dodge

1977 Chrysler, Plymouth, and Dodge cars, engines, and technology advances

1977 Mopar Missile

The time between 1974 and 1984 tends to be dismissed by Mopar fans as “the emissions era,” without much thought to the merits of the cars made in that time, or to the technological progress. These years were, though, not just a waiting time between Hemi and turbo-2.2 — though the company seemed to be as occupied with Mitsubishi as with its own cars.

Overall, 1977 was not a bad year for Chrysler, all things considered. The horrors of 1976, the bicentennial year when the patriotic Chrysler Corporation should have reigned supreme — had not the Aspen and Volare been such horrific quality nightmares — were fading somewhat, and production was moving up, briefly, before plunging and finally reaching a nadir in 1981. From there, of course, the Reliant and Aries would take over. (The chart below does not include Mitsubishi models).

Many forget that even in 1977, Chrysler was working on a complete revolution in its product line, which was to bear fruit in the popular K-cars and Horizon/Omni. By 1985, the company would have stripped a thousand pounds off the weight of its cars, reversed the percentages of four- and eight-cylinder cars, and switched almost entirely to new engines and transaxles.

Chrysler was still involved in drag racing, through the “missile” cars — modified Volares. There was still a Charger Daytona, of a sort — it was, like the Charger SE, an undisguised Chrysler Cordoba.

sales by car

Within the United States, Chrysler’s market share for cars was just 13% in 1977, down from 15% in 1976 and the lowest share the Corporation had held since 1963 (when it was also 13%). Plymouth and Dodge each held a 5% share — far behind Chevrolet’s dominant 25%.

Plymouth outsold Dodge 458,717 to 406,683, though Dodge had two models (the Charger SE and Diplomat) which Plymouth did not. Chrysler’s mainstay was the Cordoba, but it did held with Dodge in the big C-body segment as well, yielding total sales of 336,520.

Chrysler technology advances

While engineers worked on the lockup torque converter for the TorqueFlite automatics, they released a torque converter with a 20%-enlarged torus; this both increased gas mileage and torque capability by reducing slippage and wasted energy, as the transmission fluid created less friction when moving between stator, impeller, and turbine.

All models used a fresh air induction system - the familiar temperature control valve on the air cleaner snorkel which could switch from heated air from around the engine to a long fresh-air intake that went to the front of the car, based on vacuum feedback from an inlet air temperature sensor. This system was on all domestic engines and could lower inlet air temperature by as much as 30°F.

low slip torque converter
   

A new miniature catalytic converter system was used on California-based six cylinder cars; it used a platinum-only catalyst in a ceramic honey-comb monolith, wrapped in stainless steel mesh and mounted in a stainless steel shell. These were used in addition to the standard catalysts — but were placed very close to the engine, where they were more effective during warmup.

A new three-way catalyst was used on Super Six models for California, to cut NOx, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide in both lean and rich mixtures.

slant six catalyst
  

1977 started a new wiring terminal system, with revised female terminals and insulators that provided a “locking” feature. These systems were better at maintaining connections, but as the years passed, tended to be hard to separate again.

All cars also got a new double-contact starter relay, designed for increased voltage and more reliable cold weather starts; and an automated headlamp testing system was installed to avoid poor adjustments.

wires
   
Batteries were also upgraded on slant six and 318 engines, with higher amperage (as a running change); the new batteries were smaller and weighed six pounds less. They had better cell connectors and vibration protection. All Chrysler engines still used electronic ignition.batteries
 
An emphasis on weight reduction led to lighter weight materials, such as the high-performance flexible fan pictured here. Seemingly minor changes led to the New Yorker Brougham dropping a hundred pounds of unnecessary weight. The four-speed manual transmission in other cars was 33 pounds lighter, thanks to an aluminum case, shift cover, and extension material (in addition, finer pitch gears made it quieter, and a reverse interlock was added.)lightweight radiator fan

All Chrysler cars built in North America got the 7-step dip­and-spray treatments and have galvanized body-side sills.

