At car shows, I’m often attracted to a few cars for no particular reason – and at a nearby show in June, this 1977 Cordoba was one such car. I was interested enough to read the information sheet placed inside the windshield, which described the car’s options, color, original sale price, and that it currently belonged to its second owner. Then at the end, the following sentence jumped out at me:
“This car was featured on the website Curbside Classic in 2015.”
With thousands of articles, it’s hard to remember all of our featured cars, so I quickly looked this one up. Sure enough, fellow Virginian Robert Kim found this car parked at a shopping center and published this article in 2015, noting the coupe’s distinctive checkmate cloth interior. With the benefit of additional photos, and a brief conversation with the Cordoba’s owners, it seemed like a good idea for an update on this beautifully preserved Chrysler.
It turned out that the Cordoba was part of a his-and-hers pair of Chryslers. The lucky owners drove both the Cordoba (hers) and the 1973 Imperial (his) parked next to it. The Cordoba’s owner laughed that one of the few times she drove her car to a shopping center, it wound up on the Internet. But this car is no stranger to Internet fame – its photo also appears on Wikipedia’s Cordoba page. There are few better examples of an early Cordoba: With its original Formal Black Sunfire Metallic paint and matching elk grain vinyl roof, this car seems to define the very concept of a personal luxury coupe.
From a sales perspective, Cordoba was the right car at the right time, for personal luxury coupes were in full stride by 1975 when the model first debuted. With distinctive, elegant styling, and a competitive price, Cordoba vaulted to the top of Chrysler’s sales charts. Over its first three years, nearly 500,000 examples were produced, accounting for two-thirds of all Chrysler-brand cars. Our featured car was one of 163,138 that rolled off of Chrysler’s Windsor, Ontario assembly plant for 1977.
Given their glitzy design and squishy ride, these cars weren’t for everyone. But it’s easy to see how the Cordoba captured buyers’ interest in the mid-1970s. It looked more expensive that it was, and it looked quite unlike any other car. Even today, this car attracts a lot of attention.
In fact, the lady who owned it noted proudly that it tends to attract more attention than her husband’s Imperial. Yes, this Imperial – the longest mass production sedan ever made (235.3”!), and Chrysler’s most expensive product – gets overlooked by its Cordoba garage-mate. It’s not due to rarity (12 times more ’77 Cordobas were made than ’73 Imperials); it’s more likely that the same styling that attracted hundreds of thousands of customers four decades ago still attracts attention at car shows. As opposed to the Imperial, which bears a strong resemblance to many other Chrysler Corporation products, the Cordoba possesses a distinctive design all its own.
Or to put it more humorously, while I was admiring the Imperial, my wife (not a Mopar fan) came over and asked me “Why are you looking at that Dodge?” Ouch.
Regardless of its similarity to other Chrysler Corporation Fuselage cars, I still love this Imperial. How I yearn to stretch out in a roomy interior like this one, with blue Cologne-grain leather and simulated rosewood trim… a perfect antidote for today’s dull, gray, confining cabins!
Back to our Cordoba, we can see how different its own interior appears. The checkmate cloth with cream-colored vinyl accents give the car an airy, welcoming feel. This particular car is well equipped with air conditioning, power windows and locks, and a power drivers’ seat. Like most domestic cars of its era, the Cordoba was highly customizable – though its base price was low, buyers could outfit one with as few or as many options as they (and their wallets) desired. When well equipped like this car, a Cordoba was a very respectable ride.
The owner thoughtfully displayed the Cordoba’s window sticker, which of course is fascinating. Starting with a $5,418 base price, this car piled on nearly $3,000 worth of options. My eye is always drawn to the smallest-ticket items on a window sticker such as this, which here included Deluxe Windshield Wipers ($9.65), Pedal Dress-up ($8.95), and Heavy Duty Shock Absorbers (a bargain at $6.80). I’d love to have an option list like this in a modern car, rather than just ordering the “LX package” and calling it a day.
Of course I scan the big-ticket items too, which included an 8-Track Stereo ($332.25) and Air Conditioning ($517.85). The costliest item, though, was the Crown Vinyl Roof package, which set the original buyer back $733.25 – that’s $3,200 in today’s dollars!
The Crown Vinyl roof is so named because it is equipped with an opera lamp – not the run-of-the-mill side opera lamps common in the 1970s, but rather a single light band that wraps over the roof, connecting one B-pillar to the other. When illuminated, this provided a tiara-effect, hence the name. And a justification for the astonishing price. Although rare, this was evidently a popular enough choice to keep it on Cordoba’s option list from 1977 through 1979.
1977 was the Cordoba’s last stellar sales year. ’78 models were redesigned with stacked rectangular headlamps and other updates – none of which did the original design any favors, nor did they succeed in generating new customer interest. Sales fell by a third that year, and again for ’79. Even after being downsized and squared out for 1980, the Cordoba could never recapture the magic formula of these 1975-77 models.
The Cordoba isn’t everyone’s preferred type of magic, but this one sure put me under a spell. I hope I run into this pair of cars again – after taking time to take in this Cordoba and the Imperial, the Malaise Era doesn’t seem so malaise-y after all…
Photographed at the Sully Antique Car Show in Chantilly, Virginia in June 2019.
1977 Chrysler Cordoba: Sin Cuero Corintio Robert Kim
1978 Chrysler Cordoba: The Fine Little Chrysler Paul Niedermeyer