Oh, Chrysler, you had such a time in the ’70s. You axed the Challenger and ‘cuda after five model years of disappointing sales. Then came your all-new 1974 full-sizers–just in time for the first gas crisis–followed by the star-crossed Volare/Aspen duo. Really, could things have been much worse?
As the ’80s approached, Chrysler seemed headed for the junkyard. They needed new, downsized big cars, but lacked money to develop and build them. Taking a page from GM’s use of the Colonnade as the platform for the new ’77 Caprice, Chrysler used the midsize Fury/Monaco chassis for the 1979 full-sizers, with Broughamtastic new sheetmetal and interior. Unfortunately for Chrysler, and unlike GM, the strategy was not successful.
Along with Lincoln, Chrysler was a stubborn holdout when it came to downsizing. Even so, they knew that the 1978 New Yorker Brougham and Newport, while big and plush, were dated. With baroque styling and pillarless roofs, they seemed well behind the times next to fresh models like Chevrolet’s Malibu and Caprice–not to mention Chrysler’s own Diplomat and LeBaron models. But with no money available, what could be done?
Enter the B-body. Introduced in 1971, the Fury and Monaco B-bodies predated even the C-body Mopars. Six years later, most of their sales were to police departments that liked their big-block 440 power. Although these favorites of the constabulary left the scene in 1978, that didn’t stop near-penniless Chrysler from performing a bit of reanimation worthy of H.P Lovecraft.
At its core, the all-new (mostly-new?) R-body 1979 Chrysler Newport was a restyled B-body with a 118.5″ wheelbase and an overall length of 220.2 inches. While the chassis and running gear were mostly Fury/Monaco hand-me-downs, the exterior styling was fresh, despite a more-than-passing resemblance to Bill Mitchell’s “sheer look” GM models. The big-block 400 and 440 V8s were history; incredibly, the 1979 Newport’s standard engine was the 225 Slant Six, which made all of 110 horses to power the 3,530 lb. “pillared sedan.”
Despite the carryover underpinnings, the new 1979 Newport was rather attractive and quite modern-looking. The interior offered ample space, as did the 21.3-cu ft trunk. Buyers who wanted some eight-cylinder oomph could choose from optional 135-hp 318, 150-hp 360, or 195-hp 360 V-8s. Also on the option list was an available Open Road handling package, which included firm-feel power steering and suspension, wider wheels, a rear sway bar and HD shock absorbers. I’m guessing there weren’t many takers for it, since most of the Chrysler buyers shelling out $6,405 (for the Six; the 318-V8 model ran $6,720) were probably more interested in a smooth and cushy ride.
Interiors were typical Chrysler–plush. Both the standard bench and optional 60/40 split bench seats were offered with standard cloth-and-vinyl upholstery or optional full vinyl. Because the world had not yet entered the Gray-and-Beige-Interiors-Only era, you could get your interior in blue, green, cashmere, red or gray–or even done up in white vinyl with contrasting red, blue or green trim. I imagine that white interior was really sharp. Has anyone ever seen it?
A four-door sedan was the sole body style. Apparently, Chrysler felt the LeBaron-based Town & Country was enough to fulfill the hauling needs of Mopar wagon buyers. With the Newport, Chrysler tried out some unique weight-saving features–including plastic brake cylinder pistons and lightweight aluminum bumpers that led to trouble: The plastic brake parts failed after a couple of years, and the bumpers were not as sturdy as Mopar engineers had thought. Eventually, many an owner who’d whistled past Chrysler’s cloud of doom to buy a ’79 Newport realized that purchasing a Caprice, Bonneville or Delta 88 might have been more prudent.
Initial sales of the Newport (and its New Yorker sibling) were good; however, the combination of Chrysler’s deteriorating financial condition and the 1979 gas crisis put big-car sales in the tank. In their first year of production, Chrysler moved 78,296 R-body Newports, many of which might have been fleet sales; there was no Plymouth equivalent, and in some cases the Newport actually cost less than Dodge’s St. Regis variant. Production of the $10,026, V8-engine New Yorker was lower, at 54,640 units, but it’s likely that most of those sales were to retail customers.
Nineteen seventy-nine would prove to be the high water mark for the R-body. A second energy crisis had hit in the spring of 1979, about halfway into the model year. Naturally, car sales took a major hit, and while every automaker felt the impact, it hit precariously-positioned Chrysler hardest. With barely a year on the job, its new boss, Lee Iacocca, hadn’t had a chance to address most of the company’s problems; at the time, all that mattered was regaining solvency and launching the new K-cars. As a result, Chrysler’s existing lineup would enter the next model year with the most minimal of changes. At Highland Park, 1979 was a rough year to say the least, with production down 15% from 1978, and a record $1.1 billion loss for the corporation.
Right now I’m working part-time hours at my new job, and I found our featured CC a couple of months ago while driving to lunch. I made a mental note to return later, but every time I got a chance to go back (usually around 1 PM), it was parked under a big tree, sitting in bright light and shadows that make for poor photos. A couple of weeks ago, I finally resolved to visit the car at around 3:00 PM, when shade wouldn’t be a problem. As you can see, it worked out rather well.
This car looks to be all original, from its two-tone Frost Blue-over-Ensign Blue paint to its midnight-blue cloth upholstery. The interior looks particularly cushy. (Editor’s note: My thanks to JPC for the correct info.)
Other than some rust on the left-side doors, the car is quite solid, right down to those aluminum bumpers. It must have been garaged for much of its life. Even the trunk edge shows no rust. Could it have originally come from snow-free (and salt-free) climes?
Nope. That vintage dealer tag came from a local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer, just across the river in Davenport, where they still sell Chryslers, Jeeps, Dodges and Rams. I guess it was simply years of TLC at work here.
I can tell that this car is a first-year model by its distinctive 1979-only hood ornament, which features a stylized “C.” The Newport went largely unchanged throughout its short life, but 1980 models shared the corporate Pentastar hood ornament with K-cars, Caravans and many other ’80s Mopars.
