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1977 Chrysler LeBaron Coupe

1977 Chrysler LeBaron Coupe

If you’re a car guy, you’ve likely been aware of the LeBaron moniker for a while, but perhaps didn’t have an entirely firm grip on why. Any confusion you might feel regarding the LeBaron name stems from the moniker having been used in three distinct epochs in Chrysler’s history.

1977 Dodge Charger, Ads From 1977

1977 Dodge Charger

In general terms, the late-Seventies/early-Eighties “downsizing” era is generally regarded as a bleak period for the American auto industry, and for good reason. As they raced to slash production costs and reduce fuel consumption, carmakers often shrank their products to a draconian degree–much to the dismay of the buying public.

1977 Chrysler 318, The Small V8s of 1977

The Chrysler corporate 318-cubic-inch engine was the smallest V8 available in the 1977 Plymouth Fury.

Car-guy discussions regarding automotive downsizing usually center on styling. I have done my share of kvetching about how a few model lines that were “resized” in the late Seventies and early Eighties came off looking like caricatures of the cars they replaced.

1977 Mercury Cougar

1977 Mercury Cougar

By the mid-Seventies, Mercury wasn’t selling much beyond gussied up Fords. Wedged between Ford and Lincoln in FoMoCo’s family album, Mercurys were charged with drawing a customer type that was somewhat more affluent than Ford intenders, yet nowhere conservative enough to commit to a Lincoln.

1977 Mercury Cougar XR-7

1977 Mercury Cougar XR-7

For Mercury, 1977 was eventful year. The brand’s staple Comet compact cars were making one last appearance, while the midsize Montego lineup was redesigned and renamed.

1977 Chevrolet Impala Coupe

1977 Chevrolet Impala Coupe

I’ve spent a fair amount of time bemoaning the results of the Detroit downsizing movement that began in the mid-Seventies. Responding to rising fuel prices and an unusually high rate of inflation, manufacturers were desperately looking for ways to reduce materials costs and to improve fuel economy. The simplest way to achieve both goals was, apparently, to produce smaller vehicles.

1977 Oldsmobile Toronado XSR, Most-Powerful American Cars

The Oldsmobile Toronado was the third most powerful American car of 1977. Note that the T-Top roof depicted in this brochure image never reached production.

Perhaps the easiest way to demonstrate the extent to which emissions equipment and low-octane unleaded fuel had impacted the power output of new-vehicle engines is to note the following:

Designer Series Lincoln

Lincoln offered four designer editions of the 1977 Mark V.

I would argue that the low-point in automotive designer licensing/co-branding came in 1993, when Mercury rolled out its Nissan-built Villager minivan complete with a line-topping Nautica Special Edition.

1977 Lincoln Continental, Longest Cars of 1977

Stretching 233.0 inches, the Lincoln Continental was one of the longest passenger vehicles of 1977.

A funny thing happened on the way to Eighties: Cars got shorter. The “shortening” of the American automobile didn’t happen all at once—it came in staggered bursts, as individual manufacturers downsized the platforms that underpinned their largest cars.

1977 Lincoln Continental Mark V

With a base price of $11,396, the Lincoln Continental Mark V was only the 4th most-expensive American-brand car available in 1977.

 It was the Brits who first used the term “Yank Tank” to describe the cars produced by American auto builders. And, compared to the cars sold in Britain after WWII–around the time the term Yank Tank came into use–the cars of the UK were certainly smaller, better handling, and more efficient than those sold Stateside. It is perhaps ironic then that the most-expensive American-built car in 1977 was, in fact, by definition a compact car.

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