Fully Restored: 1978 Dodge Aspen SE

In 1976, the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare were the corporate replacements for the Dodge Dart and Plymouth Valiant. Unfortunately, they were beset with quality control problems and a recall history, which brought the nameplates to an end after 1980. This 1978 Aspen SE is said to have been part of a collection and has been restored, which would make it the first Aspen that I’ve run across that received this treatment. It’s a near-flawless car located in Benson, North Carolina and available here on eBay with a Buy It Now price of $14,500.

Combined production of the Aspen/Volare pairing would see 1.8 units, but sales began to decline after 1977 as the reputation of the cars had been tarnished. They should have been selling more not less as buyers were still moving to more economical cars after the gas guzzler wake-up call of 1973 called the OPEC oil embargo. The Aspen would always follow behind the Volare in production numbers (44 percent). For 1978, the year of the seller’s car, the Aspen coupe would see 48,311 copies built out of 166,419 units in total.

In the case of this 1978 Aspen SE (Special Edition), the seller is a dealer. They recently received the car out of a collection in Pennsylvania. We’re told the previous owner spared no expense in making this automobile look and drive as nice as possible, even at 94,000 miles on the clock. We have to assume the paint is new, but there is no reference to any prior rust or body damage that had to be dealt with. The Landau vinyl roof looks good as these can often be a source of trouble. The same can be said of the SE upgraded interior, which looks almost letter perfect (the steering wheel has a crack in it) from the photos provided. It also comes with an upgraded Mopar stereo system to listen to Saturday Night Fever music on.

This Aspen is powered by Chrysler’s venerable 318 cubic inch V-8 (complete with an Electronic Lean Burn System, i.e. emissions controls) paired with the TorqueFlite automatic transmission. We’re not told if the motor and tranny were rebuilt, but you’d have to assume that falls under the definition of “restoration.” The car is said to be very reliable and has plenty of get-up-and-go, qualifying it for daily driver material if you should so choose. The factory air conditioning blows cold and the Aspen is equipped with just about every option you could get, so you’d be riding around in style – by 1970s standards, that is.

NADA treats these as used cars, so their resale values are in the basement. Hagerty doesn’t seem to even follow them. So, if this is the nicest surviving Aspen left on the planet, is it worth $14,500? Most of the Aspen/Volare troubles were in the first couple of model years, so later models were better than earlier ones, but is that enough to be collectible in 2020?

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Comments

  1. William

    Every option you could get? Ahhh, no. I see manual windows, no power seats, no console. No sunroof either. That vinyl top? Doesn’t look stock to me. What kind of air cleaner cover is that? Not saying it is not a nice car, but really folks, almost 15 grand? Give it a year and the tops of the fenders will rust through, trust me on this, I know from experience. Just my opinion here, but I think the 76 Volares were prettier.

    Like 12
    • mike

      I think is has some desirable options to me. Like the Sport side mirrors and the rally wheels and the SE trim. Looking on the inside the only options I see are the AC and Cruise Control-the radio isn’t a time period correct radio so I am guessing this car came with a AM only radio. So it’s nothing more special then any other car of that time period. I do miss the days where you could order options ala carte.

      Like 5
      • William

        Agree on the radio, not from the era, maybe early 90s. If you are going to score a junkyard Mopar radio, why not get a factory CD player one? Of course, these days who even uses those anymore? At least this FM radio is digitally tuned so you can get a cheap blue tooth adapter for your phone. Say, does a BT adapter work at all with an old analog radio from this era? Anyone know? I went to the EBAY link and checked out the many pictures. This car really does appear as new, whom ever did the work is a real pro. Still not sure if I would fork over 15 large for it, esp in that color, but it sure is nice.

        Like 1
      • That AMC Guy

        “Say, does a BT adapter work at all with an old analog radio from this era? Anyone know?”

        I use a bluetooth/USB/Micro-SD adapter in a car equipped with a manually tuned AM/FM/8-track radio and it works just fine. It’s the kind of adapter that you plug into the cigarette lighter and it broadcasts to the FM radio. (I use it mainly with an SD card containing MP3 files, but it works with bluetooth as well.)

        Like 1
      • William

        @That AMC Guy, Thanks! I was considering putting the old stock AM/FM radio back in my old Dodge, but I was thinking I would miss my tunes. This site is a great place for all the wisdom on here, glad I found it.

      • That AMC Guy

        @William, this is the kind of gadget I have:

        https://www.amazon.com/Nulaxy-Bluetooth-Transmitter-Charging-Handsfree/dp/B07S92LHNL

        It’s pretty amazing for the price. As long as you have a clear FM channel for it the sound is very good. (If you drive into an area that has a station on the frequency you’ve selected you’ll get some static.)

