1978 Chrysler, Plymouth, and Dodge cars, engines, and technology advances
Sometimes, it seems as though Chrysler was only active for a few years in every few decades; entire clumps of years seem to be selectively ignored. The late 1970s and early 1980s were one of those eras, generally dismissed by the single word “emissions” without much thought to the merits of the cars Chrysler sold. There were some quality duds, but there were also notable successes, and the years were not just a waiting time between Hemi and K-car.
Chrysler technology advances
|New for 1978 was a new lockup torque converter system for the TorqueFlite automatics, a Chrysler invention that replaced the normal fluid interface in the transmission with a mechanical one. That saved gasoline and increased usable power while running the engine at a lower speed to reduce noise and wear, and has been a feature of transmissions ever since. The lockup feature took effect at speeds greater than 30 mph.
Chrysler published this description: “When accelerating from a stop, TorqueFlite continues to use the torque converter for power and smoothness until road speed reaches about 27 miles an hour for V-8 engines and 31 miles an hour for sixes-then, as the transmission upshifts from 2nd to 3rd gear, the new clutch locks up the torque converter so there is a direct mechanical drive through the transmission. Normal slippage in the converter is eliminated, engine speed is reduced and fuel economy is improved.”
|A new electronic search tune radio had no tuning knob; “just push a search-tune button and station frequency numbers begin to flash on the light-emitting-diode display until a station within range is received-then a precision tuning frequency synthesizer locks in the station with the accuracy of a quartz crystal-no fine tuning is required. The search tuner can be set to receive only the strong local stations, or it can be set for distance to receive all stations within range. This advanced radio has many other special features-and receives AM, AM/FM, and AM/FM stereo broadcasts.” A floor switch could be used on some FM radios.|
|Following the trucker craze, Chrysler offered a factory-installed CB transceiver that was integral with the radio, shared the same face-plate and trim, and was not easily recognized as a conventional CB, reducing theft potential.
Still standard was the Chrysler invention of the electronic voltage regulator. “Introduced in 1970, Chrysler's electronic voltage regulator eliminated the need for maintenance by eliminating moving parts. 98% of the electronic voltage regulators installed at the factory on Chrysler models during the past 8 years functioned properly with no replacement and no problems during the warranty period. .... The electronic circuitry is sealed in tough epoxy, making it shock resistant, moisture resistant and extremely durable. [In contrast,] Electromechanical voltage regulators have moving contact points that open and close to regulate the voltage in the electrical system. The moving parts, plus the fragile construction of the voltage regulator, can cause trouble.”
All Chrysler cars built in North America got the 7-step dipand-spray treatments and have galvanized body-side sills. For 1978, these models also had door outer panels made of one-side galvanized sheet metal and have zinc-rich primer applied to areas around the rear wheel openings and quarter panels. LeBaron models also had full front-wheelhouse plastic splash shields and used one-side galvanized steel for front fenders. Standard unit-body construction fused body and frame into one solid unit with more than 3,000 welds. All vehicles used the famous torsion-bar suspension with rear leaf springs.
One interesting result of new attention paid to weight savings was the integral windshield washer tank and battery heat shield, but most of the time small-to-hefty weight savings were extracted from body panels, air conditioning systems, bumpers, and other areas; in the end, Chrysler saved an average of 300 pounds, shaving vehicle weight considerably for better performance and mileage.
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 no longer viable and the lone remaining in-line six was the 225. Optional on the slant six was that sought-after two-barrel carburetion system known as the Super Six, which provided both better acceleration and better gas mileage; as engineer Pete Hagenbuch said, it had the advantage of two holes, and anything you did to help the slant six to breathe brought instead rewards.
Domestic cars had a much smaller range of engines in 1978 than in years past. The lone remaining slant six was the 225; the 318 persevered, as it would through the 21st century, as did the relatively new 360 (both were equipped with two barrel carbs). Most sources say the lone big engine for Dodge and Plymouth was the new 400 V8, based on the B engines (350, 361, 383). [Mopar Action, Oct. 2006 issue, wrote that the 440 was also optional on Magnums.] A four barrel 318 was sold in California only, to counter the effects of less than ideal emissions reduction engineering; and the 440 carried through on the Chrysler Newport and New Yorker, and as an option on Fury and Monaco police cars.