In side view, the R-body might have a strong GM B-body vibe, but the front end looks more Chrysler-like. Still, it could pass for a C-body Buick Electra from a distance, especially the 1977 model. Another indicator of a longtime owner is that once-ubiquitous bug shield. Those things used to be everywhere!
R-body production for 1979 was not up to expectations, but positively great compared with 1980; that year saw only 15,061 Newports and 13,513 New Yorkers come off the line. As you would expect with a recently redone model, changes were minimal.
One reason for the Newport’s sales drop might have been reintroduction of the Plymouth Gran Fury to satisfy Plymouth dealers, who’d not seen many police car sales since the ’78 Fury’s departure and demanded their own (and cheaper) R-body. I can’t really blame them, since at the time they offered only the Volare, Horizon, Trail Duster, some full-size vans and a bunch of captive imports.
For the R-body, the arrival of the big Plymouth was too little, too late. Chrysler was betting the house on the K-car, and full-sizers like the R-body trio were not in Iacocca’s long-term plans. Despite the short model year. Both the Newport and the New Yorker got new grilles for a shortened 1981 model year, during which just 3,622 Newports and 6,548 New Yorkers were sold. Then it was over. It was the end of both the big Chrysler and the Newport name. Now, the midsize M-body LeBaron/New Yorker/Fifth Avenue would carry the V8 rear-drive torch for Chrysler–and, against all odds, do quite well.
The success of the M-body (which lasted to 1989) makes me wonder what might have happened had Iacocca seen fit to produce the R-body a few more years. After all, GM B-body sales also tanked (thought not quite so drastically) in 1980-81, and in 1982 Pontiac went so far as to eliminate full-size models. In time, sales picked up; by the mid-eighties, Caprices, Delta 88s and LeSabres were selling in great numbers once again. Even Pontiac brought back a full-sizer, the badge-engineered Canadian Parisienne. Could Mopar have gotten in on that? And would it have made a difference?
Interesting write-up on a car I’ve never seen in the metal (although someone was selling a pair of R-body New Yorkers here on trademe earlier this year). I like the styling of the R-body cars, and the two-tone blue of the feature car looks great. I don’t like the way the dash slopes down and away so sharply, it makes the steering column look too long and ungainly – and did someone mention ergonomics!
What really intrigues me is the rear door window treatment of the pictured ’80 New Yorker, with the coach-type roof effectively placing a whacking great pillar in the middle of the door window. I know it was a feature Chrysler use on several different models, but I’ve always wondered whether the view out is as bad as I imagine?
Theres an ex Florida police 78 Fury for sale locally 318 with huge sway bars big rims must be the highway package, the guy has a 440 that can go with it too.
I always liked the R-body. It was a sharp looking car, and looked quite menacing in police livery. I can’t for my life understand why it tanked, considering its tried out underpinnings. And I, as you, have always wondered what would’ve happened had Chrysler tried to hold out a couple of more years. I mean, how much money could it have been continuing to upgrade it. Both the GM-body and the Ford Panther-platform continued throught the 80’s with very little upgrading. With just a little r&d, Chrysler would’ve been competitive in that field.
A great find and a nice writeup on a car that I have very mixed feelings about. Another reason that sales of these cars dropped off so soon was that these things were really awful at their launch. These things came out at the peak of Chrysler’s infamous dysfunctional period right before Iacocca came over. One of Iacocca’s first major pushes was a task force set up to start tracking the problems and then finding and fixing the source, one by one. By 1980-81, they were pretty good cars (aside from Lean Burn issues).
Also, by 1980, it was clear what shape Chrysler was in, and sales of everything that was not an Omni/Horizon was in the tank, even more than at GM/Ford, who were also battered by high gas prices and a nasty recession. This made the 3rd big platform in a row that Chrysler timed to come out in a lousy economy (after 1974 and 1969).
One area where these shone was in rustproofing. These were very rust-resistant cars. I would suspect that an 80 or 81 would have held up even better.
My disappointment in these is that they just looked so plain. The 76-78 C Body was a beautiful, graceful car. This one was not. It was so generic, and seemed to lack even the slightest amount of personality. Iacocca did not believe that he had the resources to remain as a full line maker, and he bet on high gas prices and small cars. Unfortunately, he turned out to be wrong. I believe that as the 80s unfolded, this would have made a better starting platform than the Ford Panther because of its significantly larger size. Chrysler would have sold a ton of these in 1984-88 had the company kept them around. And it would have been a much better car than the Fifth Avenue/Diplomat.
Edit – the lower color on this is not Nightwatch Blue. That was a really dark non-metallic navy. This was Ensign Blue which was part of four specific two-tone combos shown in the 79 Newport color and trim book. Ensign Blue was not shown on the brochure. Can anyone top this as most useless information of the day?
I remember in 1979 a family friend rented one and drove it from Calgary to Vancouver Island. The car was nice on the surface but closer examination showed really bad quality. There was, for example, a stream of tar (or some sealant) running down the right front door. The trunk leaked. There were rattles and squeaks. The body quivered over bumps (not extra cost on all Chrysler cars of the era). The frameless windows whistled at relatively low speeds.
I could go on, but any possible success these cars could have had was negated by awful quality control.
What were The Other 3? I know I saw the Green most…well aside from NY State Troopers… Thats What I remember, being so glad when these Zoomed Past me on The Taconic!
The internet is a truly wonderful thing.
Like you, I remember seeing the green one the most often. Actually, I kind of like all of them.
There is quite a library of this kind of thing at http://www.hamtramck-historical.com/library.shtml
Thanks for the info jp. The darker blue did look different to me, but I assumed it was faded. Some of us do appreciate the “useless” car facts!
Thank You so much. That’s a new site to Me… I Love looking up Colors, Rather unique options, and the like. This reminds me of a two toning I remember Seeing on a Sunbird once. With many little dots at the edges…
I would love to be able to see Color Breakouts for many of The car models, some of the take rates must be so low on some questionable choices hoisted on the public by the designers.
jp – I agree with the color. My 1983 Dodge D-150 4×2 8′ bed (with overdrive and slant six) was the “nightwatch blue” . . . applied very well too. With a nice wash and wax, you could “dive” right into that deep, blue solid paint.
