By on May 16, 2016

1982 Dodge Aries Wagon in Colorado Wrecking Yard, LH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin

Much as members of the Mopar Jihad don’t want to admit it, Chrysler took a bailout — in the form of government-backed loans — from Uncle Sam in 1979. This worked out pretty well for everyone involved, because the then-futuristic K-Cars that Chrysler developed out of desperation turned out to be both smash sales hits and the basis for most cars put out by Chrysler for the following decade.

The K Family Tree had many branches, but only the Dodge Aries, Plymouth Reliant, Chrysler LeBaron, and Dodge 400 were true K-Cars. You won’t see many of the original Ks these days, but the patient junkyard crawler will find a rare survivor now and then.

Here’s an early Aries wagon that I spotted in a Denver self-serve yard a couple of weeks ago.

Worst Car In History

Now, I have a lot of unpleasant personal history with a certain Plymouth Reliant wagon, and so my opinion of the K is that it’s the worst car ever made. Objectively speaking, though, these cars were no worse than, say, some of the abominations that The General ralphed out around this time.

1982 Dodge Aries Wagon in Colorado Wrecking Yard, shifter - ©2016 Murilee Martin

Right! So, you had a space-efficient, front-wheel drive, fuel-conserving platform with a modern overhead-cam engine, built a lot better than the miserable stuff that followed the sturdy Darts and Valiants. This one even has a floor-shift four-speed manual transmission.

1982 Dodge Aries Wagon in Colorado Wrecking Yard, wasp nest - ©2016 Murilee Martin

If we are to judge by the wasp nests and general dustiness of this Aries, it sat for quite a few years before finally getting discarded.

1982 Dodge Aries Wagon in Colorado Wrecking Yard, front seat - ©2016 Murilee Martin

Bordello Red interiors were all the rage during the 1980s and early 1990s, and this car does not disappoint in that department.

1982 Dodge Aries Wagon in Colorado Wrecking Yard, Arabic sticker - ©2016 Murilee Martin

The final owner appears to have been a speaker of Arabic.

1982 Dodge Aries Wagon in Colorado Wrecking Yard, hood ornament - ©2016 Murilee Martin

The K-Cars we have seen in this series include this ’83 Aries sedan, this ’86 Aries sedan, and this Dodge 600 Turbo. We have seen many, many K-descendants over the years, of course.


Considering the Fairmont? Ha! Aries is cheaper!


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71 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1982 Dodge Aries Station Wagon...”


  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    At least you could get one with a Hemi 4-speed.

  • avatar
    anti121hero

    Flashbacks… My first car was an 84 reliant sedan 2.2.. Was really a good car, I drove it for a couple years and didn’t out a single dollar into it. By the time I got rid of it, the electronically controlled carberator voodoo left it almost undriveable. It would stall at every stop light and you had to rev it to keep it from stalling.. It would just stall ALL THE TIME.. But other than that I got a lot of miles out of it, it was basic transportation. Had the same interior as this one here, whorehouse red.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Computer carburetors were the nadir for automobile fueling systems as far as the individual owner was concerned. Equally impossible to field-repair or tune as fuel injection systems, they combined the cryptic black-box of computer controls with the leaky block of unknown alloy filled with fuel of a carburetor, and saved the end user no money when they failed.

