1973 Chrysler Town & Country wagon is ultimate family hauler

By Jim Donnelly
Photos by Matthew Litwin and David Conwill

(January 16, 2023) In the late 1980s, Chrysler transformed its Town & Country, and most other station wagons it produced, by reimagining them into its first-generation minivans, built on the front-wheel-drive S platform and sharing powertrain with Lee Iacocca’s ubiquitous K-cars. That’s notable because for most of the time leading up to then, the Town & Country was a massive, luxury-packed conventional station wagon with a longitudinal layout and an overall length that stretched right out of sight.

The Chrysler minivans rocked the automotive world as few new cars before them had done, defining a new way to carry people and their possessions.

The redefinition of the wagon erased some of the attributes that made Americans love big station wagons in the first place: Gobs of big-block power, enough to ferry a full family across the continent with their belongings in back and whatever was left over in a trailer bobbing along behind. It’s a portrait in time that defines the postwar American dream as thoroughly as a tract house in a newly plowed suburb. A big station wagon is an iconic automobile. Given the way most of them were used hard by their owners and the owners’ hordes of kids, finding a survivor today is a definite occasion.

The exact mileage of this enormous 1973 Chrysler Town & Country nine-passenger station wagon (which means a rear-facing third seat) is unclear, though the owner thinks it’s on the light side of 100,000. Its condition is both original and phenomenal: Virtually everything, right down to the 3M woodgrain on the sides, is just as it was when the monstrous wagon rolled out of the Jefferson Avenue plant in Detroit in September 1972.

All the owner says he’s had to do is gently touch up a little bit of woodgrain and one rock-chipped body piece, and then figure out its complex climate control’s vagaries.

According to widely accepted records, Chrysler built 14,687 copies of the nine-passenger Town & Country wagons for 1973, the highest total for fuselage-body wagons in that premium model range. Look inside, and you’ll find an unusual non-patterned cloth interior in prime condition, and a cargo area that’s devoid of scuffs and gouges from skidding objects and careless feet. It’s fully loaded with options, lacking only power windows, surprising for a car that was sold new in Arizona.

Again, fewer than 15,000 were built. Where are you going to find a survivor with this level of originality, options, and non-abused quality? In your dreams. Or, if you’re particularly fortunate, in the car corral at the AACA Eastern Fall Meet in Hershey, Pa. Hank Hallowell, who lives in Hershey and owns this nearly perfect Chrysler, bought it there just minutes after also buying a late “Letter Car” from Chrysler at the same sale.

“It’s my favorite Town & Country, to be truthful,” Hank explains. “I prefer the front end of the 1973; it’s the only year without the chrome loop front bumper, and it has the Chrysler New Yorker front end because the industry was heading toward a more formal, classic look. The New Yorker front looks majestic on the Town and Country. Plus, ’72 and ’73 were the only years for the fuselage-body wagon with fender skirts, which enhance the lines of the car dramatically.”

Hank calls the Town & Country, and its immediate competitors “the ultimate people movers.” The world of American luxury station wagons in those years was small but exclusive; Chrysler was only accompanied by the full-size Buick Estate, Olds Custom Cruiser, and Mercury Colony Park wagons.

They were all about hauling people and possessions long distances in utter comfort. In this wagon’s case, its first home was in the fleet of a well-to-do rancher from Wickenburg, Arizona, just outside Phoenix. A lot of its mileage was acquired by doing multiple cross-country trips, while always being chauffeur-driven and–maintained.

As Hank was told, the Chrysler was driven “sparingly” except for long journeys from Arizona to upstate New York to pick up an elderly woman, presumably a relative of the owner, and her prized horse for the trip back to Wickenburg. Optioned new from the factory with a full towing package, the Town & Country is powered by the smog-restricted 440-cu.in. Chrysler big-block V-8, mated to a heavy-duty TorqueFlite 727 three-speed automatic transmission with cooler, along with heavy-duty cooling and electrical systems. Rated for 215 horsepower in 1973, the 440, topped by a Carter Thermoquad four-barrel carburetor, nonetheless still ladled out 345 lb-ft of blacktop-rippling torque, all the better to handle its 4,838-pound curb weight.

