(first posted 9/29/2014) Okay you guys, fair warning: there will be no Saabs, no air-cooled VWs, no Volvo 240s, Triumph Bonnevilles, BSAs, Goggomobils or Toyota Supras in this post. No, this CC is a paean to my Brougham-centric psychosis. I will stand in front of you all, and say thus: I love Chrysler Fifth Avenues. Yes, yes, I am well aware that they are based off of the recall-tastic Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volaré. I will nod my head and agree with you if you say these Fifth Avenues were the worst kind of lipstick on a pig. I know they were the antithesis to smooth and linear VW Jettas, Honda Preludes and Saab 900 Turbos that also occupied the decade with these mini-me Broughams. But, I do not care. I still like them. Should you share the same affliction, join me, as we delve into the depths of the origins of these Parthenon-grilled, Landau-roofed, poof-tastic interiored Mopar Broughams.
Scene: A helicopter appears on the horizon. It draws closer, and we see it hover and land on a grassy field. Thomas Magnum appears from its sliding door, and walks to a nearby Chrysler Fifth Avenue. Higgins exits the vehicle, and gives Magnum his latest admonition: “Mr. Magnum, you have abused the Ferrari for far too long. Did you know the last valve job cost $1300? So, I am afraid you will have to make do with this Chrysler. It isn’t as fast, but it’s quite comfortable. Hope you don’t have to chase any bad guys. Har har har!”
Yes, the Chrysler Fifth Avenue was not the hip, newfangled choice for young and peppy Yuppies. Nor was it a hot rod, with tons of sound insulation, plush carpeting, button-tufted velour (or optional leather), and seventy-five pounds of tacked-on Landau roof weighing down the smogged 318 V8. But for those who wanted comfort, traditional American styling, and good old-fashioned V8, rear-wheel drive power, these were a solid choice.
But how did such a car come to exist? After all, the original Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volaré these Fifths were based on were simple compact sedans, coupes and wagons upon their introduction in the fall of ’75 as 1976 models. How did it turn into the wire-wheel covered, fiberglass Landau-shelled conveyance we see here? Well, time, desperation, and good old Lee Iacocca had a bit to do with it.
While the 1976 Volaré morphed into the luxury 1977 LeBaron, the big Chryslers (CC here) stayed truly big through 1978. They may have been throwbacks against the 1977-up B- and C-body GM full-sizers, but they were comfortable, reliable (well, save for that newfangled Lean-Burn system) and oh so Broughamy and prestigious. They were finally replaced with the ’79 R-body Chryslers (’79 NY CC here, ’79 Newport CC here), based off of the recently-departed B-body Dodge Monaco and Plymouth Fury. But Chrysler was in the depths of its almost-death, and compromises led the R-body to have some teething issues. Plus, it was still big and didn’t sell so great, so Lido axed the big New Yorkers after ’81.
I really liked the New Yorkers, with their hidden headlights and plush accommodations. Other folks likely did, too. But the R-body was gone. What to do for Chrysler’s traditional buyers with no interest in a K-car LeBaron or Reliant?
Simple. Take a 1980-81 LeBaron, add loose-pillow seating, a formal-roof fiberglass shell to tack onto the roof, padded Landau roof with blanked-out quarter windows, gold-tone badging, wire wheel covers and voila! You have the 1982 M-body New Yorker. This was doable because the LeBaron nameplate had moved from the M-body to the über K-car for ’82.
And so it was that the old, rust-prone 1976-80 F-body became top dog in the C-P lineup. The 1982 NY changed names again for ’83, when it became the Klassic Kustom K front-wheel drive NY for ’83, surpassing even the mini-Mark V LeBaron in padded vinyl and pillowed velour.
So, for those of you who have lost track, the Volaré/Aspen begat the 1977 LeBaron, which begat the 1982 New Yorker, which was renamed as the 1983 Chrysler Fifth Avenue, which was the biggest, Broughamiest (and sole V8-powered) and most expensive Chrysler for most of the ’80s. If you wanted a V8 Chrysler, this was it–at least until the 2005 300C brought back the classic “big Chrysler.”
Yes, it soldiered on, despite the addition of much more modern and appealing automobiles like the 1987-up LeBaron coupe and convertible and snazzy hatchback LeBaron GTS. In the 1988 Chrysler family portrait, the good ol’ Fifth was looking rather like elderly old Aunt Mildred, sitting indignantly among the grandsons and granddaughters at the family picnic.
But they still had a certain appeal, especially in dark blue, maroon or black. They were a throwback for sure, but still had plenty of fans–and rather strong sales. Unlike the related fleet-centric Dodge Diplomat and Plymouth Gran Fury, plenty of (albeit older) folks were interested in signing on the bottom line for one of these–or paying cash.
“Timeless styling. Classic lines and character.” Well, yes, if you were still stuck in 1976. That said, by the ’88 model year these cars were pretty well sorted out. As you would expect, since the original 1976 F-body these Fifths came from had been produced by Chrysler for a dozen years by this point. Yes indeed, you could still get soft Corinthian leather in your 1988 Fifth Avenue!
And they were so simple: 318 V8, rear wheel drive, torsion bar front suspension, live rear axle and unit construction. The Chrysler 7/70 warranty also added extra insurance for those looking to put a Chrysler in their driveway. Perhaps not as big as a whale by this point, but still rather elegant, in a 1977 Omaha, Nebraska sort of way.
All 1988 Chrysler Fifth Avenues came standard with dual reclining seats, fold-down center armrest, passenger assist straps, and ample courtesy lighting, according to the 1988 deluxe catalog. Newly added on ’88 models was an overhead console that included dual map lights, compass, exterior temperature gauge, and cubbys for your garage door opener and sunglasses. As the brochure closed, “For everyone who has a dream of owning the very best.”
Snicker all you like. Sure, the W126 Benz or a 750iL was a much more sophisticated car with fine handling and a dynamic chassis. But how many of them would still be in running condition as a “back-row beauty” at a local dealership like this one?
This dark brown 1988 model, despite years of abuse and likely mechanical neglect, was still here in mid-2013 when I shot these photos. And its Mink Brown Pearl Coat finish still shows some shine, despite the wear and tear of the previous twenty-five years.
The interior? Not quite so much. The dash pad, carpeting and Corinthian leather upholstery definitely showed the years, but you can still see how nice this car had been when new. Those seats had to have been super comfy. Lumbar support? Bah! You’re in the wrong showroom, sir. Please feel free to visit the VW dealer across the street or the Mercedes-Benz showroom across town.
