(first posted 6/28/2013) As people age, many resort to cosmetic surgery as a way to boost their self confidence and better compete against younger, more attractive, and more exciting people. Cars are the same way. As they age they become less competitive against newer and more advanced models. This was certainly the case with the Chrysler Cordoba. Introduced in 1975, it initially sold well. However, within a few years sales suffered as a result of younger, trimmer, and more efficient cars from competitors. Something needed to be done, and Chrysler sent the Cordoba under the knife for 1980.
The result was a new Cordoba, some 5 inches shorter, 4.5 inches narrower, and as much as 700 pounds lighter. With more self-confidence, the Cordoba held its head higher, gaining an inch in height. The 1980 Cordoba was also more fuel efficient, as a result of its weight loss surgery and new standard Slant Six. Power was another story. The standard 225 cu in (3.7L) I6 made a measly 85 horsepower, while the optional 318 cu in (5.2L) V8 made a still pitiful 120 horses.
The freshened Cordoba was an attractive car. Its clean, angular styling embraced the look of the early ’80s. Though plainer and less distinctive than the related Imperial, the Cordoba’s nip-tuck was a success, at least in the looks department. Other downsized personal luxury coupes didn’t fare quite as well. As JPCavanaugh pointed out in his (recent CC), the 1980 Lincoln Mark VI wasn’t as lucky with its botched cosmetic procedures.
But plastic surgery can be a slippery slope. After only one year, the Cordoba went back under the knife, this time for a rhinoplasty.
Enter the 1981 Cordoba LS. As the de facto replacement for the previous generation’s 300 model, the LS’s most obvious difference from other Cordobas was its crosshair grille and more aerodynamic front clip à la Dodge Mirada. Its familiar red, white, and blue logo now encircled the letters “LS” instead of “300”.
As the “sporty” and entry-level Cordoba, LS models featured less exterior chrome and fewer standard features. Sorry but the “Fine Corinthian Leather” was gonna cost you extra.
On the inside, the LS featured high-back bucket seats in standard vinyl. Cloth and leather choices were offered, as was a center cushion and armrest that allowed for a sixth passenger. For 1981, LS interior colors were naturally blue, red, or white with either blue or red accents. Our featured CC, or “Un-Curbside Classic” I should say, has the latter color scheme in all-vinyl without the optional center seat.
Cordoba LS buyers could personalize their car with a wide assortment of roof options. Our car here has my favorite, the simulated, yet convincing full-cabriolet roof. Body-color steel roofs were standard, and could be had with either a power sunroof or T-bar with removable panels. A non-padded vinyl landau roof was also an option. Regular Cordoba buyers were greeted with even more roof choices.
The full-cabriolet roof truly completes the look of this car. The Cordoba’s standard vinyl landau roof looks too Olds Toronado-ish to me. Although I prefer the chrome waterfall grille on regular Cordobas, I really like the LS’s aero nose. It looks far more distinctive. Too bad Chrysler didn’t offer the two together.
The fact that I’ve never seen a Cordoba LS makes this car all the more intriguing. I actually came across this “Graphic Red” beauty not as a Curbside, but on eBay a few years back (either 2010 or 2011), and have had the pictures saved on my Flickr ever since. I’m hopeful that its new loving owner is out there and reading this piece on the true gem they purchased.
One detail I dislike is the dashboard design. Shared with the Mirada, Imperial, and the R-bodies, it’s always looked a bit too tall and protruding for my tastes. It almost looks upside down as it sticks out further at the top rather than the bottom. Besides that one quibble, I love everything else about the design of this car.
Although cosmetic surgery can do wonders, its results are often poorly received by others. Even with all its cosmetic enhancements, buyers continued turning their backs on the Cordoba. Its sales steadily declined from over 40,000 in 1980, to under 14,000 in 1983. Even 1980’s sales were only a fraction of the 160,000-plus Cordobas sold in 1976. The large coupe market was already shrinking by this time, and Chrysler’s LeBaron coupe could be comparably equipped at a smaller price. Chrysler was moving to smaller, more efficient front-wheel drive vehicles, and the Cordoba was quietly dropped after 1983.
Though never directly replaced, an equally breathtaking front-wheel drive LeBaron coupe and convertible arrived in 1987, featuring a wedge-shaped nose reminiscent of the Cordoba LS.
Nice,it suits the vinyl roof.Too many vinyl roofs look like a bad wig especially the half roof monstrosity.An under rated and forgotten car
I like this generation Cordoba just about as much as I do a good R-body, which is a lot.
Of the Cordoba / Mirada twins, I find the Cordoba (non LS) to be much more attractive due largely in part to the nose job on the Mirada. I cannot imagine driving one of these that was saddled with the slant six. Painful.
Since you’ve covered this, I have to say the day I found the ’81 Newport that was covered a few weeks ago, I found an ’80ish Cordoba driving down the street not even two blocks away. That afternoon, I found a Mirada parked in somebody’s front yard.
I’ve only seen two such Cordoba’s in quite some time.
Here’s the Mirada. It looks like it could be sedentary.
That’s a great shot of the Cordoba in action. Looks like it’s a getaway scene from a movie!
It already lost the hub cap!
I was never a big fan of any of the early 80s cars from a styling perspective but I remember that I thought this model Cordoba was an attractive design compared with what Ford and GM were selling. It was a sleek yet nicely chiseled – a modern “fill the box” design that one can tell has the influence of Ellwood Engel – the charcoal grey picture above clearly shows this.