CB radios

Radios, including those with tape decks, were built by the Huntsville Electronics Division, once a part of the nation’s defense apparatus.

The horrific rust issues on the Volare/Aspen, like those of the 1957 cars before them, led to a severe re-appraisal of rustproofing, and a running change in 1976 brought a new, more effective seven-stage autophretic coating system. The parts were sprayed clean, dip-cleaned, rinsed numerous times with recirculating and fresh water (both standard and de-ionized), then given the autophoretic chemical coating, dip-rinsed, given an autophoretic reaction rinse, dried in an oven at 220° F for 5-10 minutes, and cured at 275° F for five minutes. This system actually used less energy than the asphalt-based rustproofing of prior years, while reducing fire hazards and pollutants. Chrysler was the first domestic automaker to use that painting system.

Plymouth: Chrysler’s largest division

Plymouth Volare

Volare was the dominant domestic model for Chrysler Corporation. A full 139,865 base models were sold in the US — plus 112,514 Premiers and 75,360 Customs. The next best seller was the twin, Aspen, with 109,674 base Dodges, 66,844 Customs, and 89,494 Special Editions; the related Diplomat added over 30,000 more, and the also-related leBaron added another 45,000 or so. The next best seller was the next smallest car sold by Chrysler — the Cordoba, with 163,138 sales.

The Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen had the usual Mopar unitized body, torsion bar front suspension, and leaf-spring rear suspension, but in front, supposedly to give the compact cars a "big car" ride (but possibly to make room for the catalytic converter), they had transverse-mounted torsion bars. The rest of the front suspension was traditional, with upper A-arms, lower control arms, and standard sway bar. There were three models, a four door sedan, four door wagon, and two door coupe (which would eventually be dubbed Duster).

volare fleet - 1976

The rear suspension attached the leaf springs using a rubber “donut” sandwiched between the spring perch and the frame to reduce transmission of road vibrations into the passenger compartment. The "Iso-Clamp" design was used on all rear-drive Chrysler products by 1977.

Volare 2-Door 4-Door
Wheelbase108.7112.7
Length197.5201.5
Width72.872.8
Height53.154.8

Engines were the 225 Slant Six and the 318 and 360 LA V8s, all running only on unleaded fuel (though we have heard, from several people, of a "regular fuel" option package for the 1976-77 318/automatic, which substituted an air pump for the catalyst. The last year for cars running on leaded gas in the U.S. was 1979). The 360 engine was available with the bulletproof 727 transmission. Dual exhausts were not an option, because there was no room for the extra pipe.

The E85 edition, aimed at the police but also sold to the general public, had the 360 four-barrel, with roller chain, upgraded rings and valves, better cooled heads, oragne silicone-rubber head gaskets, and other features designed for durability. It had 230 horsepower at 4,400 rpm and 300 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm.

The big news for 1977 was the Super Six option, which was much more responsive than the standard slant six, simply by using a two-barrel Carter carb (and matched intake manifold). The single-barrel carb was still available at slightly lower cost, a good option for the penny wise, pound foolish crowd.

slant six engine with carburetor and air cleaner

The 1977 Volare was identical to the 1976 in all visible aspects other than VIN code; quality changes took up the engineers’ time. By the end of 1977, the Volare was, if anything, a better car than its competitors — but the damage had been done.

Plymouth Fury

Lanny Knutson wrote in the Plymouth Bulletin (reprinted by permission):

1977 Plymouth Fury car1977 Fury (rear 3/4 view)

inside the 1977 Plymouth Fury cars

For 1977, the Plymouth Fury had minor styling alterations. Most notable were the latest fashion, rectangular quad headlights mounted in the already squared front fenders. The grille texture and tail-light design were also changed, the coupe's backup lights were moved from the tail lamps to the bumper and the opera windows were changed from a dual to a single pane appearance. Amber turn signals were also introduced.

Gran Fury head on

gran fury side

With General Motors downsizing all its "full-sized" cars to mid-size dimensions, the handwriting was on the wall for all land yachts, including the Gran Fury. Bowing out at the end of the 1977 model year, the big Fury spent its final season with with just two trim levels, basic and Brougham/Sport Suburban, and no other changes. Still, the 1977 Gran Fury outsold its 1976 edition, 47,552 to 39,510.

