(first posted 2/3/2016) When I was a young kid, my grandparents bought a brand new, navy-colored 1980 Chrysler LeBaron sedan from the former Christopher Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in Napoleon, Ohio. This was part of their usual, three-year car-buying cycle. Grandpa was a grain farmer in northwest Ohio and never made a lot of money, but a new car every several years or so was one luxury he and Grandma afforded themselves. I remember being taken with this near-luxury car’s styling and more compact dimensions compared with the mint-green, “road-hugging” 1977 Ford LTD it replaced in their garage next to their silver, ’79 Ford Fiesta. It was at this point that I started paying attention to all the restyled M-Bodies from Chrysler Corporation on the road, including Dodge Diplomats like our featured car.
While I thought the ’80 restyle was great for the sedans with their appropriately squared-off and formalized rooflines, I felt the design of the coupes was ruined. The new front end was attractive enough, with the Diplomat’s new face being somewhat GM-esque – Buick-meets-Pontiac, perhaps. Its front turn signals were also in the “correct” spot – below the headlights (unlike those of the LeBaron), but the rear deck lost all of its distinctiveness. What had been a really pleasing, sculptured mini-masterpiece (see the 1979 ad below), with its tastefully intersecting planes, modest hips, and a real personal luxury look, had been turned into what I thought was an utterly boring, unimaginative concoction of straight lines and nondescript, horizontal taillights. Shaving four inches from the coupe’s wheelbase (to 108.7 inches) did not benefit its proportions. The sedan’s styling seemed to have been improved as much as the coupe’s had been wrecked.
Dodge didn’t move many of these restyled coupes over their short, two-year stint, with only 16,349 units rolling off dealers’ lots for model year 1980, and with another, paltry 5,592 for ’81 (just under 22,000 total). Within the context of present day, however, their certain scarcity endeared me to this one even more. This example looked to have been loved enough to have made it to 2011 (the year of most of these photographs) in such fine shape. It clearly looks like it hadn’t been regularly subjected to street-parking or being driven in Chicago’s salty, slushy winter roads for much of its life. Cancerous tumors were forming on the lower rear quarter panels, which would be completely expected in the Midwestern United States for a three- or four-year-old Mopar of this vintage. My guess is that this car had been sheltered up to this point by a senior citizen who had recently moved to the nearby assisted living facility. Life goes on, garage or no garage.
While not as glamorous as a Mirada, as perky and cute as a Charger 2.2, or remotely as sporty as a Daytona – all three of these cars being some of the more memorable Dodges of the 80’s, this Diplomat coupe tugged at my heartstrings. It was an unpopular car in an unpopular body style and color, that had made it this far in life with a future that, at this point, seemed very uncertain. Have you ever witnessed a once-together friend or acquaintance with the appearance of good self-esteem have it take a serious hit and subsequently let themselves go? That’s what this car reminded me of.
As it would be with such a friend, though, I realized I was hardly the person to rescue this car with my own lack of certain spatial and financial resources. After all, for the ten years or so in which I’ve owned my condo, I have moved up only four or five places on our building’s list of eligibility to purchase an indoor parking space. The sympathy I felt for this Diplomat ran deeper than my commitment to saving it. Its owner might also have felt a great deal of affection for and connection to this car, with it having been kept in such great shape so far into the new millennium.
I’d guess that this example is powered by a 318 2-bbl. V8 and 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission, though it’s entirely possible that it’s powered by a 225 Slant-Six, with the latter discontinued in the M-Bodies after ’84. Gas mileage with the 318 would have been decidedly lackluster with combined EPA ratings in the upper teens, though this was on par with that of other domestic, rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered cars of the period. With the 318 / 3-speed auto combo, zero-to-sixty would have come in the mid-13 second range. For the sake of comparison, a 1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a 305 V8 and 3-speed Turbo HydraMatic would have had comparable gas mileage and gotten to sixty in about two, whole seconds faster. Ouch.
