By on December 8, 2011

Is there any vehicle more emblematic of the Malaise Era than the first-gen Dodge Magnum? Other than the Plymouth Fire Arrow, that is… or the black-bumper MGB… or the Mustang II. Terrible as it is, however, this junked Magnum I found mouldering in a San Jose self-service junkyard still has a certain undeniable presence.
The Magnum was the last of the storied Chrysler B-Body series, which means it’s a sibling to such Chrysler superstars as the Super Bee, Road Runner, and Charger.
I’m not going to look up the horsepower figures on the California-spec 318 for 1978. You don’t want to know.
Maybe I’m getting too tolerant in my old age, but I think that the weird styling touches on this car have aged better than most Malaise Detroit weird styling touches (e.g., the quarter-window louvers on the Pontiac Grand Am Colonnade).

Just up the 880 from this yard, I passed the Solyndra and NUMMI buildings in rapid succession. What does it mean?

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65 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1978 Dodge Magnum...”

  • avatar

    I wish there was at least one car on the market today with plush lazy boy seats.

    • 0 avatar

      Here are a couple of options for you.

  • avatar

    Maybe I’m getting too tolerant in my old age, but I think that the weird styling touches on this car have aged better than most Malaise Detroit weird styling touches

    No, I think that grille is still handsome by today’s standards and would’ve really stood out amongst all the baroque waterfall grilles of the era.

    • 0 avatar

      This car was a cheap makeover of the uninspiring, Cordoba-clone 1975-77 Charger. That Charger was trounced in the sales race by the Cordoba and every other personal luxury coupe, so Dodge gave it a facelift and a new name for 1978. And it worked.

      The slotted grille and swept-back headlights with covers (which was an early attempt at the flush look for headlights, as true flush units were not legal at that time) were handsome then, and still look good today. I remember liking this car when it was new, and I still like it today. If I recall correctly, sales did increase over the Charger’s dismal showing, but they were still low compared to the sales of competitors.

      • 0 avatar

        I liked its looks a lot back in the day, too. And that engine bay will take a 440. Just saying.

      • 0 avatar

        A couple notes regarding this car.

        First – Cordoba was a huge success for Chrysler. Within 12 months, about half of all Chrysler production was for the Cordoba. Cordoba was successful at the expense of Dodge, just as the Chrysler Newport was successful at the expense of DeSoto twenty years earlier.

        In each case, a decision was made to help Chrysler regardless of the impact a new car line would have on it’s sibling brands. It wasn’t merely spite, but profit. You can charge more for a Chrysler than you can for a Dodge or a DeSoto. Every dollar helps the bottom line.

        To keep Chrysler alive, it dumped a ton of bucks into Cordoba promotions. Thankfully it helped, but instead of Cordoba gaining conquest sales from competitors, Cordoba gained sales at the expense of other Chrysler products, especially Dodge and Plymouth.

        Why buy a Dodge Charger or Magnum when the hot car was a Cordoba?

        Chrysler gave Dodge the Monaco to respond to the growing popularity of the sporty full sized car, a-la-Grand Prix and similar competition. Monaco was an also ran in this field during the 1960s and 1970s. Had Chrysler continued with it’s investment in the Dodge Monaco, perhaps it would have been more successful in this market. But by 1975, Chrysler needed a winner more than Dodge, so what should have been a new Monaco became a Cordoba. Dodge was given a Dodge version of the Cordoba – the Charger. That was a good name put onto a car no one wanted. Worse, Chargers were flat-out sports monsters, not bordellomobiles. Calling a Cordoba a Charger was demeaning to the name established within the market.

        The Charger found few homes and was an ignoble end to a noble legend. Sure Chrysler tried to sport it up, but with the hot popularity of the Cordoba, buyers saw the Charger as a NOT a Cordoba.

