By on October 29, 2009

preemie twins

While the human Seven Deadly Sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride – clearly play a part in any automaker’s fall from grace, Detroit cultivated its own favorite deadly transgressions. Chrysler’s recurring dirty little habit was premature ejection: spurting cars out of the factory door before they were ready. The shoddily built 1957s devastated the company’s hard earned rep for solid, well-engineered cars. Chrysler only barely absolved itself through the penance of hard work along with the blessing of the sacred A-Body. But in 1976, Chrysler fell from grace again, and this time it took the intercession of the Great White Father in Washington to keep it from eternal damnation. And not for the last time, either.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the A-Bodies to Chrysler’s survival during its difficult years. The Valiant and Dart, along with their Swinging Duster off-shoots, developed a well-earned reputation for rugged simplicity. And they sold like stink. In fact, contrary to usual Detroit-think, they sold better the older they got. In 1974, in their fifteenth year, some 720k new A-Bodies found homes. And I’ll bet that the percentage of them still on the road today is the highest of any American car sold that year. There are dozens of them still plying the streets of Eugene.

CC 53 019 Volaren fqChrysler must have known that replacing the A-team successfully would be a mission-critical task. Boy, did they ever flub it. Their compacts went from being the most durable to the most-recalled in history, up to that time; GM’s X-bodies soon stole that title. It was 1957 all over again, but worse.

Beta-testing new cars on a mass scale is just not a good idea. Build quality was all-round crappy, at best. It went downhill from there: five mandatory recalls covering a variety of ills with suspension, ignition, fuel system, brakes, steering and body. The one that had the highest visibility (literally) was pre-mature rusting of the front fenders. All Aspares had fenders inspected, removed, replaced and/or galvanized, and repainted to the tune of $109 million. That was serious bucks to Chrysler then, especially since the whole mothership was rusting away.

Lee Iacocca had this to say: “The Dart and Valiant ran forever, and they should never have been dropped. Instead they were replaced by cars that often started to come apart after only a year or two. When these cars first came out, they were still in the development phase. Looking back over the past twenty years or so, I can’t think of any cars that caused more disappointment among customers than the Aspen and the Volare”. Honest, but easy for him to say, since he wasn’t responsible. Oh, and I can think of at least one other car that starts with V to compete in the disappointment category.

There was a big difference this time from 1957. Back then, unhappy Chryslerites might have drifted reluctantly to Ford or GM, only to soon be back in the fold. But by the late seventies, it was more likely that they ended up in a Toyota, and stayed there. By 1980, the delayed but full impact of the pre-mature twins was obvious; sales were down to under 200k. And sales of the Volens’ direct replacement, the Reliant and Aries K-cars, never topped 300k. The A-car franchise was now a distant and painful memory, and materially contributed to the Pentastar’s collapse.

CC 53 015 Volaren intChrysler barely avoided bankruptcy in 1979 thanks to federal loan guarantees, and went on to fly high again. But it wasn’t the last time its pet sin was committed (think Neon). Meanwhile Volare and Aspen soldiered on a few more years, before they morphed into the dull M-Bodies: Diplomat, LeBaron, Grand Fury, New Yorker, and that final supreme devolution, the Fifth Avenue, which doddered along until 1989. Does it only seem like that was yesterday?

Can we find something a little positive to say here? Sure; the original incarnations were the best looking, before all the neo-classic grilles and half-vinyl tops. The Volare and Aspen were an attempt to redefine the intermediate size car, since the abominations that had once been called that swelled to ridiculous proportions in the mid seventies. The wagon in particular exemplified the best qualities of that effort: clean, practical, handsome, almost Volvo-esque. The coupe: much less so.

Ignoring the driveability/smog control issues that were common to the era, Chrysler’s engines and transmissions were a highly known quantity: pretty much bulletproof. You could even order a Super Six, a two-barrel version of the slant six which put out as much power as some of the Chevy small blocks of that illustrious lo-po era. With a floor-shifted four speed to back it up, it was about as euro as Detroit got back then.

CC 53 014 Volaren rqRide and handling were decidedly anti-euro: softer. The A-Bodies were always the best handling domestic compacts, at the expense of refinement in ride and quietness. The Volare and Aspen introduced a new transverse torsion-bar front suspension, with greater isolation, and the result was just that. Chrysler was trying to imitate Ford’s popular soft-rider Granada, and it succeeded spectacularly.

Just as the impact of the Volare and Aspen’s fall from grace hit, along came the Ford Fairmont and pretty much did it all better. The original Fox body was lighter, cleaner, crisper and more efficient; the closest Detroit ever got to the old Volvo formula. But it too morphed into bizarre padded vinyl-topped monsters.

Probably the best thing Chrysler did with the Volare and Aspen was their names. By not naming them Valiant and Dart, they at least avoided dragging those names through the mud. Now that sin would have been unforgivable.

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88 Comments on “Curbside Classics: Chrysler’s Deadly Sin #1 – 1976 Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen...”


  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Too true.

    But the Fairmont briefly took over the most recalled car until the Xs took the lead.

    Damn but that belt line looked cut a lot deeper in the teaser picture than it does in the others. It looked as sharp as the 68 Polara from that angle. Never would have believed it was as soft a line as it is on the Asplares.

    Another great piece Mr. N.

  • avatar

    My family bought one of the early Volares, and my uncle got an Aspen. The “in between” size sparked strong sales. And the cars were horribly unreliable, at least until they sorted out a problem with the carburetor float that caused the car to stall in many turns.

  • avatar
    npbheights

    The fact that someone took the time and effort to suspend the “Volare” script with wire within the cracked and busted remains of a grille blows me away. The additional “PLYMOUTH” nameplate along the dash by the steering wheel is charming as well. Why would anyone want to remind themselves that they are driving such crap.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Oh, lord, I was actually brought home from the hospital in one of these cars. My parents bought it because my grandfather’s car (a Fury wagon) was rusted out and not at all reliable, and my grandmother was going to have his hide before her first grandson was going to ride in it.

    The Aspen (wagon, brown, slant-6, auto, ’76) was rusting from new,a nd by the end of it’s life we had holes in the floor. Ignition and carb problems were constant, and the whole car had a “half-baked” feel. The engine was reliable, but that’s it.

    It actually drove my family, formerly loyal Chrysler buyers, right into Toyota’s waiting arms.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    The Volare eventually became a Gran Fury with a 318 and maybe a 383 in the police version.

    What made the A body Valiants and Darts desirable were the engines. Both the slant six and the 318 V8 outlasted the bodywork by a good margin.

    A girl friend had a 70ish Dart with no power steering in the early 80′s. It was a pig to drive, but cheap. I got this lady interested in Mercedes 240D, which wasn’t so cheap, but it drove well.

  • avatar
    Sigsworth

    Apparently the Volare owner is very concerned about forgetting what kind of car he’s driving. Also, note to designers: after 30 years the unadorned Plymouth is infinitely better looking than the blinged-out (for its time) Dodge. It sort of reminds me of the plain, sleek beauty of the original Mustang. Finally, can anyone write an article deciphering the history of the alphabet designations of the various body styles? You know, A bodies, X bodies, K cars, etc? That would be great… (Lumbergh voice).

