This time last year, I was travelling to Pittsburgh for Christmas. The drive from New York was over six hours and mostly uneventful, but as we got into the city, I spotted two cars I didn’t think I would ever see on the road: Dodge’s last personal luxury coupes.
The Magnum was a sharp reskin of the unpopular 1975-78 Charger. Launched for 1978, it sold alongside the moribund Charger and usurped it entirely for 1979. The exterior was extensively revised for two reasons. Firstly, the Charger had been in the sales wilderness since its restyle in 1975. An exterior far too similar to its prestigious Chrysler Cordoba clone, as well as the keen positioning of the latter, simply led to more buyers at the Chrysler showroom. Secondly, the blocky Charger simply wasn’t as good fit for NASCAR as its predecessor. A sleeker, more aerodynamic design was needed.
Enter: Magnum. Other than the new Cord-style grille, revised taillights, and rectangular composite-esque headlights (sealed beam headlights with transparent retractable covers), the Magnum was much the same as the Charger. It still rode on the aging B-Body, which would soon be put out to pasture. Engine choices were the same 318 with Lean Burn, 360 and 400 V8s, although the latter would be only offered in 1978. There was even an available GT package with heavy-duty suspension and turned metal dash appliqué. Initial sales were quite strong, and blew the dying Charger into the weeds: 55,431 vs 2,800. However, they slumped to 30,354 in 1979.
The Magnum was never going to stick around for too long, though. The B-Body platform was a big ‘un, with a 4000lb curb weight in Magnum guise, and it dated back to 1962. Richard Petty had also been particularly unimpressed with the Magnum’s high-speed handling, and there was a lack of factory development in the 360 V8 for NASCAR; he ditched the Magnum.
Dodge would ditch the Magnum after 1979, and in Chrysler’s darkest days in 1980 it would launch the striking Mirada. Based on the J body, Dodge’s personal luxury offering was once again twinned with the Chrysler Cordoba. The personal luxury twins were heavily based on the platform family underpinning the Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare and Dodge Diplomat/Chrysler LeBaron.
800 pounds lighter than its predecessor and 6 inches shorter, 2.3 of those in the wheelbase, the Mirada was a more manageable size. It had even more visual presence than the Magnum, though, with sharp-edged, sheer styling. Inside was similarly a breath of fresh air, with a modern and striking dash and more cabin space than the Magnum.
Motivation was provided by carryover 318 and 360 V8s (the latter would go after Mirada’s debut year) and the new base engine was Mopar’s venerable 225 cu.-in Slant Six which, despite the lighter weight of the Mirada, would be thoroughly outmatched. Once again, a sport handling package was offered with heavy-duty shock absorbers and front and rear anti-sway bars. However, once again, the Mirada didn’t succeed in NASCAR.
Sadly, the Mirada would prove to be a poor seller for Dodge. Perhaps it was a lack of marketing, or an aversion on the part of consumers towards Mopar’s pricier models in a trying time for the company, but Mirada sales would start at a low base – 32,746 – and slump year-over-year down to a meagre 5,597 units in its final year; Cordoba sales followed a similar track and bottomed out at 13,471. Chrysler was busy with its predominantly K-Car-derived lineup now, and there would be no room for the pretty Mirada or its Cordoba twin.
I love these last personal luxury coupes from Dodge and hopefully if I spot some again I can do them justice with better photographs and a more comprehensive article. Drive safely tomorrow, everybody, and may you and your families have a very Merry Christmas!