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The 1978-79 Dodge Magnum

The Dodge Magnum never sold well, and lasted only two years before being renamed to Mirada. It was not a muscle car, or even a common family car, but it has dedicated followers.

Magnum GT

The Dodge Magnum's place in history

The car had a design that lent itself to those who grew up in the muscle car era of Dodge, but who were now family people. After spending my teens and early 20s in R/Ts and Super Bees, I now had to worry about a wife and two children and long trips for vacations. Yet, burning inside of me was the need for something that didn't look like my dad's car.

The Magnum had a muscle car look with comfort and room for a family. It sported hideaway headlights, and a sloping nose. Performance wise, the car had a front and rear sway bar, torsion bar suspension, and rear leaf springs. Contrary to popular belief, the torsion bar/leaf spring gave the car an edge over coil-spring cars like the Mustang/Camaro. The car also came equipped (the XE which I have owned since 1983) with factory fender flares on all four wheels, and 15" Goodyear GT Eagle tires, and aluminum wheels. The 3 speed Torqueflite transmission had a floor mounted console shifter, and a lockup torque converter.

dashboardInside, a factory tach was installed along with a full instrumentation. This all added to the flavor of the "muscle car" look. However, you now add A/C, electric antenna, leather interior, prism dashboard, cruise control, and other luxury item, you now have a car that is comfortable to ride in, yet still impressive to the "muscle car" nerve we still carried.

The styling of the Magnum was sharper then the 1978 Dodge Charger, and it was the replacement car for Dodge's defunct NASCAR racing effort. The Magnum was the last Chrysler Corporation-Dodge car to win a super speedway race (Kyle Petty, ARCA); it was the car Buddy Arrington, the last of the NASCAR Winston Cup Dodge drivers, raced to achieve his best year as an independent. This added to the "muscle car" image. The car was also accorded an honor when Tyco Toy Company released its 25-year anniversary electric "Magnum" HO race set, which featured a silver plated Magnum.

The Magnum could not, however, bring new racing people to the Dodge garage. Dodge's lack involvement with racing at the time did not allow the Magnum to live the "Win on Sunday, Buy on Monday" syndrome. Its size and lack of 4-speed transmission was not going to invite comparisons to the Mustang, Camaro, or Firebird. Dodge had nothing in its arsenal to do that, and for decades later, still hadn’t.

To those of us who owned them, and in my case, still do, the Magnum was the last Dodge throwback to the Dodges we grew up with. That, in a single sentence, is why the Magnum is still popular today.

History of the Dodge Magnum

This history is based mainly on the Standard Catalog of Chrysler.

In 1978, Chrysler introduced the Dodge Magnum XE, a hardtop coupe with squareish styling. It was most likely intended to replace the 1978 Charger SE, a vehicle which, though nice enough, did not have the temperament of the 340-, 440-, and Hemi-powered predecessors. The 1978 Charger was a Dodge version of the Chrysler Cordoba, and its front clip (grille, headlights, and bumpers) was nearly identical to the early Cordobas. The Magnum's appearance was, save mainly for its rectangular-themed front clip, identical to the Charger SE.

1978 Dodge Magnum

In 1977, when the Magnum was put into production, Chrysler produced three basic carlines in the United States. The Volare and Aspen were essentially third-generation Valiants, the Cordoba, Monaco, Fury, and Charger SE were considered to be mid-sized, and the Gran Fury, Newport, New Yorker, Town & Country, and Royal Monaco were the last remaining dynosaurs. With a 115 inch wheelbase, the Magnum and its kin fit right between the 107 inch Volare/Aspen and the 121-124 inch full-size line.

The Magnum was a good-looking car, with four rectangular headlights behind retracting, clear covers. Narrow opera windows helped rear visibility. Vinyl-covered, T-bar, and power sunroof options were available, in addition to the (probably best looking) plain roof. Standard features included power steering and brakes, and low-profile vinyl bucket seats (with a cloth and leather/vinyl seat options). Two two-tone paint schemes were available — nightwatch blue with metallic gray, and black with metallic gray.

