A few weeks ago, not one, but two Curbside Classics in motion were facing me at my neighborhood intersection on a Friday evening after work. I was waiting for a different American luxury car of roughly the same vintage to make a right turn onto the main thoroughfare, and in the process, I had almost missed the opportunity to photograph this Cordoba which is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful personal luxury cars of its era. When I had finished writing it up the very next day, I had no idea what was in store for me that same weekend.
I had been unable to photograph the the car’s most unique feature which was its aerodynamic, body-colored nose cap which completely transformed the look of the non-LS Cordoba into something much sportier and athletic-looking. Think “brougham in an upscale track suit.” I had been reasonably satisfied with the few shots I had managed until I spotted this same car from the bus on the Sunday afternoon of that same weekend, three weeks ago. Of all times for me not to have my camera (which is usually tethered to me, even when I go out socially), this was especially frustrating. Nonetheless, I deboarded at the next stop and doubled back to the driveway where the owner was detailing it.
He was in mid-conversation with two other passersby, two friendly ladies who looked to be roughly in their fifties, who were talking about and admiring the car’s sleek lines and pristine condition. (I had just finished writing and scheduling my original Cordoba post on this car for the following Wednesday at that point, so it hadn’t run yet.) I introduced myself to the owner and mentioned this site – and as it turns out, he’s a regular CC reader.
In the ten minutes or so in which he and I talked, at least two couples passing on the sidewalk also stopped to seriously admire this car. One gentleman who incorrectly guessed the model year as “1978” seemed surprised to find out Cordobas were made into the 80’s. I didn’t say it aloud, but was thinking, “Where was all this Cordoba-love back when it was needed, friends?” Ha! Nonetheless and needless to say, I was excited to be standing inches away from this car and speaking with its owner.
Enough about me recounting this experience – let’s get to the good stuff. The owner’s name is Adam, and he has christened her “Darlene”. We give names to the things we love. Darlene is powered by Chrysler’s venerable 225 Slant Six and three-speed Torqueflite automatic transmission. She’s bone-stock and all-original, save for the wheels which were sourced from another Cordoba. Adam is the third owner, having made this purchase several years ago from the nephew of the original owner. Would you believe that as of this writing, Darlene has just under 12,500 miles on the clock? As the story goes, the car had belonged to an older couple in Ohio. When the man of the house had passed away, the lady simply chose not to drive but quite literally to church and back. When given to the nephew, he basically took the car on one trip, annually, from northern Ohio down to Cincinnati and back.
Adam had previously owned a different, Daystar Blue ’81 Cordoba LS pictured above (can you imagine having owned not one, but two of these beauties?) and had been casually looking for another one. Admit it…like me, even if you don’t need, can’t afford, or don’t have space for the car of your dreams, you have searched the internet for it if only to torture yourself. Adam ended up finding this ‘Doba (finished in Nighwatch Blue), and here’s the beautiful part of the story… The seller had another offer for full-asking-price on the table from another prospective buyer who had planned to flip it. In successfully conveying to the seller just what an affinity he had for this car, Adam scored this stunning Cordoba for less than asking price, as it was important to the seller that the car would be loved and appreciated. This is one example of where a buyer’s enthusiasm was advantageous and not a detriment.
Speaking of appreciation, are there any car photos better than those taken by an adoring owner? All of these pictures are Adam’s shots of Darlene. She currently rides on those ten-spoke wheels featured in the two top shots, but I feel the original wheels shown in the fourth and final shot are just as handsome. (Adam still has the original set.)
Every once in a while, I’ll spot a car in the wild that makes my motor rev. This is the first time, however, that two chance sightings (in one weekend, no less) led to an actual up-close viewing and a chance to talk with the owner. Adam, thank you for this opportunity, and also for sharing your story and fantastic photos.
Part I: In Motion Classic: 1981 Chrysler Cordoba LS – All Dressed Up With Nowhere To Go.
