By on April 15, 2012

I see many Dodge Daytonas at high-turnover junkyards, even 20-25 years after the last of the crypto-K-body examples rolled off the line. This means that many of these cars lasted much longer than anyone expected. Here’s my latest find, a 1990 Daytona ES Turbo.


The base ’90 Daytona listed at $9,795, but nobody actually paid that. Here we see the magic of rebates in action.
Chrysler said the ES Turbo cost $12,895, but I’m pretty sure that this one sold for considerably less.
These things were actually quite fast, even by today’s standards. The turbocharged 150-horsepower 2.5 liter engine was pretty potent in a 2,600-pound car.
Why don’t hatchbacks have louvers these days? Bring back the louvers!

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38 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1990 Dodge Daytona ES Turbo...”


  • avatar
    ELnNH

    “These things were actually quite fast, even by today’s standards. The turbocharged 150-horsepower 2.5 liter engine was pretty potent in a 2,600-pound car.”
    The Subaru BRZ of it’s day ?

    • 0 avatar
      BobAsh

      No, that day’s Subaru BRZ was the AE86. Torquesteer, turbo-lag and massive understeer of the front-driven, K-body based car is nothing like delicacy, precision and fine balance of both the BRZ and it’s ancestor, the AE86.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Well if this is ’89 then we’re talking the Mazda Miata was the BR-Z of the era.

      • 0 avatar
        windswords

        I had a used ’85 with the turbo. It was never a problem with torquesteer. You held the wheel firmly, most times you didn’t even have to correct the steering. Overblown IMHO. Otherwise steering was accurate, handling was precise. Motor Trend did a handling test of the Corvette, Camaro, Firebird, Fiero, and Daytona and the Daytona tied for second. The mag said in the test it was a “stunning overachiever”. I remember that later Dodge used that quote in an advertisment.

      • 0 avatar
        typ901

        I’ll throw in RX-7. FC era. 146-160 HP and around 2600 lbs. as well.

    • 0 avatar
      FuzzyPlushroom

      Cobalt SS, maybe? I’d say Eclipse if this example had the V6.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Note the gasket set on the front seat…was this car a victim of a blown head gasket and the last owner decided to junk it instead? These engines, with the exception of weak head gaskets, were very durable provided they never overheated. But as brought up by the OP, the K platform by 1985 or so was typically anvil like in reliability. I’d love to see a Chrysler Laser XE turbo…for some reason the Chrysler variant disappeared off the road a looooong time ago. Please get the odometer shots!!

    • 0 avatar
      Omnifan

      Early Turbo Daytonas were notorious for eating head gaskets. Mine ate 3 before I got rid of it. After I sold it, I found out that Chrysler had a modification to increase the diameter of the head bolts to improve clamping force. Too late.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Probably, even base 2.2s had some serious headgasket issues.

      Even Neon 2.0s has headgasket trouble from what I recall.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      The base 2.2 in my 85 LeBaron GTS went 161k miles before I rebuilt it, and the head gasket was still good. The turbos weren’t quite as reliable.

      • 0 avatar
        tim850csi

        Wow… my first car. 85 GTS Turbo, blue with beige cloth interior and a 3spd automatic. Got it when I turned 16 in 1996. Beat the ever loving crap out of that car until I left for college and it fell to my sisters hands.

        Snapped a spider gear in the transmission (after I parked it ever so gracefully in a ditch), also detonated one of the CV joints. Lost the timing belt and blew at least two head gaskets.

        There wasn’t a time I drove that car when I wasn’t redlining it at least a few times per trip. It’s amazing it held up as well as it did under the heavy foot of a 16 year old with more bravery than common sense. Parents sold the car with something like 135,000 miles on it.

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      The skinny on the head gaskets: Early 2.2/2.5′s had a head gasket that was not up to par. At one point on the head the gasket was very narrow and prone to failure. Chrysler finally upgraded the head gasket material and failure rate dropped. When the Neon came out, the engineers knew exactly what they needed in a head gasket to keep the Neon humming, but by now CEO Robert Eaton had entered the picture. The ex-GM exec did the old bean counter shuffle and “saved” $2 a car by insisting on a lesser head gasket. The results were predictable. By the time the 2nd generation Neon came out and the head gasket was upgraded to what it should have been all along, the damage had been done to its reputation.

  • avatar
    NateR

    I know a guy who owns a Shelby Daytona. He’s a MOPAR fanatic, and it’s his daily driver (it gets better MPG’s than the real Detroit iron he has in the garage).

  • avatar
    gmrn

    While I never drove this particular model, I know this engine was quite quick in the GLH and Shelby Charger. I presume the Daytona and Laser were not much heavier, and thus well motivated too.
    I fear I am repeating myself on this theme and am not attempting to thread-jack, but…
    The Chrysler 2.2 turbo engine produced a delicious intake growl when prodded. Conversely, this intake tract music was notably absent in my stock Mazdaspeed 3, and was subjectively made worse after the addition of an aftermarket intake.

