Rare Rides: The Especially Forgotten 1978 Dodge Aspen Kit Car

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the especially forgotten 1978 dodge aspen kit car

The standard Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare are primarily remembered (and not seen) because they rusted as soon as the dew settled on them on a spring morning. While that makes standard examples sort of rare today, there’s a very special model which was very rare from the beginning.

It’s the 1978 Dodge Aspen Kit Car, and that’s its real name.

The Aspen and Volare twins were Chrysler’s replacements for the discontinued Dodge Dart and Plymouth Valiant. Since the Aspen was an all-new car, it suitably used the all-new F-body platform. Available in two wheelbases, 108.7 inches (two-door cars) and 112.7 inches (four-doors), the F was technically short-lived. We say technically because for 1981 the F was “replaced” by the long lived M-body, which was nearly identical in every way, including wheelbases.

Let’s take a trip to Aspen.

Introduced for the 1976 model year, the Aspen and Dart were sold alongside one another for a very short while. Chrysler was careful in the design of its new car: Extensive aerodynamic principles were applied during the Aspen’s development. Drag reduction, ventilation, crosswind stability, and wind noise considerations all shaped the new coupe, sedan, and wagon. Computers even played a part!

Underneath, mechanical bits were not as adventurous. The base engine was a 225 cubic inch (3.7L) Slant-6. Less fuel-conscious customers selected from the 318 (5.2L) and 360 (5.9L) LA series V8s. Transmissions were all of three-speed variety, one of which Chrysler sold through the mid-2000s. A single manual transmission was offered, through Chrysler switched between two different versions of the TorqueFlite automatic during Aspen’s run.

Upon their introduction, Motor Trend blessed the Aspen and Volare with the 1976 Car of the Year award. Chrysler’s new compacts were a hit! Things were mostly status quo until 1978, which heralded the introduction of a very special Aspen two-door.

Known as the Kit Car, it was the only Aspen made to look like a race car. Chrysler built its Kit Car to honor of NASCAR driver Richard Petty. Visual changes included bolted-on, flared wheel arches, tie-down points for the windshield and hood, extra rear window trims, and a large spoiler. Chrysler saved some glue by deleting the exterior badging, then used said glue on the side window louvers. Setting off the racer look were unadorned steel wheels, with no available hubcaps. Unlike other sporty Aspens (and perhaps a bit oddly), the Kit Car came only with an automatic transmission. At least it had the 360 V8.

Options for buyers were very limited, and included a decal kit with a large “43” for the door, and some 360 stickers for the hood. The dealer could install these, or owners could just do it themselves ⁠— options! Just 145 Kit Cars were made, and all were the same color.

Given the aforementioned rust issues shipped standard with each Aspen, surely very few remain today. The Aspen itself was not long for the world after 1978: It was cancelled at the end of 1980, as the exciting and efficient new K-cars were ready. Today’s Rare Ride was listed for sale for a very short time before seeing its listing removed. In excellent condition, the Kit Car asked $15,900.

[Images: seller]

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  • Bobmaxed Bobmaxed on May 10, 2020

    I never saw one on the streets but I'm positive I saw quite a few of these on the race tracks used by the USAC (or maybe ARCA) Stock Car division. These were replacing the Chargers and Belvidere's This was before Nascar started to invade the mid-west. Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin were super stars in these leagues before they moved to Nascar. I don't think these Chrysler products were very successful on the track

  • Teddyc73 Teddyc73 on May 11, 2020

    Not just forgotten but "especially" forgotten.

  • Johnds Years ago I pulled over a vehicle from either Manitoba or Ontario in North Dakota for speeding. The license plates and drivers license did not come up on my dispatchers computer. The only option was to call their government. Being that it was 2 am, that wasn’t possible so they were given a warning.
  • BEPLA My own theory/question on the Mark VI:Had Lincoln used the longer sedan wheelbase on the coupe - by leaning the windshield back and pushing the dashboard & steering wheel rearward a bit - not built a sedan - and engineered the car for frameless side windows (those framed windows are clunky, look cheap, and add too many vertical lines in comparison to the previous Marks) - Would the VI have remained an attractive, aspirational object of desire?
  • VoGhost Another ICEbox? Pass. Where are you going to fill your oil addiction when all the gas stations disappear for lack of demand? I want a pickup that I can actually use for a few decades.
  • Art Vandelay Best? PCH from Ventura to somewhere near Lompoc. Most Famous? Route Irish
  • GT Ross The black wheel fad cannot die soon enough for me.