Much like AMC in ’57, Chrysler did the same (at the time, right business move) in letting the R’s die on the vine to concentrate development and marketing costs on the K’s. Chrysler was too weak to let these cars limp along, although hindsight is 20/20 . . . . with today’s thinking and outsourcing/offshoring, maybe they could’ve kept these in production in Mexico and then imported them back into the U.S./Canada???
BTW – in the day, I saw a smattering of these throughout the country (most in the Midwest as I transfered duty stations from Hawaii to Virginia in 1982) – The Chryslers or Dodges (including the infamous, gutless 318 Newports the CHP received), but I saw only ONE Plymouth Gran Fury. It was new in ’81, from then Pearl City (Hawaii) Chrysler-Plymouth, as very attractive, very well put together butter-yellow with tan cloth interior sedan. Older couple had it and I would see it frequently downtwon near Kapiolani Blvd, so it’s home must’ve been Maikiki . . .
I am still looking for a New Yorker Fifth Avenue and a St. Regis. I will own one someday.
Come to Rhode Island – there is a dealership in Wakefield, RI that sells only vintage Chrysler products and they have a MINT CONDITION 1981 New Yorker Fifth Avenue with only 15,000 miles on it. I sat in it the last time I went there – it was very luxurious. Beautiful car! They also have a 1979 and a 1980 New Yorker Fifth Avenue as well – I think one of them has only 5,000 miles on it! Their website is http://www.classicchryslercars.com
The 5th Avenue’s Landau roof was so awkward looking. Maybe a half-vinyl roof with a targa band would have worked better.
Chrysler had the same problem with bad landau roofs for several years afterwards. The AA-platform Chrysler LeBaron (1990-1995) and the Y-platform Chrysler Fifth Avenue (1990-1993) had identical awkward landau roofs that extended up to the rear quarter window.
You think that’s awkward? Combine that with the frameless door glass, then open the back door… http://www.flickr.com/photos/that_chrysler_guy/5243833253/sizes/z/in/photostream/
What the? That’s terrible!
Please tell me that is a grab strap, and not a seat belt!
I personally like the frameless windows. Unfortunately, with such a short back door, I think that the body engineers had to either decide to fix the rear windows in place, allow them to roll down like 4 inches, or put the big fixed piece of framed glass at the back of the door so that the window could go all the way down. (And Zackman didn’t even buy one!?!? 🙂 )
“JP, as your psychiatrist, I think I can say that we have had a breakthrough today. Earlier you told me of your mixed feelings towards these cars, but I think that we have established that you have been carrying a burning torch for one of these for over 30 years. It’s OK to be open about these things, no matter what others may think. So don’t feel guilty. Although it may be a misunderstood car to the rest of the world, you are able to appreciate its good points.
Now, if you go the rest of the way and have a relationship with one of these, please schedule another appointment so that we can process your feelings of betrayal and disappointment. Good luck to you.”
Yes, these cars and the 80-85 Seville have the strange distinction of having that stand up fixed quarter glass with frameless glass doors.
My first car was a 76 Aspen coupe that had green paisley interior. It has long since rusted away and I have scoured google to find a picture of the interior to show my wife. If anyone has any ideas I would be so grateful.
PS It was such a piece of junk, but I am still sentimental about it because it was my first car
Surely plastic brake caliper pistons was ludicrously optimistic? Maybe you were only supposed to do a 0.2g stop twice a day.
NZ Skyliner – I think this might be the same St Regis where the frameless door model had a frame around the rear quarter window, leaving it sticking up when the window is down and door open.
Actually, I believe that the use of phenolic (plastic) pistons went back to the mid 1970s. As usual, Chrysler was there first with a good idea, but either too early for the right materials or with flawed execution. These pistons do not transfer heat and prevent boiling fluid, but early ones had problems with getting out of shape and binding, leading to locked brakes.
I understand that much of the industry uses these now.
Yup, Phenolic pistons became quite common shortly after these cars.
I had a 2002 dodge ram with phenolic pistons. The truck went over 220k miles with less than meticulous PM and few problems except for the notoriously bad rear end that cost a higher level Chrysler employee his job. The brake pistons were never an issue although I changed calipers around the halfway point since the truck and brakes worked hard.
This was my first car – hand me down from grandpa. Brown with tan top, tan interior, slant six. Good car for a dangerous teenager. Top speed was barely above 70. took forever to get to highway speed with a few passengers, couldnt spin tires on glare ice:) But true to form it didnt rust, rode well and I put a zillion miles on it. I did learn that you could put several cases of beer on ice in that huge trunk. Too bad it didnt have a back seat pass through 🙂
Enter the B-body. Introduced in 1971, the Fury and Monaco B-bodies predated even the C-body Mopars.
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t the R bodies owe a large part of their DNA to the disastrous Chrysler downsizing of the 1962 models?
I was referring to the redesigned 1974 C-bodies.
The ’71 B bodies were still on the same 1962 ‘smaller big car
platform that was renamed ‘mid-size’ for ’65 on. The R’s were still ‘swinging 60’s tech’
BTW, the K cars were new for 1981, not 1980 model year. And, I really don’t see these as ‘competitive’ at all to Panther and GM B-bodies. Iacocca picked the right car to keep, M for ‘traditional’ buyers. R’s were sinking faster than HMS Titanic. Only die hard ‘Mopar or no car’ fans think they were ‘good’ cars. No cross shoppers switched fron GM/Ford.
I disagree with you on the R’s competitiveness with the Panther. The Panther looked dead in the water by 1981 as well, and the early Panthers (up through 82 or so) were no better cars than these (and arguably not as good). Plus, they were on a 4 inch shorter wheelbase. Nothing of this size was selling well in 1980-82, which was why everybody started designing smaller replacements.
