Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen Stories
Duane D. Hughes
I have had two Aspen/Volare cars in my family. One was a '76 Aspen wagon with a 318 automatic, purchased new. Excellent car mechanically; had very little trouble with it in 155,000 miles. Pretty weak acceleration for a V-8, but weren't most others built in that time period? It once started at -23 degrees, which very few other cars could do. Awful paint, terrible rust problems. Horrible assembly quality. I still see Volare and Aspen wagons on the road, and in my humble opinion, the style still looks good.
The other was a '78 Volare Super Coupe my son bought used. Interesting car--E58 police motor (360 4 bbl, double roller timing chain, windage tray), 8 inch rims, heavy duty suspension. Fairly fast in stock form, but the 2.71 rear end limited acceleration and Junior wanted more, so he cammed up the motor with a 292 degree .475 lift cam, put on headers, 340 big valve heads, 750 CFM Holley, 4.10 gears. Ran like a maniac, but ate too much gas for a college kid, so it got sold. The 4.10 rear end made it pretty useless as a highway cruiser. Just too much noise, too many RPM's. If he had listened to me, he'd have stopped with a set of headers and 3.55 gears on the stock engine. Oh well.
Volare Road Runner (J.S. Riesse)
I have a 1976 Plymouth Volare with the Road Runner package. It was bought new by a friend of my dad's. He gave it to me when I graduated high school. It has the unkillable 318 and many of the common problems listed on this site. Painted factory Hemi orange with the rear spoiler, RR graphics, and the Beep Beep horn. I still have the window sticker from the dealer. Everything is original but the starter. I have made a reputation of its ability to suck the competition's doors off and burn through a set of rubber in a weekend. I understand they are fairly scarce in existence. Thought you might like to know there is still one around. I work in a scrap processing facility and have seen and crushed many of the cars you have talked about in these sites; I am sad to see them die but cannot save them all. I have an interesting cure to exhaust problems though; I found some 304 stainless pipe about 2 inch in diameter and made inexpensive an leg pipe for the side. The Road Runner still gets me to work every day. I love reading about old Mopar so keep up the excellent work.
I purchased a brand new 1979 Dodge Aspen LE /SE at one of the Chrysler tents sales (traded in a 1970 Cuda gran coupe) the car I purchased was a slant six car with lean burn and a lock up torque converter. My car was able to get a respectable 28 MPG on the highway. I kept the Aspen for 4 years and sold it for $3,000. The car I bought was an Aspen and it was an SE (Special Edition) 2 dr and it was also an LE (limited edition). The exterior had the SE badges on it and the interior had the LE badges on it. [Webmaster note: Ed Hennessy wrote that the interior and exterior trim was unbundled in 1979, so this was quite possible and a matter of buyer choice).
The car was brand new when I recieved it with only 4.5 miles on it. Options were delay wipers, 60/40 vinyl seats, tilt back seats on both sides, tinted windows, am/fm 4 speaker stereo, tilt wheel, chronometer (clock) AC, pedal dress up, trunk dress up, pinstriping, and deluxe wheel covers. I have always wondered about this car as I hd never seen one with both badgings on it before or since. The car was extremely reliable, and very solid. I enjoyed the car every day I drove it.
Dodge Aspen R/T (George T. Tortora)
Consumer Reports called these models the "most recalled car in history." (maintainer's note: the Ford Fairmont later made the Aspen/Volare look not very much recalled at all!) The recalls, except for the upper pivot bar on the front end, were mostly nonsense.
I bought a new Aspen R/T with the 318 and 4 spd overdrive in 1976. I still have it.
It has endured 19 years of hard driving and now has 173,605 miles [this was written around 1996]. I have done 99% of the maintenance and repair work on the car myself. The engine is original and required no repairs to the basic engine itself. I have replaced 2 waterpumps, the first one a 94,000 and the second at 140,000, and one fuel pump at 115,000. It has the original alternator, carburetor, and stater motor. I did replace the brushes in the starter motor for $2.15. The ballast resistor was replaced once. The car was epa rated for 22 mpg at 55mph when I bought it.
I still get 21 mpg at 65 mph on the highway. It tachs about 2200 rpm at this speed with the 3.23 rear.
