The Plymouth Volare, Dodge Aspen, and Chrysler LeBaron
Introduction to the Plymouth Volare, Dodge Aspen, and Chrysler LeBaron
The Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare were introduced in the middle of the 1976 model year; the Chrysler LeBaron launched quickly afterwards, for model-year 1977. The Aspen and Volare were successors to the popular A body Valiant, Duster, and Dart, which finished the 1976 model year while the Volare and Aspen were being prepared. Chrysler would soon wish they had let the Valiant and Dart finish the year, but sales were already lagging as customers new their replacements were coming.
The Aspen and Volare were produced under those names for 5 model years, 1976 through 1980. The cars were then tweaked (mostly on the surface) and renamed to Dodge Diplomat, Chrysler New Yorker / Fifth Avenue, and Plymouth Gran Fury, with a similar Imperial. The newer vehicles had a much higher price class, with an almost identical drivetrain, suspension, and body, because, in 1981, the entry level switched to the new front wheel drive Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant. The Reliant managed to have almost as much interior and trunk space as the Volare.
The Aspen and Volare were designed to look more luxurious and upscale than the A body models, following the success of the Ford Granada. It was also intended to attract economy-minded people who would normally buy more expensive B and C bodies, following the success of Chrysler’s own Valiant Brougham (their replacements mainly served this group and fleet buyers).
Despite being similar to their predecessors in many ways, the Volare and Aspen were a “clean sheet” design, though engineers had to use Chrysler’s existing parts bin as much as they could. The name change from Valiant and Dart was intended, according to product planner Burton Bouwkamp, to make sure people knew the car was “all new” — and to lower the average age of the buyers; the median age of Dart buyers was over 50 years old. How the Volare and Aspen were named
The Volare gained less than two inches over Valiant in any particular dimension, since the emphasis of the time was on economy. The beltline was lower, with 25% more glass, so the interior could be brighter and seem larger; the seats were higher, and the steering wheel was lower. Wind tunnel time cut Volare and Aspen drag by 10% from their predecessors; some of the tricks were smoother edges, a more flush rear window, and no rain gutters.
The same engines continued (225, 318, 360). According to Road & Track, the Volare wagon with 318 V8 did 0-60 in 14.6 seconds, with an automatic, and held .668 gs on lateral acceleration; 60-to-zero was recorded at 198 feet. No quarter mile time was recorded; the weight, as tested, was 4,370 lb (base weight was 3,960. Options were power steering, brakes, and windows, automatic, radials, stereo, and rear window heater). The 360 (two-barrel automatic) coupe did better, with 0-60 in around 8.6 seconds recorded by a different magazine.
Aspen and Volare two-doors had a 108.7 inch wheelbase (similar to the 108" Duster and Dart Sport), while four door F bodies got a 112.7 inch wheelbase, making them slightly bigger than the Dart and Valiant, which rode a 111" wheelbase (the LeBaron two doors and four doors both rode on a 112.7 inch wheelbase). The station wagon (on the 112.7" wheelbase) was new to the compact line, the Valiant and Dart wagons having been dropped in 1966. The Volare had extra sound deadening material, door seals, and body insultation, an upper door chrome package on the sill under the outside mirrors, and thicker carpeting.
The Aspen/Volare were hot enough to get a true luxury version, above the Chrysler LeBaron. The Monteverdi Sierra boasted a redesigned front suspension and radically different sheet metal that gave it a decidedly European look; the interior was redone as well, though the basic dimensions and drivetrain were the same. The 318 was standard on the Monteverdi Sierra, the 360 optional. Gas mileage was initially rated by the EPA at 18 city, 27 highway (slant six, manual transmission, sedan or coupe). Ratings were calculated differently at the time and today’s methods would provide much lower numbers.
