No car better epitomizes the death of Old-Old Chrysler than this car. It even looks like a coffin.
The seventies were the end of the old way in the car business; the industry was tossed on its head. GM had the resources to downsize successfully, leaving it with a mammoth market share in 1978. Ford barely hung in there, late to the new game, and improvising, sometimes in surprisingly effective ways. Chrysler mostly just rolled over. The Cordoba and the Horizon/Omni were the only two successful new products in the whole decade, and the Cordoba’s light was not a long-lasting one.
The big cars were history, and Chrysler couldn’t afford a proper downsizing like GM’s excellent B-Bodies and Ford’s not-quite-so-excellent Panthers. Chrysler had to do something, and this is it: a re-bodied version of their (former) intermediate sized cars. Why not?
The size was about right, and wasn’t the Caprice riding on an evolution of the Colonnade sedans’ 116″ wheelbase frame? Somehow, Chrysler’s charade just didn’t take. 1979 was a fabulous year for car sales, but Chrysler could only move 133k of the R-Body Newport and New Yorker. And that would quickly turn out to look superb, when sales crashed in 1980 to 28k, and finally withered to 11 k in 1981. Finis.
The Dodge St. Regis and Plymouth Gran Fury didn’t click any better either. It seems they all ended up as cop cars or taxis, so good luck finding one of those now. I consider myself quite lucky to have found this New Yorker. It’s the only R-Body I’ve seen in quite some time.
The really pathetic thing was that the Dodge and Plymouth were also the most-rock bottom police cars ever built. In 1980 or 1981, the California Highway Patrol had a major fiasco on its hands when its new fleet of St. Regis police pursuits literally had difficulty in topping 85 mph. The 318 CID made some 165 hp, which just wasn’t enough to push that big box through the air at anything approaching the speeds the CHP had been used to (the old 440 Coronets could hit 130 without breathing hard).
It became public knowledge that the St. Regis was easy to outrun. Let’s just say that I never got any tickets during that era, and leave it at that. They were also easy to spot, with their distinctive boxy yet somehow droopy shape. Keep in mind, back then CA had a state ban on using radar except for within municipalities.
It was strictly an honest cat and mouse game; they would troll the ramps, hoping to catch a speeder as they repeatedly entered the freeway. And they had to quickly catch up to them and pace them in order to write a ticket. Good eyes were much more effective than a radar alarm ever was in later years. The only time I did get nabbed was with an airplane “bear in the air” set up. I started pointing my driver’s side outside mirror skywards after that. And the CHP soon bought a little fleet of Mustang 5.0 coupes to augment the doddering Dodges.
I can’t say I’ve ever set foot in one of these R-Bodies (who has?), so the driving experience is out of my knowledge base. But Chrysler’s efforts to give their big cars a soft ride generally came at the expense of handling, although I suppose the police car setups were fairly different than that of a New Yorker.
The St. Regis fiasco in CA just sealed the deal on the West Coast. Folks were discriminating, and knew that a properly optioned Caprice or big Olds was the (only) real thing if you still wanted a big American car. These Chryslers were a laughing stock, sad to say. They just exuded desperation and deadliness. There just wasn’t a redeeming quality to them. Their proportions were off, the interiors looked overwrought, and their dynamic qualities were zilch. End of the road, and one that had once been so proud.
Death is not a very pretty thing, usually; and the R-Bodies were no exception. No wonder folks were ready to embrace something new, even if it wasn’t much bigger than a boxy urn.
Hey, I’m finally registered, been reading this for a long time and finally just couldn’t help commenting. Good job as always. This is such an ugly car… But what’s with the lack of love for the Panther? tsk tsk tsk from a Ford guy here :p
There’s no doubt in my mind that the B-Body was a better car than the Panther back in their earliest days. The Panther did evolve though, and I’m happy enough to give it credit for that.
The GM downsized cars were a HUGE event when they appeared in the fall of 1976, and pretty much a home run in all aspects.
Ford’s attempt was underwhelming – almost as though the corporation really didn’t want to downsize its big cars, but was forced to do so by CAFE requirements and the GM competition. The styling of that 1979 LTD always reminded me of a warmed-over Delta 88.
Ford, to its credit, did keep improving the Panthers, even after GM threw in the towel on its old-school full-size cars in the mid-1990s.
I’m a Ford guy too, but bitter experience maintaining my sister’s ’79 LTD forces me to admit that it was not Ford’s finest moment. What I remember best was its deeply unloved variable venturi carburetor. By the time she sold it I could change the big diaphragm on the back of the carb in the dark, on one foot, and blindfolded.
We unloaded that beast on some poor devil for $1,500. About a year later I ran into him and innocently asked how it was holding up. His face took on the look of a storm cloud. “IT CAUGHT ON FIRE!”
I don’t ask people questions like that anymore.
I am only 29, and am adopted from the Philippines (small cars).
So one of my first memories of America is driving with my mother up to the Sunoco station in Cleveland Heights OH (Lee and Corydon) and having the mechanic, Harvey, change the carburetor. It was a 302-2vv with the same carb (2150 or 7200VV) as the police version. In a country squire.
EducatorDan and maybe MoparMan426W, who are also from NEO, may know the area.
