The Dodge Aspen, which was produced during the 1976 to the 1980 model years, was a compact car, along with its then-concurrent Plymouth branded counterpart, the Volaré (Spanish for "I will fly away" or "I will blow away", Italian for "to fly"), which was launched as a four-door wagon, a four-door sedan and a two-door coupe. By the end of their production run, the Aspen and Volaré would be considered intermediate cars.
Dodge Aspen Coupe
|Also called||Plymouth Volaré, Dodge Dart, Chrysler Valiant Volaré|
|Body and chassis|
|Width||73.3 in (1,862 mm)|
|Curb weight||3,200 lb (1,500 kg) (base coupe)|
The Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volaré were introduced during the fall of 1975 as 1976 models, and were collectively named Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" for 1976. They were the successors to the A-body — Dodge Dart and Plymouth Valiant/Plymouth Duster, which concurrently were sold along with Aspen and Volaré during the early part of the 1976 model year until they both were discontinued.
The Aspen and Volaré both were replaced by the smaller front-wheel-drive K-cars — 1981 Dodge Aries/Plymouth Reliant, 1982 Dodge 400/Chrysler LeBaron and the M-body — 1982 Dodge Diplomat/Plymouth Gran Fury four-door sedans, which were very similar in structure, size, and engineering to the F-body Aspen and Volaré.
The Aspen and Volaré 2-door coupes had a 108.7-inch (2,760 mm) wheelbase, the 4-door sedans and 4-door wagons rode on a 112.7-inch (2,860 mm) wheelbase.
The vehicle was wind-tunnel tested to be aerodynamically sound in its fuel conservation potential as the complete aerodynamics development program included a wide range studies from drag reduction to crosswind stability, wind noise and ventilation performance. The effects of this testing resulted in softened front end contours, removal of drip troughs and helped shaped internal air flow ducting. Body engineering in the Aspen was executed using computer technology; unit body engineering was conducted by use of clear plastic stress models that showed up stress points before any sheet metal was formed. Weight reduction to provide maximum fuel economy was achieved through use of thinner glass, lighter weight side door beams and HSLA brackets and reinforcements that were four times as strong as conventional mild steel. A reduced number of stampings resulted in better panel fits and fewer welds. The Aspen had improved visibility and compared with other Dodge compacts, the Aspen provided a total glass area increase of 25% on two-door models and 33% on sedans.
Wheel alignment adjustments such as caster and camber could be made by removing plates over the wheel housings. The new isolated transverse suspension system was a substantial departure from the longitudinal torsion bars Chrysler had introduced in 1957 and used on all models since that year, until the release of the F-bodies. The transverse (side-to-side) bars were not as geometrically favorable, but saved space and weight.  In addition, the new front suspension system was touted as giving a "big car ride" as the suspension had a low, or softer, fore and aft compliance which allowed the wheel to move rearward instead of straight up and down when the tire encountered an object, dampening the blow and rolling with the condition of the road. The two parallel torsion bars and an anti-sway bar were mounted forward of the front wheels, integrated into a spring-strut front suspension. These components were attached to a K-shaped structural crossmember. The K-shaped crossmember was isolated from the unitized car body by four rubber mounts. This transverse torsion bar suspension was also incorporated into the M- and J-body cars. The conventional leaf spring rear suspension was also rubber-isolated, so there was no metal-to-metal path through which road noise or vibration can be transmitted to the body; even the steering column was isolated.
R. M. "Ham" Schirmer, manager of Dodge car and corporate advertising for Chrysler, said that the Aspen name originated from the codename Aspen-Vail when the project for it and the Plymouth "sister car" began in 1971. "Aspen is a very pleasant name, " Schirmer said, "people think of the outdoors, but not necessarily skiing when they hear it. . . It won't inhibit where we want to position the car because it's basically neutral." Nonetheless, Chrysler sponsored the 1976 Dodge Aspen Team K2 Freestyle and opened up World Pro Skiing's seventh season in Aspen, Colorado as the Dodge Aspen Cup running courses on Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain. In print and media actor Rex Harrison was spokesman for the Aspen, whose advertising campaign was inspired by the "Ascot Gavotte" scene in Harrison's My Fair Lady. A patter song was spoken in rhythm, by Harrison, as "Unbelievable." Singer Sergio Franchi was the spokesman for the Volaré and sang the pop song "Volare", with altered lyrics, in TV and radio commercials. The accent mark used in the car's name is not in the Italian word or the song title; Volaré commercials described it as an "accent on quality". "Volaré" in Spanish with the accent translates as "I will fly".