But how it was put together was another matter – the few I remember riding in had that typical 70/80s Chrysler build quality – they felt very cheap/loose – like you were always wondering what was going to fall off……
Engel had little if anything to do with the design of J car. Engel was shown the door at Chrysler shortly after the 1974 models debuted. Rather unceremoniously in fact, and as unpleasant as he left Ford 13 years before. Chrysler’s chief stylist from 1974-1980 was Richard Macadam, assisted by Steven Bollinger who was the lead designer of these cars. Most of the designs grew out of concept from Bob Marcks who developed the 76 Turbine car that highly influenced the development of the Y variant Imperial. It has been mentioned often on this site in the past, but the Cordoba was originally going to be a Plymouth, then bumped to a Chrysler at the last minute (within 6 months of introduction) as a profitability ploy. The 1981 Imperial was also developed as a lesser model going to be either another Chrysler variant or perhaps a Plymouth (since they did not have a coupe of this kind at the time), but was bumped up to flagship status by Iacocca.
The J/Y cars were built in Windsor Canada and were generally thought of as among the better built cars coming from Chrysler at the time. Not to say that they were exceptionally so, but seemingly better. One of the first things that Iacocca did after becoming Chairman was tighten up on quality. I realize that my Imperial was built to a different standard, but 32 years and nearly 90K later that car is tight as a drum.
My biggest complaint with the J’s and rectified by the Imperial, was the use of the use of the large single beam headlights. The Cordoba/Magnum went to the then-fashionable quad sealed beams for 1978 that were prominent features on most higher line cars of the day. The use of the dual beam headlights seemed to be a step back of sorts, especially given the minimal cost differentiation and the ability to drop the hood line.
You can see the pic below of the Imperial with the headlight doors open and get a mental idea of what a J coupe would look with the quads. The Imperial had a more prominent and sharper front end, but the effect would have been similar. Since these cars would have been too upmarket to be considered economy cars and the R bodies had quads as did a lot of other Chrysler product, it was always somewhat of a mystery to me.
The biggest issue with the dual headlights isn’t so much that quads would have looked better (which is true). It’s the location of the turn signals right next to the inside of the lights, giving the car a cross-eyed look.
The turn signals should have been put somewhere completely away from the headlights, the best location probably being in the bumper.
They had nowhere to go but up-My parents had a ’78 LeBaron Medallion Coupe that had to be the most abysmally constructed product of any kind, never mind automobile. Subsequent research showed it to be assembled in the St. Louis plant.
The decision to make the Cordoba a Chrysler rather than a Plymouth (then giving Dodge a version on top of it) would seem to have been the beginning of the end for Plymouth. Less than five years later, Iacocca showed up and really started tightening things up, essentially leaving Plymouth to die on the vine. By the time the final ‘Plymouth dedicated’ vehicle arrived, the niche-only, halo vehicle Prowler, it was way too late. If not for the wildly successful minivan, of which Chrysler would be able to sell every one they built for years, Plymouth likely would have been gone much sooner.
Ironically, if the much more successful PT Cruiser had been released as a Plymouth, it might have had the desired effect of rescuing the once iconic brand. But, by then, it was just way too late as Plymouth had ceased to exist the very year the PT Cruiser was released.
Speaking of which, has there been a CC on the PT Cruiser? I don’t recall there ever being one, and it would seem to be a natural selection for the site.
I always thought that the “beginning of the end” for Plymouth was in 1960, when Chrysler Corporation took the Plymouth franchise away from Dodge dealers but gave them the full-size Dart instead. That Dart was a Plymouth in different clothing. It helped Dodge set a sales record, but set up an in-house competitor for Plymouth. Dodge moved downmarket in the 1960s and then Chrysler did in the 1970s…there was simply no room left for Plymouth.
I remember the buff books talking about the PT concept as the “Plymouth Pronto” before it was released. I seem to remember making the model a Chrysler came rather late in the game. Always seemed to me to be a mis-match (a bit too small and downmarket) for Chrysler.
I agree a CC on the PT would be fitting. Since I started following cars closely in the late ’90s, I can’t remember a vehicle that generated so much buzz. Will never forget visiting a dealer shortly after launch — every single one on the lot had a “Sold” tag hanging from the rear-view mirror. What stood out to me most was how small they actually were in person. Going from the pics in the mags leading up to the launch I thought it would be significantly bigger.
Thanks Craig, I was aware Engel left Chrysler in 74, but I think his influence lived on in the designers that worked for him there, as we continued to see “fill the box” designs, all the way thru the last rear drive Grand Furies.
I think Engel was one of our most talented 20th century stylists….in my view his designs always had “elegance”….
While I have seen just about every roof style chrysler iffered on these things, the one I have never seen was just the plain old painted steel roof(in the wild that is). I like the skinny roof line going back into the wide(ish) C pillars on these cars and think that it could up to being bald very well. If I had maybe just a little more respect for chrysler company products I would look for a rough 81 with the fine corinthian guts (in red or white) strip the fakery off the top and paint it in the featured cars colors, that is if I had a little more respect.
I. Love. These. Cars. Stylistically, I see this as the most successful downsizing ever done. The car lost quite a bit of bulk and weight, but was still well proportioned and attractive. Admittedly, it was a less thorough downsizing than some others, still using a version of the Mopar B body platform.
I agree with you that the dash design is not optimal. It was the one single feature of these cars that I just didn’t care for.
I have always wondered what might have happened had Chrysler kept this platform going. The poor thing was introduced into a perfect storm of 1) a disastrous recession, 2) skyrocketing fuel prices and 3) Chrysler on the verge of going the way of Studebaker. It is amazing that the thing sold as well as it did. Then, they cancelled it just as all three conditions began to subside. The 83 Thunderbird sold quite well, as did the Cutlass Supreme. I think this thing still had some life in it when they pulled the plug.
