By on August 21, 2012

Even after Chrysler debuted the company-saving K Platform in 1981, the older Simca-derived Omnirizon continued to be built in large quantities. Sightings of te Dodge Omni, Plymouth Horizon, and their many siblings and cousins are very rare today, but I still run across the occasional example in the wrecking yards. We saw this ’78 Horizon not long ago, plus this ’84 Turismo, and today we’ll take a look at an even later Omnirizon.
You could buy the Omni until 1990, just a few years after Chevrolet stopped building the Chevette. By that time, the straight-outta-1978 lines of the Omni were looking embarrassingly dated.
The Chrysler 2.2 engine had replaced the Simca and Volkswagen units used in earlier models by the time this car was built.
This car was about 1/100th as much fun to drive as the Omni GLH, especially with an automatic transmission slowing it down. Still, it functioned just as well as a Colt or Aries in the Point-A-to-Point-B driving world.

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52 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Dodge Omni...”


  • avatar
    jf1979

    I had one of these, an 86 with the 2.2 and an auto, and it actually was a kinda fun car to drive, compared to the similar era Cavalier and Calias I had just before. The 2.2 was powerful for economy cars of this era, the steering was accurate, and the car felt light and tossable, again this is in comparison to cars of this era. The quality, excepting the fragile outside door handles, was pretty good too, I paid $125 for my 86 model in 2000 and it was barely rusted when most 86 models if even still on the road were totally rusted out. Alas the 80stastic electronic carburetor went bad an I dumped it for 50 bucks.

    • 0 avatar
      Duncan

      I had a couple door handles from an ’86 Horizon come off in my hand. It was fun to drive and easy to work on, but sure didn’t hold up like the best of the era.

    • 0 avatar
      Buster Brew

      My Parents ordered one of the first brand new 1978 Horizons. Our family proceeded to be beta testers for the platform. The very first thing to fail were the rear door handles. On the 78′s you did not pull the door handle out toward you to open the door. Instead you squeezed on the handle moving an inner latch toward the fixed outer portion of the handle. This system worked for less than a week before you had to reach inside to open the rear doors via the interior handle. The fix was an improved fitting (metal vs nylon) connecting the rods from the handle to the latch mechanism. For the next ten years (especially when the weather was cold) they felt like they were on the verge of failing again. That car had more problems/recalls/service bulletins than any car I’ve driven before or since.

      The Horizon was absolutely legendary in the snow however, it could not be stopped. The Horizon redeemed itself time and again for its Rain-man like ability to do one thing extraordinarily well.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        I guess Chrysler never fixed the door handle issue, one of the rear doors on my ’90 Horizon could only be opened from the inside.

        Whoever designed the Hyundai Velostar must’ve owned an Omni once.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Looks like grandma/grandpa took good care of this car for about twenty years until he/she passed away and it ended up in the hands of generic surf/skater dude who then proceeded to expedite its trip to the junkyard.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    Dashboard by Buffalo Bill??

  • avatar
    YellowDuck

    Seeing one of these parked beside a VW Rabbit of the same era doesn’t leave much question about who Chrysler was cribbin’ off of.

    I didn’t realize that they once had VW motors in them. What was the relationship between the two companies?

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Wasn’t a brilliant cribbing job, either (but then neither was VW’s Westmoreland facelift, when they switched Rabbit/Golf production to the US). But it was really based on the European-spec Talbot Horizon, which in turn was a shrink of the Simca 1307 (I did actually drive one of those a few times in the 1970s …).

      There was no cross-shareholding or anything similar, it was really just purchasing of engines.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Considering how VW cribbed off Simca’s 1100, it’s no surprise there’s quite the similarity between the body styles.

      And before you claim otherwise, please explain how VW went from an air cooled boxer engine RWD design to a water cooled transverse FWD design all on its own in a single step. It is clear they studied one of the more successful small cars in the market at the time and went from there.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        The Simca 1100 also inspired the Honda Civic, which came before the Rabbit.

        I’m not surprised that VW had to copy something else though, the VW Bug itself was basically a Tatra.

      • 0 avatar
        billfrombuckhead

        Actually everyone copied off the FIAT 128 which came out in 1969.

        I had a lot of fun in Omirizons especially Shelby’s and Rampages. Still see some driving around.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        I would agree that the Fiat probably had more influence on the concept of the Golf than the Simca did. Though VW’s early EA266 prototypes (mid-engine hatchback, water-cooled boxer engine!) also had a hatchback shape.