Aspen / Volare / LeBaron Chassis
The chassis design was typical Mopar, incorporating a unitized body and chassis, with torsion bar front suspensions and leaf spring rear suspensions. However, the front suspension was a totally new design. Instead of the traditional longitudinal torsion bars found on every Chrysler product since 1957, the F bodies used a transverse torsion bar, which placed the bar anchor near the control arm on the opposite side. The bar on each side was roughly L-shaped, and ran across the front of the car just ahead of the K-frame. This was supposedly to give the compact cars a "big car" ride. The rest of the front suspension was similar to that of the A body, with upper A-arms and lower control arms. A front sway bar was standard.
The rear suspension used a new design for attaching the leaf springs to the frame of the car. Chrysler called it an "Iso-Clamp," and it was basically a rubber donut sandwiched between the spring perch and the frame. The idea was to reduce transmission of road vibrations into the passenger compartment. The "Iso-Clamp" design was used on all of the other rear-drive Chrysler products from 1976 on.
Chrysler furnished the F bodies with 11 inch front disk brakes and 10 inch rear drums (11 inches for taxi and police applications). Power steering and power brakes were both optional. Wheel diameter was 14 inches for nearly all models, with standard and optional tire sizes ranging from D78-14 through GR78-14 in 78 series. FR70-14 and GR60-15 sizes were also optional or part of performance packages.
Returning to Chrysler's entry level vehicles after a rather long hiatus was a wagon version - available in both automatic and three-on-the-three forms - which was fairly popular, for a station wagon, possibly due to the desire to downsize without giving up cargo room.
The horrific rust issues on the 1976 Volare/Aspen 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.
Radios, including those with tape decks, were built by the Huntsville Electronics Division, once a part of the nation’s defense apparatus.
For 1977, Volare was the dominant car for Chrysler Corporation. No less than 139,865 base Volares 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 convertor), 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).
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.
In 1978, 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.”
The Plymouth Volare Road Runner had debuted in 1977; for 1978, buyers could get a Plymouth Volare Fun Runner, which was also sold in 1979. The Fun Runner was not a performance package; at $77 (plus $180 for the Fun Runner décor), jit seems to have been a graphics-and-trim deal.
Volare / Aspen / LeBaron Drivetrains
Drivetrains were also typical Mopar, with the 225 Slant Six and the 318 and 360 LA V8s available. All engines ran 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). F body V8s got Chrysler's Lean Burn emissions control system beginning in 1978; the Slant Six would get Lean Burned afterwards. 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 Aspen, 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 started out with 230 horsepower at 4,400 rpm and 300 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm, and in 1979 dropped to 195 and 280, respectively.
New for the 1977 model year (but dropped after 1979) was a 2 barrel option for the Slant Six (standard on all wagons), developed by Pete Hagenbuch and his staff. This package 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. Early versions got an aluminum intake manifold. These turned out to be poorly cast, and were replaced by iron versions. 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.")
Also new for 1977 was a higher-performance torque converter, a min-cat for California slant sixes (Super Sixes got a new three-way catalyst), upgraded batteries on all engines (smaller, six pounds lighter, with better cell connectors and vibration protection), a new terminal wiring system, and a new double-contact starter relay for better cold weather starts. Finally, 318-powered F-bodies and B-bodies sold in high-altitude areas had altitude-adjustable carburetors and modified spark advances.
In 1978, a lighter carb was used on the 318, and a number of weight savings were made. (See this year by year detail on Aspen, Volare, Roadrunner, and Super Coupe engines.)
Walt Ronk wrote about the Lean Burn (the world’s first such computer-controlled system, unless you count the electronic fuel injection used on some 1958 Chryslers):
[My 1979 Volare Duster slant-six] was manufactured in early 79 is equipped with the slant six and has what is called the Electronic Spark Control ignition (ESC) on it. I researched this in the Mitchell guide to find out what the exact difference was between the Electronic Lean-Burn ignition and the Electronic Spark Control ignitions... To my astonishment there is no difference other than name. The Electronic Spark Contol ignition box (AKA Electronic Lean Burn - ELB) is mounted on the air cleaner. The Mitchell stated that from 1979 on, Chrysler used either the Electronic Lean Burn, also referred to as the Electronic Spark Control ignition (ESC)... While it didn't go into a reason for the name variation; it did state that there were 2 different variations of this ignition, an early style with 2 pickups in the distributor and a later version with a single pickup.
