(first posted 2/20/2015) There it was, gleaming in the sun, the magnificent the queen bee of the Mopar fleet. Seeing a brand new Diplomat on the dealer’s lot was a moment to be savored, but this occasion was extra special. On that warm, sunny day in July 1986, it was the first 1987 model car I had ever seen. While nothing had changed from the prior model year (or the two years before that), the sheer novelty of it imprinted itself on my thirteen year old brain.
It was none other than a silver Dodge Diplomat SE. What a magnificent sight, especially with the lesser seen SE having the Fifth Avenue header panel to distinguish it from its base model brethren.
At the time my parents owned a 1981 Dodge Omni and a 1983 Plymouth Reliant. I was thirteen and already noticeably taller than my 5’7″ father. With my mother’s family all being tall, I knew my growth had not ceased and both my younger sister and I no longer fit into either car nearly as easily as we had only a few years earlier.
Overhearing a discussion between my parents revealed that I was not alone in my observations. As an orthopedic nurse, my mother had seen a lot of nasty broken bones in her life. Her concern was a wreck in either car would cause broken femurs in both of her children and something had to change. The Omni already had about 120,000 miles on it, so it was a prime candidate to disappear.
I tagged along as my father apprehensively went car shopping soon afterward. He started at Town & Country Motors, the Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge dealer in Cape Girardeau.
The salesman was quick to emerge. Opening the doors to this amazingly loaded Diplomat, he began extolling its virtues and explaining how it was a traditionally built car that worked well for families not desiring a van. As the rear door opened, I plopped my skinny self into the rear seat. Its comfort massaged the essence of my young and highly impressionable soul.
Upon seeing the window sticker of $14,700 my father appeared to have heart palpitations. His interest quickly wavered, his natural affinity for diminutive machines conflicting with the marching orders he had received. He did not accept a test drive offer, which was a real bummer as I so wanted to hear that Highland Park Hummingbird.
At the time, neither my father nor I realized the interior room of the Diplomat was fairly comparable to that of the K-car derived Dodge 600 sedan.
He wound up buying an ’85 Ford Crown Victoria, a car that turned into a sad turkey at 50,000 miles. Since then I have always been quite fond of the Dodge and Plymouth M-body, long tormented by the never-to-be-answered question of what happened to that beautiful silver Diplomat.
At the time, I wasn’t fully aware of the original Diplomat, that trendy Dodge that appeared for 1978 and did a bang-up job of camouflaging its recall-infested, Dodge Aspen bone structure. Sure, I had realized the similarity in the shape of the Diplomat’s front doors and its drastic resemblance to the interior of my grandmother’s 1980 Dodge Aspen. In my thirteen-year-old mind, this was nothing but a common design language in the magical world of Mopar.
Despite many indications to the contrary, not all Diplomats were sold to the police fleet. A good portion, of course, but not always a majority. For 1985, total Diplomat production peaked at 38,000; of these, nearly 15,000 went to the cops. This year was a fluke, as every other year from 1981 to 1989 Diplomat production would often struggle to reach 25,000 units.
Here is a breakdown for Diplomat production from 1980, when the style of our featured Diplomat appeared, to the end of production in 1989. Included is a tally showing how many went to police departments.
Realistically, why would a dealer want a Diplomat sitting on their lots? Most K-car derivatives were selling briskly, so who would want their real estate occupied by a slow seller? However, I have often wondered if this scenario fed upon itself; if they kept them on the lot, would they have sold? The Chrysler Fifth Avenue was selling like crazy, as they were on the lots and Chrysler advertised for them.
Conversely, Dodge spent little-to-nothing on advertising the Diplomat for the entirety of the 1980s. This advertisement is the only one I can find for it. Perhaps this was by design; if you can sell the same basic car with a vinyl roof for a base price of roughly 50% more, why advertise the budget version?
Years later, I finally drove the retail version of a Diplomat, very much like our gold one. Driving it was an eye-opener.
Both the 1985 Crown Victoria and our featured Dodge were rated at 140 horsepower with the Diplomat sounding a bit more promising being 200 to 300 pounds lighter. There were fundamental differences, as the Dodge had a carbureted 318 vs. the Ford’s injected 302, and the Dodge lacked an overdrive in its transmission. Any pretense of perkiness in the Diplomat was quite annihilated by its 2.24:1 rear gear ratio, a move made in the name of fuel economy. It made me wonder if my father had made a better decision back in 1986 by purchasing the Ford.
There is something so totally no-nonsense, square-jawed, and cordial yet ruthless about the demeanor of the Dodge Diplomat, especially in base trim. Found about 2 1/2 years ago, I suspect this gold Diplomat is still actively writing its story somewhere.
I’ve been seeing this Dodge flitting about town for the three years I have lived here. At the time these pictures were taken, I would see it being driven by a very well dressed older man wearing a fedora and usually smoking a thick cigar–just like the older adults I witnessed driving their Dodge Darts in my childhood.
