By on December 12, 2009

Kollectable?

It’s Kurbside Klassic Konvertible Saturday! We’re going to have lots of opportunities here at CC to indulge all our pet grudges, peeves and PTSD memories about the ungainly boxes and all their endless variants that Lee Iaccoca kept spinning out of his K-car Imaginarium. But hold on, not just yet! Because (true confession time) there is one version of the original Kar that I find almost bearable, the convertible. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen one, but then Konvertible day hit: I ran into this Dodge 600ES and a similar vintage Le Baron on the same walk ten minutes apart. We’ll save the stubby Chrysler for another time, but in the meantime, lets dig into this rather rare find.

batter than average looking K

The first Konvertibles hit in mid ’82, and in Dodge’s case, it was their first open car since the ‘71 Challenger. Dubbed the 400, it was initially only a coupe and convertible “personal luxury” variant, paralleling Chrysler’s Le Baron. The Konvertibles were made by an outside contractor, but their success induced Chrysler to bring them in-house. Americans were ready to rediscover the joys of top-down motoring, and government roll-over regs threatening convertibles were not on the Reagan agenda.

2.2 liters of turbo goodness

The 400 and Le Baron began a tradition of Chryco rag-top production that has gone unchecked to this day, thanks largely in part to rental fleets in sunny vacation destinations. But the change in roof line, from the K-car coupes’ excessively boxy C-pillar, to the softly-flowing soft top, somehow transforms this car. Ok; I’m not going to get all mushy here over a K, but it has decent proportions, in that boxy way that was starting to look dated by the mid-eighties.

Kockpit

What makes this car more interesting than the average ex-rental Konvertible is that it’s an ES, meaning the mighty 2.2 turbo, and the fact that its a 1986, the only year for this particular front end styling on the 600. It’s target nose marks the beginning of Dodge’s theme to this day. Also, this car marks the end of the Dodge Konvertibles for a few years, until the Shadow lost its top in 1991. So is this a Kollectible?

Dodge crosshairs, early edition

The 2.2 received artificial respiration a couple of years earlier, when it was obvious that Americans were ready to take off the no-performance hair shirt of the early eighties. Lacking a V6 engine, Chrysler punted heavily with turbos for what seemed like an eternity. I’m sure some of you will share experiences of the bliss of early-turbo technology,especially when mated to the three-speed automatic and installed in the long-wheelbase Caravan. Joy!

Do those numbers look familiar?

Lido’s pride cranked out some 146 horsepower in 1986 for the 600ES, but the higher output versions in the right little car like the GLH could be a barrel of crude fun. And we’ll follow the K-cars’ evolution forwards and backwards from here. This just marks the starting point for lots of Kurbside Klassics.

handsome?

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52 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1986 Dodge 600ES Konvertible...”


  • avatar

    Why is it that every K-Car has the same nose-up stance? Were they made this way or is this something that happens to the suspension with age.

    Years ago I owned a 1985 Aries and it still looked like this even after replacing the front struts and rear shocks.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    For mid ’80s dreck era, this is a pretty decent car. I like the wheels and ragtop and its a basic OK platform. And its not 3800 lbs.
    At the right price this would be a very fun car to run around in.  I  hope it does not have unsolveable niggling drivability issues.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming


    The convertibles weren’t huge sellers, but they did help Chrysler rebuild its image after the late-70s collapse and “bailout.”

    Note that Chrysler didn’t even bother to modify the rear quarter sheetmetal so it matched the convertible’s rear windows.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      It’s true that the rear quarter sheetmetal doesn’t line up exactly, but it’s a whole lot better than the original, 1982-1983 versions which had the no quarter window ‘carson top’ and a plastic rear window. The practical trade-off in 1984 when they went to quarter windows and a real glass rear window was acceptable.

