When Chrysler package cars are discussed—whether stock or modified, displacements above 340 are the norm (occasionally, somebody may interject something about a Hyper Pak or a 273 Formula S, but we digress). Curbside appeal sometimes took a backseat to the rumble of glass packs and big M/T street rubber. So, if you are hoping for that sort of muscle here, you might find the standard 318 with a two-barel under the hood of this particular car a bit lackluster. For Dan Kleinfelter of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, that doesn't really matter.
"Since its restoration 14 years ago, I've only put about 6,000 miles on it; shows, cruises, and nice days," says the mechanic by trade. "It's great to receive recognition for a car I've owned 33 years."
F-bodies were the replacement for the venerated A-Body line; they debuted in 1976, and lasted just four years, until 1980. One option fitted the Dodge Aspen with graphics that brought back the R/T moniker. The biggest engine available then was the 360, but most V-8 versions came with a 318. A serious problem developed with the cars in regards to paint on the front fenders, which resulted in a massive recall for the entire 1976-1977 model run. One source credits this with creating the financial conditions that led to the company's bankruptcy only a few years later.
Dan knew about this car from the day it was first delivered to a young female customer on his paper route, he was 15 at the time. In fact, she told him about her '77 Dodge right after she ordered it. She opted for the R/T package (rally wheels, raised letter tires, and graphics), a 318 with a four-speed overdrive, AM/FM/8-track, and T-top roof. She finally got the R/T in July 1977, right at the end of the model year. Two years later, Dan was able to convince Sharon to sell him the car, which was now showing just under 40,000 miles. It was a daily driver in those first years he owned it, even doing duty as a deer hauler when Dan went hunting in 1980. The fold-down back seats helped, as did wrapping his future venison dinner in plastic prior to stowage.
He always knew the R/T was special, but even in those early days, others recognized how unique the car was. He went in to buy a new Dodge truck in mid-1981, and the salesman desperately wanted the R/T in trade, and then wanted to simply buy it outright. A fellow Mopar enthusiast with the resources to pay whatever Dan would take for the car also had no luck prying it free. Dan response was simply, 'thank you; no…'
The car was well-taken care of, but the biggest boon came from his wife, Holly, who also knew the car from their high school days. A couple of years after getting married, as a wedding gift to Dan in 1997, she took the car over to Kohr's Kustoms for an OEM makeover – fresh paint, detailing, and a motor rebuild by Brain Jennings – that made the 73,000 mile cruiser into better-than-new.
At the time it arrived on the scene, when Gap stores were new and the disco-rock wars had begun, the F-Body was actually a big deal for Chrysler. It was the first domestically-built Chrysler passenger car since the fifties, to not use torsion-bar suspension, and the body was computer-styled to help mileage. Isolation of metal-to-metal contact made them quieter than previous Pentastar cars. Unfortunately, most motor heads bemoaned the lack of Six Pack-ish acceleration, and a distain for flashy post-muscle graphics; those factors probably kept the R/T (and Plymouths Road Runner), from gaining steam back in the era. Today, an Aspen R/T is a true rarity; and one fully-optioned and in the condition of Dan's is exceptional. Ironically, the F-Body package was Motor Trend's Car of the Year in 1976.
'77 Dodge Aspen R/T
Car Owner: Dan Kleinfelter, Lebanon, Pennsylvania
Perhaps the Rodney Dangerfield of Mopar power plants, the 318 was the most common late-model series V-8 that Chrysler built. It might have been pedestrian in two-barrel trim, but in 1978 a Thermoquad offering (in California only), gave the R/T a standard V-8 for power, and ran on pump gas with little tuning needs. This original 5.2 liter lung, rebuilt by Brain Jennings of Grantville, Pennsylvania, was left in bone-stock trim when redone, with only maintenance-related replacement pieces. In this particular vehicle package, we would say it has come of age…
Transmission: Getting the A+ in 'cool' factor on a car that looks the part, that shifter coming through a floor boot is attached to an overdrive four-speed 833.
Differential: A 2.92 gear is in the back.
Horsepower and Performance: built for comfort, not for speed…
OEM, with heavy-duty iso-mount front sway bar. The F-Body car was revolutionary in how Chrysler tried to quiet road noise, and was developed using clear plastic body replicas to discover stress-inducing mounting points and eliminating them via isolating mount separators.
Brakes: The factory set-up of front disc/rear drum.
Wheels: Part of the R/T package was Rallye rims and E70x14 tires.
The body was solid, and all the Kohr's did was clean it up; coolest item is the $554.25 T-top roof and $109.80 fold-down rear seat and carpeted trunk option. Front, rear, and wheel spoilers and quarter-window louvers were part of the R/T Super Pak option, priced at an additional $317.10. Yes, we're talking almost a grand in décor options.
Paint: The OEM color is Sunfire Metallic Black, redone by Kohr's Kustoms in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, using Deltron pigments.
Interior: Again, back to OEM standards, black vinyl buckets and a Tuff Wheel tiller comprise the front; the carpeted rear area is long cleaned of any deer remnants, augmented by a canister-inflatable spare. By the way, the radio was a four-speaker AM/FM/8-track, the best offered at the time, and added another $304.25 to the end price.
Dodge Aspen base price: $3,732.00; This car's as-optioned final price: $6,221.40