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    There was a big difference this time from 1957. Back then, unhappy Chryslerites might have drifted reluctantly to Ford or GM, only to soon be back in the fold. But by the late seventies, it was more likely that they ended up in a Toyota, and stayed there.

    Oh, lord, I was actually brought home from the hospital in one of these cars. My parents bought it because my grandfather’s car (a Fury wagon) was rusted out and not at all reliable, and my grandmother was going to have his hide before her first grandson was going to ride in it.

    The Aspen (wagon, brown, slant-6, auto, ’76) was rusting from new,a nd by the end of it’s life we had holes in the floor. Ignition and carb problems were constant, and the whole car had a “half-baked” feel. The engine was reliable, but that’s it.

    As above, it actually drove my family, formerly loyal Chrysler buyers, right into Toyota’s waiting arms.

  • avatar

    My parents had the ’57 plymouth (bought used), a disaster, the 1970 Valiant, which was at that time by far the best car they ever had, and the ’76 Volare. They got the Volare because the Valiant was so good. The Volare was totaled when my mother was going out from our little road onto the main road, the car stalled as she got onto the main road–a chronic problem, and someone plowed into her. My father’s reaction: “we’re well rid of that car.”

    The stalling was due to the way the car was tuned to suppress smog. A friend who is a mechanic said that at his shop, if a customer came in a second time with the stalling, they’d drill out the carb, which would solve the problem.

    My recollection is that the smog tuning was a problem for the last valiants and darts though, that you didn’t want a ’74. I’m pretty sure they were good through ’72, and maybe through ’73.

    Stylistically, I think the ’70 was the zenith for Valiant, very simple, no superfluous lines, and well executed.

    • 0 avatar
      slyall

      ‘My recollection is that the smog tuning was a problem for the last valiants and darts though, that you didn’t want a ‘74. I’m pretty sure they were good through ‘72, and maybe through ‘73.’

      Very True, I had a ’75 Dart as my first car in 1985 with 225 slant six and when I first found it, it was so loaded with soot and carbon from the crude(at the time) emission system , that it would barely move without stalling, after removing the Catalytic Converter in favor of a “test pipe” the car re-started and released a black cloud of soot and for 3 years after ran great with plenty of torque and power , around 23 mpg on the highway, but on wet days forget it, it would stall and sputter at every corner until it warmed up. I finally had to sell her in ’88 when after a few years of sheet metal and Bondo , the frame finally gave in.

      I would love to see a future CC on the Dart/Valiant. Keep up the good work, CC is a great feature.

  • avatar

    @oldandslow
    my parents’ ’70 Valiant’s body lasted well despite Massachusetts winters and being totaled twice one winter late in life. (the car’s value was so low by that time that it didn’t take much to total it, so they kept it another 4 yrs. They had it until the mid-80s.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    By not naming them Valiant and Dart, they at least avoided dragging those names through the mud.

    Quite right.

    Another painful memory for me is the TV commercial with someone (Ricardo Montalban, maybe?) singing “Volare”. I was a kid then, but that ad forever turned me off to the Volare.

    And to think that Chrysler reincarnated the Aspen name for an SUV is remarkable. Couldn’t they come up with anything else?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Probably the best thing Chrysler did with the Volare and Aspen was their names. By not naming them Valiant and Dart, they at least avoided dragging those names through the mud. Now that sin would have been unforgivable.

    One of the funniest things they ever did was resurrect “Aspen” for a full-size luxury SUV. I haven’t seen my father laugh quite so hard in a while.

    One point about these cars: if you find one that’s still running (and running well) and looks good, buy it. Either it’s been fanatically maintained, or it’s freakishly well-built. Likely both.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    One of my favorite Aspen/Volare recalls was to reposition a brake line. It had been placed underneath the battery. The concern of NHTSA, and obviously less so of the Chrysler engineers, was that battery acid would leak on to the brake line. Which might spring a leak.

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      My friend had an Volare. His twin brother bought an Aspen, but somehow lucked out when their uncle fell in love with it and traded him his brand new 77 Buick for it straight up. The Aspen had already had several issues, so he was happy to see it go. The Buick lasted until it died of rust about 15 years later. His wife drove it, and he went and bought a VW Rabbit. He loved that car until the brake line that went under the floor mat rotted out from the salt and water that his feet brought in, and the (dual diagonal, remember the ads?) Went out on one side of the “X”, and he crashed it into a tree. Putting a brake line under the floormat was almost as stupid as Chrylser’s putting the brake line under the battery. Oh, and where the brake line wasn’t rotted out from the salt, or getting that way, it was being rubbed through by the floormat! D’OH!

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    They got the Volare because the Valiant was so good.

    Everyone did that. It’s a testament to what reputation can do: Chrysler would have been in very, very different straights today if they hadn’t pissed in their customer’s proverbial cornflakes with the Aspen/Volare.

    Every mainstream automaker needs to keep a picture of the Valiant and Volare handy. You can make mechanical-princess sports cars and similar toys and get away with it because, well, those are ego purchases, and people can forgive a lot for the sake of their ego. These buyers are also very fickle: they’ll dump you for the next hot thing as soon as the lease is up.

    Screwing bread-and-butter buyers is entirely different: they depend on their car, and they spent hard-earned money to buy it. Treat them well and they’re yours for life; treat them badly and they, their kids and their friends will never, ever darken your door again. What happened with the Valiant would be akin to Toyota doing the same with the Corolla. It would kill them as a brand, instantly, because these cars are the real “halos” for a mass-market marque, not Lutzian toys.

    The concern of NHTSA, and obviously less so of the Chrysler engineers, was that battery acid would leak on to the brake line. Which might spring a leak.The concern of NHTSA, and obviously less so of the Chrysler engineers, was that battery acid would leak on to the brake line. Which might spring a leak.

    My parents had this happen. That they had the forethought to kick it into neutral and use the foot-operated parking brake got us out of trouble. That, and that my dad is a very conservative driver and, by that point, stalling and suchlike was something you just acclimatized to.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    I had a 76 Aspen Wagon as my first new car. Still love the utility of cargo space (one touch of a button and the seat back would fold FLAT), low liftover height of the rear hatch, and the high visibility of the large windows. Didn’t like the rust and crappy dealer service. First oil change took over an hour as the drain plug wouldn’t come out completely. Dealer balked at replacing the oil pan, but eventually did before the next oil change.

    Chrysler redeemed themselves with the 84 minivans.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    Another painful memory for me is the TV commercial with someone (Ricardo Montalban, maybe?) singing “Volare”. I was a kid then, but that ad forever turned me off to the Volare.

    I always think of the Cheers episode where Sam Malone had to trade in his Corvette for a Plymouth Volare because he lost some money or some such. The never ending tirade of abuse he swore on that car always struck me that at least one of the show’s writers must have owned one of these POS’s for a bit.

  • avatar
    Polishdon

    First, the 1957 Chrylser/plymouth/Dodge were rushed into production because they wanted to leapfrog any changes comming from Ford & GM.