All in all it has been the most durable and easy to repair car I have ever owned. I bought it because my beloved 68 Roadrunner was stolen, but of course performance between these cars can't even be mentioned in the same sentence (335 hp vs. 145 hp.) The R/T handles well (getting the 1976 Motor Trend Car of the Year award) and can easily keep up with modern V-6s even with 173,000 miles.
Unlike many of the car people I know, I wasn't really interested in cars at a young age. I was an airplane nut, and fully intended to join the Air Force until I had to start wearing glasses. I gave up all interest in things mechanical until I was 19, when I bought a '68 Valiant from a friend for $50. As you can imagine, there were a couple of things wrong with it, and I started my foray into the wonderful world of automotive technology by replacing a broken fuel line. The full story of the adventures of my first Mopar, however, is another story.
A couple of years and several cars later, I was shopping for a used car, and a '77 Volare station wagon immediately caught my eye. It was a Premiere, and had originally been medium blue, but was faded to a mostly uniform steely grey. About half an hour later, I was the proud owner of a 225 slant 6 w/ a 2-barrel carburetor and a factory tow kit. I eventually put overload springs in the rear, a 4" lift, took off the fake wood paneling, ripped out the air conditioning, replaced the heater core, rebuilt the carburetor, and replaced the transmission.
I took the car with me when I started school at the Arizona Automotive Institute. I learned quickly that all the fine-tuning I had done to the carburetor (resulting in 30 mpg on the highway) was worthless after descending 6000 ft. When I had been in school only a month, I threw a rod (To date, I've thrown rods in 4 different engines!). I rebuilt the engine and enjoyed the additional month that I drove the car before I threw another rod. The warranty on the rod didn't cover the ruined crankshaft and block, and I was too broke to replace the engine again. It was with much sadness that I finally gave up on my first favorite car.
Several years later, in fact just last year, I bought an '80 Aspen that had been a fleet car for the University of New Mexico. It's a white sedan with a 318 2-barrel. The reverse gear was out, so I replaced the transmission with one I found in a junkyard that turned out to be a 4 speed. This combination allows me to easily hit speeds of over 100 mph, but the first gear and the differential are geared so high that drag-racing is just pointless. With the Volare, I was routinely able to beat every other car off the line, which made quite a few boy racers very angry.
In addition to the two that I've owned, I've done a prodigious amount of work on a very special F-body. This '78 Aspen 2-door was originally acquired by a good friend, who sold it to a young man who immediately wrecked it and then refused to pay for it. Another friend of ours bought it for $50, and enlisted me to make it work again. It's got the front end from an '80 Volare, the engine and transmission from a '65 dart, 15" alloy wheels from a Cordoba, the original 2-barrel intake and carburetor from the Aspen, and has been painted Plum Crazy with black top and hood. It is affectionately known as the Volpen.
Although they get a bad rap from the general public, everyone I've encountered who has owned or spent a lot of time in an F-body has agreed that these '70s misfit Mopars are true gems. I personally intend to drive Aspens and Volares for as long as I can find them for sale. I've started quite the collection of Mopars, and my next acquisition will be another '77 Volare Premiere station wagon, this time in olive green.
Steve Sevits' great-handling Aspen wagon
In June of 1978 I bought an Aspen Wagon (2 bbl/6) with factory original bucket seats and 3 spd with overdrive (4 on the floor). From the beginning the car exhibited excessive front end shimmy however Chrysler worked with me and we got it straightened out to the point where it was the best handling car I'd ever driven. It will take an Interstate exit ramp at 60 without any sign of breaking loose.
After driving it for 16 years and 167,000 miles it was decided to do a frame up restoration. If it hadn't been such a great car to drive, it would have gone to the scrap heap long ago. Each of the past three years it has gone to the New England Chrysler Dealers Car Show, where it takes a trophy every time, winning a first this year on May 20th 2001.
I am having difficulty determining just how many Volare and Aspen wagons were built in 1978 with buckets and "4 on the floor," and if anyone can throw some light on actual production figures, I'd be most appreciative. I just have to believe that this car was a rare combination to begin with. Most people who see it at shows don't believe its originality until they see the window sticker.
