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Dodge Diplomat, Plymouth Gran Fury / Caravelle,
and Chrysler LeBaron, New Yorker and Fifth

This page is currently being rewritten. There are currently some factual errors which are being addressed. We expect full resolution in June 2017.

based on a story by Frank Billington

The Dodge Diplomat and Chrysler LeBaron were launched in mid-1977; sold in high trim, with luxury looks, they were very similar under the skin to the company’s cheapest domestic cars.

1977 dodge diplomat

The entry-level Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare “F bodies” were just about a year old, and the two sets of cars shared their architecture, wheelbase, drive train, and many other components. One can even trade the front doors or windshield of a 1976 Dodge Aspen with a 1989 Chrysler Fifth Avenue; but the interiors were unmistakeably different.

1978 lebaronChrysler tradition would have given the cars the same “F” body designation; perhaps leaders wanted to be sure nobody called the Diplomat or New Yorker “a high-trim Volare.” Admittedly, the coupes had a longer wheelbase than Volare coupes — staying with the sedans’ 112.7 inches, rather than being dropped to 108.7 inches — but the measurements that defined a platform were the same for F and M.

GM was also platform-sharing, putting the Chevrolet Nova and Cadillac Seville onto the same dimensions, and the Ford Grenada was the basis for the Mercury Monarch and Lincoln Versailles. Top M-bodies were compared with the Seville and Versailles.

There was no Plymouth version in the United States, at first, but a Dodge Diplomat clone was sold in Canada as the Plymouth Caravelle — a name made up by Canadian leaders, based on the old sailing-ship hood ornaments and logos.

“Diplomat” had been used by Dodge in the 1950s, and by DeSoto export cars. LeBaron had been an Imperial model.

The 1977 Diplomat and LeBaron came with a three-speed automatic and 318 cubic inch V8 (sources differ; a two-barrel slant six may have been standard on the Diplomat from the start). The Diplomat came in two and four door versions; the two door had a Charger-ish sculpted look, and a fancy shaped trunk lid, while the four door was more formal. Regardless, the look was far more upscale than the Dodge Aspen, and buyers could get (optional) plush leather seats, which were more frequently ordered on the Chrysler.

1977 dashboard

Both Chrysler and Dodge had base and Medallian trims; weight was quoted at 3,300 - 3,600 pounds for the Dodge, and 3,500-3,650 pounds for the Chrysler (the difference might be due to using the slant six on the base Dodge and a V8 on the Chrysler). Going to the Medallion cost around $158, on top of the $4,943 (two-door) or $5,101 (four-door) base. In contrast, a base LeBaron coupe cost $3,582; and an Aspen Special Edition started at $4,317. The Diplomat cost more than the bigger Dodge Monaco or Monaco Brougham; buyers could even get a full size Royal Monaco Brougham for about the same price.

As late arrivals, neither car appeared in the 1977 full-line brochures, but got their own “introductory” brochures.

1978 cutaway

The front suspension was an easily adjusted torsion bar design, in transverse form; the rear suspension used four-leaf springs. Tires were initially FR78-15 radials (the later metric designation was 205/75R15). Options included semi-automatic temperature control, tilt wheel, LED warning lights backing up the gauges, illuminated entry, intermittent wipers, rear defroster, cruise control, remote trunk release, power windows, a bigger battery, and a large variety of radios. The Chrysler had unique clear tail-lamp lenses, with red reflectors.

The 1978 LeBaron gained a two door and wagon (LeBaron Town & Country, continuing a long-standing wagon name); while the Diplomat gained a four door and a wagon. Both Diplomat and LeBaron wagon buyers could get (plastic) woodgrain trim on the side, a fairly popular option. The Diplomat’s was a vinyl appliqué, while the LeBaron Town & County used a more complex simulation of light ash framing (grained fiberglass) against a darker woodgrain vinyl appliqué. The effect (when new) was highly realistic, but it would fade to a yellow-tone in bright sun without maintenance.

