The cars we loved.

1979-1981 Chrysler New Yorker: The Stubborn Beginning of a End (of an Era)

1981 Chrysler New Yorker 5th Avenue

1981 Chrysler New Yorker 5th Avenue

The New Yorker name is widely associated with opulence and extreme luxury. As the Chrysler brand’s flagship sedan, the New Yorker had been around since 1939. It had gradually grown larger in size and weight with each new generation, until peaking in the 70’s.

Defiant in its response to the fuel crisis of the time, the New Yorker resisted the downsizing trend that GM and later Ford gave in to. Chrysler would gradually downsize starting with the 1979 models, but it was hardly a concession to fuel economy. The ninth generation New Yorker “R –body” was a short-lived blip on the Chrysler radar as it struggled to make do with the realities of a pending bankruptcy and the need to modernize its aging platforms.

1981 Chrysler Newport

1981 Chrysler Newport

The 1979 to 1981 model years would be the last of the truly big rear wheel drive New Yorkers.  The classic American luxury car proportions were handsome enough that Chrysler sold very similar versions of this car under names like Newport, St. Regis and Gran Fury.

These cars competed with Chevrolet’s Caprice/Impala and Ford’s Crown Victoria. The New Yorker in its top new Fifth Avenue trim competed directly with the Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham and Lincoln Continental.

While lesser cars like the St. Regis could be had with six cylinder engines, V8 power had always been a hallmark of the New Yorker. Unfortunately by the late 70’s the once powerful engines were merely shadows of what they once were. Buyers could choose from a 5.2 or 5.9 L, but the most powerful 4- barrel version of the nearly 6 liter could only muster 170hp.

This sad tale could be told by any number of American car manufacturers in the early post fuel crunch years. With Chrysler and the New Yorker, moving slowly had its price in the quickly evolving luxury marketplace.

Late or not, the New Yorker’s looks were right on time. The hidden headlights and crisp modern lines were very much the direction Cadillac and Lincoln had been moving in with their downsized models. The New Yorker was further distinguished from similar models like the Newport by its distinctive landau roof.

Exterior appearances aside, the New Yorkers of this era still used old world technology, like carburetted engines and multileaf rear suspensions. The 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission was the only one available and could trace its roots to the 60’s. As the 80’s dawned, the competition had begun flirting with electronic fuel injection, independent suspensions and digital dashes, making the Chrysler feel dated, although it looked contemporary by American Big Three luxury car standards..

Chrysler would embrace some new technologies with a vengeance (digital dashes for instance) in later New Yorkers, but no significant changes would occur until 1982. The interiors were lush with leather and vinyl on many models. All models featured individually adjustable seats with a folding center armrest. All the luxury features of day were standard while Chrysler did offer simple new or current technologies like digital clocks and cassette stereo sound systems.

The need to dart out of a jam in traffic reminded the New Yorker driver that a bit of luxury was lost under the hood, but performance was well within expectations of the luxury buyer of the day. The top versions of the New Yorker with the 5.9L were down right spritely at 12 seconds to 60 mph compared with base models that featured the 5.2. with only 110 hp.

With about 3700 lbs to tow, acceleration in the least powerful models was closer to a bus needing more than 16 seconds to reach highway speeds. 1979 would be the best year sales wise, as the new design struck a cord with buyers.

Very few changes occurred beyond a new grille in 1981 and the reshuffling of engine tuning and colors. Sales had taken a dramatic plunge after 1979, falling to just under 7,000 units sold by the end of 1981.

A downsized 82’ would arrive. Still with rear wheel drive, but this time with a single smaller V8 engine offered. The changes would get more dramatic after that. The New Yorker did not recover from all the desperate changes until the debut of the LH versions of the early 90’s.

1979 Chrysler New Yorker

1979 Chrysler New Yorker


6 comments on “1979-1981 Chrysler New Yorker: The Stubborn Beginning of a End (of an Era)

  1. 9symphony9
    August 18, 2012

    I liked the square style cars back then, but I always wondered though why nobody thought of rounded edges on cars like we have now back then? I still don’t get it after all these years.

  2. Drew Dowdell
    November 1, 2013

    “While lesser cars like the St. Regis could be had with V6 engines” – There were no V6 engines available in the St. Regis or Gran Fury . The 6-cylinder was Chrysler’s stalwart Slant-6 inline.

    • autopolis
      November 2, 2013

      That’s right, they were inline 6 cylinder engines. My bad.

  3. Robert Levins
    August 26, 2017

    I think that these r body New Yorkers were the classiest looking luxury cars of the big 3.Its too bad that Chrysler was in bad shape,I bet that if they were in better shape financially not only that they looked classy build quality and performance would have followed.I own a1980 New Yorker ,rare,with all the options available,and everything works perfectly!Im writing this response in 2017,a lot of people mostly younger say Wow! That’s so classy looking what kind of car is it?So I tell them all about it and they love it.They don’t know about all the complaining that a lot of people do today about these cars,all they see is abeautiflly preserved classic.So folks,despite everything,so much time has passed we have to say,yeah they are classics now I’m not going to complain any more.Try to see them and enjoy them,because the will never build these again especially the even bigger 1978 C body.Im 53 yrs old and I wasn’t even old enough to drive them when they were new!I enjoy all you peoples opinions and comments.Thanks. Robert

  4. Edward
    November 4, 2017

    The Chrysler New York Special debuted at the 1938 NY Auto Show, and proved so popular it became a regular model, renamed the New Yorker, in 1939 (not 1946 as stated above).

    • autopolis
      November 5, 2017

      True, thanks for pointing this out.

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This entry was posted on August 15, 2012 by in 70's Cars, 80's Cars, Chrysler and tagged , , , , .
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