This Diplomat coupe may not have been pretty, fast or efficient, and it may have shared its basic sheetmetal with the LeBaron, but it was still a mainstream, bread-and-butter, ChryCo passenger car. This is noteworthy by itself with FCA’s CEO Sergio Marchionne’s recent declaration that the Dodge Dart and recently redesigned Chrysler 200 will expire after each’s current product cycle. I don’t know much about economics, business models, or viability, but it still seems like such a shame that FCA has essentially chosen to end the legacy of Dodge’s (and Chrysler’s) mainstream passenger car business. Even if the excitement generated in Dodge showrooms tended to ebb and flow in a steady cycle over the years, it saddens me to think of this once-prolific make being relegated to “niche” status, with only the Charger and Challenger currently holding down the passenger car fort for the brand. I like this unsexy Diplomat two-door simply for being a choice people had.
I had originally spotted our featured car from the CTA Brown Line train. As I deboarded at the closest L stop with my camera, I was chanting “please, please, please be a LeBaron…” under my breath, hoping to get a fix of nostalgia as I remembered my grandpa’s car. I was slightly disappointed it was a Diplomat instead, but I found myself looking for it from the train every time I took a trip into the Loop or back. Sadly, I haven’t seen it for several years now.
I would like to think it disappeared from this block to find a loving home with a new owner who attended to its budding rust situation quickly. Given this one’s indifferently street-parked situation and apparent neglect, I’m less optimistic that it met a fate better than that which awaits the Dart and 200 within FCA’s product lineup. It may have been nothing much more than a 70’s-vintage Aspen coupe in a conservative, more formal suit, but I feel this example deserved better simply for having made it this far in life relatively intact.
The subject car was as photographed by the author in Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois during February of 2011 and 2012.
- From Carey Haubrick: Curbside Classic: 1980 Plymouth Caravelle – T-Topped Canadian Special
- From JPCavanaugh: Curbside Classic: 1980 Chrysler LeBaron – A Car (and a Company) In Transition; and
- From Jason Shafer: Curbside Classic: 1985 Dodge Diplomat – Darting Around The Aspens.
FCA’s exit of the car business is probably a precursor of selling Ram and Jeep to some Chinese automaker in a few years. How sad.
On a bright note, I had a LeBaron couple and sedan at various times in the late 70s early 80s. Good cars, but not great. Prefer the Diplomat styling to that of LeBaron.
FCA’s exit of the car business is probably a precursor of selling Ram and Jeep to some Chinese automaker in a few years. How sad.
Makes sense, from what I recall that was the only part of the business they really wanted. The Feds made them take the pass car business to keep UAW headcount up. And as far as FCA’s plan to expand Jeep, building a new SUV and badging it as the Wagoneer is a no-brainer. (Something DB should have done instead of the Commander and that Aspen abortion).
This CC is surprising to me, I never realized they made a Diplomat coupe.
Fiat itself is pretty weak in the C-segment these days compared to their historical place in it. The Fiat marque (brand? Fiat Division?) is basically the 500 and its’ variants, in Europe almost as much as in America, along with the Panda.
Compact cars are probably THE most competitive segment of the market, but they’re tremendously important – they’re the smallest cars Americans buy in mass quantities when gas is cheap and credit is easy, and the biggest ones Europeans buy in mass quantities from other than the likes of BMW/Mercedes/Audi. It’s where the Venn diagram between “cars people buy as transportation appliances” and “cars enthusiasts like” overlap more than anywhere else.
I suspect that your observation is correct. We are likely in a situation for Chrysler Fiat similar to the early to mid 1950’s where many people/potential customers were consciously or even subliminally aware of the slow death marches of Nash/Hudson/Packard and ultimately Studebaker, and began to avoid buying those brands. I also have to agree with your assessment that the remaining bones of FCA will be picked over with Ram/Dodge and Jeep continuing to live on in the hands of new owners perhaps Honda or some Chinese Automaker.
Additionally, as Paul Niedermeyer has pointed out in the past Toyota series, this is now becoming a necessary time of change for FCA dealers to acquire new auto franchises, likely Chinese, to ultimately stay alive and thrive, some likely to become successful like the early adopting Toyota dealers in the fifties and sixties. Change is inevitable.
FCA has done a very good job in keeping Dodge (and Chrysler, to a lesser extent perhaps) viable through advertising, but eventually they’re going to have to come up with new product to maintain momentum. Unfortunately, I think you’re right. They’re just going to let those brands die.
