(first posted 2/25/2014) Let’s just get this out front. I love these cars. I have always loved these cars. But I have never been quite sure of the source of these cars’ hold on me. They were not exceptional for their power or styling, although they were no worse than competitive offerings. It certainly wasn’t the build quality, either. In fairness, though, this had improved quite a bit from Chrysler’s lows of the mid 70s. Maybe it was that this car seemed to represent a shift in what was coming out of the company. More bluntly, this finally looked like a car that I would not have to make excuses for liking. That, and the fact that it didn’t look so much like that cursed Volare.
Long after other brands developed a multiplicity of models, Chrysler remained a one-car division. The company finally reconsidered when it introduced “the small Chrysler” – the 1975 Cordoba. If the Cordoba was the small Chrysler, the new 1977 LeBaron was the teeney-weeney Chrysler. The LeBaron, and its Dodge Diplomat twin (CC here), were the beginnings of the M body, an up-market variant of the 1976 Volare and Aspen.
The 1977-79 LeBaron had been only moderately successful. Both the Ford Granada and the Cadillac Seville had shown that there was a big market for more luxury in a smaller package. But the original LeBaron never really ht the mark. The cars were not that attractive (anyone could see that they looked too much like the much cheaper Volare), and this was not a high period for Chrysler’s quality (please note the subdued understatement). But in the early fall of 1978, we drinkers of the Chrysler Kool-Ade were met with the news that Lee Iacocca (fresh from his firing by Henry Ford II) had accepted an offer to lead Chrysler out of the wilderness.
The heavily restyled 1980 LeBaron was one of the first new vehicles launched under Iacocca’s watch. Only a year earlier, the introduction of the 1979 R body had been a complete disaster. This car hit the ground much more smoothly. Finally, the car didn’t look quite so much like a Volare, and I considered it a big improvement. Mechanically, the car was pretty much a carry-over from the prior version. Either a 225 ci slant 6 or a 318 (5.2 L) V8 powered the car through a Torqueflite tranny with a lockup torque converter. But beyond the basics, there were significant improvements, not least was the extensive use of galvanized steel in the bodies. The bodies of Mopars from this era proved to be virtually impervious to rust-through in the snow belt. Not even the sainted GM B bodies resisted corrosion this well.
Also, the cars interiors were improved a lot. The LeBaron was not slotted as a luxury car (this was still the New Yorker’s job) but the quality of its interiors was nothing to be embarrassed over. The instrument panel (a carry-over from 1977-79) was traditional yet expensive looking with lots of buttons and chrome. Plus, it included both an ammeter and a temperature gauge, as was routine Chrysler practice at the time.
Unfortunately, these cars were introduced at perhaps the worst possible time. This car found itself in the middle of a perfect storm. First, Chrysler’s fortunes had been flagging for some time, and by late 1979, there were doubts that the company would survive, even with a Federal loan guarantee package. The deathly pallor of the company frightened off a lot of buyers. No matter how nice the cars may have seemed, recent experience had suggested that buyers were going to need no small amount of warranty service, so why take a chance on a company that might not be there to provide it. Second, the economy had begun its drop into one of the worst recessions of the postwar years and sales of everyone’s 1980 models tanked.
Finally, by the summer of 1979, gasoline prices started a 3 year long upward spiral which hammered the sales of larger cars. The LeBaron was probably hurt more than most. If you wanted a large V8 car, the R body Newport and New Yorker were there to give you real big-car roominess and ride. Although the LeBaron was significantly smaller in usable passenger and cargo room, the car used the same powertrains and did not provide much of an improvement in efficiency. The confluence of these currents made sure that these cars were relatively rare, even when new. My research indicates that about 33000 of these sedans were made (including all engines and trim levels), down from about 58000 sedans in 1979. Compare this with the nearly 110,000 Fifth Avenues in 1985 (at nearly double the price of this LeBaron), and you can see how poorly these cars sold.
An interesting side note to this car, is that in mid 1980, Chrysler farmed a job out to American Sunroof Corp. to build a small number of LeBarons with a cobbled-up rear roofline extension and other unique styling and trim touches. The result was 654 examples of what was called the LeBaron Fifth Avenue Limited Edition. After a hiatus in 1981 (the final year of the rear drive LeBaron before the name was transferred to a fancy K car), that car became the 1982 New Yorker Fifth Avenue, and then just the Chrysler Fifth Avenue in 1983-89. The Fifth Avenue remained as the final “traditional” Chrysler, and graced many a senior citizen’s garage in the 1980s and 90s, making a lot of money for Chrysler in the process.
I saw this particular car as it turned into a parking lot about 50 yards away from me. As I noticed the car, the thought flashed through my mind that this was not a Diplomat or a 5th Avenue, but their much rarer platform-mate, the 1980-81 LeBaron. I circled through the parking lot and thought I had lost the car, when I finally saw it, just as its owner was coming out of a store. John McCullough was kind enough to take a few minutes out of his day to let me photograph his car and to tell me a little about it. John, now retired, is the son of the original owner, who bought it around the time he retired. John’s father had owned a Plymouth and Dodge dealership in Findlay, Ohio for about 40 years, and this was his final choice for a new car. John has owned the car since 1989, and and it still only has about 80,000 miles on the clock. This particular car is the high-end Medallion series (as opposed to base or Salon trim), and is thus one of only about 13,000 made. A good number of those were the slant 6, so one of these with V8 power was a rare sight even in the 80s.
The car is driven regularly and has served its only family well. It has, however, been the recipient of some hard knocks on its driver’s side. John told me that at least the replacement door fixed a bad power window. Also, we can see that the galvanized steel in the body has done its job, as there is nary a rust hole anywhere on this old warrior. After our talk, John slid into the driver’s seat to leave. A single “Na-Rayre” from that old Chrysler starter and the well-tuned 318 sprang to life. I love those sounds.
As I recall my encounter with this old LeBaron, I think I understand my love for these cars a little better. This was an honest car that aimed for a disappearing segment of the market. It was nicer than the Diplomat, and lacked the excesses of the Fifth Avenue, which tried to be something that it was not. It was just a well-executed upgrade of a mid-priced mid-sized car, which fixed many of the problems that stemmed from the car’s flawed Volare platform. These were among the last cars with some of the old-school Chrysler touches but were the beneficiaries of some improved execution as the company entered the “New Chrysler” era. The result was a car that still had its issues and was not for everyone, but did (and continues to do) what a good Chrysler always did – outlast a lot of other cars.
Un fortunately Chrysler ran away from the south Pacific about this time so all we had were some warmed over Valiants dating from74 but we had the Hemi6.
