By on March 19, 2014

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I’ve spent the past few weeks examining the possibilities. Some of you might remember an article or two that I wrote back in January about my desire to find something sporty and fun to drive once the family and I get safely relocated to our new digs down Leavenworth way. A few folks who read our fine website contacted me by e-mail to offer up various vehicles that meet the requirements I set and I had a good time imagining myself behind the wheel of each and every one of them. One of those cars struck a special chord with me and its owner and I have exchanged several emails in the weeks since. I am thinking now, should fate somehow not manage to intervene in the best laid plan of this large but mousey man, that I might take some of the mad amounts of money I make writing for TTAC and purchase it. Don’t tell my wife.

I don’t feel bad about my scheme, really. We have two drivers in my house and only two vehicles. Some people think that’s normal, I suppose, but I’m the kind of guy who likes to have a back-up. Today, for example, I emerged from my home in the pre-dawn hours to find that the battery in my Pontiac Torrent was dead flat. Maybe it’s my own fault, I was working in the front yard and the kids, who demanded to be outside with me, decided it was too cold and, rather than simply go back inside, demanded to be put into the car to play. I like it when the kids play in the car, after all I spent a lot of my time as a kid playing driver and it’s an interest I want to encourage, but when they flip a switch and leave the lights on all night it can be problematic. Since it takes time to re-charge a battery I’ve ended up spending the day at home and that wouldn’t have happened if I had some kind of small, fun to drive, sporty car just sitting there as a back up. See my logic? I know my wife will…

Of course she will, right?

Of course she will, right?

Anyhow, the real reason y’all hit the jump wasn’t to find out that I let my kids play driver, it was to find out just what car is the subject of my machinations and that car is (ready for it?) a one-owner 1983 Shelby Charger. The car was purchased at Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, MD on July 20, 1983 for $9435 and recently came out of storage to receive an extensive rust repair and repaint. Underneath it has all new brakes and shocks and, while the engine internals haven’t been touched, it also sports a new clutch, oil pump and timing belt. The transmission has been swapped out for a stouter, recently rebuilt unit from a turbo car and the shift knuckles have been upgraded from plastic to steel. Over all, the car sounds really well sorted and the photos I have received back-up the sellers assertion. The best part is, without being so crass as to discuss numbers in public, the price is right.

shelby charger

Naturally, I’m excited, and I’ve spent a good deal of time over the last few weeks learning everything I could about the 1983 Dodge Charger. It turns out I knew a lot less than I thought I did. For one thing, I had just always assumed that all Shelby Chargers were turbocharged. It turns out, however, that in 1983, the first year Shelby decided to slap his name on a car that, up until 1982, had been called the Omni 024, the car was still much closer to its econobox roots that it was a fire breathing muscle car. The 2.2, which had entered service in late 1980 as a part of the 1981 model year, originally made just 84 horsepower.

Realizing the limitations of the cars he was working with, Carroll Shelby hedged his bets and, according to Peter Grist in his book “Dodge Dynamite: 50 Years of Dodge Muscle Cars” that “The main parameters were to have as good a handling FWD car as there is anywhere, that it be unique in appearance, and that it perform adequately.” The car certainly looks unique, its hard to miss a Shelby Charger’s wild graphics, and by all accounts Shelby’s people were able to work real magic with the car’s suspension as well. The High output engine that was created, however, only managed to eke out 110 horses. A few years later, of course, the addition of fuel injection and turbo charging would add many more ponies to that rather modest number, but this car marks the beginning of the process that would eventually lead to those things. That makes it, I think, special. Now, the only question is if I can control the urges that would have me try and preserve it or simply use it as God and Carroll Shelby intended. I’ll be sure and give it my best shot.

shelby charger 1

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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49 Comments on “Still Thinking About A Small & Sporty Car: On To Something...”


  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Is it April 1st already?

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    It is, almost, always interesting, the rational for picking a car for whatever purpose.

    And, it is always good to have a fun car to enjoy and tinker with, so it doesn’t really matter the vehicle, so long as it puts a smile on your face and gets you out of bed Sunday morning for some spirited driving or upgrade wrenching.

    My choice in the vein of early Mitsu based sporty cars would be, the RWD Conquest or Starion. Good looking, capable, with appreciating values. But, the Charger is a decent, fun choice, too.