Fixing the front end was not easy. Chrysler and I went around and around until they gave up in frustration and gave me the accessory book and told me to spec out any equipment I wanted which they would install at dealer cost. Apparently they had the word from "on high" to shut me up and make me go away. What they didn't know was that I had been in the auto business for years (another manufacturer - although I owned only Mopars since 1964). I knew how to spec out a vehicle, I had been to school for vehicle design from the dealer level. I listed every single piece of handling equipment which would go on that car.
With the exception of a different feel of the road, the 1978 Aspen handles at least as well as my son's 1986 Camaro, if not a bit better. On a winding road I think I could outrun anything but a Porsche with the Aspen wagon which is a real sleeper.
When we did the frame up restoration, the guys who did the mechanicals and the body man all said they had never seen a suspension with the equipment I had on that car. For 19 months I was in serious doubt the car would drive as well as before, but it did. So apparently the components we had installed are nothing particularly exotic, but they really lock down the suspension. I put Michelin radials on the car right from the day I bought it and with the suspension components on that car we got 80,000 miles out of each set of tires. Of course we did a front end alignment every five or six years whether it needed it or not.
The car is now 23 years old, has 169,000 miles and is at the beginning of its third set of tires. Who says Chrysler wasn't making good cars in the 70s?
[writer name lost, please contact us]
My parents bought this 1980 Volare station wagon brand new back in June of '80. It has just celebrated its 20th anniversary in this family last month. I still drive this car on a daily basis to and from work. With over 170,000 on the clock, the 90 hp six does a superb job in getting me around, even at the 5200 foot elevation where I live. The car is 'cashmere' in color. I even still have the window sticker from when the car was new. Sold in Roseburg, Oregon. The following are the options as stated on the stocker:
- Deluxe Insulation Package......................$51
- Color Keyed Seatbelts...........................23
- Torqueflite Transmission.......................340
- Tinted Glass....................................70
- Left Remote Control Mirror......................18
- Maximum Cooling.................................58
- Power Steering.................................166
- Deluxe Wheel Covers.............................44
- P195/75R14 WSW Glass Belted Radials.............49
- AM radio and power brakes...................... N/C
I intend to drive this as my work car for a very long time yet. It has even proven to be a good 'campmobile' in that I can sleep in the back of the car, with the 2nd seat down, just fine. These cars are almost bullet proof. Will practically run forever.
I have a 79 Volare station wagon with a 225 Super Six, 727 automatic. It's not nearly as fancy as yours, but I can pull a 9500 lb truck (2 ton cap) with this 3 day heat scorched engine. The 2 barrel carb will allow me to keep up with the interstate traffic, but this old, abused engine will last longer if I keep my top end under 70 mph. The cooling leaks on both sides, dumping rain water in my left shoe while driving. This manufacturing defect was designed to eat through the floor (from rotting carpet), and then eat the subframe out. But like the rest of you folks, I'm driving this one untill, I have a major reason no to, and I'm saving this 727 a/t I rebuilt 15 years ago, for my next old Mopar.
First of all, great web site. It really got me reminiscing about my own Dodge Aspen. It was a graduation present from my parents back in 1992.
I was looking for my first car and stumbled across a copper 78 near the turkey farm I worked at. It was in rather rough condition and did not start with the key because an animal ate the wiring harness to the neutral safety switch. I didn't care. The owner wanted 100 bucks but after seeing that it did not work let it go for 50. My Dad and I got it started and by July or August of 1992 it was roadworthy once again. The Car stayed home for my first semester of college but went out with me for the winter of '93.
In the summer of 1993, I had the car painted silver cloud metallic, a '77 front installed ( I always thought the '76 and '77's had a cleaner look than the later Aspens) and the Interior painted red.
After that the next five years saw the car perform multiple and diversified tasks. Anything from loading fraternity brothers in the back for adopt a highway cleanup, going skiing, to performing lot maintenance and security patrol ( I was a cadet and later a parking attendant for the University of Dayton). The car always performed well and by the time I graduated and took a part-time job at AutoZone to supplement the University salary it was time to enhance the performance.