wagon

Engine options were expanded for the 1978 cars; the slant six was now the base engine in the LeBaron as well as the Diplomat. The 318 V8 was still optional, and joined by a more powerful 360 cubic inch V8. To make the LeBaron more attractive to buyers, a new S model was launched, with less trim and a $200 savings — an odd move, since the Chrysler version was already outselling the Dodge. Diplomat buyers could get a slant six with a four speed manual transmission to achieve an EPA rating of 18 city, 28 highway (by post-2008 standards, it would likely be around 3 mpg lower).

diplomat

The 1979 Diplomats were available in base trim, Salon (a midline trim), and Medallion. The front grille was changed somewhat, and a crest hood ornament was added. Padded vinyl roofs were standard on the Salon and Medallion, with a changed Landau vinyl roof optional on the two door cars; and “T-top” roofs hit the option list. A four-barrel 318 was available in California, to make up for added emissions equipment; and a 360 cubic inch V8 made the options list, in two and four barrel versions.

To clarify, buyers in all 50 states could get a 1979 Diplomat with a one or two barrel slant six, two-barrel 318 or 360 V8, or a four-barrel, heavy duty 30 with dual exhaust. California buyers were restricted to the single-barrel slant six, or a four-barrel 318 or 360 — with the option of a heavy duty dual-exhaust 360. The standard, but somewhat unwise, Diplomat engine was the single-barrel slant six.

The most familiar M-body design appeared with the 1980 Dodge Diplomat, as the Dodge grille seemed to expand to the parking lights (a trick of textures). This style, with some changes that made it appear somewhat less upscale, would remain on all future M-bodies; it was coupled with another theme that was to become familiar in the future. The roofline was altered to look more formal, as well; and a Special Sport Coupe, with two-tone paint, different wheel covers, and such, was added, with a base single-barrel slant six engine (a contemporary brochure shows no V8 option, but that may be wrong).

1980 dodge diplomat grille

The 1980 Diplomat introduced a new tail and trunk-lid treatment; reminiscient of the 1970s Valiants, it was likely cheaper to build than the extravagant styling of past Diplomats, assuming the original tooling was worn out by this time. Chrysler buyers had larger, dual-level tail-lights, at least for a while. Power on both Diplomat and LeBaron was now down to a single barrel slant six, or a two-barrel 318 — except in California and high-altitude regions, where a four barrel was used.

1980 dodge diplomat s

The 1981 Diplomats had a new grille which would see it through to the end, with heavy vertical elements that continued onto the parking lights; and the plainer, cheaper tail was now standard on all the trim levels.

The Chrysler LeBaron continued mostly unchanged, with a clear gap between grille head light assemblies, and parking lights above the headlights instead of below them. The two-door Diplomat and LeBaron both went to a shorter wheelbase (108.7 inches) while sedans and wagons stayed at 112.7 inches — still matching the Aspen and Volare. Sales fell, either because it was simply a bad sales year (it was) or because buyers did not react well to the changes, or both.

1980 LeBaron

There were no 1977-1980 Dodge Diplomat police cars; fleet buyers were expected to get a Dodge St. Regis or Plymouth Gran Fury, or, if they must have a smaller car, a Plymouth Volare or Dodge Aspen. However, there was no 1981 Volare or Aspen, so police and fleet buyers could get a somewhat decontented Diplomat instead. The 1981 Diplomats also debuted a factory-engineered, factory-produced propane system, aimed at fleet buyers.

The base 1981 two-door was the Sport Coupe, and had extra cosmetic touches such as bright moldings, stripes, and two-tone paint with a landau effect. The slant six gained hydraulic valve lifters at long last, cutting maintenance; and the company switched to thicker primers and used more galvanized steel to avoid corrosion, in a largely successful effort.

1981 dodge diplomat

There were no 1982 Diplomat or LeBaron two-doors or wagons; both slow-selling models were dropped, along with the base models (Salon and Medallion remained). Instead, USA buyers found a new 1982 Plymouth Gran Fury twin of the Diplomat.

