Song of the Car: 1988 Dodge Diplomat

Rolling around the streets of New York to the sound of TV on the Radio's "Happy Idiot"


A car is the ultimate statement piece. Cars say something about the people who drive them—whether their taste veers toward luxury makes that boast performance credentials, modest and reliable “safe” cars, or a more distinctive brand of classic ease. There’s no better place to make a statement than in car-cluttered Manhattan. So in the spirit of good fun, a bit of nostalgia for old New York and a contemporary imagination, we forego high-dollar classics like Porsches and Ferraris to a take spin in a more unexpected minimalist make and model—a 1988 Dodge Diplomat.


The Diplomat, first introduced in 1977, became an essential part of the gritty 1980s New York City backdrop cast as police chase cars, detective cars and as taxi cabs. It was sold as a two or four-door model and as a station wagon. The Diplomat was immortalized by cameo appearances in “Ghostbusters” and “Do The Right Thing,” and was the last rear-wheel drive suspension car Dodge made during that era. The boxy Diplomat’s angular form—which shares a similar shape to its sister models, the Plymouth Gran Fury and the Chrysler New Yorker—is more akin to a Donald Judd sculpture.

Our Diplomat model is cast in a sky blue hue complemented by baby blue velour seats and faux maple wood on the dashboard. (No animals or trees were harmed to make this interior.) We drove a primo model, which included a bevy of power features—-power brakes, power windows, power locks and power steering. It was also equipped with tilt steering, cruise control and, of course, a tape deck. Like most Diplomats, its archaic engine is a standard 318 workhorse that is carryover from the late ‘60s Mopars.


For one of our outings in the Diplomat, we set the car in its organic New York surroundings traveling from Chelsea to a downtown art opening of an artist who rose to prominence in the 1980s. We parked the Diplomat street side, where it seemed to transform the landscape in contrast to the angular building. We invited six passengers to accompany us, who comfortably fit inside the Diplomat. They piled in and delighted over the spacious backseat and lap belts.


We maneuvered the Diplomat onto the street, as the engine gave a throaty reassurance. Thanks to the Diplomat’s smooth suspension the car seemed to careen over gaping potholes en route down 10th Avenue. Pedestrians did double takes as we floated by. They pointed and smiled at the car in a way that a glimpse of a new-era Toyota Prius would never inspire.

What you don’t know won’t hurt you, yeah

Ignorance is bliss

I’m a happy idiot

Waving at cars

For our soundtrack we chose the new single “Happy Idiot” by TV on the Radio, a track from their fifth studio album Seeds, in stores 18 November 2014. The video—which debuted last week—also makes reference to a car, also named “Sky Blue” and is driven by a racecar driver who appears to be losing his mind, portrayed by the actor Paul Reubens. The premise is a nod to “Speed Racer” and sources have decided that Sky Blue is a Lucra LC470. TV On The Radio is a band with New York roots, and though it was formed in 2001, the band members have cited ’80s-era performances by Bad Brains, the Pixies and Kermit the Frog as inspiration for their music. We felt that the lyrics were appropriate for our jaunt in the Diplomat.

Images courtesy of Tamara Warren for Cool Hunting