    Are there any good-sounding intakes on turbo cars these days? I’m not talking about the sounds of a blow off/bypass valve, but rather that old-fashioned lusty “moan” of an engine gulping down air.
    I miss it.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      GLH’s were about 800 pounds lighter than Daytona turbos and to my knowledge used 2.2s with turbos, the Daytona used a 2.5 which was basically a slightly bigger 2.2 with more torque.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Very cool. As much as people love to deride these for being POS, they seemed to be not nearly as bad as people love to think they were, if their longevity is any indication by how old they are when they finally hit the junkyards.

    Looking at this one,the black paint’s badly sun baked and the clear coating has burned off all over the top panels of the car, but the underlying color layer is still there. Not so for the blue Shadow/Sundance next door, it’s paint has peeled off in huge sheets all over that one, revealing the white primer layer underneath.

    I noted the gasket set, a head gasket, a header gasket and something that’s blue, valve cover gasket? I also noted a couple of smaller ones on the floor.

    Did you note the mileage on this one? I suspect it has ultra high mileage, over 180K min and I also suspect it’s had at least a couple of owners all its life, if not more like 3 or so, with perhaps the final one being military or ex military.

    A nice find.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    It was the…??? of its day? A couple of classmates of mine had these, and boy was the interior primitive even for its day. For what it was, though the engine was pretty good, fairly competitive against the sporty coupes of the day. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen one of these on the road.

  • avatar
    carbiz

    In the ’80s there were two things Chrysler knew how to do properly: rust proof their vehicles and build a mean turbo. Both my ’82 Rampage and ’87 Shadow ES went through a couple head gaskets apiece. The Rampage required a 3rd one when the second one failed and blew a piston head (dealer paid because they screwed up.)
    Both my Dodges were shining examples of the Malaise Era problems, but the Shadow’s Turbo was flawless and gave the vehicle horsepower and torque numbers that wouldn’t shame the car in 2012.
    Chrysler was sort of the King of the pocket rocket in the ’80s. They embraced turbo like nobody else did. I still managed to get 29 mpg (Canadian) out of my Shadow – when it wasn’t in the shop, that is.

  • avatar
    threeer

    The “sporty” cousin to my Lancer ES Turbo! Man, talk about fierce, well…fierce turbo lag anyway. You had to plan your passing pretty carefully when you planted your right foot down. And the clutch and gear box felt like driving a tractor. I take that back, I’ve driven a John Deere every summer and winter at camp, and I think the tractor shifts smoother! But still…the Lancer was my favorite and best balanced, I think. Nice lines, and my interior had the sport buckets. Toss in about $2k of stereo upgrades (hey, I was in my early 20′s…what else did you do to your car back then) and it made for several years of pretty much trouble-free driving (save for one clutch replacement). Sold it with nearly 200k and it was still running fairly well.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    I bought an ’86 charger with the 2.2 turbo for $250 with a spun bearing. This was in ’91 and I had zero engine rebuilding experience (and still don’t), but I built it anyways and it worked great. It was fun to drive and looked sharp, but was an automatic. I traded it and a Colt Vista wagon to a guy for his clean SVO because he had a new born and his wife hated it (the SVO).

    • 0 avatar
      gmrn

      I wonder if your Charger had an aftermarket turbo or a swap from a donor car? I ask as I thought the turbo was only available on the Shelby Charger, and IIRC was a stick only, no auto.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Back then Chrysler/Dodge was hanging turbos on a lot of things so I never really thought about it. It wasn’t a Shelby, but it did have the updated body (same as the ’90 in this article) but with 4 eyes. It was immaculate and belonged to an older lady that let her deadbeat son use it, but he never checked the oil and ran it dry. She sold it to me for almost nothing, in a rage.

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    My buddy had a t-topped Cutlass 442 that was stolen. So he used the insurance money to buy a new one of these. The car quickly proved to be a nightmare. I don’t know if he ever had any good, worry free miles with it. If I remember correctly, he pursued the lemon law.

    His experience notwithstanding, I remember these Daytonas as being pretty good looking, though I prefered the earlier mid-late 80′s models, one of the few times I believed the exposed headlamps trumped hidden headlamps. The interiors were par for the 80′s domestic course.

    But you had to be ok with front-wheel-drive and the K-Car structure. At the time, these Daytonas were positioned against Mustangs and Camaros. In buying a Daytona, you were staking your claim (and not inconsiderable money) that front-wheel drive was an acceptable alternative to rear-wheel-drive. But as we all know, especially back then, the more power you threw at those front wheels, the uglier things got.