But where the R got axed, the Panther stayed and got slow, continuous improvement to where it became a very good car. Had the R gotten that same kind of improvement it too would have been quite competitive. This was a far superior platform to that of the Fifth Avenue/Diplomat, with its transverse torsion bars, weak K members and its none-too-tight overall structure. Plus, given that Chrysler was in much better shape under CAFE than either GM or Ford, the availability of the 360 would have been huge to buyers in this segment in the mid 80s.
But, a year later, fall 1982, Ford brought out the 1983 Fox LTD and renamed the big one Crown Vic and sales took off. The styling of the R body is a face only a Mopar fan can love.
Being that you are a Mopar fan, I can understand your opinion, but the rest of the market didn’t agree.
The Panther only took off in 1983 because gas prices were coming down and the economy was improving. But by then, the R was history. My point is just that the R would have been much more competive than the Fifth Avenues and Diplomats, which were way too small for the segment they were trying to compete in. Chrysler sold a lot of Fifth Avenues from 1983-87, and I think that a continuation of the 81 New Yorker with a similar level of trim would have done even better. Plus, the St.Regis/Gran Fury would have been a much better police car.
I agree with you that the R cars were not all that attractive, but a lot could have been done with wheels, grille textures, etc. The 1985 Crown Vic was a much better looking car (to me) than was the 1979 – the right detail changes can do a lot.
A “what if” to ponder:
Chrysler could had keeped the R-body New Yorker and New Yorker got an extended range in 2 trims: Custom and Brougham while recycling the Newport nameplate for the M-body. More intriguing there wasn’t even a 2-door sedan.
Strange then Dodge used the St.Regis nameplate instead of continuing the Monaco name or even reviving the Coronet name (although then Coronet was revived in Columbia as a “Dippy”(M-body) variant)
Also, Allpar posted more stuffs about the R-body http://www.allpar.com/cars/dodge/R-bodies.html
I think that the lack of an R body 2 door was due to the existence of the Cordoba/Magnum (1979) and the Cordoba/Mirada that were scheduled for a 1980 model introduction. Anyhow, large 2 door cars were dying fast in the late 1970s, so I certainly cannot fault them for not doing a 2 door.
No 2door and no wagon, that combined with the stench of death surrounding Chrysler at the time sealed their fate before the paint was even dry on the first cars.
Though I always wondered how these would have looked as a coupe and and a wagon, was the Cordoba/Mirada smaller than these? It uses the same dash inside, more or less.
2 doors couldn’t have been “dying that fast” if GM and Ford kept them around for almost another decade, more if you count FWD large GM coupes.
There were advantages and disadvantages with both the Ford Panthers and the Chrysler R-bodies, but the Panthers held a big advantage in that they were an all-new design. The R-bodies were based on the old intermediate platform (and, by 1979, it really was OLD). Chrysler really needed a new platform for these cars, but couldn’t afford it.
After 1979, the Fords were hurt for several years by the problematic automatic overdrive transmission. That was a big black mark on the Fords.
The engines would have been a toss-up, if you can disconnect the Lean Burn equipment from the Chryslers.
Styling? The Dodge St. Regis is the best-looking of the bunch – better than either the LTD or Marquis. The Newport comes across as a watered-down Buick LeSabre, while the LTD looks like a clone of the Oldsmobile Delta 88. The New Yorker is simply overdone.
Having seen some original condition R-bodies and Panthers at the Carlisle Event shows, I’d have to say that the Fords were FAR better built. “Chrysler quality control” was an oxymoron by 1979, and these cars were among the worst. Compared to the R-bodies, the Panther cars were a veritable Lexus when it came to build quality. In the fall of 1978, I remember riding my bicycle to local dealers to check out the new cars each Sunday (in Pennsylvania, dealers must remain closed on Sunday). I thought that these Chryslers looked thrown together even then.
In the end, the GM B- and C-bodies from this era were the best bet, followed by the Fords, with the Chryslers bringing up the rear. Which was reflected by the sales figures at that time.
The early Panthers also suffered from some engine problems, particularly the troublesome variable venturi carbs. Ford’s engine electronics in 1979-81 were not any better than Chrysler’s, and probably worse. Ford’s build quality of that period was better than Chrysler’s (what wasn’t?) but was still pretty sorry. I would venture to say that today there are more original running 1979 R bodies than original running 1979 Panthers (although both are as rare as anything built around that era.) By 1981, I think that the R had made great strides in quality. Remember that it took into the 4th or 5th production year before the Aspen/Volare got most of its problems fixed. The R was improving at a much faster pace.
Both the R and the Panther were deeply flawed but fixable in 1979. One got love and attention and eventually became a success, the other never got that chance.
Edit – a quick Ebay Motors check reveals not a single R or 1979-83 Ford/Mercury Panther to be had. Ditto my local CL.
I see 79-83 Panthers quite often on my local craigslist as well as on the road occasionally. I can’t say I’ve looked for the R bodies but it’s been decades since I’ve seen an R body on the road.
The VV carb was a mess but the electronics of the 79-81 Panthers was head and shoulders above those of the R body. While the VV carb caused a lot of driveability problems it didn’t cause the car to die on the road like the lean burn systems did in massive numbers.
Also remember that rumors of Chevy killing the Impala/Caprice were rampant around 1982. The big car market was believed to be very much dead in the early ’80s. Turns out it wasn’t, but it was still a mere shadow of its former self. Cheap gas and a reluctance on the part of traditional buyers to embrace the downsized, FWD offerings from Olds, Buick and Cadillac gave a brief reprieve to the fullsize Caprices and Panthers (especially the Town Car), along with the M-Body Fifth Avenue.
It’d be interesting to see how the R-body would have faired relative to the M-body. Fifth Avenue sales exceeded 100k units in ’85-’86, thanks in part to the FWD GMs. Chrysler couldn’t keep up with demand and contracted AMC, pre-buyout, to build the cars in Kenosha in ’86-87. A true fullsize Fifth Avenue may have done better than the effectively midsize M-body, but probably not by much.