None of these Chryslers were imported we got left in Mitsubishis incapable hands Seems odd the Hemi 6 wasnt taken stateside it really was a great engine geared starter and all
For cars, we had the 340 until performance was regulated into remission. Chrysler USA developed the hemi six to be a truck engine, then decided that the slant six had a good reputation for economy and the 318 LA would make a good upgrade without adding a new engine family.
When the hemi six might have made a bit of sense here as a car engine in the mid ’70s, the reality is that it wouldn’t have been able to establish itself with an 8 to 1 compression ratio, unleaded fuel, a thermal reactor, EGR, and whatever other awful attempts at controlling emissions were forced on us. Suppose it made 115 hp instead of 105 hp for the slant six. It wouldn’t have been worth the bother.
I’d have to look to see how much power the latter-day Australian versions made; Australia did start getting U.S.-style emissions standards by the late ’70s (as did the Japanese).
CJinSD is right, I’m afraid, especially considering California emission standards in the 1970s. First of all, the original Hemis were “dirty” – hence why they were discontinued after ’71. “Dirty” meaning the smog technology of the 70s, air pumps, carburetors, EGR’s couldn’t have cleaned these things up for 49 state EPA smog standards, much less CARB in the 70s. Also, by the 70’s, Mopar was simplifying it’s engine lineup, at least in North America, so there wouldn’t have been room for the Hemi Six.
It’s funny you should say that. I always wondered why Chrysler in the U.S. never brought home the Hemi 6 cylinder. It was their idea after all. Chrysler Australia only took the plans Chrysler USA were developing in ’66 and made it a reality. The Slant 6 was a rugged, reliable powerplant which served people very well. But the Hemi 6 was significantly more powerful and economical. Yet Chrysler in America persisted with the Slant 6 into the 80’s. Go figure.
I always wondered about some of the dashboards of cars from that era – like this one. Lots of holes for gauges, but no gauges in the holes. What was the point?
The ongoing struggle between the interior stylists and the bean counters, I assume. The stylists probably wanted the dash to have a full assortment of gauges, but cost constraints dictates that the production cars have only whatever usual allotment the accountants have allowed (by this point often just speedometer, fuel, and maybe a clock), so the extra holes either become purely decorative or are filled with a random scattering of warning lights.
In some cases, full instrumentation was optional and the holes avoided the need to change the dash to install the optional gauge cluster, but I don’t think that was the case here.
Mopar did, for what it’s worth, always install ammeter and (I think) water temp gauges until the Ks came out.
Perry, you are correct- in the day when a Caddy had only a speedo and fuel gauge, a lowly Valiant had a comprehensive set of gauges. I presume the only reason an oil pressure gauge wasn’t usually included was the lack of need for one. With a slant six or 318, you wouldn’t really need to start thinking about oil pressure issues until you hit hte 300K mark. This is the reason Mopar people put up with shoddy build quality and lean burn- the ‘guts’ of the cars were a notch above GM or Ford.
JP, I have told this story a couple of times, but I owned a 1980 LeBaron coupe. My wife’s great-uncle (a WW1 vet) had finally stopped driving, and gave us the car! I had my doubts as I had repainted our 1981 Reliant a year before. When I examined the car after it was dropped off at our house, I saw it had A/C. Our Reliant didn’t. Car accepted, “For Sale” sign on the Reliant – neighbor down the street bought it immediately!
One problem: The entire driver’s side had been side-swiped! Now what do I do? I found out her uncle had an accident – he got too close to a semi and it hit him without the semi driver even knowing it had happened. He never stopped nor reported it. I decided to call his former insurance company. It turned out his insurance was still in force at the time of the accident, and, yes, they would fix the car! $50.00 deductable on $1.600 worth of damage (this was in 1988). 50 bucks! Chrysler did the work, and an excellent job, too. Later, another problem showed up – the rear axle on the driver’s side was bent, so I went back to the insurance company and Dodge fixed that too. Finally, the 225 kept eating water pumps. After the second pump in three weeks, I took it to my friend’s house for him to take a look. He wiggled the fan clutch – bad! Replace clutch, install third pump, the car immediately gained half again as much power and ran well from then on. It was nice having my daily driver with A/C, too!
The LeBaron was a cream yellow color with tan interior. I “Euro-styled” the dash as the chrome and wood contact paper was wearing off, so I removed all that and painted the dash insert satin black – looked very sharp. I put in my old cassette deck in and rock ‘n’ rolled along quite happily until I sold it to one of the guys at the Dodge dealer after we bought our 1990 Acclaim.
As stated previously, we called that car the “Batmobile” for the bat sticker I placed on the trunk lid.
Good car all around, and fuel economy not too bad, either.
These were very thin on the ground when new, I think mostly due to Chrysler’s financial situation and the bad build quality of a few years earlier. In most ways though, these were equal or better than the contemporary GM A-body cars. The first-gen Granada was pretty awful (the last variation of the original 1960 Falcon platform) and the replacement Fox-body Fairmont was a size class smaller. I can’t agree with the styling assessment though. These look even MORE like a Volare than the ’77-’79 – the ’80 Volare/Aspen (with the one-year only rectangular headlights) even share the front fenders and front and rear bumpers with this car. I always thought the ’77-’79 was a very clean design, and a nicely sized package – the 112″ wheelbase maybe being the sweet spot for an intermediate, rather than the 108″ of the GM’s.
+1 I always liked the LeBaron Town & Country wagons that were discontinued with the facelift in 1980. For some reason the brougham-ness of those LeBarons doesn’t seem as overwrought, I (would guess) you could still get a 360 in them, and if my Grandmothers 1987 Fifth Avenue was any indication, these were fine interstate highway cruisers. Although the 318/Torqueflite combo was ridiculously geared to be rev-free, I loved the the smooth burbling alto it made during freeway entries. I would say that combo was smoother than the 307-THM combo in Oldses at the time.
But for some weird reason I appreciate/love all M-Bodies. Probably because they are the last outgrowths of the Valiant/Dart. Or the association I have of the Fifth Avenue being Judge Wapner’s car in the opening credits of the People’s Court.
Actually, that T&C survived the 80 restyle and was available in both 1980 and 81, They did not sell many, though. About 11K in 1980 and less than 4,000 in 81. If you really want rare, they also sold less than 2,000 1980 LeBaron wagons that were not Town & Countrys (presumably a lower trim level without the wood paneling). I think that the 80-81 T&C would be my favorite of these LeBarons.
Whoa, Googled, and wow. And a little bit torn. I don’t know if I like the styling of the 77-79s or the 80-81 Wagons more. I think the main selling point for the T&C wagons (especially these and the K car versions) is that they seemed more “luxuriously” appointed compared to the competition. You’d have to upgrade to a B-Body wagon, and at least the Buick version to get the same luxuries as a T&C. I don’t think any of the Fox body wagons were particularly luxurious feeling either until the 1983 Marquis version.