        The super-clean design of the Golf was Giugiaro’s handiwork, though, and the water-cooled engines were an evolution of the Audi engines introduced in the mid-60s.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        The Omnirizon HAD to be based on the Simca, since Chrysler owned Simca through the Chrysler-Rootes group at the time.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        Thanks to everyone for the contributions and additions. It’s clear to see inspiration and influence reaches far and wide across the market, and so much sharing of systems, knowledge and components has gone on between various automakers there truly is nothing completely original from any of them. I know it’s pointless to get those who believe in the myth of the “Rabbit Ripoff” to change their tune, but perhaps these tidbits will encourage them to study automobile history beyond the borders of the USA.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    My parents owned a 1979 Horizon they bought new. I later inherited this car in the mid-1980′s. What I recall most about the Horizon is that everything on the car felt very cheap and flimsy. The K-Cars had a similar feel, though they were better made and lasted longer.

    In spite of its faults, the Omni/Horizon sold well and, along with the M-Body LeBaron and Diplomat, kept Chrysler on life support until the arrival of the K-Cars and minivans.

    • 0 avatar
      car_guy2010

      My mom owned 2 Horizons: A White 1984 Horizon and a Red 1987 Horizon. I loved them. The white car was her first car ever as she didn’t learn how to drive until her mid-30s. She sold the white Horizon and then had an urge for another one so that led to the 1987.

      She later gave the 1987 Horizon to my brother, who went on to (poorly) install a sunroof and mess with other things on the car.

      Tough little cars. Economical. Not luxurious but I always liked the surfaces of the dashboard and the clean design overall.

      I’d love to buy one but they are practically extinct here. :-(

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        The Horizons weren’t luxurious, but they were quite a few cuts above econobox. My neighbor owned an ’84 Horizon with the 2.2 and 5-speed, and it was a VERY enjoyable car to drive. It was a much better riding car than a friend’s Rabbit. Unfortunately, my neighbor’s wife couldn’t drive a stick, so he traded it for an ’85 Omni with the 3-speed auto, and noted to everybody how cheap and basic it was compared to the Plymouth. It’s held up, though – he still owned it when he died in 2005, and his son is still driving it, though it has about 50 pounds of gorilla glue holding it together.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        The things you remember after re reading the article. I used to commute with three other guys at a previous job to our old office which was about 20 miles from our neighborhood. One guy had a passenger Astro van, another a late 80′s Nissan Sentra, another one had a choice between an late 70′s/early 80′s Omnirizon and a mid 80′s Aries K car, and I usually was in my 87 Lancer Turbo. Since I was the tallest guy in the pool, I almost always rode up front, but even in that position, the Sentra and the Astro (and the Aries, too) were penalty boxes. Surprisingly, the earlier Omnirizon was pretty well appointed (if you can use that word in this situation) and had a pretty decent ride.

        By the time we bought our 89 Omnirizon to race, they had been decontented, and even though we scrapped a fair amount of the interior, the stuff we were pulling out was nowhere near as nice as the interior that was in the older Omni. I guess I’m glad that car wasn’t a DD for me, I don’t think I would have liked it as much as the older Omni…

  • avatar
    loj

    I have a soft spot for these cars. It’s a good, clean utilitarian design (as it originally was on the Rabbit). They were American(-ized) Rabbit knockoffs – one step more Americanized than the awful Westmoreland VWs. And they were dirt, dirt cheap on the used market.

    My grandfather loved these cars and was very close/threatening to buying one for me in high school. My only ideas to imbue one of these with any kind of coolness was a set of nice 15″ wheels and a big sliding cloth sunroof cut into the roof. It was 1990 and I was 16 – that’s how we thought.

    It would be a neat car to have now, if one could find a time-capsule example with a manual trans. Too bad it would have a Wife Approval Factor only slightly above adultery.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    What a difference a generation makes!

    For me, I grew up driving and owning big cars. I got married and other priorities took over and small cars were the rule – it’s all about economics – I truly desired a 1977 Chevy Impala coupe, but couldn’t afford such extravagance, so I sold my 1976 Chevy ¾ ton C-20 pickup and bought a used 1976 Gremlin!

    I really liked the Omni/Horizon twins – I would have gone to the Plymouth side, which I did with our 1981 Reliant and 1990 Acclaim. I felt that we needed a bit larger car when the kids came along.

    Now I’ve come full circle – back to larger cars. I love it, but at the time, these cars weren’t half-bad, according to ones I knew who owned them.