Maybe the big Dodge/Plymouth would have done better as well. I doubt it, Diplomat/Grand Fury sales were absolutely dismal, and the R-body only would have eaten into M-body sales. If anything, the M-body gave Chrysler its own fleet niche after the death of the A-body and Fox sedans. Non-fleet sales of big Mopars were effectively dead by 1974; That had relatively little to do with bad product timing and everything to do with Chrysler and its dirt reputation.
I like the R-body better than the B or Panther, though, at least on paper. For a budget, halfassed effort, it wasn’t bad. At least it was a unibody. That alone puts it ahead of the BOF competition. But then that was always the case with full-size Chryslers, at least according to Chrysler guys. Sales were always a very distant third.
When the Malibu got a new four-headlamp front end in ’82, there was a lot of speculation that the B-body would be dropped and the Malibu rebadged as Caprice for ’83.
Chicagoland: I never said the K-car debuted for 1980, just that the ’80 Newport shared its hood ornament style with them-and many other models.
Even when new these things were pretty uncommon. I seem to remember almost every one you saw was a fleet version. Some taxis, cop cars, etc. There is a Grand Fury version I see once a while around here – fantastic shape but in hearing aid beige colour.
If any of you have the Universal HD cable channel (in the US), they show reruns of TJ Hooker weeknights at 7 pm Eastern. It is one of the worst shows ever made, but I did not get to experience its awfulness firsthand, as I was in college at the time it was on (ran from 1982-86) and watched little to no TV, so I have been watching some of the episodes for laughs. The police cars of the “L.C.P.D.” are Dodge St. Regises and some older B-body Monacos, many of which get destroyed in extremely improbable chases and explosions. Given the age of the vehicles and the years the show was produced, I’m thinking they must have bought a bunch of decommissioned patrol units from various southern CA police departments.
I had no idea this car existed. If I’ve ever seen one I just thought it was a B-body Buick. You make passing mention of the resemblance but this thing is the spitting image of a Buick, from the racked back waterfall grille to the almost-full-width tail lights. It’s rather eerie.
I mentioned I’d looked over carefully an ’81 Gran Fury in the day . . . it was actually flawless in terms of fit and finished, a case of “getting it right” in the swan-song year (much like GM and the Pontiac Fiero). However, I agree with other posters that ’79 and ’80’s were pretty horrible in the Q/C department. There is (and I believe Paul posted it on his earlier “R” New Yorker Brougham post) the 1980 Chrylser brochure cover car – A New Yorker Brougham – and you can clearly the the dissimilarity in the fit of the hood between the fenders. Two very noticeable uneven gaps between right and left fenders that the photography department could airbrush out along with noticable “ripples” in the poor fitting polyurethane caps that surrond the bumpers.
Were there really stand-alone Plymouth dealers that didn’t have Newports to sell in this segment? My local dealer was a Chrysler-Plymouth dealer in 1978 and had picked up Dodge as well by 1984, although I don’t know which year they made the addition. It is hard to believe that they existed without trucks other than the Plymouth Arrow and Trailduster until only about 30 years ago, but I believe they did.
I had the same thought. If there were any standalone Plymouth dealers in 1980, they were few and far between. I’m guessing that the lowest-end Newport just wasn’t as cheap as the lowest-end Fury had been, and C-P dealers felt that they were losing out on a group of customers in that part of the market, which was probably mostly fleet buyers.
Plymouth never really had its own dealer network. From what I understand, Chrysler originally intended that it have one, and some standalone franchises were granted when Plymouth was first introduced in the late ’20s. When the depression hit, however, the need to get as many low-priced Plymouths to market as soon as possible took precedence, and Chrysler instead gave Plymouth franchises to all dealers in its three existing networks (Dodge, DeSoto and Chrysler). A few standalone Plymouth dealers may have survived, but there couldn’t have been many left in 1980.
Over time, the above arrangement proved to be problematic for a number of reasons, and Plymouth management hated it for obvious reasons. The demise of DeSoto, along with Chrysler’s decision to no longer allow Dodge dealers to sell Plymouths, resulted in Plymouth’s dealer network being tied solely to Chrysler’s by the early ’60s. The two were also merged together into the same corporate division around the same time.
I grew up in a town with a population of about 12,000, which was next door to a city with a population of about 175,000. The 12K town had not one but two Chrysler-Plymouth dealers, and it wasn’t necessarily to serve the adjacent 175K city, because there was yet another Chrysler-Plymouth dealer there. I always wondered if one the the C-P dealers in the 12K town may have started out as a DeSoto-Plymouth dealer, but I really don’t know how the two dealers in the town came about. The larger of the two dealers had a Dodge truck franchise, but only trucks, not Dodge cars. (On a completely different note, they also sold Jaguars….)
There was at least one Plymouth dealer left when they killed off the brand, I recall reading an article about them closing their doors in Automotive News.
There were strange combinations in different places, I recall stand alone Jeep dealers, no Eagle or Chrysler, just Jeep, Chrysler-Dodge(before modern Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep era)
The eventual demise of Plymouth was assured in 1960, when Chrysler took Plymouth away from Dodge dealers, but gave them the full-size Dart instead. The Darts competed directly with the Plymouths – even the ads urged buyers to compare various Dart models with “Car C,” “Car F” and “Car P”!
The Dart seriously hurt Plymouth sales, while sales of the regular medium-price Dodges – named Polara and Matador for 1960 – nosedived that year. From that point on, Dodge competed directly with Plymouth. It eventually won out over its corporate sibling.
Chrysler had been wanting to get rid of Plymouth since the ’60s. The ’60 Dart was one of the first blows, then the lack of a full sized car from 62-64 didn’t help. Now history is going to repeat itself when Fiat cancels the Dodge and Chrysler marques, which I see coming within the next 10 years.
In Canada anyway, the proliferation of Chrysler dealers was caused by Chrysler buying out AMC to get the Jeep brand. All the AMC dealers became Chrysler dealers by default. Dealers should have been shut right then but Chrysler didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. In the case of the Chrysler dealer I worked for, there was another dealer like a two minute leisurely drive up the road and that is if you got the red light. It made absolutely no sense to have two dealers literally a stone’s throw away competing with each other but it went on for twenty years.
