The profoundly underwhelming Kramer vs Kramer, featuring Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman in two of their most dull roles, won Oscars for best film and best leading actor/actress in 1979. That meant beating out some pretty impressive competition from the likes of Apocalypse Now, Alien, and Manhattan for wins and nominations. Why? It must’ve been because it spoke to a lot of people (in the film industry, that is; not everyone who got divorced back then was a rich New Yorker). So when the time came for couples in the late ’70s to dissolve their union and split their assets, what replaced the family wagon? Quite possibly a coupe or two; no need for them to be award winners, as long as they had the right image.
As the ’80s began, sporty coupes began to reign supreme, but in the late ’70s, personal luxury was still a big deal, despite choked up engines and a recent fuel crisis. So what better way for Chrysler to inaugurate the peak years of divorce than with a compact LeBaron? As a choice for a recent divorce, it’d certainly be appropriate, given its then-recent separation from the Imperial nameplate.
Suffice to say, the divorcee I imagine driving this car wouldn’t be getting many dates. Maybe that’s just as well; the formal styling and the filigree says “I just want some peace and quiet.” But people react to events such as divorce differently, and for the man who wanted to project Peak Testosterone during increasing awareness of Peak Oil, there was the Turbo Trans Am, with its turbocharged 301 V8. In comparison the the Chrysler, it fairly screams “Hot Blooded,” and who wouldn’t want that after spending the golden years of porn within a marriage?
Possibly someone who got sick of watching her partner constantly consume it. Yes, there’s little about the Chrysler which shouts sex, but sticking with the ol’ Country Squire also shouts “baggage” to any potential suitor, so it might have to go. As an aside, a recent and very charming episode of Cars and Coffee featured a ’74 Country Squire and a very convincing case was made for it. I might be tempted to keep the big Ford in a turn of the decade divorce, just sayin’.
What I’d be tempted to get rid of, though, would be my jewelry, if I were lucky enough to get any. With a car like the this highly decorated LeBaron, I wouldn’t need much. But it’s not as if, with all its louvers and graphics, the Trans Am wasn’t as overdressed.
The difference was that much of it was disguised as functional. Yes, compared to the analog needle in the a contemporary Saab, that electronic boost gauge certainly makes it look as if the induction arrangement that sat beneath it was more advanced than a suck-through Quadrajet. But it was all about image, which the Trans Am had in spades.
It might not be fast compared to what we drive today, but it looks more sinister than anything on the road I can think of, except for the lifted turbodiesel trucks whose drivers like to cruise through my local townsquare and dump soot all over everyone’s craft beer. Could a marriage with such hooligans last? Quite possibly; divorce rates are the lowest they’ve been in years. That’s due to the fact that fewer people feel pressured to marry and because the cost of living is so much higher these days, making dissolving a union an even more unpleasant task than it was thirty-five years ago. And anyway, most people who got divorced in 1980 couldn’t afford cars like these. A big thanks to Eric Clem for photographing these Washington State beauties.
Storage Yard Classic: 1980-1981 Pontiac Firebird Turbo Trans Am – The Final Blow-Out
Car Show Classic: 1979 Chrysler LeBaron – This One’s Under The Brougham Radar
The in laws had a Four Door LeBaron with the “Big Six” , 225 with a two barrel. They traded in a 78 Nova because it only had the small 250 six in it. But I don’t think it had A/C. Funny that an air cleaner decal can make an engine “Bigger”. They did not get divorced until 84 or 85 though.
How is it that every surviving LeBaron from that era is beige? I swear I remember them in other colors back in the day, but every one I see now is that same color.
That LeBaron is in remarkable condition, great find. When I first saw one as a kid the headlights looked upside down and bothered me a great deal. I appreciate the design more now and things being out of place. In that sense it’s a bit like a Picasso painting.
I’m the one who shot these photos. The fact that I found the LeBaron by a large Baptist church might be a contributing factor. Actually that location arguably might be the most prolific location for cc finds. Runningwithfumes has also posted tons of pics from this block.
I, too, found the eyebrow parking/turn signal lamps disconcerting. It was the generic face of many big, American cars of the rectangular-sealed-beam era turned upside down, and I just don’t think it worked.
