By on December 28, 2011

It’s hard to believe that the Dodge Aspen was once a common sight on the street, seen as frequently back in the Malaise Era as CR-Vs are today. Cops drove them, college students drove them, old ladies drove them; as the successor to the Dart, the Aspen was about as mainstream as it was possible to be. Then, sometime around about 1990, just about all of them were swallowed up by a hole in the earth.
Every so often, however, an Aspen hangs on long enough to show up in a self-service wrecking yard. Here’s one I found in a Denver yard yesterday.
What can I say about this interior? The less said, the better.
This example appears to have a pretty hefty selection of quasi-luxurious options, including the much-sought-after “Schnauzer On A Stick” heraldic crest on the grille.
You can’t go wrong with a Slant Six under the hood. Well, unless it’s a LeBaron.

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38 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1976 Dodge Aspen...”


  • avatar
    BigFatGeek

    How has this thing managed to hang on for so long?

    And, more importantly, when can we expect to see the conclusion of the wonderful 1965 Impala Hell Project series?

  • avatar
    Number6

    How you managed to find one of these without perforated fenders is a miracle. Aftermarket fiberglass fenders were popular for a reason…this Aspen was, to date, the absolute worst car I’ve ever owned. Did I mention it’s pechant for chewing axles? I think I replaced three in the 18-odd months I owned it…

  • avatar
    skor

    I was a boy when these things were new and I remember thinking that they looked old….even thought they had just rolled off the dealer lots.

    The disco upholstery was common to all the Detroit cars back in the day. If you were not alive during the 70′s you really can’t appreciate just how badly style had sunk. Today we’ve got girls walking around in flip-flops and pajama bottoms. Then you had dads walking around in orange polyester “leisure” suits.

    There was a survey done of auto mechanics back in the day asking which car they considered to be the worst car produced during the 70′s. It was assumed that the Vega or Pinto would have the #1 spot, but no. The Aspen/Volare were voted the worst car of the 70′s by a wide margin. BTW, except for the explody reputation, the Pinto got relatively good marks.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    The front seats don’t match the back and look like they were pulled from a LeBaron. That would have been an easy switch.

    These cars are an embarrassment on so many levels.

    Lee Iacocca demonstrated that you could take a Maverick, drop a three-box sedan onto it, fill it with luxo-options, sell it as a Mercedes look-a-like and float container ships full of these cars upon the profits they produced.

    Chrysler needed profits too. So they tried the same with these cars. Problem was, they sucked. Granadas were Mavericks, but Aspens were bad Darts. You couldn’t win in either fancy or plain versions, because the car was made in the worse way possible.

    The Public wanted smaller, more economical cars. It was as groovy as Pet Rocks and ABBA. Like Hybrids today. Socially conscience polyester wearing Boomers fell for these cars as symbols of social coolness. Then they discovered that they were junk, so the Boomers switched to Japanese groove machines that rusted faster than a ungalvanized washer in the Amazon jungle.

    These are just nasty machines – when they run. They are about as collectable as Pet Rocks today. Pet Rocks with their cardboard cages and feeding instructions, that is.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      Yup, the Granada was a re-bodied Maverick. The Maverick was in turn a re-bodied Falcon. The Falcon also gave birth to the Fairlane as well as the Mustang. I’m guessing the Falcon probably produced the best ROI of any car platform in history.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        The Falcon was expensive and over engineered with recycled parts. Ford could have done it even more cheaply if McNamara wasn’t involved. I am guessing that Ford reused the Falcon continually to squeeze out a better ROI. While McNamara was the egghead engineer, Iaccoca was the bloviating genius salesman who care less about engineering. Bob and Lee didn’t get along. So perhaps Lee especially enjoyed putting McNamara’s masterpiece into silly pompous costumes and proving he could outsell McNamara’s stodgy mule of a car. It would have been sweet justice for Lee to have sent Bob a Ghia Granada, out of spite, with a note that read, “Hey Bob! Thought you would like to see a pimped out version of your ugly car. Folks are buying them by the hundreds of thousands! Next month, I’m taking your Falcon and turning it into a Hong Kong bordello.”

