By on November 16, 2011

You’d think that the Shelby-ized Dodges of the 1980s would be sought-after collector’s items nowadays… but you’d be wrong. The Omni GLH/GLHS had to be the best performance-per-dollar deal of any new car you could buy during the mid-to-late 1980s, but its humble Simca origins and disposable nature mean that surviving examples aren’t worth fixing up once they get in rough condition.
The ’86 GLH had 146 horsepower, weighed 2,295 pounds, and listed at $7,918 (or just over 16 grand in 2011 bucks).
Compare that to the ’86 Honda Civic Si, which had 91 horsepower, weighed 2,033 pounds, and sold for $7,999. OK, fine, we’ll admit that the Civic had build quality a couple of orders of magnitude better than the Omni and it handled better, but: 55 more horsepower for $81 less! Spend about 11 grand, and you’d get the ridiculously overpowered GLHS, which came with 175 horsepower and ran 14.7-second quarter miles right off the showroom floor. That blew away the Mustang GT and IROC-Z Camaro, and came very close to beating the ’86 Corvette.
Check out that screamin’ red interior. What’s not to love about a Rootes Group four-door hatch with Dodge badging, Carroll Shelby influence, and lots of boost? Apparently, this car’s last owner didn’t feel that way. Right now it’s in a Denver self-service yard, but the next stop will likely be a Chinese steel factory.

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67 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Dodge Omni GLH...”


  • avatar
    Banger

    These things truly did “Go Like Hell,” which is apparently where the GLH moniker came from. Nice find. I totally would have rocked one if the reliability was on-par with everything else on sale at the time. (Wasn’t driving in the ’80s, so I have no idea whether it was or wasn’t.)

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    I remember my neighbor owning a regular Omni but I do remember the GLH as a kid. By the time I could really remember they were already getting old but they were disturbingly fast. It’s rather funny that only now nearly 30 years after these cars were built are production cars now coming close to those numbers again (mainly the GTI and a few others). A 14.7 quarter is honestly still impressive and back in the 80′s that was enough to make you a cool on the track.

    Kind of makes you wonder where the 16K screamer is now…I’m looking at you Honda and Ford. Suburu already makes the WRX but I would settle for Subie taking 50 HP off it if it brought out an uprated Impreza model for around 20K.

    • 0 avatar
      dswilly

      The simple formula for performance is power to weight. Back then they could build 2300 lb cars unburdened with all of the safety systems and gizmos required today to meet consumer demands, plus small cars are bigger now. Much easier to build a car that can haul ass with 150hp and get 30mpg when the car doesn’t weigh over 3000 lbs.

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        I’m willing to concur on the small cars are bigger. The Omni would just barely be in the B-segment and quite possibly in the A-segment now. Lets be completely honest with ourselves though, the new Fusion and most of the new compacts are just far better rides than the GLH could be and can haul more while getting at a minimum better fuel economy. The weight did go up but that’s more so due to size. Really the technology to get cheap HP is out there but most car companies would rather have the fatter margin on the car than plunk down the money for turbos.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    As a HS kid in the mid 80′s I remember when these started showing up for stoplight drags on the cruise strip. Most of the time they would smoke the heavy duty muscle cars.

  • avatar

    These things were completely badass back in the day. Crude in ways hard to imagine for those used to new cars nowadays, but completely badass. Stupid little cheap car that would smoke just about anything. I wanted one badly, but I was a broke college student when they came out, and by the time I graduated and had some money to spend there were much better options to be had.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    170 lb/ft of torque in addition to the nearly 150hp made it a screamer in the day. Other naturally aspirated higher output fours in the day had far less torque even though a few were close in hp.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    A sad (but predictable) end to a neat car. I was a kid when these came out at the beginning of the second golden age of performance (which more or less continued and improved into what we have today). I would love to find one of these to tinker with.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    Love this car and its sibling the Dodge Shelby Charger. always hated that manky red interior. And that’s got to be the last example of the climate control being on the driver’s side.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Best friend had a Shelby Charger…all of the money in development was spent on the engine. Yeah, it was fast…but the rest of the car was beyond bad…it eventually died a glorious death in a ball of fire as the engine self-destructed and torched the entire car.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    It was eventually followed up by an equally disposable, and equally fast front wheel driver the “Don’t call it a Neon” SRT-4.

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      Always thought the SRT-4 should have got the “GLH” designation, but then, “SRT-4 GLH” would have been too much alphabet soup. Calling it a “Neon GLH” would have been okay in my book, though.

