1987 Chrysler Fifth Avenue sedan

I still occasionally see M-body Fifth Avenues on the road. They’re always well-kept, but also actually being driven. How much longer will they last?

“Fifth Avenue remembers what fine car buyers demand!”

Little changed for 1987, Chrysler’s rear-wheel-drive Fifth Avenue sedan did receive an updated steering wheel. Otherwise, things continued along virtually the same as they had been since the M-body Chrysler went from the New Yorker Fifth Avenue name to the Fifth Avenue name in 1984.

The only powertrain available was an LA 140 bhp 5.2 liter/318 ci V8 with a Carter two-barrel carburetor paired with a TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission—the slant six had departed from the M-body after 1983. 0-60 came in about 12 seconds in a car with a 3,741-pound curb weight. Mileage ratings were 16 city/21 highway by 1987 standards—which equals 15 city/20 highway today. With an 18-gallon gas tank, a Fifth Avenue owner could expect a range of 285 to 300 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Pages from the 1987 Chrysler Fifth Avenue brochure

Standard exterior features on the $15,422 Fifth Avenue (about $38,900 in today’s dollars or about what a 2021 Chrysler 300S V6 sedan goes for) included a color-keyed padded vinyl Landau roof and tinted glass on all windows. Mechanical features included power front disc/rear drum brakes, power-assisted steering, and P205/75R15 tires (a size still readily available) on 15-inch wheels with Premium wheel covers. Inside, an air conditioning/heater with automatic temperature control, power windows, a Luxury two-spoke steering wheel, and an AM radio were included.

Packages, Options, and Production Numbers

The Luxury Equipment Discount Package added hood stripes, electroluminescent opera lights, and wire wheel covers with locks. Inside, the same package added automatic speed control, a tilt steering column, Deluxe intermittent windshield washers/wipers, a power deck lid release, and an AM stereo/FM stereo radio with the Premium speaker system and a power antenna. Added upholstery features with the package included (of course) Corinthian leather 60/40 front seat with vinyl trim, dual front power seats, and a Luxury leather-wrapped two-spoke steering wheel. This substantial package cost $2,113 if ordered with the Ultimate Sound audio system and $2,251 if ordered without Chrysler top-of-the-line stereo. Either way, it added 14% to 15% to the Fifth Avenue’s base price.

A Two-Tone Paint Package was also available. This package included (natch!) two-tone paint with a choice of three colors matched with Radiant Silver, a special padded vinyl Landau roof with electroluminescent opera lights, and cast aluminum 15-inch wheels.

Individual options included a power glass sun roof and a driver-only passenger seat. A range of three optional car stereos topped out with the Ultimate Sound system, which included an AM stereo/FM stereo radio, a cassette tape player with automatic reverse and Dynamic Noise Reduction (DNR), a five-band graphic equalizer, and a joystick balance/fader control. Many individual options cost less if they were ordered along with the Luxury Equipment Discount Package.

Chrysler sold 70,579 Fifth Avenues in 1987, making it the single most popular Chrysler model, though all the various LeBaron models combined were good for far more sales. With tooling that had long since been paid for, all the M-body cars (the Dodge Diplomat and Plymouth Gran Fury were also in production) were probably good for Chrysler’s profits.

The View From 2021

These cars were the last of the old Chryslers, with a platform that dated back to 1977 and some design elements that were far older. When rear-wheel-drive returned to big Chryslers in 2005, it was based on a Mercedes-Benz E-class platform.

Though they are far from collector cars, Fifth Avenues of this generation are sometimes available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors, and occasionally show up at auction. As I write this post, a Radiant Silver 1985 Fifth Avenue with a silver vinyl top and gray velvet cloth 60/40 front seats is for sale on Hemmings for $7,850.

Make mine Crimson Red, please.

Other rear-wheel-drive Chrysler products I have written about are the 1980 Chrysler Cordoba coupe, the 1980 Plymouth Volaré station wagon, and the 1983 Imperial coupe.


1980 Chrysler Cordoba coupe

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a 1980 Cordoba—can that be true?

“A singular tradition.”

Chrysler’s Cordoba personal luxury was heavily revised for 1980, moving from the first-generation’s somewhat baroque styling to a more angular design. There was also a change in platform, with the Cordoba now based on the 1979 LeBaron coupe.