        Like 1
    • Johnnymo

      That vinyl top is stock. Known as a halo top. That’s a stock air cleaner cover that looks like it was polished after the black paint stripped off.
      The fender rust issue was a 1976/ early 1977 issue that was corrected by this cars time. Like the article says, rushed into production the first couple years gave the cars a bad rap even though the later years the issues were largely sorted out.

      Like 3
    • Gary R. Gardner

      That halo vinyl roof is factory A bit rare at that. I own a 79 Aspen R/T E58 360 4 brl. with a halo vinyl roof!

    • S

      They had installed plastic housings n the wheel wells by 1977 and had done a better job rustproofing them. There shouldn’t be future problems with rust especially if the car sees limited use.

      Like 1
    • karl

      You’re right, that top is not factory. I’m pretty sure the SE coupes all had the landau roof with the opera windows . The Special Edition emblems are not stock either, and if they were , they sure wouldn’t stick them on the rear quarters ! They look like they were off a larger Dodge .

      • Gary R. Gardner

        Karl that is a factory halo vinyl roof! It was an option. I have one on my 79 Aspen R/T!

  2. David Zornig

    Exact quote from “Iacocca: An Autobiography by Lee A. Iacocca, William Novak.”
    Page 169 under the heading Aboard A Sinking Ship.

    “It wasn’t only the style of Chrysler products that had a bad reputation.
    Among the worst examples were the Aspen and Volare`, the successors to the highly acclaimed Dart and Valiant.
    The Dart and Valiant ran forever, and they never should have been dropped.
    Instead they had been replaced by cars that started to come apart after a year or two.”

    Like 11
    • mike

      To be fair to the Aspen the Dart/Valiant were past their sell buy date so it was time for a new vehicle. I never understood how the Dart could be so solid and indestructible but the Aspen and the Volare’ such duds, when both were using the same basic mechanicals.

      Like 1
    • S

      If the car is still around in 2020 it couldnt have been that bad, could it have? It obviously lasted a lot longer than a year. So they weren’t as good as a Dart/Valiant. Plenty of them lasted for many years. It is true that many things happened to these cars years ago, but if someone kept it for years and the issues have been addressed, what’s the problem??? My point is, who write a car off just because Lee Iacocca wrote that in some book he wrote?

      Like 5
      • Steve Clinton

        If anybody should know, it’s Lee Iacocca! (And how many of the 100,000s of thousands Aspens and Volares are still around?

        Like 1
      • karl

        How many of the millions of Escort /Lynxs are still around ? Datsun B210s or any Vega ? Most are gone simply due to wear and tear .Its been 40 years since the last of these were made.

        Like 3
  3. Scott Marquis

    Ok, but why ?

    Like 6
    • yes300ed

      Agreed. And I love MOPARS

      Like 1
    • Doug from MD.

      Couldn’t have said it better. Why? Must have had some fond memories in this car.

  4. yes300ed

    Agreed. And I love MOPARS

  5. CJinSD

    When I was a kid, a teenage neighbor was part of a scam that netted him a low mileage Volare Pursuit Police Car for the opening bid at our county auction. With a slightly tuned E58 360-4 and full Blues Brothers spec, it was the fastest car driven by a juvenile delinquent for miles around. If someone restored one like that, I might be able to see the asking price as a place to start negotiations.

    Like 3
  6. yes300ed

    On ebay it’s called a Charger.

    Like 2
    • Steve R

      If they didn’t nobody would actually look at the listing.

      Steve R

      Like 4
    • mike

      But does it have the Hellcat??? LOL

    • Steve Clinton

      On eBay, you can say anything you want when posting, so buyers be VERY aware!

  7. David G

    Car is far from loaded with options. They are offered with power windows, tilt steering column, power door locks, power driver’s seat, sunroof, 360 engine, to name a few. Vinyl top on this was added later, not a factory top. All the trim around the top is aftermarket/body shop installed garbage. A shame, it would look so much better without it. I had a ’76 Volare sedan in this same color combination, but in non-SE trim. Great car, sorry I sold it. Have an ’80 Volare sedan now, Police package. Love the car.

    Like 3
    • Johnnymo

      That is a factory top known as a halo top.

      Like 2
    • Rangerwalker24
      • William

        Gosh, your right! I thought I only remembered those awful opera windows with the vinyl. Mine had no vinyl, as I wanted, now if the SS had just ran like a SS should have and the darn thing hadn’t rusted away before my eyes.

        Like 1
      • Gary

        Yep! Halo vinyl roof is 100% factory!

  8. Rangerwalker24

    I owned a 1980 model and loved it. It was a great car for what it is and cheap to run. I would be interested in this one if 1) the exterior wasn’t brown and 2) was cheaper. My opinion is they are not going to get almost $15 grand out of these as they are not very desirable (which is one of the main factors for driving pricing on anything).

