The Dodge Mirada: Volare-based sporty cars
The rear-wheel-drive Dodge Mirada followed decades of Chrysler tradition, growing out of the F-body Volare/Aspen, which grew from the Valiant, Duster, and Dart. It kept the transverse torsion bar suspension architecture, returned for the purpose, as the low-end Volare/Aspen compacts.
In 1980, the two-door Mirada was launched. It shared its “J-body” platform with the 1980 Chrysler Cordoba; the two-door Diplomat and Gran Fury went to the 108.7 inch wheelbase used by the two-door Volare/Aspen to make room for the larger new Dodge. After just one year, it was joined by the 1981-83 Imperial.
The F, M, and J bodies were all nearly identical under the “top hat,” and could have easily all been called A-bodies, given that the former had been generously re-engineered from their “narrow body” to the “wide body” in the late 1960s.
In the market, the Mirada replaced the Dodge Magnum XE; but Mirada it was six inches shorter in length (bumper to bumper) and a full 400 pounds lighter. Buyers who got the CMX package could step up to a higher performance 360 engine; just 5,384 Miradas got the CMX package, and a mere 76 opted for the 360 (thanks, valiant67). They could also get a convertible-imitating roof — 936 people got that. More buyers went with the slant six.
At its launch, Mirada at $6,364; the V8 only added $230. Both came with the TorqueFlite three-speed automatic, and a 2.7:1 axle ratio (2.9:1 with air conditioning). Tires were P195/75R15 glass-belted radial whitewalls; brakes were front disc, rear drum. The car weighed 3,380 pounds.
Despite the weight loss, Dodge worked to make the Mirada luxurious inside; they isolated the front and rear suspension more effectively, used a vibration absorber in the propeller shaft, added insulation to the doors, quarter panels, floor, roof, and package shelf, and updated the door, window, and steering column seals.
The illuminated entry system was a new feature in 1980; when the driver lifted the outside front door handle, the various interior lights went on for 30 seconds (or until the ignition was turned on), including a halo lens around each door key cylinder and a light for the ignition key (which had been fired by the door switches for years). The 1980 Mirada also had an optional electric sunroof, in gray or gold tint, with an integral sun shade.
The Mirada was also one of Chrysler’s first cars to feature a scissor jack, a safer and easier design than used in the past. Windshield wipers had new, lightweight black blade carriers, somewhat sharper looking than the dull metal of past models; modern threaded gas caps with relief valves; new rear defroster switches that integrated the timing circuit and relay; AM/FM stereo cassette decks with Dolby noise reduction; and single-pivot hood hinges. Doors integrated power lock and window switches and courtesy lamps; the center console was color-keyed to the interior and included an air vent on the passenger side (they were only available with bucket seats). The dashboard was easier to service, as a common support structure was used for attaching the top cover, pad, retainer, cluster carrier, and skirt; the components were modular and more accessible than in the past. The heater core was 1 lb lighter than in the past.
An optional electric sunroof was available, tinted gray or gold, with an integrated sunshade and a switch on the instrument panel. Its motor was actually trunk mounted; it used a drive cable to open and close the sunroof.
By the time the Dodge Mirada was launched, trying to appeal buyers had seemed to want personal luxury coupes with decent gas mileage and a smooth ride, rear wheel drive was out of fashion, and buyers who did want that kind of car were still turned off by Chrysler’s first-year Volare-Aspen quality debacle. Chrysler had tuned the suspension for a superior ride and, outside of California, did not make a four-barrel version of the engine available, so the Dodge Mirada generally had lackluster performance as sold. It was easily beaten in sales by the ailing, but established, Cordoba.
Weight reduction came from a lighter battery and a/c compressor; internal changes to the 318 engine; a plastic body on the cruise servo; a lightened heater core and a/c evaporator housing; lighter rear seats; and even a lighter fuel filler tube. Numerous panels were adhesive-bonded instead of being welded.