The 318 gained a new carburetor, over half a pound lighter than the 1977 version, which fed a continuous stream of fuel to the primary discharge nozzles, which was mixed with air upon entering the nozzles. The “solid-fuel metering” increased driveability with lean fuel-air mixtures.
The 360 and 400-cubic-inch V-8 engines gained dual concentric throttle return springs in addition to a torsion throttle spring.
All the V8s came with Lean Burn, the revolutionary computer-controlled spark control system that was an idea ahead of its time. Materials technology eventually caught up but many owners simply switched to conventional carburetors. Chrysler boasted, “Electronic Lean-Burn System, with its electronic spark control, is one of the most important developments in engine control since the 1920s and early 30s. when manual spark control was replaced by the automatic spark advance. Eight sensors and an electronic computer combine to adjust spark advance correctly for all driving conditions.” (This turned out to be true in the long term; every car currently made uses electronic spark and fuel control.)
1978 also started the practice for all V8 Chrysler models with an air conditioner and automatic transmission to have a fast-idle solenoid that speeds up and smooths out the idle. The solenoid energizes and advances the idle speed any time the air conditioner is turned on-so the engine idle speed remains constant (due to the compressor load) or slightly higher than when the air conditioner is off. This would remain Chrysler and general practice to the present day.
Optional on the slant six was that sought-after two-barrel carburetion system known as the Super Six, which provided both better acceleration and better gas mileage.
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.
The heat valve in the right exhaust manifold diverts hot gases to the floor of the intake manifold which helps to vaporize the fuel mixture when the engine is cold. This results in faster warm-up and improves driveability after a cold start. During warm-up, a thermostatic spring allows the heat valve to open to the exhaust pipe-so gas flow through the intake manifold crossover passage is decreased.
All 1978 Chrysler V-8 and 6-cylinder engines have an adaptor to receive a magnetic probe for timing the ignition magnetically. The adaptor is a little steel sleeve attached to the bracket that has the traditional timing marks-you can still set the ignition with a timing light. However, ignition timing was set magnetically on all engines at the factory for accuracy. The magnetic timing adaptor will also help those who have the equipment to time Lean-Burn engines magnetically.
Electronic ignition was standard for all domestic engines. The automatic-transmission line pressure for reverse was modulated from 150 to 260 pounds per square inch for 1978 (from a constant 260 psi. By using lower pressure for normal backing, internal transmission seals were subjected to less pressure. At wide-open throttle, a regulator valve provided up to 260 pounds per square inch pressure for backing up steep grades or parking a heavy trailer.
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).
1978 Chrysler brand horsepower ratings (Dodge and Plymouth were similar)
|Code||Size-Carb||Bore x Stroke||C/R||Horsepower (net)||Torque (lb-ft)|
|E24 (CA)||225 1-bbl.||3.40" x 4.12"||8.4||90 @ 3,600||160 @ 1,600|
|E26||225 2-bbl||3.40"x4.12"||8.4||110 @ 3600||180 @ 2000|
|E44||318 2-barrel||3.91" x 3.31"||8.5||140 @ 4000||245 @ 1600|
|E46 (CA)||318 4-barrel||3.91"x3.31"||8.5||155 @ 4,000||245 @ 1,600|
|E57||360 2-barrel||4.00" x 3.58"||8.4||155 @ 3600||270 @ 2000|
|E56 (CA)||360 4-barrel.||4.00"x3.58"||8.4||170 @ 4,000||270 @ 1,600|
|E55||360 2-barrel H.D.||4.00"x 3.58"||8.4||155 @3600||270 @ 2400|
|E58*||360 4-bbl H.D.||4.00"x 3.58"||8.4||175 @ 4000||260 @2400|
|E64||400 4-bbl||4.34"x 3.38"||8.2||190@ 3600||305 @ 3200|
|E68||400 4-bbl H.D.||4.34" x 3.38"||8.2||190 @ 3600||305 @ 3200|
|E85*||440 4-bbl||4.32"x 3.75"||8.2||195 @ 3600||320 @ 2000|
*E58 in CA: 160 hp, 265 lb-ft. E85 in CA: 185 hp, 310 lb-ft. E24, E46, E56 were California-only.
