Chrysler Corporation R Bodies: 1979-1981 Downsized Full-Sized Cars
Newport, New Yorker, St. Regis, Gran Fury
The “R” bodied cars from Chrysler were excellent cars that performed well for fleet use. Unfortunately, they were the wrong cars introduced at a trying time for Chrysler.
In 1977, General Motors surprised the market with their smaller full-sized vehicles. Probably the biggest interest surrounded the Chevrolet line, the perennial sales leader of domestic USA makes. Faced with a Federal government that had imposed increasingly tight emissions and gas mileage standards and customers that demanded higher mileage, GM downsized in an end-run that took the edge off the Feds’ razor, at least for a little while.
The foundation for downsizing was the “gasoline crisis” in 1973, caused by the OPEC cartel. Americans that lived along the borders of Canada and Mexico, able to cross freely into either country, experienced no such “crisis.” I am not going to probe further into that political morass.
The effect devastated the American manufacturers. Big cars with lots of chrome and huge V-8s became the bane, instead of the backbone. Sales plummeted for the big V-8 powered sedans that had become the American automakers’ main profit-makers. Chevrolet dipped below the 2 million mark for the first time since 1961.
Chrysler was in deep trouble, having fielded huge new gas guzzlers for 1974, arriving just in time for the tail end of the “gas crisis.” Chrysler sales tanked. Quality control issues continued to dog its public image. Chrysler President Lynn Townsend — the architect of Chrysler’s resurgence in the 1960s — had no real answers. After refusing to cut prices, he cut production, and then raised prices! He came up with the rebate program, and the horrible “sales bank” scheme. When all of it failed, he decided to totally duck out, entering retirement at the age of 56, nine years early.
John Riccardo, hand picked and personally groomed, succeeded him, and Eugene Cafiero became Chrysler President. The Vice-President positions all changed to people that were younger than 50. They reorganized into a controlling group as the “Operations Committee.” Unfortunately, few had operational experience.
From the high offices at Chrysler they saw that a 1976 Chevrolet Impala had a 121.5 inch wheelbase; 4,315 pounds of weight; and an available 454 cid V8, choked down to 225 net horsepower. Chrysler’s main competitors were the Dodge Monaco and Plymouth Fury on the same wheelbase, with an available 440 cubic inch engine strangled to 205 horsepower, and similar weight.
The 1977 Impala rode on a 116 inch wheelbase, weighed 3,560 pounds, and the largest engine available was a 350 ci V-8. It had lost 10.5 inches in wheelbase, 4 inches in width, 700 pounds of weight, and could be had with the old stove bolt six cylinder….. standard! The interior, however, sealed the deal, with a larger space.
Check the Plymouth Satellite specifications in 1970. Not only did they mirror the 1977 Chevrolet offerings, the Satellite weighed 3,125 pounds, which was 400 pounds lighter!
Chrysler did have some models near the target Impala in 1977, but failed to capitalize upon the concept of “sizing”, choosing to continue with their old advertising style, which was no longer effective (if it ever had been). The 1977 Plymouth Fury (née Satellite), with a 117.5 inch wheelbase, weighed 3,775 pounds and could have been targeted against the Impala. Dodge had a similar car in the Monaco (née Coronet). Both had two door models on a 115 inch wheelbase. The price difference versus Chevrolet amounted to over $800 in favor of Dodge, and more for the Plymouth.
Motor Trend, a grandiose enthusiast rag, anointed Chevrolet with its “Car Of The Year” award, a somewhat dubious distinction. The EPA sent congratulatory messages since Chevrolet had managed to achieve an overall EPA rating of 18.4 miles per gallon. It didn’t come cheaply, however, with an across the board price increase of $400 per unit. The prices did not deter buyers, however. They flocked to Chevrolet dealerships, check books in hand, causing over 2.5 million deliveries.
Chrysler was working off cash from sales, with its reserves totally depleted. Research and development for keeping up with regulatory matters took all cash away from working on newer models. Any hope to play in the General Motors challenge had to be a compromise.
