By on August 31, 2020

Much like the recently featured R-body New Yorker, today’s Magnum was a holdout in an automotive world that had already embraced downsizing and fuel efficiency.

Let’s take a look at a very short-lived coupe nameplate.

Introduced for the 1978 model year, Magnum was an all-new name for Dodge. The large and contemporary coupe ran alongside its predecessor, the Charger, for a single model year. The Charger’s baroque luxury styling, which debuted in 1975, was old hat by the latter part of the decade, and changes were required.

Not too flush with cash at the time, Chrysler once again used the B platform from the Charger (which debuted in 1962). The styling was much different to the outgoing Charger, as crisp corners and flush lamp covers replaced the excessive ornamentation of the disco era. Opera windows and vinyl roofs were still in play, with optional cut-outs in the form of a sunroof or T-top. Not for the basic coupe shopper, the Magnum came standard with copious power equipment that included brakes, steering, and the seats. The more basic luxury trim was the XE, while GT upped the ante with the most powerful 400 cubic inch engine. Additional features found on the GT included a faux metal dash plate instead of faux wood.

Power was carried over directly from the Charger, and largely flouted efficiency. The smallest 318 V8 (5.2L) offered the Lean-Burn system of terrible repute, but the 360 (5.9L) and 400 (6.6L) V8 engine options went with two- or four-barrel carbs. The 400 was only available for 1978, as in 1979 Chrysler discontinued all big block V8 engines.

The Magnum was mostly a compliance offering for Dodge. The company needed a car for Richard Petty to drive in NASCAR races. Starting in 1978, the ’74 Charger model Chrysler had run in races was no longer compliant with the rules. A smoother design was required, and work started from a ’75 Charger design to get there. In the second half of 1977, the Magnum’s design was settled, test cars were built by Petty’s company, and Dodge had a new coupe to sell.

The Magnum’s design was not suited to racing, however. The 360 V8 had not been developed as a racing engine previously, and was not well-suited to the task. More crucially, the Magnum’s design meant it was not stable at especially high speeds. Even before the 1978 season started, Petty declared “The Magnum is undrivable at 190 miles per hour.” Later in the season, both the Petty and Neil Bonnett Mopar teams switched to Chevrolet and Oldsmobile for their race cars.

In 1979, the now pointless Magnum found itself on the chopping block during only its second model year. Its replacement was the J-body Dodge Mirada for 1980, which was smaller and based on a derivation of the Dodge Diplomat’s M-body.

Given the difficulty of finding a Magnum for sale in modern times, this white-on-red T-top Magnum was indexed on a sale site in 2016. In excellent condition it asked $19,900.

Images: [seller]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

52 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1978 Dodge Magnum XE, a Holdout Coupe...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Didn’t we burn this last week?

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I wonder what it felt like to be a worker on the 400 line in late 1977 to early 1978, knowing that the big block’s days were numbered…

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Damned if I don’t remember these ~

    not my cuppa tea then or now but I look back on it fondly….

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar

      Kind of wonder how they appeared at the time. A refresh? Old stuff? Alternative to something like a LeSabre?

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Those who liked MoPars liked them .

        By 1978 I realized there wasn’t much available that I’d want to purchase new .

        As mentioned, MoPars were suffering the same old initial quality control issues they always did every few years .

        Simply too big & heavy for me .

        At the time I thought them FUGLY but now it looks O.K. to me .

        -Nate

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        Well, Ford essentially took the 1976 Elite, added concealed headlights and some other tweaks, and rebranded it as the new Thunderbird for 1977. It was a huge sales success.

        So Mopar tried to replicate this “reheat” strategy with this car. Though instead of catapulting off a storied name with high brand equity, they tried to work the NASCAR/performance theme.

        FWIW, AMC did a similar thing by rebranding the Hornet as the Concord and the Gremlin as the Spirit for 1978 and 1979 respectively, so this wasn’t an uncommon practice at the time.

        Though this was supposed to be the Charger’s replacement, it was actually sold concurrently with the Charger in 1978 very briefly as they used up the old Charger trim stock. I don’t know what the sales numbers were but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t nearly as successful as the 1977-79 T-Bird was.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          An accurate observation. Look at the rear quarter picture (the 2nd one) and you realize just how much of the Cordoba was retained.

