COAL: 1980 Chrysler LeBaron – Not Quite at Fifth Avenue

Note:  None of the pictures in this post are of the actual car

When I was active in the car flipping business, I was presented with the opportunity to purchase a non-running 1980 Chrysler LeBaron.  The owner told me that it wouldn’t crank and that he needed to get rid of it FAST.  Upon looking it over, I determined that it needed a timing chain (318 V8) before it would start.  The owner said that he didn’t want to sink anymore cash into it and asked if I’d give him $600 for it.  It had newer Michelin tires and looked good overall except for a dent in the driver’s door.  Take $500?  It was mine.

Oh, did I mention that the owner was a heavy cigarette smoker?  That the car with its cloth interior reeked of smoke? That all of the trim pieces were discolored by smoke?  Minor details, but ones that would require a significant effort to remedy.

This is pretty close to what I had, except for the full wheel covers in lieu of the high top wire covers and the paint color.  Mine was dove gray on the horizontal surfaces and silver on the sides.  Don’t forget about the padded vinyl roof with opera lights on the C pillar.  Not a bad looking car overall.  Since it was based on the Dodge Aspen, I was very familiar with the mechanicals and set out to get it running.

On the 318 V8 engine, the timing chain replacement is a simple activity with lots of room to work in.  Several hours later, it was running very good.  Lots of acceleration with the V8 and the transmission shifted good.  Replaced the spark plugs for good measure and I was in business.  I originally had planned to flip the car after repairs, but decided that it was too nice for that.  So I kept it.

Some folks didn’t like the fact that the turn signals were over the headlights, distinguishing it from the Dodge Diplomat.  I thought they looked fine when coupled with the waterfall grille and plastic crystal hood ornament.  The next order of business was to fix the driver’s door.  I was able to use a dent puller to get most of it out, but still needed to use some Alum-a-Lead to fill it in.  Once painted, it looked and worked good.  At least on a $500 car.  One has lower expectations based on the acquisition price.

The dash itself was basically the same as the Dodge Aspen, but with fake wood trim on the bezel and round gauges.  The steering wheel was unlike that in the picture above, but rather the standard vinyl covered wheel with a solid horn pad from 9 to 3 o’clock.  It also had a Quartz Lock cassette stereo (top picture below) which looked quite impressive compared to the standard Chrysler radio.

Performance wise, the car started easily and had good acceleration.  It was NOT equipped with the famous Lean Burn system, so it was easy to maintain.  There were a few complaints about the design.  The Aspen/Volare cars were not known for their spacious trunk.  As you can see below, a full size spare would take up quite a bit of valuable real estate.  My car had a mini spare that required use of an inflator bottle that was included.  Fortunately, with a good set of Michelin tires, I never had to find out if it worked.

As I mentioned, the car with the 318 had good acceleration except when it neared a gas station.  It had a hearty appetite for gas, averaging about 14 mpg combined.  At the time, I was dating my future wife who lived in a city 100 miles away.  I could make it there starting with a full tank, but had to fill up once I was there or I wouldn’t make it home.  At least gas was cheap at that time.

Mechanically, the problems I encountered were the typical frozen door locks in the winter, an A/C compressor that required a rebuild, buttons on the QuartzLock stereo that quit working, and an engine that started to run rough after a couple of years.  I thought it was a carb adjustment, but after that didn’t work, I rebuilt the carb.  That didn’t work either, so I did a compression check on the cylinders.  One showed low compression, so I removed the head and found a bad valve.  After buying a new valve and grinding the valve seat, it ran like new.

After the engine valve issue, I decided that it was time to move the LeBaron on.  A co-worker was looking for a cheap car, so I gave him the grand tour.  He liked it, but said he was going to keep looking.  However, when his insurance provided rental car expired, he came over in a panic and bought the car.  I made money on it after three years of ownership and he was happy with his new car.  Everybody won.