By on February 25, 2012

Self-service junkyards, which tend to price parts based on type rather than vehicle of origin, don’t tend to get many “factory hot rod” cars of semi-recent vintage. Such cars usually get snapped up by specialty yards or shops at the auctions where big self-serve yards get their stock, so I did a double-take when I found this very solid-looking ’98 Neon R/T at my local yard.
The R/T was sort of an “ACR Lite” version of the Neon, with stiffer springs, better transmission gear ratios, and bigger brakes than the regular Neon. Not quite as serious as the ACR, but getting there. Since even Grandma’s base Neon was pretty quick (that is, if Grandma opted for the manual transmission), the R/T was quite the Civic-stomping machine. Every junkyard in the country is practically paved in base Neons (if you don’t count minivans, the Neon is about the most numerous Chrysler product in American junkyards these days), but the numbers are starting to decline slightly as these 10-to-15-year-old cars wear out. I’m sure I’ll see more of the R/T Neons in the near future.
Look out, this one has a K&N sticker on the air cleaner! What’s that, 50 more horsepower?
The 1990s were strange years when it came to upholstery on Chrysler products. This isn’t quite as weird as some of the fabric that went into the Sundance-based Plymouth Duster earlier in the decade, but it’s entertainingly dated.
The Neon’s image suffered from Chrysler’s cuteness-based ad campaigns (which is what led to the super-macho car names and Burly-Scudd-bustin-out-yer-teeth advertising imagery of Chrysler products of the following decade), and so the impressionable young dudes who would have enjoyed breaking parts in Neon R/Ts mostly broke parts in Civics and SE-Rs instead.
Judging from the number of Spec Neon veterans I see dominating 24 Hours of LeMons races, however, it appears that plenty of road-race freaks bought these things.

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58 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1998 Dodge Neon R/T...”


  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Nice find Muralee!

    This does indeed look solid, wonder what brought it in to be junked, trashed motor? Broken transmission?.

    Other than the grill and front turn signals, this car looks complete – even the paint looks fairly good and red, not dull and faded, despite being over 10 years old.

    also, cars built in the 90′s, after the initial failure of water born paints then coming into use, most cars got the clearcoat treatment and I believe without a doubt, unless the clearcoat is flaking or is being burned off through copious amounts of strong sun, has allowed modern cars of the past 20 years to keep most of their shine and with some exceptions, most of their color as well as they aged.

    I had a 1992 Ford Ranger truck with the original Calypso Green paint (sort of a jade green shade) with the STX decal package and despite being nearly 20 YO, it still retained most of its original color and shine, the clearcoat was still intact all over and that’s despite me not washing it more than once or twice in nearly 6 years (between Feb 2006-Jan 2012).

    I bet that if I washed it, clayed it and gave it a really good wax/buffing job, it’s look almost like new.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      The Ford paints of that era seemed to hold up well. I have a 92 Mercury with that (or very similar) green paint and it has spent its entire life outside. Despite minimal waxing, there is no peel, very minor fade and an overall good appearance. I’d imagine if garage kept, it would have looked pretty much new.

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        Yep. I would agree on that.

        Unfortunately, that light metallic green VW uses on the New Beetle has had a huge tendency to fade badly to where the car is at least 3 shades lighter on top than the paint near the rocker panels even if the clearcoat is still intact, it fades really badly compared to other paints offered by VW.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        Agreed I had a 87 T-Bird in light metallic blue w/optional clear coat. The paint held up well for 20+ years. My 95 in black became oxidized on the hood, roof and trunk and had to have those panels re-sprayed.

        I had rented Neon’s before. For some reason the 2nd gen has power windows up front but crank in the rear.

      • 0 avatar
        Rob Finfrock

        “I had rented Neon’s before. For some reason the 2nd gen has power windows up front but crank in the rear.”

        First gen was the same. I don’t believe Neons ever had rear power windows.

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      My guess would be that the timing belt went, the DOHC is an interference engine.

  • avatar

    Nice, I almost bought one of these new for my first car. I wanted a Contour with the V6 and the manual, but ended up with the ZX2 instead.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      That’s too bad. I bought a off-lease ’98 Contour SVT with the HO 2.5L V6 and every option including the ‘blurple’ leather interior for $15K in ’00. Took her to Germany for three years. That engine was a screamer redlining at 8100 and topped out at 155 mph on the autobahn to Berlin. Very very good ride for the money.

      The ZX2 was such a disappointment. I was expecting a EXP replacement when I test drove one, but was disappointed to find it barely outran an Aspire.

  • avatar
    MZ3AUTOXR

    I had friends that had ACR’s and R/T’s. I think the only difference was that the ACR’s came stripped (but you could option things in) while the R/T came with AC, Radio, and a few more creature comforts. Besides the springs, the biggest suspension difference between the ACR/RT combos and the basic Neon was steering ratio. When you turned the wheel these cars turned NOW!

