Capsule Review: 1987 Dodge Shelby Lancer

Mike Solowiow
by Mike Solowiow
capsule review 1987 dodge shelby lancer
The best thing about the 1987 Dodge Lancer Shelby was the turbo lag followed by eye peeling acceleration. My dad always looked over at me, grinning with a wild look in his eyes as he dumped the clutch, and then hung on to the torque steering helm as I laughed all the way to the next stoplight in Santa Cruz, California (when it was still cheap to live there).

In the mid-1980s, Carroll Shelby saw enough potential in the second generation Chrysler K-Cars to lend his name to no less than four versions: a Charger, Omni GLH (Goes Like Hell), Daytona, and the Lancer. Of all the cars, the Lancer had the most potential to capture the marketplace, a true American 3-series competitor. With its 5-door hatchback styling, crisp Euro inspired lines, and a fairly nice interior (that was as good as anything during the time period), the Lancer Shelby should have taken the driving world by storm; however, it has faded into almost extinction.

The largest problem with the Lancer lay in its fundamental layout. Americans of the 1980s viewed its useful hatchback as a marque of a cheap vehicle. That perception only worsened as the Lancer was only equipped with a 2.2L four-banger, another American no-no. Despite being producing 175bhp (147bhp in the non-Shelby), the drastic torque steer, turbo lag, and non-Euro feeling body lean chased off the import buyers as well.

Yet the few that bought one discovered something incredibly rare in Chrysler’s history, a car with character, a car that tackled corners with élan never seen in an American designed and produced sedan. They also discovered turbos that failed at 75K miles, electrical glitches, and early-failing shocks.

I will always remember a car that tackled Highway 1 in Big Sur with aplomb, a car that surged with gusto across the plains of Texas, and a car that still remains interesting in its design. If you ever see a Dodge Lancer Shelby, count yourself lucky. Rare when new, they are positively unknown, unloved, and non-existent now, which is a shame.

Join the conversation
2 of 20 comments
  • Robbi_B Robbi_B on Feb 05, 2009

    I owned the 88 Lancer Shelby (slightly different than the Shelby Lancer) for a while. It was named Red, and she was a $1.00 car I bought off a friend. There was SERIOUS jury-rigging under the hood by the time the head gasket finally went, and she's gone to the big parking lot in the sky, now. But let me just say, I loved that car. Around 150,000 miles on her (not quite sure exactly how many, since the speedo/odo didn't work any more). It looked like a piece of junk, and at least once a week I'd get some punk in a souped up somethingorother at a stop light showing off, and they always got left in the dust. Loved that car.

  • Derrickx1 Derrickx1 on Aug 09, 2009

    I had a 1987 Dodge Lancer ES Turbo (non-shelby), light blue with all the toys. Digital dash, 5 speed, all power..etc. I absolutely loved that car. I bought it in 1989 with about 15,000 or so miles on it. That thing was like a rocket, as soon as that turbo kicked in,..zoom. That love lasted about a year, that's when all started going wrong. First the turbo kept going on me, then the vacuum pressure kept failing on me. It was stylish for the time though. I put 50's tires with chrome wheels on her and had all the black trim painted to match the car. I do admit I miss that car but I dont miss the headache of being broken down in the mid-town tunnel waiting for a tow truck!

  • Lou_BC I realized it wasn't EV's burning by the absence of the usual suspects.
  • Kwik_Shift A manual bug eye WRX wagon (2001-03) would interest me more.
  • El scotto Ferrari develops a way to put a virtual car in real time traffic? Will it be multiple virtual players in a possible infinite number of real drivers in real time situations?This will be one of the greatest things ever or a niche video game.
  • El scotto It's said that many military regulations are written in blood. Every ship's wheel or aircraft joystick has a human hand on it at all times when a ship or aircraft are under power. Tanks, APC's and other ground vehicles probably operate under the same rules. Even with those regulations accidents still happen. There is no such thing as an unmanned autopilot, ever. Someone has to be on the stick at all times.I do not think MB understands what a sue-happy nation the USA is. The 1st leased MB in a wreck while this Type 3 "Semi-Autonomous" driving, or whatever it is called, will result in an automatic lawsuit. Expect a class action lawsuit after the 1st personal lawsuit is filed. Yes, new MB owners can afford and ever are lawyers.Mercedes Benz; "The best wrecks or nothing!" Oh and has anyone noticed that Toyota/Lexus and Honda/Acura, the gray suit with white shirt and striped tie, automobile companies have stayed away from any autonomous driving nonsense?
  • Merc190 Very streamlined but not distinctive enough for a Mercedes. And besides, the streetcar of the early 20th century seems a far more efficient and effective method of people moving in essentially an autonomous manner. A motor car is meant to be driven with proper attention to what's important in every situation. To design it otherwise is idiotic and contradictory.