The Gran Fury name had been around for many years, starting on the company’s largest platform (C-body). The name had been dropped down to the somewhat smaller R-body for the 1980 model-year; but the R-bodies were killed off due to lack of sales after the 1981 models. The Gran Fury name moved onto the 1982 M-bodies — now the corporation’s largest cars. Visually, there were definite links between the generations, particularly from the rear.

1980 gran fury

gran fury

The Gran Fury looked almost the same as the Dodge; for all practical purposes, the cars were clones. The question for civilian buyers remained, “Why get a Plymouth when I can have a higher-status Dodge? And why a Dodge when I can get a Chrysler?” 

For police cars, there was an opposite appeal: taxpayers dislike paying for the police to drive luxury cars, so the Plymouth name made more sense. The Standard Catalog of Chrysler claimed that 11,787 police packages were built — nearly half of production.

Dodge Diplomat police car

The 1982 Plymouth brochure boasted of “traditional big car room, ride, and comfort in a truly affordable package... this year, Gran Fury is not only priced to fit most budgets, it’s trimmer and lighter, too, than last year’s model [the R-body].” The car had a slant six with an optional small V8, but the automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, and halogen headlights were standard. Inside it had the high-end Dodge/Chrysler dashboard. Air conditioning, tilt steering, cruise, and a sunroof were among the options. New for this year was a lockup torque converter for the transmission (V8s only, and optional on police cars).

plymouth seats

1982 Slant Six318 V8
Power90 @ 3,600130 @ 4,000
Torque160 @ 1,600165 @ 4,000
MPG  17/25*

* Measured under a very forgiving system; the EPA estimates today’s ratings would be 14/18.

The Plymouth weighed in at 3,364 pounds, with the slant six; like the Dodge, it was 206.7 inches long and 74 inches wide. The company claimed a 15.6 cubic foot trunk. Standard tires were P195/75R15 radials; all three of the M-bodies used power disc brakes in front and power drums in back.

1983 Gran Fury

Like Plymouth, Chrysler moved the name of its big car, the New Yorker, from its R-body down to the M-body when the bigger car was dropped. Unlike Plymouth, Chrysler already had an M-body in the US; so the LeBaron name was bumped down to a higher-trim version of the little Plymouth Reliant. Like the Gran Fury, the New Yorker had started out on Chrysler’s biggest body, been shifted into the R series (for the 1979s), and was now on the M.

There were some exterior differences between the Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth, but they were clearly the same car underneath. The Plymouth had silver trim; the Dodge and Chrysler used black and chrome. The landau roof cap was unique to the New Yorker and Fifth Avenue.

fifth avenue

The New Yorker’s premium version, the New Yorker Fifth Avenue, was outfitted with a splendid interior, including plush leather seats; the exterior was chrome-laden and dressed up, with a crystal pentastar hood ornament. It also had dual remote mirrors, tinted glass, and extra sound insulation.

1984 Fifth Avenue

Underneath all that luxurious appearance and sound insulation, at least in 1982 and 1983, was a slant six or a 318 V8 (which had lost a good deal of power since 1970), pushing over 3,500 pounds. The luxurious appearance and luxury name sat atop the old Volare architecture, so the car did not ride nearly as smoothly as the 1981 or prior New Yorkers. Sales were quite good, with over 50,000 sold at high prices — but the new front drive LeBaron beat it, with 82,510 made, setting the tone for the future.

Chrysler leaders could pat themselves on the back; they had only made 3,622 New Yorkers the year before. What’s more, total Chrysler production, including Cordoba and Imperial, had been just 80,821. Going to half-again that number for 1982 wasn’t bad at all.

The 1984 Diplomats, Gran Furys, and Fifth Avenues came without a slant six; the slow-selling engine, not really suited to moving upscale cars, had been dropped entirely after a 23-year run. The 318 V8 was now the only choice, giving buyers 130 hp and 235 pound-feet of torque with a two-barrel carburetor.

The 1984 New Yorker was now a front wheel drive K-car; the Chrysler version was always a Fifth Avenue from now until the end.