        The Magnum was Chrysler’s attempt to sell more Dodges. The shift from Muscle Car to Bordellomobile was so abrupt it left many insiders wondering if there wasn’t room for a Musclebordello car. AMC spit out the ill-fated Matador Coupe, and Monte Carlo was available with sporty-ish options. The Magnum was Chrysler’s attempt to stop Dodge’s bleeding due to Cordoba, and to seek out that missing link between Muscle and Tush.

        It could have happened, but you only get so many bites at the apple before it rots and by 1980 Chrysler and Ford were out of money. The Cordoba boom ended as fast as it began and Chrysler had nothing to offer the Market except a tarted-up Chysler version of the ill-fated Volare and Aspen, they called LeBaron. Debts spiralled out of control and, well, you know the rest.

        The Magnum probably looks better to us than the more popular Bordellomobiles of that year because unlike the GM and Ford models, the Magnum didn’t have all the unsightly plastic exterior cosmetics. Today it takes a very open mind to find a Givenchy Matador attractive or a fully-pumped Grand Marquis coupe, complete with padded vinyl looking headlight doors. The Magnum was less of the pompous nastiness of the era, so it’s attempt to add a sporty twist to this era by deleting the hood ornaments, louvered opera twindows, the plastic and pot metal coach lamps, and the gargantuan stand up rectangular chrome grille monstrocities works.

        But it didn’t then. Buyers back then loved extra schmaltz on their Malaisemobiles.

      • 0 avatar

        @geeber: What were they (Mopar) smoking when they decided to use the Cordoba-clone body and still call it a Charger? (It’s a rhetorical question)

        At the least, they should have changed the name, as the old fuselage bodied Charger was still in recent memory, and even still on NASCAR tracks. Even the Fury that came out in 1975 was a little more reasonable leap in logic than the Charger name on the Cordoba body.

        I’m also a fan of the last of the B-bodies, and in my ‘dream garage’ there’s one of these. With the T-tops, for the complete 70’s effect…

      • 0 avatar

        Calling a Cordoba a Charger was as horrible an idea as putting the Cougar name on a Torino station wagon.

        It was an abnoxious era of desperate Detroit games. Watching legendary car names squandered so recklessly was amazing.

        We saw decades of careful product image chucked out the window. A Mustang II was a Pinto, a Town & Country was a Volare wagon, a Fury II was a Coronet, an LTD II was a Torino as was a Thunderbird, the entire Marquis line became Cougars, a GTO was a Nova, an AMX was a Hornet, a Monza was a Vega, the era reeked of dishonesty and desperation. Like the peeling pin stripes and faux chrome, many legendary brands became mere options and laughable frauds.

        It was sickening.

      • 0 avatar

        At Vanilla: And we will see more slap-happy badging again with the new Alfa Romeo Dart and the Aston Martin IQ, and now the cars aren’t even from the same brand that their badgings from!

      • 0 avatar

        Marketing at this time was simpler. If you wanted everyone to know about a new Chevy, you had it appear between round-ups on Bonanza and seances on Betwitched. Andy Griffith’s Mayberry was filled with Fords and Mercurys. Ozzie drove an Imperial. So Americans were branded with not simply car models, but distinctive marketing knowledge right up to the 1980s.

        We all thought we knew what a Cougar was. So it was unbelievable to discover that suddenly they were not luxury Mustangs, but sloppy mid-sized bordello coupes, sedans and wagons. We all thought we knew what an LTD was, but suddenly there was an LTD II which was Ford’s version of the Cougar, and there was an LTD, too. The ease at which Detroit glued storied known model names upon cars lacking any of the previous car’s personality and characteristics was confounding.

        It was as if Chevy still made the Cobalt, but put the Malibu name on it and took the Equinox and called it an Impala. There was few congruities between name plates on American cars during the Malaise Era. Badges were reshuffled, seemingly at will, towards a market who grew up understanding the differences between a 1966 Thunderbird and a 1976 Thunderbird. Rebadging severely damaged Detroit’s portfolio, and they didn’t seem to care. Buyers and dealers were treated like ignorant dummies and they responded – by turning off Detroit and turning on Tokyo.

