1978 Dodge Diplomat Wagon: Super Woody!

1978 Dodge Diplomat Wagon: Super Woody!
1978 Dodge Diplomat Wagon: Super Woody!

Now here’s a rare birdie. A loaded ’78 Diplomat wagon. Sure, most of you likely remember Diplomats and Gran Furys from many ’80s movies and TV shows, but the wagon didn’t last long. 1981 was the last year for it (and also the Diplomat coupe); from then on, you could get only a four door sedan.

And of course most of those four door sedans sported various law enforcement regalia or were painted yellow. The Diplomat was introduced in 1977 as a more upmarket model, playing off the ‘small but luxurious’ style brought into being by the ’76 Cadillac Seville.

It was a corporate cousin to the 1977 Chrysler LeBaron, both of which were based off the compact Aspen and Volaré.

This uncommon survivor, which appeared on eBay Motors circa 2013, has something decidedly custom. And I don’t mean the wheels and tires. This Dippy has a 440 Six Pack under the hood.

Despite the engine swap, the rest of the car is remarkably stock and appears to be in excellent condition. I especially love the spectacular bright red leather interior!

Yes, factory leather interior was available and much more plush than anything you’d have seen on an Aspen, Volaré, Malibu or LTD wagon.

The back seat is just as inviting as the front. Power windows and courtesy lights, too. Very nice.

Buckets and console were also seldom seen on Detroit wagons in the late ’70s. Someone really loaded up this car when they ordered it–or perhaps it was a showroom draw ordered by the dealer to show all the extras available.

The cargo area is fully carpeted–and not the cheap doctor’s waiting room carpeting often seen on new wagons and SUVs. The chrome skid plates are a nice touch too.

The woodgrain trim is much more restrained on the Diplomat than on the 1977-79 Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country, and the beige pinstriping gives it a nice accent. I prefer this to the Chrysler, with its more heavy-handed “wood” framing.

Note the chrome turn signal indicators on top of the fender. For those of you in the younger age bracket, these used to be common on higher end cars, and would blink along with the turn signals when they were activated.

Generally I prefer factory stock cars, but I love this thing. It would be be a perfect summer cruiser, with space, pace and Broughamtastic look-at-me presence!


    1. The Big 3 put huge money and research into finding a deflector design that would keep the rear window clean with minimal success, and then Volvo comes along with a simple rear wiper that does the job perfectly.

      1. When I bought a ’94 Mazda Navajo (Ford Explorer) in Kingman, AZ, I installed an aftermarket rear deflector. More for looks than anything else, as without it, the back end seemed too “bare”, “naked”, or “unbalanced”. I was probably conditioned to having it on the ’76 Vista Cruiser from ’76 to ’86.

      2. Pontiac had an optional rear wiper on the streamliner bodied cars back in the early 40’s so it was like Volvo discovered any new tech.

        Huge money spent? Eh…probably “some” money spent would be better…..

        1. A few years back Iconic had one of those Pontiac coupes with the rear wiper, it was unrestored and heavily optioned .

          I wonder if they ever built it, they often had scads of cool older unrestored cars on hand to build for rich folks and occasionally offered for sale as-is .


  1. Interesting that all of these first round of downsizing mid size wagons from the big three lost their third row, even being more boxy. With front drive the later GM A bodies and Taurus were able to bring them back. Think of the pressure the big three must have been under to give their customers what they grew to expect, to keep doing it they had to completely reimagine how they built and engineered their cars. That the government was hitting them with safety, emissions, and CAFE at the exact time they were allowing in ever more imports to cut into volume shows how much the administration of the time hated the big three. No wonder Chrysler, AMC, and Ford were all having near death experiences in 1978, a decent year before the second oil shock.

    1. The first generation Valiant wagon was available with three rows of seats. They dropped the option in 1962, with very little influence from the Kennedy administration.

      1. I think the early Chevy II could have them too. The utilitarian high roofs do have a certain Kennedy pentagon whiz kid scent once freed from Henry II.

    2. You really didn’t need 3 rows in those days, as I remember traveling to Y league basketball games in my coach’s Impala sedan – must have been about 8 of us plus the coach in the car all without belts, airbags, or even decent brakes.