      BTW, carson top quibbles aside, those early version LeBaron convertibles were actually nice looking cars (at least the ones without the truly tacky plastic wood sides). These were the days before they started shmucking pentastars into the grillwork and the cars had an appearance almost like a bargain-basement 450SL. It seemed there were still designers that knew how to put the easily identifiable, traditional Chrysler creases into sheetmetal.

      Unfortunately, that all changed with the success of the melted-gumdrop-in-the-rain 1983 Ford Thunderbird, then 1986 Ford Taurus. Suddenly, sharp, good-looking creases become outré for decades and no one has seemed to be able to bring them back since (including Cadillac with their so-called ‘edge’ styling).

  • avatar
    wmba

    The nose-up look of the K-Car always seemed particularly pronounced in the Dodge 600. A pal at work kept one of these abominations going far longer than it deserved. An absolute piece of junk from beginning to end. All the driving excitement of a riding lawnmower, and about the same structural strength.

    Masterful words expended on dreck, IMO. We all remember Lido’s TV admonishment — “If you can find a better car, buy it!”, or some such nonsense. Nearly everyone did. For those stuck for decent credit, this vehicle and its ilk became the first to epitomize the upside down car loan. After 3 years of listening to the engine moan, people who went to trade them in found they were worth less than what they owed on the outstanding 5 year loan.

    Oh dear.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Seeing this car reminds me of my one and only real life encounter with a Chrysler Town and Country convertible.  I was in high school, already driving, either I was a senior or junior, so that makes it either the fall of 1993 or 1994.  I was on the tiny little golf team of my high school in Northwest Ohio.  (It was farm country and we were all very rural but still had a golf team of about 10 guys.)
     
    We were playing a match in a neighboring county one breezy fall afternoon and when the school van pulled up to the clubhouse, sitting there was a fairly well preserved mid 80s Town and Country convertible.  It was yellow beige IIRC and it wore it’s fake wood sides and turbo badges rather proudly.  I remember thinking, “That’s the strangest looking car I’ve ever seen, it should be in a National Lampoon movie.”   A little part of me thought it was so uncool that it was somehow cool.
     
    The only convertible that I ever thought looked stranger than that little T&C was when I saw a 1966 Chrysler Newport Convertible on eBay that had the same “Town and Country” treatment on it’s flanks.

    Oh dang, that made me remember the time that my buddy Jeff and I in high school helped some chicks from one of the neighboring rival schools get the top down on their 400 convertible. I think we had a chance that night until we forgot to unzip the glass back window and shattered it all over the backseat. No wonder I stayed a virgin so long. Sighhhhhhhhhhhh.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    Was it auto only?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Good question. Autos only in the bigger cars and vans, because the toque converter  smoothed out the turbo lag. And I know there were sticks in the small sport turbos, like the GLH and Daytona, etc. I’m not sure about these. Seems like all or most were automatics. Anybody else?

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Allpar.com seems like a good place to start to answer that question.  I know that many of the base model K-cars with the mighty 90hp non-turbo engine where available with stick shifts but I don’t know if that disappeared from the option sheet when you ordered the turbo or if dealers just didn’t order them that way.

    • 0 avatar
      Bergwerk

      All the Konvertibles were auto transaxels.  You could get a 2.2 liter 400 coupe with a stick and later 600′s offered the 4 speed stick with the 2.2 turbo, but still only in the coupe.  I had the opportunity to test drive a 400 4sp and can testify to the fact that it was not an enthusiast’s set up — long throws, vague engagement, etc.  The manual was designed for economy and not for spirited driving.

  • avatar

    Have any of you ever seen one of the K-Car based, Chrysler Executive Sedan limousines? This car’s proportions make the standard K-Cars look absolutely graceful.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/8490341@N04/2890076201/

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Yeah, I’ve seen one in the flesh.  When I was a teen in the early 90s there was one sitting at a wrecking yard located off of Ohio Hwy 65 between my parents house outside of Ottawa, OH and Lima, OH.  I know this is a standard cliche, but it does look better in person but still pretty strange.
       
