The 1978-79 Dodge Magnum
The mid-sized Dodge Magnum lasted only two years before being replaced by the smaller Dodge Mirada. A sporty-looking upscale car, the 1978-79 Magnum still has dedicated followers.
Dodge made 47,827 Magnums in 1978, which was not a good number, but not disastrous; but in its second year, just 25,367 were built. While it far outsold the Charger SE (2,735 made in 1978), it was dwarfed by the cheap Aspen (166,419) and Omni (70,971), and was even beaten by the smaller, more conservative, rougher-riding Dodge Diplomat (61,300), which roughly doubled the Magnum’s sales in 1979 (51,685).
The Dodge Magnum: a post-muscle car for muscle car lovers
The Magnum had a design for 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 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. The torsion bar/leaf spring gave the car an edge over coil-spring cars like the Mustang/Camaro.
The car — at least, the XE which I have owned since 1983 — came with factory fender flares on all four wheels, 15” Goodyear GT Eagle tires, and aluminum wheels. The three speed Torqueflite automatic transmission had a floor mounted console shifter, and a lockup torque converter.
The dash had full instrumentation, including a factory tach, adding to the muscle car look; but to add comfort, it had air conditioning, an electric antenna, leather seats, cruise control, and such.
The styling of the Magnum was sharper than the Cordoba-cloned 1978 Dodge Charger, and was the Dodge NASCAR racing car. The Magnum was the last Dodge car to win a super speedway race (Kyle Petty, ARCA) in the 20th century; Buddy Arrington, the last of the NASCAR Winston Cup Dodge drivers, raced it in his best year as an independent. This added to the “muscle car” image. 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 of involvement with racing after the first year did not allow it to live the “Win on Sunday, Buy on Monday” syndrome. Its size and lack of manual transmission was not going to invite comparisons to the Mustang, Camaro, or Firebird. Dodge had nothing in its arsenal to do that.
To those of us who owned them, and in my case, still do, the Magnum was the last throwback to the Dodges we grew up with. That is why the Magnum is still popular today.
History of the Dodge Magnum
This history is based mainly on the Standard Catalog of Chrysler.
The Dodge Magnum XE, a hardtop coupe with squareish styling, was likely intended to replace the Cordoba-fied 1978 Charger SE. Still, the Magnum was, save mainly for its front clip, identical to the Charger SE.
In 1977, when the Magnum was put into production, Chrysler produced three basic carlines in the United States. There were the compact Volare and Aspen; the mid-sized (115 inch wheelbase) Cordoba, Monaco, Fury, and Charger SE; and the 124-inch wheelbase Gran Fury, Newport, New Yorker, Town & Country, and Royal Monaco, the last remaining Chrysler large cars, with minimal sales and little life left.
The had 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 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.
The suspension used Chrysler’s usual 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 Charger SE, it could also be ordered with a four-barrel 360 or 400 V-8; 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.
A GT option included exterior and interior styling cues (medallions, interior appliqués, wheel-lip flares, painted wheels with chromed trim, leather-covered steering wheel) better tires, wider (15 x 7) wheels, and heavy duty suspension.
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 with covers, aluminum with trim rings, and forged aluminum.
1979 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 big-blocks were gone now.
Stereos had a Huntsville-designed vacuum fluorescent display, replacing the LEDs, and added non-volatile RAM to remember radio stations even with the battery disconnected. The Magnum, along with many other Mopars, switched from the old fashioned tube fuses to blade fuses, color-coded by amperage. Wiring and harnesses were upgraded, but a new compact spare became standard to save around 15 pounds of weight (except with Sure-Grip or towing packages).
1979 was the second and final year in the Magnum's brief life; it was replaced by the similar but smaller Dodge Mirada, which was 400 pounds lighter, six inches shorter, and powered by a base slant six, 318, or an optional 185 hp 360. Mirada did not fare much better: just 28,633 were made in 1980 and a mere 11,899 in 1981. By then, Dodge had the runaway success of the Aries, with 155,781 made in its first year.
It is hard to figure out why Chrysler created and then dropped the Magnum so quickly. One could point to the move to the smaller Volare/Aspen platform. Mike Sealey wrote:
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 justified.
Interchangeability with the Dodge Charger (by Tannon Weber)
|Width x Height||77.1 x 53.1|
|Headroom||37.7 / 36.6|
|Legroom||42.4 / 32.4|
|Shoulder room||59.2 / 61.0|
|Trunk||16.3 cu. ft.|
|Axle ratios||2.7, 2.4, 3.2|
|Battery||325 - 430 amp|
|Alternator amps||60 (65 towing)|
|Fuel tank||21 gallons|
|Tires||FR78 or GR78|
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
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, green outside and inside, seats, dash, carpets, steering wheel...I wanted to buy the red one, but my wife thought the white interior wouldn't do with three kids. After the divorce, I was stuck with a green Dodge Magnum, and a new girlfriend who hated green cars. 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. It was a good car to drive, and reliable. It always started, even in 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.)
In the fall of 1977, Dodge was running a commercial showing the new ’78 Magnum XE on a rotating pedestal. We drove to Bisbee, where the nearest Dodge dealer was, and saw, sitting in the middle of the showroom, the best looking car I'd seen in years. It had been ordered for the manager. and 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. It was built in Canada.
My wife and I drove this car for 12 years, from November 1977 to November 1989. It had 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.