Chrysler increased corrosion protection (including one-side galvanized steel in front fenders and door panels) on all cars, partly due to the fallout from the disastrous 1976 Volare/Aspen, and worked on weight savings. One interesting result of this was the integral windshield washer tank and battery heat shield, but most of the time weight was extracted from body panels, air conditioning systems, bumpers, and other heavy items; in the end, Chrysler saved an average of 300 pounds, adding to performance and gas mileage.
Other changes included a new fuse block-relay bank, conveniently placed under the instrument panel, for all but the LeBaron.
Other 1978 Chrysler “bragging rights” (from their press materials)
100-ampere high-capacity alternator. This high-capacity alternator is included with the optional electrically heated rear-window defroster on all New Yorker Brougham, Newport and Cordoba models. The 100-ampere alternator has three special isolation mounts to damp vibrations. Higher amperage output was achieved by using more copper in the windings than any previous Chrysler alternator. Finned, nickel-plated copper heat sinks keep the diodes operating at proper temperatures even while conducting more current.
A 65-ampere alternator is provided on models with the optional A36 Heavy-Duty Package. and on all LeBaron models with the optional electrically heated rear-window defroster
325-ampere lightweight battery. This battery is 20 amperes stronger. six pounds lighter and smaller in size. but provides faster engine cranking for 225 1-barrel Slant Six and 318 V-8 engines than the battery it replaced. In addition, this lightweight battery has the same rugged case construction used with Chrysler's 500-ampere Long-Life battery.
The high-tension ignition cable conductor was made of glass filaments, treated with carbon and covered with a cotton and glass basket-weave braid, covered by a thin layer of conductive elastomer and insulated with EDPM rubber. A second layer of cotton and glass braid surrounds the insulation for stretch control and strength. A hypalon rubber jacket is used on the outside to withstand high operating temperatures, oil and ozone. Silicone jackets with extra heat resistance are used on the four rear spark plug wires on 400 and 440 V-8 engines.
Chrysler's Thermo-Guard battery shield, used on all domestic engines, could reduce battery temperature rise up to 37% with the engine idling in city traffic. An opening in the shield permits cooling air to circulate between the battery and the shield.
Power steering was standard on all Chrysler (brand) models. Only 3.5 turns of the steering wheel were required to move the front wheels from full-left to full-right.
Front-wheel disc brakes with a power booster were standard on all Chryslers. A high-ratio brake pedal was used on New Yorker Brougham and Newport models in case the power booster failed.
Rear drum brakes adjust automatically when the brakes are applied while backing up. Every Chrysler has separate hydraulic systems for front-wheel brakes and rear-wheel brakes, with dual master cylinders.
The Dodge B-Van refresh started in 1977 continued for 1978, with a rear and interior reskin. A lower beltline and moving the doors forward (on the 127 inch wheelbase vans) allowed for bigger windows; the new roof could have vents or a sunroof, and a new instrument panel with a spring-loaded swing-up glove compartment door and easier to reach fuse block were added. The optional air conditioning system now had integrated center and outboard outlets. A woodgrain appliqué was standard on high line and premium vans.
Nicer trim and seats, including a color-keyed formed-steel seat riser, and two-tone paint added to the package. Front door vent windows got a positive detent latch and release button.
Thanks to the noise reduction and ride improvement of 1976 and the 1977-78 refreshes, the B-vans were now much more civilized, and quickly became the institutional van of choice, seeing duty in hotels, churches, smaller schools, and other venues.
But they were also starting to be used as recreational vehicles, and Dodge helped by creating a “travel seat” option (to be resurrected for the 2008 minivans) for the Dodge Royal Sportsman. The second row seat could be faced front or rear, with an optional table between the second and third seat rows; the seats could be laid flat for sleeping, as well.
Those wanting to get in on the CB craze could do it with a choice of an AM-40 channel CB transceiver, or an AM-FM stereo 40-channel CB transeiver. Both used a digital vacuum-flourexcent display and a six-bar signal strength display. Those who did not care to converse with truckers could buy a plain AM or AM/FM radio, or opt for AM/FM stereo or the AM/FM stereo with 8-track tape player.