    EDIT: Fun-to-drive vs. the real driving world: unfortunately, the real driving world wins out 99% of the time…

  • avatar
    SteveMar

    These were pretty competent little cars in their day. I remember Consumer Reports nailing them for unsafe emergency handling in 1978 when they first came out. Almost killed the cars, but Chrysler made some engineering changes and they got passing grades the next year from CR.

    As Rabbit knock-offs, they were solid, no-frills transportation. The other permutations were more fun or, in the 2 door case, more fussy. I rarely see these around any more, but do think they would be a fun odd-ball to have around. In the annals of Chrysler history, they are actually one of the few success stories from the almost-bankrupt era.

  • avatar
    greener333

    I bought an ’89 Omni in the ’90′s for one of the kids. Not a bad car for scooting about town. Unfortunately, someone decided to rear end the car while it was not moving in a left turn lane. Found an ’84 Horizon with the same color with “bad” engine for a couple hundred. Turned out the “bad” engine was due to incompetent installation of the timing belt. When that was corrected the car ran fine. One fine (10F) December day, I swapped out struts, drive axels, hood, and some other body parts. The front said Omni and the rear said Horizon. The Dodge Horomini ran fine until the Michigan cancer hit it. When the rear bumper fell off in a car wash and my daughter was too embarrassed to pick it up, the car went to the junkyard. Over all, the two cars served their purpose and added greatly to family car lore.

    I think the ’89 had a Citroen transmission.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I remember my parents bought the Horizon variation new in 1987. I also remember lusting after the Conquest TSi in the showroom. One of the last cars my parents bought with a manual, which I remember because of the green upshift indicator. I don’t remember much,but we didn’t have it very long. Can’t remember what came after it right now.

    At the car show portion of the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, someone had a mid 80′s Omni in PRISTINE condition. Window sticker and everything. I remember reading an article years ago about the “nerd car club”. People that keep Pintos, Vegas, Gremlins, Omnirizons and the like in showroom shape, have their own clubs,etc.

    To each his own. It was kind of cool to see the Omni in showroom condition though.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Me and a buddy of mine from the hometown autocrossed one of these for a short time in the late 80′s (before marriages, kids, houses, etc.). There was a whole rack of suspension & engine parts you could buy from Mopar Direct Connection that could turn a basic 5 speed 2.2L Omnirizon into a Solo contender. Which is what we did.

    But not too long after nature took it’s course (or toll) and we both did the married with kids, mortgages etc., stuff. I sold my interest in the car to my buddy who in turn sold the whole thing off to a former competitor in our class.

    Looking at the pix of this car now, I kind of want to search one out and play with it, but a base 2.2 Omnirizon would only be of intrinsic interest to me. And, if we’re going down that road, I’d rather look for some variation on a Shelby Charger or a Turbo Shadow…

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I had a ’90 Horizon in that lower grey on this one (they didn’t two tone them anymore), the cheap paint faded everywhere and the automatic tranny broke at 89k, or so I thought.

    I still see the thing on the road today here and there, wasn’t the most effecient nor the most comfy nor the quickest, but it did the job and had a novelty to its very dated styling.

    These are okay budget beaters, but Japanese cars of this era were generally more solid built and rusted just as easily.

    My Horizon was fun to drive at times, but thanks to bad rear shocks and a pointless factory installed anti-roll bar the handling was very stiff. The tires were in good shape too.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “These are okay budget beaters, but Japanese cars of this era were generally more solid built and rusted just as easily.”

      That’s exactly what people in the salt belt forget! Yes, the Japanese cars, in general, ran miles better, but dissolved along the way, too – if not faster. They just avoided a few more repair shops on their journey to the junk yard!

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Why is it that Japanese cars rusted so badly to start with?

        Some of the only well rust-proofed Japanese cars that I’ve ever seen were those tiny Honda 600s.

      • 0 avatar
        Geekcarlover

        Ryoku75, The rust issue with Japanese, and most other compacts of this era was a combination of several things.
        1) Thinner sheet metal. To cut weight manufacturers went to a thin gauge steel. As a result surface rust ate through and became cancer rust faster. If you have chance, check out a large Ford or Lincoln from the 60′s or 70′s. You’ll swear it was intended to stop an RPG.
        2) Paint. The EPA was mandating newer, less polluting paint formulas. It took some longer than others to get the formula right. In the beginning, everyone got it wrong.
        3) Salt. The Japanese don’t turn their roads into rivers of saline slush. They just didn’t have the experience in designing cars for areas that did.
        These and a few random factors combined to destroy the new smaller cars of the late 70′s and 80′s very quickly.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Thanks for that information soldier from WizardsGeek, that explains a lot of things for me.

