Just because it was built...
Just because it was built after 1970, doesn't mean it can't be a cool cruiser. Take this '74 Sport with V-8 power and a stick shift-it's every bit as cool as its predecessor, the Demon.
For some people, the world of Mopars begins and ends with cars like Chargers or Road Runners. Others are immersed in the E-Body Barracuda and Challenger. many-long-timers and late-comers alike-think the world according to Chrysler begins and ends with B-Body two-doors.
But there are lots more out there, if you're willing to look. We've compiled a list of nine categories and models of Chrysler-built cars and trucks we think are worth a second look and consider to be the next project car for enthusiasts.
'60-'62 "Forward Look" Cars
The early Unitbody "fin cars,"...
The early Unitbody "fin cars," including all '60 Chryslers, are worth a look, whether it's a Windsor, Saratoga, New Yorker, or 300F.
This includes Plymouths, Dodges, Chrysler's De Sotos, Valiants, and '61-'62 Dodge Lancers built when Chrysler ditched body-on-frame construction on all car lines except for the Imperial. These were built during a time of executive turmoil in Highland Park when the "confused"-looking '61 Plymouth and reverse-finned '61 Dodge Polara and Dart appeared, followed by the '62-Body, shrunk at the last minute from the larger S-Body when upper management freaked out over what became of the Chevy II.
Under the hood, power ranges from the Slant Six in the compact Valiant and Lancer, price-leading Plymouths, and the midsize '60-'61 Dodge Dart, to the most-common V-8s-the 318 Poly, and the 361- and 383-inch B engines. The 413-inch RB was installed in the big Chryslers-standard in the letter 300s and New Yorkers-but it managed to find its way into the smaller cars. (Can you say "Stage I Max Wedge?")
Ugly? Who cares? It's a Mopar!...
Ugly? Who cares? It's a Mopar! in this case, a '61 Plymouth-the last year for the big two-door wagon.
When it comes to updates, there's still a lot to be found for the powertrain and chassis, especially if you're looking to replace fatigue-prone parts while keeping the rest of it original. Many trim pieces have yet to be reproduced, so your best bet is to seek out the most complete car you can, one with all its original brightwork still on it.
One rarity to keep an eye out for: Fullsize wagons with the factory dual air-conditioning option, which have a "coolness factor" that's off the charts, even before you crank up the rear air.
'55-'56 "Shoebox" Mopars (All brands)
Like that "$100 Million Look"...
Like that "$100 Million Look" of the mid-'50s Mopars? So did a lot of folks, who made 1955 the biggest sales year for the four Chrysler car brands in ages. Having the C300 in the lineup didn't hurt.
"The $100 Million Look" is what the ads called Chrysler's four car lines for 1955, as Plymouth, Dodge, De Soto, and Chrysler not only wore all-new sheetmetal, they were also built on all-new platforms. And in the opinion of many back then, they were the best cars that Chrysler had ever produced. That included new-car buyers-1955 was Chrysler's best sales year yet, and 1956 wasn't too shabby either.
These years marked the first-ever Plymouth V-8s, as the Poly first appeared as an option alongside the venerable flathead Six, while Dodge, De Soto, and Chrysler all carried over their Hemis.
Mopar's shoeboxes were as...
Mopar's shoeboxes were as fast and as stylish as the other guys' mid-'50s cars, but they were better in one respect-they had Hemi power, as did this '56 Dodge D-500 Custom Royal Lancer. The Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels were a rare factory option.
Even now, 50-plus years later, these cars are still lookers. We've seen instances where someone parks a '55 or '56 Plymouth on a showfield next to a same-year Chevy, and the Plymouth gets all the attention.
The best-preserved ones make the best projects and cruisers, regardless of body style. Special versions to keep en eye out for are the '56 Plymouth Fury, the '55 and '56 Dodge D-500s, the '56 De Soto Pacesetter that was the Indy 500's Official Pace Car, and, naturally, the first "letter" Chrysler 300s: the '55 C-300 and '56 300B.
The "Torsion Quiet" '73-'78 B-Bodies
Plush replaced power in Charger's...
Plush replaced power in Charger's top model in 1973-'74. Here's a '73 Charger non-SE. The rear quarter windows feature distinctive opera windows on the SE models.