My Dad was interested in the LeBaron when it first came out in MY ’77. I remember going with him to the local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer. After seeing it up close, he regarded it just to be a tarted-up version of the Volare it shared the showroom with. It’s easy to forget that the Chrysler name still carried some cachet at that time. The M-bodies were probably a bit more than badge-engineered Aspen/Volares, but not enough to justify the Chrysler hood ornament, in my Dad’s eyes.
The radios were the same way, with the mechanical tuning memory buttons located above the dial instead of just below it. I never understood the point and assumed the did it for no other purpose than to be different.
They must have been talking to the people who made the occasional odd ball tape deck that you would see in this era with the VU meters attached at the top instead of the bottom. Why?
They are, I always thought that they looked like Seville headlights turned upside down, they always had a “family truckster” vibe.
+1 on not liking the “upsidedown” headlights and turn signals.
I love F- and M-body Mopars (sick ain’t I?) and I’d buy a nice LeBaron in a heartbeat.
And then I’d start looking for a Diplomat header panel.
I can’t look at the Trans Am and not think “Smokey & The Bandit” though, and how the type of person that would drive a Trans Am would probably be the cause of the divorce of the type of person (male or female) that would drive the LeBaron.
Casanova or Harlot = Trans Am
Bored Housewife or Business man with long hours = LeBaron
Maybe the spurned spouses always ended up with the Beige LeBarons?
When I shot these pics, the owner showed up. He certainly was very knowledgeable about his car. I had no idea how few of this model were produced.
How few, then? And what engine?
According to Wikipedia, the Turbo T/A used a 301 cu. in. v8. I couldn’t find specific production numbers, but the owner told me 3,000 were produced. There were several special edition packages including a NASCAR version.
My guess is there is a Firebird fan who will pipe up regarding true production numbers. I hadn’t seen one of these in years, then a day later I encountered a SkyBird parked by my bank.
Oh, I was referring to the LeBaron. I was hoping it has the 360. But I also thought the Trans Am was more common.
Well the LeBaron is parked next to the Baptist church. I’d wager money the car is packing a six – and I rarely if ever bet.
Back in high school, my driver’s ed class had a LeBaron four door along with a Camaro, a Volare and a Rabbit (for manual transmission instruction). The LeBaron had the eight. I did a nice peel out of a driveway while the instructor’s jaw dropped. In retrospect, I think he appreciated the effort shown since that era wasn’t known for stellar performance.
I got to drive a rental Dodge Diplomat sedan around 1978. 318/auto, it was an exceptionally quick car (for that sort of car in its day.) One of the few American sedans that you could get up to 100 on the interstate with not much effort. I never could get my mom’s 74 350 LeMans there, despite several tries.
Older version in a newer movie, but when I think dee-vorse and Poncho, I see Kevin Spacey in his T/A, with Mena Suvari as co-pilot.
Take THAT, ex bitch.
CC effect strikes again as I saw an immaculate white Turbo Trans Am at a show in Lancashire about 3 weeks ago,driven down from Scotland with a 69 Mustang and 70 Coronet.
The only Le Baron I’ve seen was a pale blue one again in Lancashire a few years ago,I think I wrote about it last year when it was revealed to be a CC Clue
Thanks Perry! A out of the ordinary take on what might otherwise be ignored as unremarkable.
“She’s changing her name from Kitty to Karen/
She’s trading in her MG for a white Chrysler LeBaron”
Maybe the beige is the divorcee’ model and the white is the “career girl” model.
It’s been ages since I’ve seen a LeBaron of this era, whereas they used to be pretty common. A fellow student at NC State in the late 90’s/early 2000’s had one in sedan form, I think a ’78. Triple green. Though the sedans seemed to share much more with their Aspen/volare relatives than did the more scullptured coupes. Some interesting details on the coupes, like the complex shape of the decklid. And I always liked the “upside down” lamp clusters. Sort of became a Chrysler trademark, with the M-body Fifth Avenue (and Diplomat SE) wearing them until the end of their run.
Now I remember LeBaron’s of that vintage being that triple green: Metallic green paint, green vinyl roof (and at the window base on the doors?), with a green (usually) vinyl interior . . . . . although I did notice a few with green cloth.
And in my area that was the predominant color.
I’m with you on the looks of these LeBaron 2 doors. When most American cars were becoming rectangular boxes, these had some quite unique sculpting and shaping. Looking at this now, it would have made an attractive convertible.
