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1976 Dodge Aspen
Special Edition
Station Wagon

318 V8/Automatic
AM-FM/Rally Wheels

Motor Trend's 'Car of the Year' for 1976

SOLD JUNE 19, 2012

June 19, 2012 - Moving to Ohio - I've had the wagon advertised locally off and on for a few months now, avoiding use of eBay and national club listings because I hate selling long distance.  So of course, I ended up selling the car to someone from Ohio!  Mark contacted me, and after some emails and phone calls, flew in this morning and drove the car home.  He was happy with the car, and I was glad to have someone who appreciated it get the Aspen.   We packed up the parts and literature and he rolled out less than an hour after landing at the airport.  I just got an email that he was home safe and the car was solid.  A happy ending for all!
May 27, 2012 - Deja-Vu - I was driving the Aspen in some rain a few weeks ago, and there was a clatter under the cowl followed by a noticeable lack of movement on the part of the windshield wipers.  You know the old saying, if it ain't broke, don't fix it?  Not good advice when dealing with 36 year-old plastic linkage pivots.  You see, I only replaced the two broken pivots last time because the others still looked OK.  They lasted until the next time I used the wipers - oh, well.  Still easy to replace and I had the pivots in stock this time.  So I got it all done this morning, and the Aspen can venture out in the wet with confidence.
December 4, 2011 - I ordered the linkage pivots from an eBay vendor - they were cheap, and came in early in October.  However, I found out the linkage pins have to be pressed into the pivots, which means pulling the whole linkage assembly.  Not knowing how much work was involved, I put it off until today, only to find it was a remarkably easy task.  The cowl shield pulls off to reveal the linkage (you can the black linkage arm in the lower photo.  Undo one 10mm bolt on the motor shaft and the two pivot retainer bolts on the towers, and it all comes out with no fuss.  As a side note, the pivots are actually available at local auto parts stores - didn't occur to me to check there.  Got her all back together and the wipers work great. 
October 31, 2011 - The Fall Tour was the Aspen's first real trip since I bought it two years ago, and it did pretty well for the most part.  One glitch showed up early the first day, when the passenger side wiper linkage came loose from the motor and got jammed up with the driver's side.  Luckily, the driver's side worked fine one I got the disconnected passenger side wiper out of the way.  Looks to be a fairly easy fix through the cowl panel.  The only other issue was the automatic choke, which didn't always do its job.  Once the engine was thoroughly warmed up, it was fine, with lots of power.  I ordered a new choke assembly today, and both speedometer cables arrived today as well.  I'll the new parts installed and do a good tune-up.  I think the carb and distributor were set up incorrectly due to the misrouted and missing vacuum hoses.  All in all the Aspen was a great road car and should be terrific once I get the little bugs ironed out.
October 27, 2011 - My car club has its Fall Tour this weekend, and the threat of rain cancelled plans to drive a TC while the backup Studebaker developed some freeze plug woes.   Next in line was the Aspen, which hasn't seen much use the past month or so.  I gave her a thorough cleaning, checked fluids, and drove her to work the past couple of days to get her limbered up.  The car has two annoying flaws - it has never had much acceleration, and the speedometer ticks and jumps.  I attributed the first to 1970s emissions systems, and the second was tracked to a bad speedometer cable.  After much searching, I finally scored the correct speedometer cable today on eBay for only $15!   I'd never really investigated the acceleration issue until tonight, when Best Bud Chip came over.  We started poking under the hood, where he pointed out that a vacuum hose was broken off on the carb.  Further investigation revealed that the vacuum advance valve on the air cleaner (shown at left) wasn't hooked up at all!  As it was conveniently labeled "CARB" and "DIST" figuring out the routing wasn't too hard.  A quick trip to Advance netted new vacuum hose, and the result was dramatic.  The Aspen MOVES!