As Hank tells the story, the Arizona chauffeur deadheaded the Town & Country to New York before its senior passenger and her belongings were loaded, along with the woman’s horse in a two-axle trailer out back. That’s probably a ton of extra poundage.

The Chrysler carried them, cool and comfy, back to Arizona, a cycle that was repeated multiple times during the wagon’s Arizona lifespan. The round trip was made twice a year. The elderly woman, incidentally, was a descendant of the inventor of the Dewey decimal classification system universally used by libraries, Hank remembers.

You’d practically need a library to track the full list of options and unique features on this wagon. Perhaps the most unusual was dual air conditioning, using a complete second unit that hung down from the headliner aft of the rear seat. “I’ve decoded the option plate and it has every option you could get in 1973, except for power windows, which is kind of interesting,” Hank says. “The transmission cooler looks like it could be in a motorhome. This is really more comparable to a Dodge 3/4-ton pickup than it is to a station wagon. When Chrysler does something heavy duty, they really mean it. The springing, driveline, and cooling are all engineered for heavy use.”

The color is a non-metallic shade called Honey Gold, offset by what Hank says is the only solid-color parchment cloth seat treatment he’s ever seen on a premium Chrysler product of the era, with the fabrics covering a split power front 50/50 bench seat. The chrome, in his word, is “immaculate.” The 3M Di-Noc detailing on the sides needed only a minor touch-up with a paint pen. There is no hint of rust or bubbling anywhere. The header panel above the grille was repainted across the top to remedy a few stone chips. That’s it. The original Arizona license plate is still mounted up front.

The Town & Country remained in Arizona until a 3M corporate attorney, in rich coincidence, learned of its existence while attending a business conference in the Phoenix area. He found the car listed in a classified for the estate of the late Wickenburg rancher. The attorney was a Chrysler enthusiast like Hank and used the wagon for trailering part of his own car collection — again, torque talks. About four years ago, Hank spotted it in the Hershey car corral during an already successful shopping trip.

Owner Hank Hallowell with his car

To use the showroom vernacular, this Chrysler is loaded to the gills. There’s power steering, power disc/drum brakes, tilt/telescope steering column, and a three-way tailgate: It swings open with the power rear window up or down, and drops down conventionally like a normal tailgate. Hank doubts anyone has ever sat in the third seat. Automatic headlamp dimmers and timed headlamp delay are also part of the equipment list.

The most intensive part of the Chrysler’s very limited refurbishment involved a cutting-edge element of 1970s Mopar technology: the thumbwheel-controlled Auto Temp II climate-control system. For 1973, this was highly advanced: a servo-controlled, closed-loop system developed by Chrysler and its supplier, Ranco Incorporated.

Hank recalls the challenge of replacing the control unit’s servo after buying the car. “Chrysler developed Auto Temp II for itself, but ended up selling it to Mercedes-Benz,” he says. “Mercedes used it through the 1970s and into the early 1980s. So, if you get a 450 SL or any Mercedes-Benz from then that uses thumbwheel climate control, it’s actually a Chrysler unit. The difference is the Chrysler unit was made of plastic, and eventually cracked from heat under the hood. The Mercedes-Benz system has kind of an aluminum housing. I didn’t know this until I had a 500 SEC where the air conditioning unit went bad, and it had a Pentastar on it when I opened the hood. It took a little bit of Columbo-type detective work, but I managed to find a place down South that rebuilds these units.”

This huge wagon, all 229.6 inches of it, is still driven sparingly. “The best thing I can tell you, it’s like driving an elephant down the road,” Hank notes. “It handles well, but there’s a lot of weight, and it needs every cubic inch of that 440. It has a tremendous ride because of the very stiff torsion-bar suspension. There’s almost no sway and zero yaw. It’s like driving a torpedo-shaped motorhome, with 75 the speed of choice, in total silence.

“This car’s no spring chicken,” he says. “But it’s got no squeaks, no rattles, and no vibration. It just goes.”