Apparently Lucille Ball thought highly of them: https://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/23/lot/5703/
One thing I’ve noticed about those wagons was that the lower “wood” frame piece on the front doors would bow out about 2/3 of the way down the door. It seems like every one of these wagons I’ve seen in the last 20 years has had the same defect – and the rest of the “wood” frame trim is usually perfect.
You can see that the body update on the ’80-’81 wagons stopped at the A-pillar. It’s the original Volare/Aspen F-body shell, with carryover tail lights and the vinyl-covered C-pillar from the ’77-’79 wagons (shades of yesterday’s ’65 New Yorker, that…)
I was stationed with the Coast Guard in Tidewater, Virginia between 1982-85, living in the Great Bridge area of Chesapeake. There was a green ’80 or ’81 LeBaron coupe light green over green that I liked and admired. A quiet little cruiser and from the “growl” , it had to have been the Slant Six. Only thing rarer (then and now) than that LeBaron coupe would’ve been the ’83 Dodge Mirada I almost bought . . . but on a whim, chose a D-150 long bed Dodge 4×2 instead.
I had a chance at an 80 Diplomat coupe in the late 80s. Other than a cracked exhaust manifold on the slant 6, it seemed pretty decent. It was that awful (to me at least) yellow color with a tan interior, and was a fairly low-trim version with vinyl seats. I didn’t really need a car and that one did not do much for me, so I passed. There couldn’t have been many of those around.
Hey Laurence, how are you doing? We’ve missed your finds and the photos. And still want to know how you achieve those results! So, when you’ve got the time…
When I saw these cars new on the lot I thought it was a good looking car and made me think of the 76-79 Seville’s. When I walked up to the car and saw the Volare dash my bubble popped. The two people I knew who purchased these new were short term owners.
I hope John’s (the guy in the photos) LeBaron keeps him safe in the miles to come.
I believe the ’80s saw the end of the charming na-rayre, deer, deer, deer, starter sound effect.
I don’t recall much about these cars except the “fiendishly seductive Dodge Diplomat” tag line, thinking it was rather weak in the height of the Colonnade era, whose popularity was probably the reason for weak Mopar sales in the category.
Spent a week with a LeBaron in ’85 in Southern California on the trip that convinced me to move here permanently. Specifically, a mid summer trek in record time from LA to Vegas with the air on full blast and the pedal to the floor on the infamous Baker grade, where in those days someone would typically be on the side of the road with hood up and steam about. You don’t see that anymore.
“I believe the ’80s saw the end of the charming na-rayre, deer, deer, deer, starter sound effect.”
Whoever came up with that describing a Chrysler starter had better copyright it, like geozinger did with his “Cockroach of the Road”© moniker describing a Chevy Cavalier and now, Cobalt!
I owe him a few beers!
1987 was the last year of the old Hummingbird of Highland Park starter. Dad had an 87 Dakota that was the last year of the old 78amp externally regulated alternator introduced in the sixties. It was also the only year the 3/4 318 had a two barrel carb as well.
Actually, you still DO see cars off the side of the road on the upgrade from Baker to the Nevada line. It’s still a good idea to keep an eye on that temp gauge and shut the a/c off when it starts heading north. You also see scorch marks on the asphalt off the side where cars still do catch fire from severe overheating.
There’s something about this era of Chryco products shared with old Chevy Step-Vans and the current Ford F-Series work trucks: upside-down headlight assemblies.
Whoever thought (and whomever at Ford today) thought this was an interesting and intriguing idea, well, come on…upside down headlights are never a good idea.
They are not unlike the Wagon Queen Family Truckster.
If you could only flip the assemblies around so that the turn signals are UNDER those sealed beams, you’d have a nicer looking car for sure…one in which this writer would at least not have to continually raise the question “why did they do that?”
The Diplomat had the headlights “right-side-up.”
On the Chryslers maybe, but the Ford trucks may just be an attempt for the headlights not to light up the inside of the car ahead of it at a stoplight like a kwik-e-mart at 3 AM.
the 2nd gen Explorers have the same thing, turn signals above the headlights. and much as you say, to lower the height of the lights so they are less ‘in your face’ at night.
Works on the 95-01 Explorer, not so much on the Dippys. the Plymouth Fury looks way way better with the signals below the headlights.
A high school friend of mine’s father worked at the Twinsburg (OH) assembly plant, when each of his kids graduated high school, they got a new car. My friend Chuck got a brand new 1979 Dodge Diplomat upon graduation. It looked a lot like the coupes shown in the photos. His Dodge, being a Dodge, did not have the quarter vinyl roof, and had only a velour interior.
I remember the car as being well assembled, fairly roomy (good for those trips up to Cleveland to see concerts), quiet and easy to drive on the occasions he let me drive it. The 318 V8, while no big block, was plenty strong on our Northeast Ohio hills and was a fair amount better on gasoline than my 390 Torino.
Had Chuck not been certifiably insane, the car would have lasted longer than three years. This was the same person with whom I made the clandestine county seat runs in his 400 Firebird. I think his father thought that a smogged 318 would keep him from killing himself, which it did, but the car lived a miserable existence. I think he rolled it one night on his way home to his parent’s house, which was down a windy old farm road.
I saw other Diplomats and LeBarons, all the way through the 80’s, but it seemed to me by the mid 90’s they were gone. The few I did see, were rather rough, but complete, a testament to increased quality of assembly and particularly rustproofing that came from the sales disasters of the late 70’s. Not unlike the feature car.
I drove a rental Diplomat sedan with the 318 in 1978. I remember it as being a very fast car for the time, in fact it surprised me with its accelleration. I was used to my mother’s 74 LeMans with a 2 bbl 350 which was kind of a dog, and the Diplo would smoke the Pontiac. It reminded me a lot of my Dad’s 76 Mercury Monarch with the 351, which was pretty quick itself.
I actually liked the style of the 2 doors, but the sedans looked like a loaded Aspen or Volare. Ford managed to make the Granada attractive, but the Volare’s styling was just “off” somehow. I also remember that 78 Diplo’s interior as being leagues behind Ford and even GM in apparent quality, but it was not a high end model, either.
Twinsburg isn’t that far from Cleveland . . . . now Cleveland to Cincy . . . Cleveland to Buffalo or Toronto . . . now THAT’s a road trip!
I must respectfully disagree with my good colleague Stainsley. I think the upside down headlight/parking light combo is one of the most endearing qualities of these cars. I remember seeing them for the first time and thinking how good looking the design element was.
Disclaimer: Don’t forget you’re talking to the guy who liked his Pacer.