    • 0 avatar
      raresleeper

      I’ll agree with you on the fun factor in regards to the Conquest.

      My brother in law had one for about a year, give or take. TSi model.

      It was quick, no doubt. A lot of the power sh*t didn’t work; nevertheless, once that turbo spooled up, it’d move for you. Loud, rough little snot that didn’t mind running to the high end of its powerband. You would endlessly be searching for something – a handle, some object that you could wrap your hand around- to cling to inside.

      Refined- it was NOT.

      Cornered very well, really stuck to the road around curves.

      I was in high school at the time and wasn’t fimiliar with that or the Starion. It was a blast riding in that thing.

      The car really did give him hell, though. It was well used when he bought it and, the car fell apart more and more on him as he ran it into the ground. He really drove it hard, and the car didn’t take to his abuse too well.

      If you can turn a wrench and keep up with the little things- electrical gremlins and such- you might end up having a fun toy to play with.

      As for my brother-in-law, he sold it for very little, many, many tickets later.

      It was in the garage. In pieces.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “I can control the urges that would have me try and preserve it or simply use it…”

    And in the sentence before you used the word “special.”

    Errrybody in hurr knows what happens when you think something is special – under a tarp in a locked garage it goes. I wouldn’t bother buying it, because even this is too “unique and special” for you to mentally force yourself to use.

    And for the record, I think it’s a rubbish attempt at a performance car, from a time in history that Chrysler would rather forget.

  • avatar
    Timothy

    Well this wouldn’t be my first choice. Or 2nd. Or 3rd. Actually it wouldn’t be a choice. Ever. But, to each his own. Glad you found a car that will make you smile!

    PS… curious as to why you didn’t try and find a cherry 1987 (was that the year?) Dodge Shadow ES Turbo?

    • 0 avatar

      To be honest, if this car hadn’t had all the recent work done to it by someone I know is a very particular owner I don’t think it would have got my attention. It won’t be the fastest thing ever, but it doesn’t need to be, it’ll be different and fun and that’s all I really want anyhow.

      • 0 avatar
        raresleeper

        How ’bout a nice little turbo’d Omni, for ya?

        G. L. H. S.

        (“Goes Like Hell, some More”? Lol)

        • 0 avatar
          Kaosaur

          That’s certainly what I was hoping for.

          Good luck finding a decent one at decent money though. Been looking for years and they only seem to come available when I don’t have the money.

          Though I’m more likely to start off with a GLH or GLH-T. I’m sure well over half these things fell apart already.

      • 0 avatar
        jim brewer

        Seems reasonable to me. You have to go with what’s available when you are in the market for an interesting but not too expensive hobby car. If it happens to be a 1983 Shelby Dodge, so be it. It also happens to be a sedan, which means you can scoop up your daughters and get ice cream on Sunday evening.

      • 0 avatar
        threeer

        Um…yeah…except for the fact that my best friend owned a Shelby Charger back when it was still a relatively young vehicle. And it literally went up in smoke. Burned. To. The. Ground. When it ran, it was kinda scary when the turbo kicked in. But the majority of it’s time was spent being repaired. The one you picture sure looks pretty, and brings back memories of a few, fleeting moments of wild-eyed excitement…but I’d be a tad leary of buying one, just because of that experience. If you do, enjoy it regardless!

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Nice choice. My friend had an Omni 024 and I remember it handily smacking down the 79 Electra I had with a 350. It was tight, peppy and quite comfy with plenty of front legroom. While I am a mopar fan, me thinks the Probe would have been the sportier choice.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not gonna lie, that Probe is beautiful and I would love to own it but it really is one of those cars I would lock up in the garage and keep under a cover. This Shelby is a nice little car but its a driver.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Thomas, enjoy your Shelby. There is something special about driving a car that people look at – at least when it is for the right reasons. You will be driving something that most people won’t even recall. As for the Probe, well there are two folks local to me that made me offers for 200 less than asked for…not a big deal. The Vette has been ordered and I look at my car and really, really don’t want to sell it. If I had a third bay, it would never leave me…excessive attachment is a disease I guess. Have fun in your new ride!

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Good paint and mechanicals, not enough power to break anything. Sounds like a winner!