    • 0 avatar
      crinklesmith

      I always hated those things till I had the chance to borrow one for a weekend. What an absolute blast! Crapcan with horrific torque steer and a blowoff valve.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    I have no idea why this car was made. The body was too old to have been attractive to the general public for the enhancements, and the car itself was never much more than a disposable grocery-getter.

    By 1986, the Ominirizon was almost a decade old. It wasn’t new. It hadn’t been refreshed. A 1978 Omnirizon looks like a 1990 Omnirizon. Why would you buy such a dated design – even with this level of performance? The car appears charming now, but in 1986, it was too dated to appear as anything but dated. Had this performance package appeared earlier, it could have been far more successful.

    By 1980, this car had a hatch spin-off that looked nothing like the sedans, sold as either a Plymouth or a Dodge in the States, and had ridiculously stupid names that tied them to the Rabbit-ish four doors.

    Then came all the modifications. You can have this car as a pick-up, a Charger, and just about anything else. By the time the GLH and GLH-S were produced, it was about as exciting as hearing that McDonalds added extra lettuce on a Big Mac.

    Shelby found fame modifying Mustangs. Mustangs weren’t stretched into Mustang/Thunderbirds, or into Mustang sedans, hatches and wagons. So when Shelby modified the Mustang, he modified a car with a significant pop image within the market. Everyone knew what it meant to enhance a Mustang.

    In 1986, no one really knew what it meant to modify an Omni other than seeing another permutation of a car leaking in WalMart lots across the US.

    Also please note the location of the heating controls – left of the steering wheel. A lot of ladies didn’t like that as front seat passengers, but it was a commonly found 1970s, 1980s auto feature.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      They were made so people with more driving talent than money could take the fight to the low talent big bucks class. GLH Turbo and GLHS drivers quickly tired of stomping every other hot hatch out there and set their sights on cars bearing the Porsche and Ferrari nameplate, whose drivers they regularly humiliated through the rest of the 80s. That was why Lido and Carroll put together this program: they knew the artificial financial stratification of automobile performance was a load of bollocks and enjoyed telling the rest of the world, “you want to settle for second best? Go ahead and pay more for your ride – suckers.”

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      The 1990 models had the heaterAC controls in the center, but that was a bit too late in my book.

      Funny thing is how dated looks are actually popular now while back in the 80′s everyone still looked forward.

      The ChargerTurismo models were just odd, I never did like the fake scoops that came on some O24s (as if a plain 2.2 would need extra cooling).

    • 0 avatar
      daveainchina

      They were made because Lee Iacocca was in charge at Chrysler and Chrysler was bankrupt.

      So he did something that was genius at the time for the bottom line. He manufactured everything off the same platform. Yeah they were junk but because so much was shared with all the other cars you got a very large economy of scale.

      This in turn made chrysler profitable and allowed them to do things like the Viper.

      This was made because they basically didn’t change much, stuck a powerful engine in it that didn’t cost them much more and they charged a premium for it.

      The car was one hell of a ride, scary but fun.

      Should be a collector car but it just somehow isn’t /shrug.

      • 0 avatar
        bodegabob

        Yes, this.

        The Omnirizon and the K-cars were all Mopar had to work with at the time. They had seen the excitement around the VW GTI (talk about juicing up a dated design with stripes and a little extra hp!) and decided to go along for the ride.

  • avatar
    boost135

    Owned two GLH turbos in the 90′s, and am still holding onto a 86 GLHS today. I should take better care of it while it’s waiting for attention…

    Ouch, Vanilladude. I’ll say that I didn’t quite understand the point buying my first during senior year when the car was already 8 years old other than it fell into my near minimum wage part time income nicely at the time. And not quite being sure of the point of the car takes nothing away from the great times these little rattle boxes on wheels provided. An epic little car.

  • avatar
    brettucks

    I bought one of these in 1990 for 2600. Was the funnest car I ever owned, but reliability was so-so. In 2 years I replaced a tranny, fuel Pump,and computer. Traded it for a 386-40 of ( ouch). But it would beat an Iroc with the AC on, with a passenger too (at least to about 70mph)

  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    Substitute “1986 Dodge Omni GLH” with “2005 Dodge Neon SRT-4″, and voila, you have a Junkyard Find article pre-written for the year 2030. Even the comments would basically be the same.

    • 0 avatar

      The junkyards are already overflowing with early-2000s Neons. The SRTs will probably start showing up in another five years.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Neons, Tauruses, Cavaliers, even saw a PT Cruiser in one!