The square box Omni-Horizon twins, which critics mistakenly believed were copies of the trend-setting Volkswagen Rabbit, were about a year away from their 1978 introduction (these were based on Chrysler Europe cars which descended from the Simca 1100). They were in no way any match for size. Had it not been for Volkswagen’s willingness to sell Chrysler a version of the Rabbit’s 1.5 litre engine, the Omni/Horizon twins would not have been able to reach the market until 1980. Chrysler dressed the engine, enlarging it to 1.7 litres, and sold close to 200,000 units with it!
While congratulatory letters and awards were given out concerning the 1975 introduction of the “small” Chrysler, the Cordoba, it was not noted that it was because it was “small” that it was such a hit. That is, until, Chrysler had reached somewhere in the middle of the bankruptcy swamp with no means to get to the drain!
Originally the Cordoba was to be a top of the line Plymouth, based on the 115 inch wheelbase 2 door Plymouth Satellite. It was an effort to push the overworked Fury nameplate down a notch. Satellite sales had run flat, and profits fell. Moving quickly, the “Operations Committee” had been presented with either an upscale “personal luxury coupe” in a Chrysler suit, or a dressed up “sport coupe” in Plymouth pants. The deciding factor was the profitability of the Chrysler. It involved upgrades of all the contemplated images associated with a Plymouth, to those attributes pinned to a Chrysler. It was a good solid hit, with first year sales running over 150,000 units. Chrysler had always derided it, saying, “never a small Chrysler.” The horns were tooting a far different song mid 1975!
In 1975, a design study program began seeking to shave off size and weight on the upper crust Chrysler marque. Finally realizing that size does matter, the corporation began efforts to “downsize” those rolling highway battleships. A quick assessment of the entire corporate marques shows where it stood in 1975:
- “A” body: Wheelbase from 106” to 111”. From 1962 through 1976.
- “B” body: The chassis debuted in 1962 (its letter designation came in 1964). Wheelbase from 115” to 118”.
- There is some question as to whether the 1979 Chrysler 300 was a “B” or an “R”. I believe this to be more of a “paper” designation since the 1979 300 was a hotted up Cordoba.
- “C” body: Wheelbases from 119” to 124”. From 1965 to 1978.
- “D” body: Wheelbases from 127” to 129”. From 1957 to 1975.
- “E” body: Gone in mid-1974 [sales had never been high]. Wheelbase from 108” to 110”.
- “F / M /J” body: All the same despite the different letter designations. Wheelbase 108.7” for the 2 door and 112.7” for the 4 door. First models introduced in 1976 in the Aspen/Volare Twins.
What finally emerged for the R body was a 118.5 inch wheelbase, larger than the longest-wheelbase B-body yet smaller than the shortest-wheelbase C-body — by half an inch in both cases.
Only two models on that chassis were launched in 1979 — the Chrysler Newport and the Dodge St. Regis.
A lot of fleet operators, yours truly included, did not understand the lack of a Plymouth “R” body in 1979. However, that was a Cafiero mistake. The fleet based Newport was really the Plymouth in disguise, priced as if it were a Plymouth. In fact, the Newport ended up as the “state bid” vehicle for many law enforcement agencies. The Plymouth dealers were raising stink about the lack of the bigger Plymouth. They got a Gran Fury “R” body in 1980, which was a Newport with a different frontal treatment. It affected overall sales only marginally.
Chrysler envisioned a different approach from GM - a mistake. GM had lopped off sheet metal as though it had used an axe; Chrysler determined to lose weight, but to keep the big car look. There was some argument over this, since some of the designers wanted the cars to look physically smaller, as the GM products did. These were the guys that Chrysler should have listened to. When you brought your 1976 GM model to your local dealer, it was just plain outright obvious that for 1977, outside, they were a much smaller car. That…. was what was selling it! It did not pretend to look as big as it did, in any dimension. Except for the interior that retained the full size dimensions.
It is ironic that Lynn Townsend, an accountant, and his replacement, John Riccardo, an accountant type groomed by Townsend, had no financial controls in operating Chrysler [a complaint made in 1957, as well]. No one knew what was going on, day to day. Money came in, not really known from where, and was then applied to whatever element of the corporation that appeared to be bleeding the most! As the company slide further into the abyss of failure, development fell to the bottom of the tank.
The design team began looking at reworking current or already completed body types instead of trying to develop completely new designs. It was a matter of finance. Casting about, they settled upon the tried and true “B” body.
