Surprising Sleeper: 1977 Dodge Aspen

Generally speaking, a “sleeper” is an ordinary car that has had an engine change, or was optioned with a performance engine, to give it a bit of extra speed, without calling attention to itself.

A 1977 Dodge Aspen might be a perfect example of a sleeper, especially a plain jane four door model, like this very basic white example that is for sale here on craigslist in Tucson, Arizona.

The ad itself is very simple and includes almost no information about the car.

The asking price is only $1,100, which might attract your attention. As far as the interior goes, there is not much to get excited about, but the upholstery looks clean enough for a forty year old car.

It’s doubtful the front seat headrests are original, but otherwise, this car looks amazingly well preserved, and there are no power options to worry about here.

But it’s once you get to the engine compartment that the real surprise awaits. This car is truly a different kind of sleeper. It’s had what is said to be a professionally done engine replacement – not with a hemi or any other high output engine, for that matter. This old Aspen survivor is now outfitted with a Mitsubishi diesel!

I expect that some of our readers will know more about this engine than I do. What is its horsepower output, and how much torque does it produce, for example? Is this engine from a Mitsubishi truck?

The seller says this Aspen will get around 40 mpg. He doesn’t say anything about how it runs, but no matter where this engine came from, this car has got to be slow. I can only imagine what it is like going from zero to sixty. Weighing about 3,500 pounds, the Aspen was a fairly lightweight car, but powered by a diesel engine, assuming it still uses the original automatic transmission, it has got to be one of the slowest cars around. Even so, you have to admire the engineering effort that went into this build. Dodge made 266,012 Aspens in 1977. It is highly unlikely that you will ever see another Aspen like this one, and when fuel prices increase again, you’ll have a unique full size sedan that is both economical and reliable. It may not be a sleeper in the traditional sense of the term, but I think it would be a lot of fun to drive around in a car like this, surprising other drivers with that diesel clatter from an unexpected source.

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  1. ruxvette

    It’s not a sleeper…it’s asleep. Please let it slumber on…

  2. Scotty Staff

    Nice obscure and unusual find, David! Needless to say, I love it. You can’t really go wrong for a grand.

  3. Skloon

    More like a snoozer

  4. rmward194 Member

    Nice find! I hope it has working AC in Tucson. It’seems in the 80’s this week.


    In 1978 Dodge pick ups had a Diesel option, yes the Mitsubishi 6. It was a very common conversion in NYC at least to swap this engine into Volare and Aspen taxis.

    • G 1

      I drove one of those pickups when it was new. It was slow. Couldn’t get it back to the dealership fast enough.

  6. Marshall

    A church friend of mine who just this year turned 100 years old told me back during the 1980s that her (and her late husband’s) 1977 Aspen went through four automatic transmissions. This was not due to poor design of the transmission, but instead, it is as one guy at a car show recently explained to me, “the children were in charge” at Chrysler during the 1970s. That may well be one big reason why any 1970s Chrysler product (except muscle cars) is a sleeper. I owned a 1973 Dodge Dart with the slant six engine. I had to replace things on it that I never had to replace on any other car, including the engine oil dipstick. I also had to add a quart of oil literally every day. To be fair, the car was 12 years old at the time and had 146,000 miles on it when I got it. It was still running when I sold it with 150,000 miles on it. And it was tough as it survived a low-speed head-on collision with no damage. Not so the case with the other car.

  7. Ed P

    The accountants were running Chrysler into the ground. Their penchant for engineering excellence was long gone by the 1070’s.

    • Drew V

      Why bash Chrysler??? This car wasn’t a factory built car but a later conversion…

  8. Dave Wright

    Nissan diesels were a rarely chosen factory option. I saw them brand new on the showroom floor. Same engine was offered in the IHC Scout and many in marine applications. I still have some laying around the yard……..terrible engine, you couldn’t afford to fix them and they needed fixing often. Off course, they were installed in an attempt to compete in the fuel economy races of the 70’s.

  9. Joe

    Bad title for this Find. I don’t think anyone would call a car a “Sleeper” if it has an engine change to a less powerful or smaller engine. That kind of change makes the car “Sleepy”—-or a “RIP” (Rip van Winkle or Rest in Peace).

  10. Luke Fitzgerald

    David W you need a kicking – the initial expectation in your write up was to see some hypo factory police skunk works pursuit car – instead……. Teaser!

    • David W Member

      Luke – I don’t know how I feel about being kicked, but you got it right about the car. A sleeper in reverse. I thought that would make it fun to read about. Hope you didn’t mind the change of pace :)

      • jal11180

        I would amend this mistake of making it a sleeper in reverse by removing all of the Mitsubishi diesel engine trappings, fixing what is caked in oil, as well as rust, if it is necessary, on the body of the vehicle, making a stronger chassis for the vehicle, if, necessary, altering the body, and putting in one of these five crate engines under the hood, namely, a SMS 570X, Dodge Hellcat SRT8, Dodge Hellcat SRT8 Texas Dealer Edition, Dodge Hellcat Demon SRT8, or Limited Edition Generation III Hemi Kenne Bell crate engine package under the hood of the Dodge Aspen. You want a sleeper car, as in a REAL sleeper car, then you need to go with one of those five engines, especially the last two engines, David W.

