By on January 5, 2010

a daytona with a perfect backdrop

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:

is that a K car coming back there?

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!

two Ks for the price of one

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.

CC 78 016 800By 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.

CC 78 013 800In 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.

CC 78 014 800

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.

CC 78 008 800

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44 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1986 Dodge Daytona (With K-Car Bonus)...”

  • avatar

    I always thought Chrysler missed a great opportunity with this car. Instead of a Chrysler version, there should have been a Plymouth version. The 30th anniversary of the original Plymouth Fury was in 1986, I would have loved to see a Gold on White special edition “Fury”

    • 0 avatar

      A special-edition four-cylinder Fury, for all of us who had genuine V8 ones to laugh at? That was one thing Chrysler did right, not reusing most names from earlier V8 cars for the 4-cylinder 1980’s stuff. Were you being ironic and just went right by me?
      I can’t really complain about K-cars though. It was a K-car that got me started buying Honda Accords, by driving one right after the other when we were looking for a car.

    • 0 avatar

      My first car was a real Fury…if you count the later “series” models. On my 16th birthday  Dad gave me a low mileage ’68 Fury 2 with 318. No tire burner but it was my first and I loved it! My last Chrysler product was a Horizon, that I bought for my wife. I called it the “HorrorZone”. It was the worst car I had ever encountered until I replaced it with a Citation. Hey! Maybe that’s why she left me!

  • avatar

    These have all pretty much dissolved back into the Earth in Vermont.

  • avatar

    When I was a kid a black Chrysler Laser replaced our ’83 Celica.  All I remember about it was how fascinated I was with the talking service minder system– until Dad turned it off a couple of weeks in because it’d never shut up. 

  • avatar

    Am I the the only one that immediately thinks of Hunter and McCall’s Daytona Turbo Z?

  • avatar

    My first car was an 85 Reliant SE with the infamous chain-guide-eating, quantum-physics-complicated-mikuni-carbed mitsu 2.6! I resurrected it from beyond the grave in 2000 (it had been left sitting outside, unsheltered for 10 New England years) and it gave me 3 years of reliable motoring. Yea the mitsu engine was a gas guzzler (20 mpg highway if I was lucky) and in the end it suffered the same fate of all those 2.6 mitsus (plastic timing chain guides eventually eaten away by timing chain) but talk about a beater box. You could put those K cars through UNIMAGINEABLE abuse and they’d take it like a pro. And talk about awesome snow handling, subaru drivers can only WISH they had the snow driving performance of the K-cars! ahh found memories of the mini-tank. 

  • avatar

    I owned one of these.  It was my first “sports car.”  I moved up from the Omni GLH turbo…a wild and wooly beast of a machine…that I was determined to wreck in a dozen different ways.

    I have to admit that I also worked for the company at the time so knew a few tricks and insider secrets.

    First the shifter was a joke.  Tons of flex in the mechanism made crossover powershifting seriously risky business.  Then there was the transmission…the same FWD manual transmission we put in everything.  It was beefed up as much as possible but we ran out of room around the diff and if you were rambunctious enough you could leave the gears by the side of the road during a drag race.

    It was shorn with 225 Goodyear Eagle GT’s if I recall…beastly wide tires for their day…and needed to control the power and torque steer of the 175 horses.  I specifically remember how expensive those darn tires were…costing me something like $300 to replace the tire and rim after meeting up with some of Michigans nastiest potholes.

    I had borrowed a “chip” from the lab and got mine up to 220.  I also installed a special prototype short shifter in it…with a special shift box mechanism that I was trying to convince management was worth the extra $5 (lost that argument.)   If you recall, this was quite a bit of power for the day.  My brother and his 944 lost a race to it…down a very windy road in Pennsylvania.  His car was a more neutral handler…but it couldn’t keep up with the acceleration of the boosted 4 cylindar Mopar engine….or the stickiness of the Goodyear meats.

    Ahh…memories.  Met my wife in that car.  Married her and bought a Chrysler Minivan….

