Curbside Classic: 1978 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham – Ready For The Times To Get Better

1978 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham right front

Tough times make for interesting stories.  And Chrysler’s 1974-78 full-size cars knew all about tough times.  They were introduced just as the energy crisis made big cars undesirable.  Then, when conditions improved for full-sized cars, GM’s new offerings made these cars look obsolete.  Chrysler Corporation itself was on the verge of ruin, and consumers were hounded by high inflation and loads of other ills.  Bad luck seemed to haunt these cars, and by the end of this model run, Chrysler’s once-proud New Yorker nameplate limped into 1978 on an aging platform, relying on cushy upholstery and shag carpeting to draw customers.

There’s a good chance that – when new – this car’s owner could turn on the AM/FM stereo and hear Crystal Gayle singing Ready for the Times to Get Better, one of 1978’s most popular country songs.  It was a perfect song for the times, and perfect for this car too.

1938 Chrysler New York Special Brochure

Chrysler’s New Yorker nameplate originated in 1938, when the company debuted its Imperial New York Special, a $1,000 sedan with a distinctive grille and “custom-tailored” interior.  This package became popular enough that Chrysler created a separate New Yorker model range for 1939.

Chrysler then sold New Yorkers for the next 57 years.  Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, New Yorkers represented the Chrysler brand’s pinnacle, with elegant styling, high-end appointments, and a prestigious image.  Big Chryslers were also popular.  In the mid- to late-1960s, Chrysler sold more than 200,000 full-size cars per year, including the luxurious New Yorkers.

1969 Chrysler ads

When Chrysler debuted its Fuselage models for 1969, those robust sales figures remained for one year, and then slid.  These cars’ styling wasn’t everyone’s idea of attractive when introduced, and didn’t get any more appealing after General Motors and Ford introduced restyled full-size models of their own shortly afterwards.  Average sales for the 1969-73 Fuselage years were 13% lower than during 1965-68.

Chrysler retained the same product names for the Fuselage models as it had before.  Value-priced Newports brought in the thrifty crowd, those who sought some upgrades bought Newport Customs, and the 300 range provided a hint of sportiness.

Residing at the top of the range, New Yorkers wore Chrysler’s crown.  For a few years after the Fuselage body style was introduced, about 20% of Chrysler’s full-size sedans and coupes wore the New Yorker badge – a similar proportion to the 1965-68 generation.  But then the proportion of New Yorker sales edged up.  By 1972-73, New Yorkers comprised 29% of such sales, and that proportion would only increase during the model’s next generation.  This resulted from two trends.  First was an increasing appeal of brougham-style luxury… but just as important was that non-luxury buyers began abandoning full-size Chryslers.  While Chrysler could still hawk fancy New Yorkers, it was the lower-end Newport that struggled mightily during the 1970s.

1974 Chrysler New Yorker

The Fuselage bid farewell after 1973, replaced by a new design that Chrysler said presented a “sleek silhouette.”  Featuring a 2” lower beltline and a concomitant increase in glass area over its predecessor, this design demonstrated a lower and more slimmed-down appearance than before.  Dimensionally, though, the wheelbase remained at 124” and overall length shrank by just 5”.  In addition to design changes, Chrysler also stressed a smoother ride from reworked suspension componentry, and a more solid body.  At first, it seemed that Chrysler had hit a home run with this new car.  Then bad luck intervened.

Just weeks after the 1974 New Yorker and its kin were introduced, the Arab Oil Embargo sent buyers scrambling for smaller, fuel-efficient cars.  Chrysler dealers – who had ordered heaps of full-size cars expecting strong sales – were left with several months’ supply languishing on their lots.  Sales slumped so quickly that in January 1974, Chrysler shut down two plants for a time to bring surging dealer inventories in line with reworked sales forecasts.

Even though Chrysler sold just 109,000 of its full-sized sedans and coupes for 1974 (about half of 1973’s total), that number masks even more problems, since many of those cars were sold at fire-sale prices.  1975 and ’76 still saw suppressed interest in big cars; sales sank even lower.  In 1977, big-car buyers returned, but that’s when the next wave of bad luck then hit this model as General Motors introduced its revolutionary downsized full-size B-bodies.  Once again, Chrysler was left with outdated-looking full-size products.

