Home » Landau Tops And Louvered Windows: 1978 Pontiac Phoenix vs 1979 Plymouth Volaré

Landau Tops And Louvered Windows: 1978 Pontiac Phoenix vs 1979 Plymouth Volaré

Sbsd 12 8 2023
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Good morning! It’s Friday, the end of another long week, and boy do I have a treat for you! When you think stylish, affordable, high-performance coupes, what’s the first decade that comes to mind? I’m betting it’s not the decade that spawned these two. But as George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and there’s no way we want stuff like this coming back. So we’ll remember them.

But first, the General was our focus yesterday, and I’m not at all surprised that the “Caddy that zigs” swerved around that lumbering minivan to take the win. We’ve got another Pontiac today, so we’ll see if GM’s orphaned excitement division does any better.

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That Catera really is a nice car, and from the sounds of it, it’s a car that many of us – myself included – completely forgot existed until we saw that ad. It just goes to show that sometimes you need to look beyond the obvious choices to find a hidden gem, in the form of a rear-wheel-drive German-built sedan from the least likely of places.

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One of my least favorite trends right now among new cars is the black plastic fender arch. Once the domain of tough 4×4 trucks, these ugly-ass tacked-on lumps of plastic have found their way onto every crossover and wagon there is. I guess they’re supposed to look rugged and outdoorsy, but to me, they just look like they’re trying to cover up how lame the rest of the car is, and failing miserably.

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When I was a kid, automakers tried the same deception: hiding boring cars under some bric-a-brac so you wouldn’t notice how crap they were. Two of the most common added-on bits of “flair” were landau roofs and window louvers. Neither really helped the car’s styling, and both managed to massively increase the size of blind spots. So today, we’re going to look at two typical ’70s coupes, one that went the Brougham route, and one that chose the Sports path. Brace yourselves; this could get rough.

1978 Pontiac Phoenix – $5,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.8 liter overhead valve V6, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Clackamas, OR

Odometer reading: 61,000 miles

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Runs/drives? “Amazing”

As I’m sure you’re all aware, the phoenix is a mythological bird, famous for bursting into flames every so often and then being reborn from its own ashes. Why Pontiac chose to name a car after such a creature, I’ll never know. I mean, they already had the Firebird, maybe they thought it went well with that? Before this car was called the Phoenix, it was called the Ventura, which is a city in California famous for, I don’t know, being pretty and having some historical stuff.

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The Pontiac Phoenix rides on GM’s X platform, shared with the Chevy Nova, Oldsmobile Omega, and Buick Apollo and Skylark. A great many engines found their way under the hoods of these cars; this one has Buick’s 231 cubic inch V6, a precursor to the beloved 3800, and the expected three-speed automatic. This one has a mere 61,000 miles on it, and is said to run and drive very well.

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It looks a hell of a lot better than your average X-body does these days, too, with fresh silver paint and a bordello-red interior that barely looks sat in. The sun has worked its will on the plastic interior panels, bleaching them to pink, but everything upholstered or carpeted looks pretty nice. I would like to direct your attention, however, to the shape of the rear quarter window. Here it is from the outside:

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And here is a Chevy Nova from another Craigslist listing:

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The sheetmetal, and glass, on these two cars is exactly the same. GM just added fiberglass fill panels and slapped some padded vinyl over the whole thing. Reducing outward visibility in the name of “style” is nothing new, it seems.

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1979 Plymouth Volaré Duster – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 225 cubic inch overhead valve inline 6, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Salt Lake City, UT

Odometer reading: 133,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep, but power steering leaks

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And here we have Plymouth’s answer to the X-body, the much- and fairly-maligned Volaré. The Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volaré replaced the Dart and Valiant, and replaced their legendary durability with dreadful build quality and a terrifying propensity to rust. Chrysler somehow even managed to mess up the mighty Slant Six; due to fuel starvation, these cars sometimes have trouble turning left. (Kinda like Zoolander.) Worse, Plymouth sullied the name of the best Valiant by tacking it onto this “special” Volaré: the Duster.

