1976–1980 Dodge Aspen R/T and Plymouth Volaré Road Runner

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A reeling and soon-to-be bankrupt Chrysler Corp. produced one of the most pathetic paper-tiger muscle cars ever in the embarrassing 1976to 1980 Dodge Aspen R/T and the Aspen’s sister car, the Plymouth Volaré Road Runner.

Tapped as the replacement for the aging Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Dart, the Aspen and Volaré would be among the last all-new designs to issue from Chrysler before the Big Crash (round one) came.

Like their colleagues at Ford, desperate Chrysler product planners dredged up a couple of great nameplates from the company’s better days—the legendary Road and Track, or “R/T,” designation for the Aspen; “Road Runner” for the Volaré—and glued ’em on cars whose only relationship to performance vehicles was the commonality of internal combustion—and even that connection was tenuous.

Under the hood of these stinkers was what Chrysler called a “time tested” 318-cubic inch V-8 that sucked air through a “lean burn” Carter two-barrel carburetor. The thinned-out air/fuel ratio made the otherwise decent workhorse engine notorious for hard-starting, stalling, and poor driveability. Tune-ups were necessary at every other fill-up, it seemed, because the cars just never ran rightor ran right for very long.

The Aspen R/T and Volaré Road Runner’s performance was more dispiriting—even by the standards of the mid-1970s, when the fastest sports cars were slower than most of today’s V-6 family cars.

Pedal to the floor and wind at your back, the sad combo of a 318 V-8 and Torqueflite automatic delivered top speed comparable to a UPS delivery truck with a stuck throttle—about 108 miles per hour, flat out. Quarter-mile times were equally gimpy—a heaving 16.7 seconds at 85miles per hour.

The final insult? Every 1976 and 1977 model was recalled for premature rust-through. Lee Iaccoca himself later admitted the cars had been “rushed to market too soon.”

It might have been better if they’d never made it at all.

Five Fast Facts

Like most of the other strangled, would-be performance cars of the early catalytic converter years, there was no room for a true dual exhaust system on either the Aspen R/T or Volaré Road Runner—so all cars left the factory equipped with a restrictive single exhaust system that sapped even more vitality from an already vitiated drivetrain. (At least they still had those fast-sounding brand names: Aspen and Volaré.)

An over-the-top “Super Coupe” variant of each car was offered in 1978; about 1,000 of these were built. These cars had a larger 360 V-8 with either 155 horsepower (two-barrel) or 160 horsepower (four-barrel). Super Coupes had NASCAR-themed body kits, fender flares, louvered rear quarter windows, and wider wheels than regular Aspens and Volarés—but no significant mechanical upgrades. (We can’t give you what you want, but we can give you something that kind of looks like what you want.)

The “F-Body” Aspen and Volaré were among the last rear-drive Chrysler passenger cars built before the company went bankrupt and switched over to the front-drive Aries K-car in 1981. More than a decade would slip by before another rear drive coupe—the Viper—would be offered.

Aspens and Volarés share identical exterior body panels; only different grilles and tail-light treatments separate the two cars. However, buyers had to go upmarket to a Chrysler Cordoba if they wanted to get “rich Corinthian leather.”

The Aspen and Volaré were replaced in 1981 by the soon-to-be infamous K-cars. (The K-cars were a clever ploy to make people feel better about the Aspens and Volarés.)

Excerpted from “Automotive Atrocities,” By Eric Peters. http://www.amazon.com/Automotive-Atrocities-Cars-Love-Hate/dp/0760317879/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1289129347&sr=1-1

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24 COMMENTS

  1. i dont know if im aloud to post this but if not take it down but i got a 1976 plymouth Roadrunner in great shape its ready for paint and the motor runs great doesnt have anything on the motor its clean and it has a bigger cam and big valve heads but heres my number if yall want to make some fast money and the car has no rust its a daily driver 423-331-4056 jeff

  2. I just like to say that I had a 77005 spin with a 360 Police Interceptor engineand a posi Trac rear axle 390 gearedthis car ran made 13 second quarter miles basically stock except for heders.I only lost 1 race ever in that car and that was too late boss 302 powered pinto

  3. The A body Dusters and Darts lasted until 76 and were the last true muscle cars before they trotted out these F-body cheapies. The 1976 A-body Duster and Dart Sports could be special ordered with a 360 4bbl and dual exhaust before they went to the Volare and Aspen later in the year.
    If you can get ahold of an A body Duster, Dart Swinger or Dart Sport Fastback you have a decent muscle car.