        “Told you there was a silk purse in that sow’s ear!”

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        McNamara did get along with Iacocca. It was McNamara who noticed Iacocca’s successful “56 for a ’56″ sales campaign in the mid-Atlantic region during the 1956 model year, and had him brought to Detroit. Iacocca’s campaign was used nationwide by Ford, and McNamara later credited it with boosting Ford’s sales by about 200,000 units in a tough year.

        Iacocca respected McNamara’s intelligence and ability to master data, even if he thought that his emphasis on practicality and disdain for flash were misguided.

      • 0 avatar
        MadHungarian

        Not to mention all the extra years that Ford got out of the platform in South America and Australia.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      McNamara started his career as an accountant, not an engineer. Iaccoca started at Ford as an engineer and moved over to management.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      That’s an old story. Automakers – yes, even the vaunted Japanese – have been doing this for as long as I can remember. But every once in a while, you have a great driver’s car – the Mustang, Pontiac GTO, VW GTI, and a long list of others – that used most proletarian underpinnings to create a classic. It ain’t all gravy.

    • 0 avatar

      These were actually amazing cars – for Toyota, Honda, Nissan, et. al.

      I wonder how many Aspens/Volares were traded in on somebody’s first Japanese car? Probably second only to GM’s FWD X cars for their ability to destroy brand loyalty.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      While the Granada was basically a rebodied Maverick as you say, the same wasn’t true for the Aspen/Volare. They were built on a new F-body platform which was substantially changed from the older Dart/Valiant A-body. For instance, the front suspension on the new cars used transverse torsion bars while the older cars used longitudinal bars. Also, the Aspen was designed to be much roomier for the size than the Dart. The Aspen/Volare was the last new platform that Chrysler could afford until the FWD 1981 K-car. The Aspen/Volare weren’t good cars, but it’s wrong to say that they were just restyled Darts and Valiants. Perhaps they should have been given all the F-platform troubles.

  • avatar
    millmech

    Brake discs are still shiny- must be a new addition to the lot.
    Looks like recent blue paint on the engine- recent repair or shined up to sell?

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Slant six and torqueflite. It was probably driven to the lot. The air probably worked too.
    I had a 79 Volare Wagon for 8 yrs. Not the best car I have owned but not terrible.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Had the same thought (well except the AC). Slant six and torqueflite probably would run around the lot if you put wheels on it. Nothing else works, the frame is probably rotted out, the interior has completely fallen apart as you can see in the pictures – but I’m willing to bet it will start/run and drive.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    A prime example of “Fine Corinthian Leather”.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    If the 360 had hung around longer as a civilian option for the F/M bodies I wonder what the take rate would have been? Although the only guy I ever knew with one had an old Sheriff’s car with the slant 6 and a limited slip diff. It was his favorite snow car, but he actually replaced it with one of the last Ramchargers.

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    You have to scroll down on this page but we picked a sister to the Aspen (Plymouth Volare) as a Star of the Day back in November.
    http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/2-features/star-car-tunes/1335-november-21-star-of-the-daya-1978-mustang-king-cobra-little-brother-muscled-out.html

    They are becoming rare but you still see the odd one around in daily use.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Had a 1979 plain jane white Volare with red interior.. Was good reliable transportation for me back when I was in school commuting to Boston.
    Simple and reliable. By far not the worst I’ve owned. GMs take that spot..

    • 0 avatar

      Years ago the company I worked for also had a 79 white Volare with red interior.
      Truth was it was a joke, crappy heater, numb steering, uncomfortable vinyl seats,and a clunking sound when turning too sharply (typical of Chryco products IIRC)among other issues.
      But with a 318,albeit underpowered, and a 904 transmission it was hard to kill.
      The life of a fleet car is never an easy one, but it held up until the mid 90′s after about 10 years of service. Not too bad.
      Looking back there was no redeeming value to that car or that era except for the V8′s, the inline 6′s and the simple 3 speed autos.

