Curbside Classic: 1986 Dodge Daytona (With K-Car Bonus)

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer

Coming back to gray and drizzly Eugene after a week on the sunny coast of California can be a bit challenging. But then all the compensations make themselves apparent: no traffic jams, a familiar bed, and…K cars! Eugene is Kar heaven: every permutation of Lee Iaccoca’s Karmagination is on display, everywhere. Sometimes even two at a time:

I was shooting this lovely Daytona in a 7-11 parking lot when a brown Reliant came into view as it was leaving the gas station across the street (above). I managed an iffy shot of it behind its sporty offshoot. But then, instead of turning left, towards the intersection, it shot across the street and through the 7-11 lot to short-cut the poky red light at 6th. It just had to get a little closer to the Daytona and give me what might appear to be a perfectly staged shot (below). Thank you, impatient Reliant driver!

We’re going to save the Kreation story of the Kars for another day, and focus on this particular variant. Dodge and Plymouth already had twin sporty FWD coupes, the Omni 024/Charger and the Horizon TC3. Based on the K-cars’ spiritual and technical predecessor, the less-than-handsome coupes made themselves most notorious with the wild turbocharged Shelby Charger version. It was a raucous and woolly little beast that surprised more than a few Mustangs and Camaros in its day, if one could keep it in a straight line.

By 1984, Krysler was ready to supplant the ugly twins with the much more contemporary and sleek Daytona and its virtually identical twin, the Chrysler Laser. Tagging a sporty little FWD coupe as a Chrysler was typical of the Plymouth self-mutilation that the Pentastar had been practicing for decades until eventually they accomplished their presumed goal. Chrysler buyers used to rich Corinthian leather and padded vinyl topped Fifth Avenues were rightfully confused by the Laser’s less than laser-sharp brand identity, and left it to die on the vine within a couple of years.

But the Daytona knew where the Dodge Boys hung out (at the 7-11?), and it sold a decent 50k or so units for several years, despite the in-house competition from the little Charger for its first few years. Three versions were on tap: the basic Daytona like this one came with a 99hp version of the venerable 2.2 L four. The Turbo kicked out 146 hp, and the Turbo Z added a body kit to make it look a lot more dangerous than it was.

In 1987, the Turbo Z morphed into the Shelby Z, now with 174 hp and non-optional turbo lag. But the best was kept for last: in its final three years (’91 -’93), the wildest Daytona became known as the IROC (R/T beginning in ’92), and these used the mythical Turbo III engine sporting a Lotus designed DOHC 16 valve head. It made a whopping 224 horses from 2.2 liters; no big shakes today, but eye-popping stuff in its time. The Turbo III regularly popped more then just eyeballs: its reliability issues are as legendary as its rarity.

By 1990, Mitsubishi’s tame and less self-explosive 3.0 L V6 appeared in Daytonas, and the Turbo III died along with the Daytona after the ’93 model year. But the Daytona IROC R/T and its Spirit R/T brother were colorful additions to the performance car scene. They may not have been everyone’s cup of tea (like mine), but they pioneered FWD high performance at a time when that was almost an oxymoron with the conservative RWD-only US pony-car crowd. But more than a few Mustang 5.0 drivers learned to expand their horizons beyond just worrying about a Camaro taking them out.

We’ve let our Kreative imaginations stray pretty far from this actual gutless Kraptastic Koupe, whose distinctive wheezy 99 horsepower moan through its 3-speed slush box was so eloquently displayed by the brown Reliant as it merged hurriedly into traffic. That flooded me with memories of driving an identical brown Reliant for a few months in LA. We’ll save that highlight of my autobiography for another day. Meanwhile, wish me luck finding an IROC R/T in Eugene; but than stranger things have happened. After all, this is Kurbside Klassiks.

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Paul Niedermeyer
Paul Niedermeyer

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  • Blackcloud_9 Blackcloud_9 on Jul 12, 2010

    My best friend had a Chrysler Laser Turbo version of this car. At the time I thought it was coolest I had ever seen and the hottest car I ever drove. I find it amazing how badly these cars have aged. Turned out it had all of the lovely reliability issues Chrysler was so famous for.

  • And003 And003 on Jun 14, 2012

    I recently came across information about a 1988 Dodge Daytona converted to RWD and had a 6.1 Hemi under the hood. I suspect the Daytona in this article would benefit from a similar modification.

  • Lou_BC Question of the day: Anyone actually care to own an old TVR?
  • Bd2 First, this was totally predictable. 2nd, Genesis already does have hybrids in the form of a 48V mild hybrid, but more performance oriented (supercharged and turbocharged), so not really helping with regard to fuel consumption. 3rd, Hyundai's hybrid systems don't really help as there currently isn't one that would be suitable power-wise and the upcoming 2.5T hybrid system would have to be heavily reworked to accommodate a RWD/longitudinal layout. 4th, it seems that Genesis is opting to go the EREV route with the GV70 the first get the new powertrain.
  • Bd2 Jaguar's problem was chasing the Germans into the mid size and then entry-level/compact segments for volume, and cheapening their interiors while at it.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Aja8888 I expected that issue with my F150 starting at 52,000mi. luckily I had an extended warranty and it saved me almost $8,000. No more Fords for me, only Toyota.
  • Lou_BC I saw a news article on this got a different read on it. Ford wants to increase production of HD trucks AND develop hybrid and EV variants of the SuperDuty. They aren't scaling back EV production. Just building more HD's and EV variants of HD's .