Sometime soon after these pictures were taken, a huge dent appeared in the right front door. It was somewhat shaped like an inverted dome; it made me wonder if it had been created by someone’s head. During this period I would see a portly, comparatively younger guy driving it, interspersed with the original gentleman. Was it his son? His nephew? Inquiring minds needed to know and our paths crossed only once–just enough to acquire these pictures.
Sometime later, a woman appeared in the passenger seat when the younger man was driving. Later, I would occasionally see the woman driving, either alone or with the younger chap. Never again did I see the older gentleman in the car.
It is now to the point I haven’t seen this Dodge in some time, which is unfortunate. These Diplomats possessed a mechanical ruggedness nearly equal to that of an anvil. I’m confident it is still darting around somewhere and I just haven’t encountered it.
Related reading: 1987 Dodge Diplomat SE – Absolution Granted
Diplomat is a very nice update on Aspen, eliminating quite a few problems on the older models. Revised front clip leaves far less chance of cracked grill ( and that part on diplomat is far more common than that of Aspen ) heavier power steering helps about the handling ( it was really vague for the transverse torsion beam suspension, and it makes the matter quite worse from the feather like older power steering ) and different vinyl roof pattern reduces the chance of rust ( water is most likely to leak under C-pillar through the wraps of upper corners from rear windows on Aspen ) rear suspension is usually better equipped for handling and reducing squeaking too. eventually they used better quality parts for AC with metal knobs and blower switch rather than thin plastics ones suspicious of cracking on Aspen ( and nearly all other models of mid 70s )
Town & Country Motors – Seriously?! The only other name that would quite possibly be better for a Chrysler dealer would be Imperial Motors 🙂
I always thought the Diplomat SE was an interesting car. It made sense for Dodge dealers to have a higher-profit margin version of the M-body, but they obviously didn’t plan on selling many. Given Chrysler’s muddled position, I think the Fifth Avenue was a car with appeal to a wide range of buyers, and just about anyone wanting a posh M-body and willing to pay for it would’ve gone for the Chrysler unless they were a die hard Dodge loyalist.
I suspect the Diplomat SE was its own worst enemy in a way.
The sticker of $14,700 was pushing the $15,400 base price of a Fifth Avenue (for comparison, the base price of a Diplomat SE was $11,100 and $10,000 for a base model) so why not spend a wee bit more for the Fifth?
Diplomat SE gave good a chance for those disliking the landau roof and vertical rear window.
The near vertical rear glass always reminds me of ’80s fashion, Lee Iacocca and his K-car.
With the vinyl roof, the Diplomat SE still looked elegant enough, but far sleeker than the Fifth Avenue. I still find the Fifth Avenue’s roof treatment interesting, especially considering how much further it hides the car’s Aspen/Volare roots, but it always did have a somewhat clumsy look to it. Ford did a much job with roof caps on the Versailles and LTD Crown Vic.
From the lowest rank offerings ( Volare/Aspen in ’76 ) to the flagship of whole company ( Fifth Avenue ) with minimum changes ( comparing to Imperial, Fifth Avenue has nearly everything major intact ) I can’t think of a second car capable of that. With the vertical roof, the car is completely converted into ’80s fashion keeping in pace with K-car New Yorker and DeVille. Is the small car in Chrysler too big ( Volare/Aspen ) or big car too small ( M-Body Fifth Avenue )? Anyway it worked well, and consider the huge price gap, I don’t think many shoppers thought of trying both during those years ( closet are Aspen SE and Diplomat ) thus it hide roots well ( maybe until now people can borrow a lot of parts from Fifth Avenue for the volare )
I’ve always found the Diplomat SE fascinating, in that it uses the more attractive header panel from the Fifth Avenue with the faster/slimmer C-pillar design of the Diplomat/Gran Fury. Having never sat in one, I wonder how well the interior is appointed?
I have a brochure for the SE from some long-ago auto show (’87 maybe?) in a box back at my parents’ house. Maybe I need to dig that up at some point (assuming said box didn’t get thrown out in the Great Cleaning Effort of 2014).
Sitting in both, all I thought was how much they decorated the same spartan car, with FM radio, chrome buttons on AC, power windows, plenty of wood trim and high beam on switch with cruise control and more than one speaker to listen to.
Must admit the interior is highly inviting.
In the ’30s and ’40s, Chrysler specialized in dull interchangeable exteriors with super-comfy interiors and good (for the time) ergonomics. Instruments were easy to read, controls were easy to reach. Chrysler products were bought by people who valued the experience of driving more than the envious stares of the hoi polloi.
Exner flipped the pattern upside down. Dramatic and varied exteriors, painfully uncomfortable interiors, horrible ergonomics.
Iacocca brought back the original pattern.
I should also add that interesting enough, you could get that same velour interior in the Gran Fury (at least my 1986 Plymouth brochure says so). I believe it was included in the “Salon” trim level. These higher-trim Gran Furys did not get the Fifth Avenue’s front clip however.