Their new tactic to let the 200/Dart die and focus on trucks seems myopic enough, but they must have a plan that nobody knows about. That plan may be to sell their profitable brands. Sad stuff.
“Unfortunately, I think you’re right. They’re just going to let those brands die. ”
Maybe I have more Mopar love than brains, but I just don’t think that’s the case. There’s a lot of brand equity in Chrysler and Dodge. They don’t seem to be able to hawk the everyday, boring appliance type car…but then, was that EVER the main appeal of the Big 3? The Japanese redefined what that was, and did a much better job than we ever could. What Detroit does is offer a distinctly American experience. The success of big trucks, SUVs, Jeeps, muscle cars, etc are proof of that. Its a smaller niche than efficient reliable jellyblobs, no doubt. But its one with a high margin and a dedicated following that spends money. The LX cars are proof of that. ‘The Sweater’ would be a total fool to abandon that.
I doubt it will be to the Chinese. But Sergio Marchionne has made it very clear that he wants FCA to merge with someone, preferably GM. And eventually, a merger with someone is certainly likely. I would have thought VW, but given their current issues, that’s not too likely soon.
Compact and mid-sized passenger cars (sedans) are becoming a commodity business. It simply requires a certain level of scale in order to build and market them profitably. FCA can’t afford to do so and incur losses with them. So it really makes a lot of sense to subcontract that part of the business, on the assumption that gas will stay cheap for a long time.
FCA is focusing on building the brand equity of their big money-makers: Jeep and Ram, with some specialty models from Chrysler and Dodge. But they simply aren’t going to succeed in the small car arena.
Others are doing similar things. The Mazda 2 is being sold in Toyota dealerships. There will be others. There’s just not enough differentiation and interest in small cars to get folks excited. All they care about is that they are cheap, reliable, and have good resale value. It’s a changed world, as it always is.
Completely random thought from the pictures…. The snowdrifts outline a totally modern design circumscribed around the original. Steeply angled windshield extending onto the hood, Taurine front.
Wonder if any designer has used snow as a guide?
While these aren’t unattractive, they are a far cry from the pre-1980 Diplomat/LeBaron coupe which was easily one of the most distinctive and attractive domestic car designs of the 1970s.
I’d take a Mirada over this one any day. Now THAT was a looker!
I also had a soft spot for the earlier coupes and their more stylish (IMO) rear window and trunk area.
Mopar handicapped these cars with very “tall” final drive ratios; trying to eek the highest EPA gas mileage numbers possible. A change to a 3.23 rear end gearing does wonders for these car’s around town peppiness.
Mopar’s 318 V8 engine and 3 speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission has to be one of the best powertrain combos ever mass made.
I agree on both counts. The Mirada was one of the best mopar designs of the 80’s and the LeBaron coupe was a masterpiece of late 70’s personal luxury without the gaudiness of the Cordoba.
Quite a shame about the featured car though–to be cared for so well and such a long time, only to be left to the ravages of salt and slush.
Agree on the Mirada…and the lesser known Cordoba LS. In the right color, and properly equipped that car was a looker. Whats maddening is that the Mirada would have made a great Plymouth as it was, whereas the ‘Doba LS looked to be the perfect successor to the first Magnum. Equipped with a the hot 4bbl 360 (a la the Little Red Express Truck and ’79 Chrysler 300) with manual or automatic options…that car may have been an instant classic.
With that grille, I don’t know why it wasn’t the next 300 rather than the “Cordoba LS” which just sounds like a trim level. And you’re right, the 4bbl 360 should have been an option! Even the 2bbl version was only offered the first year though, then it was dropped leaving the 2bbl 318 as the “top” option. Ah, the early 80’s.
A Mirada with no exterior changes (provided it has the 10-spoke aluminum wheels) but modern mechanicals would make quite the sleeper. And quite the looker (provided it doesn’t have the full vinyl roof).
A little visit to the fortune teller might have worked well for Chrysler in this period. Knowing that the Fifth Avenue would be such a hit and last till 1989 might have seen them skip the restyle of this coupe and put some of the saved money into fixing the EFI on the Imperial’s 318 and standardizing that system on all 318s and 225s in the line. The output of these engines in the early 80s was quite embarrassing and since these engines still had a long future, it was worth doing. Same goes for adding an overdrive to the Torqueflight. A mid size Fifth Avenue should not have a gas guzzler tax.