One thing that these Fifth Avenues lacked, despite their Broughamy seating, chrome trim and plush carpeting, however, was rear-seat legroom. For Grandpa Bill and Grandma Betty, however, it was just fine, at least until the grandkids hit high school!
In addition to the overhead console, ’88 Fifths lost the gold-tone “Fifth Avenue Edition” logo on the blank-out panel on the rear doors, replacing it with a crystal Pentastar and oh-so-Cadillac laurel wreath. The Landau roof was also modified, extending below the door sill trim for the first time.
They were plush, they were formal, and they were anything but a foreign car at just a glance. But hot rods they were not, with an emission-choked 140-hp 318 CID V8. However, torque was decent at 265 ft-lbs. Just don’t go challenging any Mustang GTs or IROC Camaros.
But how many folks who bought these cars new would do such a thing? Not many. These cars were designed for empty-nesters from the Greatest Generation, who would no more buy a Honda or Toyota than they would set their house on fire. Comfy ride? Check. Solid mechanicals? Check. Broughamy interior environment? Double check!
But by the late ’80s, the M-body’s days were numbered. For one thing, the new-for-1988 New Yorker was a much more convincing luxury car compared to the 1983-87 New Yorker and 1988-only New Yorker Turbo. It was more modern, more impressive looking (not near the stretched K-LeBaron as the previous NY) and also more interior room than the ’70s designed platform of the M.
1989 was the last year for the M-trio, but Diplomats and Gran Furys were almost exclusively fleet-only. Like the 2010 Panther Grand Marquis, the 1989 Fifth Avenue was the only M to have any decent retail movement. One interesting addition to ’89s was a driver-side air bag, also installed on the Dodge and Plymouth versions.
And with that, the M-bodies departed. The ex-AMC plant in Kenosha where the last couple of years’ production of M-bodies were built was shuttered, and fans of Mopar RWD V8 sedans were in for a long, long wait.
Starting in 1990, the EEK Fifth Avenue debuted, as a long-wheel base New Yorker variant (CC here). And so did the Fifth rejoin the storied New Yorker nameplate, for the first time in a decade. It retained the M-body Fifth’s button-tufted interior plushness and Landau roof, but it was now FWD with a V6!
And with the new LH platform’s debut in 1993, the Fifth Avenue finally disappeared for good for the 1994 model year, when the NY joined the LH platform and a Euro-inspired LHS version replaced the Fifth as top-dog Chrysler.
The New Yorker itself only lasted to 1996, and then it was only the LHS left for premium Chrysler motoring. But the 2005 300 replaced it, and finally brought a bit of the class and American flair of Chryslers of yore–which continues to this day. So laugh at the Volaré-based Fifth all you like; I don’t care. But for many, this was all you had if you wanted a traditional American Chrysler product during the ’80s. And by the looks of these two survivors, they were certainly robust enough, to have lasted over two decades since they rolled off the line. Fare well, you Broughamy ’80s Fifths. Your Broughaminess and V8 power have endured to the present day!
Another car I never knew about,when these came out the only new American cars I was interested in were Mustangs and F bodies.Monteverdi made a nice job of making over the Volare and Aspen,no doubt at a much higher price than these cars.
Only 20 of those Monteverdis were made, it seems…. Not bad-looking, but I’d rather go for an earlier one.
There was even a Monteverdi station wagon!
And a Monteverdi convertible!
I like the Monteverdi convertible. Saw these mentioned on the ALLPAR webpage.
Amazingly these cars even recieved driver’s side airbags at the end of production. Talk about spanning decades!
The biggest turn off for me was the fact that you paid a gas guzzler tax for the privilage of owning one of these during the last few years of production. A 4-speed auto would have gone a long way toward making these into ultimate highway cruisers.
Having said all that, what I really wanted was the very rare civilian “Plymouth Gran Fury” version. I saw a 1985 (or so model) Plymouth Gran Fury Brougham loaded up with V8, button tuffed interior, A/C, but still sporting crank windows. It was an interesting combo of white exterior and tan fabric interior.
I had a minor thing for the civilian Gran Fury/Diplo for awhile too, but I never came across the right one at the right time. The interiors on those were actually quite nice inside.
Until the headliner fell on your head. I think they were programmed to do that after 5 years.
Lack of power windows would not be a problem for me.
Here in always humid and usually warm New Orleans we “rock the A/C” almost all the time.
My father bought one new in 1982 – he was about to lease a black Mirada CMX but was smitten by a mahogany brown Fifth Avenue. It was our first luxury car and drove very comfortably and quietly on the highway. My father loved the chrome grille and accents, as well as the leather interior. While not overly powerful, the 318 could easily keep up with traffic and returned acceptable fuel economy. It was well built, and suffered few quality ills.
On the downside, the back seat was very confining, and the padded roof cap created huge C-pillars that were hard to see out of. I always wondered if the ’81 R-Body New Yorkr or more likely the larger GM B- or C-cars would have been better for our family, but he reminds me they were a significant step up in price.
He had that car for 10 years, buying out the lease at the end. Replaced it with a ’92 Eagle Premier, which had a much different quality story…
Those blocked-off rear quarter windows are an interesting observation. In today’s world, they probably would have skipped the fixed rear quarters altogether and simply had rear windows that only went down halfway.
Of course, this was during the great Iacocca era at Chrysler, and everyone knows how in love that guy was with brougham-tastic padded roofs. Seems like he was obsessed with slapping a padded vinyl roof, opera windows, and/or blanked-off rear windows on just about anything his entire career, be it at Ford or Chrysler.
That roof was the only thing that made this car viable. The Volare/Aspen roof was instantly recognizable, as was the 80-81 LeBaron roof. The basic sedan roofline was OK for a lower-level car, but was clearly not for a high end car. The popular style was the GM design (think Seville) with the nearly vertical rear window. Chrysler did it on the cheap with a tacked on roof extension that had to be covered in vinyl to hide the seams. Then the quarter windows had to be covered to make it appear that the angle of the leading edge of the C pillar matched the trailing edge. To me, the 5th Ave roof makes the car work, unlike say the early Lincoln Versailles. Ford also used this trick for an optional roof on the 1980s Crown Vic/Grand Marquis, but without covering the quarter windows.