For the first time, the Cordoba’s base engine was a six—a 90 bhp 3.7 liter/225 ci version of the famous inline Slant Six with a one-barrel carburetor. Power options included a 5.2 liter/318 ci V8 with either a two-barrel carburetor (120 bhp/$230) or a four-barrel carburetor (155 bhp/$291) and a 185 bhp 5.9 liter/360 ci V8 with a four-barrel carburetor (which required the $192 Sport Handling package option package and less than 100 buyers paid $545 for). The 5.2 liter with the four-barrel carburetor was California and high altitude only. Chrysler paired all engines with a TorqueFlite automatic transmission.

With the Slant Six, the Cordoba was brutally slow even by 1980 standards—0-60 was likely in the 18 second range with a top speed of 90 mph. Performance was notably better with the two 5.2 liter V8s and might even be described as spritely with the rare 5.9 liter engine. None of the powerplants yielded good fuel economy as they dragged around a 3,300-pound plus car with a three-speed automatic. The best was the Slant Six, rated at 17 mpg city, with the 5.9 liter getting a mere 13 mpg. With an 18-gallon fuel tank, Cordoba buyers could expect a range of between 210 and 275 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

The 1980 Cordoba’s base price was $6,978—about $24,100 in 2020 dollars, or about $4,000 less than a base 2020 Dodge Challenger coupe (close to the same size and still rear-wheel-drive) goes for. Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the Cordoba included tinted glass, power steering, power front disk/rear drum brakes, and P195/75R15 white sidewall tires on 15-inch wheels with Deluxe wheel covers. Inside, a heater and defroster, coat hooks, a cigarette lighter, and an AM radio were included. Standard upholstery was a cloth-and-vinyl split-back bench seat with a folding center armrest.

For a little less money than the standard Cordoba, Chrysler offered the LS ($6,745). It deleted the sill molding and carpeted trunk and changed the tires to black sidewall. The LS was upholstered with a cloth-and-vinyl bench seat.

Heading upmarket, the $7,248 Cordoba Crown added a padded Landau vinyl roof and Premier wheel covers. Inside, the Crown was upholstered with cloth-and-vinyl 60/40 seats with a folding center armrest and a passenger-side seatback recliner.

Corinthian Edition pages from the 1980 Cordoba brochure

Only available for the Cordoba Crown, the $1,818 Corinthian Edition package included chrome remote side mirrors and P205/75R15 “wider” whitewall tires on 15-inch wheels with wire wheel covers. A choice of two colors was available—Black Walnut Metallic or a Designer’s Cream over Designer’s Beige paint treatment. Inside, deep cut-pile carpeting and a leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel were included. Of course, the package included leather/vinyl 60/40 seats and Corinthian Edition identification.

Options and Production Numbers

Individual exterior and mechanical options included an electric glass sunroof ($787) and forged aluminum road wheels ($334). Inside, air conditioning ($623), automatic speed control ($116), power windows ($148), and power door locks ($96) were available. The top-of-the-line radio was an AM/FM stereo with a CB transceiver and four speakers ($383), though the Cordoba’s brochure hyped the new $240 AM/FM stereo with cassette player and Dolby noise reduction. A final option was an extra cost 5/50 protection plan.

Cordoba sales dropped by about 37% to 46,406 in 1980, but I’m not willing to blame this entirely on the new design—very little was going right for the Chrysler division in 1980. The Cordoba’s percentage of overall Chrysler division sales actually increased in 1980—but Oldsmobile sold four times as many Cutlass Supreme coupes. Chrysler continued to make the Cordoba through the 1983 model year, with sales dropping each year. Its putative replacement for 1984 was the far different front-wheel-drive Laser XE hatchback coupe.

The View From 2020

Hagerty does not track values for any Cordoba, but they do show up in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As I write this post, Hemmings lists a Charcoal Gray Metallic 1983 with red cloth bucket seats and 44,000 miles for sale, asking $9,000.

Make mine Crimson Red Metallic, please.

Other rear-wheel-drive Chrysler products I have written about are the 1980 Plymouth Volaré station wagon and the 1983 Imperial coupe.

1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible

“No other car is causing so much excitement.”

The Chrysler LeBaron convertible was a mid-year introduction, becoming available in the spring of 1982. It was the first factory convertible from an American manufacturer available for sale in the United States since the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado.

All LeBarons were all-new for 1982. Based on the more plebeian Dodge Aries/Plymouth Reliant front-wheel-drive K cars that had been on sale for a year, the LeBaron (sometimes described as the Super-K) was a move at least slightly up-market. Most exterior body panels were the same as the K. Notable styling differences were a waterfall style grill (somewhat resembling that of the previous year’s rear-wheel-drive LeBaron), quad headlamps, relocation of the parking lamps and turn signals to the front bumper, and a full-width tail-lamp housing.