At the same time, my father picked up an orange ’77 Impala with 305-2v, a reliable one with Rochester E2ME (140 hp and 245 lb/ft of torque at 2000 rpm). At 30 mph it was a beast.
E4ME=4v for Camaros
E2SE=2v for Citations
All by my memory so this could be wrong
Beauty is in the eye of the one who;s looking. Sorry they quit making these beauties. Very very sorry to see these gone. Thank GOD I own an ugly 79.
Love my 1979 New Yorker too and no they are not ugly..Rather the 1979 Fords were not good lookers in my opinion.They got a little better in 1980 with the grille and headlight change..I love my New Yorker “Doris”..She has a 360 V-8 and lots of power and very smooth and comfortable.I found mine with only 64,000 miles on her from Mt. Home AK and no rust..Old Mopars are like old dogs ugly or not you just love em” anyway!
Yup, this is what I had in mind with the clue!
I can’t comment on how the car drove, never was in one, but from a styling standpoint, they needed to lop off about two feet of the back, and the passenger compartment needs to be placed a bit farther forward. That the door extends far past the glass area and into the front end just looks awkward.
As for the rest, I’ll leave it alone as it was 1979…
A few R bodies were destroyed in making movies… especially the ones with cop motor, cop suspension, cop tires, cop shocks, etc.
I never quite understood the way they draped the rear door window with that ridiculous roof extension.. I’m not often irritated by inatimate objects but this irks me.
A buddy of mine bought a 360 powered 80 St Regis (retired State Trooper) back in High School and if the speedo was honest it would hit a tick under 130 mph pretty easily.
If CHP had 318 cars they were not “persuit” models. The Persuits had 360 4bbl, Cali most likely had 318 2bbl general patrol cars due to emissions.
A good way to start a fight with a cop that was around in the late 70s and early/mid 80s is to tell him that Chrysler squads were junk..
Down in southern Il I’ve seen a few State Troopers still cruising I55 in Dippys, but it has been years since I’ve seen an R body on the road.
Yes, the CA cop cars in ’81 had 318s.
Paul, the best book is 79-94 police cars by Bellah/Sanow, which complements the 56-78 book on Mopar.
The slick top MSP tested them at 114 mph with the E45/48 and 13.3 seconds to 60.
With two spots and a Jetsonic speeds were realistically 105-107, so the cops may have been stretching the truth. Much of it was withdrawal from the 440s.
What they did to at least have them run 117 (or almost as good as the 360 E58) was they hot-rodded the engines to some degree and removed the exhausts, with the only silencer being the cat. They also advanced the timing and lightened the vehicles themselves.
117 with a slick roof=110 with 2 cops, lightbar, spots; not great, but better than 105.
The R-body…a friend has no less than two 1979 New Yorkers! If I recall correctly, it was an R-body car that embarrassed Chrysler in the fall of 1978. The mayor of Detroit was supposed to drive the first one off the line. And it wouldn’t start.
At the time, virtually everyone who wanted a proper American luxury cruiser just below the Cadillac-Lincoln class bought an Olds Ninety-Eight or Buick Electra. These cars just weren’t on the radar for most folks. What’s interesting is that the prior generation (built from 1974 through 1978) sold rather well after the market recovered from the effects of the Arab Oil Embargo of late 1973.
1974-78 was the last generation of real fullsize C-body Chryslers. The front suspension was redesigned for 1974. For part of that time the Imperial brand was still alive as well. Near the end, Imperial was discontinued and the same bodystyle became the “New Yorker Brougham”, waterfall grille and all.
Not only was the concept underwhelming, but the execution was execrable. When the first batch of bodies were assembled, it was found that due to a tooling mistake, there was an 1.5″ gap between the doors and the doorframes. Chrysler’s answer was not to scrap the existing bodies–they simply couldn’t afford to–but to manufacture super-extra-wide door gaskets to fill the voids.
All of these NYers had half-vinyl roofs. Hidden under that padded vinyl, the back part of the roof is just a fibreglass plug riveted in place. Talk about a quick-and-dirty method to give the car a unique roofline! (All 1970 Plymouth Superbirds had vinyl roofs for the same reason!)
Kind of reminded me when the Studebaker fins were pop-riveted on, and the side trim piece hid that!
I’m amazed no rabid Chrysler fanatic has gotten a V10 powertrain out of a wrecked Viper or a 1-ton Ram and tried the transplant. Finally the old wheeze-rs would have some get up and go.
Right idea, wrong brand. Once in an AutoWeek article about the LIncoln Town Car, the writer asked a Ford engineer if the 5.4 V8 would fit under the hood. The Ford engineer replied that there was actually room for the 6.8 V10.
Wouldn’t that be fine–a V10-powered “blacked-out Town Car, rushing through the night like a crack train….”
(The last part is actually a quote from an old David E. Davis column.)
Actually for a combo of fuel economy and power the best choice for both would likely be a Cummins for the Chrysler and a PowerStroke for the Lincoln.
The Cummins is a tight fit, even in a C-body engine compartment, because it is so tall and long. I know of someone that is attempting such a feat. I’d recommend starting with the 4-cylinder version of the Cummins engine instead, and look into possibly tilting it on an angle, like a slant-6.
Fuel economy?!? We don’t need no stinking fuel economy! Just the smooth rumble of V10 power!
In my mind’s eye, that is. Unfortunately the real world is a bit more unforgiving.