Dodge cars for 1977

The Aspen continued as the Dodge version of the Volare. The Diplomat, a restyled Aspen with more dignified and restrained looks, was launched as a luxury version of the F-bodies. Available as a 2-door sedan, four-door sedan, or four-door wagon, the Diplomat had nearly the same mechanicals except for a base four-speed manual transmission instead of a three speed. Leather was optional, as was woodgrain trim for the sides, and the body was slightly longer than the Volare/Aspen. Paint, finish, and trim were all above normal Dodge standards. Three levels of Diplomats were sold, base, S, and Medallion, all with a choice of slant six and V8 engines. Weight ran around 3,300 - 3,600 pounds.

diplomatDodge Diplomat

The Dodge Monaco was a twin to the Fury, with standard features including power brakes, color keyed carpeting, day/night rearview mirror, forced ventilation, and radials. The Monaco Brougham was the ritzy version. The two-door Monaco's 115 inch wheelbase was not much longer than Volare’s; four-door models used a 117” wheelbase. Engines went from the slant six to 440 V8. The Royal Monaco was, in essence, the prior Monaco — a full sized C body similar to Gran Fury.

1977 Plymouth Fury and Dodge Monaco

royal monaco

The Charger SE imitated the Chrysler Cordoba so precisely one wondered if they thought about sharing nameplates as well as sheet metal. Changes included bucket seats with thinner backs to increase passenger space, new colors, door-mounted courtesy lights, and recessed armrests. Every V8 was available, but the 318 went from a 3.2:1 rear axle to an economy 2.7:1 axle, raising gas mileage while cutting acceleration. T-bar roof and power sunroof were optional. The main difference between Charger and Cordoba was the performance suspension, which greatly increased cornering ability.

The Charger SE had a huge amount of standard equipment, and, in 1977, it was good for a little over 36,000 sales, around one third that of 1968 — but around the same as 1966 and far better than 1967.

The 1977 Chrysler cars

1977 chrysler lebaronOn every model, Chrysler cars had electronic ignition; torsion-bar suspension; power front disc brakes; electronic voltage regulators; TorqueFlite automatic transmission; and a translucent plastic antifreeze reserve tank for added coolant expansion capacity, checking of coolant level without removing the radiator cap, and less air in coolant to reduce corrosion.”

New to the Chrysler line was a Volare-based Chrysler LeBaron — the first Chrysler ever to be the smallest car in the corporation’s domestic portfolio. The LeBaron was a natural extension of a process begun in 1960, of making each brand a full line, blurring their identities to the point where executives would decide their once-most-popular brand was no longer needed.

chrysler cordoba productionThe LeBaron was similar under the skin to F-body Volare and Aspen, but had a more restrained, dignified exterior (except perhaps on wood-like-sided wagons).

While the LeBaron helped increase Chrysler sales, at the expense of Dodge and Plymouth, the big seller was the Cordoba. A small step up in wheelbase, but a big step in luxury feel, many changes took place under the Cordoba’s skin in the name of saving weight. The wheelbase was a modest 115 inches, not much more than the "compacts," but the B-body ride was far smoother than the F-bodies, and cornering was not compromised.

For 1977, Cordoba added a chrome-plated grille, eight new body colors, new tail light lenses, deck lid lock cover and medallion, black and white checked cloth-and-vinyl seat covers, low-slip torque converter (to go with the standard 400 V8 engine), suspension crossmember rustproofing (“Autophoretic Paint System”), weight reductions, cooler-running fifteen-inch glass-belt radials, more reliable wire terminals, higher-capacity ignition switch, and double-contact starter relay for better starting. New options included T-tops, a padded landau roof with an illuminated opera band across the roof and Frenched rear quarter windows, color-keyed body-side mouldings, side and deck stripes.

The hot sales of 1975 were bested in 1976 and 1977, with over 160,000 Cordobas sold in both of the latter years.