Swoon. What a beautiful car. And while some may think less of it due to its having a slant six, at this point it doesn’t really matter. The wrapper is what counts.
I can’t help but think the original owners liked a splash of verve with their practicality. How else can you explain this car?
The photos, though great, don’t do it justice – it’s even more beautiful in the metal. And I had the same thought about the powerplant – here is a car that is never going to win any races of any kind, but it is a beautiful, reliable classic that Adam can afford to fuel and enjoy on the road from time to time.
I loved these when they came out and I still do. The old slant six was doing some heavy lifting at Chrysler in 1980-81. In a time of expensive gas, it was an attractive proposition for those unwilling to feed a V8.
One of my favorite experiences writing for CC is the occasional chance to visit with the owner of a really special car. I love getting the car’s story and the chance to see how loved and appreciated the car is. Thanks for capturing those things here.
JP, like you, I love contributing to this site – it’s one of the things I really enjoy during the week. I name-drop CC all the time. In fact, just yesterday at a pizzeria in the Mayfair district of Chicago, I was talking with the server who busted out a photo of his prized ’59 Corvette. If he brings it to the annual car show they have every October, you know I’m writing it up. 🙂
Amazing! Great to see more of this rare beauty and also get to know her owner! Thanks Adam for the pics, and for taking such great care of a unique piece of American history.
Truly a beautiful example of the rarely seen 2nd gen Cordoba.
Very envious here. I think being slant six powered is a plus.
Beautiful car; great write-up!
Imagine if it HAD been introduced in M.Y. 1978!
Interesting car and the dash and interior look really nice. Velour (if that is what it is) actually done rather tastefully – never seen that before, other than in an S Class!
However, are those manual window cranks on the doors? It doesn’t detract from the car in any way, but I would have expected electrics in an upscale sporty car by the 1980’s.n
Always liked these cars and this one is particularly nice. That blue velour interior is to die for!
As a current owner of a sister car of this, a Mirada, my only frustration with it is finding the one thing that has kept my car parked for about a decade. A windshield. These things don’t exist unless it’s someone’s NOS piece sitting in a corner somewhere. The worst part is since it has sat for so long needing a windshield, now other stuff is rusting and failing, and is making the whole project just not worth doing over.
Without a good windshield, it won’t pass an inspection, and therefor can’t be insured. Mine is all cracked to heck. 🙁
This LS looks pretty sweet!
I don’t know how it is where you live but in Maine any vehicle over 25 years old can be registered with antique plates. The mandatory annual inspection required for all other vehicles is not required for antique vehicles. It is your responsibility that your antique car is safe and roadworthy but the little nitpicky stuff like a cracked windsheild won’t ruin your fun. It sounds like yours might be a little too far gone though.
We don’t have any mandatory annual inspections on cars here in Alberta, but you do need an inspection on one that hasn’t been on the road for a while, and often when you first buy it. That part is more the prerogative of the insurance company. Unfortunately, the cracks in mine are not even something I can get around. They are bad.
But the story for the whole Cordoba/Mirada/Imperial line is that if your windshield is cracked, you are pretty much out of luck going to the glass shop. I even went to two of the biggest glass places in Canada, and had them check their suppliers US stock. They basically don’t exist. If I were to try to get my car back on the road (or replace it with a different one with good glass) I could be back in the exact same place in a split second. all it would take is a gravel truck passes me, and bang, I’m hooped again.
If someone doesn’t pick up aftermarket production of this glass, these cars could eventually disappear completely, for the same reason. It’s a bummer too. These looked so good!!
Well that really stinks. It’s something I never would have considered. Hope you find one someday.
Here’s a windshield for you: http://tulsa.craigslist.org/pts/5559219006.html
The last time I was in a glass shop (probably 2010 or so, getting the windshield in my Marauder replaced) I heard a very similar story. A gentleman with a Falcon of some sort, can’t remember exact year or body style, was looking for a rear window for his car. The search had evidently come up empty for several years–it was no longer in production and he hadn’t been able to source a good one from a salvage yard or ebay/classifieds. Maybe someday we’ll be able to 3d print transparent items (3d printing already looks like the salvation for hard to find plastic/pot metal trim pieces) but until then, fdamaged/missing glass is kind of a big deal.