The Maxivan appeared, 220 inches long, with room for 15 people; and a new optional wraparound rear quarter window greatly increased rear visibility. Radio options were also expanded, and a 9,000 GVWR model was developed. The longer body allowed for respacing of the seats, and more usable space was provided for all 1978 wagons and vans by moving the passenger seat inboard by one inch; two new engine covers, each one four inches shorter, helped as well. The smaller cover (used on the slant six, 318, and 360) was also two inches narrower on the passenger side.
Plymouth: still Chrysler’s largest division in 1978
Sadly, much of the early 1978 model-year news for Plymouth was in the realm of imports from Mitsubishi, pulled in to make up for the unusual and complete lack of fuel-efficient subcompacts. Plymouth had not had success with their own captive imports from Europe.
The two-door Arrow featured sporty styling along the lines of other Japanese coupes, and boasted 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, 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.
The Sapporo, 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. The Sapporo was also sold as the Dodge Challenger in these years.
The Volare continued in its original form with few changes other than weight reduction across many systems (air conditioning, window glass, and body parts), with a 23 pound savings from the bumpers alone; an integrated CB transceiver presaged today’s integrated cellphones. The 113-inch wheelbase Volare could have any engine up to and including the 360. Other news for 1978 were the Landau and T-Bar roofs, more color schemes, powerful and fast Kit Cars, and the Spectrum trim interior for the Road Runner option package; the biggest news might really have been the wonderful Super Six option, which provided greater economy than the standard slant six along with considerably more responsiveness, simply by using a two-barrel Carter carb (and matched intake manifold). The single-barrel carb was still available, though many slant six owners have had reason to thank those who failed to order it, since there are only so many junkyard Super Sixes available.
The Gran Fury was no longer available in 1978, but the newly B-bodied Fury continued, with eight models including two door Fury and Fury Sport hardtops, four-door Salon, four-door sedan and Sport Wagon, and Suburban four-door wagon. The Fury continued to be comfortable and quiet, with a popular option being a pleasant burgundy velour fabric on the seats (with matching dash and door panels). Any engine could be ordered with the Fury in 1978 from slant six to 400 V8, and power steering and automatic were standard; in 1979, the biggest engine would be the 360. Cornering of the Fury was surprisingly good for such a big car.
Fortunately for Plymouth, the European Chrysler Horizon was brought in after the model year had started (appearing in January 1978); it had been extensively Americanized and was extremely popular from the start, using a Volkswagen engine (interestingly, with Chrysler’s Lean Burn) while Chrysler worked on a four-cylinder of its own. The first front-wheel-drive subcompact made in America, the Horizon was largely designed by Chrysler Europe engineers who had made the Hillman which Volkswagen imitated with such success in its Golf/Rabbit line. The Horizon had a mere 99 inch wheelbase and 165 inch length, but the hatchback design and front wheel drive maximized interior and cargo space; cornering was very good and ride was smoother than most competitors. The meager 2,167 pound weight (while still much heavier than the Corolla) allowed the 70 horsepower, 105 cubic inch engine to stay peppy and helped gas mileage. A year later, the Horizon TC3 would join the standard Horizon, and the Fury would quietly fade away, to be remembered in back episodes of T.J. Hooker and Hill Street Blues.
Plymouth was still the #1 Chrysler division in sales by a large margin, turning in 96,000 sales for the new, part-year Horizon alone; with the big seller, as with Dodge and Chrysler, being the F-Body, the Volare, with nearly 218,000 copies being sold (the four doors sedan was a littel more popular than the wagon, which in turn was a little more popular than the coupe). F-body sales were truly the mainstay of Chrysler in this year, the most popular vehicle in the Dodge and Chrysler lineups as well. The various Fury models, though very popular as squad cars, turned in a relatively meager 70,000 sales spread across Fury, Sport, Salon, Suburban, and Sport Suburban models. The Fury cars weighed 3,600 to 3,900 pounds, light for the size and luxury, with the wagons exceeding two tons; the Horizon was a mere 2,145 pounds, and the Volare spread between 3,100 and 3,300 pounds (wagons 3,400-3,500 pounds).