|Compr.||Carburetor||Federal hp||Fed. torque||CA hp||CA torque|
|1981 Six||8.4:1||1 barrel||85 @ 3,600||165 @ 1,600||90 @ 3,600||165 @ 4,000|
|1982 Six||8.4:1||1 barrel||90 @ 3,600||160 @ 1,600||90 @ 3,600||165 @ 1,600|
|1980 318||2 bbl||120 @ 3,600||245 @ 1,600|
|1981-82 318||8.5:1||2 bbl Fed|
4 bbl CA
|130 @ 4,000||230 @ 2,000||165 @ 4,000||240 @ 2,000|
|1980 360||8.0:1||4 bbl||185 @ 4,000||275 @ 2,000|
For 1981, the Mirada gained the CMX and S packages; the S included cloth-trimmed bucket seats and a sporty steering wheel, exterior stripes, and dual remote-control mirrors. CMX package included a textured vinyl simulated convertible roof, nameplates, door handle inserts, special wheel covers, and P205/75R15 radials. The seat cushions and tilt steering were improved, and a new steering wheel was used. The "simulated convertible" Cabriolet package was made standard. Under the hood, the ancient slant six finally gained hydraulic lifters, ending the need for manual valve adjustments; while the 318 was given a three-way catalytic converter and electronic feedback carburetor. The rear bumper on all Miradas went from aluminum to high strength steel. The 360 was no longer optional.
By 1982, options included a “luxury” two spoke steering wheel, electronic search/tune AM/FM stereo with CB or cassette (with Dolby), aluminum alloy road wheels, semi-automatic air conditioning, cruise, illuminated entry system, and electric rear window defroster. Standard on any model were high-backed bucket seats, covered in cloth, vinyl, cloth-and-vinyl, or leather-and-vinyl. T-bar roofs were available along with tilt steering, leather-wrapped two-spoke steering wheel, ten-spoke road wheels, power antenna and deck release, cornering lights, and a three-toned horn.
For extensive suspension information, including common issues and repairs, see our transverse torsion bar suspension page.
While Miradas ran at NASCAR, they did not have much success. The main Mirada driver was Buddy Arrington (number 67), who wound up carrying the flag for Chrysler in NASCAR after Petty Enterprises went to GM. Arrington mainly used the Mirada as a short-track car, while using a 1981-83 Imperial on superspeedways (the Darth Vader nose of the Imperial had better aerodynamics). At one point Arrington ran the Mirada with a 1980s Cordoba nose piece! J. D. Stacy, Phil Good and Maurice Randall drove Miradas in NASCAR as well.
As for why the name change from Magnum to Mirada, in street tune 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, since it had already chosen the name — the original planned names for what became the Horizon TC3 and Omni 024 were Plymouth Mirada and Dodge Solo, according to a contemporary account.
Sales figures and details
* Actual sales figures are, according to the Standard Catalog of Chrysler as acquired by Chris Rocen:
1980 Mirada - 27,165, 1980 Mirada "S" - 1,468, (5,384 Miradas in 1980 had the CMX package).
1981 - 11,899 (1,683 with CMX option).
1982 - 6,818 (1,474 with the CMX Package).
1983 - 5,597 (1,841 had the CMX package).
Total Mirada production from 1980-1983 was 52,947 cars — fewer than the 1979 Cordoba run.
Servicing the instrument panel was easier than on many prior models due to a common support with module componetns; the single piece glove box and door could be removed, as could the cluster and center stack.
California cars got a vapor containment door (V8 engines) on the air horn which closed when the engine was shut off, to prevent vapors from escaping; along with a carbon particle filter element. California cars used a feedback carburetor with a heat shield on six cylinder models; a two-way bowl vent; non-wicking gasket; and special hose material. V8s had a detonation sensor, and all engines had both front and rear catalysts, and an air pump.
Dodge Mirada Specifications
Track—Front / Rear
|60.0 / 59.5|
|60.0"/ 59.5"||63.8 max|
Turning diameter (curb-to-curb)
37.6" / 36.7"
|39.2 / 37.5||39.3 / 37.7||38.6/36.6|
|42.5/36.6||42.5 / 36.6||41.8 / 40.1|
Hip room—Front /Rear
|56.8/56.6||56.2 / 56.1|
55.9" / 57.1"
|55.2 / 55.2||59.5 / 57.9|
Cargo capacity— [cu. ft]
|Weight||3,380||3,309 - 3,375||3,600 lb||3,934|
What's a Mirada? (Stuart D. Somers)
I was at the Dodge dealer, handing over the keys to the service writer, when he asked, “What’s a Mirada?”
My Mirada is a 1983. I chose the Slant Six; while its acceleration is underwhelming, it makes up for it by being extremely smooth and durable. You cannot feel it idle. I must have tried to start the car dozens of times when it was already running. Ouch!
I have driven this car the distance from the earth to the moon (238,000 miles) with no major repairs. I still marvel at the way the torsion-bar suspension gives the car an excellent ride without being bouncy. My only regret is: I should have bought two!