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As far as I can tell, the Duster is just a regular Volaré, but with louvers on the rear quarter windows, fancy wheels, and plaid seats. It does have the two-barrel “Super Six” which puts out a whopping 110 horsepower to the rear wheels through a Torqueflite three-speed automatic, the only part Chrysler managed not to screw up (as far as I know). This one does run and drive, but needs “a tune up” and a replacement hose in the power steering.

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This interior was probably pretty cool in 1979, but the years have not been kind to it. It’s dirty and ripped, and features yet another cracked dashboard (we’re on a roll with those right now, it seems). Outside, it has some rust here and there, but for a Volaré, this thing is practically pristine.

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What’s funny is that I found a post on BarnFinds for this exact car from July; apparently they originally tried to sell it on eBay. Someone seems to think this is a collector’s item, and not a regrettable footnote. But I suppose there’s an ass for every seat, even nasty worn-out vinyl plaid ones.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I have owned one of each of these, more or less. I had a 1978 Nova Concours coupe with the landau top (which I removed, which is how I know about the filler panels), and a 1979 Volaré coupe with a Super Six (purchased for five percent of the price of this one; I’ll let you do the math). Neither was what you’d call a good car, but both managed to get me around for a while. Now, apparently, they’re considered classics by … someone. Does either of them strike your fancy? You’ve got all weekend to decide.

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Xpumpx
Xpumpx
2 months ago

the pontiac just has the look.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
2 months ago

Those prices are nuts. But the brougham wins, for obvious reasons.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
2 months ago

Louvers over Landau any day

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
2 months ago

I’m going Whorehouse Red and Pink and then we are gonna swap a crate 350 in there.

Cal67
Cal67
2 months ago

Nope, Nope, Nope. Neither at those prices.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
2 months ago

What is it with the evil choices, Tucker? It’s the season of goodwill and all that, and you made us vote yes on that Pontiac for nearly six grand. It’s cruel, is what it is.

Ricki
Ricki
2 months ago

I really want to like the Plymouth. If it was in better shape I’d give it more than a glance, as the non-Landau treatment is a lot easier to deal with and I like the lines a bit more. But the crunches and dings on top of the interior just isn’t worth it.

That said, there’s other stuff to like about the Phoenix. The aftermarket isn’t completely bare for suspension parts if necessary; it’d be no bigs to engine/trans swap it. You might be able to get the plastic on the interior to come around a bit, but even so it’s not that big of a deal. And I’m a sucker for those ’70s Pontiac wheels.

JDE
JDE
2 months ago

Even at twice the price, the ho hum Poncho is far away more desirable and in much better shape. Buick V6 seems like a decent thing too. Wonder if a 1987 T-Type drivetrain might slip in there without much fanfare. That would make for a really fun sleeper.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
2 months ago

I wanted to take the Plymouth, I think it is the more interesting car if only for the Venetian Blind treatment of the windows, but the up marketed Nova is in so much better condition, justifies the higher price and then some.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
2 months ago

Kind of OT. One thing that I have found odd, is GM using engines from different divisions in their cars. I mean, I get the component sharing and badge engineering, but the multi-branding of engines always seamed odd to me. Any car in GMs vast brand land probably had a Delco battery and other parts. Why have a Buick engine and a Chevy engine etc. just brand them all Delco and use them where ever they make sense?

Yes I know, other do this too, but still…

JDE
JDE
2 months ago

It was the Bean counters that caused that, it also what lead to Pontiac and Olds eventually failing. Hell it almost killed Cadillac too. You cannot badge engineer things tot he extent that they did and still have any real reason for a specific brand loyalty in the GM Stable. How GMS survived the barely tarted up 90’s Pickup designs is beyond me.

