Home » The Plymouth Volare ‘Street Kit Car’ Was A Crappy Car In An Embarrassing Halloween Costume And It Was Totally Real

The Plymouth Volare ‘Street Kit Car’ Was A Crappy Car In An Embarrassing Halloween Costume And It Was Totally Real

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It’s time for another installment of Glorious Garbage, where we highlight a car that is indisputably piping-hot garbage and yet, somehow, strangely appealing, largely thanks to healthy doses of nostalgia, irony, and, let’s be honest, more than a little self-debasement. We started the series off last time with what is arguably the slowest car ever to wear the DeTomaso name, and this week our Glorious bit of wheeled Garbage is actually somewhat similar, in that it’s a not-particularly sporty car dressed up as something very much more than it actually is. The difference here is that where the Dodge DeTomaso was a car that looked the part but was writing visual checks its butt couldn’t cash, this one is such a hilarious and unbelievable caricature that I don’t think there was ever any danger of it being taken seriously. My fellow Autopians, please introduce yourselves to the Plymouth Volaré Street Kit Car.

Huh, I just realized that so far, the Glorious Garbage series is 100% Mopar. This isn’t intentional. It’s only the second installment, so, please, Mopar fans, don’t take this as a slight.

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The Plymouth Volaré Street Kit Car was, essentially, a regular-ass 1978 Plymouth Volaré dressed up in the automotive equivalent of a Halloween costume of Richard Petty’s famous #43 NASCAR racing car. This was a factory-selectable option, and for those of you who are skeptical, here, look at this dealer flyer for the package:

Volarestreetkit1

Look at all that crap they stuck onto that Volaré! Fake wheel flares, a tacked-on spoiler, front air dam that looks like it may be able to do a bit of snowplow duty if only the front engine/RWD Volaré wasn’t so useless in the snow, the silly louvered side-window stick-on cover, and, perhaps most hilariously, the fake windshield and rear window clips and retaining straps and those fake hood pins.

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Oh man, are these things ridiculous. Look:

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Those rear window “retaining straps” would do, of course, absolutely nothing other than to perhaps trap moisture and grit between the strap and the window, all part of Chrysler’s decades-long experiment to see if they can get glass to rust, and I bet the little tabs on the windshield were installed by a dealer tech eyeballing the location and using a hardware-store wood screw right into the sheet metal. The fake hood retaining pins are just, you know, chef’s kissable.

There was also a Dodge Aspen version you could get too, which seemed to replace the Petty-traditional blue livery with a bold, scarlet look:

Dodgered

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So, let’s see exactly what you did get with the Street Kit Car Package:

Volarestreetkit2

Special wheels and tires, a bunch of decals, those silly fake retention straps and hood pins, “Tuff” steering wheel, all that stuff, and the only thing that could even remotely improve the driving would be that rear sway bar, maybe, and uh, maybe the heavy-duty suspension couldn’t hurt. The 360 V8 was just a standard option, and the three-speed TorqueFlite transmission was hardly sporty in any context outside of “sportcoat.” That detail is especially maddening, because there was a four-speed manual available that would have suited the car much better, but that transmission could only be had with the inline-six or smaller 318 V8 engine.

This thing was a getup, an absurd, funhouse-mirror version of Richard Petty’s purposeful racing cars, and it’s hard to see how anyone could have seen it any other way. It was the automotive equivalent of a poser, a tourist who buys all the new equipment to fit in at some specific context or subgroup, and as a result stands out like a sore and yet too-clean thumb.

Remember that old King of the Hill episode where a businessman from Boston comes to Texas, all enamored with the hype and stereotypes of a dipshit’s idea of Texas, and shows up in a brand-new fancy modern oil-baron-cowboy outfit/costume that embarrasses everyone around him? Here’s a clip to refresh your memory:

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That’s what this car is, but for NASCAR.

What makes it so especially garbage-glorious is that the car this is all based on, the F-Body Volaré, is kinda crap just on its own. This was prime Malaise Era stuff, an all-new design to replace the Plymouth Valiant and Dart, but saddled with having to use as many parts as possible from the Mopar bins. The suspensions were soft, with transverse torsion bars up front and archaic leaf springs at the rear, and handling was, um, not great. I’m not saying this because I read it somewhere, I’m old enough that I’ve actually driven these wallowy barges, and I can say from direct experience that they, charitably, sucked.