Despite the popularity of the Volare and Horizon, Plymouth sales were fairly low; Volare sales dropped by nearly a third with the introduction of the Dodge Diplomat and Chrysler LeBaron, and Plymouth as a whole ranked #7 among brands in American sales, a far cry from its traditional #3-#4 days.
Dodge cars for 1978
Dodge also got two Mitsubishi and one Chrysler europe imports, the Colt (Arrow), Challenger (Sapporo), and Omni (Horizon). See the Plymouth section for powertrain and other details.
The Aspen continued as the Dodge version of the Volare, blurring the lines ever more between the lines. Aspen received a more upscale look, along with a Super Coupe package new for 1978 with black lower body paint and front and rear spoilers; there was also an R/T package with a number of cosmetic changes (see our Aspen/Volare page for details on these packages). Moving the spare tire increased the amount of useable trunk space and made more space available in the spare well. A digital clock was optional, as was the integrated CB system discussed in the Volare section. Engine options were identical to Volare. Weight ran around 3,1,00 - 3,500 pounds (the wagon added about 300 pounds).
The Diplomat, a restyled Aspen with more dignified and restrained looks — it could easily be mistaken for a Cadillac of similar vintage — continued from 1977 as a luxury version of the F-bodies. Available, like the Volare, as a 2-door sedan, four-door sedan, or four-door wagon, the Diplomat had the same engine options as the Volare/Aspen but came with a base four-speed manual transmission instead of a three speed; leather was optional; woodgrain trim was optional for the sides; and the body was slightly longer than the Volare/Aspen. Paint and finish were, like interior trim, above normal Dodge standards. Three 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.
The Monaco continued as 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. All engines were available from slant six to 400 (possibly 440) V8; in 1979, the 360 would be the big dog engine. Intermittent wipers appeared as an option.
Charger SE continued on, with a body that 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 - no slant six on the Charger! - but the 318 went from a 3.2:1 rear axle to an economy 2.7:1 axle, raising gas mileage but 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 Magnum XE, which would replace the Charger SE, was essentially the same vehicle, though with a considerably different front look, featuring headlights and taillights that slanted inwards though the trunk and grille did not; headlights were behind an aerodynamic flat plastic protector. The Magnum featured front and rear sway bars and standard 15 inch wheels. Every V8 was available (the 400 V8 was avaiable with option codes E64 and E68 - thanks, Tom Jablonowski).
The big seller for Dodge was the Aspen, with 166,000 sold (roughly evenly split between coupes, sedans, and wagons). Diplomat was just starting to edge in, with about 50,000 sales across the three models. Among the intermediates, the Monaco, a very popular squad car, had almost negligible sales by comparison with the compacts, brining in 37,000 sales across a wide range of models; the new Magnum XE in its single body style brought in nearly 48,000 sales. Charger could not even reach 3,000. The new Omni, in its first partial-production year, looked promising with 71,000 units sold, and no severe quality glitches surfacing, even if it was commonly thought to be a Rabbit imitator.
The 1978 Chrysler cars
Chrysler brand boasted, on every model, electronic ignition; torsion-bar suspension; power front disc brakes; electronic voltage regulators; 100-amp alternators (included with the heated rear window defroster only, on all but LeBaron, which had a 65 amp alternator with that option); a 500 amp battery with the 440 V8, optional on all engines; 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. Newly designed thin-back front seats (used with low-back bucket and 60/40 rear seats) provided easy entry to rear seats and more kneeroom for rear-seat passengers, and were lighter than previous seats, with a soft appearance and feel. Chrysler also noted, “Long, multi-leaf rear springs help to provide a smooth ride. Offcenter, forward mounting of the axle helps to minimize acceleration squat. Large hydraulic cylinders-two mounted on the front bumper and two on the rear bumperhelp absorb impacts. Both systems will withstand barrier impacts up to 5 m.p.h. A new design 5-cylinder, swashplate drive compressor is used with air conditioning on LeBaron 6-cylinder models.”