Finally, when in 2005 the writing was on the wall for Mopar, the dealership I was working at was taken over by the other one, because my store had the better building Chrysler had been encouraging their dealers to build. We were all laid off and only like three of us in the entire organisation were kept. I was asked to stay but, thankfully, my car days were over.
Granted I’m not all that old but I only remember Chrysler-Plymouth dealers. In fact a friend of mine when I was in grade school a friend’s grandfather owned the local CP dealer in our little farming town and to get some truck sales they sold IH’s Light Line too, until they dropped the full size pickups and despite the Scout staying in production they dropped IH all together in 1975 though they had a presumably 1975 500 with a stake bed well into 1976.
I recall looking at a 79 St. Regis sedan at the dealer where I bought my 76 Royal Monaco. The St. Regis was a burgundy with a cloth matching interior. I don’t think many were sold, the salesman barely showed me the car.
My initial impression was the St. Regis was too boxy, the 6 cylinder didn’t come up to my expectations. Shades of my Dad’s self destructing 64 Biscayne.
I haven’t seen one in many years. The Fifth Avenue in the beige/beige didn’t impress me either. Now, after over 30 years, I think these cars are quite attractive, in a plain K car sort of way.
Can anyone imagine tooling around in one of those $6400, 225-powered, strippo Newports? Sheesh, acceleration must have been best described as ‘glacial’.
“Glacial” is the way I would’ve described acceleration in an ’82 Chevy Chevette I was given as a loaner for the (many) times my POS Norwood assembled ’82 Camaro crapped out under warranty and had many fixes at the local Chevy dealers (in Tidewater, Virginia at the time). Early 80’s Chevettes with automatics were indeed penalty boxes. They make today’s Aveo look like 7 series BMWs!
OTOH, I guy I worked with had an ’81 Chrysler Cordoba with the “300” appearance package. It had the slant 6 and was, I believe, on a stretched M body chassis. Accelaration, while not brisk, wasn’t snail like, in other words, OK – adequate. I would imagine the R body, being bigger and heavier may not have been all that hot with a six and the parasitic lean burn module.
I’m surprised the your 82 Camaro needed so many warranty repairs. I had an 84 base Model, six cylinder auto, only had it back once to the dealer to fix the gearshift knob.
Aside from maintenance, brakes, tires, battery, the car was trouble free. Acceleration was slow, but I never did hit top speed. Had it to 75 and seemed there was a lot more left.
The Slant-Six Newports weren’t that bad around town where the torque of the long stroke six moved it around adequately. On the highway and under any load, however, the cars were total dogs.
The six was very popular for taxi use. We never had an R Body as they had a bad rep for too many things but other cab companies ordered loads of them. The competition ordered thirty 1980 models and got them for $5500 a piece, a total steal in Canuckistan at the time and indicative of how anxious Chrysler was to move metal. These cars stayed on the road for way longer than I thought was possible. Many went a decade. In our shop, we used to rebuild Slant Sixes with the motor still in the car! The Torqueflight 727 was impossible to kill. Never saw one fail in an M or R body.
Even assuming a lot of brand loyalty, I can’t imagine a first owner of my namesake buying one of these in 79-81.
It’s amazing how poorly Chrysler did in the mid- and fullsize markets, from the mid-’70s right up until today. Whats even more amazing, and the R-body is the greatest proof, is that Chrysler basically killed its former sales-leader Plymouth by 1979.
In a twisted way, that makes sense. Chrysler never had a lot of styling differentiation between marques anyway, and by the late ’70s they could barely afford to give the cars different emblems (by the ’80s, they didn’t even do that). Giving the Cordoba and LeBaron to Chrysler instead of Plymouth was the right move from a marketing standpoint; Chrysler had better brand appeal and could boost the average transaction price. Besides, both brands were sold in the same franchise, anyway, so who cares?
But then I think the Newport was a step too far. The Cordoba and LeBaron had some (cheesy) luxury appeal. The Newport, was just a cheap big car, and the police fleet sales underlined that in a big way. That car should have been a Gran Fury from the start and never worn a Chrysler badge.
For the last twenty years of its existence, Plymouth was little more than an excuse to avoid sullying the Chrysler badge by putting it on bottom-feeder cars, while still giving Chrysler-Plymouth franchises a full line of vehicles. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Chrysler from offering the E-Class, LeBaron GTS, PT Cruiser and a host of other shoulda-been Plymouths that instead cheapened a brand that used to compete with Buick and even Cadillac.
Well, the E-class was kind of like the Newport of the K-car New Yorker, but the PT Cruiser should have been a Plymouth for sure, it could have turned the brand around, or at least slowed the nose dive into oblivion.
I never liked these ’79-up big Chryslers. Just ugly. But I learned a bit here about their development. That said, I did really like the ’74-’78 big Mopars. Particularly ’74-76 Fury and Monaco. The neighbors had a ’74 Monaco back in high school, a 4-door hardtop. I went to Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando ten years ago, and of course visited the Blues Brothers show. I was so looking forward to seeing them drive up in a ’74 4-door sedan Monaco cop car; imagine my disappointment when they pulled up in a ’79 Chrysler cop car. Blasphemy!
I remember Jake & Elwood cruising Universal Fl in the same “wrong” Bluesmobile!!
The R bodies were rare here in Chicagoland outside of the State Troopers.
I still want a St. Regis.
Who knew that less than 10 years after the debut of the Demon “Ma Mopar” would atone by naming a car after a Saint?
Yeah, it was more likely the Detroit Hotel.
I had driven an R-body, a Plymouth; and putting it out of production was a mercy. The cars LOOKED sharp; but they fell apart in a fashion we’d later associate with the Yugo.
To be fair, the car was a taxicab – Yellow Cab Houston had a fleet of them. After one year, they switched their order from the R to the M…Dodge Diplomats. Held up much better, at least for the time I was there.
The Rs they had were Plymouths and a few Chryslers; apparently the decision was made to shift buying over from Chevrolet Impalas to the full-size ChryCo line, before the Plymouth came out.
