This project is inspired by my purchase of a 1981 Dodge Mirada at the beginning of the summer of 2005. Although my car is the primary focus of this site, I am going to have a bunch of information about the Mirada's in general because there doesn't seem to be a heck of a lot of sites out there dedicated to them. I have collected images from a bunch of different websites and I'll put them up here to keep them from disappearing. The Mirada is a truly wonderful car and as they continue to become rarer, this site is dedicated to holding their place in history.
That's my baby right there. I bought her in May, 2005 in Tacoma, Washington. This was an awesome decision on it's own since it was
then almost utterly rust free. There was one single spot of rust where the trunk contacts the body of the car by the hinges, but I
repaired that almost immediately. Here are the car's specifications:
- Year: 1981 (late year model, known because of the spark plug spacing)
- Engine: 318 C.I.D. V8 (5.2L)
- Carbeurator: 2 BBL Carter
- Brakes: Discs in front, Drums in back
- Power Windows
- Power Locks
- Power Driver Seat
- Power Trunk Release
- Air Conditioning
- Cruise Controller
- Typical: power steering, power brakes (No ABS)
How I came across this Mirada is a bit of a story in itself. I am originally and currently an east coast guy, born and raised in New England. However, my father's family lives on the west coast, and when I started college, the rest of the family packed up and moved to Washington State to live there. I have always heard stories about cars on the west coast from my Dad, and since I had to sell my Chrylser LHS when they moved, I naturally started thinking about getting another car when I went out there for summer vacation in 2005.
I was looking for a particular kind of car, but didn't have any real model fixed in my brain. I wanted something two door and sporty. One of my friend's had a 1986 Camaro IROC-Z, and I liked the look of that car. I also liked the mid to late 80's Monte Carlo SS's. The thing is that I also wanted something that was different. There number of camaro's and even Monte's on the road sort of makes them cliche even though they are nice cars. So when I went out there for the summer, I looked at a bunch of different cars and actually almost bought a black '86 IROC. But somehow it just didn't feel right, so I waited a bit longer.
I came across this Mirada in a car dealer's lot in mid May after looking around for about 2-3 weeks for a car. The dealer had just gotten the car in the day before and hadn't even had time to clean it up. The look struck me from the street as definitely "different" but still very similar to the Monte Carlo type shape, so we (myself and my Dad) took it for a test drive. It started up right away and drove smoothly all around. Even everything like the headlights, etc. all worked. We took it back to the dealer, did some barterring and got a price I liked and I bought it on the spot with no second thoughts.
First Impressions and Fixes
So we got it back to the house and gave it a much more thorough look over. The car wasn't exactly perfect, but it was amazingly close. The following things needed to be repaired:
- Heater fan - something wasn't working properly with the blower for the heater. The heater itself was working because when we turned on the switch the vents got warm, but the fan wasn't blowing the hot air out. We later found out that this was an issue with the switch, not the motor itself.
- A/C - A/C didn't cool at all. Somebody had had the forthought to disconnect the electricity going to the motor under the hood, so we reconnected and it turned on just fine. The system was just devoid of coolant.
- Missing wheel center - the sexy center cap for the right front wheel was missing.
- Missing emblem - the "Mirada" emblem was also missing from the right front fender.
- Rust along trunk lid edge - the only spot on the car that had rust was just along the edge of the trunk lid. I removed that with sand paper, a wire brush, and some amazing rust converter.
- Carburetor needed a rebuild - it was sluggish.
We rebuilt the carburetor fairly early on. It's a stock two barrel Carter and it took quite a bit of cleaning, but once we put it all together again it worked much better. The trick to adjusting it afterward was in first setting the timing properly, and THEN adjusting the idle valves on the carb. I obtained a center cap from Hub Cap City on Pacific Avenue in Tacoma, WA and installed that. The horn wasn't working, which we traced back to the switches in the steering wheel, so I took that apart and fixed those with some WD40 (wonderful stuff, I must say) and a scrubby.
As of right now the only missing part to this car is the emblem for the right from fender. I had a bid on one on eBay, but lost it at the last moment and haven't been able to find one since.
So at the end of the summer the parents decided to sell the house and move back to the east coast. Method of travel: convoy! At this point I had owned the car for about two and a half months, so I knew that it was reliable (during that entire time I had to call AAA to get towed once and that was because the starter, which had been grinding for a while, finally gave out on me). The preparations for the road trip were the usual: oil changes, general check up, etc. We still had not recharged the A/C (and to date I still haven't because I don't have to time to evacuate the system and fill it with dye to check for leaks), but the heat still worked and the weather was pretty good so I just kept the windows open most of the trip.
The most in depth thing we did to prep the Mirada for the trip was jacking it up onto stands and going through all of the wheel bearings. It was a good thing we did because the left front bearing grease was pretty much turned to wax and I probably would have had a major problem somewhere around Montana. I hand packed the bearings nice and tight and they rolled great all across the country. While we had the car up we checked the transmission and the rear end everything was fine. We also got a chance to have a good look at the underside of the car in general and we confirmed that yes, the car was utterly rust free from below.
The road trip took us eight days to go from Tacoma, Washington to Massachusetts and over that time the car burned up about 2 quarts of oil, which isn't too bad for a 1981 engine that hasn't been rebuilt or touched really since it left the factory.
As of right now the Mirada is currently parked in my parents' property in Maine for the winter both for financial reasons and the fact that I don't want to expose it to harsh New England conditions considering how well it has survived so far. It is to be put up on blocks to relieve pressure on the suspension and the axles and tarped up for the winter. There is one thing that I need to fix before I drive it again next spring and that is the gas gauge. When I drove it up to Maine from Connecticut the gauge finally stopped trying to read accurately at all and just sits on E all of the time. I'm fairly positive it's the sensor on the tank or else just a loose wire somewhere, but I'll look into it next year.
Well there are two routes I can take with this car and I am honestly torn both ways. I can either completely make it factory mint and then keep it there or else I can turn it into a muscle car like it should be. Whatever happens I intend to keep the 318 engine in there as it has proven both reliable and strong. The only reason that I am inclined interested in keeping it stock is the fact that I was getting amazing mileage with it travelling cross country. On the worst day it was somewhere in the range of 23 miles per gallon and on the best day I got 29 miles per gallon averaged over a 400 mile passage.
If I do go the muscle car route, the plan is for ported and polished headers feeding to a Flowmaster dual exhaust. Also, the carburetor is going to have to be upgraded, most likely to an Edelbrock or Holley 600 CFM 4 bbl along with a performance intake manifold (most likeley Edelbrock). The best looking Mirada muscle car I have ever seen is available for your viewing pleasure in the gallery and that would be my goal look (with the exception that I like my Mirada's silver color better).