      At least with fuel injection systems, individual injectors, pumps, filters and controllers could be replaced piecemeal to stretch out the repair cost, while a $1,500 computer carb offered a single painful hit to the wallet. Most automakers succumbed to the computer carb madness, including for a brief time Toyota with its 1st gen Camry and its combination of computer carburetor plus one piece coil-in-cap distributor system. They tended not to fail – but explain to the 1980s customer who’s suddenly looking at a four figure repair bill that they were the statistical outlier.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Well, the Holly that came in these sucked, but was “only” a few hundred bucks. Contrast that to the Mikuni that came with the 2.6 and you had a carb that cost over $700. A fun fact with these cars is the “Anti Diesel relay that engaged the A/C compressor to stall the engine when you removed the key. On our 81, the A/C clutch freewheel bearing failed on the highway, which smoked the clutch badly. It got so hot the belt snapped and the potting compound used in the clutch electromagnet melted out. Shutting off the car caused the Anti Diesel relay to close, which was basically a dead short. This smoked the fusible link in the wiring harness, which triggered the next smoke show. Our fuel injected 87 was in direct contrast to the 81, as it was damn near a perpetual motion machine – virtually no repairs at all, save for a handful of MAP sensors.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    Honestly the worst thing about the early K-cars was that miserable abortion of a carburetor they got from Holley. had they not used that cantankerous piece of junk, the cars might have had a slightly better reputation. Of course, when it came time to replace it they used TBI instead of port injection, and everyone could hear the results of the fuel distribution problems on the TBI cars.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      I see that you haven’t had any experience with Ford’s variable venturi carb that existed around the same time.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        I don’t see how that follows from what I said.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          The Ford VV carbs were infamously bad. The Big Four tried a lot of Rube Goldberg ideas, with their carburetors in the 1970s and 1980s, as they stubbornly resisted fuel injection. Pretty much all of them were bad ideas but some of them were really really bad ideas.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            @JimC2, don’t forget that Ford did adopt fuel injection much sooner than GM or Chrysler as far as V8s were concerned. But yes the VV was truly terrible.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      That’s one explanation for the love/hate dichotomy among 2.2/2.5 owners; turbocharged engines were equipped with Bosch’s outstanding L-Jetronic multiport fuel injection system and made the engines much more tractable along with the significantly increased power.

      In addition, being the final generation of cars in which you can simply turn the key in the ignition to start it (thanks for nothing, all you precautionary principle fear mongers!) made for a much more pleasant winter driving experience. Open the door; put gearshift in neutral; twist key to start; remove snow and ice; return to a warmed-up and warm cabin.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    Wow. Wait. What the heck? Did I see 41 mpg spa estimate on the highway? I don’t recall anything tht high until much more recently. Was that for real? Can anyone confirm that? Those cars must have been light.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      That’s the old mileage test. The 84 Airies gets 23/29 (4 speed), 21/30 (5 speed), or 21/26 (automatic) under the current EPA rules.

      fueleconomy.gov only goes back to 1984, not sure if the 81 got the same mileage as the 84. I know they switched from a carb to TBI at some point.

      • 0 avatar
        Conslaw

        The 41 MPG figure was a joke even then. The current standard numbers that heavy handle gave are much closer to the truth, and that is at least staying close to the 55 MPH speed limit. Look at those big bench seats and realize that the Reliants only weighed 2600 to 2800 lbs. So much of what makes a car good was left out to make weight. The early 80s vied with the early 70s as the worst car era IMHO, at least in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      Geekcarlover

      Testing was much more hypothetical (unrealistic) back then. VW and Datsun regularly claimed 40+ MPG. Our Aries station wagon might get 31mpg, highway, on a good day. But this was still far ahead of what it replaced.

    • 0 avatar
      eManual

      I had a 1981 Aries K wagon with 4 speed manual (of course!) and I can confirm 40+ mpg on flat Interstate highways at 55 mph. It had the 2.2L carbureted engine, and ran to 130K+ miles before I gave it away to someone who could use it.

      Even though it was a much better car, my 1987 Dodge Lancer with a 2.5L 5 speed manual only got about 35 mpg on the same highways.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I think you would be shocked at the test they used to come up with “highway” mileage back then. Google something called FTP 75. What it was good for was comparable apples-to-apples comparisons for car shoppers, but nothing more.

  • avatar
    VW16v

    A few family members drove k-cars back in the day. I remember them stating the cars had VW four cylinders. What year’s did VW supply engines to Chrysler? Or did VW never actually supply engines to Chrysler?

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      The VW 1.7 was available on the Plymouth Horizon, but not on the K-Cars, as far as I know.
      The 1.7 was phased-out before the end of Horizon production. The 2.2 and Turbo 2.2 were the only two Horizon engines available in the late 80s.

      I only know this because I’m a car geek, and I took my driver’s ed training in a Horizon.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      the L-body (Omni/Horizon/Turismo) got the VW 1.7 initially, before the 2.2 was ready. Afterward, the VW 1.7 was replaced by a Peugeot 1.6 for a year or two as the “economy” engine. Then the 2.2 went standard across the board. K-cars and derivatives never had a purchased 4-cylinder.