My paternal Grandparents had a two door Diplomat in the same body style, don’t think it was a SE, had the slant six, AM radio, but 4 way power velour seats, tilt and power windows- the rear windows were fixed, and a vinyl roof. I was impressed with the full gauge package with idiot lights. Must have had the ridiculous final drive ratio, she felt faster on the top end in 2nd than drive. It was a former rental.
There’s a tourist trap on the 101 north of Eureka CA, with a decommissioned Diplomat or Gran Fury black and white out front- I still brake every time I see it.
1985 Diplomat: right-side up headlights
1987 Diplomat: upside-down headlights
Edit: I just reread my article and it sounded like I was in a bad mood that day. I admit it…this lamp style ain’t all that bad!
Only on the SE models; base models were still as they had been since 1980.
I had to chuckle reading the part about an older gentleman wearing a fedora and smoking a cigar while driving a Dodge Dart. My paternal Grandfather’s last car was a 1973 Dart Swinger….Black vinyl top and slate gray body…slant6. He owned it until he passed away in 1975….He always wore a fedora hat with a feather and smoked parodi cigars…
Your grandfather and the Diplomat owner are very different from the driver of the last Dodge 600 I recall seeing. Several summers ago I passed a maroon colored sedan on the highway while driving though Rhode Island. The driver was an large elderly gentleman, shirtless with a white beard, and he was chugging a 2-liter bottle of Dr. Thunder (which I believe is some kind of store branded Dr. Pepper).
On occasion, I see a gentleman fitting that description driving around in his Sinatra-era Imperial. (Maybe he was a Dart buyer who “made it”.) His wife also dresses very fashionably.
My maternal grandfather’s last car was a ’72 Dart Swinger, 225 six, green with a green vinyl top. But he definitely didn’t smoke and I don’t think I saw him with a hat after 1962 or so …
The boxy, 70s aesthetic of this car would have made it seem long in the tooth, even when new.
I love the mysterious story of the car’s drivers and the dent!
There is an even bigger one on the left rear door. Or it’s too big but not deep enough? the shape is rather strange too
That’s _not_ a ‘ huge dent ‘ ! .
We had these in the L.A.P.D. Fleet , mostly as ” Metro ‘ (Plainclothes) cars , 1981 MY IIRC . they were dull as dishwater perhaps but always ran and ran , and ran…….
The dent showed up after these pictures were taken. The indentation in the door skin was likely a rock thrown from the lawn mower!
I test drove a Diplomat 2 door Coupe back in 1978. It was black with black landau top, red pin stripes and turbine wheels. It looked very much like the one pictured on the brochure. The most unusual thing was that that car had a t-top. It was a gorgeous car. Other than being powered by a 318 with automatic transmission, I think it had every other available option. The salesman offered to let me take it home for the weekend! Surely, a different time. I passed on that offer, but I did take it for the afternoon. I liked it very much, but I didn’t buy it. I was about to change career paths and decided that I didn’t want the payments. I never saw that car again and I’ve never seen another one like it. I wonder how many Diplomat Coupes with t-tops were built.
Somehow I deleted an important detail of the description of this car. It had a red leather interior which looked great with the black exterior color, and It looked very sharp with the t-top sections removed.
As a college freshman in 1998, I decided to replace my 1986 Monte Carlo Luxury Sport that had the habit of stalling at traffic lights. There was a dealership that sold mostly relatively new used cars, but always had some interesting low mileage older models. On the lot they had two cars I was interested in, one being a black/red velour 1981 Mercury Grand Marquis, fully loaded and pristine even with the Quadrasonic 8-track tape with electronic tuning and amplifier; the other was a 1986/1987 Dodge Diplomat SE, dark burgundy, burgundy vinyl top and burgundy interior. Both were low mileage, but I recall the Mercury was priced a little bit cheaper. I drove both on a rainy day, and I do recall liking that Diplomat. My father had owned a 1981 Lebaron Medallion sedan, which I liked a lot, and this car was nearly identical, right down to the upholstery! I don’t know what made me ultimately choose the Mercury…maybe it was price, as my parents were paying and I was being mindful of their wallets. Perhaps I the Mercury was more “brougham-y” and desired that. All these years later I do regret not going for that stylish Dodge. The Mercury was a fine car, but soon after owning it developed that same issues I’d be having with the Monte Carlo…stalling in traffic! I guess it was that Variable Venturi carb. I bet had I gotten that Diplomat I would’ve enjoyed it more. Thanks for the memories!
Did you ever end up purchasing an M-body, years after the ’81 Grand Marquis?
My parents looked at a new Fifth Avenue when we were car shopping back in 1987 and they both hated it. My dad said it reminded him too much of a ’72 Plymouth Duster that he had bought for $1 from my mother’s uncle in the early ’80s.
We ended up buying an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera – talk about a pile of trash.