1976 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham ad

Though these big Chryslers remained largely similar over their five-year run, they did see some adjustments.  In 1975, all New Yorkers adopted the Brougham moniker (Brougham had been a separate model since 1972).  Meanwhile, one year later, Chrysler discontinued its Imperial brand, at which time the New Yorker Brougham was christened Chrysler Corporation’s flagship, even receiving the Imperial’s concealed headlights and waterfall grille.

1978 Chrysler New Yorker ad

That brings us to 1978.  Few changes differentiate this year from its predecessor.  Most noticeable (if one can call it that) is a slightly revised grille, with a different fluting pattern and incorporating two vertical bars that weren’t present before.  A lower-body tape stripe and fancier tail lamp treatment also arrived this year, as did some new colors and trim variations.  Inside, a vacuum fluorescent digital clock replaced the mechanical-digital chronometer.  On the powertrain front, Chrysler’s 400 cu. in. V-8 was now standard, while the previously standard 440 cu. in. engine stood as a $207 option.  But for the most part, this car was similar to the previous four years of New Yorkers.

Importantly, 1978 was the Big Chrysler’s last year, and everyone knew it.  Dealers, customers and the press understood that Chrysler would follow GM’s lead and slim down its full-size offerings for 1979.

Source of Data: Standard Catalog of Chrysler, 1914-2000

Production figures tell the story.  1978 sales landed at about 67,000, a far cry from the 200,000+ units sold just a decade earlier.  The composition of those sales changed too.  With non-luxury buyers flocking to other vehicles – including Chrysler’s own mid-size M-body LeBaron – New Yorker sales exceeded those of the more pedestrian Newport for 1977 and ’78.

1978 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham right side

By the time this car rolled off its Detroit assembly line, these Chryslers mostly appealed to the shrinking body of customers who desperately wanted as much size and broughaminess as possible.  New Yorker’s brochure billed it as “full-sized motoring on a magnificent scale.”  Buyers who found that appealing bought one of these while they still could.

With that as a background, let’s take a look at our Starlight Blue Sunfire Metallic featured car.  Some cars are known as trendsetters, but this one is more known for its “lasts.”  In addition to being among the last gargantuan American sedans, this was also the last true hardtop.  Chrysler offered New Yorkers as both pillared sedans and pillarless hardtops until 1976, when the hardtop emerged as the model’s sole sedan.  By the late 1970s, changing tastes and anticipated US rollover standards doomed the once-popular hardtop look, and the big Chryslers carried the hardtop torch alone for its final year.

Here’s what one of these cars looks like with the doors wide open, beckoning riders with wide-open spaces.

1978 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham left rear

One can spot design anachronisms at every angle.  Here we’re treated to both fender skirts and vent windows – features redolent of earlier decades.  Chrysler held on to swing-out vent windows (optional on New Yorkers) after other manufacturers had abandoned them, supposedly on account of smokers, and for their use in defrosting windshields.  1978 was their last year on Chrysler sedans.

1978 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham left front

The concealed headlight doors have been left in the open position, so we can just imagine that they’re properly deployed for the full brougham effect.  Headlights or not, one can see how this overall shape looked like it belonged to a different decade from the crisp and more compact GM B-bodies.  Both customers who loved and loathed this look probably thought that too.

1978 Chrysler New Yorker rear

Even some of the Chrysler’s minor design tweaks suggested past decades.  When this New Yorker generation debuted for 1974, the cars featured horizontal tail lights meant to accentuate long, low and wide themes.  However, two years later, Chrysler changed the tail lights to this vertical design – a retrograde move aimed at either mimicking Cadillac, suggesting tail fins, or both.

1978 Chrysler New Yorker trunk

Cargo capacity never goes out of style, and New Yorker’s 22.2 cu. ft. trunk is on full display from this angle.  Big trunks were widely admired by full-size sedan buyers, though this car’s trunk is only 2 cu. ft. larger than that of GM’s downsized full-sizers.

