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 A-Body Plymouth Valiant (and its Dodge sibling, the Dart), stayed in American production from the 1960 model year all the way through 1976. Legendary for its sturdiness, the Valiant was sure to be a tough act to follow. The Plymouth Volarés and Dodge Aspens appeared in 1976, never gained the affection given to their predecessors, and were facelifted and renamed the Gran Fury and Diplomat in 1981. Here’s a luxed-up first-year Volaré I spotted in a Northern California self-service yard.
Commonplace as the Dodge Aspen was during the Middle and Late Malaise Era— you saw them on American roads in 1980 or so about as often as you’d see, say, Hyundai Accents today. The Aspen (and its Plymouth sibling, the Volaré) didn’t hold their value so well, and nearly all of them were crushed by the early 1990s. I photograph them whenever I see them, of course, but that isn’t often. In this series before today, we’ve seen this ’76 Aspen sedan, this ’76 Volaré sedan, this brown-on-beige ’77 Volaré coupe and this ’77 Volaré Premier wagon, and now we’ve got a mossy, lichen-covered Northern California Aspen wagon.
The Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volaré won the Motor Trend Car of the Year award for 1976, and they spent a good decade among the most commonplace vehicles on American roads. Then just about all of them disappeared, no doubt as they depreciated well below scrap value in about ten years. However, the occasional odds-beating survivor shows up in wrecking yards now and then; we’ve seen this ’76 Aspen sedan, this brown-on-beige ’77 Volaré coupe and this ’77 Volaré Premier wagon, and now today’s ’76 Volaré sedan. This one shows evidence of having sat for the last decade or so, but still managed to rack up many more miles than most of its Civic and Corolla contemporaries.
The successor to the incredibly successful Dodge Dart/Plymouth Valiant was the Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volaré. These simple rear-wheel-drive cars sold fairly well, but for every Aspen or Volaré I see in high-turnover wrecking yards today, I find ten Darts and Valiants. Part of that reason is a short production run, part is (arguably) lower build quality, but I’m guessing the main reason is that Americans just didn’t love the F-body Chryslers the way they did the A-body. When a Valiant got sick (which wasn’t often), it got fixed; when a Volaré came down with some expensive problem, it got crushed. Now these things are almost nonexistent, but here’s a very rare Volaré Premier wagon I spotted in a California yard a few months back.
It’s hard to believe that the Dodge Aspen was once a common sight on the street, seen as frequently back in the Malaise Era as CR-Vs are today. Cops drove them, college students drove them, old ladies drove them; as the successor to the Dart, the Aspen was about as mainstream as it was possible to be. Then, sometime around about 1990, just about all of them were swallowed up by a hole in the earth.