Like “felt like you were sitting on the shoulders of your drunk, swaying uncle while doing 54 on the highway”-sucked. Steering feel was like shoving a 2×4 into a bucket full of well-soggified Cap’n Crunch in cottage cheese, and I feel like I’m still being charitable here.

The V8 made a respectable 175 hp, but these never felt fast; I think that TorqueFlight greedily consumed the majority of those horses before they could make it to the wheels.

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One thing I do like about the Volaré, though: they were one of the few American cars to be early adopters of amber rear turn indicators:

Amberrear

Another interesting thing about the Volaré is the name; it’s one of the few American car models to have a name with an accent over a vowel (and that’s official – look at the badge here):

Volare Badge

The names of the F-body cars were originally to be the Dodge Aspen and the Plymouth Vail, after the two famous resort towns. There was a push to name the Plymouth one Cygnate or Signet, but, as the story is told over on AllPar by one of the original members of the team, things didn’t go that way:

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“After hearing our proposal, R.K. said he would rather not have a new car at all then have it be named Cygnet (little swan) or Signet (precious stone). George, Len, and I returned to George’s office. George, a new VP, was crushed because he thought the proposal would be “rubber stamped.”

The name Volaré was quickly suggested after the disastrous meeting, but then sat on for a bit so it would feel like more work was put into it. The word means “to fly” in Italian, but it’s also the infinitive form of the Latin verb “to fly,” though I always confused it with the Latin verb volvunt, from which the name for the Swedish carmaker Volvo derives. Anyway, it’s Italian, so that gave Chrysler’s marketing people all they needed to go nuts and find an Italian singer, Sergia Franchi, and get him to make a whole Volaré song:

Of course, he appeared in commercials, too:

All of this is about as un-NASCAR-ish as you can get, all the more reason why the Street Kit Car was so ridiculous. Most people seemed to think so, too, as only 245 Plymouths and 145 Aspens were sold with the package. And, to make everything even worse, Petty, racing for Chrysler, finished second in the 1976 and 1977 NASCAR Championships, disappointing for him, and then had a further disappointing season in 1978, prompting Petty to switch to Chevy for the last dozen races of the 1978 season.

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As you can guess, after the switch, Chrysler was no longer interested in a Petty-hyping option package, so it was dropped. Also, calling it a “Kit Car” was confusing to most people, who thought of kit cars as fiberglass bodies on VW Beetle pans. It just didn’t make a lot of sense, and that didn’t help sales.

Now, this series is called Glorious Garbage, and so far I’ve mostly focused on the garbage part. But, I’ll explain why there’s some glory here, too.

As you can see by that video of a surviving Street Kit Car there, these things have a certain undeniable silly charm. Cars don’t always have to be so damn serious, right? What’s the matter with just having fun? If this car is built for anything, it’s built for having a good time, without any expectations or burdens of quality or some bullshit like “excellence.” It’s just goofy fun.

It’s a hot dog, laden with chili, washed down with too many beers and maybe a fucking popsicle afterwards, because it’s summer and you’re young and lovely and nothing important is going on and if you don’t look at anything for too long, this is a beautiful world to be in.

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If you’re going on a roadtrip with a stranger and they pull up in one of these absurd machines, the one thing you damn well know is that you’re going to have a good time and have some stories to tell. You’ll get where you’re going, but you’ll show up happily disheveled and missing most of your luggage and maybe sporting a new scar or tattoo or both. Oh and you should probably get checked for STDs.

That, I think, qualifies for glory, in this context.

 

Relatedbar

The Dodge DeTomaso Was Chrysler’s First Big Success In Turning Italian Design Into Crap: Glorious Garbage

Watch A Brand New Chrysler New Yorker Fail Miserably In This Hilarious 1978 TV Review

It’s Not Easy Being Green: 1978 Plymouth Volaré vs 1976 Ford Pinto

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Baron Usurper
Baron Usurper
5 months ago

Stopping by 7 months late to say that’s some wonderful ad copy.