The little chassis that could… Still want one of the many later variations of this car, but only with a 318 please. I laud Chrysler for “making hay while the sunshines” especially with the Fifth Avenue interation of this car which made many people forget about the Volare and Aspen.
@EdDan: I don’t know, I was in love with the F-body Road Runner. Actually, I had a huge crush on a young woman whose father had given her one for her 16th birthday. I went out on a few dates with her, but it wasn’t meant to be. And the Road Runner had rusted away by the time we were out of high school, too…
I went to college with a guy who had a 1979 Road Runner (318V8) black with a tan vinyl interior. It was quite a “collectors item” in 1995 when I was getting my bachelors. FWIW I’m pretty sure my 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with a 307V8 and quadrajet could spank him in a stoplight drag race.
One of few American cars of this era (except trucks) that I actually have a connection to. A neighbor of my grandparents used to own one like this, silver with a dark red roof an interior. I believe it was one of the first American sedans I saw up close and I loved it. I even think he owned the car for quite many years, even if he replaced the transmission from time to time .
These are very rare – they don’t even show up at the various Chrysler Carlisle events! What a great find – thanks for taking the time to take photos and speak with the owner.
Our neighbors bought one of the first 1977 LeBarons in town – a dark blue sedan with a dove gray vinyl top. It was pretty sharp for the time, and hid its Volare roots reasonably well. I remember being impressed with the “upside-down” headlight-parking light assembly, and the little patches of vinyl roof at the top of the doors, right at the beltline.
I don’t know if I would call the 1977-79 LeBaron “moderately successful.” As I recall, the 1977 and 1978 versions sold pretty well. It outsold the Dodge Diplomat, and really boosted Chrysler Division sales.
These cars did, over the long haul, devalue prestige of the Chrysler marque. Through the mid-1970s, Chrysler only sold one basic type of car, but the image of Chrysler on the street was of a big, powerful, full-size car. The Cordoba and LeBaron boosted sales of Chrysler Division in the mid-1970s, but, over the long haul, they cheapened Chrysler’s image. They both outsold their respective Dodge platform mates. People were initially thrilled at getting the Chrysler name in a smaller, more affordable package, but that wore off rather quickly.
These cars also relegated Plymouth to “also ran” status. Plymouth was never given a version of the Cordoba or first-generation LeBaron. By 1978, Plymouth sold the least expensive, most plainly styled version of lower-level Chrysler platforms. Ford and Chevrolet, meanwhile, were selling all of the “affordable luxury” cars (Thunderbird, Monte Carlo, Caprice Classic, LTD Landau) they could make. By 1980, Plymouth had no image and very low sales – a sad state for the make that had regularly held down third place in sales through the late 1950s.
Good point, Geeber. In 1980, I finally got my mother into a Chry-Ply showroom. She had had enough of that 74 LeMans and its bad gas mileage and was interested in an Omni or Horizon. What was interesting was what was in the showroom. Chrysler offered the New Yorker, Newport, LeBaron (incl the coupe and the T&C wagon) and the Cordoba. Plymough offered the Volare and the Horizon, and that was it. That said, the Horizon was the only thing really generating any showroom traffic that year, and was on a waiting-list basis if you were choosy on color or options.
I tried to up-sell my mom to one of these LeBarons, but she wasn’t biting. She bought a 2 tone blue Horizon, which was a nice little car for the time.
@Geeber: The other “other” car in the Plymouth lineup was the Champ. It was the Mitsubishi Colt in Plymouth drag.
One of my brothers ended up with one, after the waiting lists for the Rabbit, Civic and Tercel stretched way out.
I think he figured anything foreign=good. Not entirely true, but that’s another post for another time.
@geo: I was at our local Dodge dealer in my neighborhood one day walking our dog over 20 years ago when we lived in suburban St. Louis, and heard a conversation about a guy who owned one of those Dodge Colts that needed a new windshield wiper arm. Apparently the cost was so exorbitant and he was so upset, he said “forget about it” and went inside with a salesman and bought a new car! I wish I stuck around to find out what he bought!
My old Chrysler LeBaron bomb didn’t seem so bad at that point!
Wow, I’ve only ever gotten to that point once, and that was only after a transmission fell out of the car…
Must be nice to have that kind of money.
These (including the first-gen ’77-’79s) were also sold as the Plymouth Caravelle in Canada for Chrysler-Plymouth dealers, which meant that the LeBaron was only offered in its higher trim levels. This always seemed to me like a much more sensible approach.
First gen Canadian Caravelle from wikipedia:
Whoa… Nice! And dog dishes too…
There were surprising numbers of these things here in Soviet Canuckistan and, again due to taxi connections, I spent quite a bit of wheel time with them. The lasting impression I have of these cars is that they had a very good seating position; you sat high off the floor and the cowl was low, making for a much more comfortable drive than a B-Body without power seats. The quality was also better than the Chevrolets of the era. The dash was much better assembled and designed and the part next to the windshield was honest to God metal! The last I ever saw of real metal in the interior. Things like seats, window-winders and door hinges all held up well and this is what really cost the money to fix. The electrics were uncommonly good. They rode well, had solid bodies and passengers like them. Finally, the legendary Torqueflight was indestructible. I never replaced one, not once!
The 318-2bbl was gutless but the 4bbl cop versions ran very well. I had a late Plymouth Caravelle (Canuckisan Only Model) with the cop package and it ran very nicely. Downsides? Well, the K-member broke with alarming regularity in these cars. The 318 did not last as long as the Small Block but it was fast, cheap and easy to rebuild. The real bitch for a taxi driver, however, was the turning circle. Because of the transverse torsion bar front end, these things had a Queen Mary turning circle. Every U-turn was a three point turn which could be highly embarrassing when you were trying to get someplace in a hurry.
Rare indeed; have not seen or found one either. In fact, it’s an easy car to forget.
I’m an oddball, I know, but I rather preferred the looks of the Volar-ish first LeBarons; well except the grille, perhaps. For that matter, I thought the Volare/Aspen was a nicely designed car, for American standards. I was not of a fan of its subtle curves being sliced off with a cleaver, and becoming boxier and boxier.
I always thought it was odd that Chrysler went to the trouble of restyling the Volare and Aspen both for their very last model year, 1980. The 1976-79s were not changed much year to year, except for grille and taillamp patterns. Maybe Chrysler planned to make them past ’80?
what’s the deal with the early Aspens with weird curlicue designs all over the back between the tailights? it looks like someone scribbled on the back of the car.