I cannot understand how those vertical rear screens were “popular”. Who thought these looked good? They began at GM and spread to all big American cars like VD in a whorehouse. To me, this is the single most unattractive feature of big American cars of the 80s/90s. It made them all look alike, i.e. awkward, hunchbacked and staid. Bad, bad GM! Not so much a deadly sin as an ugly defect, kind of like fins in the 50s (though at least fins were pretty cool and were copied by pretty much the whole world).
You said it, brother!
I don’t get it either. Supposedly it makes the car look more like a limousine or something, which is great if you want to look like you’re driving someone to the airport or a high school prom…
On the subject car, I can only say “whaddya expect?” and shrug, because I like the Chrysler M-body otherwise. It’s definitely not the worst fake limo roof.
You said it. Those upright rear windows look simply hideous and I cannot understand why anyone would have liked them. As bad as the basic design was, plastering heavy padded roofs and covering portions of rear window glass simply draws attention to the ugliness of the upright window.
What happened in the ’80s/90s. In the sixties US cars had style, on the 70s tey dipped into the whole Brougham but even those are handsome and stylish compared to this 80s garbage.
+1! The vertical rear windscreen is the single feature most disliked by me.
Alway thought these were odd looking- the park lamps above the headlights and the roof treatment were kind of off putting.
Wish they would bring back the New Yorker nameplate, maybe as a LWB 300 with a special interior like the original New York Special from the 1930s!
Before the second government bail out, Chrysler had an Imperial concept with suicide doors based on an extended 300.
“Before the second government bail out,”
you misspelled “Before Daimler finished them off and cast them aside.”
…more like cutting a lifeline to the Titanic!
I was terrified that they were actually going to try and produce this.
Me too, I am a big Mopar fan and love Fifth Avenues, R-bodies, 300 Letter cars and even the 1st gen LHS, but this concept was hideous. I think Bentley is using it as design inspiration for their new crossover vehicle.
For this Imperial show car, they paid actress Eva Longoria to fly in to the NAIAS and introduce it. “Here is the [check cue cards]…new Imperial”
No wonder they went BK.
That has real Presence.
the body is WAY too tall on this. That said, the 300 should’ve had suicide rear doors on the sedan and of course a pillarless hardtop coupe from the get-go.
Excellent write up Tom. And I agree 110% with your love of these fine cars. I’ve owned no less than 8 of these Fifth’s from model years 83 to 87 over the last 10 years or so. A Mopar addiction sickness I know, can’t help it. But I’m also the same guy that owns and drives a 1956 Dodge Regent! There are some out there in CC land that would label these deadly sins models…..sorry can’t convince me of that, nor legions of other Fifth Avenue loyalists.
These cars were everything Chrysler held them out to be. And to this day, a real classy head turning-looking car. You can see one coming a mile away and know by the front end, it’s a Chrysler Fifth.
Still a fair number around, if your looking to buy one. In no small part due to the demographics of potential purchasers. As you so aptly pointed out, it was Grandpa Bill and Grandma Betty that owned these cars, garage kept and not a lot of miles on them. There is probably a greater percentage of these Fifth’s still on the road today than most other 80’s luxury cars.
Got my eye on a 85 Fifth as we speak, with 80,000 miles on the clock.
Nice job on this fascinating car. Most people have forgotten (or never knew) about the intermediate step of this car’s transition from LeBaron to Fifth Avenue.
Chrysler offered a LeBaron Fifth Avenue Limited Edition in 1980, that was basically this car, except for the standard LeBaron tail end treatment. It was sold along side of regular M body LeBarons and R Body New Yorkers that year. There were only 654 of them built by American Sunroof Corp. as a subcontractor for Chrysler. They went away for 1981, but were back for 1982 just as you described. Someone needs to find one of those rare 1980 models for us.
I have never owned one of these. I always kind of liked them, but they had all of the disadvantages of a Panther or a GM B body as far as fuel mileage, but you didn’t get all of the room. I remember riding in a new one around 1987 or so. I recall being underwhelmed by a unibody that was less stiff than the older Mopars I had gotten used to. Also, Chrysler saw fit to upholster the B pillars inside (instead of using plastic like everyone else) and every one I ever saw had the fabric worn through, just like these that you found.
I have started to think of these as the Studebaker Cruiser of the 1980s, a very charming and nicely trimmed anachronism.
Oops, used the wrong picture.
I’d totally forgotten about that 1980 Fifth Avenue. Good analogy to the Stude Cruiser too. These M Bodies doe rather evoke the later Lark/Studes.
I have had a copy of this ad since I found it in an old magazine in the 1980s. I thought it showed the R-body Fifth Avenue off even better than the LeBaron.
It’s really too bad Chrysler was in such disarray during this period. Both the M-body and R-body were nice and would have complemented one another in the 1980s. I suppose there would have been some cannibalization but I imagine those looking for a larger vehicle would have stayed with Chrysler had they continued the R-body, rather than be forced out to Ford and GM for their full size vehicles.
Agreed. If both of the cars shown in this ad had been in showrooms in 1984-85, Chrysler would have sold the snot out of both of them.
I used to build these whilst going to school in 1982/83. Thankfully, most went with the 318, but a large number of Cordoba/Mirada’s opted for the slant 6. If you have every owned an 82/83 with misaligned trim, it’s probably my fault,
When we were ending the run of 1983’s, there was a prototype T115 van put on display at the front of the plant for all to see. The oldtimers were not impressed that they were trading off a good selling product for this little lumpy 4 cylinder thing called a minivan. History has shown that they made a wise choice.
There is a fellow in town that has one of the original Lebaron’s with the “Fifth Avenue” package. Really no difference when viewed head on, but the back is all LeBaron, with the vertical tail-lights. I’ll have to see if I can get a picture of what is now a very rare model.
These M bodies were also built old school. I can recall the seams where the roof met the top of the A/B/C posts all being leaded in, and the interior left unfinished with the Fifth Avenue cap put on. Only the interior trim hid the extended roofline on the Fifth.
Is it actually possible that the 1980 M-body Fifth Avenue ‘Limited Edition’ doesn’t have a stand-up ‘crystal’ hood ornament? That would seem to be a quick and easy way to identify one of those relatively rare cars.
Latter-day Studebaker Cruiser, indeed.
