By on October 4, 2011

I don’t read MotorAuthority, not considering them to be much of an authority on motorized items of any kind, but when notorious rockstar Blake Z. Rong and “CarGuyDad” Kamil Kaluski both gave me the heads-up on a Singaporean warehouse trying to sell 150 brand new RHD Neons for $1,350 each, I had to take a look.

These are brand-new, Chrysler-badged, right-hand-drive Neons. Most export-spec Neons were fully-equipped, and indeed all the ones in these photos appear to have body-color bumpers. On the other hand, you can plainly see a steel wheel in the photo, and I’ve read that some export Neons had a 1.8L engine in place of the US-market two-liters.

Nearly everybody who looks at the photo, including the author of the MotorAuthority piece, has made a crack about a “spec series”. The original Neon Challenge was a spectacularly successful spec series, the NASA Spec Neon class had a small but devoted following, and the Neon has won plenty of victories in Showroom Stock, Improved Touring, and D Street Prepared trim. Could these 150 Neons be the basis of a low-budget American racing series?

Hard to believe those are all racing Neons, huh? Whatever its faults as a street car, the Neon made for a great racer. It’s simple, light, rigid enough, not all that difficult to service, and a joy to drive. The DOHC head let the revs reach a range that the fragile pistons and rods weren’t really ready for, but other than that the Neon was born to compete.

Let’s assume the mystery Neon seller would let us have the cars in lots of fewer than the original 150 — maybe twenty or thirty at a time. What would it cost to race a $1,350 brand-new Neon? To begin with, it would have to be shipped to the United States and clear Customs as a race car. Figure $750 a piece for that, so now we are at $2,100 each. The interiors and accessories would have to be removed — twenty hours of mildly skilled labor, for a total of perhaps $1,000 each — and a roll cage would have to go in — about $1,600 for a shipped and installed Autopower cage. Now we are at $4.700 each. At a minimum, each car would need four new spec tires at a cost of perhaps $600. Some rubber components would be leaking or missing, so figure $500 for that. You’ll need a racing seat at $500 and a small suite of tow hooks, kill switches, and the like, for another $500.

Just like that, our $1,350 Neon has become a $6,800 race car, and we still don’t have a fuel cell, a racing paintjob, or any of the extras commonly associated with a race car. That, by the way, is why LeMons racers aren’t really even close to $500 propositions. Still, when you compare it to the $80,000 Continental Challenge racers that start life as $22,000 Mazdas or Hondas, it’s a hell of a bargain.

If I were financing the enterprise, I would offer prepared Neon racers for $9,999 each with a small package of spares, and clear maybe two grand per car. That’s not an inspiring profit margin by the standards of Goldman Sachs or General Motors, but it would put cars on the track. For the people who don’t have ten grand in cash plus a tow vehicle and a full crew, I would offer prepared vehicles for perhaps $1500 a weekend, with the renter assuming all liability for damage and excess wear.

Could such a series succeed? Probably not. The cars would be annoyingly slow in any modern NASA or SCCA race; the difference between a stockish Neon and an ITA-prepped example is about ten seconds a lap at most tracks. Although these would be brand-new engines and rust-free, crash-free, twist-free shells, many people would still probably rather take their chances making a Spec Miata from a $3000 used car. The economy sucks right now and people aren’t climbing over each other to race amateur series anyway. It would take a very optimistic, very wealthy, very long-term-approach type of fellow to put his money behind such a thing.

There is a way to make it work, however, and it’s so simple I’m surprised nobody’s thought of it yet. Jay Lamm could incorporate Spec Singaporean Neon into LeMons. Existing LeMons teams might really enjoy the chance to move to the aforementioned rust-free, twist-free shells. There could be a separate trophy, and LeMons would be helped, not harmed, by the specter of two dozen brightly-colored Neons running around the track at a middling pace. A few teams might even get into the rent-a-ride business. It could work.

What do you say, Mr. Lamm? Are you ready for a new Neon Challenge? If you are, and you decide to buy thirty of them, you only need to worry about selling twenty-nine of them.

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48 Comments on “Could The $1,350 Neons Really Be Used For A Spec Series?...”


  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I know this is beside the point of the article, but my memory fails me here. Did we have Chrysler Neons in the states? I know that there were Dodge Neons and Plymouth Neons, but I don’t recall Chrysler Neons. I know it’s just a badge thing, but I’m curious.

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    We did not. Chrysler Neons were sold in other markets.

  • avatar
    Morea

    How about the world’s first spec demolition derby series? (Naturally it would be short lived.)

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I think you ought to find out which transmissions they’re fitted with.

    • 0 avatar

      Considering they were exported outside of NA my assumption is they’re probably equipped with manual transmissions.
      Hold out till 2012 and you can export them legally into Canada to join the Delica’s, HiAce’s, S-Cargo’s Kei trucks etc already on the streets in the Great White North.
      Whether they sell or not is a different story.