    I had a 1987 Chrysler Fifth Avenue. If I could go back in time, I’d get that car back today. compared to the ’80′s and ’90′s cars I drove (both US and Japan), that car drove like a tank. Practically unstoppable. Did not have the greatest takeoff and the transverse Torsion bars sucked, but it held the road better then most of the cars I drove. One time I had that car easily in excess of 110 (it was pointing straight down at the bottom of the gauge) and that car cruised.

    Scoff if you might, but it was a staple of alot of the local and state police for years. Cops aren’t usually wrong !

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I drove a police-package Aspen sedan, and found it to handle as well as my police-package 1976 Dart. Its wide wheels really filled the wheelwells, and you could see a lot of tire as one passed you. The one I drove was in county-sheriff metallic green with an ugly tan interior and rather narrow bucket seats with no bolsters. It would sure as hell corner though; iirc it had the same rear sway bar as my Dart. At one time I was planning to get an ex-cop Diplomat and outfit it with an interior from a Fifth Avenue, but found the Dart instead.

  • avatar
    carm

    I learned to drive on a 79 Volare and it was my primary transportation when I was 16. My father actually ordered this car as he did with all of his cars. I have to say by 79 they must have figured most of the issues out. He kept the car for 12 years, put well over 200K on it and it was in good shape when he traded it.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    I especially dig the exposed gas cap, which invariably got stolen or left on a gas tank somewhere off the Jersey turnpike and the owner’s brilliant solution was to stuff a oil-soaked rag or sock into the hole, creating a mobile Molatov cocktail that cruised along at 55 mph.

  • avatar
    pb35

    My Dad sold Chryslers in the 70s and 80s and we had our share of Volares (Premier, if I recall). They were all ok for us but they were also brand new.

    I had a 78 Aspen in the late 80s, it was the basest of the base Aspens. It had the old Duster steering wheel, the huge one with 3 spokes. No power steering either, the wheel would threaten to rip your fingers off when it snapped back from a turn. I never really had any problems with the Aspen that I remember but I didn’t have it longer than a year, 18 mos max.

  • avatar
    grog

    I always think of the Cheers episode where Sam Malone had to trade in his Corvette for a Plymouth Volare because he lost some money or some such. The never ending tirade of abuse he swore on that car always struck me that at least one of the show’s writers must have owned one of these POS’s for a bit.

    It was a brilliant piece of writing in that the car was never, technically, named in a sentence.

    Somebody in the bar asks Sam “what did you replace the Corvette with?”. Everybody else in the bar sings the one word from the commercial:

    “Volare”

    Otherwise, the car was never named. But just in that moment, Detroit (and Chysler) should have known that once it entered into pop culture and tv comedy as being the purveyor of POSmobiles, it was doomed.

  • avatar
    Bergwerk

    Wow it is funny how a close up can change the look. I could not reconcile the molding along the window and the body line with anything I recognized.

    As bad as this car started out, it ended up being quite the bread and butter car for Chrysler. Over the years the Volare and Aspen evolved into the M body LeBaron, Diplomat, Grand Fury and ultimately the Fifth Avenue. So popular were the M bodies with fleet buyers (not to mention the very profitable Fifth Avenue) that when Chrysler bought AMC, production was moved to Kenosha WI to buy a couple extra years of life.

  • avatar
    afuller

    I had a friend in the late 80′s who just loved these things.

    He could pick them up cheap and the slant six ran forever after properly modified. Sure they rusted but who cares; he’d pay $200 and drive it until it died, then buy another one.

    I had another friend who did the same thing with Citations, take it as you will.

  • avatar

    I was unaware of the volare thing on Cheers, as I only watched the program sporadically. Thanks to those who brought this up for giving me my best laugh of the week so far.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Another great article…the link between Chrysler’s 1957 fiasco and the launch of the Volare/Aspen is quite interesting.

    These cars were Motor Trend’s “Car of the Year” for 1976 – another infamous choice!

    The man who warbled the tune “Volare” for the Plymouth commercials was Sergio Franchi, not Ricardo Montalban.

    Academy Award-winning British actor Rex Harrison – of My Fair Lady fame – was the spokesperson for the Dodge Aspen.

    Let’s see…can we have a “Deadly Sins” series for all of the domestics, even those that haven’t filed for bankruptcy? The failures and fiascos are often more interesting than the successes.

  • avatar
    grog

    Another line from that same episode:

    “It’s amazing how fast you can drive when you don’t care about your car”

    Or something to that effect.

  • avatar
    NickR

    As a Moparite, it pains me to see this article.

    These things were so awful. My cousins has had A-body’s their entire lives (a second gen Charger thrown in). They got one of these and with a year or so of ownership the front frame collapsed when they crossed some railways tracks.

    There is still one of these alive and kicking in my neighbourhood. Same colour as the reddish one here, but how it passes safety is beyond me. Bondo patches, pop riveted patches, even duct tape.

    God, now I have ‘Voooolaaareeeeee’ from the commercial stuck in my head.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    gslippy,

    It was Italian singer Sergio Franchi. Montalban did the Cordoba commercials, and didn’t sing. Thanks for bringing back those memories….I think.

    My Dad loved his ’72 Valiant but after 6 years my mother wanted something that rode better and was more….stylish. He liked the Volare, but the word was already on the street that these cars were crap.

    We ended up with a ’78 Buick Century aeroback. Laugh all you want, but the thing lasted 12 years and 130K before being stolen off a Brooklyn street.

  • avatar

    “While the human Seven Deadly Sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride – clearly play a part in any automaker’s fall from grace, Detroit cultivated its own favorite deadly transgressions.”

    No, I’d say Detroit has the human ones pretty well sewn up without having to develop new ones of their own!.

    Geeber
    Let’s see…can we have a “Deadly Sins” series for all of the domestics, even those that haven’t filed for bankruptcy? The failures and fiascos are often more interesting than the successes.

    Covered that three years ago.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Frank,

    That was an illuminating article; thank you for posting the link. I would also like to focus on the individual models that brought about each manufacturer’s decline, as this article does.

  • avatar

    Chrylser eventually worked out the bugs and the later Aspens and Volares were solid, reliable cars. My parents owned a 1980 Volare sedan. It had the 225 Slant Six and automatic transmission. The car was maroon with a maroon vinyl top and a color keyed, maroon cloth interior.

    This car was bought used in 1981 and gave years of reliable service until 1990 when my parents traded it for a used, 1989 Dodge Aries. The Volare was not fast or sporty, but it was roomy and comfortable. The thing I recall most is that when the humidity was just right a white vapor would blow out of the a.c. vents.

    The F-Bodies and M-Bodies were not great cars by any stretch of the imagination, but they were nicer, more appealing cars than all of the K-Car derivities Chrysler built during the 1980′s and early 1990′s.

  • avatar
    essen

    My dad had a 76 Volare. Total POS. The 318 got worse gas mileage than the 68 Newport with the 383 that he replaced, in the interest of better MPG. Everything went wrong – tranny, burned oil, you name it. He learned to keep an extra ignition ballast or 2 in the glove. Otherwise, it could leave you stranded with no warning.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    My driver’s ed car was a ’78 Volare… in 1993. Its sole attractions were that it started when you turned the key, and nothing important fell off at speed.

