by Chris J. Carpenter
Picture it. It’s 1978 and you’ve just sat down to dinner with the family, a small TV playing in the background. The young’uns are humming that dreadful rendition of the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper” by the BeeGees, while the wife circles the table in her platform shoes and bobbed hair, serving the evening’s casserole. As everyone digs in, the unmistakable croon of Sergio Franchi fills the room from the Chrysler Corporation commercial, featuring the Plymouth Volaré and Franchi’s signature hit of the same title. One of the most memorable jingles ever sung in a car commercial, Franchi’s “Vo-lar-ré” tune would earn a prominent place in history promoting an equally memorable car.
Coming on the heels of the Plymouth Duster and Valiant, the new Plymouth Volaré and its Dodge Aspen sibling introduced the world to “a new kind of American car” as Franchi put it. An upscale compact car, the Volaré caught the eye of many American consumers, some of whom hadn’t even been born yet. Meet Thomas Schatz and his 1979 Plymouth Volaré Duster, Allpar’s Car of the Month for March 2013.
Schatz, 22, hails from Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, not far from Hershey, in beautiful Lancaster County. Although raised in a GM-oriented household, Schatz became the Mopar maverick of the family when he took an interest in a 1987 Dodge Ramcharger, initially purchased for the sole purpose of plowing the lot of the family’s auto-repair business. Working alongside his father, Schatz began to restore the truck to its former glory and caught the Mopar bug.
In 2008, while working for a local towing company, Schatz noticed a very different looking coupe sitting at the car lot he was servicing. Having always been a fan of the Plymouth Duster, he’d noticed the “Duster” badges on the coupe, but yet the design didn’t conform to what he knew the Plymouth Duster looked like. Given he’d never seen a vehicle like it before, he made an inquiry to the owner of the lot where he learned it was actually a Plymouth Volaré, with the Duster package.
The Volaré and Aspen were available in coupe, sedan, and wagon form. Though the first year models suffered a fair share of recalls and rust, their initial struggles did not prevent the duo from enjoying success, for a time. Two V8 engines were offered on the twins (the 318 and 360), along with a 3.7-liter 225-cid Slant-6 in both standard and “Super Six” (two-barrel) form.
Over their five-year run, the Volaré and Aspen were offered with a 3-speed manual, 4-speed manual, or 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. Although considered compact in America when they were launched, the cars were large compared with cars of today. (The overall length of the two-door Volaré coupe is 198.8 inches, which is 1 inch longer than the full-size, four-door LH-platform Chrysler 300M.)
The car had had only one owner, who had given it to his church when he was no longer able to drive it. The church, in turn, had hired the lot to sell the vehicle. Fascinated with it, Schatz bought it as a hobby car and began to make it his own.
Given its model year, the Volaré had the updated front grille that was created for the 1978 and ’79 models. The turn signal housings were molded to the grille as a single unit, and the main part of the grille had larger openings, creating an “egg-crate” style that Schatz wasn’t too keen on. As a result, he purchased the older-style grille from a ’76 model, removed the turn signal housings from the car’s original grille, and modified them to fit with the older style, creating one of the most unique front fascias of the remaining Volarés.
At time of purchase, the Volaré had only 24,000 miles and was in excellent condition. Aside from a slight paint miss-match due to a sideswipe incident from the original owner, the car had hardly any flaws. Setting it apart from the standard Volaré, the Duster package added special road rims, side stripes, plaid pattern seating and signature window louvers.
Today, Schatz’s Volaré has only 28,000 miles, only being driven on the nicest of days and to car shows. Allpar members have enjoyed seeing the car at Carlisle All-Chrysler Nationals and Allpar’s Annual New Jersey meet. Schatz has worked hard to restore the already pristine vehicle to its original glory. From working on the paint, to restoring the car to the original Duster package rims, the car is extraordinarily close to how it was when purchased new, even down to the factory radio.
When asked for a fond memory of the car, Schatz recalled a time when he took the family out to lunch in the vehicle. On the return trip home, the Volaré began to experience engine trouble, stalling periodically. As they progressed towards home the problem seemed to get progressively worse until the engine finally quit and would not restart, directly in front of their driveway. “Even though it wasn’t running properly, it still got us home regardless. I’ll never forget that,” Schatz said.
The Volaré isn’t just special to Schatz. It means a lot to his girlfriend, Jennifer, who he began dating not long after purchasing the Volaré. “She loves the car,” he said, “always has. It’s definitely a joy that we share.” Recently the two were engaged and everyone from the Allpar team wishes them many congratulations.
Schatz is excited to reprise the Volaré at the 2013 Carlisle All-Chrysler Nationals this July. Be sure to check it out, and stop by the Allpar tent.
Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare page
Volare, Aspen, Duster, and Super Coupe specs, production figures, aengines, and chronology
Aspen and Volare stories
Racing Aspens and Volares
Valiant, Duster, and Dart: the A-Bodies
The Aspen/Volare forums
Volare Duster: Car of the Month, March 2013
See other Cars of the Month • All Cars at Allpar • 200,000 Mile Club • Stories: People and Cars
Chrysler CEO Al Gardner
Dart DDCT: fun, funky orange car
All Mopar Car and Truck News
Chrysler 300 Letter Cars
The Engine Cleanup Committee