      An earlier post yesterday was asking about collectibility of modern cars and one a few weeks ago wondered about collectibility of 80s and 90s cars, let me stick my neck out and say that I believe the last of the “factory” limos will be very collectible.  I  know Cadillac built it’s last one somewhere around 1985 or so, Chrysler had the crazy K-car variant, and I have no idea if Ford Mo Co ever built one.  Low production numbers combined with the factories giving up on something they had been doing since at least the 1940s will make them valuable.

  • avatar

    Does anyone recall the print ads that DIRECTLY compared this car, complete with side-by-side photos of various details, with a Mercedes-Benz SL/R107?
    They were, and still remain, cringe-worthy.

    • 0 avatar
      Porsche986

      Even better, there was a prototype of the early version of this car with a VERY Mercedes like grill with a HIUGE pentastar in the middle to make it look like a R107.

  • avatar
    H Man

    Ah, the first installment of the Kurbside Klassic Konvertibles!  Oh wait…

  • avatar
    Bergwerk

    My 2nd car after graduating college was a 1982 400 Konvertible.  The car was white over red with alloy wheels, a real looker in the day.  I had the mitsu 2.6 liter with a whopping 100 hp (fairly strong for the day).  Back then, people clambered for a ride in a convertible, and you waved as you passed fellow ragtop drivers.  The 400 was by no means an enthusiasts car –even after adding gas struts and more aggressive rubber — but it was much more interesting than most cars available in ’82, after all it was a convertible.

  • avatar

    Educatordan,
    Your tale of tail lost made me laugh hard and loud. But what’s with the pic next to your name? Here I’ve thought you were older than me, and you’re way the heck younger.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      I’m 32, gonna be 33 in June (in a serious relationship with a 26yr old but that’s another story.)  The pic is one of Bob Lutz during a question and answer session with his hand cupped to his ear in kind of a “Can you speak louder into this damn Chinese hearing aid?”  Too me it sums up GM pretty well.  Plus sometimes my opinions verge more on what you’d expect out of a frisky senior citizen.  (And I did love the Soltice/Sky, G8, CTS-V, and the Buick Super “twins.”

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      E-dan, I always thought the guy in your avatar was Leslie Nielsen from one of the Police Squad movies!   My bad.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      The Bob Lutz Story, staring Leslie Nielson, in theaters this July!
       
      Now that’s something I would pay money to see.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      @Russycle:   Some would say that V.P. R. Lutz and Lt. F. Drebin ARE one and the same.

  • avatar
    Porsche986

    Wow, first of all… the fact that this car is still running is a miracle in itself.  Actually, in retrospect it is not such a bad looking car.  As per all 80′s Chrysler products the interior is atrocious.
     
    As for whether the turbo was available with a stick… the 86 Lebaron Sedans were very much available with a stick.  In addition, the balance shafted 2.5L Turbo was also available with a stick in several cars, including the Spirit for 1991 and 1992.  (I know… I had one…)

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    I remember Ford Granada advertisement with close up of tail light, real close in, side by side with close up of a Mercedes taillight. Both just red plastic with ridges. It challenged reader to tell difference. The Mercedes looked better.
    This is not a joke. My Mom’s then-husband triumphantly ripped the ad out and flapped it in my face. Said “there you go. Stop teasing me about my car. <hick> <urp>”
     

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Priceless picture for you, Johnny Ro.  The Ford Granada with (guess who): http://www.tocmp.com/pix/Ford/pages/1975%20Ford%20Granada%20Ghia%20Sedan%20f3q_jpg.htm
       

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Chop the top off a none-too-rigid unibody coupe and you get the textbook definition of cowl-shake. Plus the generally craptastic build quality that Mopar under Iacocca became infamous for.  But I hear the basic drivetrain was rather strong. A friend had one of these; what I most remember was the crank front windows, power rear quarters.  I guess the one to look for is the Chrysler Town & Country edition with the Mark Cross leather interior.