Still, an older Lincoln probably wouldn’t be too expensive as a project car, and if you find a wrecked Econoline with a V10….
I’ve had worse ideas.
As a side note Lincoln supposedly had a Town Car prototype rolling around in the late 1990s with two either Vulcan or Duratec V6s under the hood, welded together to create a V12 Town Car. There’s a project that could have spawned an interesting car.
Absolutely. Around that same time Ford was playing around with a prototype, IIRC named Probe V, which would have been a mid-engined halo car with a Duratech V12 as you described. It would have made perfect sense to have the two top-of-the-line Fords share the same halo engine. Too bad nothing came of it!
I remember that Town Car as having a “Falconer” (sp?) V12. There was a blurb in a car mag or something about it, and I always wondered what happened to it.
Dan, your car memories and knowledge are frighteningly similar to my own. But then, we graduated high school the same year etc. so there is some explanation in that, I guess. Nearly every time you post before me, you end up writing nearly exactly what I would have, and this V12 Lincoln thing is just another example…
That’s what I get for growing up with Car and Driver, Hot Rod Magazine, Four Wheel and Off Road, Newsweek, and a well worn library card and a mother who wouldn’t bother you if you were reading. 🙂 My father’s car obsession didn’t hurt either. FYI the man has had a continuous subscription to Hot Rod since he was 15 yrs old. (He’s now 55.)
chevy put a BMW 750iL V-12 in its 88 Caprice to experiment with drive-by-wire technology!
Dan, I like the CC avatar you selected. Spent a lot of time on Rte. 66 thru Missouri and Illinois back in the day! FWIW, most of it still exists between St. Louis and Chicago, right beside the tracks Amtrak flies along on.
Now, I need to find one that’s different for me here on CC.
For now, I will use a photo of my old “CC”, my 1964 Chevy SS Impala Convertible I owned when in the USAF.
I’m going to guess that this car’s actually an ’81. That was about the time all the Chrysler divisions switched to the Pentastar as their logo. Earlier models would have had any of a variety of brand or model-specific hood ornaments/badging.
When these came out I wanted to like the New Yorkers, but they just epitomized the term “Gussied Up” Dodge… as Chrsylers often do. I liked the Roof back then, now the whole car looks like a pile of trash.
I learned To Drive on a 1977 Royal Monaco Brougham Wagon, that I liked until I tried making
a right turn at more than 5 miles an hour and the whole rear end seemed to slide to the left as I did so. It was my Dad’s company car and had replaced his 74 Coronet Wagon. I can still remember the Grasshopper Green Vinyl seats. I liked the Power Window rocker switches.
As I remember they had a hard time clearing The Remaining 81 models well into 1983 or so.
My memories are the same regarding Chrysler having a hard time moving the metal at that time, unless it was a K-car. I remember walking into a Dodge dealership in suburban New Orleans in ’82-’83, and they had a 1980 Aspen beige two-door with dog-bowl hubcaps sitting in the middle of the showroom. God knows where it had been all that time. It was like a museum piece.
Funny how Mercury cribbed this basic exterior design for the redesigned ’83 Grand Marquis.
I think you’re mistaken. The ’83 was a cleaned-up version of the ’82 with the same sheet metal, and slightly different nose and tail treatments.
Didn’t some R-bodies come with the first stamped aluminum wheels and aluminum bumpers?
I believe the partially frameless rear door window was the first since the 1967-1971 four door T-bird, though without the T-bird’s suicide door design.
I can’t say I’ve ever set foot in one of these R-Bodies (who has?)
Paul; I did.
A friend had one of these – gray, too. Aside from the frame-less windows, these were clearly designed by ex-Ford designers (same for the K-cars). The owner had already put in an engine and I think two trannys – this in 1987! Not sure of the year of his car.
Getting into the back seat, the top edge of the fixed pane on the rear door would always stab me in the spleen, whether the window was lowered or not – couldn’t always tell!
it makes sense–the pillar design, chrome trim, on the top half of the car almost looks panther-ish, down to the small sub-windows.
Like a bastardized version of a Vic but with a chrysler grille and with the rectangular taillights of a ’78-81 LeSabre.
I too set foot in the R body. My FIL had one of these for his company car back in the day. He H A T E D that car, and I can’t say I blame him. It was a total turd. We spent some time with them on a vacation and he brought that car, as it was fairly new then. In the week or so we were visiting, the engine repeatedly died while in traffic, bogged and backfired constantly, one of the power window motors quit, and during a rainstorm we found out the windshield had not been properly installed, allowing a constant trickle of water to pour down on the dashboard. It made my Turbo Mercury Capri seem like a paragon of automotive virtue! The following week he returned the car to the dealer, in a not very polite way. Luckily, for him, his company was a big client and they did their best to make nice, and they gave him a loaded Mirada instead. The Mirada actually held up rather well, he drove it until he left that company a couple of years later…
The R body? I suspect they pawned it off on some other poor b*stard…
I have never seen a R-body New Yorker in person in my entire life that I can remember…
Good write up, Mr. Paul – but – IMO, you’re a little too harsh on these R bodies. It is, in hindsight, a ‘sin’ that Mopar waited too long to respond with a radical facelift of the ’71-’78 mid-sizers to create ‘downsized’ full-size cars, however, given Chrysler’s limited budget on these at the time (they blew their wad with the Aspen/Volare/Omni/Horizon), I don’t believe the end result was all that bad.