Starting in 1973, Chrysler added more rubber pieces and other bits to dampen road shocks and vibration, resulting in the "Torsion-Quiet Ride" of the late B-Body cars.
Even though the Hemis and Six Packs were off the options list, the '73 B-Body two-doors still sold well, especially the Charger SE (with its distinctive, gill-like opera windows). That sales pace didn't carry far into 1974, as the first "oil shock" of October 1973 clobbered sales of everything larger than the A-Body. The '75 redesign resulted in squared-off hardtops that looked better than their GM and Blue Oval sales competitors. sedans/wagons got facelifts that saw them share everything but grilles and nameplates. The year 1975 was the last year for the B-Body Road Runner, and the first year for the Cordoba/Charger SE, which were aimed at the Monte Carlo/Grand Prix end of the new-car market.
B-Body Dodges never got any...
B-Body Dodges never got any plusher than the '75-'78 Charger SE. The 360s and 400s were factory options, and they make great weekend cruisers if you find one that's rust/crash-damage-free.
More likely than not, there's a 318 or 360 under the hood, with 400s a fairly-rare option and 440s only found in the cop-equipped Pursuit sedans. But the gear developed for the men in blue works on civilian rides-witness the B-Body cars of all types that now wear the 15 7-inch slotted wheels that were cop-only in 1978. Ditto for upgraded steering and suspension systems fitted with equipment scavenged off a parted-out ex-cop car.
One caution: The "Lean Burn" electronic engine-control systems, which first appeared in 1976, weren't the most reliable gadgets ever installed by Mother Mopar. If you've got a car that's ELB-equipped, count your blessings if that early onboard computer still works. Many didn't and were replaced with conventional ignitions.
Economical, cute, and with...
Economical, cute, and with a built Slant Six or LA-series V-8, the early A-Bodies are sweet rides. This one's a '64 Valiant.
Take the powertrain and chassis features that distinguished the little Mopars from their competitors, and wrap them in Elwood Engle-era slab-sided sheetmetal. That's the recipe for the '63-'66 A-Body cars, which includes the first Barracudas along with those years' Darts and Valiants.
V-8 power didn't appear until midway through 1964 with the first 273s; a four-barrel carbed, solid-lifter-cam-equipped, high-performance version arrived for 1965. Even the Slant Six-powered ones were good performers-they were sleepers in many a Stoplight Grand Prix of the '60s!
While the early Barracudas, as well as the Valiant Signet and the Dart GT hardtops/droptops, have been popular over the years, the sedans and wagons are also getting their due, ranging from weekend cruisers to trackside tow cars for 200-mph Nostalgia Eliminator Mopars at the dragstrip.
'61-'71 Dodge D-Series Pickups
Why should the other truck...
Why should the other truck guys have all the fun? D-Series Dodges, such as this '70 shorty Sweptline, make for good show/haul rigs.
If these trucks were good enough for "Big Daddy" Don Garlits to tow his Swamp Rat dragsters across the country, usually more than once during a season, that's good enough for us to have them here.
Overshadowed by their domestic counterparts doesn't mean they aren't worth a look. They came in short- and long-wheelbase sizes, with Utiline (stepside) or Sweptline styling, and their powertrains were work ready, with factory choices from the Slant Six through the B and RB V-8s-even a 426 Street Wedge in 1964. (If you find an original one of them, you've found a prize!)
With folks treating vintage pickups to updated chassis and other custom touches, Dodge D-Series trucks are a good choice for a dual-purpose cruiser/hauler. Be sure you look for the ones in the best condition, as cab and sheetmetal parts aren't being reproduced.
'74-'76 Duster/Dart Sport
You don't need a V-8 car to...
You don't need a V-8 car to start with. heck, it doesn't even need to look all that great. Just find what you like and build it. Our project Dart was built for less than five grand.
Why do A-Body lovers hold the '73-and-earlier Duster, Demon, and Dart Sport in higher regard than the later-model ones? Two words: back bumper. The '74-and-later ones had the bigger piece of crunch chrome in back to meet the Feds' 5-mph-impact-without-damage bumper standard. That, and power was down in the 340 compared with the early ones, and the 360 of 1975 and 1976 was overburdened with low compression, extra car weight, and about 4 miles of vacuum lines under the hood.
Even the later years of the...
Even the later years of the Duster and Dart Sport have plenty to offer, whether they're an original V-8 car, or a plain-Jane base model that's waiting for your touches.