The product line for 1978 rode on three wheelbasees. The LeBaron (in two and four door versions as LeBaron and LeBaron Medallion, and in wagon form as Town & Country) had a 112.7 inch wheelbase. A small step up in wheelbase, but a big step in luxury feel, was the Cordoba two-door hardtop, at 115 inches. Finally, the biggest Chryslers were the Newport and New Yorker Brougham - once small for Chrysler - at 124 inches. The interior space was not quite as differentiated as the overall length.
The LeBaron shared a basic body and wheelbase with Volare and Diplomat, but used a considerably more restrained exterior than the Volare/Aspen (except perhaps on wood-like-sided wagons). It too was available with any Chrysler engine. the wagon had a liftgate with a fixed window counterbalanced by gas cylinders; the spare and jack were underneath a steel barrier in the floor. Reviewers praised the interior quality, ride, and handling. The Town & Country moved to the LeBaron platform for 1978, from the big Newport platform. The LeBaron sold well, with over 118,000 sales, better than any other Chrysler.
Chrysler gushed over the LeBaron’s suspension, shared with Volare, Aspen, and Diplomat: “Isolated transverse torsion-bar front springs, mounted ahead of the front wheels and iso-clamp multi-leaf rear springs-all rubber-isolated from the car structure. 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. Road sounds and vibrations are reduced as they pass from the axle through thick rubber cushions to the rear leaf springs. Sounds and vibrations are further reduced by rubber isolators in the rear-spring eyes-where the spring mounts to the car structure. The rubber isolator in the front eye of the spring is oval shaped to increase front-to-rear cushioning.
“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.
“Widely spaced rear leaf springs provide wide-stance,body support and roll stability to the rear of the car. Rear springs are mounted far apart to support the body when it tends to roll in turns. For 1978, LeBaron models use highstrength rear spring hangers, which are a half-pound lighter than the previous hangers.”
A luxurious LeBaron Town & Country station wagon was added to the model lineup for 1978, with marine teakwood wood tone body-side and liftgate trim framed with white ash woodtone moldings, reminiscent of the classic wood-body wagons of the 1950s. The carpeted cargo compartment with stainless-steel skid strips had the look of luxury, according to Chrysler. More impressive are the efficiency and convenience features which were engineered into the Town & Country wagon. Exterior dimensions which permit excellent maneuverability were achieved without sacrificing interior roominess for six passengers-or the cargo compartment which could be expanded to a big 72.7-cubic-foot capacity.
Cordoba (pictured above) continued as a personal luxury car with high sales, but many changes took place under the skin in the name of saving weight, and a power sunroof was made optional; only a single model, a two door hardtop, was available. The base engine was a new 318 with four barrel carb and Lean Burn system, with the 360 optional (in both two and four barrel carb versions) as well as the 400 V8. The wheelbase was a modest 115 inches, not much more than the "compacts." Cordoba was popular with 112,000 sales.
The big Chryslers were the New Yorker Brougham and Newport, with clearly different front and rear styling and similar side panels. 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. Both were available with any Chrysler V8 and shared a 124 inch wheelbase, with a massive 227-231 inch length. These vehicles were in their last year, and sales fell by a third; they would be replaced by the R bodies in 1979.
Gas mileage for the Chrysler lineup ranged from the LeBaron Super Six (17 city, 25 highway) to the 440 powered Newport/New Yorker Brougham (10 city, 16 highway!). Even a simple LeBaron with the smallest V8 (318) only got 15 city, 22-25 highway (with the manual transmission making the difference on the highway). Manual-transmission Chryslers invariably had the same city mileage as the automatics, though the automatics suffered on the highway by a consistent 3 mpg, presumably due to gear-ratio differences. Manuals were only available on the slant six and 318, and then only on LeBaron. California cars suffered absurdly bad mileage due to tacked-on emission controls.
EPA gas mileage — not directly comparable to modern figures — excluding California, where gas mileage was around 3 mpg lower. *LeBaron Wagon, 15/21.
When the fuel crisis hit, Dodge was not prepared, and it took some time to fit pickups with a Mitsubishi diesel; that rare model appeared around 1978, the same year the D-150 and D-250 were introduced. The diesel engine used in 1978 (and possibly later) D150s, D250s, and Power Wagons was the Mitsubishi 6DR5, 3950 cc (243 cubic inches), with 105 hp at 3500 rpm; it was reportedly virtually identical to the Land Cruiser diesel engine of the time. This factory option (VIN code H) was a straight-six and came without a badly needed turbocharger, providing good mileage (reportedly over 20 mpg) but limiting top speeds. These engines do not appear to be listed in the Standard Catalog of American Light-Duty Trucks but are in the 1978 Dodge truck brochure.
