By on August 15, 2018

An aluminum garage door rattles open on its track. As the goldenrod-colored panels lift up and away, a luxurious family wagon comes into view. Once the kids, parents, and Golden Retriever are lightly secured inside, the luxury wagon glides out of the lightly sloped driveway and away from the bi-level with the paneled den.

It’s 1978, and it’s Town & Country time.

A nameplate that started out as a luxurious family wagon all the way back in 1940, the Town & Country wagon began a new, downsized seventh generation for 1978. 1977 was the last time the T&C was on the same scale as its rivals at GM and Ford — Chrysler saw the writing on the wall for fuel prices and the large family wagon. Moving away from the fuselage C-body, the downsized ’78 switched over to the rear-drive M-body.

The M platform was also the basis of the compact Dodge Aspen and midsize Diplomat, and their relatives at Plymouth and Chrysler. Unlike the C-body, the M didn’t have variable wheelbase lengths. This meant the smaller Aspen, the luxurious Fifth Avenue, and the Town & Country were all the exact same size inside, but with different lengths of front and rear overhang. The Town & Country name was applied to the Chrysler LeBaron; the trim played the part of most upscale wagon as it had previously.

Three different engines powered the wagon: a 225 inline-six for the skinflint, or the 318 (5.2-liter) or 360 (5.9-liter) V8s. Power traveled to the rear via a smooth three-speed TorqueFlite automatic — enough gears for any luxury vehicle.

Changing times meant M-body wagons were short-lived at Chrysler, and all of them went away after the 1981 model year. You can see where this is headed. 1982 brought a brand new selection of smaller, four-cylinder, front-drive wagons; the inception of K-car world. In 1990, Town & Country’s transformation took the final turn into Van Life.

Today’s 1978 example comes strong with the wood. The same original owner who specified the largest V8 also went straight from the dealer to a wheel shop, because he needed something more. The factory faux wire wheel covers were tossed, in favor of eight-spoke wood wheels with wood center caps. Judgment of taste level there is up to you, kind reader. The rest of the Town & Country looks in good condition, and with 84,000 miles on the clock asks $7,200.

[Images: seller]

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51 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1978 Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country Gives You Wood...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    “Three different engines powered the wagon: a 225 inline-six for the skinflint, or the 318 (5.2-liter) or 360 (5.9 liter) V8s.”

    That about describes a LOT of cars that Mopar built between 1975-1980 plus/minus a few years; I think this platform (Aspen/Volare) might have been the first one in several years that never had the 383/400 or 440 available in any model years. There were a few platforms that let you choose almost anything from Slant 6 through the big blocks and in between.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      These were comfortable, capable wagons, but you did NOT want one with the Slant Six. I can’t think of an engine that suffered more from being desmogged. The pre-emission Slant Sixes were a little slow. By contrast, the late-70s Slant Sixes were almost diesel-Benz slow. Dangerously slow. Floor it, reach the end of the onramp still only going about 50, jump in front of someone and wave an apology with your foot still flat on the floor slow. Vo-lah-ray…whoaaaa!

  • avatar
    deanst

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these over a year old without rusted out bumpers.

    The amount of glass in the rear is amazing. It makes you wonder how designers practically eliminate this feature on modern suvs.

    • 0 avatar
      RS

      Probably because nearly every SUV has it’s rear shortened to about a foot behind the rear wheel. Current SUV (and Sedan) styling doesn’t bother with utility and visibility.

      I always thought those headlight/blinkers placements were upside down on those cars.

      BTW, Awesome article title! LOL!

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        “I always thought those headlight/blinkers placements were upside down on those cars.”

        I remember when I was about 9, I told my mom that they were the reason the cars weren’t as popular/common as GM and Ford similar cars. Haha

      • 0 avatar
        Johnster

        “I always thought those headlight/blinkers placements were upside down on those cars.”

        Back in the day I remember being told that the Chrysler LeBaron front end was the same as the nearly identical Dodge Diplomat, only it was upside down to distinguish it from the very slightly cheaper Dodge.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      Its because they didn’t use to have a rear impact test for the safety standards. Some cars had plastic tailgates.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    $7200? Not with crank windows and those absolutely awful wheels.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Boss wagon. Not $7200 worth of “boss” but I still really like it.

    Always nice to see a survivor malaise-era vehicle with the highest-output engine offering.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Those seats…that wood…oh, my…

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    No.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I had to look up the horsepower for the 1978 360 engine. 155hp!

    from Allpar:
    1978 Carburetor Horsepower (net) Torque (lb-ft)
    318 Fed. Carter 2-barrel 145 @ 4000 245 @ 1600
    318 (CA) Carter 2-barrel 135 @ 4,000 235 @ 1,600
    360 Carter 2-barrel 155 @ 3600 275 @ 2000
    360 E58 4-barrel. 220 @ 4,000 280 @ 1,600

    I’ll have to assume the E58 was the police version.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      No, this model is the 4-barrel 360. It says so on the air cleaner, which I assume is original. My aunt had one of these in Massachusetts with the 4-barrel 360. I think it did 0-60 in like 12-13 seconds. The slant six took over 20 seconds, about the same as a 1938 Dodge flathead six. The only complaint my aunt had was, with the slanted rear window, she thought they should have put wipers on it.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The 360-4bbl “L” VIN like this car has was rated at 175hp and 270lb-ft.

