What Happens When You Take One $600 Junkyard M-Body Fifth Avenue, Add 400 Ft-Lbs Worth Of 360 Small-Block, A 727, Cop Suspension, And Open Road 2.71:1 Gears? If Not The Ultimate Q-Ship, It Has To Be The Definitive Vegas Cruiser.

The progressive demise of the traditional rear-wheel-drive Mopar passenger car was simply one of attrition. To wit, the A-Body was gone after '76, C-Bodies made their final appearance in '78, and the B-Body was killed the following year (the B- lived on for three more years in stretched form as the R-Body cars, but that was axed for '82). The first replacement for the traditional Mopar was the F-Body, which debuted in 1976. The most notable change with the F-cars was the switch to a transverse front torsion-bar suspension, replacing the longitudinal torsion bars. The M-Body appeared in 1977, followed by the two door J-Body in 1980. The F-, M-, and J-Bodies were all nearly identical under the skin, taking the same suspension and drivetrain components across the board. F-Body production ended in 1980. The truly massive carnage came with close of 1983; the J-Body, the short-lived Imperial, and the two-door M-Bodies were finished all. From that point, all that remained of traditional RWD Mopar heritage was the ubiquitous four-door M-Body.

In the crush of FWD econoboxes pumped out by Chrysler from 1984-'89, the rear- wheel-drive M-Body Gran Furys, Diplomats, and Fifth Avenues stood alone. M-Body production in the final years was sort of a Jekyll and Hyde story, with production split between the tough, stripped-down (though underpowered) Diplomat and Gran Fury Police cruisers, and the sissy-soft, but plush and decked-out New Yorkers and Fifth Avenues. When Chrysler pulled the plug on the M-Body at the end of the '89 model run, the traditional Mopar was dead. With no reputation outside of law enforcement, few were teary eyed to see the M-Body go.

For you, Dear
"I need a new car," was the wife's request ringing in my ears. She had a point. With another baby on the way and the current child safety seat laws, loading the family into our two-door '69 Dart was turning into an ordeal. A new car? When you can build practically anything, it seemed senseless to pick up a payment book. It was time to work out a plan, strike a compromise, if you will.

"How about a nice old Jeep? A nice, roomy, four-door Jeep Grand Wagoneer?" It seemed like a worthy give-and-take, even a defacto Mopar; I'd just have to find that sweet cream puff. Six weeks of looking at overpriced worn-out junk and reality was beginning to set in-it'd take some strange luck to find that mint wagon. Then it appeared.

No, it wasn't the Jeep by a long shot. Walking the Mopar section of the local boneyard, a battered forklift ambled in with the latest carcass, dropping it in line on the empty pipe stands. A New Yorker Fifth Avenue. A very clean one. White, with gray leather, power everything, and other than dings in the rocker trim left by the forklift, there wasn't a scratch on it. The wheels started turning: four doors, OK. Hot small-block, SureGrip, 727, cop suspension, it'll all bolt in. It was meant to be, but would it fly? There was only one way to find out-just roll the dice. Six bills changed hands and it was mine. "Honey, I got your new car."

The '83 M-Body, with a scant 86,000 miles on the clock, was definitely garaged and pampered all its life. What sent it to the scrapyard? A locked-up 318.

"I like it, where's the keys?" PAYDIRT! Sure, there was some explaining to do, like, "Well, hon, it needs a new engine. And don't ask where I found it," but the first hurdle was cleared. A blown engine with practically any other used car would have been a serious shortcoming, but on the Fifth, I looked at it as an asset. After all, any small-block would be a simple swap out, and more muscle under the hood is just what these late-model Mopars desperately need. It was a blank page with only two constraints: it had to squeak by an emissions test, and meet my wife's single request, "Don't make it loud."