1975 Chrysler Cordoba

The Town & Country wagon was on the big Newport platform for its final year; in 1978 it moved to the LeBaron platform.

The biggest Chryslers were the Newport and New Yorker Brougham, with their 124 inch wheelbase. These had different front and rear styling but similar sides; both continued with velour seats, dual folding armrests, reclining passenger seat, and optional leather. Only two and four door hardtops were available, the wagons having been dropped.

By far, 1977 was the Chrysler New Yorker Brougham’s best year, bringing in hefty sales despite a hefty price — around $7,000 base, and, fully loaded (as many were), over $10,000. The main change was rubber-covered steel corner guards that allows the lower corners of bumpers to sustain a 3 mph collision without damage, and new rubber-covered steel front bumper guards.

1975 new yorker

The New Yorker Brougham had, until 1975, been sold as the Imperial LeBaron, with minor styling differences and the options made standard. New Yorker Broughams were, therefore, sold against the Imperial’s more successful rivals, Cadillac Fleetwood Broughams and Lincoln Continental Town Cars. The New Yorker Brougham brought back the styling of an earlier time, instead of adopting opera windows and coach lights; and had a chrome-plated zinc grille while Cadillac had a chrome-plated plastic grille.

new yorker interior

New Yorker Broughams came with the 440 V8 as standard equipment, and an optional 400 V8, except in high altitudes and California, where the 360 V8 was standard, with the 440 V8 optional. The New Yorker dropped in weight for 1977, from (four-door) 4,832 lb to a “mere” 4,739 pounds.

New Yorker Brougham was sold as a two-door or four-door hardtop, with an extra-cost St. Regis Edition on the two-door. The four-door was far more popular in each year, with more than double the two-door’s sales; 1977 was by far the best year for either model, with sales topping 60,000 units, versus around 33,000 in 1976 and around 36,000 in 1978. Chrysler New Yorker Brougham details

Dodge trucks

dodge warlock and d100 adventurer

1977 Dodge pickup trucksA new grille and upper body side moulding--along with a new optional two-tone paint treatment - were new for 1977. There were three trim levels --Custom, Adventurer, and Adventurer SE. All had new two-tone instrument panels and seat trim. Custom models had all vinyl seats with multi-tone stripe insert. Adventurer seats were all vinyl with embossed inserts and Adventurer SE seats featured cloth with vinyl inserts. Optional on Custom and Adventurer models were plaid cloth seats with vinyl bolsters.

Dodge Ramcharger for 1977 featured a new grille, which incorporated rectangular parking lights. Two new optional two-tone paint treatments and an optional upper moulding were designed to make the appearance sporty. Interior refinements included a new instrument panel appearance and new interior colors. Instrument panels were two-tone for a more luxurious appearance, and the instrument cluster on Ramcharger SE featured rosewood appliques.

dodge trucks growth

In 1976 and 1977, new custom-van and "specialty truck" options were added; 1977 saw minor changes. These Dodge-labelled "Adult Toys" included, for 1977:

  • the short wheelbase Warlock (a trick truck direct from the factory)
  • the Street Van, a special version of the best-selling selling Dodge Tradesman full-sized van for individuals who want to do their own customizing
  • Macho packages for the four-wheel drive Ramcharger and Power Wagon.

For much more, including vans and commercial trucks, see our 1977 trucks page.

Chrysler Europe

Chrysler U.K. launched the new Chrysler Sunbeam, whose launch was marred by a strike at its Linwood factory. The Chrysler Sunbeam was a Cricket/Avenger-based subcompact (smaller than Horizon and a 2-door hatchback) released in 1977, which gave rise to the 1980 World Rally Champion Sunbeam-Lotus with 2.2 Lotus Esprit engine. This project was one of the fastest ever seen for a new car at the time, taking only two years from green light to production; they kept rear wheel drive, though front wheel drive was used on the larger Horizon and Alpine.

chrysler alpine and chrysler avenger

Chrysler France added the Simca Horizon, a natural progression from the Simca 1100. The Horizon would sweep America by storm, after substantial changes for the market, and took France by storm at first, as well. In Spain, the Chrysler 150 (a Simca 130x derivative) was named Car of the Year, and Chrysler Australia launched a group of Mitsubishis under the Sigma name.