Volare Duster, Road Runner, Sun Runner, and Fun Runner
The Volare Road Runner was an attempt to link to one of the highest-performance Plymouth models of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It worked to some extent — although horsepower output was far lower than in the “true” Road Runners, when equipped with its top engine, the Volare Road Runner held its own with other brands’ so-called performance cars from that period. The greatest stigma was probably calling the car a Volare Road Runner, given the early problems with the Volare.
Road Runner was mainly a “decal package,” the cosmetic additions being more plentiful than the performance upgrades (limited to a heavy-duty suspension). It came with a rear spoiler, window louvers, stripes, dual remote mirrors, special horn, decals, wider wheels and tires with cast aluminum wheels, black headlamp doors and other trim, a rear lamp surround, “Tuff” steering wheel, and standard cloth-and-vinyl bench front seat. The base engine was a 225 slant six. Still, buyers could get the A55 handling and performance package, with the extra heavy duty suspension, rear anti-sway bar, FR70x14 (wider) tires, and optional 360 engine.
Fun Runner was available in 1978 and 1979, but neither dealer materials nor the Standard Catalog of Chrysler provide any clue as to what was included other than decals and window louvers. Possibly that was all.
Sun Runner appeared in 1978, and included decals similar to Road Runner along with a large removeable T-top sunroof. Front Runner included a front spoiler, wheel flares, louvers, rear spoiler, and stripes.
The Duster name was a natural, given that the Plymouth Duster was one of the most successful nameplates ever introduced by Chrysler Corporation, at least in its first four years. However, the combination of the curvy Duster rear end with the formal styling of the Volare was less successful than the pairing of the same rear with the Valiant, and sales were not quite as stratospheric, though many were made.
Walt Ronk wrote that the Volare with Duster Package was designated as RPO A42. 1980 Duster production for the A42 code cars was a whopping 5568, while Road Runners for 1980 dwindled down to a mere 496 units...
Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen for the fleet
Chrysler optimistically billed the Volare and Aspen as “the standard cars of the future,” making them available to fleet buyers. They wrote:
Chrysler Corporation has taken the things people wanted in big cars and engineered them into two new kinds of small cars... they offer big-car ride with a totally new suspension. And they rival big-car quiet with new sound-deadening systems... Aspen and Volaré are the products of years of intensive Chrysler Corporation design and testing. With their roomy interiors and exclusive isolated transverse suspension, they are as comfortable and ride more like a full-size car. ... Chrysler's famous slant-6 has been improved for even better fuel economy.
Fleet buyers got a twelve-month warranty with unlimited mileage, covering everything but tires and normal replacement items. Gas mileage for sedans and coupes was reported as 18 city, 27 highway for slant six with manual transmission; and 18 city, 30 highway for wagons (which doesn't seem to make sense).
The F-body LeBaron was introduced in 1977, as a “highly styled automobile which offers the comfort and roadability usually associated with larger, more expensive cars, but in a smaller, more fuel-efficient package.” The LeBaron shared the basic Volare and Aspen 112.7 inch wheelbase and powertrains, but was longer overall, with the extra space apparently going into the trunk. The LeBaron soon moved to the M-body platform — which was very similar to the F-body.
|1977 LeBaron||Two door||Four door|
|Headroom, F/R||37.4 / 36.2||39.2 / 37.5|
|Legroom, F/R||42.5 / 34.1||42.5 / 36.6|
|Shoulder room, F/R||55.2 / 56.0||55.2 / 55.2|
|Trunk capacity, c.f.||16.6||16.3|
It was sold in LeBaron and Medallion forms, with two and four doors, with numerous external indicators of the Medallion status.
