Mexican muscle car enthusiasts loved their V8s and Chrysler had offered these enthusiasts what they had wanted for years. However, Chrysler’s brush with bankruptcy had left the company with different priorities and a new form of high performance had to be found. Before Chrysler de México embraced turbocharged four-cylinder K-Car derivatives, however, they first sent the V8 muscle car off with a bang.
In the early 1980s, Chrysler’s V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive lineup began to thin rapidly. The R-Body sedan trio was axed after 1981. The Chrysler Cordoba, Dodge Mirada and Imperial were gone after 1983. All that was left was the M-Body intermediates and although there was heavy-duty hardware for police models, the showroom Dodge Diplomat and its fellow M-Bodies were about as exciting as wallpaper paste. None of these vehicles emphasized performance, with the last sporty V8 Mopars being the Road Runner, R/T and Super Coupe editions of the F-Body Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volaré.
Photo courtesy of Misael González
But while emissions and fuel economy standards, insurance premiums and rising gas prices had almost killed the muscle car in North America and wounded the pony car segment, Mexican consumers still had a yearning for V8 muscle. Chrysler de México had continued to offer a sporty Super Bee variant of their F-Body, equivalent to the Aspen R/Ts and Volaré Roadrunners north of the border. To continue to satiate the Mexican market’s desire for performance, Dodge replaced the Super Bee in 1981 with the Magnum.
Like the 1980 Mexican Dart, the Magnum was based on the M-Body Dodge Diplomat. While the Dart came with a choice of sedan, coupe and wagon bodies, the Magnum exclusively used the Diplomat coupe body. It was much sportier looking than a US-market Diplomat coupe, with blacked-out trim, rear window louvers, 14-inch styled sport wheels and a buckets-and-console set-up inside.
Unlike many “sport” editions in North America during the 1970s, the Magnum was more than just an appearance package. The only engine was Chrysler’s 360 cubic-inch V8 with a 4-barrel carburettor, reportedly rated at 300 hp, and mated to either the A727 three-speed automatic or the A833 four-speed manual transmission. The Magnum used components from the police edition Dart/Diplomat, including stiffer springs, thicker front and rear stabilizer bars and an engine oil cooler.
Photo obtained from Mercado Libre
Unfortunately, the Magnum arrived during Mexico’s worst financial crisis since the 1930s. Chrysler was also going in a different direction – building smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles – and so the RWD Magnum lasted only two years. Despite this short run, it has amassed a loyal and passionate following among Mexican muscle car enthusiasts.
For 1983, Dodge of Mexico’s performance flagship would be a vastly different car. The Magnum nameplate was shifted to the new K platform. The car used the frontend of the 400 and the body of the Aries coupe; a 1986 facelift saw the 400 clip replaced with that of the Plymouth Caravelle. Officially, the car was called the Magnum 400.
The standard engine was the K-Car’s carburetted 2.2 four-cylinder mill with 108 hp at 4900 rpm and 130 ft-lbs at 3000 rpm. However, a turbocharged version was optional from 1984, producing 140 hp at 5000 rpm and 155 ft-lbs at 5000 rpm. This allowed for a reported 0-60 time of around 10.4 seconds.
That kind of performance wasn’t bad by 1980s North American standards and very impressive in an extremely restricted Mexican market from which Ford had just removed their Mustang. There was little in the way of inexpensive performance offerings and so the Magnum carved a niche in the marketplace. To further cement the Magnum’s position as the sporty Dodge, the only transmission was a four-speed manual and Recaro buckets were available.
Dodge advertising boasted the Magnum “disappears into the horizon with an open and close of your eyes” and proclaimed the compact coupe the fastest car in Mexico, the first car in Mexico with turbocharging and fuel injection, and even touted the Magnum as being quicker than its V8 predecessor.
Later Magnums received more powerful naturally-aspirated and turbocharged 2.5 four-cylinder engines, the latter of which produced 150 hp, while the four-speed manual was replaced with a five-speed Getrag unit. These figures may seem unexceptional today but this was power equivalent to some V8 engines of the time with the added bonus of superior fuel economy. In a market with such high barriers to entry and little competition, the Magnum was an impressive little car. There was also no internal competition as the Daytona was never sold in Mexico. The FWD Magnum was finally discontinued in 1989, but turbocharged Mopar muscle would be available in the car’s Chrysler Shadow, Phantom and Spirit successors.
It’s rather curious that both the final RWD Magnum coupe and the FWD Magnum 400 used the staidest, most upright coupe bodies in the Mopar menagerie. The RWD coupe looked sufficiently tough, resembling performance editions of the GM G-Body, but the FWD model looked so very much like its lesser Dart K compatriot. But Mexican coupe buyers cared more about performance than aesthetics and, besides, beggars can’t be choosers. When your market is as restricted as Mexico’s was in the 1980s and you want something sporty, a boxy little K-Car is perfectly acceptable if it has a turbocharger under the hood.
Magnum photographed in Centro de la Ciudad de México.
Magnum 400 photographed in Colonia Obrera, Ciudad de México.