  • avatar
    Kyle Schellenberg

    Nice photo correction of the Aspen parked on a hilly Oregon side street.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    PN, terrific writeup. As a longtime connoisseur of the Slant-6, I have to confess I read this piece with a figurative red pen in hand, waiting for the opportunity to pounce on any errors of fact. No such opportunity arose, so all I can do is add some details and comments:

    • The enormous and systematic difference between the class-leading A-body Dart/Valiant + derivatives and the abysmal Aspen/Volaré make it seem entirely appropriate that the latter cars were F-bodies (think in terms of letter grades).

    • Chrysler Australia started importing A-bodies in late 1961, started building A-bodies in 1963, and kept building A-bodies through 1981; they never adopted the F-body. In 1971 they completely revamped the car so it didn’t look even a little bit like the boxy American Valiants, but underneath it was still an A-body. The new Australian styling was kept til ’81. Even while the American mother ship was coughing up blood, Chrysler Australia was a profitable concern making good cars people wanted and bought — sometime in the late ’70s, the Australians were concerned that their Valiant didn’t handle well enough, so they sent some of them to Highland Park for evaluation and recommendations; the response from America was that the Australian car handled better than anything the American operations had at the time. This did not, however, result in the Americans trying to figure out why the Australians were doing well; Iaccoca sold Chrysler Australia to Mitsubishi.

    • Chrysler de Mexico did commit the unforgivable sin; the F-bodies were sold in Mexico as Dodge Darts and Chrysler Valiant Volarés.

    • The Motor Trend Car of the Year award for the ’76 F-bodies was an utter farce; the following year’s recipient (all-new Caprice) was a good deal more justifiable, but nonetheless a skeptic might’ve been forgiven for suspecting the “award” was for sale.

    • Every now and then over on the slant-6 board, we get happy F-body owners bitching about how the cars have an undeserved bad reputation as evidenced by their intact, dependable specimens. This necessitates a quick chat about anecdotal evidence and confirmation bias. With such utterly random build quality, a few of them were bound to be downright passable; the really bad ones rusted away long ago. But “the really bad ones” is a relative term, isn’t it? Just about any pile of junk can be kept on the road with sufficient will and, ah, resources; there was an ’85 Yugo in daily service not far from me in Denver right up through at least 2000 when I moved away.

    • When I worked at a large wrecking yard, my favourite yard car was a ’78 Volaré with a 225 and 3-onna-tree. It started immediately every time, had a big enough trunk to bring a goodly haul of parts to the office from the far reaches of the yard, and had enough torque that the gearstick position didn’t matter. It was, however, no match for the forklift with the 6-foot-tall tires. Perhaps there’s a writeup in the works.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    @Joe McKinney:
    The A-Bodies and M-Bodies were not great cars by any stretch of the imagination, but they were nicer, more appealing cars all of the K-Car derivities Chrysler built during the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

    Eh-body? The A-body cars (in the US and Canada) were the ’60-’76 Valiant/Duster/Scamp, ’61-’62 Lancer, ’63-’76 Dart/Demon/Swinger, ’64-’69 Barracuda. The “AA-body” designation was used for the ’89-’95 Spirit/Acclaim/LeBaron sedans, which were K-derivatives that had nothing to do with the F-bodies. The M-body Diplomat, Gran Fury, (Canadian) Caravelle, LeBaron and New Yorker Fifth Avenue were lightly facelifted F-bodies that had nothing to do with the K-cars.

  • avatar

    @ Daniel J. Stern

    You are correct. The Volare and Aspen were F-Bodies. Also, I omitted a “than” in the sentance you quoted. I was contrasting the F-Body and K-Car rather than implying they are related. I have edited my previous post and this sentence now reads.

    The F-Bodies and M-Bodies were not great cars by any stretch of the imagination, but they were nicer, more appealing cars than all of the K-Car derivities Chrysler built during the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

  • avatar
    BerettaGTZ

    >They got one of these and with a year or so of ownership the front frame collapsed when they crossed some railways tracks.<

    The exact same thing happened with my parent's 77 Aspen. They had a '68 Dart and it was such a solid and reliable car that they got the Aspen to replace it (with the Slant-Six Dart still running strong at the ripe old age of 9). Shortly afterwards the recalls began, then the whole front suspension collapsed, the fender rusting, etc. etc. Not learning his lesson and still very favorable towards Chrysler from the Dart experience, he next bought an Omni.

    Needless to say, there's a Honda in his garage now.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    I Knew it! It was the width of the moulding under the window that gave it away. No such moulding on earlier Mopars.

    Damn you, Chrysler! After a 10 year run for the A bodies (an unheard-of length of time in those days), out came the Volarspen. EVERYONE thought, based on the A body reputation, that these would be great cars. Boy were we wrong.

    I will come to the defense of Motor Trend on this one: To all of us at the time, this car looked like a great leap forward: we expected all of the bulletproof durability we had come to expect from the A bodies, along with a level of quiet and comfort that those cars never possessed. The transverse torsion bars were an ingenious rethink of the iconic Chrysler suspension design, and this car gave the impression of being the most innovative compact sedan in a long while. The fact that the first compact wagon in years was part of the lineup was all the more reason to make this Car of the Year. Given what was known at the time, I don’t know what else would have been more deserving of the honor.

    Althought the coupes and sedans were a bit homely, I think that the wagon was one of the best looking cars of the late 70s.

    An interesting fact is that during the recession of 1974-75, while these cars were in development, the economy went into the tank and Chrysler was hemmoraging red ink. In line with its increasingly dysfunctional management at the time, Chrysler elected to lay off scores of people involved in Volarspen program. In fact, there was a point when virtually the only part of the engineering staff still working was those directly working on Federal safety and emissions compliance. A book written in the early 80s called Going for Broke chronicled the terrible internal state of the company at that time.

    I will agree that by 1979-80, most of the bugs had been worked out of these cars, and they served reasonably well (to the extent that anything with Lean Burn could). But I have driven both, and these are woefully lacking compared to the A body. In particular, the rigidity of the body structure was nowhere near the tight, flex-free structure that the A body enjoyed. Everything you touched in the Volarspen felt cheap, but this was true of all late-70s Mopars.

    I started to type that this car absolutely ruined Chrysler, but it is more accurate to say that Chrysler absolutely ruined this car and, in turn, itself. Why are the most serious wounds always self-inflicted? Your article reminds me how hard it was to be a Mopar guy during this era. Fortunately, I was in high school and college in those years, so I could only afford the good Mopars which were, by then, several years old. Anyway I enjoy all of these articles, but the Mopars are my favorites (even this one.)

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    jpcavanaugh:

    Everything in your analysis is spot on, except you’re forgetting about AMC. They offered the Hornet and Concord as a station wagon during this same period (71-83, I believe). Were they forgettable? Of course, but they were available.

    My driver’s ed car was an Aspen donated by the local Dodge dealer. It ALWAYS stalled when turning a corner!

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Ahh, rrrich Corrrinthian leatherrr…

  • avatar
    tech98

    But it wasn’t the last time its pet sin was committed (think Neon).

    What’s the story with the Neon?