The squarish grille with dual rectangular headlights presaged the Diplomat and Gran Fury to come, with amber running lights above the headlights to differentiate the Chrysler from Cadillac. An eagle hood ornament was used at launch in 1977.
A padded vinyl roof was standard on sedans, and chrome proliferated across the board, even on base models: around the headlights and grille, on the bumpers, around the tail lights, over the wheel arches, across the bottom of the sides. Inside, the standard seats were cloth and vinyl, with optional velour or leather, and an optional 60/40 split front seat with recliners and folding armrest. The dashboard was quite impressive, with chrome-ringed gauges and switches embedded in a moderately realistic faux wood, all oriented towards the driver.
Many options were offered, including air, tilt wheel, cruise, 500-amp battery, time-delay intermittent wipers, power locks, windows, and deck lid release, remote left and right mirrors, fender-mounted turn signal indicators, and more. Wipers parked under the hood, and cleaned 98% of the significant viewing area of the windshield. The standard LeBaron engine was the 318 V8, with automatic transmission and 500 amp battery; that was in fact the only transmission available.
Performance, Super Coupes, and Volare / Aspen kit cars
Although performance in all cars was waning in the late 1970s due to emissions requirements and gasoline shortages, Chrysler did try to create a performance image for the F body cars in the face of a gathering reputation for poor quality. The Plymouth and Dodge high-performance versions of the F-body, the Volare Road Runner and Dodge Aspen R/T, appeared in 1977; the Super Coupes arrived a year later, in 1978, with the same basic concept.
The Aspen R/T tried to conjure up Dodge's proud performance past in a similar way, and the R/T performed reasonably well for the late 1970s. But the times were not right, and both the Volare Road Runner and Aspen R/T dropped in sales each year, and by 1980, less than 1000 total R/T models were sold.
There were also Volare and Aspen Super Coupes, special high performance packages available only in 1978. The A67 Super Coupe package outfitted the 2 door models with GR60 (roughly 245/60) Goodyear GT radials on extra-wide 15x8 wheels; heavy duty suspensions with rear sway bars; fender flares; front and rear spoilers; rear window louvers; matte black trim, grille, bumpers, hood and roof; three-color (orange, yellow and red) stripes; and a reasonably potent 360 four barrel. Volare Super Coupes were available only in Crimson Sunfire Metallic, and Aspen Super Coupes only in Sable Tan Sunfire Metallic.
This was a rare car, even in 1978 — Chrysler produced only 494 Volare Super Coupes, and only 531 Aspen Super Coupes.
Available only in 1978, following the Super Coupes, was the A43 "Street Kit Car" package. It took the Super Coupe and added door and roof number decals (43, Richard Petty's number), a larger spoiler, “bolt-on-look” fender flares, and two-tone paint (red for Dodge, blue for Plymouth). Wheels had no hubcaps; the bolts showed, then a courageous styling move. Unlike the Super Coupes, the A43 package required power steering, power brakes, and an automatic transmission. Around 247 Volare Street Kit Cars and 145 Aspen Street Kit Cars were built.
The Aspen and Volare were light enough to be potent with a V8. In 0-60 times, car magazines of the day revealed that the 1977 360-engined Aspen, with a two barrel carb (it wasn’t an R/T, much less a Super Coupe), was about on a par with the 350-four barrel Camaro Z28 and Corvette L82. All three were faster than the 1977 Trans Am 400-4, showing that there might be a substitute for cubic inches after all — lighter weight. In the quarter mile, the Aspen was a bit slower by the clock, but faster through the traps than the GM trio.
|Car (all with automatic trans)||0-60||1/4 mile||Official Top Speed*|
|1978 Volare Kit Car 360-4||15.9 @ 88|
|1978 Aspen Super Coupe 360-4||16.7 @ 85|
|1977 Aspen 360-2 HD||17.4 @ 86.1|
|1977 Camaro Z28 350-4||16.3 @ 83.0|
|1977 Corvette L82 350-4||16.6 @ 82.0|
|1977 Trans Am 400-4||16.9 @ 82.0|
|1977 Volare 318-2 HD||18.2 @ 74.4|
Mike Sealey wrote:
Sadly, between the time the Street Kit Car concept was created and when production cars turned up in Seattle, Petty Enterprises had traded their Dodge Magnums for GM intermediates. Many of the A43 models sat on dealer lots for a year or more after the end of the '78 model year, in a situation reminiscent of Superbirds eight years earlier.