    On a not-completely-unrelated note, I saw a teal green late Dodge Daytona in the parking lot at Wal-mart yesterday and thought of your quest.

  • avatar
    Brian P

    If you like it, go for it.

    I’ve driven a standard Omni/Horizon (forgot which) and thought it was abysmal. Suspension, and shift linkage, were the big dislikes that I recall. But if Carroll Shelby sorted those out … perhaps it’s a night and day difference to the standard model. If you’re going to buy an Omni/Horizon, surely get one with Mr Shelby’s blessing.

    On cars of that age, there are advantages to not having a turbo (they weren’t the most reliable back then). Besides, there’s something to be said for the “slow car fast” theory.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Agreed, but if one wants to drive a slow car fast a first ten Miata can be had on the cheap. This would be a conversation starter though and should be fun. Seems like a winner if the price is VERY right.

  • avatar
    cargogh

    “It ain’t just paint.”
    Do it. I bought an ’85 Horizon 4dr when my Fiesta S played out. I was 22, new in Atlanta, and knew Dad would have to co-sign, so it had to be American. For the payments I could afford, $122, an Escort or Cavalier was so unappealing. Brand new-$5500 with the Fiesta trade-in they had to tow from my apt. At 36xxx, I traded for a GLH Turbo.
    In 1995, I found an Omni 4 door I saw in the newspaper for $500. It had the clutch and parts, reassembly was all that was needed. It was a great work car for a couple of years.
    I really enjoyed all those cars. They might be a little flimsy, like at 85 mph and above, the driver’s window would roaringly pull away from the body, but that was frame and all. You won’t have to worry about that with frameless windows on the 2-door. Honestly, those seats are very comfortable. I’ve always heard that anyone that owned an old Beetle remembered it and the driving experience fondly. I had one and big deal. Those old 2.2s are far more pleasantly memorable.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Probably churlish of me to note this fact: but cars of this vintage, especially small ones, are not something in which I would want to encounter a solid or larger object (i.e. just about anything else on the road with 4 or more wheels).

    This from a guy who started driving in the mid-1960s and spent several summers riding in the bed of a pickup at 70 mph for 10 miles at a time. I don’t know what the price is, but I’d sure want something built in the 90s or later, when airbags became ubiquitous, even ‘just for fun.’ You got kids.

    • 0 avatar

      Its a good point and it’s well taken. Once I get it there, the car will mostly be an around towner and something to take out for any special events that might get organized on base.

      • 0 avatar
        bluegoose03

        I really like the looks of these cars. They exemplify the eighties. It is a great find. Nice to see there are other Mopar nuts out there who appreciate the small 4 cylinder cars. I currently own a 98 Dodge Neon R/T with Koni package that is a lot fun to drive. This Charger will be great on gas as well. The benefit of these cars is that they are ultra light. These cars are actually Simca based.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Meh. You are incredibly unlikely to get in an accident in any sort of collector car, that is why the insurance on them is so incredibly cheap (<$100/yr for me for $8K coverage). You aren't likely to drive it that far, or in bad weather. I drive a Triumph Spitfire in the summer, and while I pay attention like I am on a motorcycle, I don't worry about it a bit.

  • avatar

    Carroll Shelby: gimme money for oversold past glory.

    He deserves some credit for the last bit of selling needed for Ford to spend the big bucks to stick it to Ferrari, but plastering a salesman’s name on cars as if he were Bruce McLaren is definitive gaudy Muricana.

  • avatar
    bluegoose03

    I would be very weary of rust issues with these L body cars. I had an 86 Shelby Charger Turbo that rusted itself to death before my eyes. These types of cars were constructed with lightweight steel that doesn’t hold up to the elements very well. Check for holes in the floors. Make sure you see under the carpets. There were supercharger kits for these cars that would make this car a special model.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve got the photos to prove all that has been cut out and the panels replaced. Its an amazing job that cost a lot of money to do. The seller is taking a loss, for sure, but he has several other very cool cars and has decided to let this one go.

      I’m honored to be getting it really. It was the first car the man and his wife had their name on together and the car that caried two of their kids on the trip home from the hospital after they were born. I know his wife isn’t too keen on selling it so I’ll take good care of it and offer it back to them when the time comes for me to head overseas again.

