(first posted 10/18/2013)
Before we discuss this “Little Dodge Coupe,” a little history-
In the late seventies and early eighties, Chrysler stuck gold in the Personal Luxury Coupe segment with the Cordoba. A combination of solid styling and the right price moved these new coupes out of the Chrysler showrooms as if they were Chevy Monte Carlos. However, over at the Dodge Boys, these same cars languished on the showroom floor, ignored and unloved.
Searching for that Cordoba magic, Dodge changed the only thing they could- The name. Over a six year span, Dodge hung three different names on their personal luxury coupe. Starting with the Charger SE in 1975, they followed up with the Magnum in ’78, and Mirada in ’80. None caught fire and in 1982 Dodge headed in a new direction, captured for you here.
Building on the success of the K-car, Chrysler had developed a luxury K, and planned to market it as the LeBaron. Since Dodge dealers did not typically dual with the Chrysler brand, Dodge received its own version of this new compact personal luxury car, and once again went with a new name- the 400.
Based on the Aries coupe, the 400 came with a unique front clip, unique-ish tail lights, and luxury interior touches. Like the LeBaron, the 400 also came as a convertible, but we’ll save that for the real thing. However, when it was all said and done, the overall silhouette still said “K-Car.” Would a new clip and a new name be enough to move these cars?
Wise men say “No.” Dodge moved 24,090 400s in 1982, and 32,052 in ’83. These sales paled in comparison to the LeBaron’s 81,599 in ‘82 and 80,566 in ’83. While the 400 offered pretty much the same package as the LeBaron, buyers simply did not care to shop for luxury models at Dodge dealerships.
I know when you look at the luxury touches in this interior, you find those sales numbers hard to believe. But history tells us that power windows, wood tone trim, and cloth bucket seats weren’t enough to overcome the stigma of the Dodge nameplate.
In addition, Dodge designers missed the mark by mixing their styling cues. One one hand, this brougham-tastic half vinyl top projected 80’s domestic luxury.
While these fender vents telegraphed big block high performance. Given these mixed messages (and 2.2 liter four cylinder power) it’s no surprise the 400 didn’t deliver on the sales front.
These pictures may not be the best, but trust me when I say improved images would not improve the looks of this car. Dodge seemed to agree, and in a bid to ignite sales, they made a mid year change in 1984.
The change? Back to the well for a new name. Adding 200 more to the 400, they rolled out the 600. Did it work?
Of course not- Dodge does not do personal luxury!