Here’s what you need to know before buying a Dodge Aspen R/T

It wasn’t the best of times, and they all suffered for it. It was the longevity of the Pontiac Astre (the car that threatened GM’s existence), the Chevrolet Citation and other cars that rode on the doomed X platform, and the notoriously underpowered, overused Iron Duke engine. It was also the era when Detroit cars lost significant weight, and this was evident in their handling. This era saw a combination of economic downturns and safety and environmental regulations that inadvertently robbed American-market cars of their glory. The party was over.


Gone were the days of powerful, gas-guzzling carbureted engines to propel large and portly vehicles at thrilling speeds down racetracks and public roads. Motoring journalist Murilee Martin coined the term “Malaise Era” to describe this specific period, roughly between 1973 and 1983. The term refers to US President Jimmy Carter’s malaise speech, in which he denounced the US handling of the 1979 oil crisis.

The US federal government had issued several mandates to reduce pollution and improve fuel economy and vehicle safety. It worked, but at the expense of performance, the Muscle Car era and the popular style and design cues of the 1960s. However, the slump era managed to spawn a few bold offerings such as the Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am, Ferrari Dino 308 GT4, BMW 2002 and the Dodge Aspen R/T.

Related: Here’s Why the Dodge Aspen Fueled So Miserably


An overview of the Dodge Aspen

Through Hemmings

However, it is important not to confuse the Chrysler Aspen with the Dodge and Plymouth Volare Chrysler Corporation built all three models. Although the Chrysler Aspen is a luxury SUV based on the Dodge Durango and released only in the 2007 model year, the subject of this article – Dodge Aspen – was about a compact car produced between 1976 and 1980.

Aspen was almost a twin brother to the Plymouth Volare, both of which were offered in 4-door sedan, 2-door coupe, and 4-door wagon flavors. It is important to note that Aspen and Volare production fell in the middle of the unsavory slump era. In other words, they were born just as Detroit, and in fact the American auto industry, was actively downsizing their entire lineup to meet emissions regulations and improve fuel economy.

It meant smaller engines powering lighter cars built for improved passenger safety, even at the cost of fancy styling. As such, Aspen and its Volare twins were marketed as the compact category, although they were considered mid-sized models towards the end of their production run. They were succeeded by the FWD Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant, collectively known as K-Cars for their Chrysler K platform. Aspen and Volare were RWDs built on the Chrysler F platform.

Chrysler’s goal with Aspen and Volare was similar to the winds of change then blowing through the American auto industry. The cars had to shed the much-loved styling of the 1960s and become more economical. Chrysler tried to make them stand out by combining the ingredients with a luxurious interior, which also had to make them more attractive than their predecessors, the Dodge Dart and Plymouth Valiant.

Motor Trend’s 1976 Car of the Year award for both models confirms the automaker’s efforts, as does the accolades received on both models by Consumer Reports magazine. But, as they say, “Time will tell.” Over time, Aspen and Volare were found to suffer from the same “malaise” plague of poor build quality that destroyed just about every car built during that period, leading to frequent recalls and eventually dying from reputational damage, particularly due to premature rusting .

Specifications of the Dodge Aspen R/T

Silver 1980 Dodge Aspen R/T parked outside
through mecum

If you’re a car person, you’ve seen the term “R/T” on performance models like the Dodge Challenger R/T. The term is an abbreviation of Road and Track, which means that the vehicle is just as at home on the track as it is on regular roads. That said, Chrysler introduced an R/T performance trim level for both the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare.

Cosmetically, the R/T trim was on E70x14 tires wrapped around “Rallye” wheels and featured a blackout grille, body striping, and identifying decals and medallions. To make up for those two letters, the Aspen R/T relied on a 5.9-liter (360 cu-in) V8 engine producing 170 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. With an average of 15.2 MPG in the US, the 360 ​​cubic inch engine was not available in California because it exceeded state mileage.

Also, the V8 didn’t match the 4-speed overdrive transmission like the standard 3.7-liter (225cu-in) slant-six along with the 318 cu-in (5.2-liter) and 360 cu-in ( 5.9 liters). ) LA V8 engines, but instead paired with the Chrysler Model 727 TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic transmission. Nevertheless, the 5.9-liter V8-equipped Aspen R/T sprinted from zero to 100 km/h in 9.1 seconds and completed the quarter-mile in 17.4 seconds at a speed of 86.1 km/h, as shown from the results of a Motor Trend road test.

Related: Here’s Why Gearheads Don’t Like the 1977 Plymouth Volaré Road Runner

A buyer’s guide to the Dodge Aspen R/T

V8 powered 1976 Dodge Aspen R/T
Via: Flickr

Indeed, most slump-era cars were worthless because they lacked the performance afforded by the pre-slump muscle car era. The industry took notice and tried to offer alternatives that came as close as possible to the spirit, if not the style and performance of the glory days. Two such alternatives were the ’76 and ’80 Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare Road Runner.

“Road Runner” was the performance counterpart to the Aspen R/T trim. They weren’t nearly as charming or Detroit’s fastest spawns, but were definitely competitive performers by the standards of the time. Both the Road Runner and R/T were as identical as their standard trim levels. If you’ve seen a ’77 model of the R/T or Road Runner, rest assured they’re practically the same, as nothing has changed on the 2-door V8 powered models in those model years.

Most, however, were available with a separate cosmetic package, including the stripping we mentioned, a unique lamp finish, rear window slats, dual external mirrors and a unique horn to make other road users give way as you pass. The R/T Performance Package, which includes heavy-duty suspension with a rear sway bar, costs an additional $196. So don’t be surprised if you notice similar price dynamics even today.

Dodge upped the volume in 1978 by offering a Super Coupe package that combined all the goodies from the R/T and Road Runner packages, complete with special extended fender flares and distinctive “Super Coupe” badging. Find the Super Coupe and you would have found the ultimate Dodge Aspen. Everything remained largely unchanged for the 1979 model year, with the nameplate packing all the way in the following year, taking the R/T and Road Runner with it.

Sources: ACC Auctions, Mecum, Consumer Guide

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