  • avatar
    Damage

    This car was not the first appearance of the target nose, as the article says. The Dodge Magnum of the late 70s had it first, and of course, the Chrysler letter cars of the 50s and 60s also used the gunsight nose.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I’m sure some of you will share experiences of the bliss of early-turbo technology,especially when mated to the three-speed automatic and installed in the long-wheelbase Caravan. Joy!
     
    I shopped for early Caravans, and we bought ’86 and ’92 Voyagers. I don’t recall any turbos in those cars. The ’92 had a V6.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      During the years about ’87 – ’90, before Chrysler got their 3.3 V6 online, there was a shortage of the Mitsu-supplied 3.0 V6, because the Caravan/Voyager was selling so well. So out of desperation, the installed the 2.2 turbo/automatic in a fair number of them. Some friends of ours had one. It was not a happy combination.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Wow I’ve seen a few short wheelbase turbo Caravans but long wheelbase?  The horror.

  • avatar
    ragtopman

    I’ve owned an ’83 sedan, an ’86 Koupe and now drive a ’95 convert and can attest to the lack of power and a few other glitches in these machines; they’re certainly well documented on this site. But piling on this platform seems a bit extreme. They represented a departure from the ’80s neuterization of the American car industry. Iaccoca did revolutionize the industry in his way, and I think he saved the company with this platform.
    Let’s put it this way: I still see plenty of K-Kars on the road (and their J-platform descendents); I rarely see any Fords or GMs from the same era still operating.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    We inherited a 1983 or so New Yorker from the father-in-law, pale metallic “champagne” pink with clarinet-case maroon seats. When it developed a water leak I found out that it had a plastic radiator. Our daughter, a senior in high school at the time, didn’t want to drive it so just out of curiosity I stopped by the Mopar dealer in Tacoma and had a test drive in a Daytona hardtop. For all that it looked much more sporty, it drove <i>exactly</i> the same as the New Yorker. The daughter got a 1984 RX7 instead.

  • avatar
    AJ

    My in-laws have one of these. It’s in very good shape, including the soft-top, as it’s been garage parked for the past 12 or so years. Of course who knows if it will start?

  • avatar

    This is the interior flavor that Chrysler sought to recapture with the LXs!

    I remember driving the 600 ES “sport sedan” back around 1984. VERY heavy steering. Clearly they thought that you created sport steering simply by reducing the level of assist. Not sure if the convertible had the same.

  • avatar

    There is actually a Chrysler K-car club – people are starting restore and collect these particularly the convertibles and limos. http://www.chryslerkcar.com
    My current beater is a 1986 LeBaron sedan with the same sort of nose but with the non-turbo 2.2L. Its quite a charming little car actually. Here is a picture of mine: http://www.flickr.com/photos/daveseven/4114029098/in/set-72157622772310434/

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Good to know there’s a club.  I actually find myself looking over the old k-cars on eBay, at least the ones that have something that makes them distinct, factory limos, turbo wagons, Town & Country monstrosities.  Of course most of them need lots of TLC.  Good to know that if I lost my mind for a moment and actually bought one there would be a community of enthusiasts who would want to help me bring it back to it’s former 80s glory. 

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    In the 80s, I really liked this car. Not a good car by today’s standards. This was early 80s tech and comparable to just about anything else that wasn’t a Mercedes or BMW. As a convertible, it seemed somehow much more substantial than the hard top cars Chrysler offered. And considering this was designed to compete with the Rabbit Cabriolet, non 5.0 Mustang convertibles, Celica Convertibles, it was fine for the times and was the basis for many other generations of Chrysler convertibles. I still think it is a clean looking design in spite of its 80s character. However, I am surprised that a non-garaged K-Car hasn’t deteriorated more than this.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Does anyone else here owned or currently own a K Car or K Car derivative? Are they all absolutely shocking to drive around corners? Mine see-saws backwards and forwards before understeering terribly every time I turn into any corner – not matter how fast I drive it. I have absolutely no idea what is going on at the tires because the steering is so vague. I know the car is old but it’s not in terrible condition. But, it gets me to work every morning so I guess I shouldn’t complain.
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_VZ3s91yk628/SeVQAeTtKeI/AAAAAAAAAEk/zbBAzud4dxs/s1600/04-14-09_1830.jpg – the commuter beast in all its glory.