Yes – the 80 has a badge set into the top of the grille, and the rear end is almost indistinguishable from the standard LeBaron (license plate between the horizontal taillights, with little vertical taillights on either end).
Mom and dad had one and it was a very nice driving car…unless there was snow on the roads. What a terrible snow car! I think it had trouble climbing a driveway incline if it was the slightest bit slippery.
Agreed. This was my first company issued car, An ’87, gold with the Iaccoca gold trim package. It was just slow with the 318, and didn’t drive like any Chrysler I’d ever driven. I almost needed to take up smoking cigars to fit the image. The radio was quite awesome though.
That first winter, OMG, it was like a hog on ice. The tranny went berserk, and I got an ’89 Dynasty – and then a ’91. The Mitsi in the ’89 wasn’t anything special, but the Dodge 3.3 in the 91 was 16 kinds of awesome.
That was my favorite car until the ’93 Intrepid with the 3.5 engine. Then, all the Chry co’s got wicked expensive because they were selling a lot of cars. I liked it so much that I just kept the Intrepid – until ’98.
But then Chrysler didn’t really have anything, I was meeting and hauling a lot of people, and got an Olds Silhouette.
That’s funny, my dad still drives one of these boats, an 86′ and smokes cigars too.
Sorry, but while the various K-car spin-offs at least looked sporty….even if they weren’t, these cars always screamed REALLY old person’s car. Even the spotty assembly quality shown here in the photos seems to say “good enough for an old person’s failing eyesight”.
If I ran across one of these for sale today, and it was dirt cheap but in excellent condition, I’ll admit I’d be tempted to buy it with the idea of swapping out the engine and transmission for something more modern, more powerful, and yet also more economical. Doesn’t the current 2.4 produce about as much power as the 318 in these did?
Mine would also have to be some other color than the very ubiquitous silver with burgundy interior ALL domestic car manufacturers used in the late 70s / early 80s.
Nothing wrong with the label…”Really old person’s car”….makes for great second hand /beater purchase. 🙂
……And there were lots of warmed over 360 V8’s transplanted into these cars…..melt the back tires off em…mind you, then the weak rear ends came into play..
Lots of guys supplemented the weak under pinnings with Police duty suspension packages and this firmed things up quite a bit.
I always wanted to lay hands on a Diplomat cop car and transfer Fifth Avenue seats and stuff into it…one project that never came close to happening.
About 2000 I encountered such a critter in a salvage yard. It didn’t look cobbled together, either.
I cant find it for some reason, but I think it was Car Craft that had an article about such a buildup. Low budget sleeper built from a pristine 5th planted in the junkyard by way of a locked up 318. Dropped in 360 mated to cop car drivetrain/suspension made for a terror on the street and for very low $$
During that time (as it is now) the “old people” had most of the money and car makers flocked to court them. In the 1980’s and 1990’s it was very hard to get credit to buy a new or used car without handing over your first born child and those that could afford cars were older folks.
As seniors seemed to have more money then most other age groups due to in part to frugal practices(most seniors of that time grew up in the Great Depression(my grandparents were all under the age of 15 when the stock market collapsed in 1929) and by their sunset years were ready to shell out for a comfortable car and the Big 3 were willing to oblige those folks wishes as there were a lot of folks willing to pay a lot for a traditional big car with a carriage roof.
These 5th Ave’s were very very popular and were not a cheap car (the base model 5th Ave cost about $18000 in 1989 which is about 34000 in today’s money)
As for the spotty quality on the featured cars, remember that the newest of them is 25 years old and the oldest is 32 years old. they will have wear.
Plus, seniors were still frequenting showrooms of the D3. Their kids and grandkids, much less so.
You could be on to something there! A lot of recent Bentley designs seem to disregard taste and concentrate on flash, of which this design has bucket loads!
It seems like something that would be driven by an insurance sales manager or maybe a partner in a very conservative little family-owned law firm in someplace like rural Kansas or North Dakota.
The one I rode in was bought new by the owner of a small court reporting firm in Akron, Ohio. 🙂
That works, too. It suggests the kind of customer who needed to travel regularly for business — not in demanding conditions, but potentially for long distances — and wanted something plush and painless that wouldn’t offend conservative customers or smack of unseemly ostentation.
Plush and painless for long distances? My lower back is screaming at just the thought of sitting in those seats for more than a 10-mile suburban trip.
Sure, but from a showroom standpoint, the interior seems like it should be like a day at the spa.
That would be the LeBaron GTS, with manual to get the nice long overdrive fifth. If you saw someone still of working age driving one of these when it was new, it meant they reserved a Reliant and got a free upgrade at the rental counter.
I can’t readily see the sort of buyer I’m picturing buying a manual transmission car except maybe for their kid’s college graduation present.
It should also be noted that this car was called “New Yorker Fifth Avenue” for 1983, between “New Yorker” for 1982 and “Fifth Avenue” for 1984. Chrysler really liked over-applying the names “New Yorker” and “LeBaron” in the ’80s. In that 1988 brochure you featured, every car, save for the Fifth Avenue is a New Yorker or LeBaron. Even in its final year, Chrysler still liked to consider this car a New Yorker. From my 1989 Chrysler brochure:
Here’s the 1983 “New Yorker Fifth Avenue Edition” from OldCarBrochures
I thought these cars were handsome when they first came out, reminding me of the Seville a little. When a friend pointed out it was basically a police car in drag right down to the dash and steering wheel it killed it for me. I never looked at them the same. Also a friend’s Mother bought a new one and it was in the shop all the time.
The dash is what does it in for me, too. Not to the point of saying “no thanks” if one in good nick came my way — but to the point of always being aware of what this car started out as. A different dashboard would have gone a long way toward concealing this car’s roots.
My feelings exactly. By 1989, the dash and vents, with their curved corners and edges said 1970s more than ever.
It was no wonder. The shape, the vents, the compartment for the radio, the undersized moulded-in-plastic glove box, all were the same as in the Aspen/Volare twins. The instrument cluster itself was changed but that was done way back in the year of the first Dodge Diplomat/Chrysler Le Baron.
I’ve always wondered why they didn’t put the Mirada/secondgen Cordoba dash in these.
But then given the usual buyer demographic, 1976 was just a little while back from the late ’80s to them…
Chrysler got a lot of mileage from the old Aspen/Volare body shell. These things were all over the place up here in Soviet Canuckistan (aka southern Ontario) in the 80s and 90s. Worked with a lady who had one of these and she kept it right up to the early 2000s and loved it. Yep, you guessed it, she was in her late fifties and a farmer’s wife, the perfect demographic for this type of car.
