April 21, 2010
The CarDomain Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot: The Dodge Aspen R/T and Plymouth Volare Road Runner
By Jim Brennan
Welcome to another edition of the CarDomian Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot, in which I highlight a car that I think is a Muscle Car, and then try and convince you that it belongs in the Parking Lot. Performance cars were waning in the late 70′s due to emission regulations and two fuel embargoes, but Chrysler still tried to create a performance image for the “F” body cars, known as the Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen. These cars had an ever-growing reputation for poor quality, and numerous recalls, so Chrysler was eager to spruce up their image any way they could. So, are these high performance coupes worthy of the Parking Lot? Let’s explore the Plymouth Volare Road Runner, and the Dodge Aspen R/T.
The Volare Road Runner and Dodge Aspen R/T first appeared in 1976. The top engine spec was the 4 barrel 360 CID V-8, rated at (are you kidding) 170 HP, but with over 280 lb.ft of torque. These cars were never meant to be giants at the drag strip, but they were supreme highway cruisers that could knock out the miles better than most of their contemporaries. You could opt for the 2 barrel 318 CID V-8, with only 150 HP, and you would get a superbly reliable power plant with the option of a 4 speed stick. The 360 was only available with the ever-reliable TorqueFlite automatic.
An addition to the Aspen R/T and the Volare Road Runner were the addition of the Super Coupe for each brand, and these arrived for the 1978 model year. These cars had the 360 V-8 (with 175 HP), heavy-duty suspension, black dual racing mirrors, 15 X 8-inch GT wheels on GR60 X 15 raised white letter tires, black urethane painted front and rear bumpers, rear anti-sway bar, special black and dark brown paint treatment, wheel opening flares, front and rear spoilers, quarter window louvers, and special striping and insignia. They are also extremely rare, as only 531 Aspen Super Coupes and 494 Volare Road Runner Super Coupes were produced. This was the one and only year these cars were produced.
Also available only in 1978, was the A43 “Street Kit Car” package. The Street Kit Car package was Chrysler’s attempt at capitalizing on Richard Petty’s racing efforts. The package included wheel flares, front and rear spoilers, side window louvers, #43 door and roof decals (which were delivered in the trunk to be added by the dealer), special two-tone blue paint (for Plymouth) or red paint (for Dodge), and various stripes to try and make the car look like a race car. Power brakes, steering, and automatic transmission were required additional options with the Street Kit Car package. Unfortunately for Chrysler, Richard Petty jumped ship and began racing GM cars by the time the Street Kit Car package became available, resulting in very few being sold. Highly prized by MOPAR collectors, only around 247 Volare Street Kit Cars and 145 Aspen Street Kit Cars were built.
According to Allpar, the Aspen and Volare performed pretty well with the 360 CID V-8. In 0-60 times, the car magazines of the day revealed that the 1977 2bbl 360-engined Aspen was competitive with the 350-four bbl Camaro Z28 and Corvette L82, as well as the Pontiac Trans Am with a 400-four bbl. In the quarter mile, the Aspen was a bit slower by the clock, but faster through the traps than the GM trio.
Images (above and below) courtesy of allpar.com
The 1980 Plymouth Volare Road Runner and Dodge Aspen R/T returned, only with the 318 CID V-8 tuned to produce only 120 HP, and didn’t sell well. With only 496 Road Runners and 285 Aspen R/Ts produced, it was the end of the road for these models. So are these cars worthy of the Parking Lot? They ran better than the Camaro Z/28, Corvette, and Trans Am of the same period, and they could be further enhanced today. They have the look of Muscle Cars of the past, and they both have storied name plates. I think with a little tweaking, they could be formidable Muscle, but what do you think? Comment away, and while you’re at it, why not suggest an obscure muscle car for a future posting?
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