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The Carchive: The 1980 Dodge St. Regis

Chris Haining December 15, 2017 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 17 Comments

There are nameplates, like Chevrolet Corvette, that seem destined to be with us forever. Equally, there are those that disappear seemingly overnight, having achieved precious little during their brief stay on planet earth. Last week, we looked at the Jeep Wagoneer, the five-door variant of a car that fitted firmly into the former bracket. Now, though, we’re definitely looking at car that was rather transient in nature.

We’re sticking with North America today, but winding the clock a little forward until we reach the brink of the ’80s. August 1979, in fact, when this brochure for the Dodge St Regis went to print.

You can click on the images to make them bigger, but that annoying black / white contrast issue means you still won’t be able to read them

“It would be enough for most cars to look as extraordinary as St. Regis. The crisp, sculptured lines. The distinctive transparent headlight covers”

Bognor Regis is a seaside resort town 24 miles west of Brighton on England’s Sussex coast. Founded largely as a holiday destination late in the 18th century, its development quickened following the arrival of the railway, and gained royal decree in 1929, at which point ‘Regis’ was suffixed to its original name. It is assumed that this oft-maligned, genteel settlement was chosen by Lee Iacocca as inspiration for Dodge’s flagship sedan.

I lie. The St. Regis name had appeared on a Chrysler product before, albeit as a trim level only. For a few glorious years, though, it graced the top model in the Dodge range, only to disappear after 1981 leaving the pentagon badge without a full-size model at all for a fair old while.

“Introducing Dodge St. Regis with the Touring Edition Package. A car in the true grand touring tradition”

Grand touring was all the rage in the late 1970s, but North America had a rather different idea of how to do it than Europe did. Still, weighing 3,674lb and measuring over 18 feet from end to end, the sheer bulk of the St Regis could terrify bumps out of the way before the suspension was tasked with dealing with them. The  Touring Edition Package granted you a full padded vinyl roof, pinstriping, dual remote mirrors, ‘deluxe’ windscreen wipers and forged aluminium wheels. The seats were leather clad in red or cashmere, and a ‘featherwood woodgrain’ applique added distinction to the steering wheel. What more could you ask for?

And, of course, there was the St. Regis signature feature, those retractable headlamp covers that impressed so damn much when we saw them on the Dodge Magnum XE previously. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, compared to such beasts as the Chevrolet Caprice and Ford LTD of the time, The St. Regis managed to look almost futuristic. But, of course, it was anything but. Especially from a technical perspective.

“St. Regis. Total performance in a full-size car”

The standard power unit was a 3.7-litre slant six of, er, undisclosed power output. I suspect it wasn’t a throbbing power house, although in those tragically detoxed days even the 5.2 and 5.9-litre V8s were probably a little stifled.

The Wikipedia entry for the St. Regis mentions that California Highway Patrol somewhat struggled with the 318ci engine, which clean air rules mandated in California for 1980 – it’s recorded that patrols struggled to beat 100mph when a light bar was installed. In the 49 states, though, the 360 presumably fared rather better. And hell, the cars were so big you could probably park them up and use them as penitentiaries if they failed as police cars.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. In a bizarre turn of events, copyright probably belongs to Fiat)


  • “And hell, the cars were so big you could probably park them up and use them as penitentiaries…”

    According to one parish named for him, St. Regis “is the patron saint of lacemakers, medical social workers, and illegitimate children.” He’s also remembered as an “improver of prison conditions” so I suppose it would be a step up from using Dodge Aspens.


    • Rover 1

      St. John-Francis Regis, the great “father of the poor,”

      A quite suitable patron saint for many Chrysler vehicles since?

      • Alff

        I have three of their fine products in the drive, four if you count the Alfa. I cannot dispute your assertion.

        • Rover 1

          Well, he is the patron saint of illegitimate children as well.

          • Alff

            N/A. I only provide my legitimate children with vehicles.

    • Vairship

      I don’t think it’s a secret that the car was named after St Regis of Philbin.

  • Alan Allawi

    2 years ago I bought All original 1980 Chrysler New Yorker All original 15K mile car cream ext with cream leather interior. 360 2B power front seats tilt sterring factory AC factory AM/FM wire wheels . Its a blast from past with original window sticker & owners manual. Askinh price was 14K I got it for 13K. Its essentialy same R body design as St Regis & Plymouth Caravelle

    • Alff

      Proving that there is indeed a butt for every seat.

  • wunno sev

    3674lb seems straight-up light. a new Focus RS weighs within 10% of that.

    • wunno sev

      like, not light-light, but really not as heavy as i’d expect for a boat like that.

      • Alff

        I think you might be surprised how small it appears when parked in a lot with modern vehicles.

        • wunno sev

          i bet you’re right. recently chanced upon an E23 7-Series and was surprised at how small it was.


          • Alff

            I had a similar epiphany upon spotting a late ’60s Impala sedan in a crowded lot. I’ll bet it would have been dwarfed by a Mitsubishi sedan, too.

            • wunno sev

              man, that’s just crazy. we think of those old cars as being so big!

  • Tomsk

    The R-bodies were good looking cars. Pity they were so short lived, but they did have a lot of factors working against them: The quality was pants (even by Malaise Era Detroit standards), the platform was old (an evolution of the B-body, which dated back to 1962), and the unibody construction made major cosmetic updates and adding body styles (like coupes and wagons, which were never offered) a pain in the butt.

    Couple that with continuing oil supply and price uncertainty at the dawn of the ’80s and it’s easy to see killing them off was an easy choice for Iacocca and crew.

  • cap’n fast

    having had a Chrysler product with a slant six in it of “undisclosed power output” in Florida, i despaired of ever accelerating, let alone “gathering way”. the solution was not really easy, but welding tubing was involved and i do love doing that. Boooooost! IHI turbocharger and a 750cfm holley carb. not even an intercooler. out of the carb thru the compressor turbine and into the cylinder head. Booooost! not caring a whit for engine longevity. junk yards giving them away. $50 each. low miles. dodge dart with Boooost! sounded like a F100 with farts. no boost controller. just a smallish turbine. no lag. just Booost! We roached that hack thru three engines before the trans gave it up to glory. it was a very fun project. pulled the last engine and sold it to a boater for his IO drive on his nasty fishing boat. truly a well misspent youth.