Chrysler used almost all of the standard K pieces inside the LeBaron. Recessed door handles and rocker type door locks were among the few changes, along with a different style of armrest and door pull. There was less vinyl trim, and the carpeting and other fabrics were of somewhat higher quality. A significant difference was the attention paid to noise, vibration, and harshness: between soundproofing, better parts, and suspension tuning, the LeBaron was upgraded from the base K in 26 separate ways.

Cars & Concepts in Brighton, Michigan heavily modified two-door LeBaron coupes on their way to becoming convertibles—the process included 32 steps. They installed a boxed-in backbone along the center of the car and welded a three-piece windshield header to the A-pillars. Next, Cars & Concepts installed new door glass and added door wedges. Finally, they added a new fiberglass panel to hold the rather small rear seats and mounted the convertible motor on the floor pan behind the rear bulkhead.

The convertible top itself had a plastic rear window and broad rear quarter panels; Car and Driver wrote that this created “a sort of Conestoga-wagon effect.” The top was actuated from a button on the console, and a padded top boot snapped into place when the top was lowered.

A K 2.2 liter/135 ci inline four with a two-barrel Holley carburetor producing 84 bhp was the base engine. A two-barrel carburetted Mitsubishi G54B 2.6-liter/156 ci inline four with 92 bhp and 20 additional ft-lbs of torque was available for an added $171. Both engines were paired with a TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission. Mileage with the base engine was 25 city/36 highway by the standards of the day. The optional engine was rated at 23 city/31 highway and brought the 0-60 time down from about 17 (aargh!) seconds to about 15 seconds.

The LeBaron convertible’s base price was $11,698 (about $31,200 in today’s dollars and about 44% more than the 1982 LeBaron coupe). For that money, you got dual outside mirrors (borrowed from the Dodge Omni 024), power brakes, power steering, and P185/70R14 whitewall tires (a size still readily available, though finding whitewalls might be tough) on 14-inch wheels. Inside, you got vinyl bucket seats with a folding center armrest, digital clock, and an AM radio. 76% of convertible drivers moved up to Medallion trim, which boosted the price to $13,998 (about $37,400 in 2018 dollars) and added halogen headlamps, better gauges, and snazzier wheel covers.

The Mark Cross package cost an additional $861, moved the sticker to a non-trivial $14,859 (about $39,700 in today’s dollars), and added the 2.6-liter engine, air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, and attractive Mark Cross leather/vinyl seats. Other options included cornering lamps ($57), cast aluminum wheels ($344), automatic speed control ($155), and an AM/FM stereo radio with electronic tuning and cassette player ($455).

1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible advertisement.
1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible advertisement.

First-year sales of LeBaron convertible were a respectable 12,825, especially considering the shortened year and the relatively high price. In a piece of general eighties trivia, the first commercial cell phone call in history was made from a LeBaron convertible in October 1983.

These cars are being collected and shown—I see them often at AACA judging meets. You see them for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors: as I update this blog entry in December 2018, there’s a Morocco Red LeBaron with 24,000 miles for sale on Hemmings for $10,800.

These convertibles also started Chrysler’s long tradition of making convertibles that might occasionally be sporty but were not sports cars—a market niche they exited in 2014 with the demise of the Chrysler 200 convertible.

I still like what Chrysler was trying to do, and I appreciate how these cars look, at least with the top down. Make mine Mahogany Metallic, please, with the Mark Cross package.

Updated in December 2018


1984 Chrysler Laser hatchback coupe

In June 2022, a Saddle Brown Crystal 1984 Chrysler Laser XE with 17,000 miles came up for auction on Bring a Trailer. That’s enough reason for me to update this seven-year-old post.

“The competition is good. We had to be better.”

Debuting in 1984, the Chrysler Laser was intended to be the upscale complement for the Dodge Daytona. Equipment was not notably different from the Daytona, but the Laser had more of a luxury emphasis with a slightly softer suspension.

Two engines were available. The base engine, Chrysler’s 93 bhp 2.2 liter/135 ci inline four, was available with a standard five-speed manual transmission or a three-speed automatic transmission ($439). Mileage with the manual was 22 city/32 highway by 1984 standards (19/29 by today’s standards). Moving to the automatic helped city mileage a bit but dropped highway mileage significantly—23/27.

