It’s common knowledge that the short-lived Chrysler R-bodies were a catastrophic flop for the then-struggling automaker. With the majority of them going to fleet sales, these R-bodies took a lot of abuse in the public sector, and were therefore mostly obsolete within decade. Even those that went to private customers, particularly the über-plush New Yorker Fifth Avenue, didn’t seem to stick around quite as long as a comparable GM B-body or Ford Panther.
Even considering Chrysler’s historic overall third place in sales behind GM and Ford, 1979 R-body sales were weak and of course, for 1980 and 1981 they were just pathetic. For various reasons, the R-bodies failed to move in the volumes that a full-size American sedan should have in these days.
Some of these, such as their rather prehistoric underpinnings, production delays, quality issues, poor fuel economy, larger size relative to the competition, and the initial lack of a Plymouth variant, are more obvious explanations for their failure. Yet, all of these combined still don’t account for why sales plummeted to such extremes.
Despite what was underneath, visually, the R-bodies were all-new, both inside and out. The Newport and Gran Fury, with their cleaner styling, were especially handsome. With their added length, rounded corners, and thinner pillars all-around, the Newport came off much sleeker and airier than a Ford LTD.
A large part of its airiness was owed to Chrysler retaining frameless windows against the industry trend (likely as a weight saving measure). While not true pillarless hardtops, chromed A- and B-pillars helped evoke the hardtop look. Unfortunately, these frameless windows also let in more road and wind noise, something not particularly appreciated by buyers looking for a comfortable full-size sedan.
The open feeling continued inside, with plenty of space, visibility, and a lack of stuffiness in its materials. This particular Regent Red car sports the standard cloth-and-vinyl bench with fold down center armrest in matching red. Yes, this was the standard interior! Try finding upholstery and a seat design that nice in any Caprice or LTD, or even any Marquis or LeSabre for that matter!
This picture the seller posted better captures the still-vivid, unfaded red color of the interior.
In the past, I have expressed disdain for this instrument panel design, which was shared with the J-body personal luxury coupes. In hindsight, I may have been a bit quick to judge. When compared to what sat before front passengers in any other large American car, Chrysler’s design looks far more modern and cohesive.
The Newport’s dash looked especially tasteful, with glossy black trim in place of that popular-as-ever matte phony wood. Full-instrumentation and round gauges were also major pluses.
That rear seat looks especially comfortable. Call me a commoner, but I’d much rather have these fine corduroy seats over loose-pillow, button-tufted velour.
Under the hood of this Newport is the optional 318 (5.2L) V8. With a 2-barrel carburetor, for 1979 it made 135 horsepower and 250 ft. lbs. of torque. Its single transmission choice was the tried-and-true TorquFlite 3-speed automatic. The 318 was bookended by the standard 225 (3.7L) Slant Six and the 360 (5.9L) V8. With the optional 4-barrel, the 360 made a total output of 195 horsepower and 280 ft. lbs. of torque.
While that was plenty power for most private customers, as Paul can attest, many police departments around the country had trouble getting their R-body squad cars past 85 mph. Zero to sixty time for the as-listed 3,860 lb. Newport with the 360 V8 was clocked in at 9.8 seconds (the 318 did it in a more modest 13.5 seconds).
As a Chrysler, these rather nice-looking 15-inch full wheel discs were standard. I think they give the car a modern look, as opposed to the optional wire wheels.
The ’79 Newport’s egg crate grille was easily the most handsome of all the R-bodies. It’s true that I’m a big fan of the Chrysler Pentastar hood ornaments that would arrive in 1980, but this car’s “C” hood ornament was another small styling touch that pointed towards simplicity and modernity, especially over the ’78 Newport’s gilded coat of arms hood ornament.
As we all know from Paul’s numerous curbside classic finds, Oregon’s climate is like the fountain of youth for old cars. The undercarriage’s lack of rust indicates it probably spent its whole life in Oregon.
I could literally go on and on about this car. I wasn’t alive then, so I can’t say what my feelings on the R-body would have been like when they were new. From a present perspective however, I do really like these cars, and have deep interest in them. The only running example I can ever recall seeing in recent memory, several years ago in rural Connecticut, was a cream-colored rusted out New Yorker Fifth Avenue.
While their obscurity plays a huge part in my fascination with the R-bodies, I truly find them attractive vehicles (at least in Newport form). While they had their shortcomings, I think these cars get an undeserved amount of hate. As others have brought up before, if Chrysler had continued production a few more years, I wonder if R-body sales would’ve picked up along with other large cars as the economy improved.
But the truth is that they were only on the market for 3 years, and the top-selling Newport sold less than 80,000 units over the course of production. I’m willing to bet that “civilian” models like this one accounted for less than 25 percent of that total. Now I’m really starting to sound like a used-car salesman, but if you like these Newports, this has to be one of the best ones left in existence. The price keeps climbing on this 89,000 mile example, so get it before it’s gone!