  • avatar

    I got my first car — a hand-me-down 1982 (I think) Chrysler Lebaron 4-door — from my stepfather in 1986. It was ugly, slow, and rattled like crazy. It was a miserable car for a 16-year-old who lusted for something sportier. I remember going to a party one night, and someone walked in and referenced the ugly-mobile outside… “Hey, whose parents are here?”

    I spent the next year saving up for a used Volkswagen Scirocco. I drove that silver VW for the next six years, though all kinds of electrical and mechanical hell, loving every minute of it.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Wow, that’s really neat to see. I had forgotten about the ’400′ variant, although I shouldn’t as my brother in law had one. If the ’55-’57 Chevys are the shoe boxes, these cars are the Kleenex boxes. The particular one you found has the faux Alfa-style alloy wheels, all the good ’80′s Mopar stuff.
    I had the L-body variation, the Dodge Lancer Turbo ES which had the same 2.2 motor, but the chassis was much tauter than the other K cars. It was a decent handler and best of all as a 4 door hatchback, almost kept me out of minivans entirely! A friend had another fun ’80′s Mopar, a Shadow Turbo ES, essentially the same running gear but since it was smaller it was a lot lighter and quicker. It was faster than my ’86 Mustang GT, at least until I got the engine mods completed on it…
    Outside of a GLH Horizon, or a Shelby Charger, this would be one of the ones I would like to have in my dream garage.

  • avatar
    AnthonyG

    Can’t think of K Cars without the one the principal drove in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – I think an 85 or 86 Reliant.  Also the green T&C convertible in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. So K-Kars are very much ‘of the time’, a definite part of the 80′s.
    I actually thought these looked better than the GM Cavaliers (J cars), although the Ford Tempo and its Mercury cousin made both types look instantly out of date in 1984.
    Lee Iacocca had a thing about formal (read square) rooflines, witness the square boxes that were the later New Yorker and Dynasty (the FWD one from about 1988 onwards). These came out two years after the Taurus!
    Chrysler styling got a lot better in the early 90s, went from being ‘back of the pack’ to very innovative with the LHs and the Neon.
     

  • avatar
    pb35

    I know I’m late on this thread but we had our share of these in the driveway as my dad sold Chryslers in the 80s. They were fun when they were new! I was 16-17 at the time so it was nice to have a convertible to cruise around in even if it was a K car! I recall a maroon Lebaron with the wood and everything.

    Later, we had a 600ES turbo hardtop for a few weeks that was pretty cool. The turbo had a really loud whistle. I was driving it the night I met my wife.

  • avatar
    Matt123

    Hey, I own a 1986 Dode 600 Convertible, or should I call it a Konvertible…

  • avatar
    andybuzz2u

    I know i’m late on this post…
    As an employee on the line for Chrysler at the Saint Louis plant were these cars were built i remember them very well. The built method was odd for these cars. Cars and Concepts of Brighton, MI Did all the Convertible installation on the cars, such as the top and frame. Then they went Back to St. Louis for the Final Assembly and shipped form there. These cars were nade to be convertibles from day one, they had all the extra chassis stiffening to account for the roof being removed. The early model 82-83 Lebaron and 82-83 Dodge 400′s were pretty much two door coupes with the top cut off and a convertible top added, hence the plastic rear window and no quarter glass.

    If i remember the rumors right Lee Iacocca wanted a convertible for Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth way back in 1979 after he was Chrysler CEO. The Board of Director’s over rode him on that ideal( as did the Goverment watch dog since Chrysler was operating on Sercureed Goverment Backed bank loans at the time..Deja VO!) saying the convertible in America was dead no one wanted them and that’s why Chrysler’s last was in 1972, Dodge and Plymouth in 1971. And the safety groups played there part in making them go away to.