1984 dashboard

The 1984s had optional 60/40 cloth seats (standard on the Chrysler), a digital clock added to the AM radio, and black velvet finish bezel overlays to match the new corporate radios.

The 1985 cars benefited from updates to the 318 V8 engine, which got roller cams, a compression boost to 9:1, and a ten-horsepower boost to 140 hp (with 265 lb-ft of torque); and from a standard 400-amp battery and new urethane coatings on the lower body to prevent paint chips. Huntsville’s new electronic tuned stereo was also added.

chrylser fifth avenue

The Diplomat Medallion was replaced by the Luxury SE, which had a cross in the grille, vinyl roof, velour seats, a lighting packages, and other trim improvements. The changes appear to have worked, or perhaps a newly invigorated Dodge lineup helped: production went up to 39,165, of which 14,834 were for the police (who got a 318 cubic inch engine rated at 175 hp and 250 pound-feet of torque, according to the Standard Catalog of Chrysler).

The 1986 Diplomat and Gran Fury propane system was upgraded from the 1981-85 systems. Police production was 10,372.

1987 dodge diplomat

Dodge gently acknowledged the aging Diplomat with its 1987 brochure copy (Diplomat SE pictured): “It’s reassuring to know that some proven traditions carry on...like the 1987 Dodge Diplomat. Its V8 engine and rear wheel drive configuration preserve time-honored driving values: durability, reliability, steady performance, and smooth ride. What is more, years of engineering refinement have elevated Diplomat’s level of quality.”

Chrysler had built over 100,000 Fifth Avenues in 1986; production fell to 70,000 in 1987 and 40,000 in 1988. The public was turning from rear wheel drive sedans, aside from low-volume German imports. Retail buyers were seeing their expensive luxury cars, with different badges, driven by the police, which detracted somewhat from their status.

The 1988 Diplomat line was similar, but with additions to the standard equipment for various levels. Three states of tune were available — civilian, police, and police without lockup torque converter. That carried on to 1989 with few, if any, changes.

The Diplomats, Fifth Avenues, and Gran Furys were sturdy and long-lasting, but their cornering and gas mileage were well below competing front wheel drive cars which had nearly as much interior space; and now you could get a plusher ride in a cheaper FWD car. The V8 engines were responsive, but not powerful enough for the weight. Gas mileage had fallen, to an estimated 16/22 mpg on the civilian model (around 15/20 with today’s standards) — 14/18 with the police model and lockup torque converter (around 13/17 if measured today). 

1985 chrysler fifth avenue

After the 1989 model year, Chrysler dropped the Diplomat and Gran Fury, and buyers turned to the Dodge Dynasty and a new, front wheel drive Chrysler Fifth Avenue. Around 80% of police departments were using Diplomats or Gran Furys; most of them moved on to the Chevrolet Caprice.

Why didn’t they sell more?

The Chrysler cars were the biggest sellers. For one thing, the price was moderate for a Chrysler, but high for a Dodge; and Chrysler still held more status. Once the R-bodies were dropped and Chrysler made police packages for the Dodge (and later Plymouth), those were purchased mainly by police and taxi fleets.

dodge diplomat and chrysler fifth avenue sales

Rear wheel drive had an increasingly negative image in the 1980s, as the newest, most exciting popular cars were almost always front wheel drive. Newer cars had more space in a smaller footprint; their lighter weight helped acceleration and fuel economy even with less power. A Plymouth Reliant K-car was almost as large inside as an expensive Gran Fury, almost as fast, and handled better, while getting double the gas mileage and costing less. The pricey rear drive cars were increasingly purchased by older customers and fleets.

The tough nature of the M-bodies was appreciated by taxi drivers and cops, and they overwhelmingly chose it; but the more lucrative retail sales whent almost entirely to front wheel drive in those times.

Chassis and suspension

Majority of this section modified from Ed Hennessy’s Aspen/Volare page.

