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American In Canada: 1981 Chrysler New Yorker

It took me ten years to find my 1981 Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue Edition. My criteria was minimal rust, good running condition, most options working, original paint, and affordable. No easy feat to find all that in one R-Body from Mopar’s darkest time. This Manhattan mobile living in the Northwest ticks off most of that criteria. Find this one of 3,747 1981 Fifth Avenue’s, out of 6,548 New Yorker’s, in Vancouver, British Columbia for $2,200 CDN here on Craigslist or here.

The R-Body Chrysler’s that debuted in 1978, as 1979 models, started out with a bit of a wimper. The Mayor of Detroit was there to drive the first New Yorker off the line at the Lynch Rd. factory, but the luxury liner refused to start. Quality control, or lack thereof, meant an estimated 1,077 defects per 100 cars built! Sales started off strong, but loose fitting frameless glass, peeling chrome plated aluminum bumpers, rough running Lean Burn computerized carburetors, plastic part breakage in the windshield wipers and brakes, and early rust meant those initial buyers didn’t come back for seconds. It was 1957 all over again!

The mid-size B-Body was stretched to a 118.5” wheelbase and became the R-Body. Downsized from the real biggies of 1978, the new cars were smaller and lighter than before, but the public still perceived them as colossal. The budget didn’t leave room for a coupe or wagon, only a pillared hardtop, with side windows that would bow out at speed. One mistake made was not having a Plymouth version for the first year, counting on the Newport and St. Regis to handle all fleet and police sales. Iacocca came on the scene after these were already being built and demanded the quality be improved immediately. For 1980, the windows tracks were re-designed to seat the glass closer to thicker door seals, a Plymouth version was added, the groundbreaking 5/50 powertrain protection plan was introduced, more two sided galvanized steel was used, and quality control improved. But all of this was not enough to sway buyers during a recession. Holding lots all over Detroit were full of R-Bodies that no one wanted.

For 1979, a new top-of-the-line Fifth Avenue Edition debuted for New Yorker in Designer Cream on Beige, with advertising tied into Saks Fifth Avenue. The option proved popular and the color palette was expanded the next two years. For 1980, the NY 5th won Motor Trend’s 1980 King of the Hill contest, beating out the new Lincoln Continental Mark VI and bustle back Cadillac Seville. The paint on this 1981 New Yorker is two-tone Mahogany Starmist over Heather Mist Metallic and is original, if a bit faded. The Fifth Avenue package cost $1822, but included nearly everything except for four extra cost options, which this car has one. The power sunroof, installed by ASC, was a $934 option, which negated the Carriage Roof package, which was a stainless roof cap much like a Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. The aluminum wheels are from a 1980 model (the 1981 versions were 18 spoke and were $321) but look better than the standard wire wheel hubcaps. The 318 V8 shown here produced 130 HP when equipped with the standard 2 barrel carb (165 HP with the Carter 4 barrel.) A locking torque converter on the TorqueFlight automatic made for easy highway cruising. No cost button-tufted Corinthian leather in Mahogany looks very comfortable with no noticeable wear. In fact, the only interior flaw appears to be the armrest on the driver’s door is slightly drooping and possibly torn, but being a three separate piece panel, should glue back into place easily. Fun fact, this was the longest car you could buy in 1981!

The condition on this Canuck Chrysler is very appealing for a car from a company that was on the brink of disaster. The AAA sticker on the back bumper is a nice touch, but like the bumper stickers on my car, is probably covering up corrosion from the chrome plated aluminum bumpers. The exterior, though not particularly shiny, has very few dings and has all model specific trim, except for one New Yorker badge missing from the rear fuel filler door. The electric headlamp covers still shut, the rear leaf springs aren’t sagging, the engine compartment looks very clean, the 318 still sports it’s factory blue paint and is said to run well, and the sunroof still electrically opens and closes with new seals. These are extremely nice driving vehicles, with the torsion bars giving far less lean on the curves than the competition, a smooth ride, plenty of room, better quality than a Volare/Aspen, and a 318 that gives great highway performance with easy to find parts. Only excessive wind noise and less isolation from the uni-body make this feel just a bit less luxurious than a body-on-frame Lincoln or Cadillac. Two things that neither have though, is sleek, handsome styling and edge lit opera windows, shown below. And Neil Armstrong as their spokesperson!