  • avatar
    grog

    The edumacation one gets in the comments as I’ve watched em develop here is so enjoyable. It’s what makes CC so appealing when it selects a shitbox.

    My biggest fear is that you’ll run out of cars in Eugene that meet the CC criteria. If you lived in KC or STL, you would have run out of such cars about 20 CC’s ago.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    grog: My biggest fear is that you’ll run out of cars in Eugene that meet the CC criteria.

    Fear not; five hundred in the can, and still finding new ones. And Portland is nearby: CC heaven.

  • avatar
    ZCD2.7T

    My first car was a 1976 Volare Wagon, silver with blue woven-vinyl interior and the woodie decals on the flanks. 318 V-8 (woohoo!) It had been my father’s “company car”, and they gave it to him for $1 (one dollar) when its term was up. Had 100K miles on it at the time (1979).

    The stalling was epic – led to MANY close calls crossing intersections.

    The handling was hilarious – by sawing the wheel back and forth at speed, I could get the body swaying in opposite phase to the steering wheel, to much guffawing from everyone in the car at the time.

    The folding seats were perfect – for a hormone-addled High School kid to take advantage of (kept pillows in the back seat)

    The rust was ravenous – radio antenna finally fell off completely, dangling by its cable.

    The top speed was 107 mph (ask me how I know)

    The dealer who took it on trade was disappointed – the timing chain broke the day after they took it in. (heh, heh)

    Ahh, the memories….

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Paul,

    I’m loving these. Regarding my earlier post, consider being on the lookout for an AMC Hornet Sportabout wagon, preferably 1971-75 vintage.

  • avatar
    Monty

    Wow, just wow. Not one, but two extremely well prserved Volare/Aspens.

    My Dad was originally a GM fanboy, way back in the 40′s and 50′s. And then he got a new job that came with a company car, and we were the proud drivers of a 1960 Valiant 4 door. The next company car was a ’63 Valiant, and he was instantly in love. It took one car about a week to make my dad a Mopar boy. His employer tried to make him use a ’67 Galaxie, a few years later followed by a Meteor, and then an Impala. All the non-Mopar cars died mysterious deaths, and each time were replaced by Furys and Valiants/Volares. We became such a Mopar family that they became the default vehicle to purchase. I owned several Mopars, and until the ’96 Voyager remained a staunch fanboy.

    I was a youngish father and family man when we bought our used ’76 Aspen coupe; that slant six was (and still remains) one of the best ever to come out of Detroit. The turboglide 3 speed was also much better than what the competition had as well. We put a lot of miles on the Aspen, and it made at least two trips a year out to the coast, and served us incredibly well. At some point it became obvious that the rust was proving to be a serious safety hazard so we had to give up the car to the great junk yard in the sky. If I could find another one, in good condition, I would buy it with no questions asked. It was a quiet, comfortable ride, and other than the rust was bullet proof. In the five years we owned it, we had zero service issues. Zero. It got a new battery, some new tires, and regular oil changes, and a tune-up once a year. We never once had the car in the shop for anything other than the oil changes or tune-ups. Almost 100,000 miles and not one service visit. That’s my idea of a “bullet-proof” car.

    And then Chrysler gave us generation 3 of the Caravan/Voyager minivans. I wish them well, but probably won’t ever consider another Chrysler product.

  • avatar
    Porsche986

    This is a GREAT CC… thanks.

    I remember a friend having a pretty tired wagon when we were in high-school… it had well over 200K on it. They were fairly simple, and the slant-six was probably the best engine Chrysler has ever made. It was fairly powerful (remember it was the 70′s) and just SO robust.

  • avatar
    Porsche986

    bomberpete :
    October 29th, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Paul,

    I’m loving these. Regarding my earlier post, consider being on the lookout for an AMC Hornet Sportabout wagon, preferably 1971-75 vintage.

    I would enjoy this one as well… my grandparents had a series of Sportabout wagons in the 70′s and 80′s… the engines and transmissions of those also were essentially bullet-proof, but the front fenders started rusting within the first two years.

  • avatar

    I had a ’79 Volare sedan, just like the one pictured but blue/blue, engine was Super Six. As mentioned above, Chrysler had pretty much gotten it together with these cars by ’79, so mine was sturdy and reliable with little rust (I had it in ’89-’90). The worst thing about the car was the horrible 7 1/4″ rear end; I bought it for $300 with a broken sun gear, swapped in a boneyard differential, and was good to go – for a while. Yes, THAT one broke, too, forcing me to do it again on a subzero Christmas Eve afternoon. Sold it for $500 in 1990 and got a Mirada. Yes, a Mirada.

    Later, I owned an ex-police ’87 Diplomat (DON’T buy a police car unless you’re prepared to do a lot of wrenching), and, in 2001, I bought a cream-puff, old-man owned ’88 Fifth Avenue which turned out to be one of the best cars I ever had. Replaced the lean-burn with a Mopar Performance electronic ignition, swapped carbs to one specified for a ’77 Dodge pickup, and that 318 ran like a dream. Started in all weather with one pump and a tip of the key, tranny shifted properly, rode smooth and handled surprisingly well for what it was. Wonderful car. Sold it in 2003 and it’s still on the road today.

    Flame me if you must, but I’ve owned nothing but Chryslers since 1993, and my experiences do not match the conventional wisdom (except for the 2000 Concorde that replaced the Fifth Avenue – everything they say about that garbage 2.7 engine is true). I now have a ’99 Grand Voyager that’s about to hit 200,000 miles, and I’d drive it anywhere.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I had 3 toddlers and was laid off in ’86, We had just had our 75 LTD Crown Vic wagon totalled and needed cheap wheels. My brother sold me his rear ended but still drivable 66 Valiant. We drove it for 5 yrs. I also had a 50$ 74 Dart for a while. I wouldnt touch an Aspen or a Volare. The tops of front fenders were rusting out after a year. I believe there was a recall for this. I love the I 6 engines, my BMWs are the closest cars you can get to one of theses 60s “compacts” 80s midsize. 00s fullsize cars.

  • avatar
    paul_y

    In all fairness, the M-bodies weren’t that bad. Sure, they were weird, boaty cars that felt twice as big as they actually were, but were pretty solid for 80s cars.

    A roommate of mine in college (00-03) had an ’83 Fifth Avenue with the 318 purchased for $400. Cushiest interior in any car, ever. Pillow top velour everywhere! The steering was numb, it was slow as hell, and it rode like you were sitting on a trashbag full of jello, but it had presence, dammit. When he finally ditched it for a hand-me-down 2000 Focus, he was aghast that the Focus was significantly more powerful, at which point I had to explain Malaise-era V8s.

    Of course, at the same time, another friend of mine was driving an $800 85 Town Car with under 50k on the clock that you’d have sworn was still new (shiny paint, clean, unworn upholstery, ran perfectly, passed MD emissions). It made the Chrysler look as half-baked as it really was. So, read into this what you will.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Paul Niedermeyer…thank you for giving me some haunting flashbacks!!! ;)

    One of my old middle school teachers had the EXACT same car and color in the top picture…only his at 8 or so years old had at least a dozen shades of rust.