      • 0 avatar
        MusicMachine

        Dad and Mom purchased a ’76 Valiant from from the old lady neighbor in ’85. It had only 19k mi. A 318. They drove ’till ’91. It was our only car. A starter, several retreads, alignments, a cherry bomb muffler, a fan belt…probably breaks. I think that was it for the repairs. It stalled constantly and one winter the breaks froze then thawed. But al-in-all a pretty damned good car. It ALWAYS got you there.

        Grandpa had a ’78 Aspen Wagon w/ air. Stalled at every turn but no problems otherwise. Slant 6 eng.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I had a good test drive in a green on brown ex-sheriff Aspen. It had the 360 4-barrel, 727 Torqueflite, and big black tires on big black cop car wheels that almost stuck out on the sides. It would both haul ass and handle, and I might well have bought it if I’d had any money at the time. I ended up having my ex-cop-car fun instead with a ’76 Dart Pursuit.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    My brother had one of these. I couldn’t swear by it, but I think it was a 318. Like all the Detroit makers, Chrysler had solved precisely nothing about how to make a car drivable with smog controls. The thing repeatedly died on every cold morning until fully warmed up. You didn’t have to wait for it to rust (which it did) to know what a POS it was.

  • avatar
    obbop

    The rear “parcel shelf” is crying out for some wedge-shaped Kraco speakers that the 8-track player could emit the groovy tunes out of.

    Baby Boom bashers are invited to meet a Disgruntled Old Coot at the dumpster and meet/greet one who devoted a life-time of physical labor performing the tasks “Americans will not do.”

    Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr………..

  • avatar
    geozinger

    That was a pretty dolled up 6 cylinder Aspen. I guess the first gas crisis was still on the mind of the original owner when they bought the car. The F-body Mopar was a nice sized car back in the day; I knew several people with them. It was all but impossible to outrun the tinworm on the early ones. The Lean Burn ignition sure didn’t help, either.

    A friend of mine in college had a 1980 coupe, it was pretty well sorted out. Mopar had improved the ignition by then, and apparently figured out rustproofing methods. He still had the car when we graduated in 1985, and for a fair amount of time after. I forget when he finally got rid of it (he was cheap, honestly), but it had to be 10 years old by then.

    It’s a shame that Chrysler wasn’t able to execute on the early versions of this car, I’m sure they’re fortunes would have been much different. What’s so annoying is that the M-body managed to be such a decent car, but the original F-body wasn’t.

  • avatar
    Alex Vendler

    The snow is a nice touch.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    well, howzy-bout that, an Aspen located not too far from Aspen. This one probably spun the odometer three times. Long enough to wear out one set of front seats, replace them, and wear those out too. Not to mention that cool woodgrain upgrade for the dash pad.

    I often use the Aspen/Volare as an illustration of a common misunderstanding about cars that had a reputation as unreliable when new. It is never the case (well, maybe except for Maserati Biturbos) that EVERY example of such cars broke down constantly. The “unreliable” models were just the ones that statistically were more likely to be trouble in the first few years of ownership. So, if fifteen of every 100 Aspens had some problem in a year, as opposed to five Corollas, you could say that the Corolla was three times more reliable than the Aspen. But then you don’t notice that 85 percent of the Aspens were fine.

    For obvious reasons, the more lemony ones were the first ones to get junked as time went by. Once you get to 10 or more years out, the ones that are left are, by and large, the good ones.

    That is in my opinion one reason why you often do better buying an older car that has been in constant use rather than one that was used for a year or two and then locked in a barn. The barn-find car hasn’t been through the weeding out process.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      In the mid to late 80s, I worked with two people who junked Aspens and kept an older Valiant/Dart.

      Told me all I needed to know about the Aspen.

    • 0 avatar
      fred schumacher

      There is some recent research on the characteristics of individual entities, biological and non, that have been able to last a long time. For example, centenarians are not like the elderly in general. They are healthier than most people in their 80s. The same is true for non-humans and also, interestingly, for inert objects, such as cars. A vehicle that lasts a long time is a keeper.

