Say “Dodge Magnum” in the United States and you get one of three ideas in your head: either the engine series (which are slightly tweaked versions of the 318ci V8 and the 360ci V8 that we all know about), the LX-body station wagon that ended up getting axed in 2008, and the late-70’s two-door personal luxo-barge that was an attempt at making the B-body Dodge a bit more competitive than the 1975-78 Dodge Charger SE had been. Nothing that spectacular in the mix, though all have their followers.
Say “Dodge Magnum” in Mexico, however, and you will have a different response. Much like the Dodge Super Bee, the Magnum filled the muscle car spot during the times when Mexico was having all of the fun while the US market was suffering through the Malaise era. It works out like this: In 1980 Chrysler Corporation killed off two platforms that Mexico and South America had been using the hell out of: the A-body platform (which had been used in Brazil for the Charger/Magnum lines) and the F-car platform, which had been the Mexican Dodge Dart, Valiant Volaré and Super Bee. Considering the Super Bee a done deal, Chrysler de Mexico moved their focus to the new M-body line. The first car they brought in was the boat-tailed Chrysler LeBaron in 1979, and in 1981 the updated M-body, the squared-off look that ran until the end of production in 1989, appeared as the Dodge Dart. From there, the coupe body was earmarked for the Magnum performance car.
The Magnum started life as the coupe with the AHB police suspension package and came with the 360ci V8 hooked to either the A727 automatic or the A833 four-speed manual transmission. Given that it’s 1981-82 for these cars, you might shrug at that…Chrysler’s small blocks are many things, but “powerful” in the 1980s they weren’t. Mexican Mopars, on the other hand, were still swinging big, because the 360-powered Magnums were rated for 300hp from the factory. How’s that for a number? Additional items included for the big coupes included power brakes, stabilizers front and rear, and out back, either the 8.25 rear end or optionally, a Dana 44. Not surprisingly, very little of what made up a Magnum never made it into the U.S. market…had it appeared, the GM G-body line would have a direct competitor and the Camaro and Mustang would have been seriously worried…especially if the 300hp claim on the 360 was legit.
In 1983 the Magnum shifted to the FWD K-car platform and stayed there until 1988, taking the body of a Dodge Aries coupe and putting the nosecone of a different K-car onto it. From 1983-85 it used the four-headlight Chrysler 400 nose and from 1986-88 it used the Plymouth Caravelle nose. Essentially, these cars were similar to the Dodge Daytona Turbo: a front-wheel-drive coupe with heavy-duty suspension and all of the “sporty” appearance and interior options thrown at it. While they were no powerhouse by any means, they did provide lightweight performance that could return decent fuel economy, which was the hallmark of any “high-performance” FWD Mopar. The 1987-88 Magnums are the most potent, with a new intercooler bumping power up ten horsepower to 150hp. In 1989 the Magnum was replaced by the Chrysler Shadow GTS.