September 10, 2011 - It was true wagon duty for the Aspen today - I took Chip and his family to our car club Manifold Picnic, which took a tour of Chesapeake before going to Northwest River Park in Chesapeake.  Beside a full load of passengers, i had the drinks and ice for everyone, chairs, coolers, and other supplies.  And some friends showed up in their 'woody' as well - a 1986 Buick Electra with even more fake wood than the Aspen!
August 6, 2011 - I took the Aspen out to a car display at the Virginia Beach Farmer's Market - we were expecting a crowd for the weekly Show 'n Shine, but threatening clouds kept everyone but the dedicated Tidewater Region AACA folks away.  It ended up being a nice evening, and the Aspen did great as usual.   She doesn't get driven much, but she does get out every few weeks to stretch her legs,  Just nothing very newsworthy about taking her to my parents' on a Sunday, or to a car club meeting.
December 22, 2010 - With the TC's freeze plug out and unknown issues with the MGB-GT's clutch, I decided to roll the Aspen out for my local MG Club's annual Christmas Lights Tour.  Neighbor Kitty and I took the TC last year in 24-degree weather while everyone else buttoned up and turned on the heater.  It was in the upper 30s this time, so ironically, we were riding with heat and radio in a warm family hauler while everyone else had tops down.  The Dodge is the right vintage at least, and I stole the old showroom MG logo from the TC's wall and stuck it on the dashboard as a concession to the club.  The car ran great and was, admittedly, considerably more comfortable this year!
October 23, 2010 - It took me a few weeks to get around to the carpet, but I finally had a nice day and time.  I repaired the damaged back section with carpet seaming tape to reinforce the ripped-out holes, then used carpet cleaner to remove stains.  The dye itself is pre-mixed in a simple pump sprayer.  The color was off, quite a bit lighter than the original, but the difference was amazing.  The cargo area carpet had faded to gray-white and looked pretty awful.  Now it really looks nice - not new, but very presentable.  And this water-based dye does not change the texture of the carpet like most of the fabric paints you can buy.
September 30, 2010 - The carpet recoloring kit arrived today.  It will be a while before I get to the job.  I need to remove and repair the carpet section on the back of the rear seat where the corners tore.  And with Hershey next week, I expect I'll be busy this weekend.  However, I have the kit and the carpet should be done soon.
September 12, 2010 - The Aspen had a quiet summer, mostly spent sitting quietly in the garage.  With warm weather the TC  and the 78 MGB-GT got most of the use, with just a couple of outings for the Dodge.  I've toyed off and on with selling the car, but so far I haven't quite made up my mind.  It's a really nice car in just the right color combination and the right options.  I did go out today and get a sample of carpet from under the back seat.  I will send it off tomorrow and get a carpet recoloring kit.  The only thing wrong with the interior is fading of the carpet, and that one fix will do wonders for the overall look of the car.  I bought a new carpet kit for it months ago, but the replacement set is too dark.  The car fired right up today even after sitting for months, and ran great.  With winter on the way, she'll see more use for car club events.
January 10, 2010 - I fired up the heater in the garage this morning and was able to get the NOS clock installed in the Aspen.  When I pulled the dash panel, the retainer for the rubber steering column seal was loose.  It was held in place by plastic pegs that should have been melted down to form tabs.  Instead of trying to melt the posts down 35 years later, I used an old spray tube and melted it to create caps.  The clock went in easily and works perfectly, which is not always the case with NOS parts.
January 7, 2010 - I've done a lot of driving, but little else with the Dodge.  I did get the NOS parking lights after all - since they are a known weakness I figured I might as well buy good ones while they were available.  And Santa Claus brought me an NOS clock to replace the dead one in the car.  Looks like an easy enough job.  With that done, pretty much everything on the car will be working.  I've put close to 1,000 miles on the Aspen since October.  