  • avatar

    Did you know they made about 50 turbo k-cars for the military? I found one many years ago and bought it. Still have it.
    Some info and photos…

    http://www.polybushings.com/pages/k-carwagon.html

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      Jesus tap dancing Christ. A 400 hp Plymouth Reliant wagon. WTF

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      I’m digging the L-Body style hood vent: Daytonas and Lasers had the symmetrical vent opening, while the Omni/Charger models had the smaller unit set off towards the passenger side. It was a subtle visual cue to those in the know that “yes, this car means business.”

      Yes folks, that funky piece of polymer and formed steel served a vital purpose: while at rest, the hot under hood air traveled up through the vent, while at speed the high pressure air at the base of the windshield forced itself down across the turbocharger and exhaust manifold, drawing away waste heat and keeping things cool.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      [Mind blown, though I feel like Mopar’s “pizza wheels” need to be added to this recipe.]

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I regularly got over 30MPG with my 88 Shadow with the turbo if I stayed out of the boost. These should have been around the same, though the 4 speed would hurt the highway mileage some.

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    “This worked out pretty well for everyone involved”

    Not really. Chrysler didn’t learn much from their near-death experience, fell off the wagon quickly, and were back at the bailout trough within a generation.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      that is the most moronic thing I’ve read today. Is your memory so short that you’ve already forgotten that their spiral towards bankruptcy was due to MISMANAGEMENT by Daimler?

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        I haven’t forgotten it, because it isn’t true.

        Chrysler was/is fully capable of shooting themselves in the foot without assistance from outsiders.

        Daimler isn’t responsible for the Ultradrive fiasco, the 50,000 mile head gaskets on first-gen Neons, or the decision to let the K platform soldier on for 15 years.

        Sure Daimler made some dumb moves in the DCX era, but it’s not at all accurate to pretend that Chrysler was a paragon of quality before the merger.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          “I haven’t forgotten it, because it isn’t true.”

          like f**k it isn’t.

          • 0 avatar
            bikegoesbaa

            Do you contend that Chrysler was well-managed and making high-quality competitive products prior to the Daimler merger?

          • 0 avatar
            bikegoesbaa

            As per you:

            “IIRC those spots were used on higher-trim cars for auxiliary gauges (oil, temp, etc.) if you didn’t have one with the gauge packaged, they just used the spots for giant idiot lights.

            the funnier one was on the base trims of many of their cars, they didn’t get a tach so you had a giant fuel gauge next to the speedometer.”

            Sounds world-class.

        • 0 avatar
          Maymar

          I’m not about to admit that, at the time of the DCX buyout, Chrysler was making high-quality cars, but they were making plenty of cars that were compelling (at least until the warranty ran out), and and they were making money on them.

          It’s plausible they would have led themselves to bust without Daimler’s help, but they were absolutely worse off after the merger dissolved.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            no they weren’t perfect, but at the time of the merger they were still making money hand over fist. The cars were flawed, but as BMW repeatedly proves people will put up with flawed cars so long as they like them. The Ultradrive transmission had been sorted out long before the merger (s**t, every Chrysler-designed transmission since then has been of the Ultradrive architecture) and while there was looming warranty spend coming for the Neon head gasket, exhaust donut, and the LH air conditioning system, they would have been manageable. But the scared little man Bob Eaton ran into the arms of the first “gentleman caller” named Jürgen Schrempp and the die was cast. Things were OK for a while, until Chrysler had the temerity to step on Mercedes’ dick and show the ME-412 concept. After that, the hammer came down. Wolfgang Bernhard marched into Auburn Hills with a mandate to make Chrysler Group interiors (and vehicles) 40% cheaper. And as the 2004.5 Durango showed, they got a *lot* cheaper. Then Daimler went all Sgt. Schultz and said “I know nawsing!!!” and chucked Chrysler off to Cerberus and “Minimum Bob” Nardelli.

            Chrysler was destined to need some sort of merger or buyout to survive. Daimler (under Jürgen Schrempp) was the absolute worst partner they could have chosen. Schrempp was doing little more than buying s**t to build his little empire. Daimler bought Freightliner and nearly killed it (before Dr. Zetsche was assigned to save it,) they killed American LaFrance, and did everything they could to kill Chrysler. The damage they did was so severe that even Dr. Zetsche couldn’t save it. Or they just ordered him to cut and run.