    We always knew when he was coming – first we noticed the sound of something that compares to a lawnmower’s engine gasping for life…then we saw the haze of several shades of smoke…and then we smelled the contents of the LA-quality smog heading our way. We also loved the fresh piles of rust that formed under each door after slamming them shut and then the cascade of multi-hued fluids that gave Niagra a run for its money.

    Even though he always said that he could easily buy another car right away, he kept that car for pure entertainment value. I wonder what happened to that car…

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    And as I recall the Volare/Aspen was Motor Trend’s car of the year.

    The cherry on the top of this craptacular was the Volare became the base for the 1976 Roadrunner. What do you suppose one of those would bring at Barrett-Jackson?

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    In the 70′s we had mostly Mopars in our family and for my father’s company vehicles. He, of course, drove a Mercedes, but for everybody else, a Fury or a Dart variant awaited them. They were very reliable by 70′s standards but all of them had an issue with overheating in traffic with the A/C on. Rust claimed the rearmost leaf spring mounts on a couple of them. I was given a Fury for college – put 260K on it before it was retired to the garage.

    We somehow lucked out because we never bought an Aspen/Volare. Maybe not that lucky because we ended up with an 84 K based New Yorker with the “silent shaft” Mistu motor. Things failed on that car that baffled the mind. Driver seat frame?!

    One thing is for sure: Many people just don’t realize how good modern cars really are. Even the best cars of 30 years ago would be considered an unreliable bomb today.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    @Joe McKinney:
    The F-Bodies and M-Bodies (…)were nicer, more appealing cars than all of the K-Car derivities Chrysler built during the 1980’s and early 1990’s

    I don’t agree. In regular service, an ’89-’95 Spirit/Acclaim/LeBaron sedan was head-shoulders-knees-and-toes above an F- or M-body by just about every imaginable measure. Build and materials quality and quality control, design soundness, reliability, tendency towards durability, packaging efficiency and utility of space, fuel efficiency, driveability, livability, ease of service…

    @BerettaGTZ:
    The exact same thing happened with my parent’s 77 Aspen. They had a ’68 Dart and it was such a solid and reliable car that they got the Aspen to replace it

    The exact same thing didn’t happen to my folks; when in 1978 they decided to replace their rock-solid ’70 Dart, their first stop was the Dodge dealer. They went for a test drive in a ’78 Aspen…at least they tried to. It kept stalling. A door handle didn’t work. A window crank came off in their hand. The parking brake release pulled out and didn’t retract. The salesman kept apologizing. They wound up with a new ’78 Caprice.

    @jpcavanaugh:
    After a 10 year run for the A bodies (an unheard-of length of time in those days)

    Seventeen years, actually. The A-body arrived in 1960 with the first Valiant, and ended (in the U.S. and Canada) with the ’76 Dart.

    I will come to the defense of Motor Trend on this one: To all of us at the time, this car looked like a great leap forward

    No sale. Any mechanical engineer worth the paper his degree was printed on could’ve looked at the schematic of that transverse torsion bar suspension, let alone its metal execution, and come to the blindingly obvious conclusion that it was a pathetic design, pathetically implemented.

    The transverse torsion bars were an ingenious rethink of the iconic Chrysler suspension design

    They were nothing of the sort! They were the halfassed result of a marketing manager overriding the intended coil spring suspension by screaming that Chrysler Corporation was known for two things, unibody construction and torsion bars, and he was damned if he was going to try to sell a coil-spring suspension. The transverse torsion bar suspension barely did its job. The cars wallowed and hunted. Parts cracked and broke regularly. Grossly overloaded bushings didn’t last. Good handling was impossible to maintain between (frequent) alignments and repairs even with the desperation-measure reinforcements applied to taxicabs and police cars; the best that could be hoped for was passably safe handling most of the time, more or less. The ’79-’81 R-bodies (St. Regis, Gran Fury, New Yorker) delighted police departments with their handling and chassis durability — they were simply reskinned old B-bodies with axial (longitudinal) torsion bars — but in every other respect those cars were half-baked steaming piles of manure.

    Althought the coupes and sedans were a bit homely, I think that the wagon was one of the best looking cars of the late 70s.

    Matter of personal taste, I suppose. I can’t bring myself to like any of the F-body styling at all, let alone in comparison to any of that of the A-bodies. You’re right that the F-body coupes were ugly (and virtually indistinguishable from the ’75-’79 Nova/Omega coupe) The F-body wagons were likewise almost indistinguishable from the Fairmont/Zephyr wagons. If we’re naming best-looking American cars of the late ’70s, my list begins and ends at the ’77-’79 Caprice.

    @Monty:
    The turboglide 3 speed was also much better than what the competition had as well.

    Chrysler’s 3-speed automatic was vastly superior in shift quality, durability, and efficiency to its nominal competitors, yes. It was called the Torqueflite, not the Turboglide.

    @tech98:
    What’s the story with the Neon?

    Good idea, spoiled by ridiculously cheap and nasty materials and build quality and stupid design/build faults (appetite for head gaskets, water entering the taillamps, the trunk, the passenger compartment, and the Nev-R-Seel frameless side glass, peeling paint, other dumb excuseless flaws) and uncompetitive engine and transmission technology.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Great article and comments.

    It would be fascinating to read an insider’s account of the development process and key decisions (blunders) that led to putting on the market these half-baked cars. And by “insider” I don’t mean Iacocca, but a program executive or ranking engineer deeply involved in the process and willing to pull the skeletons out of the closet.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    @Daniel J. Stern, Thanks for your additional comments in detail. I agree with you 100%, especially regarding the transverse torsion bar front. And about the ’77 Caprice; my homage will be coming.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    It would be fascinating to read an insider’s account of the development process and key decisions (blunders) that led to putting on the market these half-baked cars. And by “insider” I don’t mean Iacocca, but a program executive or ranking engineer deeply involved in the process and willing to pull the skeletons out of the closet.

    Allpar is always a great Mopar source:

    http://www.allpar.com/model/aspen.html

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    Daniel J. Stern : Every now and then over on the slant-6 board, we get happy F-body owners bitching about how the cars have an undeserved bad reputation as evidenced by their intact, dependable specimens. This necessitates a quick chat about anecdotal evidence and confirmation bias.

    I call this “time heals all reliability ratings.” Because it does. Reliability ratings are a matter of percentages: when nearly new, not all Volares broke down frequently. But more of them did, on a percentage basis, than say, Toyota Coronas, or even Chevy Malibus. Over time though, the most unreliable ones are more likely to get junked sooner. So, the average “health” of the population of Volares still on the road at some point actually began to IMPROVE, as the bad ones are culled from the herd.

    It’s probably a kinda U-shaped curve: first you have the period of time it takes for the flaws to manifest themselves, then you hit a plateau at bottom where you are starting to crush the lemons but the remaining cars are aging too, then the curve starts climbing again as the remaining cars become the ones that were put together right to begin with and have been well cared for by their owners. In other words, any Volare that is still around probably DOES run well and always did.

  • avatar
    dmrdano

    I used to have a ’69 Chrysler Newport convertible. You could put your Aspen in that trunk!

