Rare Rides: The Especially Forgotten 1978 Dodge Aspen Kit Car

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

More by Corey Lewis

Join the conversation
2 of 52 comments
  • 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.

  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.