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The Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage – The 1977 Dodge Charger Daytona, 1978-79 Dodge Magnum and 1979 Chrysler 300

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Welcome to the Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage, where I research unusual cars of the past which might fall under the Muscle Car banner, and then try to convince you that they belong in the Garage. In this edition, we have a trifecta of Chrysler-produced two doors. Remember, this was a time in which Chrysler was trying to sell anything to generate cash flow, and the best way to sell a “new” vehicle is to introduce special editions, or new names on existing bodies. Which brings me to these three offerings from the late 70′s. They were all produced from the Chrysler Cordoba: So, let’s discover the Dodge Charger Daytona, the Dodge Magnum, and the Chrysler 300 from the late 70′s.

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Beginning in 1975, the Dodge Charger was based on the Chrysler Cordoba. In 1976 the model range was expanded to four models: base, Charger Sport, Charger SE and the Charger Daytona. The Charger Daytona was introduced in hopes or rekindling the performance fire, but it amounted to little more than a tape stripe package. It did offer either the 360 small block or the 400 big block. Sales did go up slightly to 65,900 in 1976 but would quickly plummet after that mainly due to the fact the base and Sport models were one-year-only offerings that did not return for 1977.

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The Dodge Magnum model was introduced in 1978 and produced for only two years. It was sold in the United States and in Canada as a rebadged Chrysler Cordoba with a unique front clip. It was a replacement for the Charger SE in Dodge’s lineup and available in two bodystyles, the ‘XE’ and the ‘GT’. One of the driving forces for producing this car was NASCAR. The Magnum was more aerodynamic than the Charger. The road-going versions featured four rectangular headlights, opera windows, and an optional T-Bar or power sunroof. Power steering, brakes and seats were offered as standard equipment. Mounted under the hood was a 318 cubic-inch V8 engine. Optional engines were available, including the two and four-barrel carbureted 360 and 400 V8s. The 400 was offered for only a single year, being dropped from the option list in 1979 as Chrysler ceased production of the big-block V8s at the close of 1978.

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The GT version was packed with performance, powered by the E85 police interceptor engine. The suspension was improved, a special axle adapted, and ‘GT’ badging placed throughout the vehicle. The technology of these vehicles was advanced for its era. It had an onboard spark control computer, electronic ignition, and a lockup torque converter. The Magnum name persisted for only a short time, being replaced by the Mirada. The Mirada was a smaller car that had also been a rebadge of the Chrysler Cordoba. The name ‘Magnum’ would lay dormant for many years, making a re-appearance in 2005 as part of Dodge’s full-size vehicle in their model lineup.

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The 1979 Chrysler 300 Cordoba Special Edition was a one-year-only special that Chrysler marketed during some of the company’s worst financial times. The Cordoba had been out since 1975 and was a big success for the company, selling nearly 150,000 per year. It was similar to the Monte Carlo and Grand Prix that General Motors sold in those times of the ‘personal luxury car’. Big, heavy, V-8 cars with a nice ride and an appetite for gasoline.

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The 300 was put together with all the high performance parts that Chrysler had in their parts bins for the police cars. It had heavy duty suspension and the largest performance engine at the time: a 360 cubic inch, high performance 4-barrel carbed affair from the famed Little Red Express truck and the police cars. Even the transmission was heavy-duty, so it shifted a little harder and you could hold your foot on the gas pedal longer in each gear.

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There were 300 badges and decals all over the car, including the inside red interior with a fancy metal-turned look instrument cluster featuring a tachometer along with all the other instruments. All the cars got the red leather interior with a console mounted shifter.

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The question is this, are these “Cordobas” with extra trim, or true Obscure Muscle Cars? Those powered by the 400 could be, and even the ones with the 360 police engine could marginally be considered muscle cars. Remember, you could easily tweak either of these engines for more power, and you’d have a hell of a sleeper. However, now is the time to have your say: do these cars belong in the Obscure Muscle Car Garage?

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Is there really any justification for admitting these Three late 70's Chrysler Coupes into the Obscure Muscle Car Garage?

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Please Note: All Images are screen grabs from around the web. If you want credit for any image, please let me know in the comments section. Thank You!

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  • Van_Sarockin

    Impressive. I managed to read all the way through, and detected not a single mention of (preposterously overstated) horsepower, or any acceleration times. I've a feeling that any of these muscle cars could have been outdragged by a VW van stuffed full of hash.