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    I can tell there must be a few young ones commenting on this. Folks, back in the day this, even the non turbo 110HP was a firebreather of sorts. I mean, the standard Z28 was advertised at 145HP and I honestly don’t think it had that. I remember drooling over this car at a car show at a county fair grounds. It was my first auto related job.

    At the time I was 14. People were asking questions and the sales people, old and living in a past time, had no clue. I started rattling off specs, the history of the chassis and engine, and how Mr. Shelby came to assist Chrysler in putting together this package. Finally, the owner of the small dealership pulled me aside and requested I spend time talking to customers. I think I sold a few that day.

    I don’t know if it’s a driver or not. I mean, I get that it is, by today’s standards, barely adequate for an economy car. But back then, oh my, it was no joke. I’d buy it as a summer driver but I have to believe I would make efforts to keep it up and pass it on. It’s that important, at lest to me it is.

    • 0 avatar
      cargogh

      Absolutely. It was nothing to sneer at at the time. It could keep up with nearly everything and beat most in cornering. I can’t think of another American car, other than a ‘vette that had 50 series tires in ’83. It was special, maybe a game changer.

      • 0 avatar

        My research indicates that Direct Connection and B&M made a bolt on supercharger kit for these and with the right carb they pump out around 150 horses. I’ve been looking around and it seems like they only turn up once in a great while.

        Still, I like the idea of the 2.2 HO in this car not being so overblown that it breaks things all the time.

  • avatar
    Panther Platform

    It’s a nice car. Well done. Enjoy it.

  • avatar
    Loser

    Cool car. I test drove a new Shelby Charger back in 86. Only 3 complaints about the car, odd looking steering wheel, lousy shifter feel and 2 years out of high school I couldn’t afford one. These were very cool cars back in the day and you just don’t see them anymore. It has been years since I last saw one on the road.
    Had they built it, a Shelby Rampage would have been very cool.

  • avatar
    gmrn

    Thomas,
    Nice choice, and bonus points for uniqueness. You shouldn’t see many others. I remember the normally aspirated ’83 model year of this car. It was proceeded by the Charger 2.2 that was, I believe, mechanically quite similar but had some different body kit. Most significantly, a rear facing faux cowl induction-style hood and a more demure air dam. IMHO, get rid of those wheels and find some nice stockers!

  • avatar
    gmrn

    Correction: The Charger 2.2 “preceded” the Shelby.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Nice Thomas ;

    The kiddies here don’t grasp what a ” Sports Car ” means , hint : it’s _NOT_ a Race Car ! .

    A Tad always says ” Old Guys driving slow cars fast is fun ! ” .

    Enjoy it and please write a few of your great ” I drove it here…” articles to share the fun with us .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Run, run away as fast as you can. The remainder will rust super quick and the untouched internals are next in line to go. Pain and remorse, and money.

    With your confusion about driving vs. garaging cars, buy something you will never want to “preserve”. Maybe a used late model Chrysler 200, with a V6 for a bit of a smile while accelerating. Or deal with the car preserving feeling first before buying anything.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Having driven both extensively, I’d go for the somewhat comparable Acura Integra instead. My Dad had the non-Shelby version of the Charger, and let’s just say that it aged quickly, to the point that even my Dad, a true non-car guy but also a real ChryCo guy, despised it within two years.

  • avatar
    Cubista

    Sweet time machine, Thomas…Shelby didn’t put his name on junk. You’ll have a blast on looks and driveability alone. Besides, you just don’t SEE these things anymore, and certainly not in the condition you’ve got this one in. I’ll bet I see 15 944′s on the road for every one of these old ChryCo Shelby’s.

    EDIT: HOLY COW, I just noticed the louvres. The ’80′s…UR doing it RIGHT. Salutations, sir, that is a fine bit of history.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh yeah, it’s a sylin machine all the way.

      I’ll even get the original wheels with it (in addition to some other parts that have recently turned up) but they need to be refinished. I’m thinking I’ll have them don-up and then find me some tires with raised white letters. I loves me some raised white letters.

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        I think you will enjoy it. They could run with most any car in the twisties and the later ones even on the straights. My neighbor had one and the only complaint was the paint. But everyone with metallic paint from that era had complaints about peeling paint. They ride on the rough side so be wary of that when the roads turn sour.