Work on the 1977 Dodge Diplomat and Chrysler LeBaron showed them the way. These twins were worked up from the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare, introduced mid year in 1976. They were styled differently enough so that the origins for them were comparatively disguised — which was a good thing, because the warranty claims against the Aspen and Volare rapidly mounted. Sales for the Aspen and Volare were disappointing, never approaching the success of the Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Dart. Adding insult to injury, Chrysler, which had little to begin with for a competitive “downsized” Chrysler, ended up paying nearly $225 million to repair the Volare/Aspen cars. It was money that the company just could not afford to have spent.
The quest for the new, not quite smaller Chrysler continued. The car had really been targeted for a 1978 launch, and the Plymouth model had not been included. The issue there was the guy in charge. Cafiero made the fateful decision to drop the big Plymouth at the end of 1978 along with the entire intermediate line, leaving Volare as its largest car!
Eugene Cafiero was the only major upper management member who had come up through via production, having worked at several production plants before arriving at the executive suite. He was in charge of making production decisions, but he disagreed with everything that Riccardo was trying to do. Production planning for the forthcoming “R” body cars was delayed by 9 months because of Cafiero and his dithering about implementing the production lines. Even though it was still 1977, those precious months were completely lost with no means whatsoever to take steps to bring back any sort of timetable for the “R” body cars.
Cafiero and Riccardo were the quintessential odd couple. They began to openly fight in board meetings. A simmering feud kept boiling in the upper levels of the executive building, each trying to snipe through to the other. To his credit, Riccardo realized that new blood was needed at Chrysler. It became even more apparent that he, Riccardo, was not the man to secure the needed backing from the Federal Government to save Chrysler. Riccardo had announced that it would take about $7.5 billion to remake the Chrysler Corporation. President Carter told him point blank, “heal thyself.”
With this mental stress going on, Cafiero was no longer even speaking to him. Riccardo resolved to act. Cafiero beat him to the punch, announcing publicly in July 1977 that he was resigning from Chrysler to accept another CEO position with another (not known) corporation. For reasons known only to himself, Riccardo convinced Cafiero to stay on! An uneasy truce existed after that, but it was obvious that the relationship was on a downhill slide, and could not last.
Work continued on the “R” body cars. Engineering dipped into the parts bins, coming up with existing tried and true technology. The front suspension was parallel torsion control bars, in place since 1957; the cross twisted torsion bars of the Volare/Aspen front suspension was not considered (they may not have been necessary with the roomier engine bays). Some issues were already being raised about those twistee tie front bars.
Engines were from the parts bin, too: the 225 cubic inch slanted straight six, the tough, tried and true 2 barrel 318 cubic inch V-8, and the largest engine now available in any Chrysler built car, the 360 cubic inch V-8. The regulatory agency in California demanded that all cars sold there had to meet their state’s requirements; the 2 barrel 318 didn’t qualify there, so the LA 318 got a four barrel carb for California alone. In all, there were 7 engines for the “R” body: four for the 49 states (“Federal”) and three for California, which was under strict Federal orders to slash its pollution and given permission to set its own rules. In all cases, except with the four barrel 318, horsepower was choked off. As an aside, cars built for Canada got another choice for the 360.
An edict had been issued that weight was the enemy, sort of. They were supposed to be engineering means to save weight, like substituting plastic for metal in the brake cylinder pistons. They swelled up after a couple of years, and caused real heartache until the cause had been pinpointed. The bumpers were innovative because they were made from stamped aluminum, then plated with chrome. The combination didn’t care for the chemicals used, peeling within weeks, looking like cheap paint on zinc coating.
Given more money, of which there was none available, the “R” body cars might have fared far better. As such, it is a wonder that they came out as well as they did. Development money shrank away, and the design team was informed that they had all investment that they were going to get. Any consideration of a convertible, a hardtop, or a station wagon design for the “R” body was torpedoed. Chrysler did finally manage to pare off some 700 to 800 pounds on the “R” body.
Lee Iacocca arrived just about the same time the “R” body cars were released; he rejected the top of the line New Yorker Fifth Avenue Edition he had been given, saying it didn’t represent the target it was meant to. He took a new Cordoba, which he felt more represented the right “size.”
