Buy/Drive/Burn: Selecting a Malaise Coupe From 1980

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
buy drive burn selecting a malaise coupe from 1980

We introduced the new Buy/Drive/Burn series back in December via a QOTD post (read that first for the rules). Shortly afterwards, the inaugural post in the series tackled the destruction of one of a trio of new luxury coupes. Those powerful and modern coupes are at the higher end of the market, which is just about the only place one finds luxury coupes today.

It wasn’t always that way — there used to be personal luxury for the masses. Coupes in the finest brougham tradition, exuding class, elegance, and sophistication. One of the best years for the personal luxury coupe (PLC) was 1980, right at the height of malaise and the downsizing trend. All are superb vehicles, surely. Which one burns, and which goes in your driveway, and which do you simply borrow from a friend?

And no, the Bonneville isn’t in the running. Too easy.

Ford Thunderbird Town Landau

Starting off our trio from the Big Three is the Ford Thunderbird Town Landau coupe. The new for ’80 eighth-generation luxury coupe from Ford showed new focus on being right-sized and fuel efficient. It was considerably smaller (17″ in length) than the prior T-Bird, which shared its underpinnings with the LTD II. Engine size shrunk from 6.6 liters to either the 4.2- or 5.0-liter Windsor V8. The ninth-generation Thunderbird couldn’t come fast enough.

Chevrolet Monte Carlo

Chevrolet brought a revised Monte Carlo to dealer lots in 1980, a modification to the downsized (and short-lived) third generation of 1978-81. 1980 saw the debut of more acceptable corporate GM styling with a more formal edge. Engines were plentiful: a 3.75-liter Chevy V6, the 3.8-liter turbo Buick mill, a 4300 V6, and a 5.0-liter V8 (5.7-liter diesels were added in the move to the G-body in ’82). At a tidy 200 inches in length, the Monte Carlo was the same size as the Thunderbird and considerably smaller than the Cordoba.

Chrysler Cordoba

Also new for 1980, Chrysler’s Cordoba was now in its second generation. Shrinking just six inches over the prior generation, it was available with the slow and steady 3.7-liter Slant 6 engine (95 horsepower), or a 5.2-liter (318) V8 with 120 horsepower. The Cordoba’s days were numbered. While Ford and Chevrolet corrected their cars’ issues, Chrysler saw the way forward in front-drive K-Car models and left development of the rear-drive PLC off the table entirely. The Cordoba vanished from dealers after 1983.

There they are, contestants. Three PLCs from the age of brown, polyester, and California smog. Which of these is the Buy, Drive, and Burn?

[Images: General Motors, Ford, Chrysler]

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2 of 116 comments
  • Road_pizza Road_pizza on Feb 01, 2018

    The unrepentant Fox fan in me says the T-Bird. I look at that car and see a streetworthy Melling Bill Elliott tribute car powered with a Coyote.

  • Vulpine Vulpine on Apr 03, 2018

    Buy: Cordoba (I actually did.) Drive: Monte Carlo (liked the looks and not too different from the '75 Cutlass Supreme I'd owned previously) Burn: Thunderbird (It lost its mojo when it grew into that huge body. Should have stayed on the "Falcon" platform like the early '60s models or before.

  • Dusterdude @El scotto , I'm aware of the history, I have been in the "working world" for close to 40 years with many of them being in automotive. We have to look at situation in the "big picture". Did UAW make concessions in past ? - yes. Do they deserve an increase now ? -yes . Is their pay increase reasonable given their current compensation package ? Not at all ! By the way - are the automotive CEO's overpaid - definitely! (That is the case in many industries, and a separate topic). As the auto industry slowly but surely moves to EV's , the "big 3" will need to be producing top quality competitive vehicles or they will not survive.
  • Art_Vandelay “We skipped it because we didn’t think anyone would want to steal these things”-Hyundai
  • El scotto Huge lumbering SUV? Check. Unknown name soon to be made popular by Tiktok ilk? Check. Scads of these showing up in school drop-off lines? Check. The only real over/under is if these will have as much cachet as Land Rovers themselves? A bespoken item had to be new at one time. Bonus "accepted by the right kind of people" points if EBFlex or Tassos disapproves.
  • El scotto No, "brothers and sisters" are the core strength of the union. So you'll take less money and less benefits because "my company really needs helped out"? The UAW already did that with two-tier employees and concessions on their last contract.The Big 3 have never, ever locked out the UAW. The Big 3 have agreed to every collective bargaining agreement since WWII. Neither side will change.
  • El scotto Never mind that that F-1 is a bigger circus than EBFlex and Tassos shopping together for their new BDSM outfits and personal lubricants. Also, the F1 rumor mill churns more than EBFlex's mind choosing a new Sharpie to make his next "Free Candy" sign for his white Ram work van. GM will spend a year or two learning how things work in F1. By the third or fourth year GM will have a competitive "F-1 LS" engine. After they win a race or two Ferrari will protest to highest F-1 authorities. Something not mentioned: Will GM get tens of millions of dollars from F-1? Ferrari gets 30 million a year as a participation trophy.