    • James

      When my dad heard that Chrysler was stopping production of the V8, he bought a 1980 Aspen brand new and optioned it with the police package. He still has it with the original 360 and heavy duty suspension. The first thing he did was rip off all the emissions controlling crap.
      That car is pretty fast and a true sleeper!

      Like 1
  11. Royal Ricci

    You could do things to this diesel to make it have more power hence turning it into a real sleeper. In addition it could be made to run on veggie oil plus you could add that feature the trucks all have to blow thick black smoke to the idiot drivers behind you.

    • Joe

      The idiots are the ones blowing that diesel smoke. Coal rolling, overcompensating, hillbilly bullydog tuning redneck hicks.

      • Royal Ricci

        You are absolutely right BUT it would be a nice feature to have for that special A-H that is behind you on top of your bumper sometimes honking for you to go faster.


      • Joe

        That IS true lol

      • jal11180

        Joe, what does the TOS say about not using personal attacks on here? As tempted as I am to do that to you, I am going to rarely pass on that here, but I will report you for that on here.

  12. irocrob

    I had a 2 door with the lean burn 318 and it was a good beater car. Had the typical clunk when put it into gear but was a reliable car.They sure did rust fast here in the snowbelt.

  13. mark

    Smoke a cigarette while getting from 0-60.

  14. Blindmarc

    Get passed by a granny using a walker…..

  15. Pete W.

    Let’s get real, here. Why would any car enthusiast want this?

    A nothing car that was a piece of junk the day it was built and is the same thing today, only 40 years older. It’s only a grand, but how much will it cost to keep it running? Why would anyone subject themselves to driving it when that same thousand bucks would make a decent down payment on something much better?

    The only thing it has going for it is that it still runs and hasn’t rusted into a little pile of dust.

    Old does not mean great…or even good.

    • Royal

      I would buy it tomorrow if I had the money. Someone will want this because it is unique and because it gets 40mpg.

      Too bad it needs so much work on the interior.

  16. Ralph

    The ad doesn’t say much, but it would be interesting to find out when the diesel conversion was done, it could have been some type of test car? There were companies and a even some colleges that have govt sponsored programs to develop high MPG cars in the 70’s, this could have been one of those cars, its basic fleet looks could be an indicator.

    Also, it seems that people are being forced to read posts about cars they don’t like at gun point and therefore have to make negative comments?

    Heres a tip, if you don’t like the subject car, don’t click on the link, move on, I’m sure theres a nice article about a red Chevelle SS clone somewhere that you can read…..

  17. Mitch Member

    I don’t know what kind of diesel engine is in that car, I don’t know if it is from a box truck that carries a 15000 lb GVWR or if it’s from a Montero, therefore I won’t comment on how bad and slow this car is. I do know a bit about Aspen?Volare cars and this one looks to be in good shape. The suspension looks high and straight which is good. It has what look like police package wheels, so it may have started out as a police car. I know this comment section is for everyone to bash the car posted, but I don’t have anything bad to say. Sorry

    • Royal

      I am not sure either but that would be my guess based on the seat covers.

  18. mike d

    I owned a 77 Volare in the mid 80s 3 spd ,manual, AM radio and rear defrost, it had the slant 6, and it was a slug, a steep hill would do it in, would have to pull over to let the line of cars pass me , it had a host of problems when I first got it which the ” corner dealer” would not fix . it is because of this car that I look at ANY “Sky blue” cars with a jaded eye , as time wore on, it was an obvious repaint what finally did it in was the crossmember (?? right term? it supported the tranny) finally gave.. would never consider one even if somebody had put one away with little miles and a give away price

  19. Chebby

    My guess would be that this is a retired municipal car that was ordered with the weird diesel option as part of a fleet package. Everything about it looks taxi grade.

  20. Larry

    It might be ugly, but it sure is slow.

  21. Keith C

    It’s a Mitsubishi diesel I-6 that was offered in Dodge D-100s in 1978; it’s an aftermarket swap.

  22. Royal Ricci

    Actually, it would be fun to be able to buy this thing. Tear it completely down and redo it stock with a plush interior and then revamp the diesel to have a turbo supercharger on it, and you would have nice little hauler to pull a trailer with. The only weak spot would be the transmission, but if it were a 727, then those were pretty bullet proof. It also could be converted to run on veggie oil.

  23. chad

    I don’t know what he put in it but believe it’s almost era correct. That would mean the same nissan they put in the IH Scout – a 6 that is NOT computer controlled! a line pump that U can turn up! so it could B a performance mod…
    But no longer fuel conservative, all conjecture as he’s not detailed out the mod.

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