+1 for the “Short Skirt Long Jacket” reference.
She wants a car with the cupholder armrests, she wants a car that will get her there!
I always imagined the LeBaron they were referencing in that song was the K-car based 80’s ones for some reason.
More realistic but I like these better…
The American kitchen sink drama phase. The next year ‘Ordinary People’ beat ‘Raging Bull’ for best picture.
I can’t help thinking the rear end of that LeBaron is looking at me.
I recall Oldsmobiles had prominent roles in Ordinary People. Folks in the theater actually commenting their positive impressions of the 88 coupe and 98 sedan. “Those are no ordinary people.”
Well they fit the bill for the upper middle class folks that they were supposed to be in the story, Buicks and Mercurys would have worked as well.
Im not sure, but that LeBaron MAY have been for sale on craigslist recently. It was up in Camas, WA if I remember right….fantastic shape, low miles and the price was cheap. I was actually gonna look at it, but a scheduling conflict brought out a little bit of panties in a bunch itis on the part of the seller. Bummer, it would make a nice little sleeper! I was thinking carb/intake from Edelbrock, mild cam, headers, full duals, a California rake and some craigslist Cragar SS wheels would make for a cheap fun ride!
My parents had a ’78 LeBaron Coupe that was an absolute pile of junk, fell apart in three years, paint flaked off. electrical and Lean Burn problems galore, even a bearing failed and a front wheel flew off.
Worst car ever.
Light metallic green/green landau roof/green vinyl interior was exactly what I was thinking! Chrysler threw the Diplomat and Lebaron coupes up against the successful downsized A/G bodies GM brought to market in 1978. I considered it a credible response which would have been a bit more effective if it wasn’t for the hit-and-miss quality and driveability issues the Mopar M bodies were know for at the time.
As for the Trans-Am, things got dicey in 1980. The Pontiac 400 and Olds 403 were gone from the option list, and sorely missed. In their place was the anemic Pontiac 301 and slightly more powerful (when running) 301 Turbo. Here in California, we didn’t get either one of those forgettable powerplants. We got the slightly better Chevy 305 4 bbl. that came in the Z-28’s. Trans-Am’s so equipped had a ‘T/A 5.0’ decal on the air cleaner rather than the ‘T/A 4.9’ the non-turbo’ed 301’s got. Blasphemy to Poncho fans, but they did run O.K..
The wagon version seems to have inspired the Wagon Queen Family Truckster.
In the early 90’s my brother had a 80 Lebaron sedan with slant six , and of course this same beige color.
I. The Lebaron was a decent car for him, pretty much trouble free, though the performance from the smog choked /6 left a lot to be desired.
I can easily see Ted and Joanna Kramer with the Trans Am and LeBaron respectively. No idea what they’d be driving today but I can picture Billy having his cake and eating it too with a Mazda 5 with stickshift.
I can picture Billy having his cake and eating it too with a Mazda 5 with stickshift.
Plenty of room for chocolate chip ice cream, which Billy was finally able to eat again after years of therapy…..
A girl a year ahead of me in high school had the Dodge Diplomat version. Silver with a red interior, I rode in it a few times and at the time it seemed like a much improved Volare/Aspen.
She decided to use a handful of pills to help end things at age 16; I never saw the car again.
Sorry for the somber thought, but I see this and can’t help but be reminded of other types of terminations.
Ouch. A girl I knew in grade school lost her dad to a suicide in his ’73 Eldorado convertible. Obviously, I still recall.
Curious, was the Eldorado used as part of the suicide, like exhaust hose through the window or did he just off himself in the car with a gun or ???
Garage closed, car running. About 400 feet from my house. Grim reality for a 10 year old. A divorce gone bad and sad.
The young Meryl Streep and a Trans-Am-the woman and car of my teenage dreams!
The first C (not I) LeBaron coupe was a good looking car as far as I was concerned. They sold probably okay at best. The front end was upside down, as others have noted, but the package still worked for me. The subject car color and wheel covers don’t do much for it, dark brown was the brochure color on this car, and there were some cool wheels that didn’t appear on much beyond this and probably the Cordoba and Diplomat. I have the brochure, and there is some stuff in there that would make a good brochure CC.