Mexican Mopars, Part 1: 2017 Dodge Neon and Vision – Hi! Again
Mexican Mopars, Part 2: Chrysler Stratus and Cirrus 2.4 Turbo – Clouds That Fly
Mexican Mopars, Part 3: 1999-2001 Dodge Ramcharger – Rising To The Challenge
Mexican Mopars, Part 4: 1987-94 Chrysler Phantom – The Camargue of Mexican Chryslers
Curbside Classic: 1982-83 Dodge 400 – Dodge Does Not Do Personal Luxury
Wow! That first Magnum looks like a Buick Grand National’s delinquent, older brother who everyone is terrified of!
Cool article – Diplomat coupes were very rare when I grew up so I always find them intriguing, although I always preferred the Mirada.
Me likey ! .
What kinda crazy hi-rise manifold is that? Looks like a tiny 1-bbl from half a VW motor from what little I can see. Love that blue one, very clean car. I dig the wheels too. Clearly cribbed from contemporary Corvette pieces. Id gut that interior though. Ive always despised tan/brown with any shade of blue.
Ever since learning of these cars some while back, I can’t for the life of me understand why something like it wasn’t done here. The tracks were already laid in the form of the Little Red Express Truck’s hi-po 360, and if not the M body coupe, the Aspen/Volare could have gotten a more appropriate nose from the Mirada/Cordoba LS. GM and Ford hadn’t fully abandoned V8/rwd performance and Mopar’s V8’s were at least competitive.
Does anyone else find those 4-spoke wheels laughably out of place on the K-based Magnum? They look like they may have been pilfered from a contemporary Omni 024, Ford EXP, Nissan Pulsar, etc. Then I spotted the ad copy, guess they’re legit.
Looks like an M90 supercharger from a supercharged Tbird/Cougar fed from the rear by the carburetor.
And that’s why it’s better to view this on a computer rather than a phone. Didn’t even spot the s/c the first time.
1 bbl?? That’s a full-size 4 bbl. Need new glasses? 🙂
HA! Maybe… I just glanced at it on my phone, then on a closer look after matt’s comment saw what was going on.
What made me think 1bbl was it reminds me of how some early flat fender CJ Jeeps (before the high hood CJ-3B) had holes cut in the hood to allow the taller F head carb/air cleaner to poke thru after an engine swap.
That second picture down is like the cool “Starsky & Hutch” COUPE version of a classic Baltimore County Police Car from the 80’s! While they were all sedans, Baltimore County had several unmarked versions in the very same shade of dark blue shown in the 5th picture down.
I thought I was seeing things when I saw this beauty cruising down Belair Road in Perry Hall (northeast of Baltimore) one day last spring. I thought, ‘how does someone even get permission to do that?’ and ‘are they filming a period movie somewhere in Parkville?’
A quick Google search revealed that I was not seeing things, as the modern SUV(s) behind the car in the shot below can attest. These 360(s) had a beautiful sound when the secondaries kicked in when one of these fine officers got a call. Although the 1988 example below may’ve been imbued with Electronic Fuel Injection by that point (my ’88 5.0 T-Bird had EFI by then).
360’s are a nice strong engine ~ .
In the mid 1970’s my buddy BillyBob bought a clean Metro car (Dodge) in white with the 360, it howled delightfully whenever he stamped the foot feed….
We had them in Aussie Valiants, they go great when you stand on the loud pedal and dont break easily.
The police spec M-bodies all had 318s with a two- or four-barrel carburetor; a slant-six was available prior to 1983. The four barrel versions had a Thermoquad until 1984 with a Quadrajet from 1985 to 1989. These never got fuel injection or a four-speed automatic, either.
Now, how many have had a 360 transplant? That’s hard to know but it would help wake them up.
Thanks Jason, I knew someone here would know better than I.
That 318 sure lasted for a long time (as did the venerable slant 6), but I thought for sure these police cars had 360(s). Maybe I’m thinking a few years earlier than this with the Dodge St. Regis police cars. Maryland State Police had a bunch of them in the early eighties.
But yeah, by 1988, larger engines were only found in trucks for the most part. My ’88 T-Bird came with the biggest engine Ford offered for it… a 302. I think you could still get a 351 in a van or truck of similar vintage, but not in a car, other than maybe a Lincoln or police spec Crown Vic (Panther). But again, this is a guess.
They were available in the Panthers on some level according to literature and parts sheets, but I’ve never seen any in person yet. I suspect few were in reality equipped with 351s except for the very earliest, which I rarely see anyway
One of my books on Chrysler police cars stated the 318 in the M’s had 360 heads – what exactly that means (valve size, port size, what?) was never explained. That’s where my knowledge starts to dwindle on these engines.
My ’86 Crown Vic, purchased new by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, had a 351. The box Panther had a 351 has a police only option until 1991; the 4.6 came along for the redesign in 1992.
What was available in Canada would be an entirely different story as I’ve seen Grand Marquis’s from the mid- to late 80s advertised with a 351. True or not, I do not know.
The downside to the 351 powered Vic was the 2.71:1 axle. It killed acceleration and did little to nothing for fuel economy. Really, the fuel economy on mine was around 12 to 13 mpg, the same as I experienced with my 460 powered ’75 Thunderbird.