A Fifth Avenue exclusive (picture from my car). Talk about class! Have I convinced you yet to give the maligned R-Body a second look? No worries if it isn’t your kind of car, even Lee Iacocca refused one as his company car, taking a newly downsized Cordoba as his ride of choice!


  1. Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    Fantastic car, fantastic write-up, Corey! Congrats on snagging one of your dream cars, I have always liked that generation New Yorker.

    Like 1
  2. Dave Suton

    Had a neighbor who drove a beige one. Thought it was the best looking car on the block at the time. Would of loved one in black. His next door neighbor drove a 2 year old rusting honda that leaked oil and transmission fluid all over the street that was the eyesore of the neighborhood. We still hate that guy today. And he has a newer honda that leaks oil now.

    Like 1
  3. CCFisher

    Always thought these were great-looking cars. Too bad the quality wasn’t up to the standards of the day, meager as they were. I remember seeing a brown Newport parked on a local street with a sheet taped to the window that started with “This car is such a lemon” and proceeded to list all the car’s faults. The page was filled.

    I also remember seeing a Newport sitting on the local dealer’s lot with one Newport taillight and one St. Regis taillight. Even back then, it took a stunning degree of apathy for a car to leave the factory with two distinctly different taillights.

    Like 1
  4. Gay Car Nut

    Sweet looking car. I’ve always loved this styling for the Chrysler New Yorker. It may not have been the most popular car for its time, but I remember finding it quite attractive, compared to the giant barges of the mid 70s. It was about time Chrysler downsized their cars. They could’ve still produced attractive, luxurious cars, without being so large as to require a boating license to pilot it.

    Like 1
  5. Rustytech Member

    After several of these got out and generated customer complaints about quality control the dealer I worked for at the time decided to double the time they paid us for dealer prep. All in all they were nice cars once the bugs were worked out. This ones gorgeous.

    Like 1
  6. Maestro1

    Well done, Corey.

    Like 1
  7. CanuckCarGuy

    Very classy car, but also born into an era of heavy brand loyalty. I suspect many admirers were loathe to cross over their brand to own one.

    Like 1
  8. Alan Brand

    That’s a CAA sticker, not an AAA sticker.

  9. Colin Evans

    Interesting- can anyone explain why the base interior for 1979-80 was changed to the being the TOTL fifth ave interior in 1981, while the former TOTL was moved down to being the base interior? See image attached 1979 New Yorker “Fifth Avenue”

    • Corey Kemendo Member

      Well, the 79-80 5th Avenue did have the plainer seat design, which in person is rather Scandinavian, but in their defense was in soft cream leather and coordinated well with the door panels. I think for 1981 they finally realized that the button tufted was quite popular in the previous full size body and more went with the overdone nature of the car. The door panels didn’t really match the cushier design, but it definitely looks more luxurious. Who knows why it took Mopar two years to get it ‘right’. Maybe the button tufted didn’t go with the lighter wood dash?!

      Like 1
      • Colin Evans

        Steering wheels changed every year too as the 1980s had this style but with wood – will have to compare door panels sometime

        Like 1
  10. Fiete T.

    CAA- Canadian Automobile Association. AAA would tend to tell me it started in the US then crossed the border at some point. Great luxury car, swap in the police car suspension and minimum 360 transplant to give it some torque…
    Just thinking

  11. Pete Kaczmarski

    My ’79 New Yorker is very clean and not driven in Wisconsin winters. It was owned by a friend of mine and I purchased it five years ago from his estate. Its not a ’78 New Yorker St Regis Coupe (that I also own) but it gets 16 mpg consistently.

    Like 1
  12. Glenn Barnett

    I had both a 79 and 80 5th about 15 years ago! The 79 was my winter beater for about 5 years and I kept it nice looking. The 80 was twin to this one sans the sun roof and wheels that look like off a 80 Mirada CMX Ttop that was my daughters in high school. I flipped the 80 for a $1K profit! Whish I had them yet. Id sure like this one , hope it finds a good home! My currant 81 Frank Sinatra with sun roof will have to be good enough!!

    Like 1

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