Import cars

Chrysler’s small cars were Mitsubishi imports, pulled in to make up for the unusual and complete lack of fuel-efficient subcompacts. Chrysler had not had success with their own captive imports from Europe, though that would change with the Horizon .

gauges

The two-door Plymouth Arrow had sporty styling and the MCA-Jet system, which shot air into each cylinder at high velocity to make combustion more efficient. The Arrow came as Arrow, Arrow GS, and Arrow GT; the GS or GT could be purchased with a “silent shaft” overhead valve four-cylinder of 2.0 liters (starting in 1977), with a standard five-speed manual transmission on the GT (four speed on GS) and optional automatic. The 1.6 liter version of the same engine was standard on other grades, which made do with a four-speed manual transmission or automatic. The Silent Shaft feature would be familiar to later 2.5 liter Chrysler engine buyers, as it used a counter-rotating balance shaft on each side of the crankshaft to reduce vibration and noise. The Arrow could be purchased with full instrumentation, disc brakes, a center console, and a number of other options; the interior was every bit as fancy as considerably more expensive American intermediates.

1977 Plymouth Arrow GT

1977 Plymouth Arrow

colt gt gauges

Sharing the Arrow’s drivetrain and chassis, the Dodge Colt (Plymouth Champ) had a 4.2 inch longer wheelbase. In Canada, Dodge sold the Arrow and Plymouth sold the Colt. The Mitsubishi versions of these cars were Mitsubishi Lancer and Lancer Celeste.

The Plymouth Sapporo/Dodge Challenger, a two-door subcompact based on the Arrow, rode on an extended wheelbase (99 vs 92 inches), with thet same height and another couple of inches of width (65.6 inches). The Arrow was 167 inches long, the Sapporo 183 inches.

1977 dodge colt

Engines

slant six engine

slant six

As Detroit struggled to come to grips with emissions requirements in the days before high-flow catalytic converters and multiple-point fuel injection, power levels sank, to the point where the 170 and 198 slant six were dropped, and the lone remaining in-line six was the 225.

nodular crankshaft

Newly optional was the Super Six, which provided both better acceleration and better gas mileage than the standard slant six. Developed by Pete Hagenbuch and his staff, the Super Six substituted a Carter BBD for the one-barrel Holley 1945, increased the axle ratio from 2.76 to 2.94 on coupes and sedans, and added a 2 1/4 inch diameter exhaust pipe and larger air cleaner. The horsepower increased by 10, and the throttle response and driveability off idle were greatly enhanced. It was certainly worth the $40 or so Chrysler charged, and has been in demand to this day — to convert other slant sixes to two-barrel carbs. (The higher axle ratio is also a "performance piece.")

super six carburetors

For 1977, 318-powered F-bodies and B-bodies sold in high-altitude areas had altitude-adjustable carburetors; and the TorqueFlite torque converter was modified for better gas mileage and torque, with increased oil flow. The spark advance on these cars was also modified.

1977 altitude adjustment carburetors

The 440 four-barrel (7.2 liter) remained, in California as well as regular trim; for 1977, the Lean Burn system made its appearance on the 440 “for better driveability and overall performance” (until, many would say, the system stopped working properly, a month or a year later.) The engine was standard on New Yorker Brougham and Town & Country, and optional on Newport, Gran Fury, and Monaco.

Briefly, Lean Burn used sensors (distributor pickup, magnetic timing pickup, inlet air temperature, ambient temperature, water temperature, and throttle position) to determine the amount of spark advance needed, often using vacuum for communication. Later, when the vacuum was replaced by solenoids and more sophisticated sensors, communication speeds increased and vacuum leaks stopped wreaking havoc on the signals, resulting in a far more reliable system. By then, fuel mixture was (via oxygen sensors) also being controlled.