          A friend of mine tried to trade one of these in. When he mentioned to the used car manager just how few of these were available/around the response was ‘take a minute and think of the reason for that’.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Foley

        In 1979, I recall my dad referring to Mopar’s lineup as “old wh0res in new dresses” before buying a brand-new Cutlass Supreme with the Chevy 305 and 4-bbl.

        The shrunken-for-’78 GM intermediates sold like hotcakes back then – mainly Cutlasses (coupe, wagon, sedan, and even humpback) but the Monte/Malibu was also a big seller. The ’77-’79 T-birds were everywhere too. The only Mopars I remember seeing a lot of were Volares and Aspens.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          I believe that Mopar had its best days in the ’50s and ’60s. The Slant Six was a real sweetie, and the 440, 426, 383 and 348 were potent puppies in their day.

          The TorqueFlite was decades ahead of its time as compared to GM and Ford automatic trannies.

          When it came to the ’70s, I think your dad was right. Mopar’s lineup was indeed “old wh0res in new dresses”.

          Ford and GM were not much better. My ’72 Olds Custom Cruiser with the 455 needed a lot of TLC to keep it going while we were stationed in Germany.

      • 0 avatar
        conundrum

        They were Chrysler’s belated answer to the gothic Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix. Too bad the ’78 Monte Carlo was on the new A platform and only a minor wobbler, leaving this Dodge hung out to dry as the dinosaur it was. Chrysler was on the ropes in 1978 anyway.

        You went for a drive in one of these things and were rewarded by iffy directional stability especially in crosswinds, totally non-feel power steering, and a big body that was not really trimmed all that well unless shiny vinyl is your schtick. It was sort of an empty cavern with a hiccuping malaise-era engine housed in a tin shed up front. It roared because America hadn’t yet discovered electric fans. I rented many Satellites in that era, and wondered how Chrysler had managed to make the ’68 era Charger chassis into a low rent tinmobile. Any GM was better, the midsize Fords had the softest suspensions that would bottom out on 25 mph airport curves as they leaned and before the tires even squealed. Really awful cars in the absolute sense, but your average buyer was still pumped full of disdain for them funny little furrin cars, and bought these “big” cars anyway. One of my agents had a ’76 Chryler New Yorker, and the less said about that creaking body in four door hardtop form and rubbery ride the better. These cars were from another era, but worse, they weren’t as good as the original models on the same basic B and C series chassis. In my opinion, of course.

        Pity there aren’t enough left around for your average driver of today to experience. That would give ’em a fright. The difference between these old things and the ’77 onward GM full size B body cars like the Caprice was immense, and all in GM’s favor.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Bring back T-Tops. More of an open air feeling than a sunroof. But with greater year round utility than a convertible.

    Of course I also would not mind seeing some domestic luxury cars (Cadillac!!!) offering a big block V8, but that is another discussion.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I agree, but it quickly becomes a pain in the butt to remove, store and replace those tops. They are not light weight and in case of a sudden downpour you have to stop, run to the trunk and put the tops on. With a sunroof one push of a button and you’re good to go :)

      • 0 avatar

        A pano roof gives you maximum air and flexibility on how much automatic sun you desire.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Sunroof doesn’t provide maximum airflow/visibility because they don’t open to the windows. They are just a hole in the roof. The T-Bar opens up the top and the sides creating a convertible feel. I have yet to drive in a sunroof equipped vehicle that comes anywhere near the open air experience of a t-roof. And you don’t have to worry about the drainage holes getting filled with debris.

          Yes you don’t push a button to put them back on. Each requires 2 clips and therefore they are still relatively quick to re-install. It should not take more than one minute per panel.

          • 0 avatar

            Sounds like the ideal all-round solution is a glass targa panel like on the 911 or a Miata RF.

            I will say that if I had to do assembly with glass pieces to use something like that, I never ever would. I hate having to do that sort of labor to enjoy a feature of a car.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            The problem with the powered full targa panel like on a 911 or Miata is that it gets stowed in the trunk area. A powered T-roof can either slide back or into the center support allowing you to keep full cargo capacity. The center support should also provide a little more structural rigidity compared to a full targa (at the expense of even more open air)

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            You forget woman drive cars as well. All she has to do is get stuck in the rain just once with the T-tops off and those things are never coming off again

          • 0 avatar
            SilverCoupe

            I had an ’89 Toyota Supra Turbo with a targa roof. It had to be screwed down with four screws with a special tool, which took about ten minutes (and it stored on special clips in the hatch area.) To save time when parking in the city, I would only screw it down half way, so that it looked closed, but would take less time to remove later. Given the effort required, I only took it off a few times a year.
            Mostly, I liked using it at night. There was too much sunshine when the roof was off during the day.
            The car certainly had less rigidity when the targa roof was off.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Didn’t ASC offer a power T-top system in ’78 that went on a few Eldorados and Toronados? We have the power full targa roofs today for the Miata RF and 911 so I’m sure offering a powered T-roof system wouldn’t be too much of a hurdle.