IMHO, better than the ’79-’81 Panthers.
I do remember the ’79 CHP St. Regis’ did have a ‘specially certified’ 360 4bbl which was for the time a good performer. Did not know that, although, CHP did “chop off” on the 318 4bbls for ’80 and ’81 (with their rigourous performability tests), that some ‘as delivered’ 318’s were hard-pressed to hit 85mph.
Chuckled at your “look-over-the-shoulder-at-the-top-of-the-on-ramp” CHP lookout – I still do that to this day (even though EVERYTHING is radar).
I once remember seeing ONE brand new ’81 Plymouth (R-bodied) “Gran Fury” up close and in person and did notice the build quality to be impeccable. High gloss clear coat paint – evenly lined up body seams. But this was the R-body swan song year.
I’ve also noticed the Chrysler press release photo of the ’80 New Yorker. This car, suprisingly (for a photo shoot) had (has) mis-aligned body seams/panels, clearly visible is the large noticeable ‘gap’ between the hood and the left front fender and the sloppily assembled bumper caps. This on a brochure cover car!
I do remember many ex-police R-bodies serving out their post-police duty as cabs all over the U.S. Mainland many years after these cars left law enforcement duty.
Reading this a few years late, but. . . regarding quality control issues, I can’t say the GM and Ford offerings of the time can escape their own criticism. The proof is in the records. I had an ’85 Buick LeSabre Estate and an ’88 Country Squire that were one owner cars, with records from new. Both of them had a very long list of dealer repairs that reeked of shoddy workmanship. Water leaks, loose seat latches, rough shifting transmission, finicky electronics, etc etc. If one wants to complain about gaps in panels, they had those, too. The good thing was, the owners loved the cars enough to keep them for 20+ years, fix their mechanical idiosyncracies, and live with a few cosmetic imperfections. I would love to find a black ’79 New Yorker, drop in a 440 like any proper 70’s Chrysler should have, and build an unsuspecting sleeper. Coffin jokes aside : )
Additonal note – R body dashboards and all interior hardware found their way onto the ’80-’83 Dodge Mirada and Chrysler Cordoba (and the the ’81-’83 Imperial, but with added lipstick).
This is incorrect. I’ve owned a few 81 thru 83 Imperials and 1 St Regis and the R body dash isn’t the same as the Imperial or Mirada or Cordoba. They look similar, but they are definitely not the same dash boards…….I can assure you as I’ve restored both cars and have been in many of these vehicles in junk yards and when they were new on the dealer lot.
OK, somebody has to show these big Rs some love, so I guess it will be me.
These cars had the distinction of being about the last things purely designed and launched by the pre-Iacocca Chrysler Corporation. You must remember that the company was pure dysfunction and disaster after about 1976. Lynn Townsend retired as chairman in 1975 and appointed two co-chairmen to succeed him: Gene Cafiero was supposed to be the operations guy and John Riccardo was supposed to be the finance and administration guy. The problem was that those two absolutely despised each other, and the company (which had not been particularly well-run in nearly a decade) pretty much went on a power slide into the ditch. IIRC, the company started losing money in 1978, which had been a banner sales year.
These cars came to market right as Iacocca took the helm. The launch was a quality disaster. Iacocca dispatched engineering teams to start tackling the quality issues, one at a time. Substantial portions of that car had to be re-engineered on the fly. I believe that by 1982-83, most of the problems had been resolved and they were pretty decent cars (Lean Burn issues excepted). They were very rust-resistant in the midwest. I remain convinced that this would have been a viable platform with some continued investment, and would have served Chrysler much better than the 5th Avenue eventually did. But Iacocca did not believe that he had the resources to blanket the market, and in anticipation of high gas prices, killed the R body (and its Cordoba/Mirada/Imperial variants) at the end of the 1983 model year, just as fuel prices moderated and the economy (particularly big car sales) took off.
I was never crazy about the Plymouth and Dodge (and Chrysler Newport) versions – they looked like big, plain shoeboxes to me. But the big New Yorker was, to me, a pretty nice looking big car (for the standards of its time). Park one of these next to an 80-83 Town Car and tell me that the Chrysler is ugly. Actually, I never liked the final slope-nosed versions of the Olds 98 or Buick Electra either. I believe that the car was styled under Don DeLaRossa, who had come over from Ford (he had also done the 77 Continental Mark V) and was a proponent of knife-edge styling. I thought that the interiors of these were quite competitive, too, and were worthy successors of the 76-78 New Yorkers that had sold so well.
The big problem with these cars was that they came out in 1979. Even GM’s offerings in this segment were severely compromised (mind-numbingly slow with self-destructive transmissions and troublesome carburetors). As mentioned above, Ford’s efforts were quite weak initially. Chrysler’s lean-burn fiasco, horrible quality problems and the company’s general stench of death (certainly up through 80-81) took a competitive car and shot it in the head.
I’ve sat in one of these…and more. I drove one as a taxi in Houston, 1982.
The car was MISERABLE. Numb steering…nearly as bad as Ford linkage power assist. Abysmal quality…the mirrors, on tabs that rose above the sill of the seamless doors, were given to breaking off. The doors themselves were given to sagging; and Lean Burn gave it occasional electronic engine failures.