I never did…after that Grand Marquis I starting buying newer cars. Currently still manage to have some “older” cars now, including a 1996 Buick Roadmaster wagon, a 2006 Lincoln Town Car and a 2015 Subaru as my “daily car”. As you can tell by the Buick and the Lincoln I still like the “older” type of cars…albeit the most modern versions!
It’s too bad the Crown Vic had some problems, but going from and 81Omni to an 85 Crown Vic must have felt like your family hit the lottery.
Last year for the hummingbird starter was 1980. Having owned a 1989 Fifth Avenue and now a 1981 New Yorker Fifth Avenue, I can say the M Body cars are a bit tighter platform than the R. Loved mine and definitely sturdy cars with one Achilles heel – lean burn / electronic feedback carburetor. When they are having a good day, you could do the glass balancing act on the hood like the old Lexus/Nissan Altima commercials. When they are having a bad day, which is more often than not, you pray they don’t stumble merging onto the highway or die far from home. The 80s Panthers give a cushier ride, but the M bodies have all the wonderful Mopar traits that make them more fun to drive and own. You should fulfill that itch and get yourself one before the values shoot up. Make sure you get some snowflake aluminum wheels for that extra classy touch.
I have owned 2 M-bodies, but that’s another article for another day.
Nice piece of observation – you never want to believe a well-loved family car has gone to the garage in the sky
Yes, it’s one of the thoughts you don’t care to entertain. Thankfully, I have only crossed paths with a few former vehicles after selling them.
That is exactly what happened with my grandmother’s babied ’87 Fleetwood d’Elegance. She used to actually polish the real wood interior trim with Pledge! When she stopped driving at 93 years old, it ended up in my Uncle’s hands to do something with it. He ended up selling it to her neighbors across the street. I was there when the actual transaction took place. Whenever I heard them say they “just needed a car” I knew that car was doomed. Sadly, I believe it was junked not even 2 years after they bought it.
Thanks for this evocative story.
I remember that childhood feeling of being excited about cars that, to someone old enough to drive, aren’t really very interesting. I would hang out in the shiny ’82 K-Baron, studying the owner’s manual, futzing with the radio, and just marinating in new car smell. Our first velour interior, wow! Good times.
Call me old-school, but I’ve always preferred these rear-wheel drive Dodge Aspens and Diplomats than anything produced today.
In the mid to late 90’s, the “retail versions” began to appear as trades for the Buick Lesabre and Century. Most were very clean and still drove nice. When demonstrating the new Buick to the Gran Fury owner, I would always mention that “Chrysler makes a great car, its a shame that they went to that rounded styling”. The Fifth Ave Editions were a treat to drive. Does anyone have any experience of a Slant 6 Fifth Ave? I think it was offered for only 1982.
The Slant six with all of 90 HP was not very lively in the lighter Diplomant/GF so I would expect it to be quite sluggish in the heavier New Yorker. I think I remember seeing a couple brand new examples way back in 1982 when fuel crisis’s were still on everybody’s mind.
I arrived in Fall ’86 in the Midwest fresh from Germany. The Diplomat, any M-body really, never caught my attention. They just looked out dated as did the Crown Victoria. They were reeking of old, very old people’s cars. Place one next to a Ford Taurus. What a contrast. The old boxes had no consideration for aerodynamics. Then the Taurus had all these neat features, like switches with tactile feedback etc. The Taurus had fully independent suspension and FWD and all that. To me the Taurus looked so much more expensive than it really was.
I feel a bit different today. I wouldn’t mind old school at all. There are 2 or 3 M-bodies still floating around in our town.
I always liked these as representing the last of the “old” Chrysler Corporation that I loved so much. Yes, I know there’s a support group for that.
For years I harbored the idea that I would stumble across a well kept older one, but I never did. The interiors of the SE models were VERY nice. Problem was that they were so much smaller for passengers and cargo than the Panthers or B bodies, but still sucked just as much fuel through those 8 cylinders. This was probably the real reason that the retail versions were so rare.
Jason’s point that sales of these cars to the consumer market were probably artificially low due to weak inventories and non-existent marketing, (and non-existent product development as well) has some merit.
As a lover of large V-8 powered cars, the ’80s were horrible years. Such cars died off virtually every year. Beginning in 1982, the M-Body Mopar, available as only a four door sedan, was the only Chrysler product to offer a V-8 for the remainder of the ’80s. For that matter, for a few years in the mid ’80s it was the only Mopar car to offer a 6 cyl. as well.
If you look at a typical Dodge brochure from the ’80s, the Diplomat, their largest car in terms of exterior dimensions and engine displacement, was usually on the last page, and promoted with words like “for those insisting on traditional values.”
The Diplomat SE was about as close as they came to “product development” after the basic M-Body line-up was established in 1982. I can’t say for certain, but I believe the Diplomat SE was the stillborn Chrysler Newport that was talked about for a few years.
