Cars And Guitars: 1978 Super Coupe & The Cars

Cars And Guitars: 1978 Super Coupe & The Cars’ “Bye Bye Love”

Many, many years ago, in the golden age of pop music, there was a mighty battle for the soul of America’s youth. Although old-school rock acts still ruled the charts, punk rock began to battle for listeners’ attention on the nation’s airwaves. In dance clubs across the US and Europe, rock was suddenly considered fuddy-duddy as disco was becoming the 4/4 pulse of the nightclub set. Both punk and disco were not only alternatives musically, but each veered away from traditional norms of the day including aesthetics and politics.

If there were ever a band that mashed-up rock, punk, and dance music and helped create New Wave, it was The Cars. When they exploded onto the record charts in 1978 with their self-titled freshman album, they took the world by storm. Here was a band that was fresh and new with a look and sound all their own. Not only that, if there was ever a band perfect for Cars and Guitars, it’s this upstart band from Boston.

For proof, have a listen to this live version of “Bye Bye Love” from 1978. An incredibly tight rendition with no pre-recoded background vocals, dancing, or other pyrotechnics to muddle up their message. Benjamin Orr’s vocals are especially great here. Not only a killer singer but a skilled bassist and the purveyor of the coolest rock and roll shag haircut on record. Turn this up and dig “Bye Bye Love.”

The Plymouth Volare was the opposite of fresh and new. A hastily reskinned Valiant rushed into production to battle Ford’s new Granada in 1976, it received a lukewarm reception from the press and car buyers. It sold well enough, but was generic and suffered from a bad case of the tin worm.

In what would be a colossal misstep, Chrysler killed its E-Body pony cars and reduced the Road Runner into a decal package with a slant-six engine as standard equipment. Meanwhile, GM gussied up their F-bodies and laughed all the way to the bank with record sales and street cred. With no entry in the newly resuscitated pony car market, Plymouth stuffed a 220hp, 360ci V8 into a Volare and added wheel flares a la Trans Am, christened it the Super Coupe, and suddenly, they had a “hot car” for the younger set. Aaah, the good old days of Detroit.

The perfect driving experience, the melding of music and machine is what Cars and Guitars is all about. So buckle up, drop it into reverse, and floor it back a thousand years to 1978 when malaise-era muscle and New Wave music from Boston’s Back Bay ruled the earth. This time, we pair the 1978 Plymouth Super Coupe and the song “Bye Bye Love” by The Cars. We’ll also zoom in on the events of the day, reconstructing the times that sprouted these two entities.

They say that true icons reflect their time and although the Super Coupe and The Cars may seem a unique pairing, the two blend in perfectly with the tumultuous times of the late seventies. Although the computer and the internet were still just a glimmer in Bill Gates’s eye, the old-school media was bristling with the crazy events of the late seventies.

Film director Roman Polanski skips bail and flees to France, after pleading guilty to charges of engaging in sex with a 13-year-old girl. Charlie Chaplin’s remains are stolen from Cosier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland. A rock concert, The California Jam II, is held at the Ontario Motor Speedway in California, attracting more than 300,000 fans. Karl Wallenda of The Flying Wallendas dies, after falling off a tightrope between two hotels in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The first Unabomber attack strikes Northwestern University, wounding a security guard. Louise Brown, the world’s first test tube baby, is born in the UK. Last but not least, in Jonestown, Guyana, Jim Jones leads his Peoples Temple cult in a mass murder-suicide that claims 918 lives including 270 children.

Meet Louise Brown, the world’s first test tube baby.

Chrysler was in big trouble too in 1978. It would declare bankruptcy just two years later and the aforementioned culling of everything cool in its portfolio didn’t help things. The Super Coupe could be ordered based on either a Dodge Aspen or Plymouth Volare with little difference between the two divisional siblings.

Road Runner background, Super Coupe up front.

The Super Coupe added blacked-out trim and fender flares to cover the 15 inch-tires on eight-inch rims. The body had matte black paint on the hood and front half of the roof, with a 360ci V8 pumping out  220 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. With the firmed-up suspension, it was a capable performer in for its time and probably surprised more than a few folks at stop light drags.

When the smoke cleared, the Super Coupe was a one-year-only affair. Chrysler sold 474 Volare Super Coupes and 531 copies of the Aspen version. By comparison, GM moved roughly 400k Camaros and Firebirds, and Ford sold hundreds of thousands of Mustangs. Today, few Super Coupes survive, making these cars some of the rarest post-war Mopars.

In the mid-seventies, The Cars formed in Boston. The band consisted of Elliot Easton (lead guitar), Greg Hawkes (keyboards), Ric Ocasek (rhythm guitar), Benjamin Orr (bass guitar), and David Robinson (drums). Ocasek and Orr shared lead vocals, but it was Ocasek’s songwriting that was the nitro that propelled The Cars to superstardom. Their debut album, The Cars was a huge freshman hit and they streaked to the top of radio station hot sheets from coast to coast.

Russian model Nataliya Medvedeva was the girl on one of the most iconic album covers in rock history.

They won Best New Artist in the 1978 Rolling Stone Readers’ Poll, The Cars sold six million copies, and lingered on the Billboard 200 album chart for 139 weeks. The Cars had four Top 10 hits over a seven-year period: “Shake It Up” (1981), “You Might Think” (1984), “Drive” (1984), and “Tonight She Comes” (1985). The band won Video of the Year for “You Might Think” at the first MTV Video Music Awards in 1984.

The Cars were as cool as any band before or since. Not only were they a tightly knit quintet, but they were true blue rock stars. They might as well have been from another planet, they were so hip and strange. Both Ben Orr and Ric Ocasek were great singers, Elliot Easton shredded, David Robinson was rock solid, and Greg Hawke laid down some very tasty synth lines.

By 1988, it was all over for the original Cars. Ben Orr died in 2000 from pancreatic cancer. The surviving original members reunited in 2010 and made one more album Move Like This, released in May 2011. Although they toured to support the album, this was the last time they would be together as a performing band. In April 2018, The Cars were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and reunited to perform at the induction ceremony. It was the band’s final appearance with Ocasek, who died on September 15, 2019, of cardiovascular disease.

The Super Coupe died too and after 1980, Chrysler turned into the K-Car company. It wouldn’t be until the mid-nineties that they would make cool cars again. The Super Coupe was not only the last of its kind, it was the last of the old-school Chrysler we knew and loved.

I was devasted when I heard Benjamin Orr died. His passing in 2000 garnered only a tiny article in Rolling Stone, and Ocasek’s death received about as much fanfare. How could two of the coolest, most talented guys in rock pass away with so little acknowledgment? At least their high-octane, revved-up pop music remains.

As we say goodbye to this installment of Cars and Guitars, check out The Killers’ frontman Brandon Flowers’ inducting The Cars into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This is the last time the four surviving members would be seen together in public.

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an Editor at Power Automedia. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods. He currently owns a '95 Corvette, '76 Cadillac Seville, '99 LS1 Trans Am and big old Ford Van.
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