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            Chrysler certainly had its problems but Daimler milked the company for all it was worth. I laugh when I hear the Chrysler was responsible for the horrid decline of Mercedes products in the 2000s.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    It feels like the dash was made for far-sighted people. Why is everything so_large in there? Or were there so few dials and knobs they made them bigger just to take up space?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      IIRC those spots were used on higher-trim cars for auxiliary gauges (oil, temp, etc.) if you didn’t have one with the gauge packaged, they just used the spots for giant idiot lights.

      the funnier one was on the base trims of many of their cars, they didn’t get a tach so you had a giant fuel gauge next to the speedometer.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I guess that’s one way to do it while saving money. Even the climate and radio buttons look too big. That same climate unit went into the earlier M-Body Fifth Avenue as well.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          keep in mind that the radio controls were all mechanical back then. the “tune” knob actually moved stuff inside the radio, including the little indicator on the frequency scale. to use the “pre-set” buttons, you’d tune to the station you wanted, pull the pre-set button out a little bit, then push it all the way in. so the next time you pushed it, it would physically move the tuner hardware back to (approximately) that point.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I don’t think I’ve actually ever used a radio like that. All the old products my family had were new enough to have electronic tuner radios. (Like that Chrysler one with the adjustment sliders, which was in all their vans and cars.) By ’86 I think Chrysler had got rid of these old style ones, as I remember the Fifth Avenue had a silver tone electronic tuner, with very solid feeling buttons.

      • 0 avatar

        It was also made to accommodate the fancy digital gauges on the Chrysler products.

        My first car was a LeBaron sedan with the digital gauges. It was the future, now!

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        According to my 1984 edition of Consumer Guide optional gauges were not even offered on these cars until that year meaning 1981-83 cars had very sparse instrumentation.

  • avatar
    mic

    Back in 1994 I bought a 1984 Dodge Aries 2 door from a high school auto shop for $800 in Wiesbaden Germany. It was Root Beer Brown and had been fitted with an ’86 2.2 engine and an ’87 5 speed manual. I dubbed it the Hodge Podge Dodge. It got me through my 3 year tour there without much trouble until I loaned it out the day I shipped my primary vehicle stateside and my friends wife burned up the clutch in an hour. It sat my wife and I and the 4 kids in a pinch with that bench seat in the front. But toddler legs and shifters get tangled at times LOL

  • avatar
    laserwizard

    K-cars could take a beating – we had one as a college car that allowed us to go on road trips to debate tournaments – it was never loved but it always worked and carried 6 people in more comfort than you could in a Cadillac ATS or CTS now.

    FYI – Chrysler’s “bailout” in that era was a loan which was paid back in full – neither Chrysler nor Total Recall Motors received loans and neither fully paid back the full amount. We were left with about $2.5 billion in costs that were not covered and the GM bailout was a real stinker – about $12 billion unpaid from the $49.5 billion we gave them tax and interest free – $14 billion in GM loss credits that TRM can use to offset profits; and around $8-10 billion in interest and covering costs that are added to the unpaid amounts – so we are screwed to the tune of $34 billion minimum in unrecovered funds that are continuing to accrue interest since everything is deficit spending.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      And banks like Fannie May were also bailed out during the 2008 crisis and billions of dollars go overseas to bail them out blah blah blah. Funny there is never ever any mention of the last two items. It’s always that big bad General that is stealing all our tax dollars. Give it a rest!

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        There’s 2 reasons you don’t hear as much about the bank bailout here:

        1. It’s a car blog. We do often stray into other topics, but the primary focus remains cars.

        2. The US gov’t actually got all its money back from the bank bailout, with interest. We’ll never see that $12B from the auto bailout.

  • avatar

    Back “then” I agree Chrysler made bad management decisions..Yes Mr Lee Iococca! Instead of investing in better equipment and better cars, they bought Lamborghini. And other things they should have done…..

  • avatar
    Monty

    Nice BNL reference.

    K-Cars were a steaming pile of manure; but they were equal to what domestic competitors were pushing on us consumers, especially in the low price and/or sub-compact segments.

    It’s not unusual to see 20 year old cars, including domestics, still on the road today, but back in the 70’s through to the 90’s up here in prairie Canada it was unusual to see even ten year old cars still serving daily duties. K-Cars were no different than there brethren. Today, I would expect the virtual successor, the Dart/200 twins to go minimum 20 years or 200,000 K miles. Detroit has come a long way since those very dark days.

  • avatar
    sckid213

    Can I ask a Millennial Question?