Vee
Vee
2 months ago

It was something that internal management at the corporate level started. Oldsmobile protested it first in 1973, followed by Buick. Buick had been kicked around by GM for a decade at that point with drivetrain engineering (the Buick turbocharged engines, the Buick aluminum V8, the Buick Dynaflow four speed that got dumped to develop the new three speed Chevrolet Turbo-Hydramatic 350), and both Buick and Oldsmobile were in direct competition with Pontiac and Chevrolet with their 455s because they wanted to sell to industrial customers to survive the blow from emissions regulations. Ed Cole was making his way up the ladder at the time and said no. Buick and Oldsmobile pointed to the GMC Motorhome which used their engines. Cole once again said no and with a few other guys went to Gerstenberg and said “Don’t let them do this, the EPA is going to smack us if they do.” And Gerstenberg was like “How a about a compromise? You get to use eachother’s engines so nobody has to worry about this kind of stuff.” Cadillac finally realized what was going on and came in right as everyone realized what terrible precedent had just been set. Cole jumped ship, realizing he’d instigated the chaos that was about to ensue. Finances and product management jumped on the chance and designed a hierarchy that would kill almost every unique engine by 1980. The only reason any of them lasted beyond then was because GM was bleeding money and the 1977 Buick Diesel basically destroyed their plans of creating the unified engine architecture. The Iron Duke and the 60 Degree V6 that would later become the legendary 3800 are some of the only remnants of this push.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
2 months ago

I’m going with the Pontiac since it seems to be in better condition.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
2 months ago

I hate vinyl roofs with a passion, but I still had to go with the Pontiac. If that Plymouth was a Valiant-based Duster instead of the utter rubbish that was the Volare, it would have been an easy win for the Plymouth for me.

Luxobarge
Luxobarge
2 months ago

Neither of these cars are all that great, but the generation of Chrysler products immediately preceding the K-cars was notably bad, while that Pontiac looks like it drove out a time warp from the Carter Administration. So it’s the Phoenix by dephault.

Tim Cougar
Tim Cougar
2 months ago

I like them both and think their prices are fair for their condition, and if the Volare were in as good condition as the Phoenix and even priced accordingly I’d vote Plymouth (malaise Duster and plaid seats!). But wow, that Phoenix is clean.

My favorite detail about these Phoenices (that’s the plural, look it up!) in general is the body color section dividing the bumper matching the divider in the grille.

Is there any Volare left on Earth that doesn’t have a broken grille?

Gubbin
Gubbin
2 months ago

I’m a sucker for that beautiful red bench seat. Always put on your seatbelt before taking a hard left turn though. I’ve found myself hanging on to the steering wheel for dear life before.

LilRedFinesse
LilRedFinesse
2 months ago

Louvers over landau any day but that Poncho is just too clean

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
2 months ago
Reply to  LilRedFinesse

I give you the fine writing award for the day, you said the same thing I said, but more elegantly and much more succinctly.

Mike B
Mike B
2 months ago

Not going to lie, I actually LIKE that Pheonix. Great color combo and those Rally wheels are so choice. Compared to the condition of the Plymouth, this is a pretty good price. Not sure I’d actually want it enough to drop 6K on it, though this would be a cheap way to have a nice classic for cars & coffee weekends. It would also be one hell of a sleeper with an LS swap, which I image would be super easy.

Anthony Henderson
Anthony Henderson
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike B

… barely an inconvenience!

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
2 months ago

I don’t remember ever voting against a Pontiac in a Showdown, and the brand’s streak continues today. That Phoenix is handsome even with the Landau roof, and the sport mirrors and Rally II wheels help mask how very basic it is (no air, standard interior, base engine). No shade toward the Volare Duster, which is also a handsome car, but it’s quite a bit more ragged. Poncho wins.

Also, in Torch’s absence I should note that the amber lenses on the Phoenix’s taillights were just for decoration, and had no indicating function iirc.

DDayJ
DDayJ
2 months ago

By the time I get to Phoenix
She’ll be risin’
She’ll find the note I left hangin’
On her door
She’ll laugh when she reads the part
That says I’m leavin’
‘Cause I’ve left that girl so many times before

Last edited 2 months ago by DDayJ
Mike F.
Mike F.
2 months ago

Tough choice. I was born and raised in Phoenix, so there’s that. On the other hand, unlike some of you, I’d greatly enjoy tooling around town in my Volare with Dean Martin’s version of the song playing on the cassette deck. (I’d just have to somehow keep myself from doing that with a martini in hand.) Ultimately, place of origin (and condition of car) won out and I went with the Pontiac.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
2 months ago

My day of behind the wheel drivers-training was done in a brown Chevy Nova sedan.
For the time, they were not completely horrible cars.
You might even recall that the GM F platform (Camaro & Firebird) were based on the X platform.
So I’d have to go with the Phoenix – It would be perfect for Malaise Days.

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