Home » Introducing The ‘Detroit Diplomat’: The Rustiest Daily-Driver In America

Introducing The ‘Detroit Diplomat’: The Rustiest Daily-Driver In America

Diplomat Doormat Top
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I’ve left a note on its windshield, I’ve seen it parked on Detroit’s fabled Woodward Avenue, and I’ve seen it in the Walmart parking lot several times, but I’ve never managed to get in touch with its owner. The “it” I’m referring to is a vehicle so incredibly dilapidated, so rotted, so perforated that you’d be forgiven if you thought it had just been dredged up from the bottom of lake. I’m talking about the mysterious Dodge Diplomat that drives around Detroit, leaving a trail of rust flakes like an automotive Hansel And Gretel hoping to stumble back home after each miraculous day of commuting. Yes, I said commuting, for the unbelievably crusty Diplomat appears to be used for daily driving duty, cementing the fact that whoever’s job is is to keep this vehicle maintained may be the most devoted car-person in the history of earth. Or a fool.

I don’t know what the story is behind the mysterious Dodge Diplomat, which I’m calling the Detroit Diplomat in honor of the famously dilapidated but unkillable Chicago Cutlass that is in similar shape. Perhaps the owner bought the late 1980s machine realizing it’d be the final rear-wheel drive V8 Chrysler/Dodge sedan until the LX platform of the mid 2000s, and refused to transition to transverse-engine and front-wheel drive in the interim. Then by the time the LX came out, they were already in love with the old Dodge. Or maybe the owner helped design or build the Diplomat, and therefore has a close connection with it. Perhaps it’s a family heirloom? Or maybe the person just likes driving the car, with its gorgeous red velour interior. It’s not clear.

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I’m sensitive to economic struggles that might force someone to keep driving a junker, though I’m not sure how much that makes sense as a reason for commuting in this old Dodge. One can still snag a decent cheap used car for about $1500 these days, and the fuel going into the big 360 V8 in this Diplomat — along with all the maintenance it probably needs to continue its daily-driving tasks — would quickly make it pricier to run than, say, a used Oldsmobile Alero with the fairly-reliable Twin-cam inline-four.

Whatever the reason for refusing to let go of the Diplomat, I respect it, because keeping something this old and this rusty on the road requires hard work. It also requires love.

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For someone to willingly continue driving a vehicle this, uh, aesthetically challenged — to keep taping up the windows that apparently want to fall into the doors — one’s affection for this machine has to be off the charts and totally irrational. And as someone who refuses to sell his first car (I’m storing it in the woods in Michigan, far from where I now live — I know, totally irrational!), I understand it completely and I admire it.

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The amount of rust creating gigantic bubbles beneath the paint is remarkable. And when those bubbles turn to holes, those voids are either patched with black duct tape or left for us to see the insides of the door panels:

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[Editor’s Note: This is so far past normal rust, it looks like a skin disease. I feel like I should disinfect myself after just looking at this! – JT]

 

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And it’s not just the windows and door-rust that require tape; the entire rear bumper appears to be taped (and then spray-painted silver) in order to hide copious perforations:

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Many of you are, of course, thinking something along these lines: “This man is no hero, he’s irresponsible! This vehicle could get someone killed!” And there’s some truth to that; that said, I did peek under the car, and its floors and main structural elements appear to be — somehow — intact. You can see some rustproofing on the steel, so perhaps that’s part of it:

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That right rear leaf spring hanger doesn’t look amazing, though maybe it still has some strength to it; it’s hard to tell. The rear leaf spring eye bushing is clearly in need of replacement — look at all that cracking! Oh, and the bottle (or whatever that is) falling out of the hole in the outboard part of the rear trunk floor isn’t ideal, either. Neither is the three-foot section of exhaust pipe missing at the middle of the car:

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Also, I pray to the heavens that the rubber hose on the brake lines above are just there to prevent chafing, and not to, you know, seal the thing off (brake lines must be hard in order to handle the pressures).

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The devotion needed to keep this old M-Body Dodge driving day in and day out is remarkable, and I admire that tremendously. I also admire that the owner continues to use whitewall tires, that they’ve managed to retain all four hubcaps, and that they’ve kept the interior looking so nice (I wish I had a good photo, though you can sort of see it in one photo towards the top of this article). But I just hope that the owner has the means to either restore this machine or send it to the great junkyard in the sky when it becomes a significant safety hazard.

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David Hollenshead
David Hollenshead
3 months ago

WTF???
The reason that people continue to drive an old rust bucket is because it just won’t die. When you consider the effort to repair one with all its rusted fasteners you should have realized that: It probably doesn’t need much service, the owner is unlikely to be able to afford a replacement and it would be rude to post an article about it as the owner poor…
You almost sound like the Karen with a Toyota FJ who raged at me while I was loading my groceries into my 1984 Audi 4000q that has badly peeling paint. At first she was accusing me of “Killing the Environment” & “cheating on DEQ” [smog test] which turned into “stealing licence plates” and taking pictures of me…
The truth is simple, my car passed DEQ like it always has, and has a smaller environmental footprint than her FJ. Even my 3/4 ton cargo van has a smaller environmental footprint, but her initial assumption that I must be committing some sort of crime with my car has much more to do with me having too much Native Blood to Pass for White than the peeling paint on my car…
So don’t make an article about a poor and likely poor disabled person’s car because it is rusty. As most of us who are poor are also disabled. I spent my twenties recovering from having my back broken by a habitual drunk driver with his almost new Mercedes 500 series…

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
6 months ago

I’ve seen something similar in Port Isabel, Texas, near South Padre Island. The salt air is brutal. I have seen vehicles eaten through after only a few years of exposure.

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
6 months ago

That car needs to be on Skyrizi

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
1 year ago

It’s probably an older person. I’ve met quite a few old people who have a car and will keep it running even if it’s not practical, because the cost/inconvenience of constant repairs is somehow less than the inconvenience of having to learn something new. Not wanting change is a very common reason for people to hold onto objectively terrible cars well past their prime.

Astrass
Astrass
1 year ago

Despite the (copious) rust, this may be a one-owner car being kept alive out of some sort of emotional reasoning. It might even be some senior’s “final car” that’s been kept around longer than intended because the person lived longer than expected. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious accident damage or body panel mismatching. The tape usage indicates that the owner at least cares a little bit about trying to keep their car together. Further, while there isn’t any good pictures of the interior, what we can see appears to be in nice shape. Someone with not very much money seems to care quite a bit about this vehicle, and it’s a shame that when this person stops driving this car it will be going to the junkyard without question.

Chronometric
Chronometric
1 year ago

Greetings Michiganders. I am Dajj from planet Fe2O3 in the outer Rust Belt.
I request Diplomatic immunity.

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