American muscle cars are great and all. We love the thought of a screaming, highly-strung race-specification V8 being put through its paces. We love the bright colours of the GTO, the Boss and the Hemi. We love the wheel-spinning, drag-racing, American road movie aspect of them. Muscle cars are, in a nutshell, great. But they’re not the be all, end all of American motoring. You can also take a trip to the other end of the big V8 scale with cars like this whopping great 1976 Chrysler Le Baron. A car so massive the front end has a different postcode from the rear end. Wonderful.
If there is one thing the Americans have always been good at, it’s making big, lazy cars that can just eat up the miles. This Le Baron is one of those, and arguably from the heyday of cars of this ilk – the 1970s. By the ‘70s, the muscle car was in full swing and as such, the line between them and cars like this Le Baron was more clearly defined. Back in the ‘50s, the muscle car didn’t exist, so cars had to be both fast and comfortable, not one or the other. By the ‘70s though, car designers could stretch their legs and build cars like this, that were big, lazy, outrageously comfortable all while boasting impressive road presence. Lovely.
Sadly, the American oil crisis of ‘73 followed by the second one of ‘79 put paid to cars like this Le Baron – the average American household couldn’t afford to run them. And so came the advance of the Japanese, with their small, frugal cars that could be run on a shoestring. The days of the big Yank tank were over. A shame, but probably for the best given what we know now.
What is it?
As mentioned, it’s a 1976 Chrysler Le Baron. In later years, the Le Baron became a small, mid-sized car. This one, however, is from the Imperial line, which was the full-fat, full-sized range of cars. The Le Baron was the top specification of the line, which meant power brakes, power seats, power windows, power steering and more. This was a flagship, luxury machine. Designed for bank managers and inadvertently, mob bosses, the Le Baron was the best of the best.
Powered by a massive 440cui V8 mated to an automatic transmission, the Le Baron was a car for cruising in. The suspension was so supple you could drive it over the Grand Canyon and not feel a thing. Though at the same time, if you introduced it to a corner at anything other than 15mph it would probably fall over. But that’s fine, as it wasn’t built for handling.
This particular car harks from the New York area, which is fitting for such a machine. It would look perfect on the mean streets of the Big Apple. It was brought over here in 1995 and hasn’t really done a lot since, which is a shame. It looks pretty solid though, and would be well worth bringing back up to a decent condition.
Why is it a project?
In a nutshell, because it hasn’t really done anything since 1995, when it was imported into the UK. The vendor states that it was brought over, and has been parked up in a barn since. While we question the number of barns that car adverts would have us believe exist, there is no doubting that the big Le Baron has been living indoors. Had it been outdoors for all this time, it would have dissolved by now.
The vendor states that the car is all present and correct, which is good to know, as things like trim and badges are going to be exceptionally hard to find. He also states that the car runs and drives, which again is a good thing, though we would imagine it needs one hell of a good service. Sadly, the brakes are past their best duel to a leak (has a barn critter chewed through the lines) so that would need investigating. And finally, the car has been resprayed at some point, which any potential buyer may want to look to redo.
Five things to look for:
Yes, it runs, but you need to give a thorough health check none the less.We’re talking about a car that hasn’t been on the road for 24 years. So check the oil, the coolant, the fuel lines, coolant hoses, the carb and anything else you can see. Make sure the coolant isn’t a rusty mess and check the oil for any signs of water. As either could spell a big rebuild bill.
Yes, we know, we sound like a broken record, but it’s really important to check the paperwork, especially in the case of a car that was imported in 1995 and hasn’t yet been registered in the UK. You need to make sure you have the correct import papers to register it. Otherwise it’s nothing more than a parts car.
The Le Baron had a distinctive front end. First, there was the ‘waterfall’ front grille, and then there were the hidden front headlights, which appeared from behind a body-coloured panel. Check the operation of the lights, as replacing these opening units is going to cost a small fortune if they’re broken.
This generation of Le Baron was based on the C-body platform, which was a monocoque. This was a good leap in terms of design, but it also means you have to be extra vigilant when looking for rust. You need to get on your knees and spend some time checking the sills, the chassis rails, the suspension mountings, all of it. There is A LOT of metal to weld under here if it is rotten.
As mentioned earlier, there is an issue with the brakes in that they don’t work. The best case scenario is that a critter has nibbled through the lines during the Le Baron’s slumber. Worse case is that they’re all jammed on or porous after years of sitting idle. Check them out so you know what you’re dealing with.
What should you do with it?
This one is dead easy. We’d get it running, get it cleaned up and looking as good as possible, and then we’d buy a faux fur coat and a hat with a feather in it before driving around. This is a car that should be restored and enjoyed for what it is. The ‘76 Le Baron is a rare machine, given that it was birthed betwixt two oil crises. In reality, it shouldn’t exist, but we’re glad it does. This is a car to be celebrated, as it represents American motoring at its most excessive and egregious, which in 2019 is fun to look back on. Just make sure you have a garage big enough for it, as it’s a few feet longer than the QE2.