Dittoes to all the positive comments made so far. But the thing that strikes me most about this car is its trunk: how far out it sticks and how square it is. That wasn’t unusual then, but it looks very strange today, with all the cars angling straight back and down from the rear window. I keep wondering when someone’s going to make a hatchback opening out of one of them; it would be natural.
Adam – Great Car! Hope you post a comment here and tell us more about it.
What a great find. A basically brand new 35 year old Cordoba along with it’s owner’s history.
The slant 6 is just icing on the cake.
I’d forgotten how attractive these were! Side note – I’ve always liked the Mirada, too.
Nice find Joseph. At the time, I used to think how interesting the Mirada/Cordoba would have looked with the frosted headlamp covers first seen on the ’78 Magnum and then on the ’79 St. Regis. Wasn’t a fan of how the headlamps and turn signal lamps were handled on the Mirada/Cordoba. Especially the two headlamp design. There was also too much family resemblance to the utilitarian Aries/Reliant lamp layout.
More as I intended, with quad headlamps and the turn signal lamps either immediately below, or in the bumpers…
You do amazing work, Daniel. Nice photoshops!! And I do like what Darlene’s predecessor looks like in both renderings.
Thank you Joseph, I always enjoy your articles and high quality photograph. I still think it was pretty amazing how Chrysler turned out so many elegantly styled derivatives from the original Volare/Aspen. The dashboard is all Aspen/Volare in basic layout and architecture, but with a truly beautiful facade. The air vents, window cranks, and various switches, are straight from the ’76 F bodies. Everything works so much better here. Thank you again for a great read and wonderful pics.
The Cordoba/Mirada headlamp/turn signal lamps arrangement also reminded me too much of the ’80 Ford Pinto’s similar design. I thought for such cleanly styled personal luxury cars, they deserved a more elegant treatment.
I agree with the comments about the quad-headlight setup. G-Body Buick Regal coups started life as dual-headlight units, and switched to quads in 1980. The looked much better!
People who casually glance at the ‘Doba frequently mistake it for a Monty Carlo SS. I, for one, would love a Buick Grand National (1984 with Lear Siegler leather seats, please), but finding one that is both unmolested and doesn’t cost three fortunes is turning out to be fruitless. As I learn more about them, I’m a little scared away by the maintenance requirements, too.
One of the features that made the LS so attractive to my eye the first time I saw one: The lack of massive front, chrome bumper. They stylists were a little ahead of the curve on this one. Most contemporary cars were still sporting the massive, front, chrome bumpers during the early 1980s.
See, I think that’s the problem–with the quad lamps it looks too much like a Buick. I do like the idea of the frosted covers like the Magnum and St. Regis had, however.
I use to say if there’s something worse than the 70s cars, definitely are the 80s cars, but I have to apologise in this Cordoba case.
What a wonderful Mopar!!!
Can you guys imagine Darlene with a “spicy” 440 BB under her skin?
Too front heavy. Warmed-up LA stroker is the way to go here.
A 340 with some mods backed up by an A-833 4spd would be my pick. That, or a 3rd gen Hemi with the Tremec 6spd used in the Challenger. But…as clean and original as this car is, I wouldn’t dump the /6 unless it died. Better to start out with a car that needs a full resto then dial it in the way you want it.
Man, great story and great writeup, Joe D. Adam sounds like a pretty cool guy with great taste in cars. Im pretty sure Ive seen pics of that lighter blue LS online also. If I remember right, its also has the /6. These J bodies are all sharp cars but a slicktop LS…that’s the best of them all. AND in a dark blue, no less!
