Curbside Classic: 1980 Plymouth Caravelle – T-Topped Canadian Special

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(first posted 1/22/2015)   Today’s find is another example of how well vehicles stay preserved here on Vancouver Island, even if there’s no real effort on the part of the owner to preserve them. This classic 1980 Plymouth Caravelle two-door coupe, adorned with a pair of ‘hot-for-the-era’ glass T-tops, should technically be extinct, but still it holds on, 35 years later, looking for one more chance.


I have come across a few of these examples in my life, certainly not with any regularity, but I do remember them. These restyled-for-1980 models hide their Aspen/Volare lineage pretty well compared with the ’78-’79 offerings that retained the F-body styling and looked the part of the upscale cousin. They actually remind me a lot of the new-for-1980 Ford Thunderbird riding its Fox body platform, which arrived two years earlier with the Fairmont/Zephyr. Very similar roof lines, both fashioned with glorious padded vinyl, paired up with bold, straight edges. It must be said that crisp lines were what so many cars were about in the early ’80s.


1978 Plymouth Caravelle (Google Images)


1978 Plymouth Caravelle (Google Images)


The Plymouth Caravelle was a Canadian-only model that appeared in 1978, riding the new-for-1977 Chrysler M-body platform, which the same model year Dodge Diplomat and Chrysler LeBaron made their debuts on. These upscale Aspen/Volare cousins appeared in four door sedan and station wagon form in addition to the two door models, powered by the standard 225 slant six or 318 V8 engines. The quad headlight and grille design distinguished these from the Aspen/Volare offerings though they were strikingly similar otherwise.


In 1980, the M-bodies received a facelift with much straighter lines and a new body style that would carry through to 1989, with a minor update in 1984 and a couple nameplate changes. It would become a popular line of cars during the decade, with the Chrysler Fifth Avenue selling in good numbers and significant unit sales of the Dodge Diplomat to fleet duty, including taxis and police cruisers.


1985 Plymouth Caravelle (Google Images)


In Canada, the Caravelle would be an option available at Plymouth dealerships only, and would go through changes with the rest of the M-body line, including two-door models like today’s special, disappearing after 1981 along with the wagons. The Caravelle nameplate would become a front-wheel driver with its shift to the stretched K-platform alongside the Dodge 600 & Chrysler E-Class for 1983, still as a Canadian-only model, until 1985, when it would be sold in the US along with the 600. After the 1988 model year, it was discontinued.


I spotted this particular example off the side of the Trans Canada in Chemainus, British Columbia while on a routine Sunday morning grocery shopping trip. It is the first example I have ever seen with T-tops, and given the short production life of the 1980-81 two-door models and the fact that it’s also a Caravelle, it was already a pretty rare bird when it was new, and carried a price tag significantly higher than the current $1,000 asking price. I am not certain if I have ever seen production numbers on the Caravelles of this era, but I don’t expect there were that many built.


It’s in original condition, though I expect it has changed hands a few times in its life. The significant amount of moisture dripping from the glass is obviously a side effect of the advertised leaking T-tops over the front bucket seats. I would expect that the interior would need a significant overhaul, as the kind of leakage into this car to cause that kind of condensation would easily exceed the capabilities of the towel, obviously a drip cloth, that is folded neatly on the driver’s seat.


Aside from the leak, which is a significant issue on its own, the interior looks to be pretty good for 35 years of age. It’s no surprise I recall that floor shifter out of the closely related 1980-83 Mirada/Cordoba twins, though the Caravelle did not share the same dash or gauges. The moisture made it hard to get a look inside through most of the windows; even the advertisement was blurred, though I made out enough of the details to share.


Given the options package of this beige two-door, I would expect to find the venerable 318 (5.2L) V8 under the hood instead of the standard slant six, but strangely, this piece of information was left off the advertisement. With either engine option, however, it is powered by horsepower figures of just a buck-twenty or less. This period of time isn’t called the ‘Malaise-era’ for fun; it was a time of emission reduction components, fuel efficiency and ‘low-po’ American V8s, and the 318 in 1980 was no exception. It’s certainly not going to be a turn-key hot rod for the next owner, to say the least.

Its overall condition would dictate that its advertised 102,000 original km is probably legitimate, though it has likely sat unappreciated in the corner of someone’s property for long periods of its later life. It’s likely the leftover of someone who purchased it new and held on to it for the majority of its 35 years on the road, though exactly how long I can’t guess. I wouldn’t doubt that it ‘starts and runs fine’ given the known reliability and durability of those Chrysler powerplants from that time, especially once you give it the noted spark plug replacement it seems to need.


Rust has chewed its way through a lower corner with a little bit emerging elsewhere, which probably will lessen the car’s appeal to someone taking this ride home for renovation inside of dry garage–which is where this car should have spent more of its old age instead of being subject to the full offerings of the long, rainy West Coast winters. That interior will never be the same without some real invasive help at the very least.

That said, I’ll bet that with a real good scrubbing the exterior could look better than it currently does, and I doubt it would be too hard to find a matching hubcap somewhere out there if keeping it original is the name of the game. In all honesty, that V8 under the hood might be appealing to a younger driver looking for his first ‘unique’ ride. After all, many Malaise-era vehicles can easily have a cheap dual exhaust system tacked on in order to at least make the vehicle sound aggressive, since in stock form they cannot really move very aggressively.

A set of compatible rims, perhaps a little less “un-cool” than those wire hub caps, would likely complete such a make over, though I am convinced that it could end up as the project that one starts and never finishes before it goes to the crusher for good. Seeing regular service on the streets might be a stretch, given what it would take to make this one right again.


However, the uniqueness of this particular machine, available for what I expect would be a small fan of hundreds, made it fully worthy of a story. After all, just how many T-topped 1980-81 Canadian-only Plymouth Caravelle coupes are still out there? Certainly one of a few in its day, I expect this is now one of the last.

Will it get one more chance?