      • 0 avatar
        dvp cars

        …….all those right hand drive mini-contraptions are 4 wheeled widow-makers. I’m surprised authorities let them in. Once rented a Neon in Buenos Aires, only car available that could squeeze 5 people in. Pretty sure it was an automatic, though.

      • 0 avatar
        Feds

        Bidding on a Delica tonight… 4×4 Diesel wagon, here I come!

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        T.W.

        They might not be manuals, as in many export markets the Neon was by far the cheapest car suited to using an automatic transmission at the time. Lots of eurotrash still had 1.1 liter gas engines in their cheap offerings and the developing market Toyota Tercels or Starlets struggled when there was an automatic attached to their little sewing machines.

  • avatar
    JimR

    I co-drove a Street Prepared ’99 Neon ACR one year at autocrosses. Bearing play fractured a hub while I was driving, and sent a mounted 275-width Hoosier bouncing down the course.

    We patched it up in time for Solo Nationals and avoided further calamity. Unfortunately, the other FSP Neon at Nationals that year broke an axle on the start line of the first day of the first run of the first driver.

    In a Neon road race series, don’t forget to budget some donations for the Boy Scouts who shovel up all the orphaned wheels, CV joints, and engine mount pieces after the race.

  • avatar
    Birddog

    $2150 for an unmolested first gen Neon? Awesome starting point for sure.

  • avatar
    ott

    The Neon showing the black steel wheel has a 5 lug pattern, so I also believe these are the highline models. Base Neons had only 4 lugs per wheel, IIRC.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Well if you need a name you could always call it “The Ten Horny Lechers” Series since that’s what ‘the chrysler neon’ translates into when you move around the letters.

    NOTE: I have to credit Dave Barry with this observation.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      If I were financing the enterprise, I would offer prepared Neon racers for $9,999 each with a small package of spares, and clear maybe two grand per car.

      Sounds like a “Rent, Lease, Sell, or Keep” maybe SL would be interested.

    • 0 avatar
      dvp cars

      re: Steve’ s suggestion…….catchy little name for a racing league, but I’m not sure JB could sell it to a major sponsor………….. For instance, the “New Chrysler/UAW/Froody’s Headache Powder/Ten Horny Lecher 250″ could be a hard sell to even the smallest cable network, especially one with a family value audience.

  • avatar

    Sounds like a great idea.

    The Neon is a car that shows they hypocrisy of most internet car enthusiasts….

    They all say, “Cars are so bloated now! Remember when you could get a stripped down lightweight car without traction control, or other features weighing it down”? Why does the government have to implement all these heavy safety features? blah blah blah…

    Well, the Neon offers all of this. It’s relatively lightweight, is not weighed down with safety features and can be a hoot to drive.

    But the instant you suggest this car, everyone says, “you’ll die in an accident”, “it’s so unrefined”, “it has roll down rear windows!!!” etc. etc… I’ve come to decide these internet poseurs don’t really want a lightweight, simple car… They just say the do.

    • 0 avatar
      Volt 230

      right on, bro!

    • 0 avatar
      Feds

      I just picked up a very rust free, very well maintained 1993 Mazda MPV as a winter beater. You know what? It’s EFFBOMBing awesome.

      I’ve got an airbag, it’s got ABS, and that’s it. Front windows crank, middle windows are fixed, and rear windows hinge out. The doors are thin, so there is tonnes of room on the inside, I can load the kids in the (single) side door, belt them in, then walk to the front seat. My shoulder is in the middle of the window, so visibility is awesome. When I look at the side mirror, I can see the length of the van in my peripheral vision. 0 blindspot.

      You know how I deal with the poor safety rating? I drive more carefully. Easy peasy.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      I remember an auto rag article around ’87-88 which praised the Chrysler turbo-4′s power delivery but lamented the weight of its K-based performance offerings, and posited the solution as “a superlight Daytona”, which had its weight reduced 600-800 lbs through the use of composite materials and a spartan interior layout.

      I wrote to that publication and chided the author for his short sighted focus. For several years Chrysler offered a “superlight Daytona”: they just called it the Dodge Omni.

      • 0 avatar
        Birddog

        “they just called it the Dodge Omni”

        Shh! Keep that one quiet, L bodies are still cheap to be had and build.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        K cars were really light…about 2400 pounds. How much more could a G24 have weighed?

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        By the time the Daytona/Laser combo had been finalized, the curb weight was well into the 2600-2700lb range, making the power to weight ratio in the sub-2200lb L-bodies an even more impressive figure. The only concession made to the marketers and bean counters regarding the turbocharged L-bodies was no publication of the car’s performance figures – apart from a single print ad series (“No More Mr Nice Guy”) where you can barely see at the bottom on the page, in 4 or 6 point type, the disclaimer “**optional turbocharged engine available: use your imagination.”

