Racing the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare

I answered an ad for a 79 Dodge Aspen, “needs work.” It was a coupe with a 318 and an automatic, and I drove it home for a $165. The next day it pitched the timing chain.

Over the course of one day I completely stripped the car, taking out the drivetrain, wiring, interior, plumbing, everything. I started rebuilding the front suspension using a PST polygraphite kit. Don’t bother. Just go to your local auto parts place and order a rebuild kit; they are made by the same company, my PST kit and parts purchased locally had the same lot number stamped on it.

I removed the power steering box and replaced it with a manual one (you will need to have the steering shaft extended — any good welder can do it). I pulled the power brake booster and converted it to manual brakes. Both these moves save about 60 pounds.

I installed the front end and replaced the rubber isolaters with the cast iron racing set (P5249550). I had a Comp Engineering 8-point roll cage installed. I use P/N CCE3123; they say it fits only A-bodies. S&W makes a F-body kit also.

Out back, find a B-body 8 3/4 rear. The mounting pin holes for the leaf springs should measure 44 inches apart. Late sixties Road Runner or Satellite (stout axles) are my preference. Remove the entire rear end assemby including the front spring boxes, but leave the rear drum brake assemblies intact — they interchange! You will need a spring box hanger extension kit (P4120081) and despite what Mopar Performance tells you, they are not a bolt in, you will have to remove some of the rocker panel brace. The car won’t fall apart. I used the super stock spring P4120863 and 64 for 3000 pound cars, if your car weighs more there are other spring applications.

The width of the B-body rear spring perches is 44 inches. The F-body perches were 44.45 inches apart. After assembly the leaf springs will angle in somewhat and not line up with rear shackle mounts. Use the .80 offset spring hangers (P4120075). It looks like a factory installation.

I used A-body super stock shocks (P4529514) but a set of Monroe full size truck shocks will do. Finish with an adjustable snubber (P3690182). The drivetrain installation is straightfoward. My total cost including the car itself was $5755. I just ran 11.68 at 112.35 with a 10-1 motor hyrdaulic cam, 10 inch tires, a 3500 GER converter, on pump gas.

Performance figures

These figures are from a popular magazine of the day (we’ve lost the magazine title but if you find it, we’d like to know it). Note the relative performance of the Volare 360 vs the Trans Am 400 and Corvette L82.

Car (all with automatic trans) 0-60 1/4 mile Reported Top Speed*
1978 Volare Kit Car 360-4
7.3 sec
15.9 @ 88
111
1978 Aspen Super Coupe 360-4
8.1 sec
16.7 @ 85
108
1977 Aspen 360-2 HD
8.6 sec
17.4 @ 86.1
115
1977 Camaro Z28 350-4
8.6 sec
16.3 @ 83.0
105
1977 Corvette L82 350-4
8.8 sec
16.6 @ 82.0
not available
1977 Trans Am 400-4
9.3 sec
16.9 @ 82.0
110
1977 Volare 318-2 HD
10.7 sec
18.2 @ 74.4
106

In 2009, I spent a few evenings at the Music City Raceway (a 1/8 mile track) trying to get an idea of just how fast my Volaré is. It has made several runs in the 11.20 range. This is not bad, considering that the car is so heavy. The only upgrades were conversion from lean burn to electronic ignition, a Edelbrock Performer intake, and a Edelbrock 600 CFM carb (not yet tuned). Those speeds were only the tip of the iceberg.

I went one last time with the car to the track before I placed it in storage for the winter. These runs were on a clear cool night which to me seems perfect racing weather. After a dissappointing qualifying run of around 11.4 and an equally bewildering 11.09 run I had no idea on what to dial in at so I picked 11.17 as a conservative dial in. As it turns out the Volare was “feeling its oats” and rewarded me with a bittersweet run of 10.924. It was a fast run but it put me on the trailer for home. This made me decide to push on with drag racing it.

My first plans are to rebuild the rear suspension. I will accomplish this by going to a set of Super Stock springs and a Ford 9 inch rear axle. I have already purchased the front spring brackets, springs, and shakles. The only part I wish could be different is that axle but it was only $25 from a friend, much less expensive than the Dana 60 I was considering.

Future modifications will include rebuild the 318 with a stroker kit to bring it up to 390 cu in. I also want a pretty aggressive cam, so the Volare will also recieve a 727 with a manual valve body , sub frame connecters, and if necessary a roll cage of the required type.

See Benjamin's page with his progress - click here.

More Aspen and Volare feedback

Jason Goldsack from London, Ontario wrote: I just aquired my first Aspen SE by trading my Duster drag car for it. It has a '77 440/727 and 8 3/4 rear with 3.91 gears. The motor and tranny are pure stock. The body is brown with a gold/burnt orange interior. This car was obviously taken care of well because it is mint. On street tires and through the exhaust, last weekend it ran 13.96 @ 96 MPH with no traction for 100 feet.

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