I always kind of liked how these cars looked but the broughamy interior was a little over the top for me.
The NY Police used a de-trimmed version for patrol vehicles in the late`80s. Wasn`t sure if it was the Chrysler or Dodge version, but what did it matter? Anyway, the blue and whites looked a lot better than the Brougham version, even if the body looked dated when it was new. These were also used, in Brougham form for “luxury ground transportation” when Fugazy ran a fleet of them in the “black car” livery trade.They weren`t too popular, as corporate executives who used these services for write-offs prefered bigger vehicles with more catnip. Just can`t see a uniformed chauffer driving one.
The police and taxi version was the lower level Dodge Diplomat or Plymouth Gran Fury. Both of them seemed to have a retail sales rate of maybe 2%.
Remember the Diplomat SE though? That was another oddity–basically a Fifth Avenue with a crosshair grille, without the fender vents, and Dodge emblems. Probably a little less interior trim. I presume someone at Dodge got tired of the Diplomat being seen as a fleet-only car and managed to get the SE approved as the deluxe version on the cheap…but I really don’t think they sold many.
There were always civilian versions which could be trimmed quite comfortably, going back to the 1980 restyle (and before). However, almost nobody ever bought them except for cheap octogenarian farmers who had always driven Plymouth or Dodge sedans. This was an odd platform that found its popularity both as fleet stripper and as luxobrougham, but nowhere in between.
Some relatives by marriage have a Diplomat SE from near the end of production – must be a 1991 or so judging by the airbag equipped driver wheel. Deep blue with blue vinyl top and blue velour interior. Still looks like the day it left the showroom, shockingly bright and clean, like a dimensional portal opened and out popped a blast from Dodge’s past.
Ironically this relative worked on the Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque at one point and the car still has the sticker on it for a base pass. I’d wager that with so many going to government fleets it was likely the ONLY civilian Dippy on the base during those years.
These ended in 1989, and had Air Bags. No M bodies for the 1990’s built.
I have a Dippy SE in my digital files too–another of dozens I have yet to write up! Gunmetal gray with dove gray top and interior. Dan, your relatives must have a 1989, as that was the last year, and the only year for the airbag.
phil b: In 1981, there was the police package LeBaron with this front end and the LeBaron tail lights. New York had a bunch of them. And I owned one for a little while. It was a one-year wonder by Chrysler.
I think I know who used to own this.
That car was perfect for the character.
The M-body Fifth Avenue has cult-classic movie car written all over it with the high potential to be featured in a very popular movie, eventually being as revered and collectible as a beat-up ’74 Dodge Monaco sedan or ‘burnt umber’ 1987 Cutlass Ciera.
i know the `74 Monaco is the Bluesmobile, but what movie is the `87 burnt umber Olds Cutlass Ciera from?
Fargo – don’t cha know?
Perfect car for a crooked ex-cop with a murky past. There was a great montage with the Fifth Avenue late in the series. Here’s the Fifth Avenue in action in a fantastically shot and edited montage.
Bingo–I knew there’d be at least one Breaking Bad reference. (BTW, the series finale was a year ago today.)
I know that I’m responding to something that was 6 years ago, but I’m glad that some other people thought “Mike Ehrmantraut” when they saw this. I wondered why the writers made Mike drive that car at first, but when I thought about it, it seemed to fit his character–maybe the story is that he bought it way back then, and being a no nonsense kind of guy, I guess he sees no reason to upgrade and buy something newer. It looks good, it’s functional, it fulfills everything that he needs.
This website + Better Call Saul have completely changed the way I look at cars like the Fifth Avenue.
Mike’s fleet of 90s/00s burner beaters is one of my favorite things about the show. Not to mention the 60s and 70s classics that are all over it.
I have always liked the 82-89 Fifth Ave. It was a stately looking car and was up there with the same era Town Car in comfort. The only thing I could never figure out was why it never got a fuel injected engine? It was the flag ship car for Chrysler and yet it was not given even a throttle body fuel injection system(even the Omni got one by the end of its life)
Still I would not say no to one in my driveway.
So Mr. Klockau, is this car bigger then a Town Car?
Considerably smaller than a Town Car. Comparing 1987 to 1987 (randomly chosen reference year) the Fifth Avenue was a foot shorter, 207″ vs. 219″, on a 4″ shorter wheelbase, 113″ vs. 117″. Over 400 lbs. lighter. These were really more of a “large mid-size” than a “small full-size”.
By its final generation, the TC had shrunken slightly to 215″, but still bigger.
“I have always liked the 82-89 Fifth Ave. It was a stately looking car and was up there with the same era Town Car in comfort. The only thing I could never figure out was why it never got a fuel injected engine? It was the flag ship car for Chrysler and yet it was not given even a throttle body fuel injection system…”
What I wondered was, the M-body was Chrysler’s police package car and never got fuel injection…all I can figure is, they never thought it would be in production as long as it was.
Although even truck V8s had EFI by ’87 or ’88, it was never installed on the M-bodies because the additional EPA certification costs were not justified for a model that was years past its expiration date. As a point of trivia, police spec models used a Rochester 4bbl on the 318.
Throughout the late 90s and into the 2000s, these cars sold in two price ranges. Filthy, abused examples for $1500-$2000 and super clean 1-owner cars for $3500-$4000. I made quite a side hobby of detailing the former into looking like the latter. Removing the seats and carpet, bucket full of hot-water, Tide detergent and a sunny weekend equaled $1k-2,500 profit. If there were mechanical issues (infrequent) they could be solved the same weekend for under $100.
I eventually found an ’89 in Twilight Blue w/a mint leather interior. I kept that one to this day, although I haven’t driven it in years. About 6 months ago I started it and it ran well from a tank of gas purchased with G.W. Bush was president.
Another piece of trivia is that these cars were built under contract by AMC from calendar year ’86, through AMC’s absorption, until model year ’89. Great quote from an article of the time (google the quote for complete article):
“While sales of those full-size, rear-drive Chrysler cars are up 17 percent this year, AMC`s production of the Renault Alliance built in Kenosha has dwindled from 100,000 units last year to 60,000 this year. AMC has capacity to build at least 300,000 more cars annually.Gerald Greenwald, chairman of Chrysler Motors Corp., said: “With the Omni and Horizon we have another problem similar to our rear-drive cars, rising sales but a lack of assembly capacity. We can produce 300,000 of those cars but could sell many more.”
