Rare Rides: The 1979 Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue Edition - Big and Brown
Rare Rides has featured plenty of Chrysler vehicles before, and some of them were even as large as today’s range-topping sedan. But none of them had quite as much trim as today’s subject.
From the last gasp of the truly full-size offerings from domestic manufacturers, it’s the 1979 Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue Edition.
New Yorker was a long-lived nameplate at Chrysler. In 1938 it was introduced as a slightly cheaper variant of the Imperial. Branching off from Imperial was an auspicious start, as that model was Chrysler’s top-of-the-line car since 1926. In 1940, New Yorker became its own model, and debuted with its own body separate to Imperial.
Through the decades, New Yorker stayed the course as the company’s offering to those who couldn’t spring for the ultimate-luxury Imperial. Always a full-size car, the New Yorker was sold for many years in five body styles. With two doors it was a hardtop or a convertible, and with four doors it was a sedan, hardtop, or wagon. Things started to change for the nameplate in the Sixties, when the wagon and convertible vanished for 1965.
Chrysler didn’t let its New Yorker get too stale, and the generations typically lasted three to five model years. 1978 marked the ninth generation’s fifth model year, and, as with all car manufacturers in the period, big changes were expected. Fuel economy needed to increase, and size had to do the opposite.
Chrysler complied in 1979, when the 10th-generation New Yorker debuted. The new model moved from the old C-body to the smaller R-body, the platform a response to the wildly successful downsized ’77 full-sizers from General Motors. Because Chrysler was not exactly flush with cash at the time, the R platform was a rework of the B-body from the Dodge Dart of 1962. While the wheelbase decreased six inches (to 118.5″) for ’79, overall length was down 13 inches. Chrysler still needed full-size dimensions, and managed via some truly impressive overhangs at either end. The New Yorker was 221.5 inches long, which is three inches shy of the 2020 Chevy Suburban. New Yorker was joined by three other new cars, albeit of lower class aspirations: Chrysler’s Newport, the Dodge St. Regis, and the Plymouth Gran Fury (with the latter car arriving for 1980).
Keeping in mind the Imperial name disappeared after 1975 from Chrysler’s lineup, New Yorker was the marque’s flagship vehicle. Pleasing both traditional and progressive luxury enthusiasts, New Yorker was offered in a singular body style — a pillared hardtop. It featured a high specification of trim, unique flip-down headlamps, and a tiered heckblende at the rear. While the lesser R-body derivations offered an available Slant Six, the New Yorker was solely propelled by V8s. The largest 360 (5.9L) engine of 1979 was the smallest available on New Yorker in 1978. Skinflints could also select the 318 (5.2L), but engine selection ceased for 1980.
Options for New Yorker were limited, and included the Fifth Avenue Edition package from introduction. In 1980, the 360 V8 option disappeared, but Chrysler made up for it with a new luxury package in addition to the Fifth Avenue Edition, called Fifth Avenue Limited Edition. That version features a stainless roof panel and dark brown metallic paint. In 1981 the New Yorker saw its last independent year for a while, as the R-body faded away — a sales failure. A new grille for its final year heralded the merger of the Fifth Avenue and New Yorker names in 1982, in the more successful luxury version of the M-body Dodge Diplomat.
Today’s Rare Ride is for sale in Pennsylvania. With 42,000 miles and a 360 V8, this chocolate bar is an unusually well-preserved car. The ask of $8,995 is much less than the $50,000 inflation adjusted price in 1979.
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To see one of these with working headlight doors, interior carpet pieces that aren't falling off, closed windows that you could stick your finger through the gaps and bumper trim coverings that aren't warping is truly a miracle. Being a 1979I I would bet the owner had many of these items re-done as the abysmal factory quality control on these was well documented. Consumer Guide and Reports said it best. These were stop gap downsized cars based on ancient underpinnings that performed poorly compared to the competition. They both recommended a GM B-body or Ford Panther instead. I remember reading a write up on the New Yorker for 1980 in one of the auto rags back in the day. The lone engine choice was a 120 hp 318 Lean Burn V8 moving around over 4000 LBS. I remember looking at that several times and wondering if it was a mistake. Then I saw that a 130 HP 360 was also available for perhaps California buyers. Suddenly the 120 HP figure that my 1981 Grand Prix made didn't seem so bad being that it was only a little 4.3 liter 265 moving around 3300 LBS!
If memory serves me, the R-bodies were some of the first cars to have a passenger side mirror as standard equipment. Even Caddy and Lincoln made you order passenger mirrors as an extra add-on. My similar 1980 Chrysler Newport had a toggle for the passenger mirror somewhere on the dash (I can't remember where exactly).