    When Chrysler was paying serious contingency ($1,000 for a ProSolo overall win and $10,000 for a overall season ProSolo championship if I remember right) Neon’s were the car of choice for the weekend autocrosser. Shocks (the serious people ordered the ‘Mark Daddio’ setup from Koni), a set of wheels and R-Comp tires and you had a car that could win a National Championship – if you could drive.

    In 1996 I brought my Nissan Sentra SE-R to Topeka for Solo Nationals. Talk about a knife in a gunfight. I lived with the moral victory that my car was a better street car and didn’t blow head gaskets every 20,000 miles.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      All the R/Ts were DOHC.

      1994-build ACR sedans were SOHC. I raced NASA in 2008 with a ’94 ACR with 12,600 race-only miles on it. Got turned around and hit the wall at Mid-O at 90+ mph.

      That was the end of my 94 ACR.

      • 0 avatar
        MZ3AUTOXR

        95+ ACR’s came with the DOHC engine in the coupe. Don’t know if they made the SOHC sedans in ACR form after 94.

        150HP and less than 2400# in autocross trim.

        The sad part of this is comparing it to now. Back then (in 1994,) when I was looking for a small FWD car that I could both autocross and live with daily for less than 15K, I could look at the Neon, Sentra SE-R, Civic Si, Ford Escort GT, and a few others. I ended up in the SE-R.

        12 Years later, I tried looking for a fun, small FWD car that I could autocross for 17-18K. It came down to Mazda3 or Civic before I even drove anything, and after the drives the Civic didn’t even qualify.

      • 0 avatar

        I think it’s just Mazdas and Minis these days. MINI dealers nickel and dime a lot, but the upside is, if you do not buy _any_ options, they aren’t that expensive.

      • 0 avatar
        MZ3AUTOXR

        Yeah, I had two kids at the time (now 3)and the Mini was just too small. Even the Clubman wouldn’t work.

  • avatar
    Patrickj

    Quite a surprise to see this in the junkyard with such a good driver’s seat. A tiny owner, unusually good quality, or the car failed at low mileage? We’d probably see the odometer in a picture if it wasn’t electronic.

    Even if they didn’t sell a lot of cars with this upholstery, you would think that at 14 years an owner would be happy just to find such a good seat for sale.

    • 0 avatar
      potatobreath

      Sick upholstery, bro. Beats looking at tacky dragon print faux-leather seat covers. Those seats are in pretty amazing condition; they would make a great conversation piece as part of a driving simulator cockpit.

      My mother made seat covers for her 1990 Acura Integra immediately after she bought the car. When she traded it in, the dealer noticed the immaculate seats — like never used before. The rest of the car didn’t fare that well; it was stolen by hooligans several times and found with raw meat and rats in the engine compartment.

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      The seats didn’t wear out prematurely in the neons. My daughter has a 99 plymouth neon 2 door with about 187k on it and the seats are in good shape. All 1st gen neons had mechanical odometers.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    The average person sees “Neon” and can’t differentiate between the different versions… I particularly liked the turbo performance SRT-4 version, made the last few years (2004-2005) with a 230hp motor– wonder if any of THOSE are in junk yards?… But again, you have the Chrysler Curse: no matter how much you turbo or tune it, the car is still a Dodge (with the exception of the Viper)… If Chrysler had tuned these AND put a custom, two-seat, convertible body on it, they would have gotten more attention from the world (kinda like what BLMC used to do: take boring sedan components and put them in a cute sporty car).

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The SRT-4s haven’t quite descended to use-and-discard status yet, but they’re on the doorstep.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        So far the majority of SRT-4′s that I have come across are owned by a different type than what typically owned the 1st gen models, they take better care of them and put them away for the winter. So they should be around for quite some time. How much do you actually know about cars, can you do much more than change your own oil?

  • avatar
    johnhowington

    from a safety perspective these cars were massive death traps. otherwise i loved them.

    • 0 avatar
      MZ3AUTOXR

      Compared to now? Sure, but then ANY car from that era is a deathtrap compared to now.

      • 0 avatar
        johnhowington

        compared to its peers, even during its manufacturing time frame, concurrent models were nowhere in the class of deathtrap that a neon was.

      • 0 avatar
        Patrickj

        @JohnH
        Driver demographics completely overwhelm the inherent safety of cars and trucks in the statistics of traffic deaths by car model.

        Neons and Cobalts/Cavaliers are much more likely to be driven on winding, less-safe rural roads, further from EMS and emergency rooms, than are Civics and Corollas.

        Per mile traveled, you’re far less likely to be killed in traffic on the DC beltway than on a rural two-lane in Wyoming.

        Probably by a factor of five or more.

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like complete nonsense to me. I remember that CR story that dinged Neon for a broken door hinge. It was a freak accident. Other than the hinge, Neon had competitive crash ratings for the time. And remember that when I bought my Neon, I cross-shopped it with Aspire. Talk about death traps!

      BTW, I crashed Neon twice. Not a broken bone to report :-)

  • avatar
    dima

    Well, I you look closely at one of the pictures of engine, you can see that on top of radiator there is a red paint. This leads me to believe, that this car was repainted, thus the red color looks reach on 10+ years old car.