This, in a car completely without character. All cabbies hate their cabs, but I would have cheerfully burned this one in a traffic jam, and the hell with consequences.
The story of the R-Body and its complete rejection by the market, is fascinating. But the car itself…one or two belong in museums. The rest, found their highest and best use in the crusher.
I really wanted these to succeed. My family’d sold Chryslers for many years (after Fords) and we’d finally starting buying GM cars in ’78 because Chrysler was in such bad shape. But compared to the full-sized GM cars, these were a disaster. Crude finishing – like the odd bumper wrap integration with the body (ironic, since the ’74-78 big Mopars handled that better than Ford or GM), The odd dashboard that seemed to angle away forever, and the kind of over-wrought and clunky trim DeLaRossa and Iacocca carried over from their time at Ford, etc. etc. etc.
And they were terribly unreliable and poorly built. One of my Pittsburgh neighbors was a J&L Steel exec who got an early Fifth Avenue Edition as a company car. His verdict: Worst car I’ve driven in 25 years. Sad, but sadly true.
“The Cordoba and the Horizon/Omni were the only two successful new products in the whole decade, ”
Well, the 1970 Duster was a huge hit, too. Yeah sold new in fall 1969, but it was a 1970 model car.
Anyway, the R body is a car only die-hard Mopar fans like. The M body 5th Ave ended up being a money maker in the 80’s. Was funny to see the tarted up Volare’s appear in 80’s TV soaps and music videos.
The R bodies Chrysler cars were very nice hwy cruisers; my father factory ordered his 1980 New Yorker Fifth Avenue. It was black with a shade of brown, with creme colored leather seats and wire wheels. The only disappointment it had the 318 cu engine with the 2bbl carburetor, It should have had the 360 cu in engine. His car turned heads, it made several trips to Florida without burning a drop of oil! He sold it in 1985. His next car was a factory ordered 1984 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. He wanted to keep the New Yorker but a family friend wanted to purchase the car so it was sold to him, It sat in his underground garage for a long period of time, it ended up being towed out of the garage by the property manager who assumed it was abandon and scrapped.
I am one of the few who love that R body New Yorker. Given the necessity of downsizing at the time, I thought it was a worthy successor to the big 76-78 New Yorker that was one of my favorite cars at the time. Although I was never a fan of that slant-away dash panel, the interior of the car was sumptuous and inviting. I thought the car was very well styled as well, and looked the way a New Yorker ought to look. That was the last New Yorker that I could say that about. It was also one of the last US cars with frameless glass. I recently saw a young kid driving a really clean frost green one, which was the first one of those I had seen in eons. Your dad’s 80 probably had most of the 79s problems fixed.
I saw one on flickr with manual windows! Very rare.
also, I can’t believe they offered the 225 I6 in those…90 hp????? in a car that barely could move with a 318-2v?
I love their style but have only seen a few. The bumpers would peel. I too believe with better quality they would have been better flagships. The M-bodies had the 318 but were more like bigger Taurii or Baby LTDs and they had weird transverse torsion bars and not longitudinal ones like the R and B bodies.
The 80-85 Bustleback Seville is the last frameless 4 door I can think of. It also had a fixed pane on the rear door.
If you think the cop spec 165 HP 318 engines were slow how about the civilian 318 at 135 HP in 1979 or 120 HP for 1980. Even the 360 was downgraded to 130 HP for 1980 with it’s ultra restrictive 2 BBl carb. They even put 85-90 HP Slant Sixes in these for 80-81. Those were the proverbial 18 second 0-60 strollers.
I love the look of the car. It compares very well with Town Cars and Fleetwoods it competed with. There is an elusive R body Fifth Avenue that I see occasionally here in Pittsburgh in a two tone turquoise that is absolutely spotless. I have only seen it a few times when I was rounding a corner. As late as 2001, there was a Taxi company up by my parents house 25 miles north of Pittsburgh that ran both and R-Body (Newport of Gran Fury) and M-Body Gran Fury, but my sightings of these ended about 2003.
I’m one who owned a 1980 Chrysler New Yorker new off the showroom floor. It was bought for me as a business vehicle. Three years later I took personal ownership of the car. I drove the car till about 88 when I sold it for a few hundred dollars because the frame had broken around the front suspension. Mine was the 318 2bbl version. It was not very powerful, but it would definitely bury the needle on the 85 mph speedometer. On a flat road it probably topped out at 95 or 100. On road trips at 55 MPH I could squeeze 18 or 19 MPG out of it. Normal daily driving was about 13.
But the beauty of the car was the full size bench seats. In the early 80s there were still a few drive-in movie theaters. Needless to say, I couldn’t tell you anything about the movies that were showing!
I got married in 87 and the car was a perfect limousine for my wedding. My brother chauffeured my wife and I from the church to the reception. My new bride & I drove the car on our honeymoon. It was the perfect car to drive to the front door of the finest hotels. Plug in your “Saturday Night Fever” disco 8-track tape and you’ve got the picture!
The ‘R body dilemma’ is one that I think I can speak quite clearly about. I’ve driven 2 in my lifetime, and frankly, have enjoyed both.
