The Curbside Classics of Gardena # 1: 1978 Dodge Sportsman Maxiwagon

Two years ago, I moved to a small LA suburb called Gardena, California. A town of about 60,000 located south of downtown and well east of the beaches, Gardena is primarily a blue collar bedroom community. During my time here, I’ve noted a number of curbside classics, all of them very original and none of them pampered garage queens. Over the next month or so I’ll document them, starting with this Dodge Maxiwagon Sportsman.

Thanks to Paul’s extensive history of the Dodge van (available here), we know that Maxiwagon refers to the overall length, while Sportsman indicates a passenger van. We can also use his information to narrow it down to a single model year. In 1978, Dodge reconfigured the side glass, eliminating two small fixed windows and extending the rear windows to wrap around the rear cap. Then in ’79, Dodge updated the front end appearance with stacked square headlights eliminating later years from consideration.

Here is a better shot of those wrap around windows, along with view of the one piece rear door. I thought this option may have arrived with the new rear end cap, but it appears Dodge offered it for several years before the redesign. In 1978, it was still touted as a “Dodge Exclusive,” and buyers who chose the single door option gained the benefit of an unobstructed view while using the interior rear view mirror.

Our van does not have a sliding side door, but it appears the option had been available since 1974, so the buyer chose not to invest in one. Despite that, this truck looks nicely turned out, with two tone paint and bright side trim (but no bright windshield trim).

Here’s a look inside. Although Chrysler waited until 1979 to release new front sheet metal, they updated the dashboard in ’78. I didn’t spend much time reviewing interior trim levels, but those wood grain door inserts indicate this isn’t a base model interior.

I captured a near identical “NuCarPrep”sticker on a ’77 Plymouth Arrow a few years ago (that one used blue text), since I’m surprised to see these factory prep stickers survive for over 30 years. If nothing else, I’d expect the sun to fade the print or burn up the vinyl, but it appears Chrysler went all out when the specified the sticker material. I’m also surprised how flat the windshield is in this picture- All vans are “boxy,” but I’d still expect this glass to have 2 or 3 more inches of depth.

In contrast to our new car prep sticker, this right front tire has not held up very well. The other tires were all in better condition (although to be fair, this one sets the bar very low), but spotting this slick reminds me why I prefer to position myself well clear of other cars whenever traffic allows buffer zones.

I’ll close with one more thing that caught my eye. While I’ll give the owner credit for laying some tape over the fuel fill, this approach still makes me go “huh?”

A quick online check tells us any local Autozone offers new fuel caps for $10. Here in California it’s about $60 to top off the tank, so I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t invest a sixth of that in a new fuel cap.

With that, I’ll wrap up the post. Regardless of condition, this 42 year old van is still plying the streets of Gardena, and appears mostly serviceable. Next time, I’ll have something for fans of equally original early sixties GM B-bodies. See you then!