A great deal of the nostalgia for cars like this Diplomat is fondness for the kind of person who was the car’s first owner. Older, solid, responsible, down to earth, thrifty. There was a lot to learn from people like that and many of us sorely miss them. Thanks Joseph for showing us this car.
John, I completely agree with your idea about the kind of person this kind of car was a reflection of. My grandparents, and likely the original owner of this Diplomat, were very “salt of the Earth” kind of people. Both of my maternal grandparents lived through the Great Depression and knew the value of a dollar. I think Grandpa’s LeBaron (and the Fifth Avenue that followed it) spoke to his interest in engineering.
While looking at the pictures and reading the write up my thoughts were: interesting, just about the same time Chevy produces it’s “down-sized” Monte Carlo, with what I’ve always felt was somewhat exaggerated styling, Chrysler chooses to do away with the (borderline) exaggerated styling on these similar-sized coupes. This “facelifted” version looks like its trying to copy the look of the vastly more successful Ford Granada.
2 more points: while they looked kind of odd when they were new, I actually think the LeBaron with it’s turn signals above the headlights looks classier than the Diplomat. And it seems as though 90% of the Diplomat/LeBaron coupes I’ve seen on the road were dark colored….usually this brown. Sure, when they were new you saw white ones, occasionally, and the sedans were always lighter metallic colors, like silver or gold.
I can’t quite understand why someone with a Fiesta in the garage would trade a Ford for this anonymous looking coupe when they are driving/trading in another Ford. Why not get “the real deal”, the Granada instead of this mediocre look-alike?
Did you read the text? They got a LeBaron sedan. On no planet would one be confused with a Granada.
Jeesh, sorry, my comments were written at 7a.m. I guess I needed more sleep.
And am I really the only person in North America with an interest in cars who thinks these cars resemble Granadas?
I see a very inept attempt to copy cues from the 75-79 Granada coupe onto these. These come off as an overweight Granada on cortisone.
Much as the related 1976-80 Dodge Aspen 2 Door Coupe was with the 1975-79 Chevrolet Nova 2 Door Coupe. However, the Aspen Coupe did come off equal in weight with the Nova.
I agree that the parking light over headlight arrangement of the LeBaron (and Fifth Avenue and Diplomat SE) looks classier than the somewhat overwrought grille design of these cars. Plus it’s just so dang distinctive!
A terrific find. Seeing any non-Fifth Avenue M-body is a treat, but you found a two-door. That is a true find.
In the last ten (or maybe more) years I have seen exactly one M-body coupe. When I lived in Hannibal, I would drive past the Hardees restaurant everyday. For quite a while, one of the employees had a blue Diplomat coupe that was in rather decent condition. His was a nice blue.
The Diplomat came in three different body styles after 1980. Everyone remembers the sedan, but there was also a wagon. Friends of my parents had a Diplomat wagon for quite a few years; I would love to find one.
The wagon was quite rare though. Neither it nor the sedans made it very long after the 1980 refresh, as opposed to the sedans that hung around until 1988 (I think?)
I didn’t realize that the Diplomat coupes were made for only 2 years and in such low numbers. Last year, I saw a Craigslist ad from Maryland for a very similar car, with extremely low mileage, and felt similar irrational sympathy for it that you did for this Chicago Diplomat. As someone who loves unappreciated and unremembered cars, this is close to the ultimate. I hope that both eventually wound up in the hands of people who appreciate it.
Incidentally, this featured Diplomat is shown in Google StreetView from 2011:
…parked behind a Buick Somerset, no less.
I’m not going to put my address out here, but the Google earth pic of my house shows my 79 Thunderbird and 76 Maverick.
Awesome article and pics. I have never seen one of these, I always assumed the rough Cleveland winters killed them all. As for FCA, it’s a damned shame they are going to kill off one of the most storied brands in American history (Chrysler) and relegate Dodge to 2 or 3 niche models, if they don’t kill them too.
Cool find! In the 90s, I knew someone selling one of these and took a short test drive. It wasn’t as nice in condition as I needed, and was in that awful light yellow color. And the /6 had a manifold leak. I knew they were uncommon, but had forgotten how much so. And I agree completely on the coupe’s awkward styling.
