Junkyard Find: 1978 Chrysler LeBaron Coupe

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

The LeBaron name goes well back in Chrysler history, starting when the coachbuilder known as LeBaron Carrossiers was purchased by Detroit car-body-builder Briggs Manufacturing in 1926 and Chrysler bought Briggs in 1953. After various high-end Imperials got LeBaron branding over the decades, Chrysler decided to turn the Dodge Diplomat into a swanky luxury machine and revive the storied LeBaron name in the process. Here's one of those cars, found in a Denver boneyard recently.

junkyard find 1978 chrysler lebaron coupe

This was the first time the LeBaron name was used as a standalone model name by Chrysler, which was in big financial trouble and sinking fast into danger of bankruptcy at the time.

This generation of LeBaron was sold for the 1977 through 1981 model years, and it was available as a coupe, sedan and wagon.

The two-door was a credibly rakish personal luxury coupe for its time, and probably cannibalized some sales from the Cordoba.

Another problem with the 1977-1981 LeBaron was its all-too-obvious resemblance to its cheap Dodge Diplomat and Plymouth Gran Fury siblings.

Plenty of cops and cabdrivers drove Diplomats and Gran Furies over the following decade, and all the faux-velour inside and opera lights outside couldn't erase that.

In 1978, a new LeBaron coupe started at $5,114, or about $24,885 in 2023 dollars, while a bigger and more opulent new Cordoba could be had for just $436 more.

Meanwhile, Dodge dealers were asking $4,991 for new '78 Diplomats ($24,286 today). Plymouth didn't come out with the Gran Fury until the 1980 model year.

The base engine was a 225-cubic-inch Slant-6 rated at 110 horsepower and 180 pound-feet. This car has the optional 318-cubic-inch V8, which had 140 horsepower and 245 pound-feet.

The 318 added $176 to the LeBaron's price tag ($856 in today's money), and it came with the often-troublesome computer-controlled Lean Burn ignition system.

This one has the optional Cortez cloth-and-vinyl seat upholstery. Leather was available, though it appears that Chrysler didn't use the Corinthian Leather name for cowhide in this car.

Sold by Roger Mauro, who was well-known for his racing prowess around these parts.

The interior doesn't seem so bad, but the vinyl roof got nuked decades ago.

The trunk must have filled with water every time it rained or snowed, so it's rusty.

Worth restoring? Not in this condition.

Not many car shoppers bought 1977-1981 LeBarons, and they're seriously rare today. When the LeBaron name went onto the flagship of Lee Iacocca's K-Cars starting with the 1982 model year, sales went very well.

The front-wheel-drive LeBarons stayed in production all the way through 1995.

Lighter, leaner, with a young aggressive style.

Get a little style in your life. Add a little life to your style. Sticker-priced like Cutlass Supreme.

[Images: The author]

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2 of 18 comments
  • MRF 95 T-Bird MRF 95 T-Bird on Jul 10, 2023

    The M-body Diplomat/Lebaron were an upmarket version of the F-body Aspen/Volare. Akin to what the Granada/Monarch were for Ford which were derived from the econobox Maverick/Comet. A more luxurious compact for folks who wanted compact efficiency from the Big Three but didn’t want to go for an intermediate or full sized car nor what the imports were offering.

  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Jul 11, 2023

    Maximum Bob Lutz loved the 5th Avenue, and was upset when Iacocca went completely to front wheel drive. He didn't actually love the 5th Avenue, he loved the RWD platform for a proper luxury car and thought it could be tweaked to be a realistically fake luxobarge. He never got the chance to tweak, and when Iacocca made what he called his biggest mistake, choosing GM lifer Bob Eaton instead of Lutz to be his successor, Bob moved on to GM.

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