I also ordered some replacement sheet metal for the rear cargo area floor pan, which has some serious rust in the spare tire well.  You can't even see it unless you raise the rear floor panel.  But since I plan to keep the Aspen I want her fixed up right.  Jim's Arizona Parts is providing the full panel and rear brace pieces, which will be shipped via Greyhound and stored until I am ready to get the pieces cut in and welded.

December 26, 2009 - The new bumper is on - things came apart a lot easier this time being less than 2 months since I put the junkyard bumper on.  It looks much nicer, though most people wouldn't really notice the difference.  The new chrome really brightens the front end, and I like having the correct rubber trim instead of black tape.  The parking lights are very fragile - the lenses separate from the bodies.  I'm lucky that they have not fallen out while I was driving.  Luckily I was able to clean and reglue the lenses in place.  There is an NOS pair on eBay for $80, but since I have a spare 'fixed' one plus the two on the car, I hate to spend the money.  At this point, I've spent more on the front bumper than all the other repairs combined!
December 23, 2009 - Got an Xmas present in for the Dodge today - an original wood grained gas cap to replace the chrome aftermarket cap.  The color and grain are a great match, and while the cap needs some minor paint touchup and a couple of dents fixed on the inside edge, it looks really good!   I'll try to get the new bumper on this weekend, and I understand that Santa is brining the Dodge an NOS clock this year.
December 20, 2009 - I fixed the speedometer this weekend thanks to notes in the official factory shop manual.  I had suspected troubles with the upper cable which goes from the cruise control unit to the speedometer, but the shop manual noted that a jumping needle was most likely caused by the lower cable.  Sure enough the lower cable was caked with old grease and very hard to turn.  It's also a fixed cable, which means you can't pull it out to clean it.  So I pulled both ends and ran brake cleaner through the housing while I turned the cable with a power drill.  That flushed out enough of the old grease that the cable could turn smoothly, and the speedometer is working great.  I also changed oil and filter, which she needed more due to age than miles.  The new front bumper came in and looks really nice - I straightened the rubber impact strips from the original bumper and will see about getting it all installed this week.  A couple of other nice items were found on eBay as well - an original wood grain gas cap, and some more literature.  I drove the car quite a bit today - much nicer without the speedometer jumping and clicking - and she ran smooth and strong.
December 6, 2009 - Although my junkyard bumper looks pretty good, when I spotted a correct deluxe rechromed front bumper on eBay tonight for $175, I went ahead and snagged it.  Just getting a decent one rechromed is over $300, and the car is nice enough to fix it up right.  I may just stick this one up in the rafters for a while - at least I was able to save all of the rubber strips from the original bumper.  The deluxe bumpers with the holes for the rubber strips are pretty hard to locate.  The only other one I have found so far nationally was over $500 with shipping! 

We took the Aspen to my car club Xmas event last night - cold, rainy and windy, very nasty out.  It was really nice to have a car with radial tires, modern wipers, disc brakes and a good heater/defroster that still counted as an 'antique'!

November 29, 2009 - Nothing much to report - the Dodge has been running great.  I've put about 350 miles on her so far and am very pleased with the way she runs and handles.  More literature came in - I now have most of the original factory and dealer items, from the showroom sales folders and trim book to the shop manuals and technical bulletins.  Also got some original MOPAR key blanks which I had cut locally.  The speedometer is still jumping - looks like there is some old grease in the cable housing.  I plan to pull it out and flush it with brake cleaner and see if that will cure things.  I've been looking at the carpet, and despite the new set in my dining room, I may try redying the original instead.  It's all in good shape, just faded. Redying is not expensive, and if it doesn't work out, I still have the new carpet ready to install.
November 15, 2009 - Turned out there was no need to rush - terrible weather resulted in the cancellation of the club event.  Things cleared up today and I got the car out for a long drive.  One thing I noticed right away was that a slight stumble and a habit of stalling when you first put the car into gear had cleared up.  Then it became obvious that the car had more pep.  The reason is probably the alternator.  When the car was not getting a full charge, the electronic ignition system would not have been getting enough juice for high speed and cold operation.  I also got a lot of attention again today, including one young man in a van who shouted 'Awesome Ride!' and gave me a thumbs up.  I am going to check out the Aspen the bumper came from this week in hopes of picking up a few trim bits and pieces.  And there is a factory NOS wagon wood grain decal on eBay I hope to snag as 'backup'.
November 11, 2009 - I wanted to have the Dodge ready for her 'debut' this weekend at my car club's annual Chili Cookoff, and that bent front bumper had to go.  I went ahead and pulled the original bumper off, and discovered that the rubber trim strips I had planned to swap over required lots of new slots to be drilled in the replacement.  Rather than risk damaging the good bumper, I decided to go with a black trim tape stripe that provides much of the look.  It's a good temporary measure until I find a correct bumper.  The original bumper is badly twisted and the metal actually tore - I won't bother trying to have it fixed.  Anyway, it's all together now and looks much better.