The more interesting engine was the optional 146 bhp 2.2 liter/135 ci turbocharged inline four with the same transmission choices as the base engine. Depending on whether you were adding the turbo to the base Laser or the XE, the extra cost was either $934 or $872. Mileage with the hot setup (turbo and manual) was 20 city/27 highway by the day’s standards (18/25 by 2022 standards) while the 0-60 time was about 8.5 seconds. Moving to the three-speed automatic once again killed highway mileage, making the ratings 20 and 23.

Standard equipment on the base Laser (priced at $8,648 or about $25,000 in today’s dollars) included a leather-wrapped steering wheel, intermittent wipers, and an AM radio with digital clock.

Moving up to Laser XE ($10,546 or about $30,500 in 2022 dollars) added features such as an electronic instrument cluster, tilt steering wheel, driver’s side sport seat, dual power side mirrors, and an AM/FM stereo radio.

Options & Production Numbers

Optional equipment included air conditioning ($737), cruise control ($179), rear defroster ($168 base/$143 XE), power windows ($185), power door locks ($125), and AM/FM stereo cassette ($285/$160). With all the trimmings, a Laser XE could fairly easily get to $12,900 or so or about $37,300 in today’s dollars—about what an all-wheel-drive 2022 Dodge Challenger GT costs.

1984 Laser commercial

The Laser sold decently in its first year, with almost 34,000 base coupes and nearly 26,000 XEs crossing dealer lots. This was actually more than its Dodge Daytona sister car (with a total of almost 50,000 sold).

However, Chrysler must have been disappointed—this was an era where the Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, and Pontiac Firebird were routinely selling in the hundreds of thousands (the three models combined for 530,000 sold in 1984).

Chrysler would never see these first-year totals again—by 1987 the Laser would be gone, with the Daytona hanging on through the 1993 model year after a few pretty good years in the late 1980s.


The View From 2022

Lasers rarely show up in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds, on eBay, or on Bring a Trailer (the most recent BaT example was only the fourth in five years). You see some Daytonas on eBay and BaT, but even they are relatively uncommon.

Not surprisingly, allpar.com has an interesting and detailed article on the front-wheel-drive Lasers and Daytonas—it is here.

Make mine Black, please.

Other sporty Chrysler corporation products I have written about include the 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger hatchback coupe and the 1985 Dodge Omni GLH hatchback sedan.

Updated June 2022.

1983 Chrysler Imperial coupe

While out in driving late in 2014, I saw an early 1980s Chrysler Imperial aggressively carving the back roads in the Philadelphia suburbs near where I live. The body design remains utterly distinctive: the alacrity with which the Imperial was moving makes me assume that it had the carburetor conversion and/or some other engine upgrade.

“A singular statement of car and driver.”

Chrysler introduced the “bustle back” Imperial for the 1981 model year, bringing it to market in part to reassure potential buyers that the company would remain in business. By 1983, the Cordoba-based luxury coupe was in its final year, selling a mere 1,427 units as all rear-wheel drive Chryslers continued their decline.

For 1983, the powertrain continued to be the same: the LA 140 bhp electronic throttle-body fuel injected 5.2 liter/318 ci V8 paired with a TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission. Despite notable attempts at increasing quality (each Imperial went on a five-and-a-half mile test drive and received numerous other checks before shipping from the factory), the bleeding edge fuel injection continued to be stunningly unreliable—Chrysler frequently ended up replacing it with a carburetted system at the cost of $3,500 plus about 50 hours of labor.

Performance for the 3,900-pound coupe wasn’t impressive: 0-60 came in a little under 14 seconds. To be fair, neither the Cadillac Eldorado nor the Lincoln Continental Mark VI (the Imperial’s intended competitors) were notably faster in 1983. Fuel economy was rated at 16 city/26 highway by the standards of the day, giving a range of about 340 miles with the 18-gallon gas tank and a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard mechanical equipment for the quite well equipped for 1983 $18,688 Imperial (approximately $48,000 in today’s dollars or more than the list price of a loaded 2018 Chrysler 300C) included halogen headlights, power brakes, power steering, cruise control, and Goodyear Arriva P205/75R15 steel-belted radial whitewall tires (a size still readily available) on cast aluminum wheels. Exterior equipment included power heated mirrors, power windows, intermittent windshield wipers, and a rear window defroster. Interior equipment included “semi-automatic” air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, leather and vinyl 60/40 power seats, and a 30-watt AM/FM stereo with cassette and power antenna.