In the end the lean burn (It was a 318 car) was trashed in favor of a MP Electronic Ignition Kit, AC Rapidfire plugs, Edelbrock Carb and 360 Intake, and dual exhaust. I swear the car was approaching legendary status around the University. It had no problem smoking the new Camaros and anyone else willing to try.
However, it didn't last forever. All of the frequent trips back to the east coast for interviews and police tests along with a transmission that could nor handle the horsepower, the car ate its second transmission the day after I moved back to Pennsylvania. I already spent three days of my life on my back in a puddle of tranny fluid when I yanked the first one and swore I would never do it again. Add to that I was just starting a new job and moving to Delaware in a week, I needed new wheels. The Aspen was stripped and taken to the scrapyard and I'm now tooling around in a Camaro wishing I still had the Aspen.
Probably the best used car I ever had was my '78 SE Coupe. With a tan interior, a half-vinyl top, and those 'opera windows', how could anyone not love the car? Power came from the durable and proven 318 2BBL, hooked to the 3 speed column shifted auto. Exterior color was somewhere between a light brown and tan, and although the car didn't come with the (hard to find) 14 inch wire wheel covers, I was able to 'obtain' a complete set one evening...
Reliability wise, the car was a gem, although it didn't start out that way. About 3 hours after I got it home from the lot, I was putting a thermostat in it. A week later, it was a new water pump. Except for replacing the seals in the transmission when I decided to come down from the Colorado Rockies in neutral(!), I didn't put another repair into this car for the next 7 years. Then the rear end went out. A quick trip to the junkyard and a sunny Texas afternoon got that fixed up. Drove it for another 2 years past there. Of course, by now it was falling victim to neglect since I was now married and had no time to meticulously maintain it as I had in the past. Sold it to some kid in Mississippi who wanted to build a race car. Got over half what I had originally paid for it. All in all, a good value.
One of the more interesting (to me) features of this car was the HUGE rear shelf area which was plenty big to hold the four 10 inch woofers I mounted in there. Remember, the time was the late 70s and car audio was just beginning to come into its own. So a six- speaker 200 watt biamped system (amplifier hand made by a guy in Tempe, Arizona. Maybe you have heard of him. His name was Jim Fosgate!), was pretty heady stuff for the time. I imagine the hearing loss I am experiencing today is a result of too many hours spent jamming.... but it sure was fun!
Every now and then I will see an F- body on the road. When I do it's like a quick trip back in time for me. I've had many cars since then, but none have really captured my heart the way my elegantly understated Volare did. It was quick enough to give an adrenaline rush to a young man, but plain looking enough to be ignored by the police, who were too busy going after the big block Trans Ams and Camaros of the day.
I noticed that your car has the T-Top option, something I always longed for. In later years I did add a dual- panel popup sunroof, but the installation was poorly executed and it always leaked. Still, on nice days I could take those glass panels off and get a little taste of sun.
To this day I remain a Mopar Man. I have an 89 New Yorker with 70,000 original miles in the garage, and my daily driver is an 88 Reliant wagon, which has a charm all it's own. Other interesting Mopars I have had include a beat- to- hell 69 Roadrunner, a '69 Short Wheelbase Cargo Van (loved that gassy six between the seats!), a '73 New Yorker (5,000 pounds of steel and 8 MPG!), and a '95 Cirrus (bought on Jan 2, 1995!) which is currently in my ex wife's garage with 97,000 miles on it and still runs and looks as good as the day we brought it home.
I thought that these cars would be so old and ugly that nobody would care if they were still on the road. It is nice to see I was wrong.
My Aspen is in prestine condition on the inside with very little rot on the body. Since I've had it it has been all the way out to BC and back. I am suprised at how well it performs given its age.
The Volare (known in this household as Velocity) is as its name says very fast. The interior is pretty much gone but the body like the Aspen is in very good shape. This car is the one I use most of the time and it makes a great camping car. We have a Porche 944 as well but I love driving the Velocity.
In closing let me say that I am amazed at how well these cars have held up and we are looking forward to fixing them both up to keep for another 10 years if possible.
If you can tell me of any clubs around the Hamilton, Ontario area for my amazing cars I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks again for the info this site has I'm sure I will use it a lot in the years to come.