    But ole Lee was hell bent on adding a Convertible to the line up of his “K Cars”. The Know how at Chrysler was gone, so he turned to three diffrent contractors. Cars and Concepts deliverd on the Lebaron first(1981) and followed with the Dodge 400 (1981) these were for the model year 1982 cars. Lee first saw it and said i have to get this into production. The board of Directors at Chrysler was blowed away by the car and said “lets get it into production!” Lee was in St. Louis( Actually the plant was in Fenton, Mo, but close enough i guess) And drove the first car off the line, top down with cigar sticking up. The first five cars were Chrysler lebaron’s convertibles followed by five 400′s convertibles then six or so hardtops followed by some more convertibles. Then Cars and concepts got up to speed and started just adding the convertible top to already finished bodies and them sometime around 1983 we started doing the cars from stamping thru the whole process or “in house” as it was called. That’s about the time a real rear window and quarter panels got added to the car’s. For reason’s i never understood Plymouth got left out and i think they would have sold way more than the Chrysler or dodge convertibles just because of Plymouth’s working man’s car reputation.

    The orders poured in from dealers as they sold these convertibles to people who have not even seen one on the street yet, much less in person. I do not remember the break down for every year but i know they started with an orignial 1,000 units being built on one shift and got expanded to three shift’s around 4 or 5000 per year till the new Lebaron “J” body came out in late 1986 as a 1987 model and the 86 was the last convertible for dodge till the viper showed up around 1992. The last convertible i had anything to do with was the 1991 Lebaron Convertible, as St. Louis was shunt down after this car. Allpar.com has a good article on this. But my feelings at the time was less than happy. I had worked there in St. Louis plant since 1980 and that car a red convertible lebaron was the last one down the line and some hard choices for the workers that were left.

    I still own a 86 dodge 600 convertible that i brought new. I came in to the plant on my off day and followed the car form rolled metal to finished process, and followed the truck to the dealership with my car on it, and that was the first time i had seen a car go thru all the stages, and there was plenty of stages. My car got caught up in shift change before it went to paint. The new Shift line boss really barked for me being there off the clock and wrote me up for it. I placed a call to the asst Plant Manager, who knew i was there and told him he needed to have some words with Bob. And he did. Bob came over and said i could stay just don’t interveine with the process. The one thing i did do was select the best wire spoke hup caps from the bend and put them on! RIP Clark! Told ya i wouldn’t get you in trouble!

  • avatar
    ragtopman

    I feel I have to defend the Chrysler convertible. I drive one. In fact, the ’95 LeBaron I drive now (bought three years ago with 63k and nw with 106k as a daily driver) replaced a ’96 Sebring that I drove from 63k to nearly 200k and still sold for $2k.

    Thank the good Lord that Chrysler was the only company to bring convertibles to the masses when the other Detroit 2 bailed out.

    BTW, my J-body LeBaron runs like new. It won’t win any races, but I don’t care (and never have).

  • avatar

    I too feel the need to defend here. I have owned several….Most noteworthy, the 84 E-Class that flipped on the PA turnpike, with my wife and two sons aboard, in exactly the same circumstances that killed Princess Diana. All three walked away. The Dodge Caravelle coupe that caught fire when my girlfriend (I was divorced by then, ok?) was driving home from Virginia. The firewall held after the front end of the car was destroyed. She was able to empty the trunk of bone dry christmas presents. The first 85 LeBaron convertible that I found behind a gas station and bought for 200 dollars for the hell of it, and the second that carried my sons and I from NJ to Texas in 1999, and now the somewhat rare 1984 600 ES convertible that is my son’s first car. He was an infant when the E-Class flipped, knows the story, and trusts the construction of the K-Body series. I do too.


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