I love weird and/or unpopular Mopars and like that short era where cars were being squared off yet large personal coupes were still in demand. I believe Ford’s offering got too small and boring with the T-Bird, Futura, etc.
GM’s G bodies were starting to look good but none were as clean as the Cordoba, Mirada and Magnum.
This Doba is especially clean with its lack of vinyl top, excess chrome and aluminum wheels.
However, I have to go there…. how well does this engine move this car? The slant six of this time period just doesn’t match the sporty, rear-drive, luxury coupes theme.
I’m not one of those that demand the largest engine in an old car. My ’65 Belvedere has little trouble getting up to interstate speeds with its light weight (unibody with no options, 3-speed manual [now a two-speed thanks to a broken gear… T5 time] and a pre-smogged slant six.
I’ve already heard the “nice car, shame about the engine” bit so I’m not trying to do it here. In fact, the slant in my car was part of the appeal.
However, we also own a mid-80’s D150 with a de-smogged slant six (base model) and the difference in the engines’ ability to rev is night and day. Thos pick up is farely light and low-mileage but getting onto the interstate requires pushing the pedal through the floorboard and keeping it there.
Around town trips would be pleasant in this beautiful car but trying to get more speed from that engine would sound noisey and pitiful if it is similar to my pickup’s. If this car has the Super Six, that would be an improvement… but just.
This curiosity aside, this Cordona would make for a cheap to operate.and dependable car for easy care-free crusing. I believe the 20+mpg wouldn’t be unreasonable for this ride.
Hi Nick! I’m the owner of Darlene… I comment on your thoughts about the Slant 6 below. Basically; I agree with everything you say.
Sadly the Super Six was gone and done after 1979 model year. It was roller lifter 85 HP 1BBL Slant six only for 1981 and 90 horses thereafter. I drove one years ago. It drove fine enough around town but had little left on the top end which was common on these year vehicles in general.
These are sexy looking cars. This is really what the Thunderbird should have looked like in ’81. There’s enough sportiness mixed with the luxury that it’s an all around great package. To me, Dodge/ Chrysler/ Plymouths always worked best when it was a dangerous and tough, yet simple look. They nailed it with this one, including the body color matched grille.
She was a cool ride back in 1998, and with the new 325hp 360 we put in it, it was pretty quick too! But without a windshield, this, and all J cars will eventually languish and disappear.
Can someone PLEASE make a windshield for this thing! I’ve been told by someone with WAY more money that I have that custom windshields are pretty bad. For all the owners, and fans of this car, I REALLY wish someone would make a windshield.
A windshield is the only mandatory thing that insurance companies often want in perfect condition, that is not available anywhere in aftermarket, or plausibly priced in OEM.
PS. The spoiler the back is from a Firebird Trans Am, and fits the trunk of the Mirada like a hot damn! I chose it because I think it does a very nice job of balancing the wedge of the nose of the car, with the back of it.
FWIW, I think a similar spoiler should have been a factory option. It looks so good! Granted, it only would have been authentic back then if the E58 360 had been available, and had maybe even had a simple 3.21 gear set in the back. THAT could have been a great ride back in the day….
But it still needs a windshield which doesn’t exist!! Argh!!
Miradart: There’s quite a community of J-Body owners online. There’s an “For F-M-J Bodies Only” website; as well as a couple of Facebook groups. We help each other find parts all the time; even front windshields. Check us out, we’ll gladly give you a hand.
And as a PS: The 360 was available in 1980 in both the Cordoba and the Mirada. They made only a very few.
Mine got an engine transplant. My 80 was born with a very s l o w 318 2bbl. Haha!
Thanks for the tip! I will check them out for sure!
Wow, saw one of these for the first time today, passing thru Gympie! Couldn’t stop for a better look unfortunately.
Really? No freaking way! That’s awesome!