      • 0 avatar
        87CE 95PV Type Я

        Out here in Upstate New York the turnover in junkyards seems to be quicker and I sometimes wonder if I am keeping my 95 Voyager around too long. A few years back the junkyards were teeming with 2nd Generation Chrysler Minivans then slowly the 3rd gens started taking its place, and earlier this year there were none to be found. Apparently they had about a dozen 3rd gens to choose from, about 6 4th gens, and not a 2nd gen to be found.

        When your vehicle is rare on the street and rarer in the junkyards you might have a problems.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    What an ignominious end to a great car for its time. Those photos almost made me cry.

    The rear drum brakes are a nice touch.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    As someone who’s ridden in one of these they were fast, very fast thanks to their lightweight, torquey engines, short 5 speed, and the turbo. Though they got mpg in the 20′s so they weren’t all that economical.

    The inside felt just like a plain OmniHorizon, and those front grilles break so easy on any OmniHorizon its silly.

    The 2.2 engines in these were tough, but with a turbo they’d often have their headgaskets ruined over time. Oddly the team making the 2.2 wanted a supercharger but Chrysler insisted on a turbo.

    If you ask me the SRT-Neon was not a true successor, it didn’t have the “sleeper appeal”, came in obnoxious colors, and I doubt that you could take it around a track like a GLH. The new Chevy turbo Aveo is close but again dosen’t have much sleeper to it thanks to its Charger wannabe front nose.

    Seeing one in the junkyard stinks but this one looks well worn, even the trims not worth much being cracked up.

    Chrysler gave us a turbo 4 hatchback and eventually they had a turbo Caravan, what Chrysler didn’t have a turbo back then?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I came THIS CLOSE to buying one of these. You could call it a sleeper, but all that torque steer was ANYTHING but sleepy.

  • avatar
    LTDScott

    These cars are silly fun. I owned two – the first was a project that never finished, the 2nd was a GLH that had the entire powertrain and suspension from a wrecked ’87 GLH-S (Turbo-2, intercooler, Konis) swapped in. I had a lot of fun beating up on Mustangs at the drag strip.

    It wasn’t so fun when the fuel pump went bad with the car under boost and destroyed the pistons and made the rods look like bananas. I ended up selling it to a Shelby collector.

    If you think finding a standard GLH in the junkyard is rare, imagine my surprise when I found a 1-of-500 ’86 GLH-S in my local Pick-Your-Part about 8 years ago. The intercooler and valve cover had already been taken, but I pillaged that car for every other rare part I could – 2 piece intake, computer, instrument cluster, factory Konis, etc, etc. – and made a tidy profit on eBay.

  • avatar
    phargophil

    A friend of mine has one of these that he still drives occasionally. The hatch struts are shot and the headliner is sagging but it still goes like a scalded cat.

    • 0 avatar
      LTDScott

      I used push-pins to hold my headliner up. It also held up the fortune “You will be surrounded by things of luxury.” Appropriate.

      [img]http://www.ltdlx.org/albums/Omni/P1010546.jpg[/img]

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    I take issue with the “handles better” claim for the GLH-era Hondas, though the Hondas may well have felt better while cornering. 185/60-14 tires on the Si compared to 195/50-15 meant the GLH already enjoyed the benefit of a +1 wheel/tire combo – and the GLHS sported even grippier 205/50-15 sizes for its rubber.

  • avatar
    rawtoast

    If there is any chance of getting this running, I cant imagine a more fun Lemons car.

  • avatar
    pdog

    I learned to drive on a 10 year old non-GLH one of these, an 84 or 85 IIRC, with the 2.2L and a slushbox. It had the same lurid red interior with the same four spoke steering wheel with the hard plastic bits on the back that would grab/scratch your fingers if you weren’t careful.

    Seeing these pictures gives me PTSD, as that was definitely the worst car I’ve ever had. Reliability was sporadic at best, and it probably started up no more than 80% of the time. Also, it would habitually stall out completely during sweeping turns, particularly on freeway on and off ramps. Probably a carb adjustment issue, although it persisted after the carb was professionally replaced. Regardless, loss of power steering, braking and engine power was not a good thing, especially when the car wouldn’t start up again until you exited the curve. Maybe my luck was just different than others’, but the 1980 Rabbit (with 4-speed and CIS 1.6L) that replaced that piece was significantly better in every way. I can’t believe they continued selling these until 1990, although even by 1994 when I was learning to drive you didn’t see them on the roads in California very often.