Well in a sense they kept the platform going (F, M body), just not this variant.
The Diplomat /5th Avenue was also on the chopping block, as were many largish RWD cars back in this time. The sudden rebound in sales, I think had to do with the fact they were 4-doors, thus having wider appeal. The T-Bird sold well because it had a fresh looked that coupe buyers found appealing. It was government/fleet sales that propped up the M-body, the 5th Avenues were just high profit icing on the cake.
The sales bump that the M cars (mostly the Fifth Avenues) enjoyed in the mid 1980s mostly had to due with circumstances that came together at the time that were almost accidental. Gas prices had dropped dramatically by that time, the economy had stabilized, and the automakers had all introduced broad lines of smaller FWD vehicles. So it was one of those things that lived on unexpectedly due to latent popularity. Diplomat/Fury production was mostly fleet combined with a decent Fifth Avenue sales kept the M going but by 1989 even fleet sales dwindled and the models were retired. Chrysler pretty much abandoned police sales at that point, at least until the LX cars came out.
Almost abandoned, I’ve seen a police package “cab forward” Intrepid or 2 believe it or not. But they are rare.
Were the brakes on fire, by any chance?
According to Allpar:
The police Intrepids were 02-03 models, by then the LX cars were already being worked on as RWD vehicles so I am sure the design life of those vehicles was short. The Chargers seem to be all over the place here now quickly replacing the Impalas. With the increasing urbanization of America, it is clear that there are two definitive police cars needs, highway pursuits and city cars. I can only imagine how tough it would be for a NYC cop to haul a Crown Vic around doing police work, especially detective type work that requires being out of the travel lanes. Taxi cabs generally stay in the defined driving areas and usually only pull to curbs which is easier than off road urban geography.
Notably, Chrysler offered a police Jeep Cherokee for quite a while. I have seen a couple…4.0 six, 4WD, auto on the column on older models, no tinted glass, and certified speedometer.
It was probably the quickest Chrysler police vehicle built between 1978 (440 Fury) and 2006 (Charger).
Although declining sales certainly played a large part in the decision-making, part of the reason why the J/Y cars were cancelled was due to Chrysler’s need to find a home for the new T115 minivans. Windsor was the only plant still operating at the time with the capacity for the project. Chrysler considered building the van at Fenton #2 (St Louis), but the M cars were moved to the AMC plant in Kenosha and Fenton was idled. It turned out to be prescient as the minivans as we all know were wildly popular and Windsor was under capacity at the time. Fenton built K car coupes until they picked up minivan production in the 1990s until it was closed in 2008.
Since the J/Y cars were closely related to the M cars, it was practically feasible to continue production in Kenosha who was actually building the cars more cheaply (from a fixed cost angle) than Chrysler did in St. Louis. However by 1983 sales of the J/Y were so low and with Chrysler’s total commitment to FWD, it probably wasn’t worth it.
It is my opinion, of course, that between the financial woes of the times, coupled with Chrysler’s reimaging as a FWD producer doomed these cars as much as changing tastes. Die hard lovers of traditional RWD coupes probably drifted to other makes (the GM cars were booming all the way up to the Eldorado which blew away the Mark VI and Imperial in sales) which Chrysler attracted people with the K car offerings. While Chrysler recovered from the nadir of 1980, they never have sold the volume they once did in the early 1970s.
Your understanding matches up with what I have read, specifically that Iacocca had no illusions about Chrysler’s abilities at that point. He saw no way to remain a full-line company, and saw it as his job to target a few segments where they could do well. This segment was not one of those. The cars were mostly done when he came aboard, so there was no reason to kill them. However, he knew that the L and K platforms were where Chrysler had to make its stand, and there was never any serious consideration given to keeping this platform going. Hindsight says that these (and also the R body) might have done fairly well and made the company some cash when “traditional” full-sized cars had their last fling during the Reagan administration. The Fifth Avenue catered to Chrysler loyalists, and was only around probably to go along with the fleet business that the platform brought. I remain convinced that the R body New Yorker would have done even better in those years. Also, with Chrysler’s good CAFE numbers due to all of the L and K cars going out the door, they may have been able to stick the 360 back into these for some power, which would have been a real competitive advantage around 1985-87. Alas, I am daydreaming.
I’ve also wondered what would have happened if Chrysler had stuck with these cars and the R-bodies until the market really began recovering in late 1983.
The Cordoba and Mirada were more attractive than even the GM coupes (particularly the Monte Carlo and Grand Prix) from these years, and blew away the awful 1980-82 Ford Thunderbird and Mercury Cougar in the looks department.
The versions with the “opera” window look best to me. It gives these cars a lighter look. Considering how strapped for cash Chrysler Corporation was when these were developed, I’m impressed with the differentiation of the front end between the “standard” Cordoba and the Mirada.
On the first day of school in September 1979, the son of the local Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth dealer brought a brochure for the 1980 Mirada to school. I thought it was a beautiful car.
Unfortunately, by 1980, the economy was tanking and Chrysler’s reputation in the market was poison. I remember people saying that they didn’t want to buy a car from a company that could “go out of business soon.”
A friend loves these cars, but pointed out to me that the upper plastic door panel is ALWAYS cracked on these cars. I believe I have seen one car – a pristine, single-owner 1980 Mirada from western Pennsylvania – without a cracked panel. My friend told me that a fellow Chrysler club enthusiast was excited to find a box of new-old-stock panels…but when he opened it up, he discovered that the panels were already cracked!