Jack Miller
Jack Miller
10 months ago

Well…nice to see my car disparaged here. ???? That is me in the video with Lou.

I also own a 78 and 77 Road Runner. In 1977 my dad bought me a 77 Road Runner. Was it a rocket..No. Did we take stuff off and put better performance goodies on ..Yes. When my older friends wrapped their 70 RR’ s around trees, because they couldnt handle turns, my car was like a slot car. The torsion suspension is phenomenal.

Cartoonish….maybe. But it got attention and was fun to drive. I would show pics of my high school girlfriends…but your hearts couldn’t take it. Come see it a Carlisle these weekend as a Featured Vehicle. So there!!????????????

James Colangelo
James Colangelo
1 year ago

What a ridiculous car… *searches eBay for ‘plymouth volare’ and Hemi’s ready for engine swaps*

Gary Lynch
Gary Lynch
1 year ago

Between tacked on emissions hardware, the want for better gas mileage, and no fun insurance rates….. Whatcha expect? Always interesting hearing the young whippersnappers out there whom NEVER LIVED through these days whine and moan about how the vehicles sucked. Sure they did. Pretty much even the best vehicles were performance no-shows at the time. Check out the. road test specs for a 911 or Ferrari 308. Economy car numbers for today.

maybe what current world should be lamenting is the lack of the “mylar GT”. Take a standard car, add some racing stripes, and voila: cool car.

actually- the lack of racing stripes on current cars maybe be a bigger problem than we realize. Besides a Camaro or Mustang, where do you get any stripes?

JT needs to get on this pronto…

NosrednaNod
NosrednaNod
1 year ago

Points of order!

“Fake wheel flares”

They are literally wheel flares! Not fake!

“a tacked-on spoiler”

All spoilers are tacked on! If the body generated enough downforce to begin with you would not need a spoiler!

“front air dam that looks like it may be able to do a bit of snowplow duty”

That describes every front air dam ever!

Curtis Loew
Curtis Loew
1 year ago

We have a mopar of this era. A 75 Dart with a slant six. It’s not a bad car. I put fuel injection on it and that took care of all the typical malaise era complaints. The handling isn’t the best, I’m going to put a front swaybar on it and some better shocks.

Myk El
Myk El
1 year ago

I can’t really afford to own cars ironically, but if I had the money, totally would get one and do an EV conversion.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 year ago

Nobody’s said this, but I suspect we’re all thinking it – the big twin 360 hood decals were standard, but the door/roof numbers were optional?

B/c that’s where you draw the line with this kind of stuff?

Last edited 1 year ago by Jack Trade
Jonathan Green
Jonathan Green
1 year ago

I had the good/bad fortune to grow up in the metro Detroit area in the 1970’s and 1980’s. And cars like this were embarrassing. We all knew what these cars were, and knew what the cars had been before. Not that change wasn’t necessary (pollution is very real), but the disappointment in cars was tangible.

Even as a kid, I knew that so many of these cars were a joke, to the point that a friend of mine and I dressed up a 1981 Dodge Aries K as the “Cruiser”, with a fake hood scoop, fake exhaust, go-fast stripes, etc., for a video we made, as a tribute to all of the other dressed up phony dreck.

At lest the English went “cheap and cheerful” after the war. You can make a virtue of necessity, but Detroit didn’t go that way – I always felt that cars like this were overcompensating….

Maymar
Maymar
1 year ago

Really, though, is it *that* much goofier than the contemporary screaming chicken Trans Am that was barely quicker in a straight line (I mean, yes, I know the F-bodies had what passed for handling in an American car unlike one of these)?

Black Peter
Black Peter
1 year ago
Reply to  Maymar

Right? With the shaker hood proclaiming “6.6 liter” all producing about 37Hp each

Harris K Telemacher
Harris K Telemacher
1 year ago

The rear window “straps” are just stuck on, right? Because the bottom “screw” or “bolt” on each strap is sitting right on top of the glass, which means it would have to be drilled through the glass itself if it were real.

George Wilson
George Wilson
1 year ago
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