  • avatar

    I look at this era of the 80’s as the real start of the decline of the American automobile. FWD, 4 cylinder only powerplants, wide use of 3 speed automatic transmissions, oil burning head gasket popping turbos, square box styling, stretched versions billed as luxury cars, piss poor electronic reliability etc. That pretty much sums up Chrysler for most of the 80’s along with much of GM. Who can forget the 1984 Chrysler New Yorker which was a slightly longer Lebaron which was a rebadged fancier K-car or GM’s downsized FWD Deville/98/park Ave followed by the downsized 88/LeSabre/Riviera/Elderado and Toronado in the mid 80’s. These crap boxes pretty much ruined much of the big 3’s reputation all because of that god forsaken second oil crisis of late 79 which permanently changed the automotive industry forever. They just couldn’t rush out those FWD econobucket replacement cars fast enough and nothing was immune. Ford was a bit smarter by leaving the RWD Crown Vic/Grand Marquis, T-bird/Cougar alone , introducing the game changing 1986 Taurus and keeping it’s best selling F-150 fresh but there other products like the Tempo/Escort etc were hardly America at there best.  It was all about downsizing, weight reduction, better MPG and lower emissions back then and the cars suffered big time and technology was still lacking to really make it happen effectively. Of course not all was bad in those years. I owned several Olds RWD Cutlass Supreme coupes, Pontiac Grand Prixs and full sized Chevys Caprices and they were standouts for smooth ride, reliable, comfortable and stylish and ok pep from there V8 engines. Those 307 and 305 V8’s ran almost as well as todays fuel injected engines and were smooth running and dead reliable.

  • avatar

    “…and these used the mythical Turbo III engine … ”

    Oh, there was nothing mythical about the Turbo III engine. It definitely existed.

    A friend of mine who bought one and had bad luck with it certainly wished it had been mythical.

  • avatar

    Now there’s a big dose of personal nostalgia.  I spent my freshman year of college in Eugene in ’86, and drove with a carload of girls down to the bay area for spring break in the turbo version of one of these.  One girl’s daddy bought it new for her to take to college, and the mere fact that she owned a car made her so much more attractive than I might otherwise have thought.
    Still, after not driving anything at all for several months, I still didn’t like driving this car.  It was an interesting trip, but the car stands out as crap after all these years.  I remember giving the girl a hard time about the turbo boost gauge – I asked her where she bought it, since there was no way that car had a turbo.  By the end of the trip, she made it clear I was going to have to find a different way home.
    To this day, I still have no idea how I got back to Eugene.  One moment I was at a party in Belmont, and then I was in my dorm room.  It was a successful spring break.  But i still don’t like those cars.

  • avatar

    Thank you Hank! That’s exactly what popped into my mind (Hunter and the burgundy/silver Daytona Turbo Z).
    What was the name of that actress who played the detective that drove it?

  • avatar

    A Daytona in a 7-11 parking lot? Isn’ t that their natural habitat? The Daytona, along with Pontiac Grand Ams, usually had a goldfish cracker-covered baby car seat wedged into their back seats. You could always depend upon seeing them parked around gas stations-turned-hair salons too.

    A lot of these were traded in for used Altimas, Sunbirds and Cavaliers.

  • avatar

    I grew up in Eugene. Didn’t have much trouble finding this 7-Eleven on Google Maps:,-123.107211&sspn=0.001438,0.003484&ie=UTF8&radius=0.09&rq=1&ev=zi&hq=7+eleven&hnear=&ll=44.053244,-123.107375&spn=0,359.986063&t=h&z=17&iwloc=A&layer=c&cbll=44.05324,-123.107497&panoid=lxRkdUFqcOGBpRgD2cwELA&cbp=12,251.7,,0,6.66

  • avatar

    +1 Ponchoman49! The 80’s were an automotive wasteland, highlight by the Kraptastic brigade. I remember the day in 1984 that a good friend of mine called me up and said ‘I just bought a new Dodge Charger, I’ll be right over”. I was looking out the front window at my ’81 Z28 350 4-bbl,  expecting to see something ‘General Lee’-like appear, when he drove up in what was essentially a rebadged Omni. It was SO hard not to laugh out loud as he bragged about his new ‘muscle car’…

  • avatar

    My enduring memory of K cars is the way a well worn 2.2 sounds just like a diesel.