The first one was the family car. Dad bought a 1980 Plymouth Gran Fury in about ’84. It was a former RCMP police cruiser, and it pretty much had a full load of ‘cop stuff’ in it (for the day). It was an E58 360 4bbl with the “A38 Police Special” package.
The interesting thing about the E58 in Canada is they never came with catalytic converters from factory. It was a straight through true dual exhaust system with one muffler on each pipe and no crossover. In this setup, and with over 120,000 miles on it, it topped out at 124mph. Of course our car didn’t have any of the rooftop friction makers that it did when it was still a cop car, but that is still a pretty good top speed for back in the mid 80’s.
It had great brakes, and could corner really quite well due to it’s front and rear sway bars, and factory spec (although probably worn out) Monroe front and rear shocks. The rear shocks were the ‘spring boosted’ kind with the extra coil wrapped around the outside.
Some of the A38 features on the car were it’s extra large rad, HUGE transmission cooler, and it even had a small finned radiator on the power steering line, just off the pump. This car was the first one I had ever seen that on.
One thing I was surprised about was that my mom (a non driver) actually said she preferred the ride of this full tilt copcar, to that of the Newport and Parisenne’s we had had in the past. For her, she said it just felt more connected to the road. She was right too.
When we got our Gran Fury, I was reminded of a TV ad that Ford ran for it’s F100 trucks back in the 70’s, but with a twist. The original ad slogan was “Works like a truck. Rides like a car”. Our Gran Fury A38 Police Special was the exact opposite of that. “Works like a car. Rides like a TRUCK!”
I’ve also driven a New Yorker that almost identical to the one in the article. In fact my mom still has it sitting in her garage. It’s still in stunningly good shape, but has the much preferred (IMO) deluxe wheel covers. I’ve never really liked the wire wheels.
The pic enclosed is of the cop car we owned, but with wheel covers from our old ’71 Newport.
As a footnote, the engine from the Gran Fury was transplanted into 77 Cordoba that a friend of mine used to flat tow a 69 Dart race car with. With him fully loaded towing the car, and heading home from the track, he could out-pull me in my then 318 2bbl Mirada with only me in it. Full disclosure, my Mirada was a complete sled, but he wasn’t even flooring it. It was a fairly strong motor for sure.
I love this car. It is beautiful inside and out. I love those Chrysler interiors. I had a friend who had one of these. It was reliable and had a lot of room in it. I liked the framless windows. I think they should have kept this car in production. I prefer a town car but this is way better than any big gm car. Make mine a 360 4bbl.
I also must be among the few who loves the R-bodies. I have a ’79 Dodge St. Regis with 252,000 miles and the 318 was rebuilt by my dad when it was his car at 113k. He drove the car from 1985-1995 and I’ve been driving it ever since. It still runs good and handles quite well thanks to the original front anti sway bar and the rear bar my dad added from a ’77 Cordoba. It has the Holley 2bbl and I ditched the original A904 for the A999 with the more takeoff friendly first gear. I have no complaints about its gas mileage. Not the fastest car, but not a total slug either. It’s been a good commuter car and good on the interstate. The only thing I don’t like about the car are the frameless windows and the easy to strip out front door window regulators. Other than that, it’s been solid reliable transportation for the 35 years its been on the road. I agree with 83markvi that this car should have stayed in production and had a chance for refinements/evolution including EFI and a 4 speed automatic. I’m hoping after I retire later this year to get my St. Regis into drydock for some cosmetic work and some overdue sub frame bushing replacements. Admittedly, my favourite Mopars are the 67-68 Fury 2 door fast tops and the Forward Look cars but the R-bodies are better cars than they are given credit for usually. There are days I’d much rather drive the St. Regis than my 2002 Concorde which the St. Regis will most likely outlast as it did its other two intended replacements.
I don’t really consider this car to be a deadly sin, IMO they’re the last of the real New Yorker’s, at least they’re available with small and medium sized V8 engine’s unlike the FWD version’s that came in the mid 80’s, I always thought the 1979-81 R-bodies were nicer looking than the early Fox-body full sized Ford’s that were built in this time period.
I don’t disagree with much of what was written on the R bodies. I do own a St Regis and did work for a Dodge dealer at the time. My only disagreement is on the comments related to handling. These cars simply handle fantastically, I love driving mine. Love pressing on the gas (lean burn and emmissions all removed) and taking off a down a twisty road. It’s just stunning the way it handles, way better than the GM cars of the day……but I guess that’s the reason nobody knows this….nobody has driven them. Unless you have been behind the wheel of one, you can’t really comment fairly. I’ve seen some comments from former Cops that rave about the handling and then, have to address the top speed. That was the problem. (besides awful quality) I was in a car that our ran one of these in Upstate New York. The Trooper set up a road block and caught us. He said he was doing “109” and we were pulling away with no way for him to catch us so he had to radio ahead. They were slow for sure.
Man, I loved the look of those cars when they came out. I was so bummed when GM downsized in ’76. I really liked GM cars, but the downsized ones just looked “awkward”, at least to me. The ’79 Chryslers on the other hand still looked “big”, even when downsized. Chrysler had a bunch of issues at the time and its drop in sales wasn’t because of the R body vehicles. No one was buying Chryslers in ’80. We all thought they were going out of business. The oil embargo effectively killed off the big Chryslers in the mid-’70’s and made it difficult for it to “catch up” w/GM and Ford.