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    @DanielJStern

    Seventeen years, actually. The A-body arrived in 1960 with the first Valiant, and ended (in the U.S. and Canada) with the ‘76 Dart.

    You are correct, of course. But I was actually thinking of the 1967-76 version of the A body.

    On the transverse torsion bars, I stand corrected. I have never owned one of these, and only drove a couple of them when they were practically new, so I never lived with them or experienced them on an older car. I was extrapolating my many happy experiences with the longitudinal torsion bars, always a dangerous practice, particularly where 70s vintage Mopars are concerned.

    @50merc – There was a book that came out around 1981 or 82 called Going For Broke, the Chrysler Story. I believe the authors were Barret Seaman and Michael Moritz, who had been writers for Business Week magazine, IIRC. The book gives a historical summary of Chrysler from the beginning, but spends most of its time on the 1970-80 era. I bought the book when it first came out and re-read it this past summer. It is a fascinating read on several levels, but a primary point is that nobody on the outside appreciated just how screwed-up the old Chrysler had become. Iacocca said that if he had possessed any inkling of how bad it really was, he would never have taken it on. As it was, he practically had to start from scratch to rebuild that company. Virtually none of the old management was still there after a year or two.

    The book is interesting for another reason: We forget just how invincible General Motors seemed in those days. GM had everyone else in the industry scared to death because of all the resources that they were throwing into the new product pipeline in the wake of CAFE. It was assumed that GM could only get richer as it was the only company big enough to be in every segment of the market. The CW was that Chrysler and maybe even Ford were destined to be niche players as time went on. Funny how it actually turned out, with all that new product in the early 80s being the seeds of the General’s destruction.

  • avatar
    gohorns

    Is that genuine corinthian vinyl I see?

  • avatar
    pb35

    It’s nice to see other Mopar fans out there. I grew up in a Chrysler family as evidenced by my above post.

    While out minivan shopping recently, I stopped at my local Dodge store. I found a white Charger with the Road and Track package, very nice. I briefly considered trading our (paid for) G35 for it till I came to my senses.

    I still hear it calling me, though.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    My Valiants were bulletproof, and embarrassing to look at. They were boxes. For almost a decade, Chrysler made them by the millions. They were so homely, we learned to love them, and today, they look kinda cool in a boxy retro way.

    So, when these gruesome twosome showed up, we were delighted. They had all the updated lines, the right proportions and exactly the right look. And best of all, they had a wagon. I always loved the Valiant and Dart wagons and it was a crime that for cars as homely and boxy as they were, there wasn’t a wagon version of them. So, we were in love with the Dodge Aspen and the Plymouth Volare.

    Then we got one. Something horrible happened. It was like out of a nightmare. The offspring of the Valiant, Duster, Dart and Demon was a lemon!

    That was it. Chrysler was selling bloated intermediates that looked as though they could seat 20, but barely held 5, had long ugly hoods, Coke-bottle rear fender lines, vinyl roofs and front overhang that was an embarrassment. Their full size cars were padded Byzantium whales – dinosaurs, complete with fake hide. The only decent sized vehicle was exposed to being a lemon. That was it for us for a full decade, until the Voyager and Iacocca.

    Our experiences with Chrysler during this era was mirrored millions of times. It comes as no surprise at the response this posting has created. Our disappointments were so acute and real.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    I had a 1978 Volare with the exact same interior as the one in the article. First, the interior quality was light years ahead of anything coming out Detroit at the time. Mine was not rusty since we live in a rust free area with little road salt.

    It was a great car. It always started and ran and all I ever did in like four years is replace the master cylinder. I loved the low revving six and the smooth torqueflite. It had lots of room and it was reasonably economical to run, too. I still miss that car, it was so drive and forget it.

  • avatar
    RLST8_4U

    I was ZCD2.7T’s roommate in college and thus his Volare was kind of my first car, too. (I had a Suzuki GS250T that was his first motorbike :-). The stalling nearly killed me, as well, but what he forgot to mention was that his favorite sport was going over the hill-ey northern Michigan back roads and hiting the apex of the hills with enough speed for the car to go airborn — and then trying to regain control upon landing. That was truly special. Talk about near-death…
    I also made use of the folding seats…with my girlfriend’s Mom in the back! She had back surgery and could not sit, so we made a bed in the back and brought her home that way. I had my ideas of how to test that set-up further with my girlfriend, but she was very religious and did not condone any of that…
    Driving that Volare was a character-building experience and I appreciate those memories!

  • avatar
    alfred p. sloan

    Another appropriate article for this column. Well done as usual.

    the Late seventies are a period of particular interest to me because the product was starting out at the bottom again.

    I love reading about the general struggling in the wake of the vega to produce a fwd, i really enjoy the stories of chrysler drowning in thier tar pit and of ford redesigning their entire line.

    A fascinating period. Not a great period but more can be learned about the times by reading about this era of car desing than any decade before it.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    I also had a ’76 Aspen wagon for a while,which was affected by the infamous stalling issue. A 2bbl aftermarket carb and manifold cured that problem.

    I strapped my canoe on top and took my honey boonie bashing in places nobody would take their shiny new 4X4s and never once got stuck with that low revving six. It was seven feet long with with seat folded down and with a 4″ foam made for a very restful night’s sleep. I did always keep and extra ignition ballast resistor handy!

    Happy Mopar memories!

  • avatar
    starbird80

    A friend once claimed his mom got a heckuva deal on one of these. Supposedly it arrived at the dealer with Aspen badging on one side and Volare badging on the other. No idea which way the title read.

    Also looking forward to the 1977 Caprice CC – that was my school’s Drivers Ed car.

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    Oddly enough,my dad’s last car was a 77 Aspen-it wasn’t his best car.
    I’ve added a link to an article about my brother’s 1st new car-an 80 ROADRUNNER .
    He still owns it and still loves driving it even though he owns a Challenger 500 limited edition. -the Runner’s been a great car over all these years.
    http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/2-features/stories/79-1980roadrunner.html

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    In High School (mid 80′s), my good friend (to this day) inherited his mother’s 1980ish Volare Wagon. Slant-six, automatic, black with fake bark slathered on the sides. And the endearing name of “Chowder Boat”. How this came about was that the clan was making the journey to Grandma’s House with a LARGE pot of fish chowder in the back of the car. Which was at some point knocked over, saturating the rear cargo area floor and carpet. Not realizing there had been a spill, the car was left overnight at Grandma’s. In the winter, in Maine. Frozen chowder is VERY difficult to remove. All was fine until Spring, when the car took on, shall we say, a rather memorable aroma. And was promptly handed down to the kids.

    Oh, the abuse that was heaped upon that poor car. Leaping snowbanks was a pastime, as was coaxing what little acceleration the thing was capable of by holding the automatic in Low until the valves floated and the roofrack would make this amazing harmonic vibration noise “time to shift”. I distinctly remember that while throttle position made no real difference to forward progress, it made quite a difference in noise output. It eventually rusted away, of course. Good times!

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Divine rips the door off a souped up Aspenlare in the movie “Polyester”. Daughter’s boyfriend’s car.

    They use it to drive around Baltimore swatting pedestrians on the ass with a broom. Would that count as “hoonery”?