I am told the "43" and other decals were originally shipped in the trunk for installation by the dealer. I can't remember seeing one without the decals on, but suspect many dealers wished they had held off.
At least four of these cars wound up going to Seattle area dealers, though Seattle was not a hotbed of NASCAR activity. My theory is that at least some of these were ordered by Southern dealers who cancelled their orders after the Pettys switched to GM, which would have sent these cars to the infamous "production bank" where Chrysler stashed cars that they had built despite having no dealer orders. It's also possible that, since Petty and Chrysler had been synonymous for so many years, that some dealers thought the switch to GM might be a brief abberation along the lines of Petty's one-year switch to Ford in '69. In any event, the zone reps who got dealers to take these after the switch can certainly be said to have earned their bonuses!
Bob Sheaves wrote:
I believe that C&C (Cars and Concepts - out I-96 from Milford) built the cars for Chrysler. Top speed was a true [and amazing!] 148 mph in Michigan State Police testing, but it took 12 miles to get to this speed (out of an allowable 15 miles).
The Direct Connection parts were engine dressup only. All other parts were used in the E58 engine package from the police versions, with cast iron headers, shot-peened connecting rods, and a high volume/flow oil pump.
[As for rumors the engines were secretly modified:] It was, and still is a federal crime (a class A felony) to modify any new vehicle not to conform to the emission standards of the year built by the manufacturer. This is why all emissions-affecting parts have the disclaimer in the catalog and on the boxes.
[Regarding suggestions that Chrysler hinted about removing Lean Burn for added performance:] I highly doubt Dick Maxwell, Larry Shepard, Lee Carducci, or others representing Chrysler, would have said this, which is also a felony.
Jeff Berkheimer, who has owned three of the cars, wrote: “Quarter time were mid 15s. It was capable of 140mph, although the speedo only went to 100.”
Jim Benjaminson, in his authoritative Illustrated Plymouth & DeSoto Buyers Guide, wrote (Copyright © 1996 Jim Benjaminson, reprinted by permission):
... The Petty Kit Car was more than just looks. It was fitted with a heavy-duty suspension, factory-installed rear anti-sway bar, special 15x8-inch wheels with negative offset and chrome lug nuts, and Aramid-fiber radial tires. Dress-up items included windshield "locks" and hood pins like real NASCAR race cars, front air dam, quarter-window louvers, deck lid spoiler, and wheel flares which helped keep the larger-size tires inside the body work. Sales of the kit cars were to be kept to 1,000* units, but how many were actually built is unknown.
While the Petty Kit Car was fully streetable, those with the urge to race and with an extra $10,000 in their pockets could order a real factory race car built on a tubular chassis actually built by Petty Enterprises. This car was available in several versions, from a bare chassis to rolling chassis, with or without sheet metal, to a complete race car. (*I have seen the figure of 247 Volares and 145 Aspens but cannot vouch for its accuracy.)
(This paragraph is based on an article by Marc Boris in High Performance Mopar, Nov. 1988.) The E58 police engine, with semigloss black valve covers, had nimonic alloy exhaust valve heads and Silichrome-1 high temparature steel intake valves in specially cleaned heads, with stiffer valve springs and high strength rocker arms. Special valve stem seals and rings were also used, along with a double row roller timing chain; an oil cooler was optional. The Carter ThermoQuad carburetor, rated at 800 cfm, topped the engine; but despite these performance-inspired components, a single muffler was used, with a single catalytic converter, and a mild cam was fitted, resulting in 175 net horsepower at 4,600 rpm.