Just a note to let you know that I appreciated your web page on the Volare /Aspens. I have a special interest in these cars as I have owned several, and still have a 78 Aspen coupe. I enjoyed the info on your page.
I would also like to read about various owners experiences with these cars, but have not had much luck finding such tales. I have many, which I will save if you would be interested at a later date. The F-bodies that I have owned have been the most reliable of any cars I have had (including the absolutely awful 93 Taurus I now drive daily). The F-bodies that I have had are:
- -'76 dark brown Volare Premier station wagon with slant six and three speed overdrive. This was the best car I ever owned.
- -'77 medium green Volare plain jane station wagon with slant six and auto. Also a great car.
- -'77 medium blue Volare plain jane station wagon that I never drove. Bought it for parts off the street in Philadelphia.
- -'78 medium blue Volare station wagon that I bought from Questar Corporation to repair and resell.
- -'78 white Aspen SE coupe with T-tops, tan half roof, and tan interior with buckets, console, slant six, automatic and rally wheels. I still have this car.
- -'79 dark brown Volare Premier station wagon with fake wood sides and too much chrome. I thought it might be able to replace my '76, but while it was a good car, it was too glitzy. It had a super six and automatic and was as fast as a 318.
I was just responding to the message board about a grille for a '76 Aspen, and realized that I had forgotten all about another F-body that I briefly had. It was a citrus green '76 Aspen SE wagon with parchment interior and fake wood sides. My father bought this car used from a Chrysler dealer in about 1979 after my mother cracked up her green '70 Chrysler Newport (interestingly, totaled by an identical '70 Chrysler Newport in beige). This '76 wagon had an anemic slant six with a single barrel carb., air conditioning, AM/FM and power drivers seat. It was a good car for them, but I never liked it much at all because it was as slow as molasses in January, and I thought the color was hideous. With the air conditioning on, it could barely get out of the driveway.
It was reliable though, and my father took extremely good care of it and it stayed in the family for years until 1990. At one point, he tried unsuccessfully to convert it to a two barrel "super six" buy using the manifold and carb set up off my '77 parts wagon. However, the parts wagon was a three speed, and for some reason, it didn't convert easily, so finally he gave up and put the one barrel back on. My father passed away in 1990 and the car had not been driven much for awhile. I decided that I would keep the Aspen wagon and sell my '79 Volare wagon which was getting high miles on it. The '76 needed new brakes and calipers which I put on in the evenings after work and I generally detailed the entire car.
After a few days, I had it freshly inspected and took it to work in Philadelphia. On my way home, I stopped in a line of traffic due to an accident up ahead, and suddenly, glass came flying through the car from the rear. I had been rear-ended by a drunk in a behemoth '76 Mercury Cougar. My gas tank was ruptured, but fortunately, it didn't catch fire. My dad's Aspen was demolished after I had driven it for only one day and only about 70 miles. It had been hit so hard that the roof bent up and the right rear wheel was blown and jammed into the body. The right rear door wouldn't open and the rear seat was twisted out of shape. Fortunately, no-one was hurt seriously and the drunk was arrested (it was the idiots second drunk driving accident, and he didn't have a license).
The insurance totaled it and let me keep the car. I had it flat-bedded home, and proceeded to strip every useable part off of it. I took much of the remaining interior, power seat mechanism, transmission and a lot of the trim (hence the grille that I am willing to trade). The new calipers came back off as well as the brakes and three tires and wheels. It was sad when the flatbed came back to haul the remains away. It went to a junk yard where they immediately pulled out the engine and crushed the rest. It only had about 75,000 mile on it.
The trans. wound up transplanted into my T-top, I have the extra dashtop in case I need it, and other parts are just sitting waiting to be used if I need them. And that is the story of the Aspen that I wasn't meant to have, (I wouldn't have been happy with it anyway. It was too slow!)
Hi there. First, I want you to know that I found your page very informative and entertaining. I have some tidbits that you may be interested in. I have tried to find out from others what the deal with my car is to no avail, so it remains a mystery. don't worry, I'm not asking you to help me figure out how rare my car was or anything like that. I just thought you might find it interesting.