1977 440 V8 engine

Lean Burn was also set for a late launch on the 318 (except in California); this small V8 was Chrysler’s perennial best-selling V8 engine, and was available on the Volare, Fury, Gran Fury, Cordoba, and their Dodge equivalents (not available in California on the largest cars or wagons).

318 V8 engine

Exhaust-valve seats were induction-hardened on all engines to allow satisfactory use of lead-free fuels. In the hardening process, seats reach a temperature of 1700°F and are then allowed to air-cool. This hardened the valve­seat surfaces to a depth of .05" to .08" which gives them greater resistance to wear than unhardened seats. The exhaust-valve stems were chrome-plated for increased resistance to wear.

318 V8

The following chart provides horsepower ratings for each engine offered on a Chrysler brand vehicle (Dodge and Plymouth also offered a single-barrel 225 in Federal trim).

360 V8

1977 Chrysler brand horsepower ratings (Dodge and Plymouth were similar)

Type Carburetor Horsepower (net) Torque (lb-ft)
Federal 225Holley 1-barrel100 @ 3,600170 @ 1,600
CA 225Holley 1-bbl. 90 @ 3,600 170 @ 1,600
Super SixCarter 2-bbl 110 @ 3600 180 @ 2000
318 Fed.Carter 2-barrel 145 @ 4000 245 @ 1600
318 (CA) Carter 2-barrel 135 @ 4,000 235 @ 1,600
360Carter 2-barrel 155 @ 3600 275 @ 2000
360 E584-barrel. 220 @ 4,000 280 @ 1,600
4004-bbl 190@ 3600 305 @ 3200
400 HD4-bbl 190 @ 3600 305 @ 3200
4404-bbl 195 @ 3600 320 @ 2000

Dodge B-Vans

In 1977, Dodge, still the market leader, refreshed the vans with high-back swivel seats, upgraded carpet, quick-release bench seats, privacy glass, and the fuel pacer option; the Van Clan Club was created for owners, and a four-speed overdrive was optional on B100. The popular single rear door was made standard, with the dual rear door now optional. Five new metallic colors--light green, medium blue, medium green sunfire, russet sunfire, and black sunfire--and four straight shades--light tan, light blue, yellow, and harvest gold--were available in addition to continuing white, bright red, russet, silver cloud metallic, and bright tan metallic. Maxiwagon and maxivan models continued Chrysler's exclusive 15-passenger capacity for wagons and the longest interior cargo length for vans. The single piece rear door was now standard on wagon models, and dual rear doors were a no-cost option.

1977 camper

Among the new convenience and comfort features available for 1977 were swivel high back bucket driver and passenger seat option in Royal Sportsman and Royal Sportsman SE, Tradesman van and Street Van; quick release mechanism for wagon bench seats which allowed for fast, easy removal of the seats, and new bench seat construction for improved ride. Dark gray privacy glass (as well as normal tinted glass) was a new option on Sportsman five and eight passenger wagons and vans; the darker glass increased interior privacy, and reduced heat for cooler interiors. Perhaps more to the point for many people, the big 400 and 440 cubic inch V8 engines were made optional; they would only be available for three scant years, 1977, 1978, and 1979, and the payback on the engineering to fit them into the engine bay must have been negligible. Still, the rationale is not hard to find: there were fewer cars sold with those engines, and management must have figured that using them in vans would at least keep the factories running.

Suspension

Chrysler gushed:

The transverse front torsion bars and multi-leaf rear springs contribute to ride stability, smoothness and handling responsiveness; the rubber isolation quiets the ride and increases the degree of smoothness. Mounting the transverse torsion bars to the isolated front structural crossmember is particularly effective in isolating noise and ride roughness from the car body.

Multi-leaf springs with widely spaced mountings provide wide-stance body support and roll stability to the rear of the car-they support the body when it tends to roll in turns. Iso-clamp rear suspension features widely spaced multi-leaf springs mounted to the rear axle and to the car structure through thick rubber isolators. ...