    In the end, the SFI Mustang 5.0′s and the TPI injected Camaros and Firebirds (at this time even available with the Corvette’s 5.7L) were far better choices, even if they did command a premium. The Mustang could be had in a stripper notchback, which was pretty cool and could compete pricewise with the Daytona. The Mustang promised no turbos, no torque steer, just nice beautiful v-8 torque and soundtrack.

    Someone above wrote that Chrysler knew rustproofing in the 80′s. This was not my memory. In fact, it’s not been my memory of any Chrysler product I’ve ever owned. But that’s just my experience.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    I remember in High School thinking they were a really good looking ride, it seemed like there were a lot of them out and about in the mid nineties. The Shelby package always caught my eye with its muscle car throwback vibe.

    At the end of the day though, if I was in the market for something like this in that era, I couldn’t imagine buying one over a tried and true Mustang 5.0.

  • avatar
    naterator

    There were not a lot of nice cars in the parking lot of the small-down high school I grew up in. Mostly ancient beaters. But I remember one morning, a shiny, brand-new red Daytona Shelby being driven into the parking lot by the tall, blonde bombshell captain of the drill team. She was in uniform, which was a short skirt and midriff top. My 15 year old self just stood there, slack-jawed, going “duhhhhhhh” for so long that I think a family of squirrels built a home in my mouth.

  • avatar
    Marko

    It’s interesting how they apparently lasted a long time in the West, but yet here in New England I have not seen a Daytona/Laser in almost a decade – not even the “aero headlight” 1992-1993 version. Of course, there’s the possibility that I’m confusing them with the unrelated DSM cars.

  • avatar
    and003

    Too bad I don’t have the money to buy this old wreck. I have a few ideas on what I could do with it.

  • avatar
    Neb

    I’ve seen Shelby Daytonas at auto shows, and they always seem to have tinfoil on the underside of the hood. Was that to reflect heat so the paint wouldn’t peel?

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Sorry, but these were terrible plasticized pieces of Iacocca.

    By 1990 these cars were so uncompetitive that most auto magazines of the day didn’t even bother putting them in their comparos.

    I remember a five car road test around 1990 or so from Car & Driver that pitted the following five vehicles…

    Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX
    Toyota Celica GT-S
    Nissan 240SX
    Acura Integra
    Mazda MX-6

    Keep in mind that all these vehicles were offered in base models that were highly competitive with the Daytona’s core market.

    I would say that, to a vehicle, these models individually were as superior to the Daytona as a 1992 Lexus ES300 was to a 1992 Chrysler Imperial. Amortized K-Car metal was anything but coveted for most consumers who wanted a decent sports coupe, and the Iacocca regime’s focus on cost cutting during the bad old days of the early 90′s was endemic.

    Where else in America could your new car receive only two whole coats of paint? Nowhere! Even Yugo offered an extra coat, and a pair of gloves for the inevitable wrenching and pushing.

    The only miracle of this time as far as Daytonas are concerned, was that Chrysler somehow found 11,000 people who were still willing to buy these relics by 1992.

    To that you can thank Chrysler’s dealer network… or some creative accounting. Betcha a cool C note that it was the later.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    This car is a 1989 model, they changed dash designs for 1990.

    Despite their shortcomings, they were still pretty neat looking cars, quite representative of the late 80′s, and being an 80′s nostalgia nut, that’s a good thing to me :P

  • avatar
    gslippy

    That car’s pretty beat, and it looks like the owner gave up on the engine job before he started into it.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    A friend of mine had a Daytona for almost 20 years, she finally had to retire it as it was just worn out. It had over 270K miles on it, and the engine spun a bearing after the oil pump died. That was it. Her husband is a mechanic and between the rust, the engine, the worn out everything, it was time for it to go. She drove one of their other cars for a while, but in January, she bought a slightly used 2011 Grand Cherokee. She says she misses the Daytona a lot.

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    I know I have stated this out here before, but even as a Honda/Mazda guy, the most reliable car I ever owned was my 1993 Dodge Spirit with the 2.5/3spd auto. Simply bulletproof, had a formal sedan design that resulted in plenty of room, especially headroom in the back seat, and would get 32MPG on the highway all day long. By today’s standards it is probably a tractor but it was a BULLETPROOF tractor. Sold at 196K with plenty of life left in it.

  • avatar
    vent-L-8

    the owner was supposed to remove the DOD sticker, just sayin’

    • 0 avatar
      afflo

      I don’t know that it matters anymore. The old idea was that with a DoD sticker, someone could get waved onto base. Now that it’s 100% I.D. check everywhere you go, and they don’t even issue DoD stickers (I still see them on occasion, from a different base, fading a peeling on some jalopy in a parking lot), it’s a moot point.


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