    It may be a Road Runner or an Apen R/T: red with black stripes.
    Funny movie

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    @Jerry Sutherland: What a wonderful link. These guys “get it”.

  • avatar
    buffknut

    I bought one of these used in 1978, but mine was a fastback that looked like a Duster and it had a 3-speed manual floor shifter. The shifter had the longest throw between gears I’ve ever seen and after awhile I had to practically slam it from gear to gear.

    The fender rusted so bad that I had to put the antenna inside the car. As part of Chrysler’s loan I was able to get the fenders replaced but within 4 months the new ones completely rusted since they did a horrible job repainting it. I took it back to the dealer and the dealer said basically, well you put 25,000 miles on it since the new fender (or some thing like that). I said well the rest of the car drove the same miles without rusting through. So they redid the job.

    I did put alot of miles on it in 6 months for my job at the time.

    I think it stalled on left turns and also the clutch plate assembly snapped.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    As geeber and bomberpete pointed out, Sergio Franchi sang “Volare” in the commercials, which was a re-lyriced version of the 1958 Grammy Award winner for best record. The car’s “in-between” size was referenced in the lyrics as “Drive small, the sensible way.” Another memorable TV spot for these featured the Aspen, with none other than Rex Harrison speak-singing, “Unbelieveable,” with a bevy of actors and actresses dressed in Edwardian-era constumes for the races at Ascot (mimicing the scene from My Fair Lady).

    Consumer Reports rated the Aspen/Volare highly in a test of compacts in 1975 or 1976, placing it above the Ford Granada and (if I remember correctly) the Chevrolet Nova Concours; the only major criticism was a shallow trunk that wouldn’t hold paper grocery bags (most commonly used at the time) upright. Of course, there was no reliability data, as these were new models. The legendard Torqueflight transmission (not Turboglide, as previously mentioned…that was Chevy) and engine blocks were perhaps the only parts of these cars that were truly bulletproof.

    Given these models’ reputation for rusting into oblivion, it’s interesting to note that they’re rarely seen for sale, and those that are seen are often heavily modified for racing.

  • avatar
    NickR

    Funny, the rarest and wierdest one of these I have seen (and not too long ago) was adorned with some kit you could get from Chrysler to make it look like a Nascar stocker. It was really quite bizarre.

    There are still some people who insist on hotrodding these with a 440. There are far more worthy homes for a wedge.

  • avatar
    Turbo60640

    My grandfather had a celery green ’76 Volare wagon with auto, and I believe it had the words “Six Barrel” printed on the engine. It constantly had problems, and my Dad would always spend hours in the garage helping my grandfather fix it (he was a GM mechanic). I still remember the anemic sound that car would would make when trying to turn over.

    The car ended up limping into the early 90s and finally died.

    My aunt had a two-tone blue ’79 Volare sedan. She hated it, and traded it in on a two-tone blue ’83 Chevy Celebrity sedan.

    All in all, I do like the look of the Volares and Aspens, especially the wagons with faux wood.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    This article pretty much states what I was talking about with a co-worker a couple of weeks ago. Many of these cars were bought by owners of A-body cars, which had a well earned reputation for being bullet proof. I magine what a letdown it would be, to come off a car as good as an A-body into a piece of garbage such as this. That would piss a lot of people off enough to switch brands.
    And like the article states, the number of surviving A-bodies is a testament to their design and execution.
    Look in hemmings and you see pages and pages of them for sale. There is row after row of them on display at carlisle every year. Can’t remember the last time I saw a 70′s F body, although there are usually a few at carlisle. The owners must not drive them in the rain. In fairness though, a pretty good percentage of the Fifth Avenue version are still around, but nothing like the A-bodies.

  • avatar
    Boxofrain

    Didn’t these also come in “Road Runner” and R/T versions? No doubt just pathetic sticker treatments that denigrated these once great nameplates.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    For her high school graduation, the big sister of Emily, the girl who grew up across the street got a ’76 Roadrunner, in bright blue with Rallye wheels and Goodyear Polyglas R/WL tires. It looked like crap within a year. I wonder where Emily is now. Ah, memories.

    Yes, these were extremely faux muscle cars, just like everything in the late 70s — I mean, half the Honda Civic line today will out-accelerate a stock ’78 Trans Am. Volare/Aspen coupes were sold with the Roadrunner and R/T trim throughout the whole model run, so someone bought them. Most had the 318 V-8 but the 360 V-8 was available at least through 1978. If you were to find a clean well-preserved coupe or even better, a wagon, and stick in a Direct Connection small block and good graphics, it might not be a bad little retro ride.

  • avatar
    williamjames83

    Well, it’s fairly apparent that you guys don’t really know anything about the 76, and much less, any other model Volare. Sure it had some recalls, big deal. They bought the car for the slant 6, not because of another car, and despite what any of you say, I have a 76 Volare at this very moment sitting in my front yard, and guess what? Yea, it still runs good, still doesn’t need ANY body work, besides a paint job, any car thats 34 years old will need one of those, and it has no rust on it anywhere, besides a couple of spots on the front bumper, even my motor has no rust on it hardly. And I can promise you, it has more power than any car most of you own, and thats a fact, im not saying it’s stock because it’s not, but thats besides the point. And if you guys were smart, you would buy one of these cars before they become expensive due to the fact that there is not really alot of them left running the roads these days, and believe me, it will happen. What happens when things become very hard to find/get? They rise in price, this WILL happen, mark my words.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Williamjames, unfortunately rarity does not make a car valuable. If that were the case then pintos and vegas would be collector cars. A volare with the road runner package and 360 engine in pristine condition, especially with T tops is somewhat collectible, as well as the similar aspen R/T.
    Even those examples are not high dollar cars, except by 70′s standards. I have seen a few of them listed in hemmings for between 12 and 16k. Mainly diehard chrysler guys that can’t afford something like a charger or road runner would be the type to buy them, or someone who just wants to be different from the rest of the crowd. But remember, a car does not have to be collectible or valuable for the owner to enjoy it, if the car makes you happy then that’s all that matters.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Williamjames, emotion and nostalgia only goes so far. There’s very few of you out there.
     
    A few years back I worked at an ad agency. One of the designers, a very good artist and nice person, lost his mother. He inherited her ’78 Volare Coupe, powder blue with Slant Six, very nicely kept with less than 70K. He asked $4,500, got a $3K offer after a month and grabbed it.
     
    He was practically in tears, but has anyone seen a Volare/Aspen get that kind of price?
     
    Right now there’s a restored ’77 Volare RoadRunner on eBay with t-tops and 360 2-barrel. The seller’s asking $22K with no bidders. http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/Frame-Up-Restored-1977-Plymouth-Volare-Road-Runner-/280577112724?pt=US_Cars_Trucks&hash=item4153b2fa94
     
    What would you bid?
     
     
     

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    One advantage to having one of the nice T top 360 equipped F bodies is that one will certainly draw attention at a show due to the fact that they are different.
    There are usually 3 or 4 at carlisle every year, and after roaming through the endless rows of A, B and E bodies I always go out of my way to check them out, and snap a couple of pics.


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