Unusual standard equipment for 1983 in any car included an electronic instrument cluster, a garage door opener, and a two year/30,000 mile warranty (a lot of warranty in those unreliable days). The only extra cost option was high altitude emissions ($75—why did Chrysler cheap out at this point?); no cost options included cloth and vinyl seats, Michelin tires, and wire wheel covers. Unlike in 1981 and 1982, there was no Frank Sinatra edition for 1983.

Page from the 1983 Chrysler Imperial brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

Especially from the rear, the Imperial looked a lot like Cadillac’s 1980 Seville redesign, but seems to have been a separate idea—exterior design had begun in 1977.

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1983 Chrysler Imperial in #1/Concours condition is $10,500, with a more normal #3/Good condition car fetching $4,000. Imperials do show up in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds—as I update this entry in December 2018, there’s a Day Star Blue Crystal Coat 1981 with 83,000 miles and the original fuel injection still installed (“runs poor” states the dealer) available for $5,000.

Not surprisingly, allpar.com has an interesting and detailed article on the 1981-1983 Chrysler Imperial—it is here. Make mine Formal Black, please.

1986 Chrysler Town & Country convertible

“Why sit around waiting for a summer breeze to come up when you can create quite a stir yourself?”

1986 was the last model year for Chrysler’s Town & Country convertible. Basically a special version of Chrysler’s LeBaron convertible, the Town & Country was first available in 1983 and was intended to remind potential buyers of the classic (and valuable) Town & Country convertibles of the 1940s. It was not especially successful, selling only 3,721 units in four years, with only 501 sold in 1986.

Like all LeBarons, the Town & Country’s front and rear fascias, headlights, grilles, and taillights were all updated with a more rounded and aerodynamic look in 1986. The center-mounted brake light mandated for all 1986 vehicles by U.S. federal law was mounted atop the trunk lid. Inside, the standard digital instrument cluster was redesigned for better legibility.

Also for 1986, a throttle-body fuel injected K 2.5 liter/152 ci inline four producing 100 bhp replaced the carburetted 2.6 inline liter four built by Mitsubishi as the base engine. The optional fuel injected Turbo I 146 bhp 2.2 liter/135 ci turbocharged inline four remained for an additional $628. Both engines were paired with a TorqueFlite three-speed automatic. Mileage with the base engine was 23 city/25 highway by the standards of the day (20/23 by 2014 standards). The Turbo I was rated at 20 city/24 highway—not a big price to pay for a significant percentage of extra horsepower.

1986 Chrysler Town & Country convertible brochure picture
1986 Chrysler Town & Country convertible pages from the LeBaron brochure

The base price for 1986 was a non-trivial $17,595 (about $37,600 in today’s dollars). For that money, you got halogen headlights, dual horns, power brakes, wire wheel covers with locks, and the Town & Country’s distinctive white ash moldings and teak appliques on the body sides. Inside you got a very attractive Mark Cross leather interior along with air conditioning, power mirrors, power driver’s seat, and the Ultimate Sound System AM/FM stereo cassette with graphic equalizer and six speakers.

Options included the $302 Deluxe Convenience Package (cruise control and tilt wheel) and the Power Convenience Discount Package (power windows and power locks).

These eighties Town & Country convertibles are being collected but by a very small set of collectors. I have recently seen nice examples at several AACA judged shows. You do see them for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors: as I update this in June 2015, there’s a white 1986 Town & Country with 82,000 miles for sale for $6,500.

Of course, these convertibles also started Chrysler’s long tradition of making convertibles that might occasionally be sporty but were not sports cars—a market niche they only just exited with the demise of the Chrysler 200 convertible.

I still like what Chrysler was trying to do, and I appreciate how these cars look. Make mine White, please, with that killer Almond/Cream leather interior.

Who Saves These Cars?

I was walking around a local auto show in August 2012, and I came across a near-perfect early Chrysler minivan.

First-generation Chrysler minivan at a car show in New Hope, PA.

The Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) has what I think is a wonderful rule—if the car is 25 years ago it can be shown and judged. Period. No cut-offs because of importance or beauty or rarity or anything else.

I would argue that the first generation Chrysler minivans were actually very important—the first of 13 million sold over the last thirty years, but that’s not the point here.

What’s interesting is that almost all of these minivans led unglamorous family or corporate lives and got “used up” and this one looks virtually untouched. It’s a labor of love bringing one of these cars up to show quality: there’s no aftermarket providing restoration parts like there is for Mustangs, Corvettes, or Porsches of the same age. Methinks there’s a lot of chasing around junkyards and perhaps a donor car or two.