For some reason, it has always fascinated me. I think it’s because it reminds me of a bygone era when Chrysler’s top execs were focused on building the company. I hate to say (as an employee) that in more recent times it’s more about finding ways to rationalize tooling costs for Germany/Italy, vs. building the best product.
Tom, you are not alone. 🙂
One of my college roommates (late 80’s) had a metallic blue ex-police Dodge Diplomat with a large pushbar on the front. We did a lot of hooning in that car, with the wide tires and dog-dish hubcaps it had a good look and was a lot of fun to ride around in. The engine may seem anemic now but in the context of the day it was just fine.
I’d like to have an early (1976-77) Volare/Aspen 4 door or station wagon, equipped with Mopar’s underrated 318/360 engine and excellent TorqueFlite automatic transmission, with this article car’s interior and sound deadening.
I was there from the near-beginning. No, not the beginning of the M-body Fifth Avenue, but from its ancestral roots. I owned a 1976 Dodge Aspen Custom sedan, which gave next to no trouble, and no rust here in California, with the right parts to make the 318 REALLY go, garaged all the time and looking near-new until I was offered some really silly money for it. Word has it that it now turns up in car shows frequently.
I did put the police sway bar and shocks underneath it to supplement the Chrysler heavy duty springs and torsion bars…wonder if, as a show car, it still has the sway bar and brackets, since they are non-stock and visible if you get down under it.
Anyway, I digress. When the M-body Fifth Avenue was in its prime, I admired its styling. It took me a while to get used to the aero look introduced to American cars by the the Ford Taurus…indeed not until the Chrysler LH, really…and I never went for Teutonic severity. But while I really liked the looks of the Fifth Avenue and knew I could massage one to make it fast and roadable, I never could get over its F-body origins, indeed wondering why it was called an M-body when it was the same thing!
So I never bought one…but they still look good to me, now.
Thrifty Rent-A-Car, then owned by Chrysler, always had a good rate on them, made even lower by a corporate discount. They were my rental of choice. They were comfortable (let nobody who has not covered 600 miles in one complain about its seats which were not as pillowy as they looked) though their handling was reminiscent of my 1976 Aspen before anything was done to it. 32 lbs. in the front tires did help. Later rentals of K-Car based LeBarons and Diplomats did not sully my memories of driving the M-body Fifth Avenue.
First, great title Tom! I like this car, but what is with the door panels on the feature photos? They look like they’ve deflated. Too bad Chrysler didn’t offer turbine wheels as an alternative to the pimptastic wires.
There was another wheel option though, wasn’t there? I’ve seen several of these cars with some sort of snowlflake-y looking alloys. Or maybe they’re very convincing wheel covers. But either way they look a LOT better than the wires.
I always admired the traditional, square-rigged styling of these cars, the fact that they were the last RWD/V8 Chrysler (at the time) and always found the “upside-down” indicator/headlight treatment kind of endearing. So I’d certainly not say no to one in the right circumstance. Make mine a two-tone with the wheels I mentioned above!
These were real wheels, not hubcaps, from what I recall, but they must have only been on about 3% of Fifth Avenues.
Two-tones came late in the run for the Fifth Avenue but looked quite nice when a light upper and dark sides were chosen.
There were also these turbine wheelcovers at the other end of the spectrum, that I believe were standard equipment for at least a time. Also on maybe 3% of production. It was those fake wires that were on the other 94%. At least they were better looking fake wires than on anything that Lincoln was building then.
glad someone pointed these out…the hubcaps are one of the reasons I don’t like the majority Fifth Aves
I wonder if you could order a moonroof too? never seen a fifth ave with a moonroof
If you can remember back that far, John Laroquette drove a steel blue Fifth Avenue with those turbine wheel covers in Blind Date.
Well, it WAS blue, until he crashed it into a paint store. Image from imcdb.org.
Yes!!! I remember the Fifth Avenue in Blind Date, and Bruce Willis 300ZX, I think his brother in the movie was a Nissan salesman played by Phil Hartman?
Yes Carmine, Phil Hartman did play his brother, and drove a pretty nice Town Car Signature–well, until Bruce threw up in it…
Bruce: “New car?”
Phil: (happily) “Yeah!”
So who else immediately recognized this cul-de-sac as belonging to the CerealMarshmallows YouTube channel? “ONE OWNER CAWR GUY HERE…”
I remembered he threw up in a car at the end, but I didn’t remember what kind of car it was, I saw this movie in the theaters, and never again since.
Those alloys change the whole character of the car. It goes from old man ride to upscale luxo cruiser in a hurry.
Exactly like that! Alloys and a two-tone. Makes a big difference in the look of the car. Rare, but I’ve seen them around periodically.
I worked at a Chrysler dealership 1986-1987 and you could spot the folks buying these cars as soon as they stepped on the lot. These were the people that didn’t like FWD and other high tech new stuff–and they bought a lot of them. My co-workers and I thought them to be very old fashioned but as the saying goes you can get an old guy to buy a young mans car but a young man won’t buy a old mans car.
I would buy a Broughamed up car today if anyone made one, and I’m only 30.
I always found the interiors of these to be the most nauseating of the Brougham era. That button-y upholstery! So many buttons! I rode in one once (rather cramped) and it seemed like they could gain 3 cubic feet of interior space by reducing the poofiness of the button-tufted cushions!
It’s in vogue to complain about model bloat these days. It’s fun to take a look back to the early horrors of CAFE, when last years econobox was this year’s near-luxury car and the econobox from the generation before was being sold as a luxury flagship.
Yes, it’s sad to think how much better these
cras could be with today’s engine technology.
“Yes, it’s sad to think how much better these
cars could be with today’s engine technology.”
Applies to pretty much ANYTHING from the mid 70s up til about the mid 90s. theres a guy on Youtube with a Diplomat coupe running a built 360 and the appropriate suspension and rolling stock upgrades to make that car the BUSINESS.
Headlights are still upside down…
Sudden thought: Shouldn’t that be “The Brougham that fell out of the Aspen tree???”