Magnum GT interior

The suspension incorporated longitudinal front torsion bars with lower trailing links and an anti-sway bar, coupled with semi-elliptical rear springs and a rear anti-sway bar. This provided the large, heavy car with surprisingly good handling.

The base engine was the 318 V-8 with Lean Burn system coupled with a TorqueFlite automatic, which did not exactly make the 3,895 lb car a hot performer. However, like the nearly-identical Charger SE, it could also be ordered with a four-barrel 360 or 400 cid V-8, which provided good pickup; Mopar Action suggested even the 440 was available. Most models seem to have come with the 360/2-barrel lean burn engine, which, in 1979, became the largest engine available.

318 V8

A GT option included exterior and interior styling cues (medallions, interior appliqués, wheel-lip flares, painted wheels with chromed trim, leather-covered steering wheel) coupled with better tires, wider (15 x 7) wheels, firm-feel suspension, and heavy duty suspension components. All Magnums came with an AM radio, whitewalls, remote-control driver’s mirror, air conditioning, tinted glass, undercoating and hood pad (except with 318), and vinyl roof. A tow package included a high capacity radiator, heavy duty suspension, wider wheels, auxiliary transmission fluid cooler, 3.2:1 axle ratio, 65-amp alternator, 500-amp battery, special flashers, 7-wire harness, and power steering fluid cooler. A roadability package provided the rear sway bar and 15x7 wheels. AM, FM stereo and mono, 8-track, and CB radios were available, as were T-tops, power sunroofs, and vinyl roofs. Wheel choices included steel wtih covers, aluminum with trim rings, and forged aluminum.

1979 dodge magnum xe1979 brought exterior changes, including new tail-lamps, and the loss of the Charger on which the Magnum was based. The TorqueFlite now had a standard lock-up torque converter, except on the heavy-duty 360 or the 3.2:1 axle.

The Magnum's brief life ended in 1979, when it was replaced by the Mirada, which was 400 pounds lighter, six inches shorter, and powered by a base slant six, 318, or an optional 185 hp 360.

It is hard to figure out why Chrysler created and then dropped the Magnum so quickly. Perhaps someone simply did not want to see the Charger name linger on any longer, but then, Chrysler's decision to end the Magnum so quickly, and to replace it with yet another nearly-identical but differently-named car, is bewildering - at least unless you consider Mike Sealey's explanation:

As for why the name change from Magnum to Mirada, as much as I love the '78-79 Magnums, the Magnum name suggested a level of performance that the car was not able to back up at the lights. It is also possible that Chrysler wanted to use the Mirada name on something. The original planned names for what became the Horizon TC3 and Omni 024 were Plymouth Mirada (!) and Dodge Solo, according to a contemporary account.

Given the continued interest in the Magnum, perhaps its creation was perfectly justified...

Interchangeability with the Dodge Charger (by Tannon Weber)

Width x Height77.1 x 53.1
Headroom37.7 / 36.6
Legroom42.4 / 32.4
Shoulder room59.2 / 61.0
Trunk16.3 cu. ft.
Axle ratios2.7, 2.4, 3.2
Battery325 - 430 amp
Alternator amps60 (65 towing)
Fuel tank21 gallons
TiresFR78 or GR78
Wheels15 inch

The suspension, drive train, and the bulk of the front part of the exhaust systems are compatible with the 1973 and later Dodge Charger, if they are not outright interchangeable. My father has a beautiful 1973 Charger SE with a 1979 Chrysler 300 center console that was installed for the armrest for comfort on long trips, and everything on the transmission tunnel just fit stock to the later year console.

I've met other people who have made use of later model or earlier model parts on a different body; one guy swapped the front subframe out of a Cordoba into his Charger when it needed replacing, another guy put an 8.75" rear off of a Satellite into his Magnum.