My dad leased a ’78 model 2 door Medallion with a 318 and most of the toys in the spring of 1978. Absolutely awful car-missing parts and loose bolts on delivery-and got worse from there. Flaking paint leaving rust underneath, shorted wiring in the steering column, ball joints gone by 50,000 miles, teeny little rear axle(7&1/4″?) that was worn out by said 50,000, and the piaste-de-reistinace, a failed front wheel bearing that caused the wheel to part company with the rest of the heap. This was just around 70,000 kms (42,000 miles).
The 318 Lean Burn never ran right when new, and would often quit dead due to faults with broken ground wires and such.
When my brother got the car in ’82, we actually spent some money to rehabilitate it. New ball joints, and we lucked out on a new rear end. Some hot-rodder in town had parted out an 80 Volare Road Runner . He wanted the K-Member for the front end of his 57 Mercury pickup. The Volare was wrecked at only 3000kms, and we got complete 8&3/4″ Sure-Grip rear end cheap.
Then one day while poking around under the hood, I discovered several vacuum hoses that were unhooked from the computer, the result of a previous visit to a Chrysler dealer in a vain attempt to sort out the driveability issues. After reconnecting as-per the undrhood diagram, the car never ran better.
I guess the point of the story is that as a 4 year old with a little TLC and better parts, it was a much better and more reliable car than when it was new.
This car soured my father on Detroit, and his next car was an Audi 5000, which soured him on German cars in short order, and drove him into the arms of Honda.
Ha ha ha! You just reminded me of when we took delivery of our brand-new 1981 Reliant! When we got home, the first chance I got, I took the dash apart to inspect it and had to tighten up a lot of stuff. When I checked under the hood, a few of the front fender bolts were missing. Had to get the dealer to do that, as I didn’t have any! Over all, it was a very good car and we had lots of fun driving it!
The 8-3/4″ was phased-out by 1977. I’m guessing you meant a 9-1/4″.
I never understood rechristening the Volare/Aspen cars as M-Bodies…many parts are interchangeable. I know that from having worked with these cars, driving a cab for a very small suburban cab company…the owner never junked anything; when a cab wrecked or died of old age, he’d wheel it out back as an organ donor. Front doors, drivelines, even front clips…he’d mix-and-match Volare with Diplomat. Only the rear sheetmetal and rear doors were singular; and the doors only for the glass arrangement.
The cars were solid, as my boss’s dedication to them proved; but I have little love for them. Much of it is of course that I spent so much time in them feeling miserable: about money, the way the day was going, my aching posterior…no cabbie in the world ever didn’t hate his cab. But to me, they represented the worst kind of utility: Taxis, police cars (in those days I had a lead foot and an Escort radar detector) and city workers, showing up to cite me for whatever it was I was doing on the property.
But…diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks. Few can understand my attachment to the Pinto…least of all me.
As a kid, the sound of the General Lee’s gear reduction starter motor was the most awesome sound I had ever heard. I -still- love that sound. The mid-’90s Dodge pickups still had a cleaner-sounding version of that auditory delight.
In ’90 and ’91 (I believe) the Ford Crown Vic and Merc Grand Marquis went to a gear reduction starter for reasons unknown, and I have gone so far as to seriously contemplate getting one solely for the sound. Still not as delicious as a true Mopar sound, but closer.
***One question about the later Fifth Avenues: were they still the recipients of the ASC backlight/C-pillar reshaper cap, or did Chrysler reshape the steel roof properly? I was always fascinated by the idea they did the same thing to tart up the later Versailles more, but would Chrysler have just let it ride like that all the way to ’89? Actually, since the Gran Fury and Diplomat had the ’80 LeBaron roof still, maybe they did…
I don’t know the answer definitively about the roof…but given the sheer numbers; given that that model was sold for some hard commercial uses, police and taxi; AND given that I’d had much heavy idle hours looking over such a roof…I’d say it was a factory job.
There were no seams in that roof that I remember seeing. And MOST of the units sold in later years were without the vinyl roof. The M-Body had become what the Panther later was: an obsolete car outliving its usefulness except for extreme fleet users.
Yeah, but there are no seams in the picture of the ’80 LeBaron Fifth Avenue Limited Edition in this CC, either, and a ’83-up Fifth Avenue without the vinyl top? Where? WHAT IS CHRYSLER TRYING TO HIDE??? (Har har)
Now the next time I see a Fifth at a junk yard, I am going to be REQUIRED to punch a hole in the roof back there to see if it is fiberglass or steel or unicorns or what.
The car had many names. You know it as a Fifth Avenue. I know it as a Diplomat, or “this #@$% cab…”
LeBarons, as LeBarons, I knew as “Cops behind us!” The county I lived in when the LeBaron came out in that form, opted to bid on a batch for Sheriff’s Patrol cars. They were probably the only LeBarons in that rural county.
I thought it was whacked at the time, but in a few years the clone Diplomat became standard police issue.
AFTERTHOUGHT: I missed the paragraph about American Sunroof’s involvement with the original Fifth Avenue on first read…got interrupted. But I’m here to tell ya…by the time the M-Body became The Big Chrysler, that roof was all factory and all steel.
I concur. It would have been cheaper given the volumes involved, by a long shot. The ASC kind of thing was fine for a handful, and a good way to test the water.
Hmmm, ok, makes sense. I doubt it will keep me from drilling a hole in a Fifth Avenue roof, though, because how often do you get to do that?
I once saw a Fifth Avenue with the vinyl roof rotted off. It looked to me like they just welded a section onto the back of the standard Diplo stampings. Crude but effective.
A-HA! I KNEW there was no way Chrysler was going to have 2 separate roof stampings for a car that had been more-or-less left to wither on the vine (besides grilles, tail lights, and VERY important opera lamp placement) since 1977 on a basic design that dated a few years even before ’77!
And so the question is: who manufactured the add-on starting in ’82, Chrysler or ASC? I’d guess Chrysler.
People being how they are, you’d think some guy with an ’86 Diplomat that needed just a bit more “class” would have JB Welded one of those extensions onto his car and covered it in boat seat vinyl sewn up by is common-law wife by now.
“People being how they are, you’d think some guy with an ’86 Diplomat that needed just a bit more “class” would have JB Welded one of those extensions onto his car and covered it in boat seat vinyl sewn up by is common-law wife by now.”
Why would I have her do it when I could get Pablo down at the upholstery shop to do it? 😛 (there really is a Pablo’s Upholstery down the hill from my house.)
Oww ow ow ow! Harsh man. If you were driving a Lincoln Versailles instead of a Town Car I’d tell you not to judge so harshly. Atleast Chrysler’s extension didn’t obstruct the full opening of the trunk the way Lincolns did.
I seen one of these mid 80’s Fifth Avenues here in NM last year and it looked like it had fresh paint and was missing its rear vinyl formal cap. Yes, it is a standard Dippy roof underneath. I guess the dude sent it out to get refinished???