    • Bowlorama

      The cop engine (standard in the 300) was 195 horsepower. The Corvette the same year had two engine options, one at 185 hp and the other at 220 hp. Both cars weighed a few hundred pounds shy of two tons. So by the standards of the time, muscular, but not compared to the musclecar era or modern day. It's like being the smartest kid in the remedial classes.

      • Van_Sarockin

        I will always treasure my Participation trophy!

  • Probably the closest thing the late 1970s had to a muscle car.

  • GTXcellent
    • UDman

      So, tell us what you really think…

      • GTXcellent

        I am a die hard MOPAR fan boy. I like just about anything with a Pentastar. My Grandma used to have a '76 Cordoba with a 360/ 4bbl and dual exhaust, and admittedly, it was pretty quick (and my Grandma was a true lead foot). But I just can't bring myself to allow these into a muscle car garage. I would gladly put one in the 'back shed' along with prior OMCG candidates like the Aspen R/T, the V-8 Monzas, Laguna and '73 Buick GS, but not muscle.

  • skitter

    I voted them in, but take issue with the (marketing) suggestion that the police package featured 'advanced' technology, even for the time. Maybe the 'GT' badge was a 'disruptive innovation'. And anyone who brings up Advanced Genius Theory should race a Magnum against any 'obsolete' Trans Am car, for pinks.

  • jeepjeff

    Mmmm…. Butt terrible Malaise MOPAR. MUST. VOTE. YES.

  • Slow_Joe_Crow

    Sorry, malaise era personal luxury cars powered by emasculated engines don't qualify as muscle cars in my book.

  • TurboBrick

    What's the compression on those Police Specials anyways? New exhaust sans catalytic converters, more aggressive cam, ???? and profit?

  • paulz67

    In my high school days (mid-1980s), I had a '78 Monaco police special (2-door coupe!), with the 400/4bbl Thermoquad. Punch it and it felt and sounded like it'd suck the entire atmosphere through all four throats of the carb. Mileage was 10 MPG driven WOT, 12 otherwise. WOT prevailed as often as possible. Specs were something like 220HP/metric buttload TQ.

    Even though it had a single exhaust, it'd run evenly with a similar vintage Trans-Am… Which means that a modern 4-cylinder Accord could take it in a drag race. It ate Lean Burn boxes with regularity, too. Lots of adventures were had in those days; great memories!

  • Metric Wrench

    The big dodges were fun, especially with swivel front buckets. But the deal was the Dodge DIplomat police car. In the mid 80's, various midwest police departments were dumping them on the market to get into Caprices for operating costs. Remove the police stuff, and you had yerself a 3200 pound car with a no smog, no cat, four barrel 360. Full gauges, heavy duty springs, and a tranny cooler. And no rich corinthian leather. Gawd, those were fun – a 4 door that would run with the late models on the track, and turn 15s at the drags. Heavy appetite for parts and gas, though.

  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    I loves me some Malaise iron, but muscle? No.

    Gimme a Monaco with a cop 440 motor, cop tires, cop brakes, cop shocks, and we're talkin'.

  • mr smee

    I look at these and look at a 1969 Charger and just scratch my head. How did they go from some of the most beautiful cars to some of the ugliest so quickly? Did they lay-off all their good designers doing the Malaise Era?

  • garagepro1

    My buddy had a Cordoba and I remember all we talked about were the rich Corinthian Leather seats.

  • Jerry455

    I'm thinking of buying a mint '79 Chrysler 300 and stuffing in a crate 426 Hemi engine, making it look as "Factory" as possible.
    Big mistake or just a bad idea?? is if even feasible?
    Thoughts, comments, suggestions??

    • Stuart

      Great idea that I've dreamed of for years. With real wire wheels if any can handle the torque.

    • Stuart

      It's totally feasible, the chassis k-frame engine bay suspension are similar to the 1971 b-bodies, and even the 1970-74 e-body, Barracuda/Challenger. Even the windshield is identical. Police cars based on Satellites and Coronets also had 440s in that chassis, I think.