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          Here’s one of the few Eldorado power t-top equipped models. A few Toronado XSCs came with them. From what I read they had some issues.

          https://www.autoblog.com/2009/03/10/period-awesome-1978-cadillac-eldorado-with-power-t-tops-on-ebay/

        • 0 avatar
          rudiger

          IIRC, those Eldorado and Toronado motorized t-tops never made it past the prototype stage, although a couple of them got it into private hands. They were expensive and complex.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Can’t ever remember the t-roof causing an issue regarding rain. Nor do I remember anyone who complained about theirs.

          Prefer the non-glass ones. And now they would probably be made from much lighter materials, so even easier and quicker to take off/put back.

          And as mentioned they can provide far greater structural rigidity than a convertible.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            Only been stuck in the rain once in a convertible- and that was only because I was on a freeway with no easy place to pull over. It was nighttime (so I didn’t see the big bad rainclouds), and when it started raining it came pouring down fast.

            There have been a few times where I put the power top up while at a red light, can’t do that with a T-top, but if you’re stopped at a red light then there is almost always a spot to pull over if you’re in a T-top instead of a convertible.

            The power top certainly is a lot nicer than a T-top. Knowing you can easily put it back up encourages you to drop it more often.

            Just my own experiences and opinions.

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            “Can’t ever remember the t-roof causing an issue regarding rain. Nor do I remember anyone who complained about theirs.”

            Interesting to get insight from someone who was there. The only T-top car I recall from my circle of acquaintances was a ’73 Corvette that got sold 35+ years ago. I don’t recall any issues with it, but grain of salt as that particular car was well cared for and seldom saw inclement weather.

            My largely baseless guess would be that certain models had issues but that others were fine, at least until the seals got very old or a neglectful owner got ahold of the car.

            Does Hoovie even have the window all the way up here? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv2ftt7jKXs&feature=youtu.be&t=153

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    These were great, a friends stepmom had one. Not only did they give Dodge a persoal luxury offering that didn’t look like a rebadged Cordoba, but they boosted sales over their Charger forerunner signficantly.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    “but the 360 (5.9L) and 400 (6.6L) V8 engine options went with dual or four-barrel carbs.”

    Did you mean to say a two-barrel or four barrel carbs? I don’t remember a dual four barrel option on the 400’s back then, but it would have been absolutely sensational!

  • avatar

    Dear God, that is just awful. But great name to reuse for a future Dodge CUV to replace the Journey! Assuming there actually will BE a future Dodge CUV to replace the Journey.

  • avatar

    Also good name for a condom. Oh wait, never mind.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    This is the perfect example (along with the Ford Granada-and others) of the absolute crap Detroit made in the 70’s decade.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Just stop. Not everyone wanted German or Japanese. Era Detroit stuff hit the mark for millions.

      Of course to maximize the experience you may have had to constantly chase loose screws on interior trim, visit TuneUp Masters once every 2 or 3 years, and or drop by The Super Shops for parts like headers, a cam, intake, carb, exhaust, posi/gears, etc.

      Do those places still exist? But the point is, if you never mind Euro cars, there’s maybe a handful for Japanese cars that were interesting for enthusiasts in 1978 compared to scores and scores of Detroit steel.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        ” Era Detroit stuff hit the mark for millions. ”

        Of course it did! They didn’t know any better back then.

        But they know better now, and are overwhelmed with CHOICE.

        America. Wadda country!

        • 0 avatar

          “They didn’t know any better back then. But they know better now”.

          highdesertcat do you want to say that people were stupid back then and somehow modern humans become much smarter? I have serious doubts about it. May be the opposite is true.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            ILO, that’s not what that means. In American-slang that statement means there was no better to be had at that time so people did not know that better could exist.

            A lot of things have changed since that time, and people noticed. That’s why they switched brands, and American automakers have been playing catch-up ever since.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        BMW was still regarded as competing with the likes of SAAB at that point in North America.

        Audi was newish to the market and the Audi Fox was not exactly the type of vehicle to win over too many consumers.