The front suspension was a newer design from the F body Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare, using 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 first tried out on the F body to give the compact cars a “big car” ride and make room for emissions equipment. The rest of the front suspension was similar to that of the A body (Valiant and Dart), with upper A-arms and lower control arms. A front sway bar was standard.

1980 diagram

The rear suspension was carried forward from the F body, with leaf springs attached to the frame via “Iso-Clamp,” basically a rubber donut sandwiched between the spring perch and the frame to prevent vibrations from going into the cabin.

Chrysler furnished the M bodies with 11 inch front disk brakes and 10 inch rear drums (11 inch drums for taxi and police applications). Power steering and power brakes were initially both optional. Wheel diameter was 15 inches for all models, with stock tires (at first) FR78-15 and wheel sizes 5-1/2JJ, 6JJ.

rear

With just the carbureted 318 (two-barrel) available in 1988, gas mileage was estimated by the EPA at 17 city, 23 highway. The compression ratio was a high 9.1:1, and horsepower figures were below the 2.2 turbo (though torque was higher, and achieved at a lower speed): 140 hp at 3,600 rpm, and 265 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm.

Quality

There were no serious quality issues after the first year of M body cars; since nearly all of the car was a reshaped F body, the major quality issues had already been addressed.

cruiser

Derivatives

Three cars dubbed J-bodies, the Dodge Mirada, Chrysler Cordoba, and 1981-83 Chrysler Imperial, were built off a similar platform from 1980 to 1983; essentially two-door M body cars with different sheet metal exteriors and interior furnishings, they were largely parts-interchangeable with the Diplomat, Gran Fury, and LeBaron/New Yorker/Fifth Avenue. The new body code was legitimate, since it was technically a new platform based on certain dimension changes (including the much sharper rake of the windshield).

imperial

Parts sharing between the Imperial and Cordoba extended to the doors and front fenders. However, the Imperial, once built in Windsor, was test driven and extensively quality-checked; and it had far more in the way of creature comforts.

There were rumors that a light pickup was based on the Diplomat frame, drivetrain and suspension, but regardless of the truth of that, none made it to production.

Fleets

Dodge Diploamt
A 1979 Diplomat rental car-turned Washington
State Motor Pool car, after being sold with two
surplus pickups to the author’s father in 1986.

The lasting legacy of the Diplomat was visible for many years after production ended. Diplomat taxis remained commonplace into the late 1990s, a testimony to the durability of the design; many old Diplomat and Gran Fury police cars were handed down to Fire Departments and City Services, serving despite many years of abuse and brutal working conditions.

The Volare and Aspen had not caught on as police cruisers because of their interior space, with the police still driving much larger cars. By the time the Diplomat cruiser was created, law enforcement had begun to recognize the advantages of a nimble mid-sized squad which could more easily navigate city streets and fit into tight situations.

Government agencies already sold on the Diplomat squads started picking up rental returns and lease returns through auction services, and funneled those Diplomats into service as motor pool cars and other light-duty fleet jobs. The author’s own 1979 Diplomat came into his possession through such a chain of ownership via surplus auction, one of three owned by the family.

Drivetrain and Model Choices by Year

Much of this section adapted from Ed Hennessy’s Aspen/Volare page.

Body styles

1977-79 Dodge Diplomat 4 Door, 2 Door, Wagon (1978-79).
Chrysler LeBaron 4 Door, 2 Door, Wagon (1978-79).
Chrysler Town and Country Wagon.
Plymouth Caravelle (Canada) 4 Door, 2 Door, Wagon (1978-79).
1980-81 Added: Plymouth Gran Fury 4 Door, Wagon.
1982-83 Four door only. Wagons dropped.
Dodge Diplomat, Plymouth Gran Fury, Plymouth Caravelle (Canada).
Additions: Chrysler New Yorker (1982),
Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue (1983).

1984-89 Dodge Diplomat, Chrysler Fifth Avenue,
Plymouth Gran Fury, Plymouth Caravelle (Canada).

