Cohort Capsule: 1979 Chrysler LeBaron & 1980 Turbo Trans Am – Snapshots From The Golden Age Of Divorce


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.

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Related reading:

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