was also a Mark Cross leather-bound cassette carry case. Logically, the only stereo option available in the fs was the AM/FM stereo with cassette player. The only option on the fs (or any other Imperial) was a power moonroof—these all came loaded to the hilt with luxury goodies. The fs package was continued for 1982, although all Imperials saw a hefty price hike of almost $3k. For 1983, prices were restored back to the $18k mark but the fs edition was gone.

The Imperial may have been launched after the similarly bustled Seville but the design had been penned earlier in the 1970s—what became the Imperial was originally intended to be launched as the Chrysler LaScala. Iacocca had decreed the Imperial name be resurrected for the flagship coupe. The styling – from the razor-edge lines to the dramatic, multi-faceted front fascia – was distinctive even against other domestic bustlebacks and the fs enhanced the visual appeal. With its visual presence and upmarket positioning – it was the most expensive domestic nameplate at launch – the Imperial was just the car for Chrysler to pitch to Frank Sinatra and other older, monied buyers. And with its humble underpinnings, the Imperial had the potential to be a profit machine.

Such a pity, then, that the 318 V8’s “space-age” electronic fuel injection system proved to be so flaky, forcing most buyers to have it replaced with a carbureter setup. A pity, too, that Chrysler’s financial turmoil was scaring away buyers, especially from higher-end models. Or that the Imperial’s performance was sluggish thanks to the extra 400 pounds of sound deadening and heavier-gauge steel the Imperial added over the cheaper Cordoba—the Imperial weighed 4000 pounds and had only 140 hp and 245 ft-lbs to haul it around. It didn’t matter the Imperial was otherwise well-built, at least by 1981 Chrysler standards (it went down a special assembly line with more experienced workers), or that it looked so distinctive. The Imperial was a flop, taking three years to sell even half of its annual sales projection.

Oh, and to add insult to injury, apparently Frank Sinatra’s own Imperial fs stalled out on him.

There are still some Mopar models – wearing Jeep and Eagle badges – to cover in this series, as well as a selection of Jeeps that precede Chrysler’s purchase of the brand.

Related Reading:

Vintage Road Test: Plymouth Sport Fury GT

Automotive History: Shockingly Low Volume Production Cars – The Plymouth Edition

Automotive History: Shockingly Low Volume Production Cars – The Dodge Edition

CC Capsule, Part 2: 1981 Chrysler Cordoba LS – Introducing Darlene