    • 0 avatar

      How true.  When 2.2s accumulated serious mileage there was quite a bit of piston slap (sorry Sajeev) that caused that dieselish clatter.  However, they still ran like troopers, slap and all.  Later 2.2 engines usually would avoid the dreaded head gasket if you didn’t overheat.  My ’87 Reliant ran until 254,000 miles before the head gasket went.  Original trans, too.  While this car received good maintenance, I beat it pretty hard.  47 MPH in first gear, anyone?  This car simply never broke, MAP sensors excepted.   Always kept spares in the trunk.  Once that horrible carb was purged from these cars, they were really more durable than most people think.  You cant judge how well a car lasts by how solid the door closes.  By that metric, most cars of the 80’s would fail.

  • avatar

    I really wanted to love these.  I was a huge Mopar fan in those days, and really tried to like the K car era (while I got to drive the now-classic late 50s-early70s era cars which were cheap and plentiful).
    I was preparing to buy my first new car in late 1985, and test drove one of these (the Turbo, of course).  I recall not liking the rubbery shifter and the turbo lag.  I kind of liked the styling back then, the general shape was reminiscent of the Porsche 928, though it did not come off as well.  The first Chrysler dealer I went to was pretty proud of the one he had on the floor, and refused to let me drive it unless I would commit that I was going to “buy a car today.”  I told him that I was absolutely not going to buy a car today, but that it didn’t really concern him because I would not buy one from him EVER.  I have kept my word.
    We have to give Chrysler some credit here, because I think that they did more with less (and was successful with it) than anyone before or since.  Iacocca did not have the resources to blanket the market and made a bet on $2/gal gasoline.  Thus he killed the bigger rear drive platforms, scrapped the tooling for the big block V8s, and did all he could with the K platform.  This car was far from ideal, but I would take it over some of the stuff that came from GM in that era (Beretta anyone?)

  • avatar

    I saw a Dodge Omni on the road the other day and suddenly realized how few of these seem to be left alive given how common they were in the ’80s.  Here in Northern California, I see clean 80’s-era cars driving around all the time (mostly Hondas and Toyotas) but those Chryslers from that period just weren’t worth keeping alive, I guess. 

    Around 1989 or so, one of my fraternity brothers inherited his grandmother’s light green Plymouth K-car… if I remember correctly it was a very plain four-door.  It was a very clean low mileage “little old lady” example.  He was thrilled to have a running car and promptly put a stereo system in it that must have been worth more than the car.  He also put a sticker in the back window with the fraternity’s letters.

    The next member meeting featured a unanimous decision to force him to remove the fraternity’s name from the car lest it damage the house’s credibility.  Now THAT is brand equity… Plymouth didn’t last for too much longer after that, did they?

  • avatar

    I have a soft spot for the Omni 024/Charger, their styling was clean and appealing relative to the baroque Detroit bloatmobiles of the time. I still see one of its comical pickup truck brother, the Rampage, running around town.

  • avatar

    A Plymouth Tourismo is still my wife’s favorite car of yesteryear.  I guess she’s is as weird as I am.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine had one of these, similar to the previously mentioned Hunter and McCall Turbo Z version (same paint scheme & everything!) which he liked greatly. Until he broke the electrode off of a spark plug and was unable to retrieve it from the cylinder it fell into. He went car shopping that very afternoon.
    @Disaster: I forgot about those craptastic shifters. My Turbo Lancer had the same issue, although another friend with a Shadow Turbo had a great shifter… go figure. Also, the stock 2.2 turbo was a great motor, when combined with the right chassis. I worked with a guy who swore his Saab 99 HPC was the fastest thing on the planet, but boy, was he sad when I took my old black Lancer Turbo and blew his doors clean off… before I shifted into fourth gear…
    Those cars were more fun than commonly acknowledged.

    • 0 avatar

      My Omni (IIRC and ’77) lost one of the screws from the carb butterfly down into the engine. It clattered for a short time then everything seemed to be fine. I can only presume it got stuck in one of the cylinders (probably between the piston and the bore) or it got blown out the exhaust. Never did have any problem because of that, but I didn’t keep  it too long, traded for an ’82 Accord and have never bought another Chrysler car (did get a Dodge truck later, that was short lived POS too).

  • avatar

    “Dodge and Plymouth already had twin sporty FWD coupes, the Omni 024/Charger and the Horizon TC3″

    From the curbside in Olympia WA (the Eugene of the north!). It is still there as of 1/5/10 with the sign still in the window.