        We haven’t seen a Dart in three decades. When it was commonly on the road, it was, what was that that time considered to be, a small sedan. Now, imagine if Chrysler decided to name that car the “Charger II”, but kept the mid-sized Charger. That is the kind of numbskull marketing moves Detroit did back in those days. Mass confusion.

      • 0 avatar

        geozinger: The 1973-74 “fuselage” Chargers featured versions with opera windows, a vinyl roof and a hood ornament. They sold reasonably well…so Dodge figured that transferring the name to the more formal car planned for 1975 would work.

        Unfortunately, the 1975 Charger was simply too close in looks to the Cordoba, and DIDN’T offer Corinthian leather and wasn’t hawked by Ricardo Montalban.

        The Cordoba, by the way, was originally supposed to be a Plymouth – the Plymouth Premier. Someone decided it would sell better as a Chrysler, which it did. It also accelerated the decline of the Chrysler name, and guaranteed Plymouth’s status as an also-ran after 1975.

      • 0 avatar

        @Vanilla Dude: I think the proper analogy about 70’s naming conventions was more like this: Imagine the present day Impala, GM introduces a smaller model (the current Malibu) as the Impala II. While using this new Impala II to replace the existing Malibu in the lineup. And then, they would introduce a 2 door coupe variant of the former Malibu line as it’s own line (Monte Carlo).

        It was truly screwy.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. That nose is outright handsome–a nice alternative to the faux-Rolls Royces that everyone seemed to love.

      • 0 avatar

        @david42: Somewhere I’d read years ago that the grille on this car was a tribute to the ‘coffin-nosed’ Cords of the 1930’s. You’re right, though, it was a refreshing change from the faux Parthenon grilles of the late 70s.

    • 0 avatar

      ” the entire Marquis line became Cougars”

      Actually, I think it was Montegos that became Cougars.

  • avatar

    I don’t think it’s an (ex)car of a Solyndra executive…

  • avatar

    I enjoy these junkyard finds, but every time I see a picture of an interior it triggers some deeply-buried (but not deeply enough) scent memory and I smell old car stink. It seems to be an amalgam of moldy carpet, petrified popcorn, spilled coffee, antifreeze, oily exhaust fumes and mud. And something else I can’t and don’t want to identify.

  • avatar

    I can picture where I first saw one of these in ’78. It wasn’t the grille that stood out so much as the headlight covers with the subtle lines that made the whole car look much more advanced than it really was.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The grille and covers do have a sort of proto-aero look going on. Definitely not the usual ’70s bordello theme. And how did Dodge get away with non-DOT headlights that early?

      • 0 avatar

        The covers are power operated, and automatically flip down and retract when the headlights are switched on. Dodge used the same look – including the covered headlights – on the 1979 St. Regis. It was a very handsome look for the time.

      • 0 avatar

        And a very trouble-prone system. IIRC, the motion is driven by an electric motor (unlike many previous systems out of detroit which were driven either by either a single or a dual vacuum servo).

        It was not unusual to see these cars, not very old, with the lamp doors in any odd position after the system froze-up.

  • avatar

    I didn’t see many of these on the road when they were new. The details on this thing more than explain the bankruptcy a short time later. Piece of crap.

  • avatar

    Ummm…no. Regarding the Fire Arrow (at least in 2.6 guise…not the stupid 1980 version you could get with all of the decals, but minus the technical goods…that one did kind of stink)…the 2.6 liter was, for the day, one of the largest available four cylinders out there. Couple that with the slightly widened track and all-wheel disc brakes and the 2.6 was a very entertaining machine. I owned a 1978 GT (which came with the 2.0 liter, sadly) which was nowhere near the class the Fire Arrow was…sad that you’d lump it in there with the Magnum.

  • avatar

    looks like polglycoat works.

