Curbside Classic: 1978 Chrysler Cordoba – Not a Keeper

(first posted 4/2/2018)      Working as a part-time appraiser I sometimes meet people who want a car or truck appraised before putting it for sale.  Most of these vehicles are out of my budget, of course, but once in a while I come across something affordable. In late 2015 with winter approaching I was called to appraise a one-owner 1978 Chrysler Cordoba.

I arrived at an Edmonton residence being met by Marty, the brother of the car’s owner. The brother and owner, Rick, lived in extended care as he had some severe health issues.  Marty has power-of-attorney, and was moving forward to sell the car on Rick’s behalf, and thought getting the Cordoba appraised before putting it on the market was a good idea. By the time I showed up Marty had changed his mind about the appraisal telling me how discouraged he was with the lack of interest from potential buyers and the failing health of his brother and mother.  He apologized for me coming out for nothing and felt the next best option was to tow the dust covered hardtop to an auto wrecker!

The remark led me to say I would buy the car and what would he take for it? Well the price was low enough and the condition of the dust covered Cordoba so good, I felt it could be cleaned, repaired and put back on the road for a maximum $2,000 if not less. It had been parked in the garage since 2003 but unfortunately not on jack stands so I knew the tires would be flat-spotted and later my suspicion was confirmed. The tires were new just before the Cordoba was left in the garage.

So I now took the time to look over this original condition car and learn its history. Marty told me Rick had pampered the Cordoba since it was driven off the dealer’s lot. There was plenty of documentation and manuals and a 45 rpm record which was to be played during the first 200 miles of ownership. This Cordoba was only driven during the summer, only towed a small tent trailer and only then on occasional trips. The trailer hitch was still in place along with a trailer brake system attached to the underside of the instrument panel.  This luxury cruiser was always kept in a garage during the many winters that have come and gone since 1978. It has never undergone a major repair and was treated to a very good quality repaint. The front bumper was re-chromed but only because of corrosion. The Cordoba had never been in a collision.  If I was a fan of the Cordoba, I’d be over the moon with emotion finding a car like this where only 112,000 were produced during the ’78 model year.

After expressing my interest in the car, I told Marty I’d discuss it with my wife and do some research based on the VIN number and body tag codes.  The Cordoba is painted in Augusta Green with matching half-vinyl roof and green velour cloth interior. One seldom seen feature is the optional remote body colour side mirrors. Pictures in the brochure and magazine ads always show chrome side mirrors. The odometer shows only 71,000 kms or about 46,000 miles. Chrome trim, the interior and under hood components are in very, very good condition.  An original Firestone 721 spare sits forward in the optional carpeted trunk. Decoding the body tag and confirmed all the options and that the Cordoba was built for Canada at the Windsor, Ontario plant.

As the purchase price was a nominal sum, my wife gave her okay, with some reservations, after my time with the Grand Marquis I had bought and sold months earlier. Certainly, some prep work needs to be done before the engine is turned over (oil squirted in each cylinder?). Not mechanically inclined Marty was told by a mechanic the cylinder heads should come off and oil poured into each cylinder before turning over the optional 360 V8.

That sounded a little fishy to me as well as expensive.  Every option worked including the AM/FM stereo, power door locks and power windows. The car had factory AC but will likely need a recharge. Fluids will need to be flushed and the transmission will need a flush and new filter and gasket.  Very little gas remained in the tank so it will be siphoned out and fresh fuel added. Of course I’ll need to buy a new battery.  Now we all know the Lean Burn system was a pain in the buttocks back in the day. Marty’s brother had a wise mechanic years ago who suggested a better idea. The Lean Burn was tossed and an aftermarket pointless ignition put in its place.

So I told Marty I would buy the Cordoba but because winter was coming I had no place to store the car.  Marty cringed at the thought of his brother’s pampered coupe would be on the road during winter or left covered outside, so he agreed to keep the Cordoba in his garage until the end of April. No deposit was necessary, just my word I would buy the car.  For my part I told Marty he’d get his money at the beginning of April and we’d complete the sale.

When the day in April came, the deal was done and the Cordoba was checked and prepped for towing to my favorite garage. The nice wire wheel covers were removed so they would not be damaged in transit or by someone at the garage.  The garage chosen to get the Cordoba running again was a business I’ve relied on for many years not far from home. The owner is a fan of fifties Chevy cars and many of his mechanics have been working for him for many years. The quote I received for some of the work was reasonable but of course, I took into account the unexpected might arise once the Cordoba was on the lift.  Marty brought his brother the morning the tow truck arrived. Very emotional for Rick who had enjoyed his car for years and which he had many fond memories of.