If you're a VIN-code treasure hunter, look for the letter "L" as the fifth character, signifying the E58 Carter ThermoQuad-equipped 360. They also came standard with orange air cleaners, 727s, 831/44 rearends, full dual exhausts with no catalytic converters, and-if they're still at all stock-they will sound like the Bluesmobile when you turn the key.
You're more likely to find Slant Six or 318-powered late-model Dusters and Dart Sports, so keep your eyes open for the one(s) in the best condition, with the least amount of collision damage or rust. Especially look for the ones with the Spacemaker Pak-the fold-down rear seat, as well as the manually cranked factory sunroof. Whether you keep it original or go the modified route, it depends on you, and if the mechanical parts you may need are still reasonably available.
'64-'70 Dodge A-Series pickups/vans
When was the last time you...
When was the last time you saw an A-100 pickup? Even today, they're head-turners.
The Dodge Boys weren't going to get beat in a sales race that they weren't entered in, so in 1964, they jumped into the compact-truck market in a big way. The A-Series trucks were short on the outside, roomy on the inside, Slant Six-powered, and they made for ideal rolling tool chests/parts depots/billboards for crafts-and-trades folks. They also made for outrageous wheelstanders at the dragstrip, most notably Bill "Maverick" Golden's line of Little Red Wagons.
Still, with even a 170-inch Slant Six for power, an A-100 pickup is no slouch, and with a 225, or the later 273 V-8, it scoots right along. (Imagine one with a 340!) In van form, there were short- and long-wheelbase versions, with the Sportsman appearing in 1964 as Chrysler's first passenger van.
Like any used truck, the less beat on they are and the less rust/crash damage they have, the fewer headaches you'll have when you make one your next project.
Want a weekend cruiser that will fit comfortably and haul everything you'll need? Look no further than the fullsize Mopars that rolled out of the Jefferson and Belvedere assembly plants from the mid-'60s through 1978.
Full-size Plymouth and Dodge cop cars have their own following, thanks to The Blues Brothers movie, as well as to retired cops, who've restored their duty cruisers, and those who just love the big, 440-powered beasts (despite, for example, the California Highway Patrol ordering theirs with manual steering and brakes until Chrysler made those standard in 1975).
Civilian C-Bodies make for cool cruisers, as long as you don't do any Elwood Blues-style shopping center drive-thrus. All the HD engine, transmission, and chassis gear that fit the cop cars will also fit the citizens' cars, and the best-condition examples make for the best projects.
Keep your eyes open for rare body styles, especially convertibles and '69-and-later two-door hardtops, as well as for rare options such as the "Super Lite" auxiliary driving light that Dodge offered in '69-'70 on its Polaras and Monacos, dual air conditioning in the wagons, and the four-wheel disc brakes that were on Imperial's option list in the early and mid-'70s.
Fewer than 500 Volare Super...
Fewer than 500 Volare Super Coupes like this one were made in 1978. If you find one that's complete and intact, go for it.
If you look past the first-year (1976) Volares and Aspens-whose build-quality problems led to way too many recalls-the '77-and-later F-Body cars weren't all that bad, especially when you compare them with their domestic competition.
The two-doors handled better than the A-Body Dusters/Dart Sports they replaced, the four-door sedans were huge on the inside for their overall length, and the wagons were roomy in the way that wagon buyers were used to. Add the choice of 225 Slant Six/318 or 360 V-8 power, 904 Torqueflites (727s if you're lucky to get a high-output 360), and you had the makings of a desirable car, early problems to the contrary.
The Super Coupes, offered as both Volare and Aspen in 1978, have all the good engine, transmission, and chassis gear on them, plus distinctive paint and graphics-everything but a 125-mph cop speedometer. Very few were made (494 Volares and 531 Aspens, plus 245 Volare and 145 Aspen Street Kit cars with Richard Petty's No. 43), so if you find one in good shape, grab it. The regular two-door F-Bodies, including the Volare Road runner and Aspen R/T, are worth it if they're intact/rust-free, as all the good Super Coupe/cop car hard parts bolt right on.
Cautions about the Electronic Lean Burn system are the same as they are for the same-era B-Bodies, and you might see where an ELB got the heave-ho in favor of an early '70s-type ignition and intake system.