  • avatar

    GT Option 861
    T-Tops 5,070
    Sunroof 2,344
    360 cid V-8 32,522
    400 cid V-8 5,851


    Standard Rear Axle Ratio
    Optional Rear Axle Ratios
    318 V-8 2.7 2.7 Sure Grip
    360 V-8, 400 V-8 2.4 2.4 Sure Grip
    400 V-8 heavy duty 3.2 3.2 Sure Grip

    1978 Engine Specifications 318 cid V-8 360 cid V-8 400 cid V-8
    compression ratio 8.5:1 8.4:1 8.2:1
    horsepower 140 @ 4,000 155 @ 3,600 190 @ 3,600
    torque 245 @ 1,600 270 @ 2,400 305 @ 3,200
    carburetor 2-barrel 2-barrel 4-barrel

    1978 Powertrain



    318 V-8

    360 V-8 Optional
    400 V-8 Optional
    Automatic transmission was the only transmission available

    1978 Magnum Color Availability
    Magnum XE Black, Charcoal Gray Sunfire Metallic, Pewter Gray Metallic, Dove Gray, Eggshell White, Starlight Blue Sunfire Metallic, Cadet Blue Metallic, Mint Green Metallic, Augusta Green Sunfire Metallic, Classic Cream, Sable Tan Sunfire Metallic, Caramel Tan Metallic, Bright Canyon Red, Tapestry Red Sunfire Metallic
    Magnum GT Pewter Gray Metallic, Starlight Blue Sunfire Metallic, Tapestry Red Sunfire Metallic, Classic Cream, Eggshell White, Bright Canyon Red, Black

    • 0 avatar

      Looks like a 400 with ‘short’ 3.2:1 gearing and a ‘high’ torque peak at 3,000 rpm would have been a pretty credible performer for the era. The others can’t have been very quick.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I sometimes wonder how much better Chrysler could have done if they would have kept a few more of the RWD cars in production through the 80s like GM did (Cutlass, Monte Carlo, ect) and if they would have had the money for a 4 speed overdrive torqueflite along with a 360V8 just for torque. The Magnum really isn’t that awful compared to its American competition.

    • 0 avatar

      I wonder how much better Chrysler could have done if they’d made the quality on the K cars just 25% higher.

    • 0 avatar

      I was surprised at how fast they dumped the R bodies. It must have been due to costs, but those were just modified B bodies… Those R bodies were only produced for 24 months.

      Then they held onto the Volare/Aspen body until 1990! Geez, how old was that thing? It was an A-body which became an F-body, then an M-body with very few changes. That sucker should have been pure profit by 1980 – maybe that is why Chrysler hung onto it.

      But the case can be made regarding the B/R-bodies too!

      • 0 avatar
        Joe McKinney

        The M-Body was an ancient design, but the tooling was paid for and the car was hugely popular with fleet buyers. During the 1980’s there were many police departments and taxi companies that ran the Diplomat and Gran Fury exclusively. In addition to the fleet business, the Fifth Avenue always sold in decent numbers. In this regard the M-Body was to the 1980’s what the Ford Panther became in the 2000’s.

    • 0 avatar
      Ian Anderson

      I wish Chrysler would’ve kept some smaller RWD cars out through the 80s… The 3.9 in my Dakota is going to need a home after I put a 318/360 in it. An old Valiant would be great, the only trick is finding one with intact floors and rocker panels. A lot of people regard the 1992/93 Dakota with the 5.2 Magnum to be the fastest/best handling RWD Mopar for a long while, it’s not like they had anything to choose from.

  • avatar

    Definitely a car/body style/architecture Chrysler should have kept instead of basing almost their entire line-up on the K bodies. This Magnum along with the Imperial should have been improved and stuck around, but I can understand why they didn’t with the BK and rebuilding the company and all, so I suppose they can be forgiven. After all, they struck gold with the 1984 Minivan!

