Curbside Classic: 1980 Dodge Aspen – Rock Bottom And Loving It


(first posted 3/4/2014)     This custard colored station wagon has got to be one of my favorite daily drivers in Bloomington.  I’ve seen it shamble around my neighborhood and though I can tell it’s got a slant-six under the hood, it’s surprisingly quiet, possessing a certain dignity.  This slow, old thing manages shames all the CR-Vs and Outbacks at the farmer’s market; what could be greener and more local than keeping a 34-year-old domestic on the road?


In one of the earlier seasons of Roseanne, the titular character mentions driving a 1970-something Something and an F-body wagon, in this exact color, is what comes to mind whenever I think of that line.  The owner of this Aspen seems a much more delicate personality than Ms. Barr (is that her last name these days?), which is reflected in its condition.  It’s not that she’s going out of her way to preserve the car, it’s that she generally hasn’t inflicted much damage upon it and, judging by her driveway, never throws anything away.  If it weren’t rude to do so, I would post pictures to make that point more clear.


All the stuff inside sitting inside the cargo hold should convince enough people, though.  So while the owner isn’t destructive, she’s not exactly clean since it’s obvious is that car hasn’t been washed in some time.  It’s likely this is the original paint, as it all matches and is of uniform quality.  A nice coat of wax (maybe even a clay bar?) would have most surfaces looking brand new; I’ll volunteer myself to do it.


There’s an old Texas registration sticker on lower left corner of the windshield, and a newer Indiana license plate, but the house it’s parked in front of looks to have been occupied for a long time.  My guess is that this belonged to a more Southern relative, as the dealer placard marks Harlingen, Texas (on the Mexican border) as one of the car’s points of sale.  And while a good number of F-bodies were around until the early ’90s, the wagons have always been more prevalent in my memory.  So they either sold better or were the only ones which managed to make stick around.


Maybe these crooked emblems show just how poor quality control was at the time (having not lived through the ’70s, I’m willing to give those who assembled it the benefit of the doubt).  I would love if this car were to last another 34 years to show all the kids in 2048 what basic transportation looked like in 1980, but I’m not too hopeful that will happen.  Like so many other cars on CC, it looks as though it were kept in storage and recently taken out, only to be driven on our salty roads and slowly ruined.


As we know, these F-bodies were potent symbols of Chrysler’s worst years (or maybe that would be the Dodge Caliber?), so much so that their names had to be changed once all their bugs were worked out.  The sober, rectilinear grille and headlights mark this as a 1980 (as does the one-bbl carb under the hood), with bumpers and fenders shared with the Diplomat and LeBaron.  I think the ’76-’79 front end looks better, but this one-year-only style helped ready customers for the Aries and Reliant which replaced the Aspen and Volare in 1981.


The sloppy integration of these bumpers show that this was a hastily done facelift done on the cheap, but poorly hidden screws on the trim notwithstanding, quality was notably improved by the time this car was built, helping explain its continued existence today.


For those interested, the brochure for the 1980 Aspen can be seen here.  From what I can tell, this car is equipped with the Custom package, which provided the availability of a 60/40 split front bench with adjustable headrests. With a tilt wheel, this wasn’t the most basic ride, but it seems the left half of a Ford Taurus bench seat was the most readily available means its driver has to sit as close to the wheel as she prefers.  I’d have taken a better picture of the interior, but as we see, it’s too cluttered to get a decent view.  Even if it were clean in there, the grey velour seat would spoil the effect, so hopefully the original vinyl piece is sitting in a pile somewhere nearby.


Nothing like a factory-inspection sticker to highlight the all-original goodness of a car.  Other than this decal, the only other Pentastar logos I could find were etched into the glass.  We can readily see the clutter which made getting a decent picture of the interior impossible.  Should suspicion ever arise of CCers trying to grab shots of their car’s contents, we could consider ordering business cards with this article’s URL printed on them.


It doesn’t look like there was ever a Pentastar logo on these hubcaps (one of which is sadly missing), but their simple design echoes this car’s thrifty and cautious appeal, as does the generally bland color scheme.  By the time this was built, Dodge wasn’t peddling excitement.  As always, the Aspen was a near mirror image of its Plymouth sibling, and with slow sales of the R and J bodies, selling basic transportation was once again Chrysler’s best chance for survival.  In that sense, this final-year F-body deserves a lot of credit, and I’m sure its owner would agree.