      The paint formula especially explains a bit, my Horizon had to have been 50 different tones with the way its paint faded.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    I bought an ’85 Dodge Omni from an NCO heading to Korea while at Ft. Carson, CO, in ’94. The paint was poop brown and the sun had caused a cancer that had shaved most of the paint off the hood and roof. It had a Rubber-Maid feeling 5 spd, no radio, climate control on the left of the driver, and three women’s phone numbers scrawled across the roof fabric. And for whatever reason that no sane person could tell me, a previous owner from years back had bolted on a Holley 2-brl racing throttle body carb with MSD injection. The 2.2L screamed like holy-hell through the gears, and was so ugly it became the ultimate sleeper. I easily won street light drags with Camaros and Mustangs.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      The feel of the 5 speed can be traced to the shift linkage, which used rubber bushings inside polymer collars that were then popped onto the steel ball ends of the transmission shift levers. Having suffered through 3 linkage failures brought about by heat crazed, brittle polymer collars shattering and turning my 1-2-3-4-5 into a 2-5 on several occasions, I can vouch for the efficacy of a quick fix enabled by tying the busted heim-type and ball joint together with a shoelace. It will last for months, as I couldn’t be arsed to crawl back under the car for several weekends, and the shift feel will not be noticeably affected.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I learn to drive stick in an ’83(?) plain grey Omni. My mother owned one as a replacement for a VW Rabbit. Since it was the first car I ever drove I had no point of comparison and thus thought it was awesome… then I got a Honda Civic S 1500 hatchback and realized just how terrible the Omni was. When my parents moved the Omni was small enough that it was loaded into back of moving companies semi trailer. The fact that someone was crazy enough to make the GLH version of this car is pretty much its only claim to fame.

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    Am I correct in thinking that the later examples were built in the American Motors plant in Kenosha? I know Chrysler had signed a deal for AMC to assemble Omnirizons under contract to fill up space at the plant and free Chysler for more K production, but I don’t know if that went through after the takeover.

    My parents brought me home from the hospital in an ’83 Horizon, to this day one of the worst cars they’ve ever owned. One of my earliest conscious memories is it breaking down somewhere on I-95 and leaving us stranded. It was ultimately traded for a Ford Tempo, which was even worse.

    • 0 avatar
      Buster Brew

      Correct indeed, from around 1986. The M body cars (Fifth Avenue, Diplomat etc.)were produced there first and the L body added later. I was in Kenosha on business during the winter of 87. The town had “Welcome Chrysler” banners all over, as they were happy that the 100 plus year old plant was still in use. All I had to do was watch trucks ferrying partially produced cars from one assembly facility to another and to the paint shop and back (in sub-zero weather) to realize that the reprieve was temporary, as soon as both the M body and L body were done the plant would close. At one time Kenosha’s was the oldest car factory in the US

      • 0 avatar
        ranwhenparked

        Its a good thing AMC had the factory Ziebarting – the bodies were made at the Lakeside plant and trucked a mile inland to the facility that eventually became Chrysler’s Kenosha Engine. By the mid 1980s, all AMCs were being built in Brampton, Ontario, so it’s very true that Chrysler was the only thing keeping Kenosha alive. Ironic that they were the company that wound up closing the whole place down.

  • avatar
    millmech

    AMC factory built the last of the Aspen/Volaré series, whatever they were called.

  • avatar
    econobiker

    Yeah, I had a used ’85 4dr same color exterior/interior. Was sold out of Staten Island NY to my family in NJ and then went to college with me in AL. That car had ignition cutout and had the wiring for a prior alarm system. I found the prior owners business cards in one door and under the back seat when I worked on it. Must have been from a real nice area for sure.

    I pulled out the rear seat back and base and constructed a flat wooden rear deck across the rear tire well over the seat well. Cover it with low pile grey carpet that almost looked stock. This allowed me to transport all manner and sizes of things- almost like a little pickup truck if I kept the rear hatch open and drove slowly.

    I de-badged it by taking the Dodge emblems off the rear hatch. To be slightly less conspicuous, I swapped the obnoxiously large Penta-star-logoed front grill (not seen in the article pictures) for one from an ’82 Horizon which was just subtle flat horizontal bars and no logo . I thought about moving the license plate to the rear bumper and putting a flat filler panel between the rear brake lights but never got to that project.