Perhaps that was one of the big differences between the regular Js and the Y Imperial. My 81 Imperial has perfect door panels and most Imperials that I have seen in person and in pictures have clean door panels except for the pins in the door pulls coming out.
The material in my car is a heavy thick vinyl like material that covers all of the door except for the leather in the middle under the door pull. It is quite apparent that Chrysler, probably at the insistence of Iacocca, that they spared no expense in trimming the Imperial. Everything about the interior of the car, except for the clear plastic overlay for the digital dash (which was quite large for the time) is first rate.
By comparison, my 83 Eldorado Biarritz has a nearly flawless interior, but the door panels seem more delicate compared to the Imperial.
Good question, it could had been interesting to see how the Cordoba/Mirada would had fared longer against the 1983-88 “Aerobird”/Cougar?
Strange then Chrysler didn’t taught of using the Cordoba monicker for what became the LeBaron coupe instead of applying the LeBaron nameplate to various K-car versions?
There needs to be some clarity here on the Diplomat, Fury and Fifth Avenue. It’s well documented in Mark Cranswick book, “The Cars of American Motors” that Chrysler in the mid 1980’s had manufacturing capacity problems. The Fury, Diplomat and Fifth Avenue were slated to be killed in 1985 by product planning but by 1985, they were Chrysler most profitable autos. Since they were scheduled to be killed, they had to find a new place to build them. This is how AMC entered the picture. In the Fall of 1986 AMC began production of The 1987 Diplomat, Fury and Fifth Avenue. It wasn’t until Spring of 1987 that Chrysler made the public offering to buy AMC . By working a deal with AMC to build these cars in Kenosha, Chrysler got the ability to keep their most profitable cars going while AMC was able to keep their factory working. Renault sales had collapsed by 1986, nobody was buying them and that’s all AMC had in Wisconsin. AMC Eagle were built in Canada and Jeeps in Ohio.
In the looks department, one of the few 80’s cars that was good looking back then and has held up well over three decades. I’d enjoy finding a LS or a Mirada (yeah, I like the Cord pastiche grille) with bucket seats, floor shifter, and no vinyl top of any kind. Put on a nice set of wheels and that’d be a beautiful Friday night cruise car.
While nice, it was totally blown out of the water by the later LeBaron coupe; which was one of the 80’s best looking cars.
Yes, I too would love to find a Cordoba LS – sort of a latter day Three Hundred- just like the featured car. Or , a Mirada, preferably also red/white. As others have shared, I too like the body style and how it is trimmed, along with the interior. Have shared in the past I did own a loaded red/white 1980 Mirada from about 1985-87. Loved it, was a great car; comfortable in a plush way with the white leather interior. The 318 was smooth with adequate power; a car with hindsight I wish I’d never gotten rid of as I had no problems at all with it.
Was when they were new and still a huge fan of the 1981-83 Imperial, also!
Loving those rims with the “wider whites.” And the torsion bars go the right way and everything.
If you mean “right way” as in North-South, you are mistaken. These use the same transverse torsion bar as the F-M body.
Really? I’ll take your word for it. I thought (as did JPC, above?) that these shared their platform with the ’79 NYer, which was a descendent of the old B-body. They seem wider than the Volare-based LeBaron/Diplomat.
I keep forgetting this fact, but Roger is correct. The R body was the revised B, while this shared most of its innards with the F/M. These always felt more like Rs than like F/M cars to me, thus the mental confusion.
One thing I was never clear on was the dash. They appear identical to the R-Body, yet I can’t help but feel the R-Body is wider. It must be. A Coronet is surely wider than a Volare…. or is it? I simply can’t believe that they tooled up 2 nearly identical dashes differing only in a couple of inches. Does anybody have the scoop on this?
Roger, looking at some internet pics, it appears that the instrument panel-portion may have been identical, and the center radio/heat stack was quite close, but that the big difference in width was in the glove box area in front of the passenger. The larger car turned the a/c vents horizontal and the glove box door was wider, while the Cordoba turned the a/c vents vertical and used a narrower glovebox door. This probably cut development costs quite a bit, with the 1980 Cordoba using a slightly cut-down version of the 1979 R body dash.
Gad, why do I care so much about this? Here is a combined shot – an R body St. Regis dash is on top and the J body Cordoba dash on the bottom.
Oops, I guess they are more different than I remember.
They are more different than I remember, too. It looks like the instrument cluster was a direct swap, though.
The J/Y cars are based off the original architecture of the F body Volare/Aspen which, IMO non withstanding the teething problems, was pretty good from an engineering standpoint.
In Mopar circles the cars are usually grouped together as F/M/J for simplicity. At least on my Imperial (ostensibly known as a Y body) is every bit one of these cars underneath.
The 75-79 Cordoba/Magnum/Charger was B body based.
This confirms what an impressive styling job was done on these when even knowledgeable Mopar people mistake the car for being on the body that was a size up from what this car was. I never knew until recently that these cars were on the smaller F/M platform.
I look at the Imperial the same way I look at the 76-79 Seville. I have never driven a J Cordoba/Mirada so I do not have a first hand comparison, but in addition to the sheet metal, they isolated the sub frame pretty well plus the additional sound deadeners and such. I have driven plenty of X body RWD GM cars (even plush ones like a top of the line Omega), and the difference is dramatic. Some of it, of course, had to do with the fact that the Imperial was over 500 lbs. heavier than the J cars. The Imperial feels like a tank. My 76 Seville felt the same way and the difference between it and a Nova was even more dramatic the Seville having nearly 1,000 lbs. on the Nova.