A quite good looking girl drove one of these to my high school era employer. Despite all of Chrysler’s woes, one of the wilder guys working there hollered In the break room, “Who’s got the money for that fancy car out there?” Dove grey top, dark metallic grey body, the cool wheels. I wanted to get closer to that girl, but couldn’t seem to find the way. She was a few years older, a tough place to start in those days.
Yes, for those bothered by the upside down lights on the LeBaron, there was the more conventional (and otherwise identical) Diplomat.
And in Canada, the Plymouth Caravelle.
I’m sure some folks hated the front, and it still looks a bit odd to me today, but Chrysler was back to breaking the style frontier on this one and it clearly passed muster with the public as it sold a lot of C 5 Avenues in the ’80s.
There Plymouth Fury not far from me that resembles that coupe its a 4door with V8 but definitely the same family.
I think that’s a ’77 or ’78 LeBaron. The ’79 had a slightly different grille.
That LeBaron was the same cream-yellow color of our famed 1980 “gifted” Lebaron affectionately known as the “Batmobile”!
Ours was also a coupe with saddle tan cloth interior that had AM radio, PS, PB, A/C, 225 Torqueflite. A pretty nice car once I got things fixed on it.
Dumping soot in a craft beer?
That’s got to be a capital offence?
It interesting to note how many Imperial “eagle” emblems are slathered all over the LeBaron, I remember reading somewhere that the original idea was to pitch the LeBaron as an Imperial badged Seville/Versailles fighter, but Chrysler management decided against it, even though the idea was following the right formula or a lower end car pimped out to luxury levels, so the LeBaron became a Chrysler, but some of the Imperial regalia stayed on the car, I imagine that it was nixed when they decided that there would be similar Dodge badged example too.
The Country Squire starring episode I believe you’re referring to was J. Seinfeld’s Comedians in cars getting coffee and said vehicle belonged to SJP, or Mrs. Ferris Buehler, who was downright giddy about it.
Quite the nostalgic car chick, she.
My ’70 CHarger had been totalled in an accident, and a salesman tried to talk me into one of these. I was in my mid 20’s and flatly told him that I DID NOT WANT THAT OLD MAN’S CAR!!! 🙂
I have seen and driven a load of M bodies and the whole problem was they were so hit and miss. The best ones I saw were factory LPG conversion Plymouth Caravelle assembled in the Bramlea plant for the Canadian military, who ordered a load of them. When the military was downsized towards the end of the 1980’s, so was their motor pool, so we had a half dozen of them going at one point. The were excellent for taxi use; the entire interior was heavy duty vinyl with a cloth insert for the driver. The only really bad thing was Mopar’s lunatic location of the fuel tank: one big, 80 litre cylinder mount immediately aft the rear axle, leaving practically no trunk space.
With standard compression and long gears, the cars were no power-houses. I took one from Victoria to Banff and back about 1988. Above 80 km/h it was fine but loaded it was a slug below. Typically, we could get four years out of these cars as cabs and they were easy to wrench on.
The earlier ones were J-Capital J-unk. Few cars went to dust as quickly as those early LeBarons. They broke down so much people just threw up their hands two or three years in, taking a huge loss on them. The later ones were actually pretty good. I had a late Diplomat for a while with a Slant Six and Torqueflite and it was a pretty good car. The interior was way better than Ford or GM cars of the same price range. The dash was actually metal. The seats held up, hinges, too. It was obvious the car was made with technology that was old even then.
In the last couple of years, Chrysler firesaled them in Canada and they were a common sight in chronically broke Victoria BC. All were Sixes then.
Did this generation LeBaron coupe came with floor shifter?
You could get bucket seats and T-tops on these at the beginning of their run.
I quite like that LeBaron AND that colour…the M-bodies eventually got themselves sorted out and became quite fine cars…at least that’s how I feel when I’m cruising around in my ’84 Fifth Avenue…!
Great piece, Perry. I hadn’t remembered these Chrysler LeBaron coupes until recently. Looking at them afresh, wow – these really had it in the looks department. Based on the compact Volare/Aspen as they were, the size was right. I’m a huge fan of the downsized, ’78 A-body Olds Cutlass Supreme, but if I could get one of the “good” LeBarons of the same vintage, I would be very, very torn. Those hippy rear quarter panels, rear-deck sculpting, tasteful body jewelry, and with Chrysler Road Wheels (and perhaps even T-tops?) would make for a really classy-looking cruiser.