1975 Chrysler Cordoba

The 1975 Chrysler Cordoba was introduced for the model year in a cascade of curlicued advertising headlines. The Cordoba ostensibly broke Highland Park's early 1960s vow that "There will never be a small Chrysler." But that's really only half-true. In fact, the Cordoba began not as a Chrysler, but as a Plymouth: a new iteration of the "Gran Coupe" idea applied to the big Fury and Barracuda ponycar.

The 1975 Cordoba's sculptured pods above the headlights and large parking lights add a touch of distinction.
The 1975 Cordoba's sculptured pods above the
headlights and large parking lights add distinction.

Actually, Plymouth already had a "premium" middleweight coupe in its new-for-1971 Satellite-based Sebring Plus, but that was no sales match for two hot General Motors products.

First, Pontiac's languishing Grand Prix shrank to intermediate size for 1969 -- and sales soared nearly 400 percent. Then came Chevrolet's similar Monte Carlo, which scored 130,657 orders for 1970, and 128,600 for 1971. By contrast, the Sebring Plus managed only 16,253 debut-year sales, and Plymouth's entire 1971 coupe lineup, including the muscular Road Runner and GTX, barely topped 80,000 units.

Dodge did scarcely better with its counterpart Chargers despite no fewer than six 1971 models, the most ever.

These glum results prompted Highland Park to embark on a direct reply to the Monte Carlo and Grand Prix. Though still based on the corporate "B-body" mid-size platform, it would look far more formal than the "fuselage-styled" Charger/Sebring, with long-hood/short-deck proportions and numerous "classic" design cues inspired by custom-bodied prewar greats like Duesenberg and Packard.

Work was underway by August 1972 in the B-Body Studio headed by Allan Kornmiller. Introduction was targeted for 1975. First thoughts involved a mere evolution of the swoopy "fuselage" look, at least for the planned Dodge version, but this was gradually toned down into a notchback shape that was still quite smooth despite knife-edge fenderlines.

Long doors were deemed essential for rear-seat accessibility and the sporty, close-coupled roof line desired. However, numerous roof treatments were mocked up and tested in consumer clinics before designers settled on smallish rear-quarter "opera" windows in semi-rakish C-pillars.

Ultimately, Kornmiller's crew completed full-size models badged Charger and Sebring (the nameplates were probably just for convenience) -- identical except for trim. The body side treatment, chiefly the work of studio designer Stan Bollinger, featured a slightly down-sloped beltline above discreetly bulged flanks suggesting classic separate fenders.

Bollinger also contributed a formal "face" comprising a large rectangular grille flanked by round parking lights inboard of single headlamps. Each of the four lights nestled in its own sculptured pod jutting out from vestigial "catwalks" between the fenders and a crisply domed hood -- not unlike that of Jaguar's svelte XJ6 sedan. This theme was faintly echoed at the rear, where a modestly bulged deck lid nestled between simple rectangular taillamps.

Everything was fine until managers decided that the "Premium Plymouth" would sell better as a Chrysler. As Kornmiller recalls: "After the car was finished, they went into a meeting and made a complete switch of the ornamentation, because they thought they would upgrade [that car] ... and we sort of felt, gee whiz, we spent all that time designing one as a Plymouth and one as a Dodge, and then we get a reversal on it."

Actually, it wasn't a reversal so much as a name-and-image shuffle. Thus, the would-be Plymouth became "the new small Chrysler," gaining all the trim elements planned for the Dodge version, save for the small horizontal bars on the opera windows, which were retained for the production 1975 Charger SE.

The source of the Cordoba name is more obscure, but the pronunciation reportedly rankled studio designer Raul Bravo, who hailed from COR-do-ba, Argentina, and bristled at the Americanized "Cor-DOH-ba." Regardless, it was a good name for a luxury liner, relating not only to faraway places but the coinage of certain realms.

The latter suggested heraldry: a gold-finish circular medallion reminiscent of an old Spanish doubloon. "Fabricated of aluminum forgings," it ended up on front fenders, decklid, steering wheel -- and in the stand-up hood ornament then all-but-mandatory for upscale Detroiters.

Chrysler later said the name referred to the capital of caliph Haroun-el-Raschid, but most people surely thought of the romantic city in southern Spain once ruled by Rome and the Phoenicians.

Glossy announcement ads trumpeted Cordoba as "a totally new car," which it wasn't. Aside from richer-looking trim and more standard equipment, it was basically the same as Dodge's restyled 1975 Charger SE, and the chassis under both was a continuation of the 115-inch-wheelbase platform that had supported all of Chrysler's B-body intermediates since 1971.

Still, the Cordoba was small for a Chrysler. Its wheelbase was shorter than anything the make had offered since the early 1930s, and a 215.3-inch overall length made the new coupe a good foot trimmer than full-size Chryslers.

With that, ads also termed Cordoba a "compact," but it wasn't that either. However, with memories of long lines at the gas pumps still fresh, "compact luxury car" no longer seemed a contradiction in terms, and Cordoba proved it.

Despite having just one model, the freshly minted small Chrysler accounted for no less than 60 percent of the brand's 1975 model-year output: a rousing 150,105 units -- more than Chrysler's entire 1974 line. Even better, Cordoba outsold Grand Prix nearly two-to-one. On the other hand, the Monte Carlo, also in the third year of General Motors "Colonnade" styling, managed close to 260,000 units.

Yet, with the market fast-recovering from the oil doldrums of 1973-1974, most Cordoba sales represented welcome "plus" business for Chrysler-Plymouth dealers. As a result, the Chrysler brand ended up 130,000 units ahead of dismal 1974. Unfortunately, some of that gain came at Dodge's expense, because the 1975 Charger attracted just 30,812 buyers, versus 74,376 copies of the 1974s, which admittedly came in three models instead of just one.

Nevertheless, Cordoba's success suggested the Chrysler name could still exert considerable sales magic. Helping the cause was a $5,072 starting price, about $120 below Grand Prix, though a sizeable $823 above the basic Monte Carlo.

That money bought a lot of stuff: split-back front bench seat with fold-down center armrest, "Chronometer" digital clock, 24-ounce shag carpet, a fully carpeted trunk (including spare-tire cover), bumper guards, whitewall tires, and full courtesy lighting. Power steering and front-disc brakes were included, too.

Powerplants were familiar corporate fare. The standard engine was a 360 V-8 developing 180 horsepower (SAE net). For the mileage-minded, the long-running 318 was available as a credit option, though it reduced horsepower by 30. Topping the chart was a four-barrel 400 with dual exhausts and 235 bhp -- a relative muscle-motor for 1975. All three engines predictably mated with Chrysler's ever-excellent three-speed Torque-Flite automatic.

Typical of period luxury wannabes, the Cordoba interior was ornate, almost overdone. Imitation walnut was slathered across the dash, three-spoke steering wheel, and an optional console. Rich "Verdi" velour covered the seats, which ad writers represented as "a safe haven from the harsh reality of today's traffic." Door panels were upholstered to match, and borders of "finely tooled filigree metal edging" appeared in numerous places.

To learn more about the 1975 Cordoba's styling, continue on to the next page.

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