Slant Six (single barrel)

1977-78 1979 1980-83 1977-78 (CA) 1979 (CA)
HP 100 @ 3600 100 @ 3600 90 @ 3600 90 @ 3600 90 @ 3600
Torque 170 @ 1600 160 @ 1600 160 @ 1600 170 @ 1600 165 @ 1600

A two barrel slant six was also used, horsepower not reported above.

V8 engines: 360 and 318

This only covers the civilian versions, not police versions.

318 1977-78 1979 1980 1981-83 1984 1985-89* 1977-78 (CA) 1979
(CA 4-bbl)
HP 145 @ 4000 140 @ 4000 120 @ 3,600 130 @ 4,000 130 @ 4,000 140 @ 3,600
135 @ 3600 155 @ 4000
Torque 245 @ 1600 245 @ 1600 245 @ 1,600 230 @ 1,600 235 @ 1,600 265 @ 1,600
235 @ 1600 245 @ 1600

The 318 with four barrel carburetor (using 360 heads) was available from 1984 to 1986, according to the Standard Catalog of Chrysler; but both former officer Curtis Redgap and Mopar Action’s Rick Ehrenberg said it was available from 1981 to 1989.

For a few years, the M-bodies also had an optional 360 engine, but in the United States, it was equipped with a two-barrel carburetor (except in California); there were rumors of 360s in Diplomats through the 1980s, but these appear to have been Federal special orders or people assuming that four-barrel 318s (with 360 heads) were the bigger LA V8s. The Standard Catalog of Chrysler does mention a four-barrel 360 being available for at lest one year.

1977-7819791979 (California) 1984 1985-86
Engine2-barrel 3602-barrel 3604-barrel 3604-barrel 3184-barrel 318
Horsepower 155 @ 3600 RPM155 @ 3600 RPM160 @ 3600 RPM165 @ 4,000 175 @ 4,000
Torque 275 @ 2000270 @ 2400265 @ 1600240 @ 2,000 250 @ 3,200

Transmissions

Transmissions were the A230 three-speed (slant six), the A833 four-speed overdrive, and the A904 and A998/999 Torqueflite 3 speed automatics. Police units in early years, with the 360 V8, used the A-727 automatic. Axles were the Chrysler 7 1/4 inch rear axle (slant six, non-towing and not wagons) or the Chrysler 8 1/4. 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; in later years police could choose one or the other.

Dodge Diplomat performance

1979 Dodge Diplomat with undercover lights, siren

The M-bodies were marketed with an emphasis on their consumer-friendly features and utility, rather than performance; the high-performance M-bodies were police cruisers. While not flashy by styling standards of the day, they could be made to look less authoritarian and more like the high performance muscle cars of Dodge and Plymouth’s proud past with the right cosmetic touches.

After the Dodge St. Regis was dropped, several NASCAR drivers petitioned to have the Dodge Diplomat approved as a racing car, but NASCAR reportedly turned them down with a comment mentioning that NASCAR drivers would only be driving full-size cars.

How to tell them apart

1985 Dodge Diplomat SE
A 1985 Dodge Diplomat SE owned by Scott Kuznicki’s family,
featuring a Chrysler-like grill merged with the Dodge "gun sight" trim.

During the first run of the model (1977-1979), Diplomats and LeBarons could only be differentiated by the headlights. Diplomat headlights were placed above the turn signals, LeBarons below. The Plymouth Caravelle (in Canada) has the Diplomat headlight as well, but the Diplomat’s grille was dark gray and the Caravelle’s was silver. Chrysler grilles had vertical elements while the others were block eggcrate.

In 1980, when the sheet metal was updated, the Diplomat and Caravelle had single flat tail light lenses while the LeBaron had two lenses on each side of the rear; one vertical along the edge of the fender, and another flat one towards the inside, slightly smaller than the Diplomat’s. 1980 also saw the rear window made shorter with a steeper, more box-style angle. Wagon tail lights maintained the older style from the 1977-79s.