Marc from Quebec provided photos of his car, which he races:
Volare / Aspen quality
Although their designs were basically sound, the early F bodies were plagued by poor production quality. Lee Iacocca acknowledged that the Aspen and Volare were probably rushed to market too soon, causing first year buyers to act as final model testers; though the Manufacturing was also at fault for falling to low standards, reportedly under Dick Dauch.
Quality problems were mostly an issue for the 1976 models. Several recalls were undertaken on the 1976 and 1977 models; most were minor. However, the most serious of these cost Chrysler millions of dollars. In 1978, Chrysler recalled every 1976 and 1977 F body for possible replacement of the front fenders, which were prematurely rusting. Many cars got new fenders, painted in the proper color. Galvanized sheet metal was phased in, along with full inner front fender liners made of polethylene (plastic). A large number of powertrain changes, particularly in ignition and fuel delivery, were also made to improve driveability. From 1978 on, F bodies had few problems with rusting or quality control.
Volare / Aspen Derivatives
Chrysler spun off two other body types using the basic chassis of the F body (it's not clear why different letters were assigned to such closely-related chassis), presumably both to move upmarket and to make a fresh start.
The M body was, aside from styling, virtually the same car. It was produced as a 2 door from 1977 through 1981, and as a 4 door from 1977 through 1989. The M body platform was used for several models: the Dodge Diplomat, the 1982-'89 Chrysler New Yorker and Fifth Avenue, the 1977-81 Chrysler LeBaron, and the 1982-up Plymouth Gran Fury. The M body was reasonably successful for a time, especially the Fifth Avenue. It also formed the basis for Chrysler's last entry in the small but important police car market, which it dominated in its later years, staying in production almost entirely for fleet duty. Without the police sales, it seems unlikely the M-body could have lasted past 1983, much less to 1989.
The J body was a 2 door "personal coupe" built on the same 112.7 inch wheelbase from 1980-1983, as the Dodge Mirada, the Chrysler Cordoba, and the Chrysler Imperial (from '81-'83). The body types are so close that chassis components, engines, and even some body panels and interior components, interchange between the three.
In its August 1976 issue of Car & Driver -- the infamous issue with the topless lass (from the back) driving a soon-to-be-discontinued convertible down the highway -- editor William Jeanes reported on a one-off show car built by the good folks over at Plymouth and called the "Fonzmobile." Based on a Duster 360 coupe, the Fonzmobile was built to capilize on the popularity of the televison show "Happy Days." The car featured a flame paint job, lakes pipes exhaust running under the body sill, dummy dual spotlights, wide whitewall tires, baby Moon hubcaps, a fold-down rear seat and a sliding sunroof. At the time, no plans existed to build such a car for public sale. The idea was to entice owners of the 1,173,000 used Dusters and Darts on the market to modify their own cars in similar fashion.
This apparently lead a group of California Chrysler dealers to have built, with corporate approval, the California Custom. The California Custom was not confined to just the Plymouth Volaré, but could be ordered as a Dodge Aspen as well.
Plymouth versions of the California Custom were built using the hood and front bumper from the Dodge Aspen. In good California tradition, the grille was a stainless tubular affair. Like the Fonzmobile, the CC featured WIDE whitewall tires, baby Moon hubcaps with trim rings and lakes pipes exhaust running under the body sill (whether they were for looks only or could actually be used remains a question). Not carried over from the Fonzmobile concept were the dummy spotlights and flame paint job.
Setting the California Custom far apart from the Fonzmobile was its heavily padded rooftop. Patterned after the famous "California Carson top," the heavily padded roof blanked out the rear quarter windows, which gave the car a heavy but definitely distinctive look. Under the hood sat a two-barrel 318 cubic inch V8 engine with single exhaust and California emission package.
The California Custom conversion added $1,892.15 to the price of a Volaré coupe. A standard Volaré Custom coupe carried a price tag of $3,671 while the more upscale Volaré Premier coupe retailed for $4,515.