  • avatar
    LectroByte

    The air cleaner sticker says “Four Barrel”, so I assume this one has the 220 hp engine. Not great today, but back then was decent.

  • avatar
    Fred

    Take it to a hot rod shop for what ever engine swap you want and some suspension and you would have a pretty cool sleeper wagon.

  • avatar

    I thought that was the car from The Vacation movie. When something looks like a parody it’s gone too far.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      The Family Truckster was based on a Ford Fairmont wagon. I can understand why you would think that; but it looked worst than this.

      We had a Volare wagon with the slant six; followed a few years later by a trio of Reliant K-Car wagons. I went from ’74 Fury III with the 360 two barrel to this car with a slant six; it did not feel that much slower; though I guess it was.

      What these mainly gave up from the M-bodies was the length of the hood and trunk length; they still sat six people comfortably. In return, you got a little better mileage and handling; anything was better than the 9 MPG my Fury averaged.

      You gave up more hood and trunk space in the K-Car wagons; but you got much better handling, mileage, and while it did not feel like it was built from old steam locomotives, it had decent build quality that felt a bit step up from the Volare wagon. But even at 24 years old; my ’94 Taurus wagon is much better than any of these.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        That FT may have been an LTD wagon with some mods (narrow rear windows, garish front clip).

        Being an Olds guy at heart, hated to see them destroy the vehicle which Clark traded for it: a 1972 Vista Cruiser!

        My Dad had a ‘77 Volaré wagon with the Super Six for a company car; was OK except for a couple ballast resistors and the ubiquitous front fender rust. However, he was glad when he was able to trade up to a 1980 Cutlass Sedan—much better car!

  • avatar
    thornmark

    that doesn’t look like real leather

    Dad had one and it had ever option available plus the Corinthian and it wasn’t shiny like that

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    I had a Dodge Diplomat of this vintage back in the day. The horsepower ratings are very optimistic and don’t convey how truly slow these cars were. The 318s and 360s with “lean burn” would rev and rev but nothing ever happened.
    To make things worse, the turn-signal indicator light on the left fender would glow steady whenever you were, as my dad used to say, “putting the coal to it”, in other words when you were killing your MPG with too much throttle. But in order to keep the light from activating you had to be excruciatingly slow- I mean Model T slow.
    The K-cars could not arrive soon enough.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Fortunately for this car the 360 4bbl escaped the lean-burn system in ’78.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      That was called a “Fuel Pacer,” IIRC.

      • 0 avatar
        ppxhbqt

        YRC. My grandfather’s 1975 Coronet had it, too, but it did produce a decent amount of power from 318 CID. So keeping the Fuel Pacer light off wasn’t totally out of the question. At least it dimmed when the headlights were on.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      I would beg to differ. We had several Mopars from the early 70s on and the 360 always pulled well whether in dad’s Maxivans (2bbl 175hp) or Dodge Magnum (lean burn 155hp/270ft/#). The 318 was light on horsepower. 125 I think. Anyway, the Magnum would get 22mpg and run 85mph in second so the tall rear gear didn’t help with anything off the line, but once you were moving the 360 did fine. We never had any with the fuel pacer.

      Don’t forget, the quickest truck on the planet in 1978 was powered by a 360, though admittedly that was not a lean burn engine.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Some of those rear axle ratios in the 1970s got to the point of it being as if the car was built with a four speed automatic that never used its first gear. If you can hit 85mph in a Torqueflite on the 2-3 shift then that puts the 1-2 shift at 50mph, which isn’t far from where it the 2-3 shift would be with a 3.55:1, 3.91, or a (weekend hobby dragstrip) 4.10 rear end.

        The highway cruise rpms in cars with those rear ends were certainly nice and low though.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        IIRC, in normal driving in the Lil Red Truck you’d usually start out in second gear (manual transmission), same idea with a lot of pickup trucks of similar vintage and gearing. First was unnecessary for flat roads, unless you’re stoplight racing, and it would just wind out too quickly during civilized driving anyway.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    This thing is so horrible it’s wonderful. Where does one actually find wood wheels? … AND Vogue tires

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    For some reasons this remind me of Ghost Busters.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Personally I like the period touch of those wood wheels and they appear to be in amazing condition like the rest of the vehicle.

  • avatar
    OzCop

    I had the LeBaron sedan of that vintage…nice, comfortable car on trips…even squeezed 15 mpg out of it sometimes. I bought it used with 75 K miles after a divorce.

    I bought a new 78 Diplomat wagon with 360 and it felt as strong as our 360 powered police Volares, but rode much better. I lost that one in the divorce…my ex drove it to 115 plus thousand miles…spend nothing but maintenance on it. But alas, by 1985, it was engulfed in rust…

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    Amazing how much better the M-Bodies were overall than the Aspen/Volaré, which looked from the outside to be the same car. Or were things different under the skin?

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