Not a new idea; Imperials – ’57 through ’63 – when ordered in LeBaron guise had that rear quarter portion of the backlight blocked off with a cap for the formal backlight except that Mopar filled in the seams with lead . . .
Ford did go to a gear reduction starter with the mod motor but it is a planetary gear set and made to a higher precision so it doesn’t make any significant whine like the spur gear Chrysler unit. Some of the gears are even nylon or plastic.
And Dan, so that you may understand my motivations better, I was born and raised outside a town of 160 people in northeastern Oklahoma. Although the (slim) majority of my adult working years have been in white-collar environments, the balance of said working years were in fields such as auto mechanics, lawn service, over-the-road trucking, forklift repair, and vehicle towing and recovery/repossession. (Our repo slogan was “Helping People Get Back On Their Feet.”)
And so I say all that to say this: If I make fun of redneck types, it is out of humorous but serious respect and/or clinical projection.
I’m glad you got a laugh out of it, I’m a very consistent smart ass. I was “raised redneck” too. My fiance laughs at the line in Blake Shelton and Trace Atkins’ song “Hillbilly Bone” when it says “You ain’t got a be born out in the sticks… with an F150 and a 30-ot-6…” cause I own an F150 and a few of my relatives back in Ohio certainly would know how to handle a gun. My ex-wife used to call me an “educated redneck.”
My family owned a ’79 LeBaron Salon, which I believe was a one year only trim option in between the base and Medallion. Spinnaker white with a red vinyl roof and red vinyl interior. It was the first car we’d ever owned that had an am-fm (monaural) radio. Maybe someone here can confirm this, but did Chrylser get rid of the lean burn system after ’78?
I am no expert here, as the only Lean Burn car I ever owned was a 77 New Yorker. But according to information gleaned from Allpar and Wikipedia, the Lean Burn system stayed in use through the 1980s. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most Lean Burn vehicles still on the road have had the system disabled and replaced by a conventional electronic ignition.
I’ve got an ’88 Fifth Ave with Lean Burn disabled, don’t know if that was the last year or not.
No. I had lean-burn on my ’83 Dodge truck with the Slant Six. Dodge dealer advanced the timing for it to run and idle better, but the downside was I had to use premium unleaded. There was Firestone dealer in Hickory, Va. (outside Chesapeake where I lived at the time) whose specialty was removing the lean burn computer sensors (the ‘box’ that attached to the air cleaner) and all associated plumbing. He offered to do it with mine, but I declined out of fear of voiding the warranty. Drove that truck to California and would get 22 mpg on level straightaways (60-65mph; four speed o/d stick . . . no air – a very WARM trip in July, 1985!)
My dad is Chinese, moved to Detroit for grad school in the mid-70s and stayed when he met my mom. I remember in the late 80s, he had a FOB (fresh off the boat) friend that needed a cheap car. They found a white ’80 Lebaron in the classifieds and the three of us plus four or five other friends crammed into my dad’s Aspen (also an ’80) to take a look at it. The friend decided to buy it, so my dad and I tailed them home and the rest of them took the Lebaron. On the way home they got pulled over for having no plates (which is legal in Michigan when transporting a vehicle home after purchasing it), and the look on the cop’s face after pulling over an unplated car full of young Chinese immigrants was priceless.
Just for your interest, my 1980 Chrysler Lebaron 4 door Sedan with a 318. Fresh paint and freshly restored.
Here’s the picture
Try again, Charlie.
An old neighbor of ours had one of these as a daily driver, and it was still in nice shape when he died ten years ago. He used to drive around with his dog in the front seat. He also had a ’64 Dodge Polara convertible in the garage that he’d bought new and kept as a summer car. It had less than 40,000 miles on it, and when I remarked about it, he said “you should have seen the ’57 Chevy I traded for it!”. I hope both of those cars went to good homes.
I have a 1980 2 door La Baron that would restore nicely. Has 72 K actual miles, no real rust (just a little surface rust) needs paint and a good home, runs good. Nice interior. Want to sell it real reasonable $1500 OBO. It needs to get out of my garage, got too many cars. Bill
Dad had one EXACTLY like the one on the cover of the ’80 brochure. 2-bbl 318, red-on-red and a dark red vinyl top. I remember being about 3 years old and standing in the back seat, watching my dad turn that steering wheel lock to lock…
…I also remember it being brought home on a tow truck more times than I can recall as the fuel pump went, the gas tank rotted out and the carb always had issues.
It always looked nice parked next to my mom’s double blue ’83 Chrysler E-Class.
Dad sold it sometime around 1989 for a down payment on a brand new Aerostar 🙂
> Dad sold it sometime around 1989 for a down payment on a brand new Aerostar
Your dad really knew how to pick ’em! 😛 (My parents had an ’86 Aerostar. It was not good.)
Haha he sure did! After the 89 Aerostar, he bought a ’90 Tempo (slated for my mom, but she wound up with the Aerostar) which he drove for another 10 years before he sold it for another down payment…this time for a ’99 F-150, that we just got rid of in 2013 at 230k miles 🙂
So cool in seafoam. I like the Exterior of the R-body better, but that dashboard is very unique and full of interesting details.
I wonder if anyone’s updated these cars with the newer 318s as seen in the Grand Cherokee.
I always liked that color combo. The owner told me that after his car got hit, the body shop told him that this was the best they could do on the paint match. I realize that it can be tricky to match some older paint formulas, but this seemed like a particularly bad result.
This car is still out and about, I got a shot of it on the road awhile back.
Never seen it, but have read of several upgrading their M-bodies with 360’s and four-speed automatics.
Rare, but not exactly collectible. Still, I bet the owner had a lot of pride regardless of the circumstances.
Indulging my sense of irony, this post is obviously a bit of a re-hash, much like the subject car. But, re-hashes occasionally work, and with a few more tweaks and some name adjustments, this car became a cash cow for Chrysler for surprising number of years. I’ll wager that this post does pretty well with comments.
While they never would have had an interest in buying one, I had a couple of college friends go on spring break and an ’84 or so Fifth Ave. was their rental. They felt quite uptown for the experience, I recall they even brought home pictures of the triple gold car.
My dad brought home a Fifth Ave. rental for work one time when the company pool cars were all out. I had to go out to our driveway and check it out. The final re-hash of this platform, car, nameplate, styling gimmick, etc., had a surprising magnatism.
The crossover ad with the LeBaron and the New Yorker R body is a rare and fleeting moment in Chrysler history. But, dang, two years later and both cars would have likely sold quite well.
What’s more rare than a 1980 LeBaron sedan?