Great article, helps to get the many iterations of the New Yorker in focus. These always reminded me of a chubby Versailles…”hey, just take the taxi cab, slap a formal roof cap on it, puff up the interior and add the genuine simulated look of wire wheels”. Really large car luxury styling cues begin to look like caracatures on smaller cars, and the Versailles and 5th Ave. roof cap strikes me as such.
Even though car guys see the Volare roots, to older buyers in the mid 80’s these were “1966 Imperials” reborn. Anything that ‘looked old’ sold to them during the post Malaise 1983-89 recovery. Grand Marqs, Caddy Broughams, Town Cars, Caprice Classics, Parisiennes, and 5th Aves.
Never owned one but always kinda liked them, tho I prefer Dippys and Gran Furies in their police garb. No apologies needed Tom 🙂 .
I find the interiors to be a bit downmarket from the 1983–1988 New Yorker in leather…..no digital dash….and the New Yorker had a console type set up and some other extra stuff in the interior
I drove one for a couple of years, it was my “Dave Ramsey” car. Reliable, mpg wasn’t bad for a V8, and you’d be surprised how many smiles and conversations it got at the coffee shop, store, red lights, etc.
Weren’t the rear gears in these something ridiculously dumb, like 2.21:1 or something in that neighborhood? That alone would account for some degree of their pokiness.
What’s the matter with 2.21’s? Who doesn’t like going 60 in first and 95 in second? (assuming it gets to 95). My grandmother had a white 5th with a blood red interior, tufted seats and all that jazz. That car cruised well and got decent MPG at freeway speed with the gears, but it took its sweet time getting moving from a dead stop.
Handsome in two-tone…..
I also share a love of these Fifth Avenues… So much, in fact, that I drive one! Not a daily driver, mind you…just nice days, cruise nights or when I want to de-stress from a hectic daily commute… Here’s my ’84, silver with Bordello Red interior…
Hey, I know that Fifth Avenue. Shouldn’t you be over at TBS, Terry? 😉
Tom, I tend to lurk around here more than post…but CC is another daily indulgence of mine and has been since day one…GREAT write-up by the way!
I drove a lot of these in my 80’s detail shop days-at the time I thought they were the ultimate plaid pants-mobile. They were far more fun to drive (relatively) than a Lincoln Town car-a lot less wallowier (relatively, again). These are definitely the old-people-survivor car of choice around here (Western Washington)-I’d take one. Make mine a later production (1988-89) two tone silver-over-black with the alloy wheels…there are probably about a gazillion of these stashed in underground parking at the various old folk’s homes within a 50-mile radius of here,,,
Just saw another variant, 1990-93 Chrysler Imperial
Similar but different than the NYer/5th Ave.
These are really good cars, actually. Reliable as rocks and nearly as simple. The broughamminess is so gaudy and over the top, it almost has a charm. Its insane who cheap you can buy these, in clean shape for all the reasons mentioned above. Like under 100K miles, clean and well maintained sometimes for under $1K. For a reliable car that’s damn near free. Ive been half assed tempted to snag one as a quick flip. One of these in grey/silver would be an easy conversion to a Seahawks themed roadtrip/tailgate party sled. Or being that the luxo-brougham style is so over the top uncool, why not get silly with it and rake up the back a bit, bolt on some craigslist cragar SS’s, put full duals with the loudest glasspacks money can buy and mildly hoon it? Steer horns on the hood mandatory!
This guy has the right idea: ridiculous sidepipes, big blower scoop, cheap musclecar-esque wheels…
I pretty much stayed away from Chrysler dealerships in the 80s, but when I did go by these were in my view the nicest cars on the lot – I always felt the K car derivatives just felt cheap and tinny – these cars felt much more substantial and better screwed together.
Two things I didn’t like – even compared with other large American luxury cars, the steering was totally lifeless and numb, and the interior materials were of lower quality compared to its contemporaries.
But they had (and still have) presence – and even with all the “jewelry”, were better looking than a Versailles or a Seville.
Back in my Eurocentric, VW driving days I wouldn’t have given a plug nickel for one of these. As far as I was concerned, it was a cut or 2 above something Soviet, but I’ve tempered my views in my old age.
My perspective was tainted by a self-destructing ’78 LeBaron owned new by my parents. That was the most haphazardly slapped together POS I ever had seen up to my 18 year old point in life, and in retrospect, still qualifies. At least later M-bodies had better assembly quality, crudely engineered as they were.
I guess one of the reasons I kind of like them is that, as noted above, they really can be bought for a plug nickel.
I remember going to car shows as with my Dad and seeking out the Chrysler section just to sit in those puffy seats with the buttons. Giving the doors the same treatment really set these cars apart.
Nice writeup as always. I find these interesting and to this day wouldn’t mind a nice low mileage Diplomat SE with the up trip level seats in red of course. I do like the comfy seats in these but continue to be put off by the fake blocked off rear window, the cloth covered pillars that come loose, the falling headliner, the lack of rear legroom and space, the 3 speed automatic that also made for the gas guzzler tax and low highway MPG and of course the fact that these cars needed super unleaded fuel or else they pinged (1985-1989 model years). For these reasons the GM B-bodies with there great interior space, 4 speed transmission and resultant better MPG, less tacky interiors and better ride control from 4 coil springs versus rear leafs and torsion fronts always faired better in my eyes.
Good cars. So good, that there was a huge demand for them “on the street”. We owned an ’85 that was stolen in the early 1990s. Never found, but I’m sure its parts were much appreciated by whatever chop shop ended up with it.
Minor correction: “Mark Cross Leather” — instead of “Corinthian Leather.
I have had many of these cars. They have all been good cars . I drive a 87 model as my daily driver. Found a one owner with 57000 miles. Still looks new, leather and all.
I found it strange that Chysler offered 2 diffferent cars named “New Yorker” for 1988, i.e., the “old” FWD K-based model, specifically the re-named “New Yorker Turbo”. I forgot about that model being sold alongside the newer, longer, more formal car, especially up in Canada. Usually, car makers simplify their model offerings in The Great White North, because we are viewed as a smaller market, (humph!). It is sad to me that the New Yorker is no more. However, I think Chysler-branded vehicles are going to vanish very soon, as well. Great article!