Door-pull straps were standard on all LeBaron Medallion, Salon, and Town & Country models, with roof-mounted assist handles standard in the Medallion 4-door rear compartment. A one-piece acoustical headlining covered with foam-backed, napped-knit nylon was standard on all LeBaron models, as was faux wood trim on the dashboard. Bi-level heater and fresh-air ventilation was standard on all models. The conventional spare was replaced on all but wagons with a compact spare. The conventional spare tire in a wagon was stored in a hidden compartment beneath the cargo floor near the rear of the wagon.

gran fury gauges

For 1981, LeBaron had eight models: salon and Medallion two-door hardtops, Special Sedan, Salon, and Medallion sedans; and the LeBaron and Town & Country wagons. LeBaron’s interior was upgraded; standard features included power steering, power front disc brakes, whitewalls, and trip odometer. Diplomat got longer door armrests, a two-spoke steering wheel, and weight reductions from more use of plastic.

With the final major body update in 1982, the New Yorker had the same tail light treatment as the Diplomat and Caravelle. The New Yorker retained the headlights under turn signal configuration and had a narrow grille that stretched over the lip of the hood with vertical grille elements. The Chryslers also now had nearly vertical rear windows while the Dodge and Plymouth rear windows were somewhat angled. Some later year high trim level Diplomats adopted the Chrysler front end design, but were quickly identifiable by the slanted rear window and “gun-sight” cross hair grille design that Dodge was just beginning to implement. In 1983, the name New Yorker was replaced by Fifth Avenue, the New Yorker also going on to front wheel drive.

In Colombia, you could buy an M body Dodge Coronet from 1978-1979. In Mexico, an M body Dodge Dart was sold from 1980-1981.

Dodge Diplomat and other M-body 1980 changes

Key technologies in 1980 included galvanized steel provided anti-corrosion protection. Body-side sills, front fenders, door outer panels and quarter panels were made of sheet metal galvanized on one side. This galvanized steel had a high resistance to corrosion. Galvanized steel liftgate inner and outer panels were used in the Town & Country wagon.

A more advanced bit of tech was the diagnostic connector, in the engine compartment on the left wheelhouse, with a plug-in for quick diagnosis of engine electrical functions. When it was connected to the analyzer, it took less than five minutes to perform fifty different test procedures.

Chrysler LeBaron was available in eight models for 1980: three 4-door models, three 2-door models and two station wagons. The 2-door models (also available for Dodge Diplomats) had a shorter, more compact 108.7" wheel base and a sporty appearance; but they would only last until 1981. There was also a new medium-price non-woodgrain wagon.

Changes from 1979 to 1980 included:

Basic M-body chronology

1977
Launched
1980-81 Major restyling; hard-edged body style with slightly steeper rear windows. Chrysler headlights went from above to below turn signals and dual tail light lenses. Chrysler grilles: vertical element with wrap over front edge of hood.
1982 Slightly steeper rear windows on Dodge and Plymouth, nearly vertical rear windows on Chrysler. Single tail light lenses on all models.
1985 Lower trim Dodge and all Plymouth headlights above turn signals, all Chrysler and higher trim Dodge headlights below turn signals. Lower trim Dodge grilles dark gray, Plymouth grilles silver. Higher trim Dodge and all Chrysler grilles vertical element with wrap over front edge of hood, with “gunsight” overlay for Dodge. In 1986, Ultimate Sound radio with cassette and five-band equalizer optional. Third brake light added.

Trim lines

Gran Fury was available as a sedan through its run, called simply Gran Fury in 1982 and 1988, and Gran Fury Salon in other years from 1983-1989. From 1986, Gran Fury only had a Salon four-door, with standard 400 amp battery and 60 amp alternator, with power brakes, power steering, automatic, V8, bumper guards, dual horns, and bright moldings on the windshield, roof (drip), belts, rear-door glass division bar, rear window, sill, and wheel openings.

Impressions and notes

Mike Taylor wrote about the Chrysler Fifth Avenue:

From what I’ve learned about them 1988 and 1989 are completely galvanized underneath and what isn’t galvanized is stainless. Guess this may or may not mean something to you depending on what your winters are like (we live in Ontario).