Rare 1980 LeBaron Fifth Ave. for sale. What is really amazing in the plush interior with crank windows! That was probably quite unusual for the Fifth Ave. package cars.
as a proud owner of an 88 diplomat with 280k miles on stock engine&trans,I gotta admit that not many Detroit made cars in 80s can compete with M bodys when it comes to quality&reliability.they should have kept on making it.
Where the Slant Six was acceptable and adequate in many Volares and Aspens, I found they seemed out of place in the Diplomat/LeBaron/Gran Fury/Caravelle/Fifth Avenue. Same with the St. Regis/New Yorker/Cordoba and Mirada. It looked good for the mileage ratings, but who actually bought the 225 with the M, R and J bodies? The six wasn’t the smoothest engine, and with horsepower and torque ratings around 100-110 horsepower and 170 lbs/ft, lacked the power you’d expect in a near luxury compact. It used to strike me as odd, hearing/seeing the six in anything above base level Aspen/Volares.
Alternately, having the 318 or 360 as the default go to engine in a compact seemed to defeat the purpose of buying a smaller than mid-sized car. The 318/360 suited the R and J Bodies. It was necessary.
I think Chrysler had a big need for a smoother, more powerful six at the time. But obviously had no money to develop such an engine. At least until they developed the 3.9L V-6 for the first generation Dakota.
Sad thing, they go a more powerful inline six (I6) nicknamed “Hemi 6-pack” originally planned to replace the slant six in trucks, it saw the day of the light Down Under in Australia under the hood of Aussie Charger and Valiant, talk about a missed opportunity…
Just imagine what if that engine was available in Canada and United States for M, R and J-bodies? Or another “what if?” scenario to ponder what if Chrysler had worked on a V6 instead of a slant-6 for the Valiant in 1960?
I’ve driven all of them: the Slant Six, the 5.2 V-8 2bbl, 5.2 4bbl and the 5.9 4bbl.
The Slant Six and the 5.2 feel much the same and in everyday driving it didn’t matter much.
The 5.2 4bbl ran way better and the 5.9 really made the smallish car go.
Also with thickly-cushioned luxury of seats available even in soft Corinthian leather
Did anyone else notice that the car has an Ohio front license plate, an Indiana rear license plate, a rear bumper festooned with right-wing leaning (Tea Party) bumper stickers, and a US postal service flat tray on the passenger seat floor (and what looks like more in the back seat)?
Since the guy’s retired, I wonder if he has some kind of home business selling stuff on eBay…
Indiana does only rear plates, so it’s not unheard of to see other-state plates up front. I think it’s not strictly legal but I don’t know of anybody ever getting dinged by the cops for it.
I like those M Body cars. I like the Fifth Avenue the best with its plush seats and landau top. It was hopelessly archaic by 1985 but it still had grace and poise all of its own. The car was a mixture of contradictions. In 1989(Its last year) it was one of the first cars to offer a standard drivers airbag and tilt steering wheel setting a tone that Chrysler was going to be a leader in safety BUT it was also one of the last cars to still retain a carburetor in all its engine options.
If looks could kill, JP would no longer be with us. That driver looks cranky in the top photo!
Ha. He was actually a very pleasant guy, and I had a very enjoyable (but brief) conversation with him. He was happy for me to take an interest in his old Chrysler.
Here is a fun nugget of trivial trivia: For 1981 only, Chrysler built a full-fledged police package version of this car.
I owned one. Briefly.
Thanks to the wonders of the inter webs, I found a picture of it. The originals elude me!
It’s the second one down.
I actually prefer the ’77-’79 coupes to their slab sided replacements.
Back in the 1980s, the Mopar M bodies (Dodge Diplomat/Plymouth Gran Fury) were very popular as cop cars. The biggest customers for those cars were the NYPD, California Highway Patrol, Nevada Highway Patrol, San Francisco PD, Philadelphia PD, Portland OR police and the Miami FL Police.
They were very popular with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the Cleveland PD, and may other departments in the greater Cleveland area. I would love to find a police Dippy or Gran Fury to play with…
My home town of Rock Island, IL had black and white Diplomats when I was a kid in the ’80s. I remember Officer Friendly coming to my school in about 1986 and he was driving one.
The Diplomats were replaced in ’91 by new Caprices in all-navy blue with light blue and white lettering. Then came circa-2000 Impalas in all-white with blue and red lettering. Crown Vics in the same scheme came along a couple of years later, and starting in about 2009 newer Crown Vics in black and white, which are still in service.
Neighboring Moline has recently replaced most of their Panthers with Explorer Interceptors.
The oddest police cars in my childhood were the Rock Island Arsenal, which used Dodge Dynastys, and Davenport, which had police-package Tauruses in the early ’90s.
My aunt and uncle bought a T&C wagon new. the wood? trim would blow off of the car while it was being driven.
Good lord that is the same year and color as my high school buddy’s 80 Diplomat with a 318 lean burn engine which made all of 120 HP that year. I had a 1980 white Grand Prix SJ with the W72 301 4BBL V8 which was reported as making a real world 170 horses in direct contrast. My GP would blow his Dippy’s doors off in a race, got better mileage and ran more consistently. Neither car was very well screwed together but his Dodge suffered far more quality control defects than my similar mileage Pontiac starting with the wafer thin paint that was flaking off, bumper fillers that were turning to deformed mush(my Pontiac’s still looked like new) many interior rattles ans electrical gremlins and a suspension so soggy that the rear always dog tracked sideways going over railroad ties at anything over 10 MPH! The SJ’s suspension was light years better in every possible way from steering to ride quality to handling and body rigidity. I must say that we kept both of those cars for 3-4 years and stacked up a ton of miles on them and I never remember breaking down in either. Such memories!
I was looking for help on the alt guage for my 1980 Chrysler LeBaron that I am driving right now!!!! Its even the pale green like the picture – still has all original interior and exterior. Engine was replaced about 50,000 miles ago by someone. We changed the alternator and battery last summer, but the D side of the alt guage keeps coming on while I sit at red lights – goes off when I go again. Any clues?
Kathy, this was a fairly old thread when you posted this, and few may have seen it. It was my experience that this was common on those old Mopars with ammeters. With a low idle speed, the needle would dip into the negative side, especially if you were running headlights and a blower fan. The alternator requires a little higher rpm to generate enough juice to charge, so when you step on the gas the needle will jump to the plus side for a bit before settling back to the middle again.
Some folks liked to set the idle speed higher to avoid this, but I always preferred a low quiet idle that didn’t jolt me every time I shifted into Reverse or Drive. I hope this is still relevant info after all this time.
Even a new alternator can be bad. I had a rebuilt one as the same style your using and it wasn’t putting out what it should have. Plus ground wires help.