The R Bodies go on sale: Chrysler Newport and Dodge St. Regis
Even though the initial sales were strong for the “R” body cars, a spring season recession sent jitters through the public. Gasoline prices also rose. Sales took a nose dive.
Those that did sell were problematic. Before the first “R” car was built, Chrysler quality engineering had predicted an estimate of 1,077 defects for every 100 units built. That meant that each car was expected to built with an average of 11 defects! No one took any action to rectify the situation.
The quality situation became known to Iacocca about the same time he discovered a production study that predicted nearly 740 defects for every 100 of “K” cars, despite millions having been spent on robots on the production lines. He was incensed.
Knowing that everything depended upon the product, especially the “K” car, Iacocca lit a blowtorch under the Vice President of Quality Control and Production. He was especially fired up because the Aspen-Volare twins were costing a lot of money to make fixes that quality control engineering should have made before those cars ever hit the production line.
Lee Iacocca was furious. He was also concerned about how the new Imperial would be launched, wanting it to be the most defect free vehicle of all. It wasn’t, but, it was a far cry from where the “R” body stood. In all, suddenly quality became the high bench mark for accomplishment. As a result, all Chrysler lines’ quality were improved, including the “R” bodied vehicles.
Overall, they were decent automobiles. An independent survey for fleet vehicles found that most Police Agencies rated the 1980 “R” body patrol cars as the best Chrysler police unit overall, from 1956 to 1989.
R body details: Newport, New Yorker, St. Regis, Gran Fury
The Chrysler “R” body had 2 different levels of trim. The base had an old Chrysler name, the Newport. There was only body style, which Chrysler chose to label as a “Four Door Pillared Hardtop,” in an attempt to cover the loss of the actual four door hardtop, which didn’t have a center post. Chrysler needed to cover the loss of that niche by evoking the name to keep the sense of the style, especially in the luxury four door models. A result is the “almost” pillar less models with thin or unobtrusive (according to Chrysler) pillars between the doors. Some other manufacturers tried to get by with labeling them as “thin pillar” models. The distinction between certain models got hazy.
Overall dimensions were a 220.2 inch total length, a 77.1 inch width, height 54.5 inches, with a front track of 61.9 inches, and a rear track of 62.0 inches. There were 38.6 inches of headroom in the front, and 37.4 inches in the rear. Legroom was 42.3 inches in the front, and 38.2 inches in the rear. In the front, there was 57.6 inches of hip room, and nearly as much in the rear with 57.4. While folks with wide shoulders would have no problems with 61 inches across the front as well as in the rear. The trunk reflected the usual large Chrysler offering with 21.3 cubic feet of space, almost twice as large as some of the current small cars! Listed weights are about 3500 pounds for the six and small eight, while the larger engines brought that up to about 3600 pounds, and the largest came in at 3800 pounds.
1980 Chrysler Series
|108.7"||LeBaron: Medallion, Salon, base||2-Door|
|112.7"||LeBaron: Medallion, Salon, base||4-Door|
|112.7"||LeBaron Town & Country, LeBaron||Station Wagon|
|112.7"||Cordoba, Crown Cordoba||2-Door Specialty Hardtop|
|118.5"||New Yorker, Newport||4-Door Pillared Hardtop|
Options were standard luxury fare for the time. Cloth, leather or crushed velour seating. Powered sun roof, semi-automatic air conditioning, speed control, electric door locks, power windows, vinyl roof, with full treatment or a padded half, styled hub caps or cast steel wheels, light packages, tilt steering wheel, intermittent wipers, inside controlled rear view mirrors, bright trim packages, and a myriad of other items to equip your car as lean or as luxurious as you desired.
All the “R” cars had a full complement of gauges on the instrument panel. Gas, oil, alternator, and temperature, all clustered around a round dial speedometer which reflected only up to 85 miles per hour. As a sign of the times, the Pursuit package’s certified speedometer only read up to 120 miles an hour, down from the 1978 models that read up to 140.
The standard suspension was the twin parallel torsion bars in the front, aided by an anti-roll bar; and leaf springs in the rear. Two packages that included suspension upgrades were available, Heavy-Duty and Trailer Assist. The Heavy-Duty package, available only with the E58 coded 360 4-barrel V-8, and a 3.21 rear axle ratio, upgraded the springs and shock absorbers, with wider wheels, and larger tires (U48 code – P205/75R x 15” steel belted radials) and same-size spare, deleting the space saver (the spare was stored underneath the package shelf).