    • 0 avatar

      @Zackman: We tend to forget that the 80’s didn’t turn out the way they were predicted in the 70’s. We were all told that we’d have $3/gallon gasoline by 1984, and in early 1981 it seemed like it might come true. CAFE loomed over Mopar, with it’s truck heavy lineup, not unlike today.

      After taking the loan guarantees, they had to come up with what they thought would sell into the future. I would agree actually that the K cars were a safe bet in 1979. Who knew that we would have cheap gasoline into the 1990’s? Granted, part of it was PR, but the rest of it was really trying to divine the future. If gasoline had gone up to $3/gallon in 1984, everyone would be celebrating Iacocca and his team as freaking geniuses.

      The R-body should have been the 4 door Imperial, at a minimum, not some derivation of a K body. The coupe was, well, a nice try. The small F-body based replacements for the Cordoba and the Magnum replacement Mirada would have made nice personal luxury coupes if they could have sustained them with the right market conditions. But they had bet so much of the farm on FWD K cars and variations, there was no turning back.

      OTOH, several of the FWD Mopars you and I like were the direct descendants of the K car. I loved my old Lancer, I know you loved your old Acclaim. How would we have gotten there without the Magnum exiting the stage?

      Man, I wish this blog had a preview function…

  • avatar

    Solyndra, Tesla, oohh the cosmicness of it all—

    Back in the day I had a friend who had a black Magnum. The grille was suggestive of something Darth Vaderesque, totally appropriate given the popularity of Star Wars.

    It’s basically a sister car of the ’79 Cordoba I had much later. Build quality was bad, but my ride had a factory tach and power everything including sunroof and cruise control.

    I couldn’t stay ahead of the rust though, and though the car handled better than any big car of the day, there was not much sense in hanging on to it over the long haul. Funny enough I never had trouble with the Lean Burn system, though the engine compartment always ran much hotter than any other car I’ve ever owned.
    The Gen 2 car became the Mirada, and I actually liked the less baroque styling. But by that time Chrysler was on the ropes waiting for the K car series to bail it out.

    It would have been nice for Chrysler to have retained that platform for a specialty car, but the economic pressures were too great to allow extra money to go in that direction.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember when this car came out, and the Mirada as well. I have no idea why, probably because I was a kid and thought the lights were cool, having no worries at that age about Lean Burn or Chrysler’s financial viability.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Nice bit of UPA animation there – or at least, something so heavily influenced by that studio’s style as to be indistinguishable.

  • avatar

    When these came out, I wanted one BADLY. But I was 18 and had two parents who were profoundly anti-Mopar. What a disappointment I must have been to them. :)

    A black one with the 360, white letter tires and the road wheels.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m glad to see that I’m not the only weirdo who liked the looks of the Magnum. I was a Ford guy, but in the late ’70s Ford didn’t have anything like it.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought they were one of the best looking cars back when they came out. Guy down the street had a Magnum XE with the 360. It was a fairly quick car for it day, well…it impressed me at least.

  • avatar

    My brother had the sister-car Cordoba. I think a ’77. It was a damn nice car and was a great cruiser when shod with T/A radials. Fast quiet and comfy. Not all mailaise-era cars sucked. The Cordoba certainly did not. If you weren’t there or just a kid, don’t believe all the anti-70s and 80’s car BS you hear.

    • 0 avatar

      And our modern-day ‘geniuses’ certainly led Solyndra to the junkyard far quicker than the Chrsyler “dummies” did to any of the B-bodies.

    • 0 avatar

      Amen to that. For having actually lived growing up in the 70’s and 80’s it was certainly not all the doom and gloom that many like to exaggerate on this site. There were plenty of very nicely turned out cars in this time era. The main stake in the 80’s vehicle’s heart was the 79/80 second fuel crisis that brought horrid memories of 1973 back to reality with a looming new decade and FWD, transverse engine mounting, trans-axles and 4 cylinders were the all the talk by 1982. Rust affected certain car lines more than others, especially the Toyotas, Hondas and Subarus at the time plus many of the big 3 models such as this so I don’t always count that against a vehicle seeing as how bad Winters were back in those days. I have very fond memories of my 79, 81 and 85 Cutlass coupes, 80 and 81 Grand Prix’s, 83 Dodge Diplomat and not so fond- 79 Fairmont with it’s paper thin glass and virtually no sound insulation and anemic 85 HP 200 Six that struggled to get 20 MPG.