    I’m sure the turbo version with a manual and better tires would have been a far more enjoyable car, although if the reliability of the regular version was that bad, I can’t imagine this would have improved with the added complexity of a turbo.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      My Horizon would stall at hard corners too (even though it was fuel injected), I never did find the issue but keeping gas in it seemed to help.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        Ah, the in-tank fuel pump strikes again: a failing pump would first manifest problems while cornering, with hard rights causing problems initially until the pump failed, at which point there was nothing but gravity to feed the external high pressure pump. The high pressure pump would cavitate, overheat and shut down, which led legions of mechanics astray as they’d first check the external pump and, seeing it burned out, would replace the pump and find the problem was solved – until the fresh pump overheated a few hours later from fuel starvation.

        My own pursuit of satisfaction for my first turbocharged Omni ended up with one service manager losing his job and an outer island service team solving the problem permanently on their first attempt. “Permanently” really should read “…unless the in-tank unit was from Mikuni, which meant 12 months between failures.”

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        At Felix: Whats even sillier is how after grabbing at least 2 different pumps none of them went with the car (despite the EBAY ad saying otherwise), so I just had the old one put back on.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    This particular example should be called the Shelby BTH . . . it’s sad, because this car really looks like a 1980s version of Murilee’s 1965 Impala and I’d love to see it on the road again. I’d get it into perfect mechanical condition and leave everything else as-is, never even daring to wash it (save for the windows at a gas station).

    It would scare people, and be a cop magnet, but darn it would be fun to see people’ faces in your rear view mirror when you left them standing at the stoplight!

  • avatar
    Justice_Gustine

    Objects in monitor are closer than they seem.

    Trying to find the meaning of DOTJ-86_Omni_GLH-10.jpg

    Sasquatch prints in the mud?

  • avatar
    BigDuke6

    I was driving an ’84 VW GTI when these came out and I nearly convinced myself that I needed to trade it for one of these to go faster. I can’t remember how I did it, but I talked myself out of that decision. Coulda been fun, but coulda been a nightmare too.

  • avatar

    Some people do indeed collect Shelby-ized Chrysler products. Here’s a 1988 Shelby CSX-T, which was a Plymouth Sundance with a turbo, a body kit and some other go fast parts. I saw it at a regional WPC Club meet. This one should have the Turbo I, because it’s a T, with ‘Ol Shel reprising the Shelby Mustang rent-a-racers, in this case for Thrifty car rentals. Regular CSXs had the intercooled Turbo II motor. However, on the hood it says “intercooler” so I’m guessing it’s been upgraded. Very clean car. If you check out the gallery over at Cars In Depth, you’ll see that the car has XRENTAL plates in a Thrifty Car Rental license plate frame.

  • avatar
    Garak

    I owned a ’86 Talbot 1510, a car with same platform as the Dodge Omni, back in 2003, and it was a really scary thing to drive. If you didn’t hold the steering wheel tight, the car started veering wildly all over the road. Of course it was an old car, but apparently they were about as bad when new. A truly horrible POS.

  • avatar
    Egroeg1000

    This just about makes me weep. I LOVED mine. A (ab)used GLH turbo was my first car. Blew it’s 1st head gasket within 3 months of purchase. Had many minor and major issues over the years following. When it blew it’s second head gasket I left it sit in a friend’s yard for several years. Finally had to junk it when I realized I couldn’t afford those kind of repairs.
    That being said, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that I’d take another one of these if the opportunity was there. It was the most fun driving experience I have ever had. The “go-cart on steroids” with unbelievable torque-steer.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    These crapboxes have a bigger following than one would think. Check out TurboDodge.com. Tons of them show up at the mopar nats in Columbus to race every year, more than you would think are even still in existence. There are still plenty of upgrade parts available for them.
    Many of them at Columbus run well into the 12′s, as well as neons. I can’t really see many SRT4″s ending up in the scrapyard the way these cars did, judjing by the types of owners I see with the SRT4′s. SRT4 owners seem to be a different breed than the types that owned these cars, they take better care of them and store them during the winter, at least in this area.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Omni GLH Turbo vs. Corvette Z06 (the Dodge does an 11.88 second run):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvHcxNJG7is

    GLHS VS LS1 CAMARO

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=jDUvX0n8baU

    Omni vs. Mustang Cecil county Dragway (another 11 second run)