Reminds me of the time I saw a Lincoln Versailles on the Centenary Motorway. I thought I was hallucinating. I couldn’t get pictures either 🙁
There is a hot rodding/restomod place on the highway on the south side of Gympie, it was there. It looked like it had a Landau top covering the c pillars. Wish I could have stopped…
The Landau/vinyl roof was standard on the Mirada CMX and was at least available on the Cordoba LS if I’m not mistaken.
What a beautiful car, not a (straight) line out of place.
Classic American beauty, inside and out.
That blue interior looks so inviting and comfortable in a way modern cars just can’t match.
I prefer this car without the tint and on stock wheels, but still quite nice.
I think this is what the Lincoln Mark VI should have looked like (with the standard Lincoln front end, of course). It’s funny that Chrysler should do a smaller Mark V more successfully than Ford did.
Remarkable story about a remarkable find! I cannot remember ever seeing one of these Cordobas on the road, even though I remember seeing many Miradas and I also regularly see an Imperial that a man in my town owns.
I should try to name-drop CC too — I haven’t tried it yet, but it could open up some interesting stories like this one.
That’s awesome that you made it on CC!
I thought these were great-looking cars too; I fell in, if not love, pretty serious like for a bright red one with t-tops and a red and white interior with leather bucket seats. But when I sat in it I noticed that the switchgear all seemed and felt cheap; the glove compartment door didn’t fit correctly; in total the instrument panel that I would be looking at each time I drove the car was a huge step down from that in my 300L. I ended up walking away without even test-driving the car.
Adam here, the (very proud) owner of this Cordoba. My love affair began my senior year in high-school. I just had a fender-bender in an R-Body Newport, and was looking for a replacement. I saw a white LS on a Rock Island, IL used car lot; had no idea what it was, but wanted it. It had a 318, was white, with blue interior. My Dad, a Mopar guy himself, was unfamiliar with the LS model, too. At that time, I had never seen one, never saw one while I owned it, and never saw one again until I went searching online a number of years later. That first LS was purchased with 70K on the clock, and lasted (for me) from 1992 to about 1994. It got real rusty that last year as I drove it in the salt and parked it in the snow. It was pretty reliable, but I did have to get the rear-end repaired. I was NOT gentle with cars during that part of my life.
That was Cordoba LS 1. Darlene is the 3rd.
I found the 2nd one on eBay. It sold for $4,000, but not to me… But it was a guy here in Illinois, and when he was ready to sell it, he contacted me. (I didn’t have to go to Pennsylvania to get it!) I’ll keep the details on this one short, but it was a Slant 6, that serious ran out of power at 70 MPH. This was mentioned in one of the comments, and I’ll come back to that. A younger fella in my building would bug me weekly about selling it to him, offering to make payments. Ummm, hard “no” on that; but one day he came to me with a cash offer I couldn’t refuse. I had lost interest, mostly because of the tractor-like engine.
3 years later, I start to miss the ol’ Doba, and begin my search. Seriously; three years of constant searching, and a car with just a tiny bit over 8,000 miles on the odo presents itself. Joe did a great up on the specifics if the sale, so I won’t go over that again.
Back to the Slant 6 in Darlene: My original intention upon buying the car was to swap out the engine. Nothing crazy, mind you; I was thinking a mild 318 or 360. I’d be perfectly happy with 275 or so HP. You see, I still remembered what it was like to drive my old Slants at contemporary Interstate speeds. With that long stroke, there was a fair amount of vibration. When it came time to pass a semi, you had to put it to the floor to try and stay out of the way of the rest of the left-lane traffic.
Back with Cordoba LS II, I didn’t have the financial means to do the upgrade. The project would be quite expensive as one has to swap out much more than the engine. The bellhousing is different, so a trans swap is in order. Then you’d need a different driveshaft, and finally a rear-end would need swapped out to handle all that torque.
I could afford the project today, but everything under the hood is working as it should: The EGR timers, the purge timers, the high-idle solenoid, the electronic choke thermostat, etc – it all works as it should. There is no smoke when you start it, it idles smoothly, and drivability is quite good. Further, this Slant has “got it.” Back in the day, some cars just had more power than others. Darlene will go 80 all day long (but that’s about it). It still has some third-order vibrations at Interstate speeds, but it’s livable.