Dodge Darts / Plymouth Volares in Mexico (by Jesus David Morales)
The Aspen/Volare was introduced in Mexico in 1977 as the next-generation Dart and Valiant — as many argued they should have been brought to the United States, that is to say, a year later and with the Dart and Valiant names.
I have owned 2 Darts and 2 Volares. This car I am showing you has been my driver for the past year. It is a Volare (aka Valiant Volare down here) 1977. It has the 225 engine, manual transmission (column shift) and power steering. According to the bill of sale, the official model name of my car is "Dodge Valiant Volare Sport."
During the Volare life span (1977-1982) the Volare was sold as a coupe-form, no-frills Dart, using an Aspen grille and Volare back with a Valiant tag in the tail lights. Back then, every make was sold under one brand; every Chrysler, Dodge or Plymouth car were sold as Dodges, so it was easy to exchange grills and tails to launch a new model. For example, in 1977, the Mexican Volare had the nose of an Aspen, but the tail lights of Volare.
Even though the engine is not powerful (around 110 horsepower in Mexico), it is a sturdy and reliable every-day driver, with an easy-on-the-pocket gas consumption.
The most derided F-bodies proved all the critics wrong. In fact, this sturdy machines have outlived most of its "higher quality" competitor of the era. My Valiant is a living proof of that.
(Ed Hennessy:) In 1979 the interior and exterior trim packages were un-bundled and offered separately, so you could certainly have ordered an SE exterior and LE interior or vice-versa. I don't know how common it was that the trims were mixed and matched. (Prior to 1979, the trim package covered both the interior and exterior.)
The 1980 model car has a much different wiring harness, a revised air conditioner, a relocated jack (in the quarter panel) and spare (under the rear shelf rather than under the floor), and a handling package including a rear sway bar and springs like the later M body. 1980 models could have ETR radios for the first time.
dance53321 wrote: The "tuff" rally steering wheel was color coordinated to the interior and available on all coupes. The 76 Aspen coupes also had a fold down rear seat package. There was both a one piece and a three piece rear spoiler. There was also a premiun sound package consisting of an additional amp that fit under the metal dash panel in place of the factory front speaker - if memory serves it increased the power to the rear channel only by about 15 or 20 amps. The lock-up transmission (904) was standard on all models after 1978. The 2bbl Super Six package uses the Carter BBD carb similar to the one on the 318 engine.
"5206 Super 8" has a 1976 Dodge Aspen with leather seats and a floor shifter with a middle console that opens up.
Fleets use of the Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen
In retrospect, the F body proved to be a roomy six-passenger car (five in the coupes) with the proven Chrysler bulletproof drivetrain, which could be relied on for thousands of miles of faithful service. The early models did have bugs, but these were worked out. In fact, it became very common to see F body taxicabs plying fares for years after the last one rolled off the assembly line. The author has seen a 1978 Volare in daily service in Lowell, MA, as recently as November, 1997, with another in Metuchen, New Jersey, as late as 1996. They were also common in Washington DC into the 1990s.
The F body was less popular as a police patrol car, but that was due more to its size than to any design flaw. During the production run of the F body, most police departments were still using full size cars, which were much larger than the Aspen and Volare. Those departments that did buy the F body police car once it became available in '77 found it to be perfect for urban areas where smaller, more nimble cars were an asset. And, as opinions on and requirements for patrol car size changed, Chrysler was ready with the M body.
Specifications, production, engines, and details
Engine choices were, in essence, the slant six, 318, and 360. The slant six was available with a two-barrel carb depending on the year; this gave it more power with good fuel economy.
Available transmissions included the A230 3 speed (Slant Six only), the A833 4 speed overdrive (Slant Six and 318-2 only), and the A904 and A998/999 Torqueflite 3 speed automatics. These were coupled with either the Chrysler 7 1/4 inch rear axle (for Slant Six coupe and sedan, non-towing applications) or the Chrysler 8 1/4 axle for the wagon, heavy duty, and V8 versions. Axles were available in 2.45, 2.76, 2.94, and 3.23 to 1 ratios, depending upon transmission and engine. Sure-Grip limited slip axles were optional. Torqueflites got a lockup torque converter in 1978 for non-heavy duty engines.