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Where do I sign up?

  • avatar
    Feds

    Jack,

    You perfectly detail the adage about turning a large pile of money into a small pile of money via racing. These would likely be very good race cars, but like Peter Egan at his cocktail party, there’s no cahet in it. “You _RACE_ a neon? _MY_ car is well faster than your race car… Pardon me, but I need to be 15 feet away from you for the rest of the evening.”

  • avatar
    brettc

    Since the USPS can’t afford a pack of gum at the moment, maybe they could use these to replace 150 of their aging Iron Duke delivery vehicles. Rip out the left front seat and the back seats. They’ve already got the steering wheel on the “right” side for that.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I am liking this idea very much but sadly do not have the coin to join in. Another brilliant Baruth idea.

  • avatar
    BrtStlnd

    I am Jack’s raging Neon erection.

  • avatar
    MM

    I live in Singapore and have contacted the seller on the terms…my Previa is living on borrowed time. It’s not uncommon to find batches like this… many friends drive 2003 Hyundai Matrix due to an importer bringing in 30 of the cars just before going into bankruptcy. The cars stayed in the customs terminal for nearly 2 years before courts allowed them to be sold. A liquidator was selling them $10K SGD a clip, on a car that normally retails for $35-40K SGD, so those in the know got a great deal.

  • avatar

    A joy to drive? I rented one the year they came out and while it was zippy and planted enough, the seats were execrable, a real torture chamber. Does your racing-upgrade plan involve a seat that won’t cause waves of lower back pain?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      For sure; you can’t race using a stock seat. I have a LaJoie Daytona Prototype seat in MY Neon:

      http://www.joieofseating.net/full-custom_race-seat.html

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Do it. Sell some Porshces and get someone to help finance it. I even believe you can save quite a few bucks on parts given that you are talking about maybe 150 cars. You should be able to get some sponsors and some good deals on rollcages and race seats/harnesses. It would maybe be even better to just modify 50 of the cars for starters, and keep the other ones for parts, so that everyone in the series would come to you and get cheap CV-joints and brake calipers and engine blocks. You’re gonna be rich :)

  • avatar
    iNeon

    I’m so in. Where do I pick it up? I want strawberry red.

  • avatar

    If Jay Lamm ever does a spec series, it will involve Chrysler Sebrings. The 12 Hours of Sebrings!

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    I find it really cool that there are 150 brand new old cars like that. Just selling them for road use would be cool…

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      This may well be the largest collection of NOS (that’s “new old stock” for those not familiar with auto restoration jargon) equipment in history.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    So nobody knows why 150 brand new Neons have been gathering dust for 14 years? There’s no answer over at MotorAuthority either. It’s gotta be a good story, wish someone would find it.

    • 0 avatar
      dvp cars

      …….all I know is that these things have to be in the hands of the world’s slowest moving bailiff…….imagine the storage bill on this fiasco! Too bad they weren’t Vipers.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    can one imagine the storage bills for 150 cars for almost 14 yrs presumably in space poor Singapore???

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    The neon’s bottom end is not fragile, the stock rods will handle 600 hp.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    I’d buy one (I still like the thing). Googled the company, but couldn’t get to their website.

    In any case, it’s in lots of forums.

    How’s the support for this cars as racers? I downloaded the Mopar catalog and there are few parts for Neons… and was surprised to see more for the Turbo I/II engines.

    • 0 avatar
      AKADriver

      Mopar used to support the first-gen Neons fairly well, with suspension packages, cams, headers, engine mounts, reflashed ECUs, and even an ITA-spec blueprinted crate engine.

      I don’t know what they still offer out of this but I’m sure a lot of it dwindled as the Neon fell out of favor both as a street sport compact and as a race car. They were such great cars to own as an enthusiast back in the ’90s… for a few grand less than a Civic Si, you could get a Neon R/T which could blow its doors off with bolt-ons, and the bolt-ons cost less for the Neon than they did for the Civic. Remember this was the era before Chinese “replica” parts on eBay.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    The stock neon bottom end will run 7k all day long . They can also be made to run pretty good in the quarter mile. I saw tons of them running in the 12′s last year at the Mopar Nats in Columbus. I don’t care for 4 bangers but it was fun watching them.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      First year 1995 models (1994 to 1995 build) had the better cam in the SOHC 2.0 motor.

      I would seriously wonder if these export motors were 1.8 or 1.6 liters though.

      The lack of stereos in the cars may be due to theft from 14 years of sitting or could be as ordered to keep theft from happening.

      I would want one cheap for the NOS parts to rebuild a used US neon to nearly new. The world spec red/yellow/white taillights are cool too…

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    There are still lots of goodies available from the aftermarket for the 1st gen neon. The biggest supplier is Howell Automotive, which has just about everything under the sun for it.


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