The Code A56 package (Trailer Assist) mimicked the A38 Pursuit package: heavy duty torsion bars, heavy duty anti sway bars for the front and rear, heavy duty shock absorbers, and heavy duty leaf springs. Wider wheels were needed to accept the U55 coded P225/70R x 15 steel belted radial ply tires. This suspension was available on the V-8 model cars only.
Standard brakes consisted of power assisted 11.58” front discs and 10” x 2.5” rear drums. Brake pads and shoes were standard asbestos materials. On pursuit A38 packages the rear axle was 9.25” and the brake drum increased to 11” x 2.5” drums. The A38 also had non-organic materials in a sintered metallic pads and brake shoes. The hotter they got, the better they stopped. Fading didn’t occur with these brakes.
R body engines
The standard engine was the E26 Slant Six of 225 cubic inches. In Federal trim, it had 165 ft. lbs of torque and 100 net hp (in 1979). In California, the six was down to 80 net hp, and 160 ft lbs of twist, and was not available on the “R” bodied cars, only the Aspen and Volare (Chrysler chose not to upgrade it to the Super Six package with a two-barrel carburetor, which would have helped. This engine was not available to the police.)
The next upgrade was an optional 318 V-8 with a 2 barrel and single exhaust, coded E44. However, for the first time in years, Chrysler released a 4 barrel version of the venerable 318, the E47 code, that was available only in California. This also included, like it or not, a standard 2.40 rear axle ratio. This engine would have great impact on the next year, and would extend way into the future.
If you wanted more than you could opt for a E57 coded 360 cubic inch V-8 that had a two barrel, and single exhaust with a 150 hp output; it was the New Yorker’s standard fare and optional on all other models. In California that engine was not available; instead the New Yorker got the E56 coded 360 which was a 4 barrel engine, rated at 160 hp. Getting confused yet? Think how difficult all these regulations had complicated the auto manufacturers’ lives!
|1980||Slant Six||318||360||Slant Six (CA)||318 (CA)|
|Horsepower||90 @ 3,600||120 @ 3,600||185 @ 4,000||90 @ 3,600||155 @ 4,000|
|Torque||160 @ 1,600||245 @ 1,600||275 @ 2,000||160 @ 1,600||240 @ 2,000|
The top engine choice in 1979 was the 4 barrel version of the 360 cubic inch V-8. 49 states got a 195 hp version with 280 ft. lbs. of torque. California got a 190 hp, and 275 ft lbs or torque. North of the border, Canada got its own E58 version with no catalytic converters and a slightly higher compression ration, from 8.0 to 1, to 8.4 to 1, and dual exhausts. According to the figures from Chrysler this only increased horsepower by 5, coming up to 200 hp, and no real difference in torque. This probably is less than true. Given standard known upgrades, the Canadians probably enjoyed as much as a 30 nhp increase, and 20 ft. lbs of torque. The A38 Pursuit package cars all got heavy duty engine upgrades, with the E58 being the top Pursuit class engine.
The “R” body in fleet service
Fleets purchased the most of the “R” body cars, after the initial good start in 1979. Chrysler sold 132,936 “R” bodies in the first year. Sales tanked late in the Spring with a rise in gasoline prices, and an economic recession. Dodge moved 34,972 for a combined total of 167,908, which was the largest single year for the body.
With the lack of the big Plymouth body in 1979, the Chrysler Newport came through as the lower bidder compared to Dodge in a lot of fleet buys. It also beat out Chevrolet, Ford, Buick, Pontiac, Mercury and Oldsmobile for a lot of fleet work, stimulating dealers to loudly demand that Plymouth get an “R” body model of its own. They got their request in 1980.
Not all the incidents experienced by fleets were kind to Chrysler. The Maine State Police had used a low-bid concept to buy cars for their Troopers. Like all police agencies through the start of the 1960s, Maine found Plymouths to be the best bid through to the 1970s, but around 1976, quality issues began to arise; they went up sharply in 1977, and culminated in 1978, when the Maine SP fleet found that the Plymouths that they received were unacceptable poor quality. They found they seemed to spend more time in the garage being fixed than on the road. Over their entire fleet of 1977 and 1978 models, they experienced an average of over $3,160 per unit in maintenance costs — plus about that amount in labor.