        French and Italian cars were regarded with trepidation.

        Volvo was boring and marketed on safety.

        And outside of major urban areas if your European vehicle needed service/parts unless it was an air cooled VW you were usually out of luck.

        And the Brits had a truly spotty history for reliability.

        The Japanese were producing reliable products. But still regarded as small(ish) and certainly not prestigious.

        So if you wanted a ‘family sized’ vehicle or a highway cruiser that was reliable, the D3 were still valid choices.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    These would have been a nice car for 1972. 1978, probably not so much.

  • avatar
    Mike-NB2

    I’m probably marking myself as old, and maybe even having bad taste, but I loved these cars back then. The ’75 Charger and then the Magnum that followed seemed classy. To this day I have a soft spot in my heart for big 70s American cars.

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    I worked for Southwest Leasing in 1978 and 1979 when these Magnums were offered. They were and still are beautiful cars. Our fleet of luxury rentals included LeBarons and Cordobas. I especially liked the dual stacked headlamps on the 1978 and 1979 Cordobas. I recall seeing a new Magnum GT for a price near $8,000 and could not afford that. Instead I bought my first car, a 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Holiday Coupe, for $725. I now have 23 vehicles and the original Magnum (XE or GT)is still on the short list for the collection.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Denver Mike is correct in that not everyone wanted a Japanese or German vehicle. The Japanese were still establishing their reputation and many older buyers remembered cheaply made Japanese products from the previous decades before and the anti-Japanese sentiment left from WW II. It not only took the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 but the Iranian Crisis of 1979 with shortages of gasoline and further declining quality of American cars lead many buyers to buy Japanese vehicles even some of the WW II veterans. Even I would not have considered a Japanese or German car then but now I would not only consider Japanese (I have owned 4 Japanese vehicles since then) but South Korean but I would still not consider German due to expensive parts and repairs.

    As for the Magnum I remember these but were rare even in 1978 and 1979. The late 70s were the lowest point for Chrysler quality. By the Summer of 1979 Chrysler was storing excess inventory in shopping center parking lots, ball field parking lots, and anywhere else they could find. Dealers stopped taking cars because they could not sell them and Chrysler dealers were conducting tent sales to sell off their inventory. During the Summer of 1979 I had just started a new job and still had my 1977 Monte Carlo and was not in the market for a new car. I kept getting dealer advertisements in the mail about the tent sales, phone calls, and TV was bombarded with advertisement for these Chrysler sales. Excess inventory building up was just one of the things that lead to Chrysler’s near bankruptcy. Lee Iaccoca shortly became CEO of persuading President Jimmy Carter and Congress to provide a federal guarantee for $1.5 billion in loans to Chrysler.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      “The late 70s were the lowest point for Chrysler quality.”

      You’re too young to remember the late 1950’s ‘Forward Look’ Mo-Pars ~ they were worse then the 1049 ‘Shoebox’ Fords .

      “I believe that Mopar had its best days in the ’50s and ’60s.”

      Obviously you’ve never driven, ridden in nor worked on anything Mo-Par made in the 1930’s through the erly 1950’s .

      All were well engineered with top quality assembly if often odd looking compared to the other big two Detroit names .

      -Nate

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        FWIW, I agree that the ‘Leaning Tower Of Power’ slant – six engine was superb but then, in my experience as a Mechanic pretty much all Mo-Par engines were pretty stout if thirsty .

        I’m an unabashed GM (Chevy mostly) fanboi but I know good design and quality when I see it ~ all through the 1960’s everyone loved Pony Cars, at the Blue Collar end of the market it was all Novas and Mustang/Falcon/Comets but none would take punishment like the ‘A’ body Mo-Par Valiants, Darts and so on .

        Funny looking things to be sure but up for TAXI DUTY right out of the box, nothing GM / Ford offered in that segment could claim .

        -Nate

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        @ Nate – You post corroborates my inferences from internet reading about the mindsets of Walter P. Chrysler and K.T. Keller. Jay Leno opines that the prewar/postwar Plymouths were the best of the Low Priced Three: youtu.be/gd5qq9e3apk?t=296

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Mom and dad bought one new in 1978. It was a tough car and it rode/handles well. It was geared pretty tall and would do 90mph in 2nd gear. Got decent mileage with those gears though. They never really had any issues with it. My sister and brother in law bought it from them and only had to have some valve work at 140k miles which is unusual for the 360la motor.