I still remember that 80 LeBaron I wrote up. It came from Findlay, Ohio, not all that far from Napoleon. Your grandparents probably got a good deal on that 80 LeBaron. There was not a lot of anything selling in a Chry-Ply dealer that year that was not named Horizon.
Oh my gosh, Findlay. That was definitely in my grandparents’ neck of the woods! And a two-tone beige and burnt orange Horizon is what they bought as a second car after they sold the Fiesta to their pastor’s family. I always preferred the Fiesta to the Horizon, but that little L-body was also a solid, trouble-free car.
In Putnam County, OH there never were many Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth vehicles. About once a decade someone would attempt a franchise within the county limits but it never lasted long. I always thought part of the problem was that so many people either had direct ties to Ford and GM (Lima Engine Plant nearby and GM Foundry in Defiance, OH) or had family who worked there. Once Dodge introduced the Cumins diesel engine some inroads were made in the truck market but that was about it.
Back to M-bodys. A car that was one reliable FI system and a 4-speed auto away from being as lionized as the Panthers and the GM B-bodys.
My mother hails from Paulding County. I would echo Dan’s comments about a dearth of Mopars in those smaller rural communities. In addition to the Ford and GM factory presence in the area, I don’t think that many of those small communities could provide enough business to keep the weakest of the Big 3 in a place to maintain viable dealers.
Reminds me of our old “Batmobile”, the 1980 LeBaron coupe that Wifey’s great uncle gave us. Once I got the thing fixed properly, it was a good car for the two years we owned it, then we sold it to the same guy who bought out 1981 Reliant.
As far as Chrysler is concerned, I’ll basically repeat what I said on TTAC yesterday:
Go away, Chrysler, and take all your junk with you. In spite of me naively once being a loyal customer for over 20 years, over 40 years of going from one crisis to another, I’ve had enough! I won’t miss you one bit. Fiat who?
I did always like the Le Baron coupe’s styling, including the headlight-parking light-turn signal combination. Unfortunately, my aunt and uncles ersatz wood sided wagon immediately started losing trim and lasted less than a year before it was sold off. This car was purchased after they finally gave up their ’70 Newport Custom. Now that was a great car!
It’s just my opinion, but Chrysler has a long (ish) history of reacting to market trends…or sometimes just rumors and with the exception of the minivans they haven’t hit the market with a truly new idea. It will be a shame if they die, but right now there isn’t a CAR they build/sell that is on my “must drive” list.
Contrary to what others may think after reading my posts here, I have long admired Chrysler’s engineering. Their engineers often went their own way, to great results, but the stylists were often “off the mark” and the folks on the assembly lines did the company no favors.
The first bunch of workers I thought of are those from Sterling Hts. And poor Russians made a duplication of the factory with the same layout as it’s the superior model from a developed country.
Howard, I totally agree with all of this (except I would actually like to drive a well-optioned Challenger). Your impressions are also mine – Chrysler products always seemed to be reactionary to the market. I can think of Ford products (Mustang, Thunderbird) and GM products (myriad) that set trends, but as I type this, I can’t think of a single Chrysler product that sent GM or Ford to the drawing boards to copy it.
And I always felt it was a shame about Chrysler’s lack of workmanship in the 70’s, combined with the internal battle I’ve read about Chrysler Chairman John Riccardo and President Gene Cafiero waging against each other during this time period.
but as I type this, I can’t think of a single Chrysler product that sent GM or Ford to the drawing boards to copy it.
I can: Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager
Oh, snap – that was an obvious one. My bad, Paul!
Also the 1957 Forward Look line.
And the down-sized 1962s. It just took them 15 years to get around to it. 🙂
The entire 1959 GM Lineup (Except Corvette and trucks) was directly a hurried reaction to the 1957 MoPars!
Well, there was the PT Cruiser. Not sure about the Omnirizon.
I guess I was thinking specifically of both proper passenger cars and newly-invented market segments. The Voyager/Caravan twins count as “cars”, I guess, being car-based, and they defined their segment. The other examples mentioned here, while they may have been innovative, were only “better mousetraps” in some cases – not completely new ideas. I suppose I didn’t express that idea as clearly as I might have.