“One of my books on Chrysler police cars stated the 318 in the M’s had 360 heads – what exactly that means (valve size, port size, what?) was never explained. ”
They’ll swap on. Bigger combustion chamber, bigger valves and I think the ports do flow a bit better too. Definitely an upgrade but its not ‘exactly’ plug n play. That bigger combustion chamber also means youll lose compression unless the new heads are milled down a bit. Which is why Im not too sure on what the book says. Im not aware of any cop spec heads for the 318 that are modded from the 360 from the factory…but I could be wrong.
My dad has 360 heads on the 318 in his ’84 Power Ram. It runs as it is, but the long term plan is to mill the heads down a bit to restore compression. He’s trying to locate someone in his area (west TN) who specializes in building Mopar engines. Most everything there is Chevy.
“I thought for sure these police cars had 360s”
To my knowledge the 360 was never listed as available, but there have long been rumors of Chrysler building a few small batches with 360s as special orders for specific customers.
“But yeah, by 1988, larger engines were only found in trucks for the most part. My ’88 T-Bird came with the biggest engine Ford offered for it… a 302. I think you could still get a 351 in a van or truck of similar vintage, but not in a car, other than maybe a Lincoln or police spec Crown Vic (Panther). But again, this is a guess.”
The last year that the 351 was offered in any U.S. Ford Motor Company passenger car sold to the general public was 1981, in the Panthers. I believe it was dropped from all other FoMoCo passenger car models after 1979.
The 351 continued to be listed as available in police package Panthers for a number of years after that, as XR7 Matt mentioned, possibly all the way through the end of the ‘box’ styling generation in 1991.
From past discussion here, the 351 also continued to be available in civilian Panthers in Canada for several years after 1981, at least into the late ’80s.
Over at Chevrolet, the 350 was dropped from all cars other than the Z28 and Corvette after 1979. The Z28 lost it after 1981, leaving only the Corvette for the next several years. It became available in the Camaro Z again in, I think, 1987.
I’ve always assumed that the explanation for this is CAFE – even if manufacturers thought there was still some demand for these engines in a limited number of models (full-size sedans, muscle cars), due to CAFE requirements it made no sense to offer V8 engines in passenger cars beyond that were any larger than the standard smallest displacement (302, 305, 307, 318).
“They’ll swap on. Bigger combustion chamber, bigger valves and I think the ports do flow a bit better too. Definitely an upgrade but its not ‘exactly’ plug n play. That bigger combustion chamber also means youll lose compression unless the new heads are milled down a bit. Which is why Im not too sure on what the book says. Im not aware of any cop spec heads for the 318 that are modded from the 360 from the factory…but I could be wrong.
My dad has 360 heads on the 318 in his ’84 Power Ram. It runs as it is, but the long term plan is to mill the heads down a bit to restore compression. He’s trying to locate someone in his area (west TN) who specializes in building Mopar engines. Most everything there is Chevy.”
This is actually how I like to build engines : average compression ratio with big valves and cleaned up exhaust ports : allows you to spin the holy hell out of it, whip it as hard as you like and it just goes, and goes, and goes……..
There’s more to good driving then burning rubber off the line .
“Now, how many have had a 360 transplant? That’s hard to know but it would help wake them up.”
Its been done. I remember Car Craft had an article from the mid 90s where they found a pristine 5th avenue with a locked up 318. They swapped in all the chassis bits and 727 trans from a police spec M body, and an older truck 360. As I remember, it went like stink and they were even able to get it to eek past CA emissions.
“The Chrysler Cordoba, Dodge Magnum and Chrysler Imperial were gone after 1983.”
One minor nitpick: It was the Dodge Mirada (the U.S. Magnum was a two-year special) and just Imperial (not Chrysler).
This Mexican Mopar series has been very interesting. It’s like looking at some strange alternate universe where everything is almost the same, but not quite.
Good spot. Clearly a typo because I would never forget the Mirada… Easily one of my favourite personal luxury coupes of the era. I wrote about it here:
That M-body Magnum does look sweet and sinister. Would make a nice compliment to my own Magnum.
Love those M-body Magnum coupes. They would have been nice competition for the GM G-body coupes that were around until 1988 here in the states.
Agree! The front clip isn’t as pretty, but these could pass for a Regal T-Type from the side at a glance.
About that blower… gonna be mighty hard to make boost with no pulley or belt… just sayin’.
it is very much a contradiction. I read the article and get the concept and the market, and actually get into the idea. then I go back to the pictures and its like “its a diplomat coupe!!! who are they kidding!!”
my dad had a 69 marauder x100 back in the 70’s. it was the same thing in reverse. I thought it was such a cool car and used to go ballistic when my friends would be
“its a fat-ass mercury! get over it!”
The Diplomat/Fury grille and trim work surprisingly well with the blacked out accents! Gives it a whole different look.
Though, the article states that the ad copy for the new K-based Magnum 400 states it was quicker than the V8 M-body model? So they’re asking me to believe that a ~2500 lb car with 150 HP is quicker than a ~3500 lb car with precisely twice the horsepower and probably more than twice the torque? Unless the M-body car had super tall gears, seems doubtful.