Torsion bars can be adjusted easily to keep the front end of the car at the proper height, regardless of the car's age or its mileage. Turning an adjusting bolt raises or lowers the front of the car.

To keep level during braking, Chrysler engineers raised the front pivot of the upper control arm higher than the rear. This design causes the control arm to impart a lifting force to the front of the car as the weight shifts forward during braking. The lifting force resists brake dive to help keep the car nearly level when the brakes are applied.

1978 chrysler lebaron suspension

Chrysler financials and corporate

XM1 tankChrysler had net sales of $17 billion, with net profits of $163 million, and employed a quarter of a million people, though the fourth quarter had a $50 million loss due to Horizon launch expenses. They sold 1.3 million cars in the US retail market, with a 14.5% share, down from 16% in 1976; record retail truck sales of 468,161 trucks provided a 13.5% market share, down from 14%. Canadian market share was 25%, down from 27%, for cars; 14.5% for trucks.

Chrysler made 1.25 million cars in the US, and 480,296 trucks; as well as 217,936 cars and 105,977 trucks in Canada. The next largest number were built in France, 472,154, thanks to Simca. Mitsubishi-made cars accounted 207,428 more; and Rootes contributed 116,281 in England. Finally, Chrysler made 84,259 cars and trucks in Spain; 60,545 in Mexico; 21,840 in Australia; and 47,298 elsewhere.

Chrysler sold 1.8 million vehicles in the US, 253,000 in Canada, and 961,215 elsewhere (including 4,326 tractors presumably from Barreiros).

Chrysler U.K. — the former Rootes Group — had a hard year, with a $36.6 million operating loss, dropped to $17.6 million thanks to a grant from the UK government, extracted in return for jobs. British autoworkers struck in Linwood, where the Sunbeam and Avenger were made. Chrysler France saw lower sales but maintained a profit, while Chrysler Spain had better earnings; poor economic conditions in South America brought $35 million in losses there, far worse than 1976’s $2 million loss.

Mound Road modernized their 318 line, added new machining lines, and increased floor space by 97,200 square feet; Kokomo tooled up for automatic transmission production with computer controlled equipment for full testing; Windsor added 136,000 square feet to build capacity for the 360; Missouri Truck added 102,000 square feet and switched over to making more efficient vans; Jefferson Avenue started converting from full-size car production to truck and van production; and Huntsville added 176,000 square feet for electronic component manufacturing.

Chrysler was also working to build the XM1 tank, the Army’s first turbine powered main battle tank, which had double the power, cross-country speed, and mobility of existing combat tanks. The first one would be delivered in early 1978.

1977 wrap-up

Though 1977 was hardly Chrysler’s best year, it was better than the disastrous 1976, and had some high points. Plymouth still dominated the police market, fighting mainly with Dodge; Chrysler responded quickly to engineering and styling demands, and generally, the response was as good as most could have hoped for. The Super Six provided an admirable combination of durability, economy, and pep, and the partnership with Mitsubishi no doubt brought in import-minded customers who may have left with a conventional F-body. The resized Fury and Monaco were fine cars on their own merits, with a luxurious feel, better cornering and acceleration (assuming the same engine) than their larger brethren, and far better gas mileage.

If the muscle car era was definitively over for Chrysler (not counting the short-run L’il Red Trucks), the bright side within Highland Park was the stemming of losses from low-volume high-performance cars such as the Hemi Cuda and Challenger, Superbird, Charger Daytona, and such — cars that were only bought by a small percentage of people, yet consumed considerable engineering effort. Engineers were starting to work on more effective pollution control systems that would, in the long run, help power and driveability — Lean Burn and electronic feedback carburetors did not work well in this era, but they would pioneer new generations of high-tech, small, high-performance engines (like the 2.2 turbos and the later 5.7 liter Hemis, generating 380 horsepower in the space once needed to push out 180 horsepower). Weight reduction was starting to take hold, though aerodynamics appeared to be forgotten.

Chrysler Corporation was down, but not out, and its customers in 1977 could reasonably expect to get a durable, enjoyable vehicle.

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