My first car was a '77 Volare. I bought it for $500 in 1986. my family has been mopar oriented since the beginning of time, so it seemed like a natural choice. the first interesting thing about it was that it was indeed a '77 super coupe. all the places I've searched have told me that Plymouth didn't build super coupes or kit cars until '78. it was painted (factory original) like an Aspen super coupe. I found that it was ordered as a stripped down kit car (minus the spoiler and fender flares). it had a police package drivetrain...360, a "ram air" package (which consisted of a fresh air tube running from the driver's side fender to the carb), 8 1/4 rear (posi!), 727 tranny, "heavy duty" suspension package with front and rear sway bars, 14" rallyes, and the large diameter brakes. I was told that it had 3:90 gears, although I'm not sure if that's right. I took it for a spin around a local race track and radar showed that it had a top speed of close to 140mph!
This car was factory original (I was the third owner), with the exception of a replaced front fender and hood. it has puzzled me for years and I cannot find another one like it. it served me faithfully until 1996 (240,000 miles!!) when a head on collision with a Toyota totaled it. I plan to get pictures scanned as soon as I can and would be happy to send you a few if you'd like...it really is a Plymouth anomaly!
Alan Vondriska wrote:
Terrific site! The Aspen/Volare sure has gotten alot of bad press over the years, much of it undeserved. I grew up in the Cleveland, Ohio area, and in 1983 I noticed a rough-looking '76 Volare sitting in the yard of a house across the street from a friend. The car hadn't moved in a year, my friend knew, but I was looking, and had some extra cash. Yes, the owner would sell it, for $200, but I only wanted it if it had a V8. Well, it did, and the next day I drove it home, after I talked her down to $100! It ran horribly, but the problem was simply a pair of switched plug wires...let's see...120,000 miles, a 318 with no leaks, ice-cold A/C, no exhaust(the convertor and back had fallen off). Some flex pipe, a glasspack, a slight 'enlarging' of the fuel filler-so the leaded pump fit, fitting used G60-15 tires onto forest green wheels from my '71 Fury (the Volare was light blue), 4 home made police hubcaps and my new beast was COOOL!
Then another friend (and Aspen owner) stopped by, offered me $50 to trade my white interior for his cream-colored! OK!......The car served me well for a couple of years before it was struck from behind, while parked, by a hit-and-run driver, and destroyed. What a car...
Just read through your site. Loved it. I'm currently restoring my 1979 Volare Premiere, 2 door, H body, 318. I've owned this machine for 15 years, put 260,000 miles on it and when I rebuilt it, it only had 8 thousands wear on the cylinders, not bad, I thought.
When I was debating whether "to restore or not to restore" I remember my brother saying no matter what you do, you'll still have "just a Volare". I reminded him that during the time I owned it, the only parts, (besides regular maintenance) that I had to replace was the fuel pump and the windshield wiper switch. I asked him what he's had to replace on his Chevys. He didn't have much to say after that. Hee hee!
Well you know how we Mopar fans are, we could go on forever... I just wanted to let you know that I found your site interesting and well put together, thank you for taking the time.
Ron Jansen wrote: I read your page and thought I would drop you line and let you know that Aspens are alive and well in Ontario. I live in a city of just over 15,000, and there are at least 3 other Aspens that I know of besides mine. I saved the life of mine about 5 years ago as it was headed for the crusher. Sinse then I have completly restored it. It is a 1978, high gloss black with flames coming out the hood and down the fenders. I just built a 360, with 340 heads and all the other goodies in the engine. It has a 727 tranny and a 4:11 posi rear end. They can be truly nice machines if they are cared for properly.
John J. Bledsoe wrote: Hey, great page on a car that is like the Rodney Dangerfield of Mopars - no respect. I have a neighbor that has the sweetest '79 Aspen I have ever seen: It has the original dark blue paint, is an original R/T with the louvered rear quarter windows, and it has factory T-tops. I also believe it has the 360. Anyway, a nice change to see such a car, since most Aspens you see anymore are rusted-out hulks that are on their last legs.
- The main Aspen/Volare page
- 1976 Aspen and Volare in depth
- Racing Aspens and Volares
- The A-Bodies (Valiant and Friends)
- The Aspen/Volare forum