Behold a free car! As such, even free, it was still a hated necessary evil in my family. I was only a child of, at the most, ten years old when we replaced it with a 1983 Chevrolet Celebrity. A remarkably better car in every way, except for the less comfortable seats and the fragile connecting rod bolts of the 2.8 v6.
I must share a bit of history on how we got this car for free.
Chrysler was doing horrible. The malaise era was tragic for everyone. Smog rules killed any performance, and when the OPEC shortage hit, nobody but imports had a mileage car to offer, but they were also small and cramped. Chrysler had to do something, and they raided their parts bin and came up with this beautiful 70's engineering P.O.S.
It had a terribly smogged but absolutely indestructible slant-6 that made 90hp@3600rpm. That was a free part from the bin. It had a Chrysler A904 three-speed transmission. That was a free part from the bin. It had a lot of free and already engineered parts, but it was still a totally early seventies bag of know-how. But Lee Iacocca had to sell something before the debut of the massively expensive project of the K-car. That was hitting the lots in 1980, and there were still several Aspens, and Volare' cars left over to clear out! Since Chrysler had a left-over lump of cash in their marketing budget, they decided they would just give away a bunch of the cars to companies needing fleet vehicles.
So My dad's company got a batch of them from the local dealer. Free from Chrysler. And for many places, the company car was born. But the result wasn't good. My dad told me about just how bad it was on a recent visit:
It wasn't as big as a boat, but it handled like one. The brakes were never properly balanced, and strange handling would make the brakes lock up at weird points in the weather. I remember one of those moments where we were on the freeway through town and slowing for a stoplight on a slight downhill; the car suddenly pitched to the left on this drizzly day, at a nearly 45-degree angle, bumped the middle curbs (before medians) and bounced back straight. He said the car tried to kill him twice. If he turned hard enough to the left, the engine would quit! And the best tank of gas he ever got out of it was 17 mpg. It was sold with a rating of 20 highway. But! But...the seats.
Despite the vomit-inducing brochure picture here, they were very comfortable seats! As a kid, remembering things that now, as an adult thinking back, I do remember not complaining at all about them. We drove to Colorado and elsewhere. It was just fine! So fine I don't really remember long trips in it. Since I was eight when we got it.
So in order to discover how terrible the car was, but also vindictively crash the hell out of it in Beam NG, I decided to build it in Automation. That turned out to be somewhat of a challenge.
The engine. I could not get the thing to represent the decent torque curve but anemic power curve. The actual charts I could find showed 91hp and the power diving away after 4,000 rpm. I couldn't quite get the 160 pounds of torque but got most of the power at 4,100 and it dove away at 4,800 before ea 5,000 redline. Good enough. But to do it, I had to get really creative with fuelling and compression and cam choices. So the end product has a top speed probably 5mph faster and gear limited to 107mph, and it does wobble and roll as expected.
The body had only one choice that fit the shape I wanted and It did well enough. The wheelbase of 2.8m was spot on. but finding enough crummy square and junky looking trim pieces to use was the hard part. The side strips are bumpers adjusted to look like strips. And They really turned out well. I'm glad I got it right.
Performance specs are close to the real car but not exact. And that's fine. But here they are, depicted by REAL-aspen / AMation-aspen:
0-100km/h: 16.9 / 14.9 (my car came out 500 pounds lighter)
1/4 mile: 20.5 / 19.6 (Hey! This is spot on!)
1 kilometer: 37.7 / 36.0 (I'm awesome at this game! easy!)
top speed: 96mph / 103mph (game isms)
mpg combined: 16mpg/10mpg (I had to get the thing rich and dirty so it wouldn't knock....a penalty)
Overall I think I did well in creating it. The driving impression is pretty much exactly how dad said it was.
And when he got the replacement car, we were very happy and so was dad because it finally was a decent handling car and way better for the family.
a rod bolt let go at 96k miles. But it was the same 2.8 that was in the Fiero. No biggie. New short block and away he went. It was totaled at 115k miles by a guy in a truck.
I found some respect for the Aspen in the end of all this. It truly was a serious attempt to get the last of what Chrysler had to fill the time before the revolutionary K-car was ready. We could refer to it as a '76 Porsche 912e, the one with the 2.0 VW engine that filled a gap year before the 924 was on sale. this was that car. It wasn't trying to be anything special but a solid and affordable something. It got you somewhere. That is for sure.
So what was the 77-80 Dodge Aspen after all?
It was that guy who was alright at first but wound up under the bleachers smoking and hopeful for something more.