It would do the same thing your describing.
Plus at night the lights would go dim and get bright again once I took off from the light.
There is a Movie company that has been searching for a green 4 door 80 Lebaron. They have one and need another. If your interested in selling it.
I have a 78 lebaron 318 engine 79,000 miles. Does anyone have the fuse box diagram?
They could have chosen a better looking 80 Lebaron then that one to write about.
I have 4 1980 M-Body Coupes, 3 Lebarons and 1 Diplomat.
A 2 year only production model. 80-81.
I have a labaron there rare this one for sure,ill send pics,rik 5093094205 email@example.com its 318 4bbl possey.power wind ,leather im needen a stearing colom if anyone has one.53thousand miles great car😉
I liked how the more affordably priced Chrysler near luxury compacts like the Diplomat/LeBaron stole some of the thunder and sales away from higher profile competitors like the Seville and Granada/Versailles.
Why the old Imperial logos on the steering wheel and hood ornament? Did this change after an actual Imperial returned the next year? Did this confuse anybody?
Add 7 years and tweak the taillights a little, change the colour, and you’ve got a Mike Ehrmantrautmobile.
Cars like this are shit on with 21St century glasses because they were dressed up Volare’s. Yes they were, but. The world was changing. The writing was on the wall. 12mpg luxo barges were dead. It was this car that got people to accept a small Chrysler, so that when a truly small Chrysler K was introduced, it actually was accepted. The Mike Ehrmantraut reference shows how differently these cars are viewed today as compared to, say 1982.
H’mm. What do you infer from my Mike Ehrmantraut reference? What do you think I was saying or implying?
By mentioning your Mike Ehrmantraut reference I was just drawing light to the fact that Mikes Fifth Avenue is “gangster” enough for a guy like Mike today, but back in 1982 these cars were just everyday rides. In 1982 I think he would have been cast in something much bigger and more brash like a 66 Lincoln Continental or a similar vintage Chrysler New Yorker. I hope season 5 of “Better Call Saul” picks up speed soon. It’s been a little slow so far.
H’mm. On further thought I’m not so sure, myself, what I meant! On the one hand, Mike Ehrmantraut is a badaѕѕ. On the other hand, he knows a good operative gets lost in a crowd of one, so ’87* Fifth Avenue, ’87 Caprice, ’92 LeSabre—cars seemingly chosen as ordinary average anonymous old-guy cars.
*The Chrysler is said to be an ’88, but either it’s not or the Foley people didn’t know or care, because it repeatedly starts up like an ’87 (last year of the large-frame Chrysler starter) and not an ’88 (first year of the Nippondenso starter).
Well, for a car with so many unkind statements and some kind ones too, one realizes how much in a way you all liked these cars. You are interested enough to comment about them. Regarding the ad for the introductory model in 1977, I was working at Chrysler’s New York Distribution Office in Tappan, NY at the time. New York dealers placed their orders for loaded up M models. Mr. Recchia, the head of the introductory project in Detroit, had all of the orders changed from loaded up to stripped down! The ad that you posted explains why. The goal was to show the public that they could buy an inexpensive luxury automobile. New York Metro dealers were not pleased. The dealers knew their clientele, Loaded luxury in a smaller size would be a hit for them. So, on new model announcement day, after many production delays, those plain jane “luxury” models were displayed for the buying public. Then the dealers ordered cars that would sell. Incidentally, I drove a 1979 Le Baron wagon and loved it.
I vividly remember the intro of the 77 LeBaron. I found the sedan kind of “meh”, but was convinced that the coupe was going to be a major hit. I loved its lines, a great mix of formal and sporty, and the interiors were really nicely done. Alas, Chrysler had soured so many people by their quality that they sold decently, but they were no blockbuster.
I remember driving a rental Diplomat sedan with the 318. I recall really liking the car, and recall that it had more scoot than was normal for the era.
Fair enough, I can believe the Diplomat you drove was plenty scooty—when in perfect tune and once fully warmed up and if the stars lined up and the deities all smiled.
Me, I remember reading a Car & Driver piece—Pat Bedard’s, I’m pretty sure—wherein he described renting a car “when Avis was foisting Plymouth Volarés on everyone who didn’t threaten to take their business to Florsheim”. During his use of the rental car in heavy traffic, he said, “I tipped into the 2-barrel carburetor at just the right moment and the 318, in the manner of cars of its day, gave a gasp and died”, which the driver behind him didn’t realise. Bedard described the bumper as something like “no more misshapen or unevenly mounted than it had been from the factory”. I can’t find the piece online, unfortunately; I’d like to read it again. It seemed an accurate summary of that era’s cars’ driveability and quality characteristics, backed up by the likes of this jawdropper of a test of a thoroughly faulty new ’79 Chrysler:
Only IF Chrysler brought this design to the fold in 1977, then it would be a formidable competitor to the same era Cadillac Seville since the Plymouth Volare’ look is no longer that obvious. Lincoln Versailles not so much since the Ford Granada lineage is still obviously noticeable even though the rear roof portion was redesigned.
I too love these cars. No idea why. Especially the base spec ones and the high-performance variants.
Some of the 80s movies feature them as patrol cars, Planes, Trains and Automobiles comes to mind. The original Home Alone, too. John Hughes must’ve liked them, too!
I wish we got more of the base spec 2 door models like Mexico had. Those were cool!
Im looking for some parts for my 80 labaron,fenders hoods doors trunk lids and especially a stearing colom,i need a colom bad,thnx
You can use a column from a Chrysler Fifth Avenue, considering how many were sold from1982-89 they should be relatively easy to find, also a Volare/Aspen/Mirada/Cordoba will also work.
The R-body cars’ launch was not a ‘complete disaster’
They had some quality issues due to rushed/underfunded development, but they actually sold well until the 2nd energy crisis hit six months later.
Also the following year GM made things more difficult with better styling for their already-dominant full size cars, and Ford had a fresh downsized LTD/Marquis
Iaccoca personally didn’t like the R-body cars either, when they gave him a 1979 New Yorker as his company car, he rejected it as ‘the entirely wrong size of car’ from they ought to be making, he wanted to switch to mostly FWD anyway, and the R-bodies were seen as in the way of progress
In hindsight (downsized) full-size American cars made a big comeback by the mid-80’s, and with GM’s overly-shrunk 1985/86 models there might have been a BIG profit opportunity missed by Chrysler for not maintaining a presence in the R-body’s segment. Ford made a fortune with the Crown Vic for years, and there was nothing particularly special about it.
And Chrysler returned to the market with full size LH cars later anyway
But they did have limited development funds, and it’s hard to criticize their decision to make minivans instead- that was a home run.