Someday maybe I will get a Lincoln Mark V. I do not dislike the Mark VI as much as most, but I think the proportions of the Mark V are better. But these three cars are the pinnacle of old fashioned coupe design. There is no question that they are almost exclusively subjective (something that Don Davis @ C&D could never seem to understand about cars) but are dramatic in a artful and historical design way that is no longer practiced today (or really even could be for that matter). Between the Eldorado, Imperial, and a Mark V, I would be hard pressed to prefer one over the other. I mean where are you going to get a car with fender louvers (Mark), Cartier crystals (Imperial), and a stainless steel roof cap (Biarritz)?
I had an ’80 Cordoba almost identical to the one in the picture, it had the transverse torsion bars like the F and M body cars. The main thing I liked about those bars was that it made it really easy to do a starter replacement since you didn’t have to wiggle it around the other type of torsion bar. Having said that, I never felt that set up handled as well as the earlier type.
The Cordoba I had was a fine looking car but it rusted in ways I never saw another Cordoba rust and didn’t seem to have the same will to live as the ’67 Sport Fury it had to replace. The smog Carter BBD was an insanely finicky carb. The reliability over all was way down compared to my earlier Mopars. I ended up replacing it with a LeBaron coupe like the one in the picture. It went about 200k before I regrettably gave it to my nephew who didn’t quite appreciate it.
I prefer the earlier version of the Cordoba. These have too many straight lines and angles. They are Lincolnesque without the “cost status” of a Lincoln.
Definitely one of those cars that looks better in retrospect. At the time, compared to the first Cordoba, it seemed like a definite shrink and downgrade, like the change from the 77 Grand Prix to the 78. The engine power loss didn’t help either.
I am sure others have noticed, and it isn’t much of a mental jump, but had Chrysler had the money at the time (and they ultimately did but with another car during this car’s lifespan) these cars would have made very nice looking convertibles. Some “convertible top” cars look obviously fake, but those two pics above look they could pass for real.
How do Americans manage to get 85 hp out of a 3.7 litre engine.
My God!!!!!! What is going on over there.
Never mind the Green Lobby trying to make you drive more efficent cars.
Your Engineers should be out up against a wall….For achieveing such poor results.
A few years ago fiat sold a car with a 1.4 litre engine and 100 HP!!!!! Imagine that..What PROPER Automotive Engineers can do..
I can’t help but feel that ALL that Petrol that has been WASTED in American Engines over the decades…What a waste…I mean C’Mon on.
I don’t think anyone was getting 100 hp out of 1.4 liters in a street car in 1980. American engineers were working their way through a steep learning curve, first having to design for emissions regulations then for fuel economy regulations, all the while trying to keep the things even moderately drivable. It was the advent of reliable electronic engine management systems and fuel injection that finally got the engineers out of the woods.
Seeing as I was a Detroit engineer during this time I should feel slighted but I digress…
Others have pointed out valid points, but also that, in the United States, most cars are sold with automatic transmissions and smaller high revving engines are difficult to engineer for good drivability characteristics with an automatic especially at that time.
Second, dropping a 1.4hp I-4 in a Volaré would probably shorten its life to the point that most of them would be replaced under factory warranty. The engine, even though it might have a few more ponies than the Slant Six, makes less torque. The engine would be stressed, and likely would suffer from cooling problems.
The Slant Six was placed in these cars primarily due to CAFE requirements as well as the public interest in economy. 318 and even 360 (at least initially) could be ordered by those that so desired (and were most of these cars were V8s). A 318 Cordoba/Mirada was not a fast car, but not slow either and quite pleasant in most driving situations. Most European cars in the US sold at the time were pedestrian models as well (often sold for economy reasons as well as well as typically being more expensive) and were equally if not more slow.
Part of the reason why European cars are smaller are obviously fuel prices but also spatial reasons. Europe is much more dense than the US and space is a premium. In the US, outside of the major metropolitan areas, is less of a problem. Even today, in 2013, that is still a fact and why the non luxury European and Asian brands have grown in the last 30 years both in size and performance.
Of course the big reason was time constraints, CAFE was passed in 1975 and came into effect in 1978 with increasing requirements, not to mention the additional emissions and safety regulations. Some things like emissions and safety can be done quicker, usually during a planned model change, but full engine programs take 3-5 years to execute.
All of that was discussed in my piece I wrote in May about GMs decision to go FWD with the initial X cars. Despite the various problems that emerged from the initial X cars, that process was probably the biggest commitment of change undertaken by an automotive company ever in history and probably did more to bring the American public to accept space efficient FWD transverse engine design than most people would willingly give credit.
Lastly, some of it is cultural. Even today in 2013 as cars world wide are becoming increasingly the same, there is a big difference between the fulcrum of popularity in the US and in most of the world. Here, trucks have replaced the big ‘car’ for many people and larger vehicles are as popular as smaller cars. If you add up sales of non commercial trucks, and larger passenger cars they would constitute about 2/3 of vehicle sales in the US.
A-It was 30 years ago
B-It was before they adopted things like fuel injection
C-Primitive emission controls were largely responsible.
It’s not like federalized euro cars were powerhouses in that period.
D-They still had a modicum of torque
E-Before the smog era, Slant Sixes had the reputation as the performance king
of the domestic sixes. Chrysler actually marketed “Hyper-Pak” performance
parts that turned these into terrors.
F-Please give me your address so I have the original Slant Six engineers pay
you a visit regarding the “up against a wall ” comment.
