By on May 8, 2020

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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52 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Especially Forgotten 1978 Dodge Aspen Kit Car...”


  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Check out the brodozer grade flares. My neighbour put them on his Ram to hide the fender rust.
    I struggle to see anyone viewing this as a collectible.

    That would be a great Drive, Buy, Burn segment….. POS collectibles. And the answer can’t be burn burn burn… LOL

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Yikes! I hadn’t heard of this version.

    At least it came with the 360. Other than that, I got nuthin’.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    It appears to be in good shape, but a 3-speed auto is not going to win many races

    It is, however rare

    “The Kit Car, made in honor of NASCAR legend Richard Petty, was supposed to look as much like a race car as possible. The wheels had no hubcaps, the wheel opening flares had a bolted on look, and even the windshield had metal tie downs just like the race cars. Unlike a race car, the Kit Car came standard with an automatic transmission. A special addition was a decal kit with large door mountable “43” decals and 360 decals for the hood. These decals were shipped in the trunk either to be installed by the dealer or by the owner. It was available in one color – a special two-tone red. A total of 145 were built.”

    -Wikipedia

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah all this information is in the article.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      “It appears to be in good shape, but a 3-speed auto is not going to win many races”

      I don’t know. Plenty of Drag races won with Turbo 350/400s, C4/C6s, and Chrysler Torque Flights not to mention the gobs of them won with 2 speed powerglides.

      But yeah, not so many circle track or road races for sure.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Allpar has the 0-60 time of the Kit Car as 7.3 seconds and a 15.9 second quarter mile. That’s pretty quick for 1978! I can’t find the rear axle ratio, not specifically for the Kit Car (and google doesn’t seem to turn up anything), but I suspect it would have been 3.23.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        “This 1978 Dodge Aspen Street Kit Car is powered by an E58 option, Chryslers 360 cubic-inch, 5.9-liter LA small-block V8 engine. Unlike the other Mopars from the golden muscle car era, this engine produces only 220 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque. In addition it is equipped with a 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission.”

        https://www.musclecardefinition.com/cool-super-rare-1978-dodge-aspen-street-kit-car/

        My V6 Ford Escape is rated @240hp 223 lb.-ft. of torque

        I can beat the pants off of any Equinox or CR-V that comes my way :)

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Not just a 360 but a four barrel.

    A little garish for what it is BUT at least it is painted a color that would standout in any parking lot today.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    When I was 16 my dad took me car shopping. He was really interested in getting me a Volare with the slant-6. But I wasn’t!

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I can see why he’d be that way. Only a few years before that, a Valiant with the Slant 6 was a really great buy. The Volaré would have been an improvement on it but they were just hurried to the market before they were ready for prime time.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Now I kind of want to order some hood pins.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Now that actually might be worth some coin, unlike 90% of the other production run cars with lunatic valuations that come through the series.

  • avatar
    ltskinol

    “Known as the Kit Car, it was the only Volare made to look like a race car.”

    Should say “was the only Aspen…”

    The Plymouth Volare was also available in an equally-hideous version, and I think, only in blue.

    https://hips.hearstapps.com/autoweek/assets/s3fs-public/305069975.jpg?crop=1xw:0.8xh;center,top&resize=768:*

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    I remember Car & Driver doing a road test of one of these when they were new. These were about as subtle as the Screaming Chicken on the hood of a Trans Am.

    I forgot how deep-dish the wheels were – those are some seriously-wide tires on that thing! I wonder if they’re the stock specifications for this model??

    That Whorehouse Red interior is just glorious…..

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The good news is that the fender flares aren’t metal, so they won’t rust.

    And how long has it been since I’ve seen a radio-delete model?

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      “Radio delete”? Originally, they were optional – with tubes! Then they were optional “push button” – with transistors!

      They became radio delete because better quality radios were available after-market, and the automakers gave dealers another bargaining tool (they made up the lost dollars elsewhere).

      Now there can be no radio-delete option, because radios, or their controls, are being integrated into the touch screen on many cars.

      Eventually, all the knobs, slides, and buttons for the radio, fan, HVAC, etc. on the instrument panel will be integrated into the screen.

      When the computer or screen goes out, all controls will be disabled except the start button. Suddenly, it’s 1930!

      • 0 avatar
        pwrwrench

        Yep, Lorenzo. Starting in the 90s more control units were installed for HVAC, lighting, ABS, and so on. In the last decade there has been some consolidation, but if any of these electronic ‘brains’ fail there can be big trouble and $$$.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    “I was told you did an article on the KITT car – where is it?” – Michael Knight

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I didn’t notice it at first but it looks like the rear window is the old kind without defroster wires built into it. I bet it has one of those defogger fans back there. I don’t see a switch for it on the interior picture but I think it’s down to the bottom-left of the steering wheel.