    I have never understood the appeal of brown cars….. blue is WAAAAAAY nicer!

    Like 3
    • Brent in Winnipeg

      My 1980 Volare 4-door was indestructible. It was in the family for 23 years and would start in any weather. Even ran it at the drag strip a few times and would always come back for more.

      The bugs were worked out in the first couple model years.

      Like 2
  9. Mike Hawke

    First time I’ve seen restored and Dodge Aspen in the same sentence.

    Like 5
  10. Moparman Member

    Actually, this is not an SE, it is a base Aspen coupe that has SE emblems added to it. The Special Edition (as shown in the brochure picture) had a different vinyl top. This one has the base factory vinyl top. I wanted one identical to the brochure pix, (triple caramel tan metallic, buckets, console) but was told by an idiotic salesman that “the Chrysler Corp only made a few cars like the one on the brochure”! These cars were rushed into production without full development, which is why they failed. By the time the problems were corrected, it was too late. This one is nice, and were it a true SE, I might be tempted! GLWTS!! :-)

    • bone

      I did have a 1979 Aspen SE like that brochure photo, same color and trim outside and same color interior as the one for sale .It was a good car , had enough power for an everyday car , and was comfortable for a tall guy like me. The 78 -80 models were superior to the early ones as many things like the rusting fenders were changed. I had a 78 Volare as well, both lasted well over 10 years and 150k in New England , which is saying something !

      Like 1
  11. Steve Clinton

    Sold for $14,500! IMHO, they were nothing cars in 1978 and they are nothing cars today.

    Like 1
    • Moparman Member

      No, that particular auction ended, it’s still for sale under a new one.

      • William

        Reserve not met? Maybe, I bet the restore cost a lot.

  12. martinsane

    I like it but its in my programming as my folks rolled a 1977 Aspen wagon in the same color combo, but yes a wagon.

    Like 1
  13. Kevin McCabe

    Fully loaded? No. Nicely equipped? Yes. 318, p/s, p/disc/drum brakes, torqueflite, a/c, cruise and later (mid 1980s) Chrysler radio. Optional Magnum 500 wheels. Special Edition trim inside and out (separate options) and the halo style vinyl roof is factory installed. Yes the ’76 & ’77 cars were rapid rusters, but from ’78 to the end in 1980, they were decent cars as long as they were equipped with radial tires. $14.5k is PREMIUM money for this car. I’d venture to say this sets a benchmark for Chrysler F-bodies.

    Like 2
  14. Chris

    Maybe 10 but not 14 thou way to much , nice car I would drive it

    Like 1
  15. Patrick Anderson

    They polished a turd and what did they end up with? A nice shiny turd.

  16. JCA

    Someone took a loss on this restoration

  17. Gary

    I like the Dodge however , my guess is it’s worth around $ 8,500,00.

  18. Dangerous Dan

    Had A 4Dr Custom, Teal Green Metalic. Had a 318, but no posi rear end. Ran fast. But bad in winter in upstate NY. To light in rear end. Had to sell as not a winter car. Was my 1st new car. Worked at Johnstown NY P.D. Our cars were Volare’s came in Brown like this. Mayor had them painted purple and gold. The High School championship team colors. Looked like a rolling Easter Basket! Nothing funnier than a 250Lb cop looking like he just pinched the Easter Bunnies ride!

  19. K. R. V. Member

    I had an uncle who owned the house I grew up in. The same house my Mom was raised in, but uncle Rim as we called him never married, never worked for anyone but himself and was quite the character whom I have not enough room to describe. But I remember he had a 64 Valiant Wagon, he used daily, plus used to transport the beagle hounds he raised to hunt rabbits with. He had bought it new, actually ordered it exactly like he wanted, in black, with HD vinyl seats and nice chrome roof rack. It also had a 273/4 brl, he personally tweaked with Holley Carb an Edelbrock Intake Manifold plus headers with dual exhaust, that he quieted with good mufflers and resonators. Plus a factory tow package with a hitch and 3:25 sure grip axle. He was also able to get the biggest wheels an tires, mud&snow on the rear. I remember him running around in that wagon till 1977, with over 150,000 miles on it when he finally sold it to a man in the beagle club. After he had ordered a new Volare Wagon, still in black without the fake wood grain sides, with a red interior, loaded with every option he could get, up to the 360, that he added the same carb/intake/headers to as soon as the warranty ran out, especially when the dreaded lean burn started acting up! But the his wagon had a deeper rumble of sound serving Uncle Rim right up to 1999, with over 150,000 miles of basically trouble free service of heavy duty daily service! When he actually went out an bought a GD Subaru!!! Saying it was the only wagon on the market for under the price of a similar sized Audi, Volvo or any such wagon, especially one with AWD!

    Like 1

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