Not all units were bad, but some were real lemons, with repeated transmission and engine failures, along with electrical issues, especially the lean burn computers. The design of the exhaust system drove the garage crazyl it kept falling off! Over and over! The base price of a Plymouth sedan was $3,850 in 1977 and $4,230 in 1978. I do not know what Maine paid, but they could have purchased several more vehicles on the maintenance costs alone.
As things worked out, Chevrolet won the low bid price to be the Maine State Police Cruiser for 1979. They got it fairly and squarely, with no input from anyone on the Maine State Police. The Troopers found them acceptable. With the 350 V-8, the power available after the 440 V-8s of the MoPar required some readjustment. The handling was different than the Troopers were accustomed to, but they were safe, with good brakes, and soon won most of the Troopers’ respect, as being “good enough.”
Maintenance was another story; the Chevrolets were outstanding. The fleet manager was ecstatic. No real issues among any of the units, moreover, no transmission failures, and only one engine that let go. Maine spent far less on the Chevrolet than on the previous two years with Plymouths.
Armed with detailed records for 1977, 1978, and 1979, Fleet tried to exclude any Chrysler product from bidding, but the Maine Attorney General issued an edict that the attempt to exclude a particular car was illegal; the Dodge St. Regis won the bid for 1980. Fleet went a little wacko, and attempted to change the means to achieve the bid. Again, the Maine Attorney General intervened, and stated that the means to exclude a particular vehicle had to be built into the original description in the bid. It cannot be changed once the bid is made. As far as the legislature was concerned, the bidding was over, and Dodge had it.
Fleet sent letters to Chrysler, seeking assurance that the 1980 Dodge was superior to the 1977 and 1978 Plymouths. Chrysler responded with gushing assurances and statements of good intent. After all, the St. Regis was a totally different car than the Plymouths, and quality was a lot better. Keeping a wary eye on the budget, Maine took possession of 150 new St. Regis Pursuit packages with the 360 4V engines.
On the whole, the 1980 Dodge was every bit as solid as the 1979 Chevrolet. Engines, transmissions, brakes, axles, exhausts, and major components did not fail; but the peripherals did. Wipers that wouldn’t. Windows that stuck. Wiring harness that burned out within a couple weeks of going into service. Electrical issues, bulb failures, power steering pumps that were misaligned in a large number of units, rear brakes coming from the factory that had not been adjusted, and other issues related to poor oversight. The maintenance budget took a hit.
The Maine Troopers liked the car, most expressing they were better cruisers than the previous year Chevrolet. The power, braking, and overall handling, especially in pursuits, was vastly superior. Most rated it as the best handling car they had ever driven, and especially appreciated the suspension package in high speed work. But the damage had been done. The bidding process was, and continues to be, written to keep Chrysler from meeting the specifications. The 1980 Dodge was the last Chrysler product used by the Maine State Police. That includes today.
In 1979, Chevrolet beat out Plymouth and Dodge in the Michigan State Police tests. In 1979, engines and weight were nearly the same for all major manufacturers making cop cars.
In the Michigan State Police actual testing, the Dodge St. Regis turned in the best vehicle performance, with the 1979 Chrysler Newport coming in second. (The Nova and Volare squads were not evaluated by the Michigan State Police, not meeting their criteria.) Points for performance were 322 for the Dodge and 321 for the Chrysler. The 1979 Chevrolet Impala came in at 311. However, given the weighted method MSP uses, the Chevrolet beat out the Dodge for most vehicles for the lowest bid.
In 1980, the full size Plymouth was selected by the MSP. It had the 360 4 barrel. With a 11.5 second 0-60 time, and a top speed of almost 125 miles an hour, it reached 100 in about 35 seconds. The big Plymouth captured 5 of 7 events. The only downside was the poor gasoline mileage.
Plymouth repeated again in 1981 with the full size model. The major difference was the engine. The 360 V-8 was discontinued. The largest available engine for “R” model Gran Fury was the 318 4 barrel. However, even with the loss of the larger engine, performance was not off all that much compared to the year prior. It took 12.7 seconds to get to 60, ran to 100 in 43 seconds, and reached a top speed of 115 mph. Not a rocket ship, but it was the fastest patrol vehicle available in 1981. It was overall a good patrol vehicle, excellent, in fact. It was not a pursuit vehicle.