    On Chryslers (and some other makes), there was an extra fan that would blow ambient air around the inside of the window in a futile effort to defog it, much less actually melt frost and snow. I remember the fan on my Valiant was part of the uppity Brougham package and so it had *two* speeds: Loud and fairly ineffective, and very loud and still ineffective. Such bourgeois luxury… the peasants had to enjoy a single speed fan while eating their cake.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      I found that fan assembly in a junkyard and installed it in my Fury. It was ineffective against the fog built up during my first post-install makeout session in the car. It did do ok if you put the A/C on first to pull the moisture out of the air, something I did not initially do.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Sad thing about the Aspen/Volare was they were probably the most unreliable new car at the time and that they replaced one of the most durable models.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Apparently I was lucky. Mine never gave me any mechanical issues, though I did have to learn to ignore the oil dipstick; the 318 was notorious for blowing off the top quart and then wouldn’t use a drop for 15,000 miles.

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      Unreliable? No. Rust-prone? Maybe in northern states. Outdated? Certainly.

      My parents had a ’76 Volare with a slant 6. I remember my dad getting home late from the dealership and bringing us all downstairs to see the new car. It had over 250,000 miles when they traded it in on a Plymouth Grand Voyager. The engine burned a quart of oil a week, but still ran like a top. We never had any problem more serious than worn shocks or a bad alternator. My dad started me wrenching on that car, doing oil changes every three months for $5. We did road trips every year with a giant ice chest in the back seat between my sister and I so we wouldn’t fight. When we moved from South Carolina to Oklahoma, the Volare took us. But like all the best daily driver cars, once it was used up it was forgotten.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Wondering if that steering wheel is original. It looks like wheels made by Grant.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Thankfully never seen one of these, but that transmission was a great reason not to buy an automatic Wrangler until well into this century.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I come here not to praise the Aspen/Volare, but to bury it. Dated a girl with one and had a good friend with one. Terrible cars and I never saw so much rust on non rust belt cars.

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    I think if I saw this car in person, on the road, I would laugh at it. It looks utterly disastrous.

    • 0 avatar
      bobbysirhan

      https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=s078UsOP&id=9BC13B33CA2509D9D385CAE9B6A4DA84DE3D7E27&thid=OIP.s078UsOP0jHcK3eHfziBGwHaFj&mediaurl=http%3a%2f%2fs1.cdn.autoevolution.com%2fimages%2fgallery%2fBMW-3-0-CSL–E9–1639_25.jpg&exph=1536&expw=2048&q=bmw+3.0+csl&simid=608006475036951456&selectedIndex=2&ajaxhist=0

      The Aspen isn’t even that much slower.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I remember a Car and Driver article stating a bystander’s comment (wording close): “Ouch! That’s about as subtle as a punch in the mouth.”

  • avatar
    conundrum

    The front suspension with its transverse torsion bars and Rube Goldberg operating mechanism was a wheel alignment specialist’s delight at launch. That eventually got sorted. The 318 V8 in the ’76s was an utter dog and ran like crap.

    I offered to drive a friend’s year-old one 110 miles to his parent’s home where he had been taken by his brother when their dad fell ill. It happened to be my hometown too, and I had a way back after the weekend.

    The thing hiccuped, ran rough, surged then smoothed and repeated the shenanigans. It smelled of oil because I think it ran hot, lean burn and all that, but it could have been the oil-bath undercoat he boasted he’d given it. I was constantly on edge the entire drive. It also had trouble driving up the bigger hills. Crap, really.

    My ’74 Audi 100 LS ran away from this thing, got 50% better mpg, had a much better ride and didn’t handle like a drunken barge. Of course, knowing something about cars, I had rigged my emission system, and other than eating mufflers, got over 90,000 miles out of the thing in six years with no major failures except the ignition module, which failed outside a junkyard. Sometimes you get lucky!

    The Aspen was the car that should have preceded the Valiant/Dart not followed it, in my opinion. Putting in the strangled 360, a cheapo version of the original 340, doesn’t make this Kit Car all that desirable. It’s still an Aspen, which any Dart could beat with one wheel tied behind its back.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Thanks for the trip down Chrysler’s memory lane. They sure did produce some garbage in the 70s along with every other American car :(

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Sounds like that wasn’t a very well cared-for vehicle; I never had any engine problems during my ownership and I, too, had the 318c.i.d. V8. In fact, the only real issue I ever had with it was a tire that developed a bubble apparently because I hit a pothole while on a long drive from Denver, CO to Tennessee.

      That’s right… I only replaced the tires once and that was the ONLY real repair the car needed while I owned it.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    Is this a 1978 or a 1979? (It has 1979-80 taillights.)

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I have almost put out of my mind all Mopar from this era and hopefully will forget them soon after reading this article. There are a few cars I liked from the Malaise Era and this is not one of them.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    My eyes hurt.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    Here’s one that went to Barrett-Jackson: https://www.barrett-jackson.com/Events/Event/Details/1978-PLYMOUTH-VOLARE-2-DOOR-RICHARD-PETTY-KIT-CAR-93246

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I’m sure the asking priced is based on this and other sales and considering the outrageous prices for some of the uninteresting cars I’ve seen , it’s not a terrible price if this is something that interests you

  • avatar
    bobmaxed

    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

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    Not just forgotten but “especially” forgotten.

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