While Chrysler really wanted to promote its biggest K derivatives as the various brand flagships, they could not resist the easy profits coming from the M-Body Fifth Avenue. The idea of producing a slightly lower cost Newport was bandied about for a while as way to pick up a few more easy bucks. In the end, with Dodge stores still frequently separate from Chrysler-Plymouth Stores, giving Dodge a luxury M-Body probably made more sense. For those insisting on traditional values but lower price at a Chrysler-Plymouth store, the Plymouth Gran Fury Salon was deemed sufficient – if you could find one on the lot.
The Dodge Diplomat SE with it’s unique grill and unique blend of M-Body interior trim bits was the last real development in terms of product and marketing of the M-Body for the retail consumer.
Edit: Not really intended as a rebuttal to JPC’s point, I just write longer and slower. In terms of space and gas mileage, the GM B and Ford Panther were simply better cars. But, Chrysler did have a way with vinyl tops and wire covers, and built an interesting franchise with the Fifth Avenue – aided certainly by the death of the GM RWD C body after 1984.
“Beginning in 1982, the M-Body Mopar, available as only a four door sedan, was the only Chrysler product to offer a V-8 for the remainder of the ’80s. For that matter, for a few years in the mid ’80s it was the only Mopar car to offer a 6 cyl. as well.”
The J-body Mirada/Cordoba/Imperial were still in production through ’83, and available with the 318. It was in ’84 that the M-bodies became the last remaining Mopar cars to offer a V8.
Also, by the time the Mirada/Cordoba/Imperial were dropped, the M-bodes had become V8-only, and were no longer offering the Slant Six. For a few years thereafter, Chrysler simply had no cars with 6-cylinder engines at all.
You’re right about the brochure wording. Here is an excerpt from a 1988 brochure (“The Legacy Continues”). Note that this is the same image as the 1987 model in Jason’s article, and in fact it’s the same image used in 1989 as well.
I was actually surprised to learn they were still making these until 1989. They seemed to be cars that started disappearing long before then.
When I first started working, my boss had a new ’81 Dodge Diplomat as his company car. When I would ride in the front passenger seat, I would hear the whistle of the wind due to a 1/4 inch gap between the window frame and the front passenger door frame. He also had the hardest time getting the car to start (either hot or cold).
When it came time for me to buy my first car with my own money, I bought a ’83 Cutlass Supreme. I think it was the one of the better decisions I made early in life.
These cars were equipped with Chrylser’s infamous “Lean Burn” electronic emission control system. As such, coughing, sputtering, stalling was the norm…even when mostly warmed up. Driveability was horrendous.
(If you don’t know what I mean by “cough” take a listen to this clip–“cough” occurs at about :25-:27): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GD3y7ylpqO8
My local Ventura County Sheriff’s department had a fleet of these for patrol cars. I will never forget the sound of the secondary throttle opening upon initiation of pursuits. –A very distinctive moaning sound would come from under the hood—after the requisite cough and sputter as described above.–Ventura County Sheriff dept. moved to Crown Vics in 1989 if memory serves.
I had an ’86 Gran Fury with the police package. Talking about it would have detracted, so I didn’t mention it. Anyway…
It had a Rochester Quadrajet which Chrysler started using in 1985. Until then it was the Thermoquad. Interestingly, it never sputtered or coughed like you describe, it just kicked in and did its thing.
More than a few of those lean burn 318 engines ended up fitted with earlier style carbs and distributors- which ended the “cough, sputter, VRRRRRRMMM” issues and usually yielded a couple more MPG.
The police package Diplomat/Fury fitted with same would run a lot better than many violators expected.
Regarding that Diplomat SE you and your parents went to look at back in 1985 – was it upholstered in “soft Corinthian leather,” by any chance? 🙂
Nope, it was light grey cloth.
Funny how much these were used as cop cars in the 80’s. I could tell from the headlights/parking lights instantly in my rearview mirror if I was being tailed by the local enforcement. I had some friends on the local force and I remember them telling me these cars were basically indestructible. They had them for many years and were replaced by the Panthers in the late 80’s early 90’s.
I think your father might have been on to something when it came to buying the Ford over the Dodge. I would have turned down buying the dodge brand new since it had a carb(which by the 1980’s was turning into horse and buggy technology)
That said I like the looks of the M bodies(especially the 5th ave)
Though every time I see a Plymouth or Dodge M body, i think of the movie Short Time and its car chase involving a police officer who thoroughly demolished the M body he was driving.
I almost included this video. The first time I saw it I laughed until teary eyed.
Thanx for the heads up , here it is : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XXe19MGv78
Oh… They banged few Volre/Aspen in the traffic too!
That light blue late model VW Bug would be worth some $$ today. Meanwhile, that chase/crash sequence is awesome classic Hollywood stupid.
If I had to buy a car based on that car chase alone, I should either purchase an M-body or a 1975 Catalina!