Of the downsized GM full sized cars, beginning in 1977, only the Pontiac Bonneville was a nice car. The Olds was a cinder block, the Buick was a mish mash styling disaster, and the Chevrolet and Cadillac looked puny compared to their 1976 ancestors.
That said, the this 1979 Chrysler New Yorker actually looks pretty good. Hard to believe that it is based on the former mid sized Plymouth Satellite-Dodge Coronet platform.
As for the FoMoCo Panther cars, well, history speaks for itself. The longevity of Crown Victoria/Marquis/Marauder/Town Car speaks volumes about how good these cars were.
Seems that Canadians respected this R-body more than us Americans did! Check mine out! Fifth Avenue Edition, pretty much all original, 106k miles. In the ONLY color combo available for the 79 Fifth Avenue.
I have an R-body. A 1979 New Yorker Fifth Avenue Edition, inherited from my grandparents, who bought the car new in 79. It was a gift to my Grandma from my Grandpa. They were always Chrysler folks. I remember riding in the back seat every summer from PA to our winter home in FL for many years. A more comfortable ride was not possible. We would cruise at 85-90, and I would sleep like a baby in that huge backseat! Glad that I still have her, glad that they got her undercoated, and did not drive her in the PA winters! She is still beautiful, mostly rust-free, and now lives in my garage in SoCal. With only 106k on the original 360 2 barrel and 904 (I think) trans, there is NO reason why this classic will NOT be passed down to my son someday. I absolutely LOVE this car, and say what you will, the R-bodies were beautiful, and rode like a dream. Handling? Well, it’s a freeway cruiser, not a corner-carver. The “fine Corinthian leather” is holding up well, the dash pad is in amazing condition and still soft and pliable, due to her garage-kept status from day one. The 8-track player failed, and I HAD to replace the drive belt in the stereo, just so I could listen to “The Sounds Of Chrysler” 8-track that came with the car, and was still in the glovebox! Also, the hood emblem for the 79 Fifth Ave was a frameless clear lucite (with an inlaid metal Pentastar) one-year-only, and ONLY on the Fifth Ave! It was notorious for breaking off when leaning over that beautiful grille while changing oil, or servicing the engine. It was changed shortly after the first year for one with a metal surround. Mine is still there, but has been carefully re-glued a few times. Both front and rear bumpers are chrome-covered aluminum, in an effort to save weight with the downsizing from 1978. I am VERY proud to own this car to this day. I am, however, looking for a pristine rear bumper, as mine is suffering from rot, and the chrome is peeling off a bit. I was lucky enough to snag the LAST Lean-Burn control module available on Rockauto.com when I first got her a few years ago. She ran like crap when I first got her off the truck from PA to CA, as some fool had installed the incorrect Lean-Burn module. Now she runs like a champ, passes CA smog every 2 years, and provides that same great ride that my grandparents fell in love with in 1979! If you want to see some pics, and I am sure very few do, email me at email@example.com. She is a beauty!
Looks like a nice car! You should gather up some pics of it and write a COAL article.
I’m currently looking at a 79 New Yorker Fifth Avenue… it’s great to hear some positive remarks in a much maligned car, I’d love to hear more about your New Yorker Fifth Avenue ownership experience!
I think these cars are great! I have a 79 with (now) 68,000 miles..”Doris” is brown with tan leather pillowtop seats..I threw out the Chrysler “Lean burn” and did an Edelbrock set up on her 360 cu. inch engine…great car! I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
For $499.00, that car would be mine! Hope you get it. Let me know if you do.
I think this is one of the most Beautiful Cars Ever!
Sorry that I am a little late to this ”party”. I happen to run across this article and I love anything regarding automobiles or automotive history. Particularly Large American cars. I have owned plenty in my lifetime since beginning driving in 1977.
I am afraid I have to disagree with Paul Niedermeyer in his critical assessment of the 1979-81 R-Bodied Chryslers. Under the dire financial circumstances that Chrysler Corporation was operating under at the time, I have to admit that they actually fit right in with the other American down-sized competitors’ offerings as well. Park one of these New Yorkers or even one of the down-market R-bodies of the era next to a ’79-’84 Ford LTD and I would clearly choose the New Yorker over the much more mundane and refrigerator-box-looking Ford LTD. I do not think anyone even bothered to ”style” to LTD anyway. And I am a huge Ford fan! All of the cars were formal and square back then. How can you criticize this New Yorker? The Cadillac Seville was widely copied because it was so beautiful still to this day. It was square-looking too!
Plus, I have driven a 1979 New Yorker 5th Avenue Edition extensively that my best friend purchased brand spanking new in the spring of 1979. Everything about that car came to him perfect. He waited for 6 weeks custom order. It rode, handled, and drove beautifully. The brakes were excellent. Fit and finish was excellent. It was equipped with the 360 4-BBL carb and he had the factory install dual exhausts. It had plenty of power! It also turned a lot of heads at the time too! We constantly got a ”Thumb’s Up” on the freeways. What was particularly interesting were the people driving 1976-1979 Cadillac Sevilles. Those Cadillac owners praised the styling of the New Yorker. When we would step out to dinner or park the car, people constantly came up to ask questions about the car. They were popular here in North Texas. I drove that car many miles to California and back to Texas twice. Excellent cruiser and silent as a tomb at 75mph. My friend, now deceased, kept that 1979 New Yorker until 1986 and put many miles on it.