I found this site on line and I was wondering if you know of anyone looking for a 1984 Chrysler special edition Fifth Avenue valor seats no rust been sitting in garage since 1998 so it hasn’t been started or ran since then the two front tires are flat a good mechanic could probably get it fixed up and running. I thought maybe someone that wants it for a car show where they buy and clean them up and take them to car shows. If you know someone you can call me at 570-488-5184 I want to try and sell it for S much as I can possibly get thank you Mary Louise
This is an older post so not many may see your comment. I don’t want to throw water on your fire, but if you want to get as much as you can possibly get then you should fix everything wrong with the car so that it presents and drives as nicely as possible. If you are going to leave it in non-running shape with flat tires and no ability for anyone to test drive it, you should be prepared to accept the kind of money that will have a buyer not feeling bad about making a pure gamble. I am not interested myself, but it sounds to me like you may have a $1000 car right now, and that is only if the body and interior are really nice. In order to get north of $3k these have to be really, really nice cars. Just my 2 cents.
Impressive that a car right out of 1977, was still well appreciated a decade later.
“These cars were designed for empty-nesters from the Greatest Generation, who would no more buy a Honda or Toyota than they would set their house on fire. Comfy ride? Check. Solid mechanicals? Check. Broughamy interior environment? Double check!”
BUY A NEW CHRYSLER AND GET A CHECK!!
I know I’m severely dating myself with this post.
My first-hand experience, way back in 1988 (I think):
I was a newly-minted marketing guy in the chemical business, having spent the prior ten years in engineering and production management roles. My first “big” meeting was at our plant near San Francisco. At the SFO rental counter I was handed the keys to a white Fifth Avenue, with a red velour interior that looked like my idea of the interior of a New Orleans house of pleasure… some sort of double-upgrade as I recall.
Anyway, post-meeting the VP of Sales asked me if I had a car, and if so, could he ride with me to dinner. When I pulled up to the front of the hotel he looked the car over… and over. Finally he folded his 6’5″ into the passenger seat, crossed his arms, and told me that if I ever called on a customer driving a car like this I was “HISTORY!” Point being, nobody knows the car was a free upgrade, but the customer will just see an expensive looking car and think he must be getting over-charged.
I adopted Tom’s approach for the rest of my career, occasionally with some funny sidelights. A few years later he became my boss, the best I ever had, and I learned many more lessons from him.
As stated way above in the article; “A true empty nester vehicle.”
Yep, not my generation, but certainly the type of car my aunts and uncles would have enjoyed.
This car was always a total joke. Anyone over the age of 12 knew it was nothing more than a piece of crap Plymouth Volare with every faux luxury touch available. That roof – good god, what an embarrassment. It made the Lincoln Versailles look respectable.
Chrysler needed a break and this car gave it to them. Honestly, no one in Highland Park thought this car would become popular, but by golly, it sure did. The Fifth Avenue had no reason to become popular. Chrysler even gave it a crummy name so that when it flopped it wouldn’t wreck the New Yorker, LeBaron or even Newport brand names.
Chrysler kept acting like they believed that sooner or later buyers would figure out the joke, so Chrysler never broadened the Fifth Avenue line up with a coupe. Chrysler didn’t push their luck. They could have done what AMC did with the Concord coupe, but even Chrysler didn’t want to go that far. Hilariously, folks kept buying that Fifth Avenue.
God love them, Fifth Avenue buyers really thought they had something special. So happy for them!
” It made the Lincoln Versailles look respectable.”
worst line in your crazy over the top rant
the Versailles was the actual total joke and a total failure and had awful cheap Falcon underpinnings so the Chrysler’s “M” platform Volare roots look very good in comparison
the same “M” also became very successful as police cars and were no joke either
I like these little broughams. They look solid and well put together. I’ve spent a lot of time behind the wheel of the Dodge version and my impression was that were pretty tight inside, four passengers only. I can imagine that the buyers thought that they were a lot like the original Seville. (Which they actually were!) Maybe they wished that they had bought a Seville but couldn’t afford one, so they decided that this was the next best thing. I think that they look as a good as the first gen Seville and much better than the Versailles. Besides that they cost less than either of those. The Versailles is starting to grow on me, I like the 5.0 engine.
More than anything else, Iacocca knew his customer desires and outlooks and how to serve up a car that would wring every penny out of an existing platform: the real mission of the Fifth Avenue. These dolled-up Aspen/Volares hit the sweet spot of perceived luxury and value pricing, just what a certain generation would heartily embrace, and did they ever! Lee must have been leaning back, cigar between his teeth, grinning as he counted the stacks of bucks these Fifth Avenues brought in.
Still see M-body Fifth Avenues running around Central Kentucky and really nice ones still turn up on lots now and then. The survival rate of the old M bodies to the later EEK replacements is much better. Almost never see the EEKs anymore. If were to hop in a time machine to 1989, I’d come home with my old LeBaron coupe brand new and a Plymouth Gran Fury Salon. Everything I like about the Fifth Avenue minus all the tack ons. Sometimes I still my miss my LeBaron coupe even though the 1999 Concorde Lxi was almost in every way a better car.
The first trailer for the new “Wonder Woman 1984” movie has Diana Prince getting out of a Fifth Avenue at some large luxe party.
Meant to say that I miss my LeBaron Coupe even though the 1999 Concorde Lxi I replaced it with was almost in every way a better car. Twice the horsepower with the same gas mileage and the Concorde had the interior room of my St. Regis.
I’ve get more seat time at over 100 MPH than almost anyone you can name. 77 Chrysler LeBaron, mildly modded with Direct connection injection, hogged out main jets, and well matched larger single exhaust. and the 2.73 rear end. I broke 3 of those. Then I put in the bigger one from a wagon, which had the bigger one, even with a slant six. (rollseyes)
I pounded it up the autostrada from southern Italy to the UK, and all over there. Then back in the states all over Texas and Oklahoma. It 13MPG at 65 mph and about the same at 100-120 mph.
The head liner fell down which was INEXCUSABLE, but once I fixed it, never again.
It was a total education in fixing cars, but in the end it was a good car.
I had one of the fwd New Yorkers, yuk.
I would so buy one of these if found cheap. I know exactly what to do to it.
It’s real hard to beat a 318 and a TorqueFlight.
” The ex-AMC plant in Kenosha where the last couple of years’ production of M-bodies were built was shuttered,”
It was appropriate these Fifth Avenues were built in the ex-AMC Kenosha, WI, after all, they were essentially Mopar Ambassadors: a tarted-up intermediate-size platform pretending to be a ‘luxury’ car.
Wonder how many former Ambassador owners bought a Chrysler Fifth Avenue?