In 1985 my best friend was looking for a decent inexpensive used car and came across a very low mileage 1981 LeBaron Medallion sedan at a small car lot near his house. It was black with a black top and tan cloth interior, exactly like the blue interior in the photo. His was a 6-cylinder, loaded with options and in really good shape. I drove that car many times and it always seemed very durable to me, comfortable, and fairly well put together. I know Chrysler was just starting to get their act together at the time but that car gave him many years of good service. It was at the very end of its life that it started stalling repeatedly and when the transmission finally failed, he ended up junking it with well over 200k miles on it. He still talks about how great that car was to this day!
I do love me some Diplomat! A college roommate had an ex-CHP Diplomat repainted in metallic blue with a huge pushbar in front. Just the thing for late nights out in town. As I recall it had the 318 and though it suffered all kinds of abuse, it just kept on going…
Ah- I had the twin of that Dippy- an ’83 Gran Fury Salon in exactly the same gold color, and everyone’s observations are right on point. I purchased it from the charity car thrift store in New Orleans- I can’t remember the name, but it was right under the bridge between Camp and Magazine. Anyway, I lived across the street and used to take a walk around the block to see what was there- I counted 2 early RX7’s, and a lovely early Volvo 144 that I almost bought except the automatic transmission was dead.
My Gran Fury was $500 and as rust free as a southern car should be- and a slant six no less. True to form, it would barely drive under its own power- think Uncle Buck’s car backfiring, leaning and burning its way around the block to my apartment.
This is very easily remedied though with a distributor and carb from Autozone specced for a ’74 Valiant. After about $150 spent and much confusion with wiring harnesses, it ran like a brand new car and was rock solid reliable. I later found a kit including the wiring harness which would have made this truly (un)plug and play. That lean burn was about the only bit of bad technology left on the very thoroughly sorted M body.
It makes sense that people would trade a Dippy in on a Century or Ciera. Just as the M body was a Volare with the bugs worked out, a 90s Century was a Citation having undergone the same treatment.
I’d buy another again in a minute. It was that good.
Another car I have some personal history with. When I was a young child my maternal grandmother had a white Diplomat with a blue vinyl top. I remember the blue interior as well. In the early 1990’s my aunt took it took it across the country from Alabama to Los Angeles without my grandparent’s permission. I may have only been 7 or so but oh how I remember that insanity. My aunt has always been one of those unpredictable types.
After a few months in California she flew home, abandoning the car. Some time later my grandmother received a massive unpaid parking bill from LAX airport that far exceeded the value of the car, not to mention the fact that it was 3000 miles away. She let them take the car.
The next car she owned was one I remember very well, her 1983 2-door Buick LeSabre.
I almost forgot I saw this ’85 Diplomat SE on eBay last month. If I recall it had high mileage, but it looks brand new!
I saw this car also. It’s one of the nicest older car over 10k miles. But most probably for that reason it remained unsold at that price.
I really like both 2 door versions of this car. With some imagination, it can wear the personal luxury hotrod look VERY well.
As much as I hate 4 door sedans, I see a little moxie in these things…maybe because they look so natural in cop car trim. I came across a ’85 Gran Fury on CL in pristine shape for $2K. Wasn’t tempted for that price, but it kept coming down to $650 then I finally called. GONE, of course! A clean gramma owned good running car for that price is practically free.
I would like to find one of these cheap and pull a zombie removal conversion on it. Paint it olive drab, give it some knobby tires on black D slot steelies, black out all the chrome, custom build a pair of black tubular bumpers in a pre-runnerish style, mount up a black froot basket on the roof with aux lights, and mount the spare and some jerrycans on the trunk. Maybe some stenciled on zombie kills on the fenders, a pair of ‘bloody’ steer horns on the hood and some goodies to wake up that 318 breathing thru long tube headers and cherry bombs. It would be a fun freeway bomber, sure to stir up some dialog when out and about!
Bought an 81′ for 300 bucks in 2000. It was from pick a part in Calgary. Came with a “certificate of un safety.” Meaning nothing had been checked. I took it to a fly by night insurance company where they hardly spoke English. They thought it was a safety check! I drove that car for for 4 years and at least 60000 k.
It did not start easy, but always did for me. Plugging in was required below -5C.
I would (and did) take that car to the ends of the earth. It was one of the toughest, most predictable cars I have ever driven. It was a snow machine. With 235 tires I could go where many 4×4’s dared not.
Mine had the 225 super six. Once it warmed up fully it was like hot buttered sex. When cold it was really slow and frustrating, like teenage angst!
The interior was all add on switches and drooping wires (plus the obligatory drooping headliner) but comfortable none the less. Weakest heater I have ever seen in a Dodge. I rocked a ghetto blaster in the back seat for a year before I wired in a stereo.
I drove that car as hard as possible for four years, and it just kept going. The front end got sloppy and the brakes were broke down. My financial situation improved. I moved on but still miss her.
I had always thought I would jam the 360 from my old Fury (screeeemin’) in there and see what she could really do.
Time moves on and so do we.
I dragged it to the dump two years ago. Clearing out my parents yard on Mother’s Day.
They drove that car for a year between new ones.