Following its usual practice, the prestigious California Highway Patrol selected Dodge for its primary E class cruiser in 1979. This was an acceptable unit. Granted, it was no 440, that in its final year, 1978, had propelled CHP officers upwards to 130 miles an hour. The 1979 360 managed to get to 120, with coaxing, and reliably could always get to 115.
|(1980)||St. Regis Sedan|
|Headroom||38.2 / 37.4|
|Shoulder room||61.0 / 61.0|
The 1977 and 1978 Dodge Monaco used by CHP were the first units ever used by the patrol that was not a 122” wheelbase, or more. The “R” body St. Regis, rode on a 118.5” wheelbase. They were excellent riding and highly praised by officers for their brakes, and outstanding drivability and handling.
The season for the CHP discontent began in 1975, with the big Dodge Monaco, equipped with the 440 V-8 had been choked down to 260 hp. Troopers began calling it the slowest Dodge ever driven, to date. Slow had really yet to arrive. 1975 saw the first use of catalytic convertors to clean up exhaust emissions. The 440 could also be equipped with an air pump on the exhaust that didn’t use converters. That model ran on regular gasoline, not the unleaded type. This was not available in California. They got cats on their 440 engines.
CHP ordered 1,100 vehicles in 1975. Of those, 100 were the 117.5” wheelbase Dodge Coronet. They were equipped with 440 V-8s and the A38 packages. As CHP found they made excellent pursuit class vehicles, and were more economical as well. As a result, in 1976, CHP ordered 1,511 vehicles that were 117.5” wheelbase Dodge Coronets. They were 500 pounds lighter than the Monaco, which gained back some lost performance. In 1978, the Coronet became the Monaco, since the big body was gone, the name change was meant to give the impression that a big car was still available.
What should have been seen by many fleet managers (your author included) were the results of the CHP buy for 1980. California CARB regulations mandated that only one engine was available for use in the CHP St. Regis, the 165 hp 318 4 barrel V-8. The CHP patrolmen really panned the car. “DOG.” “Couldn’t catch its own shadow, let alone that of a speeding tractor-trailer.” It very quickly grew into a monumental fire fight, with the St. Regis squarely in the cross hairs.
For the record, it was definitely not the fault of Dodge. They built exactly what California had ordered, and installed the only engine that met their regulations. The CHP had a problem, and that was the image of a “weak kneed” patrol vehicle. The St Regis, equipped with full cop gear, light bar, and two good sized cops, ran about 107 to 110 mph on the flat. That would never do, when the average CHP officer spends nearly half his shift at or past the posted legal speed limits, and each and every one on every shift, engages speeders traveling over 100 miles an hour.
The CHP Commander called this an “embarrassment.” Several things occurred to sooth the ruffled feathers of the CHP officers. However, the lack of a bigger engine, (and CARB would not relent, even for its own Police forces) with the weight of the larger St. Regis meant that little could be done to change the St. Regis. Many were sold to other departments. Some were transferred to high mileage areas, and run as much as possible to get them past the minimum trade over. In 1981, the CHP switched to the 112.7” wheelbase Diplomat; with the same 318 4V engine, the Diplomat saved the Dodge name, and met the CHP image of a fast car.
Production figures for 1980 stood at 15,061 units for Chrysler. The St. Regis sold 17,068 models. In its first year, Plymouth sold 18,750 models.
In its final year, the “R” body was overshadowed by the introduction of the “K” car, and Iacocca’s attempt at re-entry into the ultra luxury market, the newly resurrected Imperial. Chrysler sold about 10,500 Newports and New Yorkers. Dodge managed to get 13,000 St. Regis units sold, and the Plymouth Gran Fury accounted for another 15,000 cars.
In the end, the “R” body passed quietly. All the hoopla about the “K” car made it easy to do. Iacocca was never enthralled with the car to begin with. Reliability and quality issues were greatly improved, but still nagged production. Iacocca saw no need to further them along.
Key R-body links
- Extensive details and descriptions of the Chrysler Corporation line and all components, as of 1980
- Police cars: Dodge St. Regis