      • 0 avatar

        I’d venture that lately we have had better (more snow) winters now then in the 70s/80s, at least where I lived. How I hated the 40 degree January day and the years of no snow winters…

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      I’m sayin’ it one more time, so I can hear it when I say it:

      “Fine, Co-RIN-thian leather.”

      You rocked, Ricardo…..

  • avatar

    I had one in college. Absolutely loved it other than the 904LA transmission instead of the 727 it should have had. T-tops and buckets with a console shifter and a 360. Rode well and handled well. Even stood up to all the hoonery including having the gravel come up over the bumper into the back seats through the t-tops. Yes, the Dukes of Hazard had some influence on me as a kid.

  • avatar

    I’ve always had a soft spot for Magnums and Miradas… but then again I’m probably slightly nuts too.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      I always had a soft spot for them as well. Back in the late 80’s I looked at a 80 Mirada with the 6cyl. I ended up buying a 81 Monte Carlo instead which served me well for a few years but I still have second thoughhts about the Mirada.

  • avatar

    I do like the attempt to mimic aero headlights the rest of the world accepted decades ago that weren’t allowed in the US until the mid 80s. Along with the grille it makes the car instantly recognizable.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    My folks bought one of these in ’78. A high school classmate’s dad owned a local Dodge dealership, and I had even worked there on a summer job prepping cars for delivery and maintaining RV interiors. Of course, they got a good deal on the car, and while I remember little of the details of its equipment (I left for grad school soon afterwards), it did turn out to be a good auto for them–ran well, not much trouble, but when they moved to Buffalo, NY the winter salt finally got to it by the mid-80s or so. No complaints here.

  • avatar

    That has to be one of the nicest junkyard interiors ever seen in a 33 year old American car. The exterior trim on this car looks pretty good too, other than the discolored headlight covers. It was incredibly common for malaise cars to have badly aligned, rapidly deteriorating trim that aged like milk on Georgia asphalt in August even when they were 6 months old. It seems remarkable that Chrysler turned this one out so well.

  • avatar

    I have a serious soft spot for the Charger/Magnum of this era. My best friend had a 78′ Charger and we cruised in it endlessly throughout high school. His was black (with those same stock Dodge Rallye rims made famous by the Challenger in ’70) and actually had a clean, untorn grey houndstooth cloth & black vinyl interior! Highways and two lane blacktops, back country roads and city streets with the limited slip being taxed at stoplights. Not a handling car and his only had the 360, but it was actually great at speed. He took good reasonably care of it, but the rust always wins in Michigan :(

  • avatar

    You folks have all said it, it was one sweet looker. I always had a soft spot for this design. And the pointless opening headlight covers.

  • avatar

    I’m trying to remember which movie featured a white one of these, in combination with another similar car of the era, it might have been the Junkman (Toby Halicki), I remember not being able to id it as I’d never come across one before, I doubt any left North America

  • avatar

    Kinda sad to see this Magnum in the yard. These cars definitely have a following today.

    I seem to recall that the aero nose with the headlight covers on the Magnum was done, at least in part, in an attempt to keep Richard Petty racing Dodges. Petty had been racing a 1973 Charger right through to 1977. He complained that newer models had poorer aerodynamics. He raced a Magnum in the first half of 1978, but later defected to GM anyhow.

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    I wish the self service junkyards around Atlanta would get cool iron like that, I would grab those headlight assemblies for a Rat Rod project I am currently involved with.

  • avatar

    If I had one of these Magnums, I’d turn it into a hot rod.

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