Un-Curbside Classic: 1981 Chrysler Cordoba LS – A Quick Nip-Tuck

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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But plastic surgery can be a slippery slope. After only one year, the Cordoba went back under the knife, this time for a rhinoplasty.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

LeBaron 1987

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.