  • SloBob

    Hey gang, I'm just now picking up a one owner, always garaged 1977 Cordoba with the LA 360 4bbl single exhaust. Looks and runs pretty good. But I've already have in my hands a new set of headers, new Flowmaaster X pipe. I'm having my muffler guy do the install of the headers and X pipe with in front of rear axle exhaust exits. I've just ordered a complete new Mopar electronic ignition system including a nice HP coil, new HP wires and distributer pluse a set of irisdium plugs. I want to dump the factory Carter 4 bbl and install a new Edelbrock 1806 Thunder series with electric choke since it takes forever to warm the old thermoquad up, poise it needs rebuilding. I'm trying to decide what type of Edlebrock HP intake manifold and that will complete all the current engine upgrades for now. Also, should I even think about putting a new set of high flow cats on this car or should I just leave the stock cats on? I see a lot of 49 state legal aftermarket high flow cats but nothing in the CA smog legal system?

    Can anyone steer me to a real good low-mid range responds intake manifold? Its got to be California legal as well. I just found out that my new carb isn't CA legal, so I have to pick out a newn4bbl carb now as well as the new intake. So all you Mopar lovers please advise me as to what type of intake and carb combo to bolt in without making it a several days job and without continuous carb adjusting?

    One more thing I forgot to mention, is that I can't find ANYONE that makes a cold air OE ram air system. So will I have to accept that a regular air cleaner (aftermarket) that would finish of the intake part of this work? If there's nothing out there, then I'll have to settle for a K&N air filter in the stock style air cleaner.

    This should be a great sleeper as its an old couples car it great but very stock appearance…….. Its supposed to have a factory stock HP output of 170 HP but I'm thinking with the upgrades I've mentioned, that I should be running around 210-230 HP?

    Any ideas would be very helpful in keeping this great looking classic Cordoba running strong and much more aggressive that I know this 360 4bbl normally puts out in plus HP numbers. Thanks to all my fellow Mopar lovers even if its a Chrysler Cordoba!

    Bob from the Central Coast of California.

    • Ezcook

      I have a 76 charger Daytona. Factory 400 4 barrel factory duel exhaust and factory no cats. Live in ca and went to multiple smog shops and that setup was with out cats

  • Joseph Piller

    Ok……the picture of the two-tone blue 1977 Charger Daytona, with the hood and trunk lid open, that is my car. It has the 360 2 barrel with 2.45 gears in the rear end. Puts out 175 hp. So what?!?!? Now I know a lot of people don't consider these cars muscle cars, I understand that, but that doesn't mean they aren't fun to drive. Now granted it's NO big block, but it's enough for me. Tell me…..how many muscle cars do you see getting 20 mpgs going down the interstate with the cruise set at 80 mph. I'd say…..NONE. Granted it's not the fastest off the line, but I can run down the road with the big boys.

  • Mark Palmer

    Obscure yes. Malaise garbage? Yes. Muscle cars? Absolutely not. My father had a yellow ’77 Charger Daytona with the 400 he bought brand new. Supposedly only 250 of these were made for the year, and very few of those with the 400. And be grateful for that, because the car was a joke. It had twice as many miles on the back wheels as on the front from being on the tow truck so much. It was really nothing more than a souped-up looking Cordoba for ’70’s men going through their middle age Chrysler-Crisis. The Thermo-quad carburetor would vapor-lock every time you shut the car off, that after it sat there dieseling for 30 seconds. The car was not fast, and sucked down enough gas to make any Arab proud.

    • zipzag

      It’s a good thing you never owned one yourself.

  • zipzag

    Chrysler was the first with computerized ignition systems, first presented in the 1976 models, called the Lean Burn System. Back then, all cars had reduced compression, charcoal canisters, air pumps, recirculated exhaust gases and catalytic converters, EXCEPT for the Lean Burn Cars. No Air Pumps, no Catalytic Converters, air gap distributor, true dual exhaust and still met EPA requirements burning Leaded Gas. They were no where as fast as the old muscle cars of yesteryear or cars of today, but in their day, they were powerful. My first new car was a 1976 Dodge Charger Daytona with a 400 Lean Burn. It was heavy and over steered, but safest in head-on impacts, was fast 15.2 in the Quarter Mile and a very comfortable cruiser. With a 2.54 to 1 ratio rear end, 1st gear topped out at 55 MPH, second went to 110 mph. I never did find top end. Heat and time did hurt the computers, so I had to replace mine twice in 12 years, but outside of that, no problems. BTW, after that, all other manufacturers followed suit and came out with computer controlled ignition systems.

  • Anthony

    They are good looking cars that are simple to work on. You need to ditch the lean burn set up if equipped. Easily be tuned to haul ass. Today’s everyday car is malaise with no style at all. I think dealerships had some shitty mechanics employed back then.