The L’il Red Truck was introduced by Dodge in March 1978, following the release of such self-proclaimed “adult toys” as the Dodge Warlock. Engineered for speed, the Little Red Truck was built on the short-wheelbase (115 inch) Utiline-style half-ton D150 with a 6,050 pound gross vehicle weight, but the real attraction was the high performance 360 V8 breathing through a four-barrel carburetor.
Chrysler used electronics to help quiet the ride. Experimental cars were driven on typical roads while recordings were made of the internal noise levels in the front and rear seats. Major noise sources were treated. Then, comparisons were made with untreated vehicles to find the improvement.
All 1978 Chryslers used plastic-encapsulated door latch ratchets for quieter door latching. The encapsulating material was elastomeric thermoplastic polyester, a hard, durable elastomeric. An injection molding process bonded this material to the door latches.
- New window regulator sector gears - 1 pound
- New shag carpeting for door trim panel and seat - 1 pound
- Inner body panels have aircraft-type weight-reduction holes. - 3 pounds
- Lightweight plastic bumper guard cushions and bumper rub strips. - 8.5 pounds
- Windshield washer reservoir molded integrally with the Thermo-Guard battery heat shield. - 2 pounds
- New parking brake actuator design. -about 2 pounds
- New heavy-duty 10" x 2.5" rear drum brakes when 8%" rear axle is specified (replace 11" brakes with no loss in braking performance). - 8.8 pounds
- Thin-wall die-cast headlamp bezels. - About 1 pound
- New swash-plate-drive.compressor for air conditioner on six-cylinder models - 10 pounds
- Redesigned window regulator arm for rears of four-door sedans - 2.5 pounds
- New parking brake actuator - 2 pounds
- Aluminum for trim panel supports - 2 pounds
- New radiator, overflow bottle, and plastic engine compartment air seal for six-cylinder a/c cars: about 3-5 pounds
- Redesigned headlining - 2 pounds
- Redesigned calipers - 1 pound
- New front door manual window regulator selector - 1 pound
- New non-woven fabric and foam rubber trunk floor mat replaces rubber or vinyl
- New high-strength steel rear bumper face bars. - 7 pounds
Previous weight-reduction features include:
- Overdrive-4 manual transmission with aluminum case, shift cover and extension housing- 33 pounds
- Thinner side window glass- 4.6 pounds
- Sheet-metal gauge changes in New Yorker Brougham and Newport models - 10 pounds
Though 1978 was hardly Chrysler’s best year, it did have a number of high points. The acquisition of Rootes and SIMCA, though both were to be sold for a single dollar, finally paid off in the first jointly designed car, the Horizon (Omni), which would be a Chrysler mainstay for years to come; unlike earlier efforts, the Horizon succeeded because it was customized for the American market, with a bigger engine, and built in America, with higher quality than the SIMCAs and Hillmans actually made in their own factories. It included the world’s first mass produced integral trip computer, produced by Huntsville (see Allpar’s story for details on that and other aspects of the Horizon’s birth).
The year also saw a continued dominance of the police market by the downsized B-body Fury-Monaco, a plush car with surprisingly good cornering for the time. The Cordoba was popular and well-made, helping to erase some of the bad feeling from the first-year Aspen-Volare, and the Aspen and Volare themselves were made with a high level of quality. Magnum may not have sold that well but it gained a number of hard core admirers. The lockup torque converter is still used, while Lean Burn has been refined and reengineered to be the modern powertrain management system. Chrysler responded quickly to engineering and styling demands, and generally, the response was as good as most could have hoped for. Engineers were starting work on the company’s saviors, the K-cars, and the 2.2 was surely on the drawing board; in the meantime, the Super Six provided an admirable combination of durability, economy, and pep.
Chrysler Corporation was down, but not out, and its customers in 1978 could reasonably expect to get a high quality, very durable vehicle.