      1. True enough. I remember at a kids birthday party the the father loading up a whole classroom of 8 year olds in the back of his Chevy Luv work truck. When we got near his house, we were jumping out while he was still moving.

    3. They may have lost the 3rd row due to packaging constrains. A RWD A-Body would have the fuel tank behind the diff, in the space where the seat and foot well would sit; while in the FWD A-Bodies the fuel tank resided under the 2nd row freeing up that space for packaging the seat. IIRC both platforms used a vertically, side mounted spare wheel, in some cases space saving.

      1. This is, I think, the correct take. The 1978 A-Body was a relatively small car — its length of 193.3 inches for the wagon was eight-tenths longer than a 2020 Accord sedan. It was packaged fairly tight and the actual cargo area was well short of what you’d get in a modern Ford Flex.

  2. Nice car, but I can’t believe someone took out the factory original 14 mpg lean burn 318 or 12 mpg lean burn 360 and put in a 10 mpg rich burn 440 to totally destroy the collectable or daily driver value of the car. Maybe a drag racer with a large family got a good deal on it.

    1. Stingray would have had them add instead the lean burn Porsche/ Audi/Gremlin 121 as was done to/for the Concord that year.. What economy, what sophistication! The console option from the coupe I assume then could house the floor shift 4 speed from the Pinto. Think of all that weight out of the nose and a half size gas tank out back might get you a third row footwell.

      1. I’m not so sure this car has much value no matter how it’s built or maintained .

        Me, I like it, more than a little bit, if your pleasure and ability is for a 440 six pack, why not ? .

        I’d go different route to make it a Hot Rod but there’s an ass for every seat, never forget that .

        My only complaints are the steering wheel and wheels, both are far too loud for this reserved looking sleeper .


        1. Do you think there was much choice with the wheels? A six pack 440 would have doubled the hp even adjusting for net numbers. I wonder if he also switched to the 727 torqueflite and the stronger back end? The mid size Monaco was still available in 78 and could have a factory 440, that would seem a less trouble option.

        2. Sarcasm aside, I love what they did to the car – it was worthless with the original motor and now would at least be a very fun weekend cruiser. I personally would have put a modern FI hemi and 8 speed automatic in it to make it even quicker and likely get over 20 mpg, and I agree the steering wheel and wheels are a little too obvious on what is the perfect sleeper vehicle.

        3. +1 on the steering wheel and the wheels. Maybe a set of slotted or turbine mags could have worked here or a set of those old Chrysler alloys that were fitted to Cordobas and Monacos.

          The steering wheel could be a Chrysler 3-Spoke “Tuff” covered in red leather.

          Engine wise my choice would have been either a modern EFI 5.7 Hemi or a choice of warmed over EFI 318 or 360. I love that 440 though.

  3. This really brings back memories of my white over red hand-me-down 1978 Aspen Sunrise Edition. It had the same console and probably the same dash panel as the Diplomat above. I know the vents and HVAC gear are the same and that button-top shifter was the bomb. Here’s what mine looked like except mine had bucket seats, no factory 8-track player, and no flowery rear seat fabric.


    The red interior was vinyl instead of the plushy leather in the Diplo. My slant six would run forever but rarely from a stop. The console shifter came in handy due to its lack of idle stability.

    1. “My slant six would run forever but rarely from a stop.”

      Chrysler ahead of its time again with a fuel saving stop-start system.

    2. I searched for Aspen interiors. I’d say you were correct about the dash. I noticed in the pictures that most survivors had cracked dash panels. Mostly over the gauges. Probably to be expected. More weight there with the instruments and steering wheel vibrating plastics being “Gassed off” for 40 years.

      1. The IP in the Diplomat/Gran Fury/Fifth Avenue/LeBaron is similar to the Aspen/Volaré on the right, center-stack side. I don’t think you could get the full gauge package in the latter, or at least not with gauges in separate pods. (Of course, they were basically the same car.)

        What I always wondered was what the little upward kink at the top of the right side of the Aspen/Volaré dash was all about. Occasionally you’d see one where the dash top was flat horizontally, as on this Diplomat (which, along with the rest of its brethren I mentioned up-top, never had that kink, AFAIK), but mostly not.

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