1978 Chrysler New Yorker interior front

It’s said the past sometimes resembles a foreign country, and if so, this interior is a faraway land.  First, it’s so… blue.  Upholstery, carpeting, dash, steering wheel, door panels, seat belts – all in a soothing shade of blue (one of 5 available interior colors).  The Verdi cloth 50/50 bench resembles living room furniture of the day; of course living rooms don’t look like this anymore, either.  Overall, this is as traditional as luxury got in the 1970s, replete with simulated Brazilian rosewood trim.

We can see that this car was fairly well-equipped, featuring a few significant options such as manual air conditioning (though not the costlier automatic temperature control), an AM/FM stereo with Electronic Search Tune, and power seats.  However, the original owner chose not to specify leather upholstery the extra-cost road wheels.  The days of mix-and-match options must have been fun.

One clever feature of these Chryslers was the centrally-located under-dash glove compartment – easily reached by driver or passenger.  Also, the chromed spindle underneath the center air vent is the remote control for the passenger-side mirror.

1978 Chrysler New Yorker interior rear

The rear seat is just as blue and cosseting as the front.  Though folks often consider Chryslers a few steps beneath a Cadillac or Lincoln, there are a few special touches.  For example, a sturdy chrome handle with which to pull down the center armrest (barely visible in this photo).

1978 Chrysler New Yorker interior rear

These cars also have the broughamiest imaginable interior C-pillar.  The round reading lamp is joined by a “lavaliere strap” and a padded pillow built into to the pillar.

Lake Dodge, Linesville, Pennsylvania

Our featured car bears a dealership badge from Lake Dodge in Linesville, Pennsylvania, a borough about 50 mi. south of Erie.  This New Yorker likely spent most of its life in the Keystone State, since online records indicate it was sold by a York used car dealer in 2022.  Since Pennsylvania isn’t known as a favorable climate for preserving cars, one can only assume that our New Yorker here spent a good portion of its life garaged, and out of the elements.

1978 Chrysler New Yorker front

New Yorkers still had big engines in 1978.  Big – as measured in displacement, if not power.  The standard 400 cu. in. V-8 pumped out only 195 horsepower, in true late ’70s fashion.  A more potent 440 V-8 was optional, though our featured car was built with the standard engine.

1978 Chrysler New Yorker left side

Contemporary reviews often portrayed these cars as inferior to their Ford or General Motors competitors in terms of build quality and ride characteristics.  That may be true, but it’s doubtful that original buyers cared too much about that.  New Yorkers promised big, traditional luxury in a world where that was quickly going out of style.  The steadfast traditionalists who bought these cars admired that trait above all others.

Perhaps there’s no better symbol of this car’s aura than the lion-and-shield heraldic crest that was likely looked at with pride by Chrysler’s target market.  And heraldry was one more New Yorker feature for which 1978 was the end of the line.  Future New Yorkers settled for Chrysler’s Pentastar on their hood instead of lions.

That “New” New Yorker didn’t exactly take the world by storm.  Though downsized according to industry trends (it shed 10” of length and 800 lbs.), sales plunged during this body style’s three model years.  Then in 1983, New Yorker became a front-drive K-car clone.  The traditionalists who bought ’78s were probably glad that they did.

When Chrysler introduced its restyled full-size car for 1974, few likely thought the model would be plagued by economic crises, a rapidly-shifting car market, and competition arriving at just the wrong time.  By 1978, this generation of New Yorker had become battered and bruised.  And while Chrysler and its customers were Ready For The Times To Get Better – for the New Yorker, good times wouldn’t return.  New Yorker’s glory days were in the rearview mirror.  But this particular car is quite a survivor – and who knows, maybe it’ll live through our current round of troubles as well.


Photographed in Arlington, Virginia in January 2024.


Related Reading:

1978 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham: A Most Imperial Chrysler   Tom Klockau

1977 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham Coupe: The Recycled Imperial And The Recycled CC   Paul Niedermeyer

1976 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham: The Joys Of Getting Lost   Perry Shoar