I've put headers and polyurethane suspension bushings into my Cordoba; the headers were specifically listed for '71 through '74 Charger/Satellite on the info that came with them, and the bushings were the same kit that my father used on his '73 Charger in front, the rear difference only being the front oval spring eye on the Cordoba. That Charger enjoys torsion bars, front sway bar, and 12" front rotors and caliper mounts off of a 1981 Dodge St. Regis police interceptor. The St. Regis and other R bodies used the same suspension setup as the 1973 and newer B bodies; factory police suspension components, which are sometimes in wrecking yards, bolt right in.

The only kit-style performance upgrade that I can't use from the pre-1975 Charger is the full dual exhaust system out to the back, as the fuel tank was positioned over against the driver's side frame rail instead of centered. I'd have to either modify the trunk floor to move the tank over, or go with a smaller gas tank if I wanted to go with a pre-existing full exhaust system.

Dodge Magnum Car Memories

David Butler

As one of the few people who owned a Dodge Magnum, I can tell you that it was a GREAT car! The 318 was rather tame off the line, but it would do a certified 85 MPH on the interstates all day long without breathing hard.

Mine was a 1979, an ugly green. All over, and inside, too. Green seats, green dash, green carpets, green steering wheel........I wanted to buy the red one, but my wife thought the white interior wouldn't do with 3 kids. So I caved in.

Then, after the divorce, I was stuck with a green Dodge Magnum, and a new girlfriend who hated green cars. Unfortunately, I let her talk me into getting rid of the Magnum, after 160,000 loyal miles.

I gave the car its first tuneup at 60,000 miles. I replaced the brake pads and shoes at 62,000 miles. I replaced the lower ball joints at 140,000 miles.Other than that, the car had no unscheduled maintenance, unless you count the time I had to have front-end body work on it when I creamed a small Ford. It was a good car to drive, and very reliable. It always started, even in very cold weather.

If I could find another 1979 Magnum I would buy it in a heart-beat. The closest I have come is a 1978 Cordoba with a 360 2-barrel. I can't admit how fast it will go on the Interstate highway system, but I was only trying to keep up with the blond in the Camaro, to see if she was going to get a ticket. (David’s email has changed so please don’t send us any leads on 1979 Magnums for sale.)

Gary Stanley

In the fall of 1977, I had just re-enlisted with the US Army at Fort Huachuca, and received the proceeds of a re-enlistment bonus. The car that my family were suffering in was a 1968 Chrysler Newport with a black vinyl roof and black vinyl interior and no A/C. In the desert.

Dodge was running a commercial showing the new ’78 Magnum XE on a rotating pedestal. As soon as I had a couple of days off, we drove to Bisbee, AZ, where the nearest Dodge dealer was. When we arrived we saw, sitting in the middle of the showroom, the best looking car I'd seen in years. It was the only one that the dealer had, and had been ordered for the manager. It was in Classic Cream with a halo-type cream vinyl roof with louvered rear quarter windows. The interior was two-tone cream/tan. Under the hood was a rather anemic 360 2-bbl Lean-Burn engine, but then it wasn't built for racing. This one was a cream puff, a gorgeous one at that. The front grille was reminiscent of the old Cords, but with unique transparent headlight covers.

I don't know where the majority of these cars were built, but this one was built in Canada. My wife and I drove this car for 12 years, from November 1977 to November 1989. It was equipped with Torqueflite automatic, A/C with unique lap cooler feature, tilt wheel, 6-way power dual reclining bucket seats, center foldup armrest, cruise control, AM/8-track stereo, digital clock, walnut trim dash, and front and rear ash receivers with lighters.

We remained in Arizona until July 1981, but the dealer probably figured we’d moved right away because we never had to return to the dealer for any problems with the car. The first trouble I had with it was in 1987 when the starter went out. It had been across the country four times, shipped to the Panama Canal Zone and driven for three years there, and then back to Maryland for a stint at Fort Meade.

When I came down on orders for Italy, I gave the car to my older brother, who had been coveting it for all 12 years, and we bought a Dodge Caravan to take with us to Naples. I still wish I'd been able to keep it. It had an original 86,000 miles on it when I gave it to him in 1989.

Read "Son of Magnum: the 1978 and 2005 Dodge Magnums"

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