    I bought one my first year of college. Mine was a 1979 with t-tops. The only trouble I had with mine was the crappy 904LA transmission. Could be that having it airborne several time contributed to that. once, we hit the gravel hard enough the gravel was coming into the car through the open t-tops.

    Over all they were a good GT car. You could put a lot of miles in at speed in great comfort. They did have a small trunk for an 18′ long car.

    Neither car had any issues with the lean burn system. Ballast resistors though…

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Ballast resistors. Anyone who owned a Chrysler product of the late 1960’s to late 1970’s still probably mutters those words in their sleep.

      Always keep at least one handy in the car for replacement.

      The Dodge Dart with the 225 slant six was perhaps dollar for dollar the ‘best buy’ of any car in the world in its day. Reliable, durable and room for 6 in a relatively small package. Of course we would fit in many more people in the pre-seatbelt days.

      For years Phil Edmonston in his Lemonaid car buying guide, listed it as his top pick. For so long that it become something of a standing joke.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        “For years Phil Edmonston in his Lemonaid car buying guide, listed it as his top pick. For so long that it become something of a standing joke.”

        I think after about 1990 he just forgot to update the Dart/Valiant entry. Or maybe he chose not to and the joke was on all of us. By then it was nearly impossible to find one that wasn’t a rust monster AND that was actually for sale.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I can’t tell from the picture but if those wheel covers are the same type as were on my Cordoba the ‘spokes/slots’ were actually some sort of painted rubber and not metal.

    In reality a very durable system that looked good and required minimal care. But a little heavy.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Nate–Not that young because I remember the new 4 door 57 Chrysler Windsor with dual headlights my father bought because my mother loved the styling, the tutone dark blue and white with push button drive. The metallic blue was faded in less than 2 years and it was falling apart. My father wished he would have kept our green two door 51 Dodge or bought a new 57 Chevy. My memory of the late 70s Chrysler products was a coworker with a beautiful light gray 78 Cordoba he bought new with a maroon landau top and red interior that during the first two years of ownership went thru 3 automatic transmissions and the dealer invoicing repairs on power seats for a car with manual seats while still not repairing his transmission. I also remember looking at a new 75 Chrysler Cordoba with loose threads on the upholstery and rust on the bottom of the frame railings that you could flake off pieces of the railings along with another new Chrysler in the same dealership with bubbles in the paint and over spray. Chrysler has had poor quality for decades.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      I feel for your pops ~ those Forward Look Mo-Pars leaked worse than the GM T – Tops of the 70’s & 80’s and they rattled and squeaked horribly too .

      I very well remember the GM T – Tops, they were simply awful and few had ones that didn’t leak and I’m in Southern California for chrissakes ! .

      They also got stolen almost monthly .

      I had a 1975 VW/Porsche 914 2L four cylinder, it was a fun car but that damned targa top also leaked .

      I was *so* excited when I chanced into a green Lexan top in the box, right until I tried it on ~ it fit poorly and had crappy latches , wind whistles and leaked like the Titanic .

      I was relieved when I was able to off load the top (still in it’s box) to a pair of Dykes for $50 .

      I made the mistake of telling my son you can drive a convertible top down in the rain and not get wet, of curse this meant he insisted on trying it in Washington State where it rains heavily .

      No, I nor the back seat got wet, yes, I froze my nuts off =8-) .

      Dan kids never forget anything .

      Interestingly, none of the three 1980’s A1 based VW Rabbit convertibles I had leaked nor had the usual rusty floors .

      My 1958 Plymouth Plaza 2 door stripper (no hater much less radio) had _zero_ leaks, squeaks and rattles the original baby blue paint was still in VGC , only the cloth seat covers and cheap rubber floor mats crumbled away .

      -Nate

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    As a kid, I thought those plastic straked headlamp covers were the coolest thing EVER. Very Euro.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • statikboy: That’s not a fair comparison. The curb weight of the Cruise you show is only 3,082 lbs. 4321 lbs. is...
  • slavuta: Accord is not a Japanese car. At least not anymore. May be Civic.
  • slavuta: Ha! And I tested same car of 2017 version. And was totally unimpressed. The seats. They were big and did not...
  • slavuta: Toyota probably is. However, they also had big big issues. Neither brand is exciting. But Toyota has trucks,...
  • statikboy: My 4 door Integra with the sunroof and one rear window open had perfect highway speed air flow. No...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber