Monday, 13 February 2012
The 79 Diplomat
There she is. That's a photo of the make and model. There are few differences- mine was green and had cloth seats. As you can see, its a two door, my preferred body style. Mine had a 318 engine- 5.7ltre v8 generating a whopping 148 or so horses, cycling through a 904 3speed auto, but that was later upgraded to a 727 trannie out of a 74 challenger.
It's a 1979 Diplomat, ironically, the Lebaron clone of its day. But this one was not the k-car type, but the more famous Chrysler M body. This body type was so durable, diplomats were used by police forces (powered by 360 4bbl engines with the police pursuit package) up into the mid nineties. Watch an early episode of Law and Order. The cop cars in the opening credits are diplomats.
I bought thsi car for a number of reasons. My brother owned one, only he had the Plymouth Caravelle 4 door (he bought that from my parents). So I knew what I was buying, and some of the problems I would have with it. The second reason why I bought it was the $450 price. This was 1994. The fuel economy was awful, about 20mpg (19L per 100k) but fuel could still be bought for about 40 cents per litre so it didn't matter that much. The interior was comfortable and the car was easy to get in and out of.
Driving it was easy. It floated down the highway, and it had power steering. To get an idea of what I mean, most vehicles today have power-assisted steering. In other words, there's a bit of resistance from the steering when you turn the wheel. The diplomat's steering was so light you could turn the wheel with your pinky finger even in hard corners. It also had no rear end traction. In the winter, in order to drive on the icy roads safely, I had to weigh the car down with sandbags, three 40 kilo bags in the trunk over the back wheels.
But I loved it. That summer, I went camping every other weekend to a place about 4hrs from where I lived. Driving it was a pleasure, and long trips were wonderful.
I remember I had my best mate with me, Justin, and we were coming back from the mountains on one of those weekends when we entered this broad valley- probably 3 or 4km wide. Interestingly, as were coming down the hill we could see this line of dump trucks- there was a large number of them turning right (for my Australian friends, that's a left turn equivalent) off the highway. As the road was ramrod straight, we could see clear across to the other end of the valley, and there was no oncoming traffic. So I punched it, and swung out to pass them ALL. It would take a little while, but that underpowered car would go 160kph+. I pinned the accelerator, and gripped that wheel tight. I had too. That car was not built to do those speeds, and the light steering made the car susceptible to overcompensation of any sideways movement. But the car and
I were managing.
Then trouble struck. A car appeared atop the opposing hill and we were only about halfway down the line of dump trucks. I think I swore. I don't remember Justin saying a damn thing. There was nothing to do but press on- the dump trucks, especially as we getting closer to their turn off were probably not even doing 70kph, and by this time I was doing over twice that. The old car was giving me everything, and the steering was bad, I was fighting to hold her straight, and still that other car came on- head on.
Suddenly, I was clear of the line of trucks. I took my foot off the throttle and put the car back into its proper lane as quickly as I dared. I remember saying to Justin as that other car passed us, "See? Five or six seconds to spare, plenty of time."
I miss that car to this day and that wasn't the only "adventure" in that car that weekend. I sold it not long after I blew the head gasket by successfully starting the car after leaving it unplugged in temperatures below -40.