The Aspen R/T coupe was the "performance" trim level of the Aspen and came with E70x14 tires, rallye wheels, a grille blackout treatment, body striping, as well as 'R/T' decals and medallions. A 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8 option, with a 170 hp (127 kW; 172 PS) and 280 lb⋅ft (380 N⋅m) of torque, was offered along with overdrive-4 transmission. This was unavailable in California because the engine, which averaged 15.2 mpg‑US (15.5 L/100 km; 18.3 mpg‑imp) did not meet California fuel economy regulations. In a Motor Trend road test, a 360 R/T turned in a standing quarter mile at 17.4 seconds at a speed of 86.1 miles per hour (138.6 km/h). The R/T made a 60 to 95 mph (97 to 153 km/h) run in 13.8 seconds. The Plymouth version of the car was called the Volaré Road Runner.
Station wagons were available in both model lines, all featuring liftgates with fixed rear windows. These models had a cargo volume of 71.9 cubic feet (2.04 m3) and load capacity of 1,100 lb (500 kg), which was 100 lb (45 kg) less than the intermediate and standard size Chrysler wagons. The liftgate opening was nearly 4 ft (1.2 m) wide and 27.6 in (70 cm) high. With the rear seat folded down, the cargo area was 74 in (190 cm) long at the belt line and 43.2 in (110 cm) wide between the wheel houses. Premium station wagons in either the Aspen SE or Volaré Premier series featured simulated woodgrain on its exterior side panels. On Aspen SEs, the woodgrain was framed in simulated blond (painted metal) wood-look trim. On the Premiers, the side panels were trimmed in stainless steel frames accented in matte black. Aside from the brand badging and grilles unique on each brand, this station wagon trim element remains one of the few visual clues that differentiated the Aspen from the Volaré. Side covers of the cargo area were made of one-piece injection molded polypropylene. Covered, lockable stowage compartments of 1.5 cu ft (42 l) capacity were provided in these panels; these compartments were standard on the Aspen SEs and optional on the low-line wagons.
The replacement for the venerable Dart, the Aspen would share the same engines and three-box body style with its predecessor, but not much else.
Available as a 4-door wagon, 4-door sedan or 2-door coupe, it came in three trim levels - base, Custom and SE (Special Edition). Coupes featured frameless door glass but a thick "B" pillar was used, replacing the popular hardtop body style of the Dart. The performance R/T package came only on the coupe and featured a 318 cu in (5.2 L) V8 standard or an optional 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8 with either a 2- or 4-barrel carburetor. The 225 cu in (3.7 L) Slant Six was standard across the line, and was available in most states with a choice of a 1- or 2-barrel carburetor. Total production was 189,900 (Aspen) and 255,008 (Volaré).
The Aspen's second year was mostly a carryover. A new T-top was added to the coupé's options. The R/T package added a "Super Pak" option. This consisted of front and rear spoilers, wheel opening flares and louvred rear windows. A new stripe kit was also added as well. An R/T equipped with this package became a "Super R/T". The Volaré was Canada's top selling car this year. Total production was 266,012 (Aspen) and 327,739 (Volaré). The 3 speed manual with column shifter was last available in 1977.
The three trim lines were consolidated into one for 1978. The Custom and Special Edition lines were still available, but were now reduced to option packages. The Aspen also received a new front fascia, similar to the Volaré, while the Volaré's grille was restyled with an eggcrate pattern. Sales were down over 30 percent for the 1978 cars. The 3 speed manual was all floor shifter after 1977. A "Duster" trim package was added. New performance packages included the Super Coupe and Kit Car. Both had the same performance exterior add-ons as the "Super Pak", now renamed the "Sport Pak", but came in different colors as well as different options.
The Super Coupe included GR60x15 Goodyear GT radial tires mounted on 15x8 wheels, a heavy-duty suspension with rear sway bar, a matte black finish on the hood and came only in one color - Sable Tan Sunfire Metallic. Special three color (orange, yellow and red) stripes separated the body color from the matte black colors. Only 494 were built.
The Kit Car, made in honor of NASCAR legend Richard Petty, was supposed to look as much like a race car as possible. The wheels had no hubcaps, the wheel opening flares had a bolted on look, and even the windshield had metal tie downs just like the race cars. Unlike a race car, the Kit Car came standard with an automatic transmission. A special addition was a decal kit with large door mountable "43" decals and 360 decals for the hood. These decals were shipped in the trunk either to be installed by the dealer or by the owner. It was available in one color - a special two-tone red. A total of 145 were built.
A new Sunrise package, similar to the Volaré Duster package, was also new for 1978. This was available only on the coupé, and consisted mainly of new stripes and louvred rear windows.