The thing drove poorly and broke much. Common breakage was the window regulator; the outside mirror (plastic rivets would let go and the thing would hang from its cables, uselessly halfway down the door) and wipers (circuit breaker repeatedly tripping). After a couple weeks as a new driver, I all but planned, schemed and begged to get into an older Chevy. It took some doing; nobody wanted to drive those Rs.
Another early defect not mentioned earlier with the 1979 R Bodies. I remember reading about a rather glaring design defect with the very early bulid 79 R bodies. The fit between the top of the frameless door glass and surrounding door jamb was off by over .5 ” if my memory severs me right. Before the design defect was addressed the cars had horrible highway wind howl from around the front doors. Chrysler’d fix for the design and tooling error, extra thick jumbo door jamb weather stripping. Chrysler had to hold up early model deliveries in the fall of 78 to deal with this problem. So many dealers had little if any R inventory till almost the end of year holiday season. Then again Chrysler’s percarious financial state was front page news back then. Its no wonder there was middling demand for them before the oil shock of iran in spring 79.
I remember the early 79 cars that had quality control lapses that a 3 year old could pick out. Frame less door glass that had a gap of nearly half an inch from the seal causing horrid wind and water leaks, moldings that didn’t even remotely line up, squeaks and rattles galore and a plethora of interior issues plagued these cars from day one. The lean burn system on the 318/360 engines caused many owner headaches and the uni-body construction meant these cars were not in the same class for ride/handling and refinement compared to the Panthers and B/C bodies. The 1980 models improved the horrid quality control but engines were horribly strangled down to 90 Hp for the base Slant Six, 120 for the 318 and a comical 130 for the 360 2BBL V8. The swan song year saw the poor old Slant six down to 85 HP due to a switch to roller lifters replacing the solids and the 360 was scratched for passenger duty. The lone option was the 318 which was bumped up to 130 HP.
Since there is no Curbside Classic article about the infamous 1980 Dodge St. Regis Police Package that was foisted upon me as a young police officer, I’ll have to put these comments here, under its sibling the Chrysler Newport.
Never mind the 225 Slant Six in this body; the only available California engine in 1980, the smog-control-choked 318 V8, was itself inadequate. One afternoon, an even younger officer in our department had to respond to a citizen’s home to take some kind of report or other. Our town had high hills surrounding a low-lying center core. To get to the loftiest heights around town meant climbing some very steep streets. This citizen’s driveway was even steeper, and once the officer finished taking the report, his mighty 1980 Dodge St. Regis could…not…climb….back…out. He had to call a tow truck to winch the Dodge up the driveway.
The California Highway Patrol was “stuck” with the same 1980 St. Regis and the same 318 engine. They were completely unsatisfactory on the open road, though anecdotes about being outrun by Volkswagen Beetles were just that — anecdotes. In order to get through the St. Regis fleet and into the promised higher-performance Dodge Diplomats that would replace them, a couple of hundred brand-new St. Regis were offered at a bargain price in late 1980 to local police agencies. Never one to pass up a bargain, my department bought two more St. Regis to supplement the two they’d bought earlier.
My actual favorite patrol car in the Year Of The St. Regis was its lone remaining non-St. Regis: a 1978 Plymouth Volare with a four-barrel 360 V8.
The longtime owner of the most popular tavern in town had a General Motors bus, an Old Look model with a Detroit Diesel and a manual transmission, which he used for tour groups. He had a habit of letting its batteries run down and would call his friends at the police department (it was rumored that the Chief and his brother drank there, and nobody cared to walk in there at night to find out for sure) for help, when he wanted to start the bus. The procedure was to get behind the bus with a police car, and using the push bars, get it rolling fast enough on a slightly uphill street and then back off; when the clutch was let in, the compression would start the diesel engine. Once the bus started, it was up to the bus driver/bar owner to control his speed on the slight upgrade with the gears…he wouldn’t have had any air brakes for a while. The St. Regis couldn’t get the bus moving fast enough to leave him enough room before the street ended; the Volare could. That might be the only reason the department kept the Volare, but I was glad they did, except on nights when the bus needed to be started.
I thought the R body cars looked a lot better on the Newport than the New Yorker and this is coming from someone who prefers the upper models, they remind me so much of the contemporary Buick’s of the same era, I thought the R body Newport deserved to be a big seller
I have a ’79 Dodge St. Regis I bought from my dad almost 20 years ago. It has about 252,000 miles on it mainly because my dad rebuilt the car at 113,000. Compared to earlier 318s he had rebuilt over the years he was horrified at the quality of parts that went into that 1979 engine. Once he put the car through his usual going over, it’s been one of the most reliable Mopars I’ve ever had. I remember being less than impressed with it when he first got it in 1985, I was driving a ’67 Sport Fury fast top at the time but like it did for my dad, the St. Regis grew on me over the years. It’s still one of his favourite cars next to his long lost ’63 Belvedere. It kept outlasting the daily drivers meant to replace it and it’s my garage now waiting for me to replace the front brake calipers and to find a sending unit for the gas gauge which never worked right as it was one of those recall pieces that would barely go past 3/4 tank. Replacing the calipers will be easy, finding a working sending unit seems to approach locating hen’s teeth. I can get a brand new sending unit for my ’68 Fury VIP but not for my ’79 Dodge.
On the subject of those frameless windows: that’s really the only thing I hate on this car next to the flimsy manual window regulators that would strip out. My car is on its second set and needs a third. No matter how careful you were, it would eventually strip out teeth near the last inch or two before reaching the top. The wind noise was epic. As the car was built in November 1978, I imagine it was one of those early cars mentioned above. I had to rebuild the window seals with some generic stick on window rubber that helped but not cure the problem.