      Buggy vehicles tend to be buggy in many different facets. I had a mid-80s Colt Vista 4WD wagon that was constantly in the shop. It got my wife through a winter of driving the 68 miles to International Falls early in the morning before the snowplows were out. What bothered me about the car was its complexity. It had more relays than the Olympics. My mechanic convinced me to unload it cheap and buy a three year-old Sundance in the yard. “It won’t give you any trouble,” he said. “You owe it to your wife.” And he was right. That car went to 240,000 miles and the only thing major it needed was a new clutch at 180,000. It was the road salt on the wiring that finally did it in.

      I had an auto worker friend back in the early 70s who told me to never buy a car that was made on a Monday or Friday. I had another friend who worked as an assembly line worker on Mondays and Fridays only. They had a regular crew to fill in for all the absentees on those two days. That could explain why some cars are just fine and others of the same model give nothing but trouble.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    The F body was a completely different design than the legendary A body, which was s far better design than the ford compacts. The front seat in this car is either from a lebaron or a 5th ave. When the F body morphed into the M body the bugs were worked out and they were pretty much bulletproof, especially by 80′s standards.
    I own two M bodies, an 86 5th ave. and an ex police car diplomat.
    I plan to drop a 360 crate motor into the dippy and run it at the strip.
    The 5th ave. is just a cruiser. Externally it looks like it did when it came from the factory. I performed a few mods for better handling and driveabilty though. It has the cop steering box and cop suspension bushings along with good shocks. Under the hood I installed an edelbrock performer carb and manifold along with a MP ignition with an orange box and open element air cleaner.
    I like the ghetto-old person wire wheels and padded roof with coach lamps and all the chrome, it makes it feel more like a cruiser. Later on I plan to install a good low restriction exhaust and swap in a 3.23 cog.
    I would really hate to see the slant 6 in that aspen get melted down into three hyundais, I hope someone comes along and saves it.

    • 0 avatar
      Halftruth

      I had an 87 Diplomat with the vinyl roof. Never cared for the extra padded roof the Fifth aves had though.. Too much for me. Car was bulletproof with the 318. Interior wore like iron as well. Glad to see your keeping a couple of Ms on the road!

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    My biggest memory of these was the Volare a friend’s dad had. It must have been one of the “lemony” ones, because I think he invented new cuss words to describe all the problems it had.
    Eventually it failed to start one time too many. He left the keys on the seat and just walked away.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I seem to remember as a young kid the 76 and 77 versions of these cars not being fitted with fender inner liners which caused the fenders to waste away like the Hondas and Toyotas at the time. Chrysler also was having troubles with it’s lean burn system and the dreadful carburetors which liked to stall when cold. By 1978 things improved and a 2BBL super six was introduced with 110 HP instead of 100 and the optional 318 was down to 140 horse, 135 in 1979 and 120 in 1980 with increasing smog controls stifling the engine. The poor Slant 6 was degraded to just 90 HP by 1980 and 85 for 1981 when it finally got hydralic lifters in the M-body cars plus the full sizers. My good friend had a 1979 Volare with super 6 with 100K on the odometer. It ran ok, had no rust being from the south and served him pretty well for another 50K miles. It was a total dog off the line, especially with the A/C turned on but was adequate once going past 30. It was so bad that I easily blew him away in races with my 1981 Olds Cutlass with the enemic 260 V8 with 105 HP! His was rated for 110. The carb was rebuilt and replaced. The valves adjusted, vacuum leaks were cleaned up but still that damn car could litterally not get out of it’s own way. Was very reliable though.

  • avatar
    and003

    If this was an R/T model, I’d buy it. I always had a soft spot for the Aspen R/Ts. If I had one, I could salvage the body shell and glass, and swap out everything else. Then I’d have a custom chassis installed in place of the original unibody chassis.

  • avatar
    The Dark One

    My neighbor had one of these, the same color, and her best friend had a same year white Volare. Sure enough, around 1990 – 91 it was replaced in her driveway by a Nissan Sentra.


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