    Were digital clocks considered like, a MAJOR event when they started to be installed in cars? Is that why the “Chronometer” script is the bling-iest thing about the K cars? Is that why Toyota / Lexus still builds their interiors completely around the digital clock in the dash?

    Also, here is a song by a band that took their name from the K-car that is fitting for a Monday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efDdcN35RaM

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      The Chrysler clock is fancy because they only had one, and it had to fit in with the K-Car and also the Fifth Avenue or Imperial. So the only way they could do it was to make a fancy-a$$ looking clock.

      My 01 GS430 had the same clock as was put in the ’93 Corolla, methinks. Didn’t belong in there at all.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      “Can I ask a Millennial Question?”

      Wind up watches were still a common thing when these cars came out. Self-winding watches, now those were something special. But inexpensive quartz clocks (with hands or with digital displays) won out.

      Now read that again using a Grampa Simpson voice.

  • avatar

    Have retrospective pity on me if you wish, but whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger:
    In college, my girlfriend owned one of these K-wagons…green with fake woody trim. Humiliating for an 18 y.o. male to drive, but I had no wheels and borrowing it now and again was oddly liberating if emasculating. To make matters worse, my dad had sold off all the cars he owned that had any appeal (’73 400 c.i. Pontiac, some sort of mid-1970s Nova, ’67 Rambler) and the stable at home featured two Chevy Citations, then a Pontiac 6000 STE (damn near exotic in my world). Is it any wonder I am a die-hard VW/Audi guy, when I bought a ’78 Scirocco after driving all that lame US-built crap?

    The Citations and Aries did have the benefit of a fair amount of area for…erm…laying down.

    • 0 avatar
      montecarl

      The 6000 STE wasn’t a bad car for the time….

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        one of GM’s rare “hits” of the era.

        So long as you got the V6 and not the Iron Duke.

        • 0 avatar

          Yep, it had the V-6. Fun car to drive…I had it airborne a few times and even hit 115 racing against a malaise-era V-8 Buick (the STE won).
          Later, I had an ’89 Cavalier Z-24 ragtop with the 2.8. Also fun to drive and surprisingly stiff/stable for a convertible.

          None were as enjoyable as the stripped-down 1.6-litre F.I. Scirocco Mk I.
          Light, quick and grippy–it cornered like a rat in sneakers.
          Definitely a suitable antidote for the Aries K.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            I remember my high school friends and I racing- a bunch of us in my Valiant and a bunch more in my friend’s Cavalier wagon. If a cop had seen us we were probably going barely fast enough to get a ticket.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    That front bench seat was one of the things I hated about these cars. No armrest in the center. A flat as a park bench surface. And the backrest was too far reclined and non adjustable. The optional bucket seats, floor shift and recliners were a must in these cars. Gauges were sparse up until 1984 when extra cost units were finally offered. Many stories could be told as so many people I knew had these and we sold many at our used dealership during the 90’s.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      The bench was lame but swapping the super comfortable leather seats from the K derived New Yorkers was a snap. In fact I pulled a lot out of one and converted my K to the “luxury” edition with suspension goodies from the Daytona/Laser…

  • avatar
    denvertsxer

    I wonder what that power switch is toward the rear of the front passenger door.

  • avatar
    Jeff Zekas

    My Aires wagon cured me of Chrysler products forever. Poor quality compared to my Toyota of the same year. Oh, and the mechanic put the pulley on wrong- belt snapped, motor overheated, head cracked. Drove it with hairline crack for a couple of years, before dumping it.

  • avatar
    geo

    Our company (in around 1999) had assorted fleet vehicles including a 97 Aerostar and a couple of second-gen Luminas. Everyone wanted the ’88 K-Car and it was known to be the best, most reliable vehicle in the fleet. The seats were comfy and the engine was peppy.

    As long as the timing belt was replaced in the 2.2 every 50k, they would run a long time.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    K Car trivia: 82 was the first year these had self-adjusting rear brakes. Yes, the ’81s had manual adjusters.

    Now, how many people under 40 know how to adjust drum brakes?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Assumed procedure: Take the wheel off, and tighten the drum with a wrench.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Ah, nope. But there are good DIY videos on youtube. Back in my day we didn’t have youtube, we had to walk (in the snow) to the public library and sign out the Haynes manual… and the library was uphill, both ways…

  • avatar
    mp775

    Fun detail – this car has one taillight off a Reliant.


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