1973 VW Golf Mark 1.
1.3 litre engine 59 BHP..
So VW could do it…with less The 1.6 came with 74 Hp.
So yes..Never has So much Ccs produced so few horsepowers.
I could have gona and chosen Alfa Romeo from the period…They would BLOW your socks off with what hp they could get out of small engines..
And before you crack on about Reliability…How reliable were American made cars???
Not very If you read some enteries on here..
So, I’m afraid I ‘ll stick to my guns vis-a vis automotive engineers.
It’s no wonder Opel does the Engines for GM..And Ford makes it’s Engines in Britain.
Have you ever heard of a 6 letter word that begins with “T” ?
As far as reliability goes, a little googling on Slant Sixes should prove enlightening.
Detroit may have commited many sins, but at least until the mid 70s, with some notable exceptions, unreliability, at least of powertrains, wasn’t one of them.
BTW, I’m in the market for one of those mid-70s Alfasuds. Someone told me that they were the most reliable and rust-resistant car ever made. Let me know if you can turn me on to one.
The Alfa Guilietta’s 1290 cc four made 90 and 102 hp back in the early sixties. But this is a classic case of apples, oranges and the rotten tomatoes you’re hurling. An Alfa wouldn’t have made a very good taxi in NYC.
And you’re not doing yourself any favors by the tone of your comments.
FWIW, the Fuel Injected 1977 Rabbit (US smog version) made 78 hp from 1588cc. That does show what was possible in terms of performance, efficiency and driveability at the time.
Thank you wanna be Jeremy Clarkson…now go be nice chap and have some warm beer and cold kidney pudding and go away…..
Here’s a Top Gear top tip, Top Gear is in fact a fictional TV show and it would do you good to actually open a book every once in a while a learn something on your own instead of regurgitating crap you hear on TV.
I ain’t Jeremy Clarkson..I like some Us cars for the styling..It’s different than European Cars..
But If you can Only get 85 BHP from a 3.7 litre and 120 Hp from a 5.2..
Then you don’t need to be Isaac Newton to realize that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Efficency is work out over Enegry in.
And those kinda displacements imply a lot of enegry in (petrol) and naff ALL out at the flywheel..
So American cars do well for style..But Nil points for the engines..
Worlds best Engines.
Alfa twin cam.
Bmw in line 6 Cylinder.
And Honda V-tec.
I’ll give you the small block Chevy V8.
AFAIK this engine was used to power an Air raid siren during the Cold war.
Therefore it may have saved some lives had the “big one” gone off.
So from a social reason.It would make the cut.
Oh, and whatever was in the Model T..Also for socio and economic reasons.
By 1982 they managed to get the slant six horsepower up to 90. Quite an accomplishment.
Austin, your distaste for certain cars is perfectly valid, your tone less so. There are plenty of ways to disagree without being a troll. Also, your use of the English language isn’t exactly cricket.
I own one of these — a 1981 Chrysler Cordoba with a 225 cu. in. (3.7 liter) slant 6. Despite its single-barrel carburetor and miles of vacuum hoses, it manages to get along in modern traffic quite well, even with the a/c on full crank. The car has plenty of torque off the line and the wonderful Mopar automatic does a good job of managing what power there is. All in all, a delightful car. Even though mine has only 33,000 on the odometer, it is safe to say that the “leaning tower of power” slant 6 has 100,000s more left in it.
The J cars were about the same size and weight as the RWD X cars from GM and the Granada. I have driven 250 equipped X cars and they weren’t bad so I imagine a such equipped Cordoba would be the same. The R bodies had at least 4-500 lbs on the J’s so it is no wonder a Slant Six Newport would feel sluggish.
You can probably put in a Super Six 2bbl without affecting mileage too much. Slants are much easier to desmog.
Let’s go stand by the freeway. You count Fiats, I’ll count Mopars. Nothing made after 1985 counts. First one to 50 wins.
(OK, stupid thing WON’T post this in the right place. argggg….)
A very handsome car (without the LS grille anyway) that deserved more success. It certainly looks better than Ford’s shrunken personal luxury offering and most of GM’s, but is it not larger?
And isn’t it great to see a car not dragging around an awful bigbutt trunk behind it, unlike today’s new cars!
These were on a 112 inch wb, while the Cutlass Supreme was on a 108 and the 83 TBird was on a 104 inch wheelbase. This car’s wheelbase was identical to that of the 68 LeMans coupe from yesterday.
My uncle had one at the time. It was a Cordoba LS in silver with a red vinyl landau roof and a solid red interior. It also had the turbine wheel covers as I recall. I still remember being about 10 years old and marveling at it’s beauty in the driveway when he’d come to visit.
I have loved this generation Cordoba since I first laid my fourth-grade eyes on it in an announcement ad. My neighborhood had a pretty robust Chrysler dealer and I remember a few on the streets, but they were vastly outnumbered by Monte Carlos, Cutlasses, and GPs. When I got my license my senior year in high school this was my late model dream car, but my resources left me with a ’75 Astre wagon (guaranteed not less than 45% metal!) which was quickly replaced with a ’71 Torino sedan.
There is a 1982 LS slant six with 78,000 miles, white with blue interior and a blue vinyl top with opera windows and original factory wire wheel covers about an hour north of where I live (in the South–hopefully no major rust issues) for $1995 or best offer. I called the guy this morning and he says it runs good and everything works. The only flaw is that there is some rust on the back bumper but replacements are under $100 plus shipping.