Save for a light rear-main seal leak, the 6 is in great shape. Should that change, or I start to get tired of it, I’ll strongly consider a powertrain swap.
I drive the car regularly to the tune of about 2,000 miles a year. Cars are meant to be driven!
I appreciate all the comments. If you have any questions, do let me know!
— Adam —
Adam, *you rock*. A big thank you for adding this.
Glad to get the additional info. Love your car!
Adam’s car is spotless every time I see it, you could eat a whole Thanksgiving dinner on it, not that it would ever happen!!! 😉
But also, it’s quiet as a mouse and exhaust is as clean as fresh air, no don’t inhale!
DROOL!!! Looking at these beautiful pictures, I continue to be speechless with LUST!!! 🙂
Back in the day when these cars came out, I was still driving my first red, 1973 Charger Rallye 340. I liked the Mirada, Imperial and Cordoba. And, the previous Dodge Magnum. In the mid-1980s, I bought a very clean and very nice 1980 Mirada. It was bright red with the white leather interior, and powered by the trusty 318 V-8. It was loaded with more options than most. I liked the very comfortable car, and the only reason I traded it off was to get a 1986 Shelby Charger in 1987. And, that little car was really a blast to drive. Lots and lots of fun. More of a thrill to drive than any other car to date.
Those of us who were of age back in the day know that the first generation Cordoba was a very popular car and was more successful than Chrysler had originally anticipated. They were rather prolific after a while. I’ve certainly seen a number of this generation Imperial and Mirada over the years, but very, very few Cordobas. Not sure if I’ve ever seen a Cordoba LS in the flesh. That is all a preface to say that like so many others on here I like this car very much and would love to find an affordable, low-mileage LS, no matter what color or engine it has. Yes, I love both the interior and exterior of this car. Adam, you are a very lucky guy. You are now aware that there are many on this site who would gladly take it off your hands if you ever should find a reason to part with it. Really glad you are keeping her stock and low miles. And, great write-up and pix, JD.
I’ve always liked the looks of the second-gen Cordoba – Chrysler certainly did a better job downsizing this and the Dodge Mirada than Ford did with the T-Bird and Cougar the same year. I prefer the fancier bench-seat interior that was standard in the non-LS Cordoba with its loose-cushion seats, full-length door armrests, and more “wood” inside – basically these were Imperials inside but without the troublesome digital dash.
Supposedly the LS was originally planned to be the next Chrysler 300 after the 1979 model – sure looks it with a similar grille and red/white/blue emblem under the rear quarter window. Has anyone confirmed this though?
One last note I’ll make about these is that to understand why the early K cars were so boxy looking, it’s essential to compare them to the 1980 Cordoba/Mirada. The two car lines share a styling language – i.e. compare where the rear fenders meet the taillights, or the taillights themselves, on this Cordoba to the 1981 Reliant. Almost the same. Likewise the various body creases, and the grilles on the Mirada and Aires. But these sold poorly and were quickly discontinued, whereas the K-cars were everywhere, so nobody saw the connection. And of course, the styling wasn’t as pretty when it had to be reproportioned into a shorter, boxier car designed for space efficiency.
Its really sad the circumstances of Chrysler at the time, there was no fundamental reason in their execution these Cordobas and Miradas should have flopped, PLCs were stillvery much in fashion, they were lightyears more attractive than the Ford twins – I’d even dare say ahead of their time in aero aesthetics – and give the GM G bodies a good run for their money in offering a sportier PLC… or maybe that was part of the problem(a repeat of the 71-74 B body coupes). But really, gas crisis II plus bankruptcy made anything Chrysler rolled out radioactive. After these were axed Chrysler couldn’t release a well styled car without heaps of Lido trim adorning them through the the bulk of the K car era to come.