Wider tail light lenses with amber turn signals replaced the Plymouth Valiant/Duster-styled lenses on both Aspen and Volaré coupés and sedans. Total production came to 166,419 (Aspen) and 217,795 (Volaré).
The 1979 model year was a carryover with the only readily visible change being the replacement of the amber rear turn signals with red ones. The 1978 option packages continued into 1979, with the exception of the Super Coupe and Kit Car. A new 85 mph (137 km/h) speedometer, new colors, and a diagnostic connector for the engine were added. The station wagon was available as a "Sport Wagon" with special stripes, a front airdam, and wheel arch flares. Total production came to 121,354 (Aspen) and 178,819 (Volaré).
For its last year of production, and at the insistence of Lee Iacocca, the Aspen and Volaré were restyled and gained a new front end (very similar to the Ford Fairmont) with a thin grille and rectangular headlamps, achieved by sharing the hood, fenders and front bumper with the Dodge Diplomat. Special Edition and Premier packages were available, while the Special Edition package was now only available on the sedan and coupe. The "Duster" trim package was also available for the 1980 model year. The R/T package was installed on 285 Aspens for this year. Total production came to 67,318 (Aspen) and 90,063 (Volaré), though a significant portion of the sales were for fleet (Police and taxi) use. The 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8 was dropped this year, leaving the 318 cu in (5.2 L) V8 as the top engine. Power from the 318 dropped from 140 hp (104 kW; 142 PS) at 4,000 rpm to 120 hp (89 kW; 122 PS) at 3,600 rpm in two barrel models. Four barrel versions increased from 140 hp (104 kW; 142 PS) (non-California) at 4,000 rpm to 155 hp (116 kW; 157 PS) at 4,000 rpm. The 225 cu in (3.7 L) inline six-cylinder remained the base engine. The "Super Six" two barrel option was dropped, leaving the Holley 1945 single barrel set up as the sole choice. The "slant-six" produced 90 hp (67 kW; 91 PS) at 3,600 rpm.
The Aspen was noted for having problems with its carburetors which resulted in frequent stalling. The Aspen also had difficulty in starting, even after leaving the engine off for several minutes. This resulted in several recalls. Thus the Aspen gained a reputation for poor build quality which led to a decline in sales; 1980 would be its final model year.
The Dart name (rather than Aspen) was applied to Dodge-branded F-body cars in Mexico and Colombia, corresponding to the local Chrysler-branded F-body cars badged as Valiant Volaré. The Mexican F-body Volarés were not marketed as Plymouth, because that brand was dropped after 1969. The 1981 and 1982 Mexican market Dart coupes used the M body Diplomat coupe, but fitted with the 1980 Volare header panel. Chrysler de México also sold cheaper versions of the American K-cars -Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries- (in 1982–1987) and Plymouth Caravelle (1988) as Chrysler Volarés. The 1988 Chrysler Volaré E (an inexpensive version of the 1988 Plymouth Caravelle with a 1986–1988 Plymouth Reliant front end attached to it) served as Mexican Highway Patrol ("Policía Federal de Caminos" in Spanish) units from 1988 to 1990. They got a Chrysler Turbo II 2.2L engine and 3-speed automatic transmission (shifter on the dash, like U.S. patrol cars) and were known in Mexico as "Turbo-patrols".
The Volaré also became known as the Volaré "Duster" in Canada.
After the F-bodyEdit
The F-body cars were withdrawn from production worldwide after 1980, but spawned two platforms, the Chrysler J platform and the Chrysler M platform. The Aspen model name was revived in 2007 for the Chrysler Aspen luxury sport utility vehicle (SUV).
- Chrysler Corporation: 'Aspen Engineering. For release: Sunday, September 28, 1975'
- Chrysler Corporation: 'Press release for use in 1976 North American International Auto Show sections'
- '"Surprise in naming, " The Detroit News, December 18, 1975, p. 12'
- Motor Trend Magazine, February 1976: 'Aspen R/T (The 360 LA V8 was never made available with the Overdrive-4 transmission, only the 727 three speed automatic. The 225 Slant 6 and the 318 LA V8 were offered with the Overdrive-4 transmission. Rapid transit returns: an all-new performance car for the age of economy' p. 39-42
- Hennessy, Ed. "Plymouth Volaré and Dodge Aspen including Super Coupe". Allpar.com. Retrieved 2010-07-08.
- "Plymouth Volaré and Dodge Aspen including Super Coupé cars and Chrysler LeBaron". Allpar.com. Retrieved 2010-07-08.
- "Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen including Super Coupe cars and Chrysler LeBaron". Allpar.com. Retrieved 2010-07-08.
- 1976-'80 Dodge Aspen R/T- Hemmings