The Cordoba was Chrysler Corporation’s response to the burgeoning personal luxury car market, which hit its peak by mid-decade. For years, Chrysler Division had a “no small cars” policy and thus the entire lineup was land yachts: Newport, Newport Custom, Town & Country, New Yorker. But after the muscle car era declined due to increasing regulations, inflation and plain simple customer tastes, it was replaced with personal luxury cars such as the Pontiac Grand Prix, Chevy Monte Carlo and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Chrysler did not have an entry in this new and hot market, the closest model was the Charger SE, a Broughamified version of the Coke-bottled 1971 Charger. Something had to be done. The 1975 Cordoba was the answer.
The Cordoba originated as a premium Plymouth coupe, but at the last minute, it was changed to a Chrysler. It was assumed that it would sell better – and at a higher price – as a Chrysler. The ’75 model had all of the mid-1970s personal-lux gotta-have-it items: shag carpet, power steering, power brakes, opera lamps, full vinyl or Landau-style top and available wire wheel covers. And let us not forget the soft Corinthian leather! Buckets and a console were available as well.
The Cordoba was based on the B-body Plymouth Fury and Dodge Coronet, perhaps most famous as 440 V8 powered police cars in myriad movies of the ’70s and ’80s, but had unique sheetmetal, a 114.9 inch wheelbase, and the longest doors in the industry, at 58.5″ long. It also had several neoclassic features, the most obvious being the tunneled headlamps and parking lamps. While it was meant to recall classic cars of the 1930s (and was also prominent on 1973-75 Chevrolet Monte Carlos) there was more than a passing resemblance to the contemporary Jaguar XJ6/XJ12. A two barrel, 150 hp 318 V8 was standard, with Torqueflite automatic transmission. A 400 V8 was available for an extra $73.
While the Dodge Charger Special Edition (the standard Chargers were basically Coronet coupes) was virtually identical to the $5581 Cordoba, it did not sell near as well as its corporate cousin. The flossier interiors and snob appeal of the Chrysler nameplate led to 150,105 Cordobas vs. 30,812 Charger SEs in 1975, despite a much lower price of $4903. The upper-crust name and the excellent marketing paid big dividends for Chrysler Corporation.
The Cordoba was a hit. Unfortunately, it was Chrysler Division’s only real bright spot for 1975, as sales of New Yorkers and Newports slid by 12% from 1974. Cordobas made up 60% of total 1975 Chrysler production. It was the right car at the right time.
The 1975-78 Corboba was engineered in typical 1970s Chrysler fashion, with unibody construction and front torsion bar suspension. An optional Sure-Grip differential helped keep Cordobas from getting stuck in the snow. For its sophomore year, Chrysler wisely chose to not mess with success. The ’76 Cordoba was virtually identical, but sported a simple vertical bar grille instead of the ’75’s more ornate version.
While 1976 sales were not quite as high as 1975’s figure, it was still very good, with over 120,000 sold. It was Chrysler’s hot new product, and very different from the New Yorker Broughams, Town & Countrys and Newports it shared showrooms with.
While even the basic Cordoba was a nice car in its time, there were naturally many, many optional comfort, convenience and appearance options. While all Cordobas came with opera windows and an opera lamp on the B-pillar, a “halo” full vinyl roof or landau roof could be added. I doubt many Cordobas were delivered with the standard steel roof. These cars were all about ‘the look’ and the Broughamier, the better. Pin stripes, contrasting top, wire wheel covers, stand-up hood ornament and chrome, chrome, chrome!
I first spotted our featured Cordoba on Easter Day back in The Year Of Our Lord 2012, as I was returning home from dinner at my parents’ house. It was dark, but I spotted it immediately while driving through Moline’s Olde Towne neighborhood. At the time, I hadn’t seen one of these since the mid ’90s, so I returned the very next day to capture it on film. But it was gone! Curses! But several days later, I finally spotted it again, in the very same parking spot.
The ’76 is my favorite year of Cordoba. I like the simple vertical bar grille much better than the overdone ’75 and ’77 grilles. It hits all the Brougham-era luxury cues: landau roof, wire wheel covers, Spanish-doubloon type emblems, opera windows, and opera lamps. But the $64,000 question: Did it have fine Corinthian leather?
It did not. But this is clearly a 1970s personal luxury car interior. This was one of the several optional interiors (other choices included brocade, velour or leather), dubbed “Castillian” by Chrysler. It was apparently the industry’s first Jacquard interior upholstery. Personal luxury cars were for flashy people, and the interior choices reflected that. Oldsmobile had some equally wild interior fabrics on 1976-79 Cutlass Supreme Broughams.
Cordoba’s appearance was little-changed for the 1977 model year, with the expected grille and tail light revisions. A new Crown landau top was introduced, however. Shown above, it featured a different window treatment and an illuminated band on the B-pillar. The light extended all across the top of the car and back down the other side. That must have made for a cool appearance at night!
Of course, Ricardo Montalban remained the official Cordoba spokesman through the Cordoba’s run. He would remain in Chrysler advertising even after the Cordoba was discontinued in 1983. Does anyone else remember the Chrysler Crystal key commercials he did in the 1980s with Turbo K-car New Yorkers?
1977 was the last year the Cordoba wore its attractive tunneled headlights and parking lamps. 1977 was also the Cordoba’s best production year, with 183,146 produced.
As for the Cordoba itself, a somewhat questionable facelift in 1978 resulted in stacked quad headlamps and flatter, plainer tail lamps. While not bad looking, the 1975-77 was much better looking in your author’s opinion. The facelift also had the unfortunate effect of making the car look a lot like a 1976-77 Monte Carlo, at least from the front. Sales dipped to 124,825, but how much of that was due to its styling is questionable, as Chrysler was sliding into one of its periodic crises.
These Cordobas just screamed the ’70s personal lux glitz, and may well be the only car non-automotive people will remember. Just say “Corinthian leather” and they’ll know what you’re talking about!