A friend’s mom had a 318 powered Diplomat, I don’t remember what year it was, until about a year ago. It was silver with a “cranberry” vinyl top. She didn’t want to get rid of it, but it was beyond rusted and her mechanic nephew told her it was coming apart and wasn’t safe any longer. So she went shopping, at the local Dodge store and after having a case of the vapors from seeing what new cars cost, she drove about everything they had on the lot and wound up with a Charger R/T, which for an 80+ year old, is a plenty quick last car. She drives fine, I’ve been behind her a few times and she doesn’t “dawdle” like a lot of drivers her age do. What color is the new car? Silver, of course, but at least it doesn’t have a vinyl top on it.
We sold three of these M-bodies at our previous dealership during the 90’s. The 1983 Diplomat Slant Six was a cheap behind the dealer not running right special that we got for a mere 200 bucks, one was a 1984 New Yorker and the last was a 1987 white Fifth Ave. I spent some time with each car. The Silver 84 with
peeling clearcoat on the hood and decklid seemed the quickest despite having 10 less horses than the 87 but I later found out that the 87 went down to a 2.24 rear gear from the 84’s 2.94 and the latter pinged on full throttle which could have indicated advanced base timing.
The 1987’s interior was literally falling apart. The rear window blank outs were coming loose. All the cloth covering was separated from the door panels, rear parcel’s and pillars, the glove box door kept falling open when driving, the head liner was sagging, exterior chrome trim was falling off but boy did that 318 run smooth and sweet! The 87 seemed to drive the best also. Perhaps it had the $26 optional suspension. The 83 and 84 were more flaccid and uncontrolled and the steering seemed looser.
The 83 was an unremarkable car when we got her running. With the carburetor rebuilt, new distributor cap, gap properly adjusted and a tuneup she was running fairly well if sluggishly. Bumping the base timing up a bit helped it keep up with traffic but this car was painfully slow with the factory A/C running on a hot day with two of us aboard. It had the basic blue bench seat with no armrest or any kind of adjustment other than back and forth. The Chrysler’s seats were considerably better with power and a passenger recliner on both.
The 1984 was a lower mileage 63K old person special but for some reason sported a factory replacement Mopar 318 under hood according to documentation in the glove box. It was also repainted for a grand total of 2500 bucks at B&F collision in the same paper work, had it’s A/C serviced and re-charged and some front end suspension work performed the year before. This car was like a gift. We paid a mere 1200 bucks for it despite thousands of dollars work put into it and retailed it for 4500 bucks. It sold in less than a
week! The memories. The memories!
It was interesting to see the sales figures for the police versions. I remember very few civilian versions of these cars, since by that time the only RWD domestic stuff in Northern California were trucks/SUV’s, Mustangs and TBirds. But I thought the Diplomat would have been more popular in other parts of the country. I remember one time in the early ’90’s seeing an elderly woman drive through a red light on a busy divided suburban street, and proceed up the street on the wrong side of the median, cars honking and swerving out of her way. Not much I could do in those pre-cellphone days, but I saw a city cop in the very next block and waved him down. When he asked me what kind of car she was driving, I hesitated. I mean, I knew it was a Mopar sedan, and it wasn’t a K Car, but what were those things called? I finally said “A white four door Chrysler Corporation sedan, you know, like the one you’re driving”.
See my post below yours. It might have been the same woman!
Contrary to the statement in the article and facts, the Aspen and Volare weren’t significant numbers of recalls, their recalls weren’t that much more than other cars. The issue was it was the “most expensive” recall, replacing front fenders. at the time in 1978, it was the most expensive recall in history. That record has been broken years ago by Ford, GM and Toyota. It wasn’t a significant number of recalls, just expensive This common error made by auto writers had given the Aspen an unfairly deserved reputation as a bad car. I honestly hate reading this same statement over and over, repeated by one auto writer hack after another. Check out the recall list, you’ll see it’s not that much, only expensive
frank, it’s not as simple as that. Sure, some cars may have had more recalls, but the issue is not just either the number or the expense of the recalls. It’s a combination of both. And the Volare and Aspen had five mandatory and major recalls covering a variety of ills with suspension, ignition, fuel system, brakes, steering and body. And these all were clearly the result of poor quality and rushed development, not because of some failure of a little seat belt clip or such years later. These all affected the use, driveability, safety and longevity of these cars.
There’s no way to put lipstick on these pigs; they had serious issues that impacted subsequent sales, which explains why the Aspen and Volare had a very short lifespan, and were replaced by models with different names, even if they were largely the same cars under the skin.
Here’s my take on them: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/curbside-classics-1976-plymouth-volare-and-dodge-aspen-from-an-a-to-an-f-chryslers-deadly-sin-1/
These are so ensconced as fleet cars that it’s difficult to remember they were anything but when they first arrived in 1977. I doubt many Diplomats from the first few years landed in fleets as they still had the similar, cheaper Dodge Aspen at that point. The Diplomat was intended as an upscale consumer mid-sized car; the similar Chrysler LeBaron even tried to nibble at Cadillac Seville sales. The linked production chart has some eye-openers. I barely remember the Diplomat coupe, but in 1980 it sold nearly as well as the sedan. And all that work restyling and shortening the coupe for what turned out to be only one year of offer. Given their strong sales, why were the coupes discontinued?