The weak spot of the drivetrain is the rear end, but driven like an average car they’ll hold up. With the Lean Burn running properly the 318 gives nice performance for a car of this size and also good gas mileage (with an engine that had under 100 compression in most cylinders my dead one could still chirp the tires). When problems occur a non-feedback BBD and vacuum distributor can easily be changed in to eliminate the system altogether.

Diplomat - front

Both of mine have now had the gas lines rust out behind the front wheel, but it’s a repair that’s easy to do. For longer drives the plushy seats maintain their comfort and the automatic temperature control works well. The only flaw with the interiors is the fabric trim around the door frame, window pillars, etc... tend to wear through and peel with age. The problems I’ve had with them are typical ones- muffler and tail pipe once, brakes, ball joint, brake hoses.

1987 fifth avenue

Problems with the power features are simple to repair. Just about everything about the M-bodies goes back to the older 1960s+70s style mopars. Even little things like the window motors and door handles have the older look and the styling has minor cues as well, such as the rounded up edges of the front fenders which is a scaled down look of the 1970s New Yorkers and Imperials. Parts can be found all over at prices anyone can afford.

The interiors in 1988/89s are toned down a bit - not as plush carpet, no chrome dash faces. There’s a lip right behind the front wheel where the floor pan meets the firewall, check for rust there. The lip tends to trap winter dirt and salt and such and can rust a hole which then easily lets water in as the wheel spins. The flaw in those gas lines is they ran them in part of the frame, then over it where dirt collects. When they first go you’ll smell gas a bit, then one day you’ll wake up to a leak under the car. The metal line under the car goes to rubber under the passenger feet and then to metal again, the garage fixed the 1988 by running hose from that spot up the firewall, across the fender and down to the gas pump. The manifold is right there and if run in the frame the control can rub it and under the hood that manifold gets it.

Other Specifications

1980-81
LeBaron
2-door
1980
Diplomat
Sedan
1980
LeBaron sedan
1986
Gran Fury
1980
Chrysler
Wagons

Wheelbase

108.7"

112.7"

112.7"

112.7

112.7"

Overall length

201.2"

206.1”

205.2"

204.6

205.5"

Overall width

74.2"

72.8”*

74.2"

72.4

74.2"

Overall height

53.4

55.3

55.1

55.5

Track—Front / Rear

60.0"/59.5"

60.0"/ 59.5"

60.0"/ 59.5"

60.0"/59.5"

Turning diameter (curb-to-curb)

39.5’

40.7’

40.7’

40.7’

Headroom—Front /Rear

37.6" / 36.7"

39.2 / 37.5

39.3" 37.7"

39.3 / 37.7

39.2" / 38.7"

Legroom—Front /Rear

42.3"/ 33.4"

42.5/36.6

42.4" / 37.4"

42.5 / 36.6

42.4" / 37.4"

Hip room—Front /Rear

55.6" /51.2"

56.8/56.6

56.8" / 56.6"

56.8" / 56.6"

Shoulder-room—Front /Rear

55.9" / 57.1"

55.2 / 55.2

56.0" / 56.0"

56.0" / 56.0"

Cargo capacity— [cu. ft]

14.8

17.0

15.6

15.6

71.8

Weight 3,309 - 3,375 3,600 lb 3,395 - 3,493 3,545 - 3,617

* Two door specs: Length- 204.0 in; Width- 73.5 in.; headroom, 37.4/36.2; shoulder room, 55.2/56.0; rear leg room, 34.1; rear hip room, 55.6 / 52.8. Note, 18 gallon tank used on both two and foor doors.

Wagons:

DeSoto Diplomats

The name “Diplomat” was taken from export DeSotos, often based on Plymouths or Dodges. Plymouth started converting its cars to DeSoto Diplomats in 1946; Dodge versions were called the Kingsway. This continued until 1960, when the DeSoto Diplomat switched over to the Dodge Dart body. There had been Diplomat trim levels of Dodges in the 1950s as well.

1953 DeSoto Diplomat

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