    • 0 avatar
      ciddyguy

      Sorry, hate to disappoint, what you see inside the engine compartment is the original paint, that is how they spray the inside of the engine compartment when new, always lighter and duller than the exterior, even a current car will exhibit this still.

      The final color/clearcoat is ONLY sprayed on the outside of the car and perhaps the door frames and door edges for continuity purposes, but rarely the trunk/hood areas.

      Looking at the photo of the engine compartment straight on, yes I do see something that looks like possibly respray but it could just be how it was finished at the factory.

      I seriously doubt the car got resprayed unless it was ever in an accident or someone wanted to change the color, but in this case, the car looks to have been red originally.

    • 0 avatar
      lilpoindexter

      I think Dima’s right…the condensor or radiator has paint on it…no way that’s factory.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        I just saw the pic with the overspray on the condenser. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the car was repainted tho. It could have been in an accident and been repaired.

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      Yup that’s a respray. the overspray on the condenser confirms it.

      However my 16 year old red Explorer aside from some hazing clear coat on the roof, still looks like factory fresh paint. Never been repainted, I just wax it about once every 4-6 months and wash it about once a month.

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      The reason you see red in front of the radiator is because that section was painted body color at the factory. By the way that is called the “core support.”

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    What is it that sends so many Neons to the scrapper?

    In my local yard its Tauruses and Neons that fill up the place.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Say what you will about the Neon, but in R/T version, they were fun little cars. Too bad this wasn’t sold to someone who could fix it, rather than junk it. This car was in too good a shape cosmetically to be scrapped, what a waste…

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I blame the steering wheel cover. Nobody wanted to touch a car that had been owned by whoever put that on.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    http://www.allpar.com/cotm/2009/neon.html

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    No accidents, so we must assume mechanical failure, engine, tranny? I own a 98 Corolla, 335k miles, original engine and transmission, there is your diff between a Toyota and a crappy Chrysler product, can’t make out the odometer too well, but it looks like it’s reading 71k miles??

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      check out the “crappy” 446k mile neon in the link provided.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      93 Land Cruiser…less than 250k miles. second engine and soon to be second transmission. A Tahoe could do that and get better than 12MPG in the process.

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      Volt, the first digit in the odometer isn’t even visible in the pic.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      @Volt230

      In 2003 a coworker with a 96 Corolla had to rebuild the engine (1.6 lts) because it spun a bearing at around 150K kms. Another guy I knew had in his shop his mother in law 97 Corolla (1.8 lts) with sludge and a hole in the block.

      In 2006 a friend told me a tale in which he used his a/t Neon to carry a load of cement bags to other city at 600 kms away (and he abused the car with other construction stuff too). He rebuilt the suspension, engine and tranny in 2010, because he wanted to sell it (got a newer car and wasn’t needed). I sat in that car and other than being dirty, it worked perfectly… and knowing the owner I even offered to buy it.

      So… what’s your point?

      Both Corolla and Neon were perfectly competent small cars.

      • 0 avatar
        Volt 230

        That is why the article states:”Every junkyard in the country is paved with base Neons” and around these parts you’ll be very lucky if you can find a junked, very banged up Corolla.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Richmond (Virginia, per the VMSC sticker) to Denver is a pretty long haul for a Neon. Might explain the car’s current residence.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    My friend in Missouri who still owns his 1980 Jeep J-10 truck (or, rather, what’s left of it) also drives a 1997 Neon R/T. That car, although well-abused by him over the years, after receiving a new engine, still runs quite well.

    These were fairly good cars at the time.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    You see alot of corollas in the boneyard in this part of the country because they rust apart.

  • avatar
    Hobie-wan

    Man, I really miss my 99 R/T that I traded in a year ago… again. Never had any major issues with it or the 95 I had previously. The 99 was just having lots of ‘older’ car issues and I agonized back and forth for a year between fixing all of them and getting something newer. Not that I don’t love my Saabaru that I replaced it with.

  • avatar
    Burly Scudd

    Burly Scudd!!

  • avatar
    and003

    If I had this car, I could install a Pentastar V6 in the engine bay and keep the original engine to install in a small British roadster.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    It seemed like with the Neon, either you got a really good one or you got a really bad one. Some say once you got past the head gasket problem, they were reliable.

    I remember test driving a Neon as soon as they came out. I think the first generation Neon had two critical failings. First, in a world where the competitive compact cars had 4-speed automatics, the Neon had a 3-speed. The 3-speed wasted the power of the engine and sentenced the car to way below average fuel economy. (The manual was much more competitive, but many people simply will not buy a manual transmission car.)

    The other critical failing was a plastic cup at the end of the driver’s left armrest that felt like it was designed to give Captain Hook a comfortable resting place for his stump. Unfortunately, it didn’t fit people with hands. I have no idea why it was there, but that one “feature” eliminated the car from my consideration.


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