  • avatar
    gmrn

    Very fond memories of hooning this and the sister car, Shelby Charger, in the summer of ’85 @ a dealership when new. I was all of 18. I was already signed up for the military but hadn’t shipped out for basic training. I guess the dealer saw a chance to woo me with an extended test drive so he gave it to me. Twice. Unaccompanied by a salesperson. When I was 18.
    Lurid smokey burnouts of expensive Eagle Gatorbacks was the scent of the day. Granted, my wheel time was short compared to ownership (I did not buy) but I remember some interesting qualities.
    -On smooth roads it had excellent grip
    -Torque steer was present, but not unmanageable.
    -Turbo lag was present in spades. This lag made the arrival of boost that much more dramatic.
    -It actually had an interesting guttural intake sound that was very unique and pleasing to my ears.
    Now I will wander off topic.
    Regarding the sound of the intake. My ‘09 Mazdaspeed 3 had no discernable intake sound when stock. After the addition of a CAI it sounded , to quote a forum members words, “like God is trying to suck up the Pacific ocean, through a straw”. This is not a compliment. Dramatic? Yes. Pleasant? No.
    I would like to pose a question.
    Where have all the good sounding turbo intake sounds gone?
    Even more off topic, my ’07 MSRT8 had a truly proper intake sound. Animalistic.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    @ Windsword…I can’t recall if any of those cars made it into the 11′s at the Mopar Nats, but I do remember many of them running very low 12′s. Those that were running high 12′s were the slower ones, with most running mid-low 12′s. I have never driven one, but owners that I have talked with claim that fighting the torque steer adds to the excitement of running them down the track.
    4 cylinder fwd cars are not my cup of tea, but I would imagine that turning 12′s or 11′s in such a crude little box would be pretty exhilarating.
    Today’s cars are so refined that even the fast ones don’t seem fast from inside the cabin, which spoils the fun.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Good point, I’ve always found older cars to be more fun to drive thanks to their lack of refinement, even in modern video games its more fun to hop in an old car over a modern one.

  • avatar
    thx_zetec

    In the Summer of ’84 I bought one of the first GLH’s, a non-turbo 2.2 (turbo not available at the time). I bought the base model, no AC, Silver w/ silver interior and about 7,200 bucks.

    This car seemed really radical at the time. This was back when Golf GT 60 profile tires were considered low-profile. The GLH had about the first 50 profile tires (five – full alloy spare with full Goodyear GT!). These days every grocery getter has 50 or 60 profile tires, but back then 50′s were radical, people would always ask me about my tires. I bought some 14″ steel wheels which I used for winter use with less radical tires.

    It had comfortable reasonably supportive seats, good controls, decent shifter, good gages, and stiff, light (2400 lb) body. The hatch was hard to beat for hauling big loads, and low-tech bumper and drip rails allowed it to carry canoe on top.

    The car was practical, fun, and reliable and economical. To those who complain about styling or location of heater controls: what the heck has happened to this country? What ever happened to cars being judged for driving?

    The turbo came later and the dealer had me come in and test drive one. It was fast but had a ton of lag and cost something like 9000 bucks. No way a cheapskate like me was going to waste that much on a car.

    One thing I will say: these cars were fast, but only compared to cars of that day. My non-turbo would do 0-60 in 8.8 sec, and a turbo in 7.5 sec. A Toy Rav4 w/ v6 will do this in 6.6 sec now. The HP wars have come a long ways.

    You can modify these things to go scary fast on 1/4 mile though. Google 12 sec minivan and see old Kryko minivans modified with turbo 4 bangers.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Well when it comes to styling it seems that “looking dated” is bad while being “Retro” is good, even though they’re one in the same.
      Plus the fewer the face lifts the more replacement parts you have.

      That and I’d easily take something with timeless, simple styling over todays strange fish-compacts. VW didn’t make the Beetle memorable by updating it every year.

      Whats funny is the HorizonOmni did get a face-lift but it was so minor it’s hard to notice, basically they got different tailights and cheaper grilles.

  • avatar
    and003

    Narrator from old commercial: “Dodge Omni GLH … no more Mr. Nice Guy!”

  • avatar
    and003

    Murilee Martin: “Its humble Simca origins and disposable nature mean that surviving examples aren’t worth fixing up once they get in rough condition.”

    I don’t know … if I had lots of disposable income, access to the right hot rod shop, and information on where to get new parts, I wouldn’t be averse to fixing this car up, though I’d probably give this car a custom interior and keep the original paint scheme.


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