Missing the Cordoba

  • July 23, 2023

“I know my own needs,” said Ricardo Montalban. “And what I need from an automobile, I find in this new Cordoba.” He went on to explain the various virtues of this “small Chrysler” two-door, four-seat personal luxury coupe – which made its debut in 1975. Including (most famously) the “thickly cushioned luxury of seats available even in fine Corinthian leather.”

“Small”?

Well, by the standards of 1975.

By the standards used to classify 2023 model year cars, the Cordoba qualifies as a full-sized car. It was 215.3 inches long, which to convey some sense of that, is about two inches longer than a current-year full-sized luxury car such as a ’23 BMW 7-Series sedan – which is only 212.2 inches long. And that is about as big as “full-size” gets in 2023.

We used to live much larger.

As opposed to just the few of us who still can, as now.

Of course, everything is relative – and by the standards of 1970, the Cordoba was 
“small”  . . . . compared to the full-sized sedans that were then still available back then. A 1975 Chrysler Newport, for instance, was as long as a ’23 Chevy Suburban.

Both being about a foot longer than a ’75 Cordoba.

But the Cordoba was still a pretty big car for a coupe. There is no modern day comparison because coupes its size are no longer made. Haven’t been made in decades. Because they have been effectively outlawed.

The government never said to Chrysler – and the rest of the car industry: We forbid you to build cars like the Cordoba (which was by the way a very popular car that sold well when Chrysler was still permitted to build cars of that type). Rather – and much more subtly – the government decreed that Chrysler and the rest had to comply with the regulations issued by the government’s regulatory apparat.

The evil genius of this dirty business is that no one can say the government has “outlawed” a particular kind of car. So when cars that can’t comply with the regulations are taken off the market, many people assume it’s because there isn’t a market for those kinds of vehicles.

Vehicles like Cordoba then – and Charger (and Challenger) now. The latter are being taken off the market even though there is a strong market for Chargers and and Challengers.

And now you know why.

It is the oily mechanism by which the government subverts what the market wants without the market recognizing that its preferences have been subverted. We can also see this going on today with regard to electric cars. There is very little real market demand for these things. But they are the only things that comply with the latest round of regulations issued by the government that effectively outlaw anything that isn’t an electric car by requiring all new cars to be “zero emissions” or average close to 50 MPG.

So this isn’t new. It has just gotten worse.

But it is the same thing.

Even a “small” Chrysler such as the ’75 Cordoba had trouble complying with the government’s regulatory regime, chiefly on account of the fact that it was originally available with a standard 5.2 liter (318 cubic inch) V8 and offered two larger ones as options – the biggest of them being 400 cubic inches (6.6 liters in metric) which is bigger than the biggest V8 engine available today in any full-sized SUV.

These big V8s were very popular with car buyers back in the ’70s for the same reason they are popular with people who buy big SUVs today: Lots of people like big rather than small things, especially when they can afford them.

Not that there is anything wrong with small things. The point is that – once upon a time – average people could afford big things, including things like big V8 engines in “small” Chryslers like the Cordoba.

And not just the Cordoba, either.

When it came out in 1975, it was one of many such “small” personal luxury coupes that were available. Others included the Chevy Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick Regal. All of them would be considered full-size cars by the standards of today’s full-size (and pushing six figure) sedans. And all of them came standard with bigger V8s than are available in any pushing-six-figure sedan you can buy today.

All of these personal luxury coupes (and their V8s) went away.

No, that’s not accurate. All of them were regulated away. The Cordoba’s big V8s could not meet the next round of government fuel economy and emissions regs and so – after just four years of success on the market – Chrysler was forced to redesign it to be more . . . compliant. The second-generation Cordoba that made its debut for the 1980 model year was a smaller Chrysler.

It was now 209.8 inches (still a full-sized car, almost, by our diminished standards) but a much less impressive car than it had been.

Under the hood, especially.

The now-standard six cylinder engine was about two-thirds the size of the previously standard 5.2 liter (318 cubic inch) V8 that powered the first-generation Cordoba. 1980 was also the last year Cordoba could be ordered with what was previously the mid-sized V8 (5.8 liters, 360 cubic inches) that was optional in the original.

The 400 cubic inch (6.6 liter) V8 was gone for good.

This wasting away for the sake of compliance would continue until – by 1983 – the Cordoba itself was gone for good. In its place, an actually small Chrysler – the K-car based LeBaron – appeared. It didn’t even offer a six. All you could could get was a four less than half the size of the original Cordoba’s base V8.

And the LeBaron, itself,  was all of 179.2 inches long. That is about three feet less car than the “small” Chrysler that met all of Ricardo Montalban’s needs – and demands. As well as hundreds of thousands of buyers.

Unfortunately, government demanded such cars disappear.

And so, they have – with most people not having the slightest clue as to why.

. . .

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