The Chrysler Cordoba: Like a '60s muscle car, but not

By Guest Writer
Mar 10, 2024 | Chrysler, 24 Hours of Lemons, Low-Buck Tech, Cordoba | Posted in News and Notes | From the Aug. 2022 issue | Never miss an article

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Story by Eric Rood

The 24 Hours of Lemons allows real people to live out their (slightly tempered) racing dreams. But if you want to race a classic American muscle car–think early V8 power and rear-wheel drive–how do you start such a build for hundreds and not thousands? 

Jim Sayre of Valve Tap Racing followed the Mopar muscle car pedigree to its logical (and chronological) end: a 1978 Chrysler Cordoba. While you’re all replaying Ricardo Montalbán’s famous “rich Corinthian leather” pitch in your heads, consider the following the final Chrysler B-body checks for muscle car cred:

  • Two-door version of a big(ger) sedan? Check. The iconic Charger and Road Runner muscle cars were basically the coupe versions of the Coronet and Belvedere. The Cordoba? It’s just a Dodge Monaco coupe.
  • Relatively cheap? Check. Adjusted for inflation, a new Cordoba started at about $22,700. That’ll buy you a rental-grade, unsold 2019 Dodge Journey right now.
  • Big V8? Check. Jim’s Cordoba is powered by Mopar’s final passenger car big block, the sometimes reviled Chrysler 400. Sure, there are some points against it. That 400 makes a stout 190-ish horsepower due to its Malaise Era emissions equipment–though Jim smartly tossed out the notorious Lean Burn system–and the rear end is geared to a theoretical top speed of about 336 mph. 

Setting all that aside, if you lower your standards a bit, the general layout of a Cordoba is very similar to a 1968 Charger R/T’s, which means classic muscle car handling (poor) and braking (also poor). 

All the same, the Torqueflite transmission is robust, and the big, strangled 400 seems not to make enough power to hurt itself. The Cordoba is easy to drive and predictable–if unspectacular–which is great for Jim, who just wanted a car his family and he could race with some of his old Mopar friends. And crucially, it looks spectacular on a race track.

While you might not find a Mercury Cyclone or Pontiac GTO, complete the Lemons analogy instead with a Mercury Montego MX or a Pontiac LeMans Coupe GT.

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06HHR (Forum Supporter)
06HHR (Forum Supporter) Dork
6/29/22 1:02 p.m.

My grandfather had a 76, Brown with Tan interior and vinyl top.  Was no match for my aunt's Cuda in a straight line but it was way more comfy..  He was a Mopar Man, retired from Ma Mopar after 30 years.  The Cordoba was his retirement car.

Brett_Murphy (Agent of Chaos)
Brett_Murphy (Agent of Chaos) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
6/29/22 2:47 p.m.



TheTallOne17 Reader
6/29/22 2:58 p.m.
Snowdoggie (Forum Supporter)
Snowdoggie (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
6/29/22 2:58 p.m.
dean1484 GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
6/29/22 3:03 p.m.

I noted in the video that he refers to it as a "Small Chrysler ".  That made me chuckle!!!

1988RedT2 MegaDork
6/29/22 4:14 p.m.

In reply to dean1484 :

Our peculiar habit of stuffing our corpulent bodies into tiny shoeboxes on wheels had yet to manifest itself.  Many cars we think of as large today were, in their time, sold as "personal size" cars.

06HHR (Forum Supporter)
06HHR (Forum Supporter) Dork
6/29/22 4:22 p.m.

They were small "ish" compared to their earlier bredren..  This is what my Grandpa's Cordoba replaced, 1972 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham. That thing had it's own zip code.

ddavidv UltimaDork
6/30/22 7:16 a.m.

Having spent many hours riding around with a friend in his 400 ci Cordoba, I can tell you they were absolutely faster than you'd expect. Not fast like a built Camaro, but fast compared to most of the emissions-laden junk we stop light raced in the 1980s. Remove the Lean Burn system and add some exhaust and a cam, and Bob's your uncle.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
6/30/22 7:26 a.m.

Richard Petty's last Mopar race car was a Dodge Magnum, which was a sister car to the Cordoba, so there's sort of a race heritage...

stroker PowerDork
6/30/22 9:54 a.m.

I had a Magnum with a 400 big block.  Ended up donating it to charity.  Wish I hadn't, now, but gas was comparatively cheap then...

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