  • avatar
    SteveMar

    Look, it isn’t perfect and it isn’t the highest value classic and it sounds like what needs to have been done has been done. It’s a driver, not a museum piece. I remember these cars — never were my cup of tea in particular, but I’ve never been a big Chrysler guy. But if you treat it right, keep it out of the snow and bad weather and stay on top of stuff, it will probably be a lot of fun — old school, but fun.

    For those of us who got their drivers licenses in the late malaise era, these cars were what we had to drool over. Take a trip down memory lane and enjoy.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Drive the wheels off it! A friend owned one of these pre-turbo Shelby’s back in 86 or so. The longest I ever drove it was from Salt Lake to Idaho Falls. There was a section of downhill that must have also had a tailwind, because I was WAY over it’s top speed going by the tach. It didn’t kill me, so this one can’t kill you. Enjoy it.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Nice, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for these under-appreciated L-bodies since I had an ’84 non Shelby long ago. A great car it was not, but it was very light, got great fuel economy, was reliable and was tossable enough to be somewhat “fun”.

  • avatar
    billfrombuckhead

    I had a lot of fun with these cars back in the day. There was also a Colt Turbo. I had them all slightly airborne on Shepherds Lane on my morning commute to Buckhead from Decatur. Those Omni GLH’s sure shocked Mustang GT’s and such. My favorite stoplight sleeper though was a V8 Pacer but it didn’t handle very well. Those Shelby Turbo Omni cars handled fairly well except for the incredible torque steer.

  • avatar
    BobinPgh

    Well, I guess its about time for it to happen, to read a car article and somehow, you mention kids. Why do I have the feeling a mention of type 2 diabetes is in the next article?

    • 0 avatar

      Why do you hate kids Bob? I write about my life, am I not supposed to write about the things that are important to me? Am I supposed to lie about what happened?

      • 0 avatar
        BobinPgh

        Maybe not hate but I have lost a lot of friends and have known some really cool people into interesting things, both men and women, and then they get married and have kids and their interests and life turn into pregnancy problems, Pampers, Happy meals, minivans, Spongebob, kindergardens, kindercrap, car seats, Huggies, and if you are the guy you have to work, work, work, to pay for it all. Thank goodness that will not happen to me. I don’t know how, for example, PrincipalDan would want to have kids after dealing with them 8 hours a day. Just like my sister, the dental hygienist, cannot even stand to look at a tube of Crest after work.

        • 0 avatar

          I understand your thought process. It happened to me when my buddies got married. It took me until I was 40 to tie the knot and I’ve come to fatherhood late in life. Maybe I dote on them more than I should but don’t let it get to you.

        • 0 avatar
          LALoser

          It’s just life. When people are young they are very self-centered and as they mature they realize they are not the center of the universe. About that time sharing and giving more than they receive in a relationship becomes a possibility because things bigger than them exist. My sister never had kids, and at her advanced age she still thinks of herself as the smartest and center of all. In reality she sucks the energy out of everyone and he a very disappointed, vain, sour person. Kids are not really the key to tolerance and maturity, but they are one result.

  • avatar
    pb35

    Nice choice, it wouldn’t be my first pick either but an interesting ride nonetheless. My dad had an ’83 Turismo 2.2 (the sport model) as a demo when I was 16 and first got my license. I still remember driving it on the first day that I was legally able to drive. I had to have the car home by 2:30 so dad could make his 3-9 shift at the dealership.

    A year earlier we had a red Charger 2.2 with the hood scoop, graphics and all. That was a fun car too but I was only allowed to drive it for a few feet on my block as I wasn’t legal yet.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Kids can be a blessing too .

    I was a wild child who married way too early and had my son young , his mother ran off after 15 years , my son and I have always been close and share a deep love of all things mechanical and driving ~ he’s a racer , I’m a cruiser , we both bleed brake fluid when cut .

    We share a love of Motocycles too .

    I don’t regret marrying that wild girl one bit , all her drama queen B.S. was worth it in the end as I have my son and now a grand daughter .

    His wife races Motocycles in the dirt competitively too .

    Life : it’s like a sewer : what you get out of it depends on what you put into it .

    -Nate


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