I don’t care what anyone says about California, but when I see pictures like those above, I am thrilled to be living in a place without snow. If I want to see snow then I can drive to it rather than it coming to me as shown.
There is nothing more beautiful than freshly-fallen snow. And nothing uglier than snow after the plowing has finished and the melting has begun.
Also happy to be in a place without snow. Seeing the pics after the plow has passed made me feel sorry for the car, and shows me why cars rust so much up there.
Nice article and a super rare find today. I would hedge a bet that this car has the 90 hp Slant six being a 1980 model when the second oil crises hit and mileage was on everybody’s mind once again. If it was the 318 it would be the low calorie 120 hp motor which coincidentally was what the Chevy 267 and Pontiac 265 also made that year.
I 100% agree with your assessment on the exterior styling on the 1980/81 coupes. They would have been smarter to keep the 77-79 look with a few updates. Also a sporty model should have been kept in the mix with the more powerful 360 4BBL V8 as in the Mirada CMX that of which I have never actually seen with my own two eyes. The vast majority of these came as tame bench seat Slant six cars from what I remember seeing back in the day with the occasional 318 and luxury seat option.
As for the current 200/Dart Sergio didn’t try hard enough with these cars. From the botched launch of the Dart with that dreadful dual dry clutch transmission to the low powered 2 liter and finicky 1.4T to iffy assembly quality and numerous bugs the poor Dart didn’t stand a chance to ring in with customers.
Then there is the 200 with it’s limited rear head room, the rather low powered and not as refined 2.4 engine and worse the silly and poorly chosen 9 speed automatic that has to be driven to be believed. It’s sad because the 200 is not a bad car on it’s own merits. If FCA had instead used the far better behaving 6 speed automatic with the 2.4 with better attention to sound quality and payed more attention to overall quality control this car may have stood a chance. Looking at a row of brand new 2015’s I found 3 cars with sample defects right off the truck! One had a screw ready to drop out of it’s passenger side vanity mirror hold down. Another had a glove box door that sounded like it had broken glass behind it when opening and closing the lid and worse another car had a passenger door that was hard to pull open and required several good hard shoves to close the door properly. Yikes!
I simply can’t imagine ever living in a place without off street parking and some place to work on the old beats .
I guess that’s why I live where I do ~ I’m a die hard gearhead and rather live in a poor neighborhood than have no place to park / work .
Nice old Dodge here , too bad it is gone .
Agreed , snow is so achingly beautiful , I never tired of walking in the woods and fields after a snowfall but I also hated the cold and wet plus of course , rusty vehicles means a Mechanic has _TWO_ jobs , not just one .
Completely agree that the first gen Diplomat coupe was quite good looking, and the second gen was generic American ’80s dullness personified. The world was moving fast under Chrysler in those years, and there was no market for this car – even old people generally wouldn’t buy it.
If my memory holds true, the reason Chrysler chose to change the opera window on the coupes to a more conventional style was due to slow sales of the previous 1st gen coupes. I agree the 1st gen Diplomats/Lebaron coupes were nice looking cars, but I don’t think the 2nd gen coupes were hideous. In fact if the 2nd gen coupes were optioned properly they were very attractive cars.
Interestingly, speaking of obscure Mopar coupes, look across the street from our subject car in the 8th photo from the top. Looks like 2 consecutive generations of the Sebring coupe. Maybe a ’98 and an ’04 or so? I’d put money on those two cars being owned by the same household. The odds are just too steep against that lineup happening randomly.
Properly optioned and in the right color? You have a looker!!
Very true, but scroll down. South of the border, they did it proper!
That’s a sharp car. Unfortunately, between the public’s fear of Chrysler going under, and the terrible new-car market in 1980 and 1981, these were rare even when new.
The way the B pillar, opera window and door glass all have slightly different shapes and angles never worked for me. The opera window works with the C pillar, and the B pillar works with the door glass, but where the two come together just doesn’t resolve well. When they added yet a different angle for the leading edge of the vinyl roof, it turns into a complete hash.
Even without that, I found these to be pudgy and blunt, completely lacking the lightness and grace of the first version of these coupes.
Look at this LeBaron – I think it is sharp!
I concur wholeheartedly.