- Wheelbase: 2 door: 108.7"; four door, wagon, and LeBaron two door: 112.7"
- Track (all models): front: 60.0" rear: 58.5"
- Length: 2 door Dodge/Plymouth: 198.8"; other Dodge/Plymouth, 201.2"; Chrysler, 204” - 206”
- Width: 73.3" except two-door Chrysler (73.5”) and four-door Chrysler (72.8”)
- Height: 2/4 door: 53.3"; wagon: 55.7"
- Trunk capacity: 14.8 cubic feet (except Chrysler, 16.3 cubic feet four-door, 16.6 two-door).
- Gas tank capacity: wagons and 6 cylinder models: 18 gallons (V8 coupes and sedans: 19.5 gallons)
- Weight: an empty F body weighed between 3200 and 3500 pounds, with the V8s being about 110 pounds heavier than the Sixes. The wagons weighed the most, and the coupes were the lightest. Generally, the 4 door was about 75 pounds heavier than the coupe, while the wagon was 200 pounds heavier than the 4 door.
Aspen vs Volare
Differences between Aspens and Volares are mainly grilles (Aspens have horizontal grille elements, Volares having cross-hatch or eggcrate grille styles) and taillights (Aspens have single-elements to the lenses in '76 & '77, Volares have double. Starting in '78, Aspens have two horizontal lines across taillight and turn signal lenses, Volares do not). No model names appeared inside the car. Since grilles and taillights and all body panels interchange within a year (and sometimes across years), the sure way to tell the two models apart is to check the VIN. Aspen VINs begin with 'N' and Volare VINs start with 'H.'
Throughout its lifetime, the F body served Chrysler and its owners well, as a bread and butter family car. The F body was Chrysler's compact car as the 1970s ended. Interestingly, by the end of production of the very similar M body in 1989, the same size 4 door car was suddenly somewhere between a midsize and a full size. This transition began around the time of the F body's debut, and was very obvious by the end of the run in the summer of 1980. The cars nonetheless competed well with their American counterpart during a difficult period in American car history, both for reasons of quality control and gasoline economy. Chrysler sold many F bodies throughout the 5 year run.
Aspen / Volare message board and related pages
We have a number of Aspen-Volare pages, including details on the Aspen/Volare introduction (with 1976 car reviews). The Aspen and Volare were originally hailed as a serious improvement on the Valiant, Dart, and Duster; the “formal styling” was more in tune with people who were moving from bigger cars to save fuel (and in the general fashion of the times), and the transverse-mounted torsion-bar front suspension gave the cars a smoother ride without sacrificing cornering. Consumer Reports in particular seemed betrayed by the quality of the early F-bodies, though... they strongly recommended at first that people give the Valiant a miss, and in 1976, precious few Valiants were made.
To keep this page manageable in size, we have a separate page with Volare and Aspen engines, specifications, and details. That includes a year-by-year engine description.
Finally, if you would like to reach other owners or pick up a nice, slightly used F-body, we invite you to use our Aspen/Volare message board, which is shared by owners of later versions of the Aspen/Volare (e.g. Diplomat and M-body Gran Fury). For that matter, you might want to hang out at the nearby A-body forum.
(Most of the information originally on this page is included in Ed Hennessy's article).
- How the Volare and Aspen were named
- Details on the Aspen/Volare introduction, including 1976 car reviews
- Racing Aspens and Volares
- Volare, Aspen, Super Coupe, and Roadrunner specs, production figures, engines, and other details
- Aspen and Volare stories
- The A-Bodies (Valiant and Friends)
- Volare Road Runner
- Volare Duster: Car of the Month, March 2013
- Other Aspen and Volare links
- The Aspen/Volare message board
- M bodies (Diplomat, Gran Fury, etc.)