I’ve been floating the idea to my wife all day about buying it but so far have not gotten anywhere For some reason I REALLY want this car.
That may be the first Cordoba I’ve ever seen with opera windows rather than the half-vinyl or full-cabriolet roof. Nice, though I’d say the C-pillar windows work even better on the Mirada.
My grandfather had a black one just like this, minus the vinyl top. And my mom had an 80 Mirada CMX that got t-boned by a school bus.
My favorite part about this car is….that deeply raked dash LOL.. I thought that was the coolest thing the first time I saw it. I was very disappointed when I discovered none of these had tachs in them…All those cool oval holes yet nothing interesting to fill them with.
I don’t know much about these cars but I always like them whenever I see pictures, very sharp, attractive cars. Would love to drive one, nice sporty alternative to the Imperial. That cabriolet top fooled me until I read the caption! It’s interesting for me to compare to my ’87 Caprice coupe. These Chryslers seem a lot more modern in the details, actually makes my Caprice seem like a 60’s offering that was updated, so much is old fashioned and conventional(but I like that!). I look at this and the integrated bumpers, side mirrors, armrests, window switches, all of it is modern for the time. Different market I guess.
My FIL had a Mirada dressed up like the Cordoba in the third pix from the top of the post. Like a lot of the cars from that time it had a slant six/TQ powertrain. Again, like so many other people, he was used to big block engines and cars that could get out of their own way. I think he liked the styling and the looks of the car, despised the performance. The company he worked for at the time was a Chrysler supplier, this was a company supplied car. It replaced an absolutely horrible St. Regis, but it really didn’t suit him well. He left the company not too long after receiving the Mirada.
With his own money, he went out and bought a Buick Regal coupe…
Regardless, I’ve always been a fan of these cars, although I’ve had little interaction with them. There’s a spot for one of these in my MM garage…
I desperately wanted one of these back in the day. But I was broke, lived in the wrong continent and 14 years of age.
These were truly beautiful cars. Good mechanicals. Best looking downsized car of the era. Make mine a 360 with the color matched grill and convertible top. Would have made a nice baby Lincoln. So much better looking than the horrid competition form gm and ford. And while the 6 wasent a power house it would outlast just about any engine made. In the 90s my friend had one with a 318 engine. Had well over 200k miles and ran perfect and everything worked. Only bad thing was the fender extentions had started to degrade like they sourced them from gm or something
A close friend of mine bought a 1981 318 Cordoba from the original owner. We went everywhere in that car. It was white with blue leather interior, console with automatic in the floor. After an additional 80,000 miles, he sold it to my brother. We obliterated a large buck with it 10 miles from Panama City Beach, FL, replaced the front plastic and hood, and kept rolling. It didn’t even damage the a/c compressor nor the radiator. My brother sold it to the local ice cram man. The ice cream man freshened up the heads, and 2 years later , I traded him a Jackson guitar for it. I was T boned by a 3/4 ton van that ran a stop sign a year later, and was paid off by the insurance company. All 4 of us only have Good things to say about that Cordoba. It was plush.
I was 15 when these came out in fall of ’79. I immediately liked them, and still do. Nice, crisp lines, not too big and not too small, with nice detailing on the exterior and a really nice interior. Too bad Chrysler didn’t have a proper EFI system for these cars, that would really have made a difference for power and driveabililty.
I always found these cars attractive too, but in 1983, these cars were on the wane, and aero cars were the future. I bought the new ’83 Aero Bird instead. (a slightly used leftover in early 1984). Sadly, affordable personal luxury coupes are gone from this world. My final ‘bird was literally *the final ‘bird*… a ’97. :o(
*not counting the 2002 – 2005*
I keep forgetting about the LS. I still love these. I did not mention last time that I agree Brendan – I found that dash design somehow offputting. I could never put my finger on it, but the way it sloped away at the bottom somehow offended my sense of how dashboards are supposed to look.
I would drive one of these in a heartbeat.
(first posted 6/28/2103)
Glad to know that Curbside Classic website still runs in the 22nd century and beyond.
Even though the original ‘classic’ Cordoba design with the round headlights looked good for its era, it was looking ‘roly poly’ by the early 80s. This was a clean update IMO. Fresh styling was not enough to make it more competitive unfortunately.
As I mentioned with an article Joseph posted, along with some great Cordoba pics he took, I though these would have looked better with quad headlights. As the Olds Cutlass and Buick Regal made the switch to four headlights around this time. And each looked much better for it.
As popular as the Cutlass was around this time, had the Cordoba continued for the ’84 – ’87 model years, Chrysler might very well have gone with your design, Daniel. Nice job.
As I mentioned five year ago, the dual headlights don’t necessarily seem to be the problem; it’s the turn-signals right next to them. A photoshop of the front with the Mirada/Cord grille and duals but the turn-signals in the bumper might bear this out.
I’m not so sure it would look better with quad lamps. Your rendering of them makes the front dangerously close to what was Buick’s 1977 Electra / LeSabre front end, but with glass covers.
I mostly located the turn signal/parking lights below the headlights as I feel it does look cleaner in that location (as on the 1977 Electra / LeSabre).
With the Mirada’s very unique and distinctive Cord-style grille, plus creating other unique styling details, I have no doubt it would have worked well. Chrysler could have ensured the Cordoba had an equally unique grille. Differentiating it from the Buick, and improving upon the Lesabre, in further detailing.
I find the lack of bumper level lighting is one of the cleaner and more attractive design elements of the Mirada/Cordoba front clip.
The acrylic headlight covers are obviously inspired by the St. Regis.
