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R-Body Chryslers Living Large
from Hemmings Classic Car
March, 2017 – Milton Stern
Having just introduced the Horizon/Omni twins for 1978, Chrysler was in no position to develop an entirely new full-size car to compete with GM and Ford, which is why in 1979 it debuted a new line on the 1971-vintage midsize platform. Chrysler would offer Fifth Avenues, New Yorkers and Newports, and Dodge, the St. Regis. In 1980, Plymouth, which had become a shadow of its former self, selling Volares, Horizons and "captive imports," would bring back the Gran Fury in response to fleet buyers, even though the potent 400-cu.in. V-8 was no longer available. The platform’s continued use of torsion bars up front and long leaf springs in the rear–with new geometry–provided the handling and ride one expected of a rear-wheel-drive Chrysler of this era.
The formal lines and bulky styling on the 118-inch wheelbase managed to make them look bigger and heavier than they actually were. While GM with its two-year lead on downsizing, and Ford with its new Panther-based LTDs and Marquis offered two-door sedans and wagons, the new big Chryslers were only available as four-door sedans.
No mention of the cars’ smaller size is found in the Fifth Avenue and New Yorker brochures. The Newport brochure states, "We feel it is the right car at the right time. With an all-new design that’s lighter in weight and more efficient. With an all-new size that doesn’t sacrifice six-passenger room and comfort." For the Dodge St. Regis, it says, "From the standpoint of engineering, the St. Regis is considerably lighter than the previous full-size Dodge. This ingenious weight savings results in improved fuel economy."
Sales were not stellar to say the least, but the Fifth Avenues and New Yorkers, with their concealed headlamps and "unique landau roof" extending ahead of the C-pillar and surrounding the "specially lighted quarter windows," proved the most popular. As a matter of fact, I remember only seeing and admiring the Fifth Avenues and New Yorkers when they were new. Did anyone buy a St. Regis? There were plenty of Gran Fury police cars and cabs, but who remembers seeing one in civilian guise?
Some blamed the poor sales numbers on the fact that these Chryslers weren’t all new. I disagree. Unless someone is a real car guy or gal, they wouldn’t have known that these were an evolution of an old platform. At the time, Chrysler’s precarious financial position, coupled with its build-quality issues, and the lack of coupes and wagons affected sales. In addition, concealed, glass-enclosed and square headlamps, slightly different grilles and taillights did little to differentiate one from the other. Fortunately, the landau roof gave the more luxurious models some level of distinction.
Engine choices included the 318-cu.in. V-8 for the entire three-year run, and the 360-cu.in. V-8 for the first two years. The base engine for all but the Fifth Avenue and New Yorker was the 225-cu.in. Slant Six, generating (according to the literature) 85 horsepower. Someone please tell me this is a misprint, although it is stated as such in each model year’s brochure.
Interiors featured the overstuffed and tufted luxury that had long since been a Chrysler hallmark in its most expensive models. Color choices, including two-tone options, were aplenty the first year and tapered off by the end of their run.
The R-bodies would last through 1981. After which the M-body New Yorker Fifth Avenue and Diplomat would be the largest Mopars, and Diplomat police cars would soon be ubiquitous. In addition, the future M-body Fifth Avenue would become quite a popular car for those seeking a traditional rear-wheel-drive cruiser with trim dimensions and little sacrifice to interior volume. The Gran Fury would make another comeback on the M-body platform, too, and yours truly was very close to trading in his trouble-prone 1986 Chrysler LeBaron for one in 1987. I wish I had.
Now, the good news. I’ve always been a huge fan of the R-body Mopars–no that’s not the good news. Most of these last, large Chryslers were purchased by older drivers, who wanted the closest thing to traditional full-size cars with all the luxurious touches, which for all intents and purposes, they were. Therefore, what you will find are usually Fifth Avenues and New Yorkers loaded to the gills, so you can have your cushy cake and eat it, too. What’s even more curious is why every R-body Chrysler Fifth Avenue and New Yorker I’ve discovered over the last several years is either Linen Cream or Nightwatch Blue.
Want another reason? The platform, which was vintage at the time, means parts availability and maintenance should be easier than with most short-lived models. And as with any Detroit Underdog, it doesn’t take a lot of money to buy one. The landau roof and that overstuffed, pillowy interior are pretty cool. Your friends will always insist you take them in your car.
This article originally appeared in the March, 2017 issue of Hemmings Classic Car.
Tagged: , Mopar , Cars , 1980 , Dodge , St.Regis , 80 , two , tone , Blue , 4 door , Pillared Hardtop , Sedan , 318 , V8 , RWD , Car , Full Size , MyCar , Chrysler Corporation , WPC , Walter P. Chrysler , nineteeneighty , nineteen , eighty