Not surprisingly, the Cordoba was in very good mechanical condition.  Very little gas had to be siphoned out of the tank. The carburetor had to be replaced as old gas had gummed up part of the pumping mechanism. An OEM carb was found for just over $400. The trailer hitch was removed, new plugs and points installed along with a new fuel filter. Timing was checked, cooling system flushed, brake fluid flushed. The braking system was in fine shape with plenty of life left on brake shoes and disc pads. After a couple of days, I picked up the still dusty Cordoba and drove it home somewhat surprised at how big it felt and a little concerned about the sloppy steering feel. No doubt the flat spotted tires were a big reason, but I wondered if the steering box might be a problem. Anyway, something to deal with later.

April of 2016 was a relatively mild month so I set to work on washing down the Cordoba right away noting the quality of the repaint and how clean the interior was. Indoor/outdoor carpet had been used by Rick to protect interior carpeting around the door openings in the front and back. This showed the extent he would go to keep his luxury cruiser in top condition.

At one point during the detailing process I took the Cordoba to a transmission shop where they flushed the fluid and replaced and the pan gasket and filter. In the technician’s opinion the three-speed automatic shifted fine and the old fluid was still of good colour. There was a minor issue with the spline connecting to the driveshaft. Minor enough that I passed on the repair for now. As I drove away from the transmission shop a sign caught my attention and I took advantage of the free suspension inspection offered at the nearby Canadian Tire Store. They were able to take the Cordoba in right away and found the front end to be in top shape with only a slight alignment adjustment necessary. I gave the okay and was back on the road in just over an hour with steering feel now better and much less twitchy.

The next step was detailing and polishing which was easy given the quality of the repaint and the great condition of chrome trim. I was eager to have the Cordoba presentable ASAP so I could reluctantly put it on the market. I say reluctantly because I was becoming attached to it. Polishing and waxing both body and trim really made this big cruiser look fabulous.  Doing my work in the driveway drew comments from passersby and somebody older would have their own Cordoba story to tell. Although I do like many Mopar vehicles, the Cordoba was just too big and I knew it wouldn’t have a place in our garage.  Surely somebody out there would appreciate it?

Pictures were taken, ads posted in Auto-Trader and Kijiji with some interest and offers (how serious is debatable) but no one came to look at the car. The downturn in the oil patch wasn’t helping as people were losing their jobs across and Alberta and Saskatchewan and collector cars weren’t a priority anymore for those people who were out of work.  By August, I had decided the “Rock N August” car show in St. Albert would be a good place to give the green coupe some good exposure and placed a for sale sign in the window.  I made sure I drove in the Friday evening parade to the downtown street dance and show and shine. The next day I parked in Lions Park with the Cordoba drawing passersby and inquiries, but no one was ready to put down some money.

Worried I’d still have the Cordoba by the time winter’s snow began falling I thought of the Collector car lot in west Edmonton. So for a fee of $250 and me somewhat reluctant to see the Cordoba left out in the open in a strange place, I consigned it for a time. This lot draws a lot of traffic and has sold many interesting vehicles over the years. Worth a try, right?  A few test pilots took their turn behind the wheel but again no one wanted to buy. One of the owners of the car lot said while a few liked the Cordoba, they were nervous about how it drove. Twitchy steering of course and likely due to the flat spotted tires. But I had reached my limit on what I was going to spend on the car so new white wall tires were not going to be purchased.

By the end of October, I’d given up on the car lot and had already asked about storing the Cordoba in the bottom parkade level of the office building where I work. Being on good terms with an executive of the company that owned the tower, I was given the go ahead to leave the Cordoba behind a gated area where this man’s friends would be storing their sports cars along with a sixties Riviera owned by one of the building operators. There would be no charge as the gentleman said “it’s only empty space.” Excellent! The car would be tucked away safe and warm until spring of 2017 when I would again put it on the market or perhaps take it to a collector auction.

I would start the Cordoba at least once a month during the winter and occasionally drive through the parkade. When spring came I signed the Cordoba to a collector car auction in Edmonton and hoped it would meet reserve and go home with somebody else. Well, it didn’t, and dejected, I picked it up from the sold area and headed back to the office tower under a grey sky (how appropriate that day) to park it for who knows when expecting to once again place ads online in hopes of getting a buyer. I even contemplated advertising on a US website to attract someone south of the border, but that would be yet another additional expense.

Needless to say my wife was not impressed so I felt some weight on my shoulders. Not long after however, the collector car dealer called me. My suspicion is he attended the auction and knew the Cordoba had not sold. As the car was a real gem the dealer knew a buyer could be found as he had sold a couple of Cordoba’s in the past. His offer covered almost all my expenses so it was a no-brainer to take the offer and give him a wonderful car complete with all the documentation and service history.

Lesson learned? Perhaps, but I still have a little cash tucked away for the next old car that catches my attention.