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Dodge Aspen

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Dodge Aspen
Dodge
Production 1976-1980
Class Compact
Body Style 2-Door Coupe
4-Door Sedan
5-Door Wagon
Length 197.2"
Width 72.6"
Height 53.5"
Wheelbase 108.7"
112.7"
Weight 3200-3500 lbs
Transmissions 3-Speed Manual, RWD
4-Speed Manual, RWD
3-Speed Automatic, RWD
Engines 3.7L (225 cid) I6 (1976-1980)
5.2L (318 cid) V8 (1976-1980)
5.9L (360 cid) V8 (1976-1979)
Power 90-160 hp
Similar Plymouth Volare
Platform F

The Dodge Aspen and its Plymouth Volare twin were relatively short-lived models, available from 1976-1980. It was introduced as a replacement for the trusty Dart, but unfortunately the Aspen turned out to be not near as trustworthy as its predecessor. The Aspen from the start was plagued with early rust-out, driveability and reliability issues, although later models weren't affected near as much. The Aspen was based on Chrysler's new F-body platform, which was slightly longer than the outgoing Dart's A-body chassis, and was more nicely-appointed and upscale than the Dart. Items like power door locks and windows were available on the Aspen whereas they weren't on the Dart. Chrysler touted the Aspen's "big-car ride", due in large part to its torsion-bar front spring suspension that was similar in design to its larger models. Aspen was also available as a station wagon, Dodge's first compact wagon since 1966. The Aspen and Volare would only undergo minor detail changes during their tenure, and would be replaced in 1981 by the all-new Dodge Aries/Plymouth Reliant K-cars. All comments here also go for the Volare, except where noted.

Here's a rundown:

1976-1980

As 1976 being the Aspen/Volare's premier year, the sedan and station wagon rode on a 112.7" wheelbase, whereas the coupe rode on a shorter 108.7" wheelbase. Base engine was the 3.7L (225 cid) Slant-6, the 5.2L (318 cid) V8 and 5.9L (360 cid) V8 with 2 or 4-barrel carbs were options. All engines were available with a 4-speed manual or 3-speed automatic. Models were base and upper-level SE (Premier for the Volare). Aspen SE and Volare Premier wagons could have woodgrain side paneling. A sport-oriented R/T package was available on the Aspen coupe (Road Runner on the Volare), and could have the 318 or 360 with column automatic or floor shift with bucket seats. T-bar roof (T-tops) were an option also. Styling differences between the Aspen and its Volare twin were minimal, the most obvious being the front parking lamps on the Aspen were below the headlights on the bumper, whereas they were up right beside the headlights on the Volare. The R/Ts and Road Runners got unique, larger taillights than lesser models that somewhat resembled the 69-70 Charger taillilghts. The Aspen and Volare were huge sales hits in their debut year, with well over 200,000 being sold and even became Motor Trend's "Car of the Year"... but as new owners soon found out, all was not well in paradise - the 1976 Aspen and Volare turned out to be the most recalled car in history for a time (until GM's 1980 X-cars).

Changes were minimal for 1977, the largest changes being that the 225 cid Slant-6 was (finally) available with a 2-barrel carburetor, and was dubbed the "Super Six". The Aspen and Volare continued to sell well (sales actually increased over 1976) but unfortunately its depressing repair record and reputation continued from the previous year. Despite this, the Aspen/Volare spun off two luxury variants this year no doubt inspired by the success of the Cadillac Seville called the Chrysler LeBaron and Dodge Diplomat, which rode the same wheelbase as the Aspen but were aimed at a more upscale audience and available with more luxury options. Other than the aforementioned changes, engine and transmission choices remained the same as in 1976.

1978 Aspens were limited to a revised grille in which the parking lamps were now incorporated beside the headlights just like the Volare, and larger taillights which now incorporated separate amber-turn signals on both. One interesting model introduced this year was the Super Coupe (available on both Aspen and Volare), which had slatted rear-quarter windows, fender flares and a 360 V8 with a 4-barrel carb. V8 models acquired the new electronic lean burn system. Other models still included the base and SE/Premier. The R/T and Road Runner models also continued, but lost their unique taillights and now used regular Aspen and Volare taillights. A new Duster option package for the Volare coupe debuted this year, which included special unique trim such as lower 2-tone paint, slatted rear-quarter windows and plaid seats. Sales began to dip quite a bit this year - the 1976-77 models pretty much sullied their reputation and much of the buying public wasn't as willing to take a chance on them - this, plus the all-new Ford Fairmont and GM's new downsized A-body models (Chevrolet Malibu, Oldsmobile Cutlass, etc.) gave the twins some heady competition this year. The Aspen and Volare's reliability and rust-out record began to improve this year, but the damage was already largely done as far as much of the buying public was concerned.

1979s were a virtual rerun of 1978, the largest visual difference being that the taillights now incorporated the back-up lamps where the amber turn signals used to be. Also the speedometer now read up to 85 MPH, replacing the 100 MPH unit - but instrumentation continued as before. Engine and transmission choices remained the same, and the interesting Super Coupe returned for one more year. The base Slant-6 engine now got the electronic lean burn system in addition to the V8s, which got it the year prior. For this year only, the wagons got an interesting "sport wagon" option that sported a front air dam, fender flares, roof wind deflector and special road wheels with white-lettered tires. Engines could be the Slant-6, 318 or 360, and could have either the 4-speed manual or 3-speed automatic. As far as the Volare was concerned, now that the Fury was gone, the Volare was now (temporarily) Plymouth's largest car offering. Sales dipped even further this year, however, as the competition from Ford and GM were becoming more and more prevalent, plus the Aspen/Volare's reputation as unreliable rust buckets (deserved or not) continued to dog them.

Even though this was their final year, the 1980 Aspen and Volare were nonetheless treated to an all-new nose that now had a new hood, fenders, and single rectangular headlamps with a horizontally slatted grille (the Volare had an eggcrate design). Rear-end styling, however, remained the same. Engine and model choices were paired down this year - the 225 cid Slant-6 regrettably lost its 2-barrel carb option and reverted back to a 1-barrel, resulting in a horsepower drop from 110 to 90. The 360 V8 was also discontinued, making the 318 the top engine option. The Super Coupe was also gone, but the R/T and Road Runner options continued, even though less than 1000 of each were sold, making either one a very rare find indeed today. The Volare Duster also made a final appearance, making another very rare find (although the Duster name would resurface in 1985 as an option package for the Turismo). Since Plymouth now had a version of the full-size R-body this year (the resurrected Gran Fury), the Volare lost its status (such as it was) as Plymouth's largest car offering. The turn-signal stalk now incorporated the low/high beam headlights and wiper controls. Sales predictably were the lowest in F-body history, no surprise since this year GM introduced its all new X-body compacts (Chevrolet Citation, Oldsmobile Omega, etc), making the twins look increasingly big and outdated (the GM X-bodies would have their own reliability issues later on, but that's another story). One interesting bit of sales trivia is that this is the only year that the Aspen outsold the Volare.

The Aspen and Volare would be replaced by the all-new Aries and Reliant "K-car" in 1981, but the F-body chassis and running gear would live on in the M-body Diplomat and Gran Fury, which lasted all the way until the end of 1989.

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