Junkyard Find: 1977 Dodge Aspen Station Wagon

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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junkyard find 1977 dodge aspen station wagon

Commonplace as the Dodge Aspen was during the Middle and Late Malaise Era— you saw them on American roads in 1980 or so about as often as you’d see, say, Hyundai Accents today. The Aspen (and its Plymouth sibling, the Volaré) didn’t hold their value so well, and nearly all of them were crushed by the early 1990s. I photograph them whenever I see them, of course, but that isn’t often. In this series before today, we’ve seen this ’76 Aspen sedan, this ’76 Volaré sedan, this brown-on-beige ’77 Volaré coupe and this ’77 Volaré Premier wagon, and now we’ve got a mossy, lichen-covered Northern California Aspen wagon.

The winters in the San Francisco Bay Area are cold and wet, and a car that spends a few years (or maybe a couple of decades) parked in shade will gather moss.

And, much like cars that spend years in the birch forests of northern Sweden, this car has provided a home for lichens.

Think the 318 under the hood is still good? Probably so, but these engines get few takers these days.

Such an expanse of brown vinyl!

Better than a Nova? That’s a tough call.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Writer d'Elegance Brougham Landau.

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2 of 78 comments
  • TomLU86 TomLU86 on Jan 04, 2015

    If you say a lie often enough, people will believe it. The torsion bar suspension did not make the Aspen/Volare better than the GM cars. The mid/late 70s enthusiast magazines, as well as Consumer Reports, all felt the GM compacts were the best handling of the era(malaise era). The GM cars were also the best assembled and most reliable. A 78 or later Aspen/Volare was a credible car in terms of reliability, but the reputation had been damaged.

  • Macmcmacmac Macmcmacmac on Jan 20, 2015

    I remember three Aspens during my lifetime. The first was a carbon-copy of the yellow two door coupe in the film. My sister won it in a raffle, first year 1976 model. I still remember her and a couple of other family members jumping for joy in the kitchen as her name was announced, and my aunt excitedly phoning us up with the news. I remember even in my innocent pre-teen years being surprised at the amount of rust on the rear springs and differential that had already taken root before she had even taken delivery of the car. When she sold it a few years later, the rust through on the fenders was already signaling it's life was more than half over. My father, never a Chrysler fan, warned her about keeping a spare ballast resistor in the glovebox, and it was certainly needed more than a few times. She bought a Malibu to replace it. My own Aspen ownership occurred in 1993, when as a skint jack of all trades wrench starting out in a new province, I purchased a horrible brown on brown sedan, with sun split vinyl roof, seats and dash, along with the de-rigeur Alberta winter-cracked windshield. It was entertaining to drive for the first few miles while the engine warmed up. Pressing the gas pedal felt like standing on a balloon, as the engine revs bogged and the carb spit back through the air cleaner. I knew something was amiss when I saw the speedometer falling while coasting down a hill. Touching the left front rim betrayed the existence of a seized caliper, $19 from your friendly local autoparts store. Acceleration was glacial, even by my low standards, and it was an act of faith to pull out for a pass. I estimate I was putting down about 40hp to the road. With the 5 digit odo, it was impossible to tell how many miles was on the slant-six, but as it spun over and fired up every time, no matter how cold it got, my brother in law opined that I could "slide a dime" between the piston and cylinder wall. This annoyed the sister of my sister in law to no end, as her Nissan mini van had spent an entire week immobilized by the cold. It was at it's worst in winter though. The lack of a defroster grid at -40C was downright dangerous. I actually found a kit at Crappy Tire to install one, and it worked...too well, as I had miswired it to be on when the key was off, leading to an almost blistered hand as I showed my brother my handiwork one summer's evening. It also had a weird habit of blowing the horn when I passed the key through the "accessories" position, but was otherwise mute whenever I actually tried to use it while driving. My attempts to fix it were met with no success and some rather unpleasant tingling through the fingers. Eventually, it all became too much. It got stuck on a whim in the lightest snowfall, leading to a rather nasty dent in the front fender when I whacked it with a shovel out of frustration. The windshield was almost opaque after punching it rather viciously one night coming home from work in the cold and dark from a job I truly, truly despised. It's denouement occurred on a similar night, when I just couldn't hack the back-spitting through the carb as I made my way home from my latest dead-end job. I put it in neutral, floored the engine, and dumped it in drive. An almighty whack came out of the rear end, and I used to lose all drive whenever I took a left turn from then on. Whenever I was forced to turn left, I immediately had to weave right again to retrieve forward momentum. I finally dumped it off on a guy who picked it up for free. It was absolute crap, but always worked, and even when it needed a repairs, they were cheap and easy. A new starter motor was in in about 15 minutes, and cost $65. The last Aspen I saw was my buddy's 1980 black coupe, into which he had shoehorned a hi-comp 440 built up to some hi-perf 1968 spec output using parts retrieved from the local pick-your-part. That thing would ruble your gut with its open headers. He lived and breathed Mopar. he was a bit of a case, living in a stand alone garage next to his car and motorcycle on a roll-out cot. I never really knew how he supported himself, but he was happy all the time. I remember him E-Baying a steering wheel he found at the scrap yard for $700 once. Tuffy? Toughie? It was at least 15 years ago now.

  • Analoggrotto Where is this now? Dead. The Kia Soul rules this segment as Kia rules every segment, and Genesis above it rules the luxury realm.
  • Oberkanone Nope. $8 grand for $120k miles economy hatchback is too much. Over 10 years old. Condition does not change the result.
  • Master Baiter ____________ doesn't want electric _____________.
  • MaintenanceCosts Too bad it's not a Sport; the styling on those is a bit nicer. There's a first-gen Fit Sport with some subtle mods (lowering, perfectly chosen wheels, tint) that used to live in my neighborhood and it may be the best-looking subcompact I've ever seen.
  • Oberkanone BMW, Ford, Honda, and Volkswagen have different fleet emissions rules than Stellantis and other manufacturers. This is unfair trade practice and California is the leader of this criminal conspiracy. Unified emissions regulations are needed. Disjointed patchwork of CARB and Federal emissions states results in harm to our economy inefficient manufacturing. CARB emissions regulations violate the Commerce Clause by engaging in extraterritorial regulation.