And would be intended for the Mirada, as a popular styling element, and for family resemblance.
The ’81 Imperial, based on the same platform as the Mirada/Cordoba, had the turn signals below the headlights. And possessed a very clean front design.
So, I propose this layout, with the Imperial’s design as proof of concept. 🙂
I can’t say that I dislike the dash design, but I do find it a curious layout for a car made in 1980, as it neither reflects contemporary American car styling themes very well, nor looks any bit “international”. Instead it looks straight out of the late 60s, resembling the dash of the first gen Camaro/Firebird or 71 Mustang/Cougar.
Otherwise I like it, it’s a very nice adaptation of previous themes into a thoroughly crisp and modern shape fit for the 80s, I would take this over the GM G-bodies and boxy fox birds any day, and the tragic part is Chrysler doesn’t get any credit for these. K cars may have saved the company, but those dorky contraptions that ultimately served successors to these don’t hold a candle. These look big, but are actually modestly sized, the wheels are deeply dished with a perfect wide track, the taillight signature is distinctive the roofline has an attractive take on the Thunderbird baskethandle, yet doesn’t look shamefully derivative and every front end design had their merits, the Mirada and LS being my favorites. The LS absolutely should have been called 300 with the crosshair grille motif, seems like a wasted opportunity there.
Oh yeah, when exactly was it that Dodge stole the crosshairs grille design from Chrysler? As a child of the 90s I thought the Cordoba LS was a Dodge when I first saw one.
A friend’s dad was arguably a car guy. The patriarch of a large family that lived in a comfortable but unpretentious house. Around 1985 his fleet consisted of an Adenauer four door hardtop with automatic and Mercedes installed trunk mounted AC, a brace of 1967 Chevrolet Impala four door sedans (for some of the kids), a 1972 Mercury Cougar convertible, an immaculate 1973 Ford LTD Brougham (from an elderly relative, it was his daily driver) and a 1980 Cordoba for his wife, picked up barely used in 1981 – almost free of charge as it was a used Chrysler during an economic crisis.
To say the least, every car had a story.
His wife barely drove the ‘doba, usually grabbing one of the Impalas for chores. It shared the garage with the Adenauer – likely a one of a kind garage pairing in the entire United States due to the rarity of the Chrysler ;).
The ‘doba was almost a dead ringer for the car in picture three of the article, but a triple cream color instead. The picture looks more tan to me.
I wanted to like the car more than I did, and the market seemed to agree it didn’t hit on all cylinders – it wasn’t just the economy and Chrysleritis.
Interior quality was a downgrade from the first generation car. I was a super market bag boy / carry-out at the time ( a car spotters dream job, I saw the interior of a thousand or more cars a year), and no joke, the plastic door card sill was cracked on every damn ‘doba.
The interior of the market segment leading Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme wasn’t exactly a GM high point, but was markedly better.
I had a few ride rides in that ‘doba, shotgun with my friend at the wheel (his mom was out in one of the Impalas). That dash, which always looks odd in pictures, wasn’t so weird in person, but the assembly quality of the inferior dash parts was abysmal. The overall interior styling was okay, but seemed a bit stiff and formal, with a lot of stiff plastic.
The outside is also a bit stiff, but very attractive as long as you stay between the fender cap seams. The front and rear styling was weak. The bumper integration, previously a Chrysler strong point, was almost as bad as the R body Mopars. The bumper fillers that surrounded the bumper shell, instead of residing inside the bumper cavity, tended to be misshapen from the factory with obvious rolls in the plastic. Weather extremes made them quickly worse.
The rear styling was almost generic, and EXACTLY the same as the Dodge Mirada. The few bits and opportunities for differentiation between the Dodge and Chrysler versions was completely corrupted as you could pick most of the parts from the bin for either car, resulting in a near complete loss of what little brand identity they had.
Still, the strong points about the styling – as a downsized Mark V – do make it sort of compelling. The subject car, with its high contrast colors and copious gingerbread is definitely a knock-off of the Mark V Designer Series cars, a look that sold well to well healed guys dating their future second wives in the fall of 1976, but was a bit of a gold chain / hairy chest trope in 1982.
I like this car a bit better today, but it was a Malaise mobile through-and-through, and a disappointing successor too one of the most successful Chrysler products of the ’70s.
Even if the car had survived long enough to see the resurgence of large cars after 1983, the solid GM products and the Aero ‘bird in this segment probably assured that Ricardo Montalban was better off shilling for the K based LeBarons and New Yorkers.
I found my diamond in the rough.
Single owner car original 20416 miles on her.
She has not been started since 2001.
was a little work she’ll look and run like she did off the showroom floor.
After the interior has been cleaned
I thought you all might like an update on this vehicle. I am now the current owner of this Cordoba LS. I bought it from a used car dealer in Iowa in July. With a little research I was able to find out it was bought new around Minneapolis and spent most of its days in MN, IL, and SD. I bought it with what I was told was 27,000 original miles, but soon found out it had closer to 80,000 miles as a previous owner rolled back the odometer. The car is mostly original, almost what I would call a survivor, as it is evident by the condition of the paint (the pictures on the internet paint a pretty picture) and only the elastomeric around the rear has been replaced with fiberglass pieces. The interior is in great shape though some of the white is starting to yellow in places. It runs good for the most part except at idle when in gear, at which time the car shakes (maybe the idle is too low?). Right now I am contemplating putting a fuel injection system on it over the winter both for the shaking issue and maybe a little more response and then putting a fuel injection air cleaner lid on it from an 80’s Imperial. That would sure put a look on the faces of some Mopar guys.