But what are those things on the trunk? I looks like part of a luggage rack without the actual bracket those strakes would be attached to.
I always liked the LeBaron taillight arrangement. It was a good synthesis of the Cutlass-like pods flanking the sides, with Riviera-esque, rectangular units lenses in solid red.
I wonder if the shortened wheelbase of the coupes and more squared-off rear styling was in an attempt to bring the styling more in line with that of the upcoming K-cars 2-doors (which also featured what I felt was an unusually truncated rear third section).
These look a bit like the R bodies to me, more than the K anyway.
My thought is that Chrysler, much like Ford with its 1980 Granada, went with the most conservative design to capture the basic personality of the 1977 GM B cars. The trouble was, they were doing the job on the cheap redecorating models they had introduced years earlier, and had to deal with the hard points from the older cars. They took a cleaver to the old cars and chopped them into very basic three box designs. Inoffensive to the point of boredom.
Gussied up, they weren’t terrible. Chrysler did take a shot at trying to pitch these against GM’s segment leaders such as the Cutlass, but these obviously fell way short. Even Iacocca stepped in to talk it up. I assume he inherited this car, I wonder what he really thought of it? It seems odd that Chrysler tried to push these cars against the A specials when they had the Cordoba and Mirada to worry about.
This was a good pitch to the likely buyer. The older engineers, Iacocca asking you to compare it. Saying it was cheaper and then a rebate on top. He was of course asking for a leap of faith but the buyer could look at the car and know what he was getting. A quieter and more luxurious Valiant. In other words, just what he wants.
By 1982, only the 4 door sedan version of the Dodge Diplomat remains in the lineup. And it was joined by the M-body Plymouth Gran Fury. Most of these M-Body Dodge/Plymouth sedans ended up as cop cars until they were discontinued in 1989. The NYPD was a big customer for these cars. Also in 1982 the Chrysler version became the New Yorker/Fifth Avenue and it sold quite well in the mid 1980s. From 1987 until those cars were discontinued in 89, they were built at the former American Motors plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin. And they got driver-side airbags in 1988.
I disagree on the styling of these cars. Theres loads of potential, IF you get the details right. The front clip on these looks right at home on the sedans (which were usually cop cars) but its out of place on a coupe body. The wimpy tire/wheel/hubcap package, metallic poop paintjob and the vinyl roof (looks like ass on ANY car) really frump this car down. It comes off looking like Adrian in the original Rocky. The potential is there, but the execution comes off dorky.
In Mexico, on the other hand, they knew how to rock these. There, it was called the Magnum R/T (like the below pic) and I hear tell you could even get a 4bbl 360 hooked to a 4spd. YES PLEASE.
What I see here is an alternative to the G body Cutlass/Regal, just Mopar style. It needs the right vision to make this car really pop. Makes me wonder if that doofy front clip could be swapped out for the nosecone off a Mirada….
+1 on the Mexican Magnum. I’ve long been fascinated with these, and wondered how these would’ve done north of the border.
Glad this was re-posted, hadn’t seen it before. Last time I saw a 2-door Diplomat was the one the cop drove in the 80’s remake of “The Blob”…before he was consumed by The Blob.
I’d agree. Countries that didn’t labor under the oppression of emissions laws, bumper laws and CAFE penalties could do some very interesting things with American and American-derived cars.
This shows the the basic shape, once de-Broughamed, isn’t that bad. Rather generic, true, but the basic proportions are good. I’d still prefer the earlier model as being a more distinctive, if dated, shape.
I always thought that the R-bodies were designed as if it could be the successor to the M-body, not the predecessor. To me, the R-body looks a little more modern.
I think a 1979 St. Regis parked next to a 1989 Diplomat could confuse a few people that don’t know better in regards to which of the two is newer.
The M-body was a great, sturdy car though. My grandfather had extensive use with lots of them in his law enforcement career.
A lot of MoPar “B” platform is hidden in the “R” platform, Therfore a lot can be done to “Upmuscle” them. I liked the New Yorker and St. Regis, too bad they didn’t sell better.