November 9, 2009 - The alternator turned out to be deader than the proverbial doornail, so I picked up a new one, plus a new voltage regulator at Advance.  The alternator did great as soon as I installed it - however, I followed that with the new voltage regulator and had a dead charging system again.  Dead out of the box.  Happily, the old one works fine, so I exchanged the dead regulator for another new one and have it set aside for another time.  I took her out for a good run tonight and she did great. 
November 8, 2009 - Almost took the Aspen on a trip to the Montpelier Hunt Races in Orange VA as a trial run, but changed my mind at the last minute and took the Sonata.  Good thing - I got home today and swapped out to the Aspen for the regular trip to my parent's, only to discover that the amp meter was showing a steady discharge with the headlights on.  Which prompted the realization that I had never seen the meter showing a charge.  So I pulled the alternator tonight - looks to be original.  I'll get it tested tomorrow - gotta be either the alternator or the voltage regulator - both are cheap and should be easy to find.  The '76 Woody' license plates arrived and are on the car.  Oh, the new carpet arrived Friday!   Be curious to see how well it fits - the loop pile and color look good.
November 4, 2009 - The owner's manual package showed up today - in new condition with all of the extra pieces - warranty folder, AirTemp A/C promo, even a factory weight and tire pressure printout for an Aspen.  I decided to attack the replacement bumper last night - using a propane torch to heat the dent from the back made all the difference, and I was able to get most of it knocked back out with no damage to the plating.  I'll probably play with it a little more to get it as straight as I can, then pull the original twisted bumper off and swap over the optional rubber protection strips.
November 2, 2009 - My eBay purchases for the Dodge are starting to arrive.  I got the NOS factory shop manual set Saturday.  The sales folder came last week, and the Motor Trend magazine proclaiming the Aspen/Volare 'Car of the Year' and the dealer trim and paint selection book came today.  I also ordered new carpet for the Aspen from eBay - molded fit with the correct loop-pile and heel pad for just $139 including postage!  The original carpet is badly faded and stained, and they never dye well.  The new carpet will take a couple of weeks to get, but I am not in a rush.  The complete owner's manual package I got off eBay was mailed today, so that should arrive soon.
October 31, 2009 - Halloween Night and I definitely got 'treated' with the Dodge.  A friend in the car club is an A/C technician who was willing to take a look at the long-dead A/C setup in the Aspen.  It wasn't working when the previous owner bought it, and the car had been sitting for years.  With at least a decade since the last A/C use, all I was hoping for was a list of things that needed to be replaced.  However, when he hooked up his manifold set, the system was still holding a partial charge!  He pressurized the system to check for leaks, then pulled a vacuum and recharged it with R-12. She tests out at 46 degrees coming from the vents on a day where the temps were in the mid-eighties!  He was impressed enough with the car to offer me a 'quick $1,000 profit', but I am quite pleased with the wagon.  I put a lot of miles on the car today - the alignment really made a difference.  There is a little vibration at speed - Mizzel's did not balance the rear wheels, so I guess I need to make a trip to Wal-Mart across the street and get them done.
October 29, 2009 - Picked up the bumper today so I can get a head start. It came apart pretty easy, giving me access to the back.  However, the metal is very heavy - I'll need to check around for advice on getting the dent out.  It laughed off a ten pound sledge.  I will probably need to heat the metal, but I want to check into other possibilities first.  A torch is likely to damage the plating.  I've got a lot of literature coming from eBay - a complete owner's manual package in excellent shape, a set of factory shop manuals still in the original plastic wrapper, an options catalog, and a dealer trim and paint selection book.  
October 27, 2009 - I located a much better front bumper at a local yard.  The replacement has a dent in the the center area, but the plating is excellent and a lot of that area will be covered by the rubber cushion strip.  Plus I should be able to get some of the dent out.  I count myself lucky - no other Aspens were to be found in local junkyards and I'd only found one source online.  They had a straight but rusty bumper for $50 plus shipping.  This one is very clean and was only $85.  I'll pick it up this weekend.  If the weather holds, I'll also be getting the A/C looked at by a friend in the AACA who is an A/C expert.
October 26, 2009 - Good news on the front end - although it was out, there were no issues with the suspension components.  It had been a long time since she had been aligned, and neither of the front tires had been balanced.  All fixed now.  I finally got the time to give the car a bath, too.  It's supposed to rain the next few days, but with the car in the garage I can do some minor fixing and cleaning.  I took another look at the front bumper and decided it would be pretty difficult to straighten out.  It has several creases and the entire end is twisted out of shape.  Looks like someone backed into it from the rear and pushed it forward.  The rubber strip is supposed to be straight across the front. Time to start calling junkyards.
October 25, 2009 - The Aspen got new plugs, wires, cap and rotor today - she needed them, too.  Idle speed picked up and a slightly uneven exhaust note smoothed out.  But it took a couple of tries to get the new plug wires in.  I was really careful - tagged all of the wires with the cylinder number and kept them all on the old distributor cap for reference.  However, it turns out that the vent on the new cap is 180 degrees out from the vent on the original - and so were the wires on the car when I tried to start it.  However, I only needed to hear the first pop through the carb - after redoing the wires in the correct order, she started up and ran great.  The front end gets aligned tomorrow.
October 24, 2009 - I took the Aspen out for a long drive today with a tank of high test and carb cleaner to help clean things up inside.  I have everything for a good tune-up (tomorrow's goal) and the front end will get aligned Monday.  Also, my first Aspen eBay purchase arrived today - the showroom sales folder.  The representative SE wagon was almost a clone of my car, and the brochure provided a listing of optional equipment.  My car has most everything: 318 V-8, A/C, speed control, roof rack, air deflector, power seat, power windows, power locks, rallye road wheels, luxury steering wheel, deluxe insulation package, light package, protection package, remote driver's exterior mirror, electric clock, bumper guards and protective strips, tinted glass, and AM/FM radio.  Power disc brakes and steering were standard with the V-8 wagon.
October 21, 2009 - It seems pretty weird to have a 1976 car as an 'antique', but as of today I am the proud owner of a 1976 Dodge Aspen Special Edition 4-door station wagon.  I've been wanting to get a small more modern wagon for long tours, and always liked the Aspen/Volare series.  They are relatively compact, the drive trains are bulletproof in any combination, and parts can be had over the counter of any auto supply store.  I've restricted my search to the local area as I was looking for something cheap, and paying a lot of shipping defeated the purpose. Last week, I expanded my search to the Richmond Craig's List and found an ad that looked very promising:

The car was located about 40 miles away, but it was the color and model I wanted, and even better, the owner worked near me and was willing to drive the car in so I could look at it.  I did some research ahead of time and found out that the 1976 Aspen/Volare cars were the Motor Trend Cars of the Year.  They also had the dubious honor of being the most-recalled vehicle in automotive history up to that point - the Chevy Citation took that 'honor' away in 1980.  However, the recalls were primarily easily corrected items linked to the 'Lean Burn' ignition/fuel system, an early form of emission control that had a lot of bugs.  Later cars had very few problems, and the early ones (including this one) had the lean burn system replaced.

I drove the car yesterday and checked it over.  The Special Edition was the top of the line, and this car pretty much had every option in the book.  In addition to the normal A/C and power steering and power disc brakes, it was equipped with the 318 V-8, power windows and locks, six-way power driver's seat, reclining passenger seat, tilt wheel, rallye sport wheels, roof rack, dual speed wipers with washers, etc. 

The seller had installed new white-letter Dunlop radials (available as an option in 1976), and the car had a new muffler and tailpipe, brake master cylinder, battery, and other work done within the past 10 months.  There was also a current Virginia state inspection.  The original paint was excellent, as was the deluxe vinyl interior.  Most of the original factory stickers and labels were still in place in the engine compartment on on the windows.  Even the cargo area in back was clean and unmarked.  However, there were some warts, including a few hairy ones.  The front bumper was bent, but fixable.  There was a quarter-sized spot of rust-out in the right rear quarter, the A/C didn't work, and the speedometer jumped around pretty badly.  The front end felt tight, but needed alignment.  Under the hood, the ignition control module and voltage regulator were both oozing goo where their insulating sealant was breaking down.  Then Rob, the seller, showed me the really big hairy wart - the spare tire well had collected water and rotted out in several places. There was no structural damage, and the area can be fixed with fiberglass or cutting in a well from a parts car. It's all invisible, so even a not-so pretty fix won't be seen.

I spent the afternoon adding up repair costs for everything I'd seen, and made an offer of $3500.  Rob was reluctant, but we finally settled on $3600 last night.  I paid for the car this morning and got it titled and tagged this afternoon (she'll be sporting '76WOODY').  Then I drove her home tonight.  She runs well, all the bells and whistles worked, and I even had three people comment 'Nice Car!'  That surprised me, as I thought the car would be mostly invisible.  In any case, I'm delighted with the Aspen, and am already scoping out goodies on eBay for her.   More photos and updates to come!

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