Somewhere around 205,000 miles, the front pump shaft went out on the transmission and I replaced it with an A999 from a Fifth Avenue instead of rebuilding the A904 it came with. That better first gear ratio helped my take off from a stoplight and while it was never a fast car, my dad’s engine rebuild helped it do better than I’m sure it was when it was new and the Lean Burn was “working”. While having some very generic styling in many respects, it’s not an ugly car like say a ’61 Seneca and it gets the job done. It’s outlasted my mom’s first Plymouth Acclaim, my ’89 LeBaron Coupe and my 1999 Concorde Lxi so I feel like I owe it a cosmetic restoration to go with the normal upkeep. It may not have been one of Chrysler’s finest on the whole, my personal example has served our family well and is thought of like a member of the family.
No sure why the author keeps saying Chrysler didn’t spend a lot of money to do these cars? The R body is a new car from front to back body and interior wise. Yes, they used the same engines and the B body frame, but the car body, sheet metal, glass, interiors (dash, doors, seating) was all new. They share nothing with any other Chrysler Product of the time. It was expensive to design this car because although you can’t see it, there was a distinct approach by Chrysler to make something new. Rather than focusing on the size reduction, they focused on weight loss. So even a Tire Jack was redesigned to save weight. This was part of the problem with the R body, the approach was wrong. It inherently created much of the problems which is attributed to quality. It’s not that the car had bad quality, it had bad design. Light weight parts build into the car made of aluminum. This was the problem. Window Gears that would strip due to the Aluminum. Body side molding and windshield frame moldings that looked like utter crap because of the light weight material. I can personally recall seeing in the fall of 78, brand new cars delivered that were only build 3 weeks earlier that were all tarnished and crappy looking. The bumpers were awful. Glove box doors would break in your hand the first time you opened the door. They were made of a cheap light plastic material. So you must understand the full impact. Chrysler’s resources were already lower, they took money, spent big, gambled and lost. Unlike the K cars, these were awful and killed Sales for Mopar large cars. This is why Chrysler needed the bail out in 80, because the disastrous results of the R body coupled with the 2nd gas crisis of the Carter Administration.
I liked Chrysler’s full sized R body sedans when they came out. I didn’t like the downsized GM full sized models at all. To me, Chryslers and Lincolns had a longer look about them, while the GM models seemed short and stubby. I ended up purchasing an ’81 Imperial, but did look at the New Yorker. I was disappointed that they didn’t have a 2 door model available. My parents and friends all told me that I was crazy for even considering purchasing a Chrysler as everyone at the time felt they were soon to go out of business. I think that had a lot to do w/their poor full sized car sales at the time.
I bought a used 1980 Newport a good while back. It appeared at a friend’s (used car jockey) shop near a space I was renting. He said he had to buy it as a two-car deal in order to get a Cadillac his wife wanted. To the Chrysler dealer’s credit, it was spec’d out to be a fleet car. 360 2bbl V-8, TF, a/c, AM/FM radio, split bench velour seat, and HD suspension (load carrying with no rear sway bar). In the same light tourquoise metallic that TX Game Warden cars were. It had a running problem due to fuel encrustations in the venturi cluster. Even had the orig computer on it!
What impressed me the most when I test drove it was how quiet and smoooth it was. Due to the isolated K-frame in front, I suspect. Plus the 3″ of insulation under the carpet. The HD suspension was still there and I liked the way it rode. Quiet and firm.
The pillared sedan was probably an Iacocca thing, as large Fords also had that feature. Which resulted in wind noise and water leaks on the lh front window that adjustments and such would not decrease.
Added a fancy Chrysler stereo and 4 speakers, Magnum GT wheels and normal whitewall radials. Finally got the carb issue fixed. Added factory duals to it from a wrecked ’79 Plymouth Gran Fury, including the exh pipe heat shields. Bought a new Certified Speedometer for it from Chrysler, too!
What I like most about the car is that it wants to “eat highway”. It has that “Lets GO!” feel to it, combined with the comfort of the semi-worn seats and HD suspension, it is a car that can be enjoyed for hours on end.
When I was putting the exhaust under it, the car was on jackstands. That’s when I realized that Chrysler knew what the cars would be used for (i.e., law enforcement) and they designed it such that all of the exhaust was installed ABOVE the lowest point on the body (the rocker panels). Sliding over curbs could be done and not damage anything, from the looks of things. Which also seemed to explain the seemingly higher floor level on the front floorboards.
When these cars were new, the emphasis was on perceived economy, BUT it would have been very easy to make a “Euro Cruiser” out of them. The front floorpan even had a console shifter mounting area in it, hidden under the thick carpet insulation. Bucket seats had been in ’79 Cordobas/Charger SE, plus the console. Some Euro-black trim, the Magnum GT wheels and P225/70R-15 tires, plus the HD suspension, and it might have worked!
At Mopar Nats one year, I happened upon a guy with a genuine law enforcement (Fire Chief, in this case) St. Regis. He’d put a 440 in it, using a Cordoba K-frame. Fit right in! After looking under the lh front seat, I realized why the ’79 Cordoba 300s could not have factory power seats . . . the extra hump in the floor to clear the lh cat converter put the seat tracks about 3″ apart, so not enough room for the power stuff. The 300s had the police 360 4bbl with dual cat converters for their dual exhaust system, as did the police R-car 360 4bbls.
The a/c on my car will chunk ice cubes after just 2 minutes run time in the middle of July in TX. Works great!
Unfortunately, the Chrysler R-cars were not fully appreciated or marketed well. From my experience, they are great successors to the ’78 Chryslers in so many respects. It’s a shame the horsepower was down and Slant 6s were in a lot of them. Many died an early death, I suspect. Unwanted, otherwise, especially the Plymouths. Not to forget the famous lock-up torque converters which would “spin out” when the splines would wear down!
Most of the exterior paint colors of this era, for all makes, were unremarkable and dull. The cars had great lines, but not really good colors to show them off.
Untapped potential! A little different mix of existing options/equipment. More flashier metallic paint colors. Would have made some fantastic cars, even if they were 4-doors.
“The pillared sedan was probably an Iacocca thing”
Lee was hired in summer 1978, when these R bodies were coming out in a few weeks, so he had no say in their design, actually. And he was eager to kill them off in ’81, so not really an “Iacocca thing”.