R-body sales got off to a decent start, but crashed when the second fuel crisis hit, along with the uncertainty about Chryslers financial situation. Their second and (abbreviated) third year sales were dismal except for fleet sales. The assumption in 1980-81 by just about everybody was that big body-on-frame RWD cars would soon be extinct, which explains why storied names got transferred to smaller cars, sometimes twice or three times, so they’d survive when the old full-size cars were dropped. I can’t blame Lee Iacocca for killing the R-body off. Who’d want those dinosaurs in the ’80s reality of scarce gas costing upwards of $5/gallon?
Of course the future wasn’t as apocalyptic as predicted, the Reagan administration loosened CAFE requirements by 1.5mpg, and big RWD car sales came roaring back – except at Mopar and Pontiac who were sure nobody would want them. Pontiac sent over badge-engineered Caprices from Canada to give their dealers something to sell, but Chrysler had nowhere to turn. They did do a surprisingly good job selling M-bodies (which of course were a thinly disguised 1976 Aspen/Volare) to big-car intenders throughout the ’80s, but most of them likely would have preferred the R if they were still available, or at least an updated M body. Crazy thing was the M bodies didn’t get any better EPA gas mileage than the R bodies did.
I’m guessing that the Lebaron/Diplomat coupes were resized down to the shorter wheelbase was to make room for the other redesigned coupes in 1980, the Mirada(replaced Magnum) and the Cordoba. These were on the B-Body platform in 1979 (Cordoba and Magnum), and moved to the new “J” platform, which was just the longer wheelbase M platform for coupes. Needed the longer wheel base for these higher margin cars.
Looks like the commenters of 6 years ago, who expressed concerns about the future of Chrysler, never would have guessed they’d be under the same umbrella as Citroen!
> But Sergio Marchionne has made it very clear that he wants FCA to merge with someone, preferably GM.
I guess he partially got his wish now that Opel and Vauxhall are FCA sister companies, though he didn’t live to know about it.
The ‘FCA’ term and ‘company’ don’t exist anymore. No more FCA signs at Stellantis’ US facilities. Observed at Belvidere IL plant, and Detroit News pics.
Opel and Vauxhall are just brand names, now. Simply badges on PSA products in the EU these days. PSA wanted a “German brand” when it bought Opel.
I’m sure that this has been noted before, but the M-bodies were essentially slightly re-styled F-bodies (e.g. Aspen and Volare).
The thing that I find interesting is that the F-body was designed as a successor to the Dart/Valiant, e.g. “compact” cars, and they were relative failures in that regard, due to factors (quality control, changing market, Chrysler’s overall troubles) which were outside of the basic quality of the design. But similarly, the M-body cars offered at the low end of the market (Diplomat, Gran Fury) were also relative failures, basically only fleets bought them, and then only mostly as police cars. The M-body car that was really successful was the Fifth-Avenue Chrysler version, which was a cash cow for Chrysler for it’s last 6 years or so.
So here we have a car that was conceived and initially marketed as a budget-friendly, compact family sedan, and was only really successful when it was targeted to a more upscale clientele. How often does that happen?
My granddad had one of these into the ‘90s. Slow, wallowy and generally slapped-together. My ex-CHP uncle has no kind words either, except that the Diplomat had more interior space than the LASD Novas.
My automotive “sampling” period really focuses on the 2 years (1977 and 1978) when I was a transporter for Hertz..I’ve only owned 5 cars in the 48 years I’ve been a licensed driver, and other than driving my relatives (mostly parents, a couple times grandparents and Uncle’s) and friends cars (also rarely), my experience really focuses on those years.
While this Diplomat came around a bit later, I did drive the predecessor (mostly 4 door, but even the 2 door coupe) multiple times for Hertz. Probably pretty base (didn’t open hood..should have) slant 6 automatics, but pretty nice cars. Never drove a Mirada since it came later, but did drive a Magnum, which I really liked…didn’t really appreciate that it was the end of a generation of Mopars. My Dad owned a ’56 Plymouth, and later a ’80 Dodge (Omni) and ’86 (600), but that was it, still way more cars than I’ve ever owned…though my brother-in-law easily has owned 10x the number of cars that I have.
By now, this Dodge has been scrapped at a Chicago wrecking yard. Maybe towed away after “last straw” repair needed.
The snowed in pics show commonly how city cars exist in winter, waiting for thaw to move out of spots.