My Granddad bought one of these used to replace his 76 Ramcharger, as he no longer towed a trailer. It was in classic eighties beige, with full limo tint and a bug-guard for service in his retirement town of Prescott, AZ. At close to a mile high, acceleration from the smogged-down 318 could charitably called “dignified.” The A/C was cold, but trim, fit and finish were light-years away from my parents’ Volvo 240 and short-time Honda Accord. Gpa loved it, though. Even had a CB radio installed, if I recall correctly.
That ubiquitous vanilla beige “tapioca” from the lead photo screams of “Cagney and Lacy”. Good luck finding an episode where they don’t drive an M body of some sort in a similar shade. That whole show is loaded with Chrysler products of the era.
I have very vague memories of the cream colored Delta 88 my maternal grandmother drove but I remember well the white Dodge Diplomat that replaced it. I don’t know what year it was but it was bought used around 1989 when I was four years old. She drove it for a few years and replaced it with a 1985 Buick LeSabre with doors roughly the size of Texas (it was a two door)
That light blue late model VW Bug would be worth some $$ today. Meanwhile, that chase/crash sequence is awesome classic Hollywood stupid.
Growing up in the 70s in Marin County, almost nobody bought American Cars. It just wasn’t done. I’m not even sure there was an American branded car dealership till you were almost one county north.
My mother was friends with a woman who did housekeeping for one lady. The lady lived in a huge house in Sausalito, with a “million dollar” (now more like $5 million) view, a winding, long driveway and her old money. She was so wealthy she bought the housekeeper a house as a gift. What did she drive? A Dodge frickin’ Diplomat. It was THE most exotic car you saw around our parts JUST because it was American. Why did she buy it? “If it was what the police force drove it was tough enough for her.”
So there ya go yuppies with your 240Ds, Volvo GLs, SAABs. Real money chose the Diplomat.
Cinematic CC effect: was just watching the movie “Burden” last night, and Forest Whitaker’s character drives a civilian spec Diplomat in that movie.
I wonder how many Diplomats and Gran Furys were destroyed in movies throughout the 80’s and 90’s.
“I wonder how many Diplomats and Gran Furys were destroyed in movies throughout the 80’s and 90’s.”
Almost as many R-body Chryslers from the short 1978-1981 production. I saw far more of those on the screen being destroyed in cop shows and car chases than I ever saw on the streets.
It occurred to me that in New Mexico one could have taken their new Diplomat to Cibola National Forest and then strolled among the Quaking Aspens.
“Three quarts taxicab blue” Same order sometimes once, sometimes three times a week and other weeks nothing. Mid 1980s and Blue Line Taxi was expanding their fleet or replacing dead ones. I mixed the paint so often I knew the formula without looking in the book. Nearly every one of these was an ex cop car. Later When the Crown Vics were retiring from police duty they smartened up and simply painted a blue line down the side of the white car. This was easily done with a rattle can out in the parking lot and they didn’t need to send it out to have it done.
All these years later when I see one, which is extremely rare now, or a picture of one. My first thought is “Three quarts taxicab blue.”
Competition wise, I believe these Diplomats and Plymouth Caravelles were going up against Olds Cutlasses and the like. The GM’s were much more attractive cars, and had larger and more loyal followings. I think these Mopars were destined to always have been second best.
September 1978 c/d did short takes on both the cutlass supreme and diplomat. As tested, the diplomat weighed 3700 lbs and cost 8600 (base price 5631) with apparently every option on earth. From the picture it indeed has soft Corinthian leather. The cutlass as tested cost 7880 (base price 5282) and probably weighed around 3500 lbs. The diplomat had the 318 and the cutlass the 305.
The chrysler f body had the same problem as the Fairmont gussied up; the platform was designed to be cheap and a little under engineered for a “luxury” car. It felt somewhat cheap and rattly and made of individual pieces not that closely bolted together. The interior materials were impressive but not as durable as the a/g body. An oldsmobile cutlass supreme or buick regal could be made into a very convincing compact cadillac with very good handling (for the day) and exquisite comfort and quiet without too many rattles and vibrations.
Diplomat second page
I had two Valiants. My brothers had Valiants. They were our first cars. Naturally we wanted the Aspen/Volare. Unfortunately, my older brother got one – a wagon. New. Horrible car. Our love for Mopar ended. So I cannot look at the Diplomat, Fifth Avenue or whatever else Chrysler did to the F body disasters without remembering how we once loved Chrysler, and then they broke our hearts.
I cannot look at those doors, or that dash without cringing and thinking, “BAD CAR!”. Happy to see it’s just me.