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.
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.
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.
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:
[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]
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:
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:
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:
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).
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.