    The odometer had been rolled back at some point so who knows how many miles were on it. It ate water pumps every 35,000 miles. Always had used tires on it including a pair of tires already mounted on Omni wheels which I found in the yard of a bankrupt body shop. I had the car until the body rust and toothless main flywheel
    (could only rotate the engine over with a ratchet and extension on the end of the crank pulley to engage the starter teeth so many degrees until there were eventually more starter teeth than flywheel teeth left) sent it to the scrap yard.

    How about that 2.2 engine for which they used the A/C compressor to stop the motor from run-on after shut down? So if the A/C was dead and the belt cut the little 2.2 would chug and puff for at least 10 to 20 seconds after shutdown- usually by the time you had exited the car and were around the front of it. Did not find that scheme with the A/C compressor out until years after I had junked it. Would have made me feel better about the run on versus always thinking that the engine had serious problems. I would later see another guy with the same car/engine and the same run on issue to which I asked him “No A/C?” and got the answer “Yup.”.

    That crud mobile did do great power slides in the era of automatic transmissions which you could shift without pressing on the brake pedal…

  • avatar
    geo

    Back in 1992, I owned a ’79 with the awful VW engine. I loved everything else about the car.

    A few years later, probably due to nostalgia, I set out to buy a newer Omni with the Chrysler engine. I went to test drive one, and though I still liked it somewhat, everything about the car felt utterly outdated and old. It was a little like buying a record you loved as a child, listening to it as an adult, and being disappointed at the cheesiness and dated sound. Sometimes memories can make a vehicle design seem shinier and fresher than it ever was in reality.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Funny but my roommate had one with the VW engine and it was one of the bright spots in the car. The car had been abused, neglected and had a serious wiring fire – and that VW engine was like a happy little sewing machine still. It was the wiring fire that sent it to the junkyard with a good engine still.

      I had a ’84 VW Rabbit ‘vert during the same period and thought the VW was a much nicer car. The Horizon was an 80 mph car (maybe a 1.6L, carb) where the VW we regularly took to 120 mph on the autostrada (1.8L, CIS injection) and the VW would cruise at 100 mph for hours with nary a problem. I liked everything better about the VW – the seats, the handling, the brakes, the styling, and the convertible top. The cold a/c was nice in the summer too. The Horizon had no working a/c. The VW had about 190K miles on it and had alot of life left in it, the Horizon had about 130K miles on it.

      • 0 avatar
        geo

        I’ve never heard anything particularly bad about the old VW 1.7, though mine burned oil and wasn’t very good on gas. It was probably a fine engine for the time.

        The later Omni engines were far peppier, and I wished I could afford one. I remember the newer ones in good shape were about $1500 to $2000 at the time, and I only had eight hundred bucks to spend.

  • avatar
    skinnyrook

    Ha, I’m sitting here laughing, because I got an ’87 Omni as my first car 4 years ago, and I’m still driving it around today.

  • avatar
    84Cressida

    These don’t exist in California anymore. Not on the road, at least. Haven’t seen one in years.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      There is a silver Omni GLH in my neighborhood. It is in a driveway across the street from a Mini Cooper Countryman. When I pass them almost every day, I can’t help but to wonder what the heck went wrong in the 35 years between when they were designed.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    A very attractive twenty-something girl in our office drives a 80′s vintage Omni. It’s a little rough, but still in pretty good shape.

    Don’t know her well enough to know if she’s driving it for the retro-cool, or because it’s what she can afford, but she rocks it rain or shine.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Remember Omni days.. better drive ability than a Chevette cause FWD but Civic & Tercel were better quality. To be fair to Chrysler Omni/Horizon had more insulation & safety engineered in than most imports of the day.

  • avatar
    car_guy2010

    Look at what I found:

    http://tinypic.com/r/2q8rp7q/6

    Screen capture of overheating Horizon from the movie “Trippin’” starring of all people, Donald Faison (Turk) from Scrubs.

  • avatar
    mcc.pj

    Biggest shock of this post was remembering that Dodge dealers were still selling this car, fresh off the showroom floor, in nineteen-freaking-ninety.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      1990 was a long time ago. You could still buy any number of cars worse than this one. The first generation Escort was still on the market. Hyundai was introducing their second disposable Excel. VW would still be selling the primitive Fox for another three years. The Ford Tempo still had hundreds of thousands of unhappy rental car customers to create. The Subaru Justy was rusting in dealerships, as were the leftover 2nd generation DL Hatchbacks. The Horizon was no Acura Integra or Jetta MKII, but it was far from the worst car you could receive the keys to at Avis.


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