If I have one complaint, it was that the interior – though unique to the 5th Avenue – should have come with the standard New Yorker’s more plush interior seating design. But that crème leather still was beautiful! Also loved the unique lighted rear quarter window that Cadillac eventually copied for the 1986-92 Broughams.
After Chrysler perfected the flaws, they should have kept building atleast the New Yorker. The Imperial which also shared the same platform, should have been offered as a sedan as well as the coupe.
Thanks Mark for your fine letter and your love for the “R” bodied Mopars …I have a 1979 New Yorker..Its not a 5th ave. but it still has the nice pillowtop seats and cruises beautifully! “Doris” has just 68,000 miles on her.She had 64,005 on her when I bought her last year for the paltry sum of 1000 dollars! I had her engine upgraded with Edelbrock intake and 4 bbl carb plus had duel exhaust installed..I had everything gone over on her and have most of the bugs worked out..LOVE these now rarely seen “R” body Chryslers!
I think I drove one of these once. My friend’s grandpa had one. I think it was a Newport but it might have been a Gran Fury. I’m pretty sure it was a Newport because I remember thinking that I had never driven a Chrysler-badged car before. I was 16 or 17 at the time and didn’t drive it very far and don’t remember much about it so I can’t really comment on the driving dynamics. I think they’re interesting cars. They may not be the finest motorcars ever built but they’re cool, which is sometimes better than being good.
I was with my dad in 1979 when my he bought the 5th ave addition brand new from the Chrysler dealer. We looked at other cars (I remember the TBird specifically) but the New Yorker was the car and no else one came close. This car had an amazing ride, the seat and interior where so comfortable, the AC blew very cold. In 1979 it had a unique look and at that time it was rather a luxurious vehicle that was up there with Cadillac & Lincoln and interior was better and more comfortable and the ride was very quite. My dad drove it until some one rear-ended him and the only thing I can remember is that he had to have the 727 Torqueflite trans rebuilt which seemed a little premature for a 3 yr old car.
Those rear windows are ugly, and there must have been reduced vision for the passengers as well.
I think this is Not a rolling coffin! This, folks is a CAR, a SEDAN, Not an SUV turd or a cheapy Chevy Caprice, those are gross, almost seen in every movie!
I don’t give a damn, how fast the squad cars were! The Dodge St Regis is a BEAUTY And the New Yorker too.
I think this is one of the most Beautiful Cars Ever!
Danny, beautiful example – you should be proud. I also think these 1979 – ’81 New Yorkers have absolutely terrific style. I remember being excited to see them in traffic when they were new-ish.
Chrysler in 1979 could not afford to engineer a special police performance package which could meet California emissions regulations. The other 49 states had one available.
I drove a Newport as a taxi. Those dashboards were excellent, and could have been even better, as they had a perfect space for a tach which was never offered. The front seat was comfortable, as in, a place you could spend sixteen hours without getting sore. The rear seat was also comfortable, though not as roomy as they should have been in a car this long. The rear doors were somewhat small. These shortcomings we’re due to it being based too completely on the 1971 Satellite design. They were developed on a very tight budget.
Driving them was like driving B-Body Mopar. In other words, they didn’t ride like a boat, exhibiting ocean motion long after smoothing a bump, like Buick LeSabres of the era. But they rode more smoothly than anything made in this millennium, and in spite of that, handled extremely well, and were hard to bottom out. How well they handled depended on how heavy duty the suspension was, but even a stock New Yorker did very well, not at all unlike my ’69 Charger. There’s a reason why law enforcement stuck to torsion bar Mopars for 32 years. Replace the tall tires with something modern and you could hunt BMWs with them today, even if you find a BMW driver who can actually drive.
I consider the styling somewhat unfortunate, but no worse than the 1981 restyle of the GM B-bodies. Behind the wheel, they were driver’s cars, with variable rate springs at every corner and the Torqueflite transmission you could shift just by moving your accelerator foot a bit. But since few Americans are any good at driving, few people noticed. I wonder if Niedermeier condemns them out of hand because he never drove one, and makes assumptions, or if he just can’t drive either.
5/2022 update. My 79 Fifth Avenue is still running just fine, now at almost 109k miles. Yes, she’s a garage Queen, but that’s just because she is so damn beautiful. I take her to car shows, albeit rather small car shows, and she garners much attention. She has been to a couple larger car shows, and still got lots of attention, especially at a “Malaise” car show in LA a couple years ago. Just today, I installed her original radiator again, after having it lovingly rebuilt/restored, since the stupid-looking plastic and aluminum one I had to install years ago (since no proper copper/brass OG one was available anywhere) became so abusive to my eyes and the appearance of the original engine compartment. Sure, it cost me $750.00 to have that original radiator rebuilt, but in my eyes, well worth the investment in a fantastic car that will live with me (and be enjoyed by me and my wife) until I am pushing up daisies. Grandma and Grandpa, her original owners, are smiling down upon me from Heaven today, and I don’t care a bit for anyone else’s uninformed opinion of my R-Bodies New Yorker Fifth Avenue Edition. Until you have driven a good one, and enjoyed it from day one, you will have no idea of what you speak.