    • I can tell you from experience I had a 1977 Dodge Aspen 360 4barrel carburetor also with a 727 TorqueFlite transmission and a posi Trac rear axle with a 390 gear this car would run mid too high 13 second quarter miles miles and was one of the fastest cars on the road at the time. I only lost one race and that was to a boss 302

      • also to add to that comment the Police Interceptor engine that my Aspen had in it was rated at 225 horsepower and 300 foot pounds of torque and would blow away anything the Camaro Corvette Mustang Trans Am

    • Remember the Bradley kit cars? When I was a kid I helped my uncle build one. Talk about super simple and kind of cool too.

      Do people still make those or did they make them illegal?

      • I do – haven’t seen on in years, though. Probably they are illegal – or the company was sued out of existence.

        The trick, legality-wise, is to secure a VIN from a pre-control era vehicle and use that as the basis for your build….

  4. I had a friend with one of those “Road Runner’s” back in the day, what a dog! It was fricken’ embarassing driving around in that thing, especially when you would pull up next to some genuine hot rods. Easily the worst of the paint-on-performance cars that (along with disco) started the great decline of American culture. Years later I bought a ’77 “Cobra” the lamest Mustang ever built. The ladies liked it though.

    • Yea, the last decent muscle car mustangs were the 71s to 73s. In the 73s the top engine was the 351 Cobra Jet and the 71s came with the very powerful Boss 351 Cleveland engine… The 72s came with the same motor detuned a little and called the 351 HO. Then there were regular 351 4 barrel motors for all 3 years that would scat too.

    • i’m not embarrassed to be seen in my r/t. and to be honest who cares about factory horsepower? just because they were not built with as much power as the early 70’s, doesn’t mean they can’t still be beasts. mine is living proof with documented 500 horsepower, 4:11 posi trac rearend, and and nitrous. running 10 second quarter miles.

      • Hi Moparman,

        You shouldn’t be embarrassed! Your car sounds pretty cool.

        Back in the day, though, when these cars were stock – they were pretty sad… relative to what had been available just a few years prior. That’s the point I was trying to make.

        Same goes for cars like my old ’78 Z28.

        Stock – and compared with a 1970 Z28 – it was a dog. But it had the same basic body – and the same basic engine. Upgrading the factory 185 hp to an LT-1 level 360 was not difficult to do – and once done, you had the performance of 1970 in a ’78 wrapper!

        • eric, a friend had a ’77 Z-28. Not much to say until it got a Thermo-Quad, headers, turbo mufflers and NITROUS OXIDE. It livened up that SBC. After a high speed stall converter and some big BFG’s on some large Centerline’s it would shit and git. I still see Camaros and Firebirds all over far west Tx. waiting to live again and most won’t.

          • Hi Eight,

            I’ve owned several of both second generation F cars; based on my experience, the Trans-Am with the 400/455 was easier and cheaper (back then) to make quicker. You had the advantages of displacement as well as more power to start with (200-220 hp for the 455/400 vs. 185 for the Z28). The big Pontiacs also made more torque – and this mattered in those heavy ’70s Firebirds!

            IIR, the quickest factory-stock American car of circa ’78-79 was the “T/A 6.6 400” (220 hp) Trans-Am and Formula Firebird. It was quicker than the base-engined Corvette – and nearly as quick as the L-82 Corvette.

            • eric, they were nothing to write home about for sure. Flipping the air cleaner cover and installing true dual exhausts gained more power per dollar than anything else and they felt like they gained another couple hundred HP from being so slow as stock.
              A friend has a Ram Air 400 back then, maybe a ’78 and it was faster than just about anything. With some cam and exhaust work it would do over 140 and get there quickly too.

              I was running some back roads last week with big loads of rock and had to go through these curves I used to regularly take over 100 mph, really wicked little things now marked 35 for trucks and that’s pretty close. I came out of one of those driving that Ram Air at 105 one night, had everybody locked butt to seatcover. A month of so later a very inept driver rolled that car on that same curve. He was incompetent enough to roll it on the inside. It was a pretty car too. That’s probably what happened to a great many of them.

              • Hi Eight,

                IIRC, the first-year ‘Lil Red Express had duals – and didn’t have catalytic converters. Chrysler got away with this – briefly – because it was a truck and so did not have to comply with passenger car emissions standards! The 360 had a fairly hot cam, good heads – and all kinds of potential!

                • Morning eric. Yep, I remember em well. I had already seen a test of one in Car and Driver, my main mag back then. A guy in the town my parents lived in had one. It looked better in the magazine.

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