  • avatar

    Funny, I just saw a Turbo-Z version of the Laser going down the tollway here in Chicago with North Carolina plates.  Little old lady driving.  The car was in PERFECT condition.

  • avatar

    Crap, now I’m singing “it’s the new Spirit of Dodge” in my head with the Spirit mention in this article. Can’t find a video that has the song, but I remember seeing those ads over and over.

  • avatar

    My guess of a Lebaron GTS wasn’t far off.  I owned an ’85 Lebaron GTS with the 99-HP 2.2L (with rare 5-speed) for 12 years (even bought it used), and parted with it at 206k miles.  It was a very durable tank, but in typical Chrysler fashion, numerous little trim pieces fell off the car over time.  The car didn’t have the sportier look of the Daytona, but it had lots of utility and could carry 5 real people comfortably.
    I forgot the Daytona could be had with the Mitsubishi engines.  They were junk in any vehicle (e.g. Caravan), blowing head gaskets and rings at 50k miles.  The Chrysler engines were much better, I think.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned two of these, a “black cherry” 1988 Daytona Highline (the base model with a stereo upgrade and sunroof), and a 1991 3.0 liter six cylinder. I bought the 88 new and the 91 used in 1995. I wasn’t really looking for a Daytona in 1988 when  but I found myself behind one at a gas station and fell in love with the ass end of the car. At the time i was driving a 1985 Chevette, itself not a wholly horrible ride for the time once it got warmed up (a state that took 20 minutes and ten stalls to reach).  Also, how Chevy managed to make a car that small wthat pulled in gas mileage so bad is beyond me, but that’s for another Curbside Classic

    My 1988 Daytona almost didn’t happen as the finance guy at the Dodge dealership was a shithead and nearly drove me into purchasing a same-year Fiero 4 cylinder where GM’s first time buyers program would have shunted me into their car with no problem. Sometimes I wish I’d bought the Fiero, but most of the time I remember how much I loved the Daytona. That car ran so nicely, the engine was smooth and quiet, the inside was plush, especially compared to the Chevette, with soft fabric seats, sills, and liners. The passive restraints were comfortable and even when I didn’t wear the separate lap belt, were effective (more on that in a bit). The storage in the arm rest was pre-fit with cassette sized guides, the shifter was meaty and easy to use, the steering wheel was comfy and sporty. The alloy wheels looked cool. I’d never seen a car with a cup holder in it before either, and this one had a push button fold out one that was just right to cradle one of the endless cans of soda that made up most of my teenage diet. I paid extra for the 8 speaker Infinity Stereo and until then had never heard a stereo so good inside a car. It had a joystick on the face that worked like a fader and balance control. It had auto reverse. It rocked hard. With the option package I paid just over 12k.

    I ran a stop sign in it on a foggy night and t-boned a tan Lincoln continental. While neither I nor my girlfriend at the time were hurt, the Daytona had a bent frame and wiped out hood, fenders, and front end mechanicals. The cost to fix was only $500 short of a total loss so after three weeks I retrieved the car from the body shop in almost good as new condition. I drove it for another year until my Mom’s car, a 1983 AMC Concord went to car-heaven in a puff of steam and smoke. She love the Daytona as much as I did and seeing as I wasn’t getting paid much working for the folks at our restaurant, I needed something less expensive. I bought a 1989 Golf GL, (the worst car ever made) and sold the Daytona to my Mom for the remaining loan amount.

    I had a hell of a lot of fun in that Daytona. 1988 was the last year that the New Bedford Police didn’t really enforce their “no cruising” ordinance so me, and all the friends I could pack in, and every other kid with a car within 20 miles, would drive endlessly up and down and up and down Acushnet Avenue with stereos blasting.

    Eventually under my mom’s care the Daytona’s hood, never properly repainted by the body shop, rusted terribly, and the oil pan rotted out taking the exhaust with it. It was 1998 when she quietly traded it in towards a 1997 Sebring. At the time the Daytona had well over 130k on the odometer and minus the oil pan and post-crash body work, never had any significant mechanical problems. My brother and me kicked in together for a new stereo sometime in there because the Infinity refused to properly eject a tape and that killed the whole deck.

    In the years long after my Golf was torturing some unlucky auction bidder, and I’d graduated from college, I used to borrow the Daytona to make the drive from Southeastern Massachusetts to New Hampshire to visit with my fiance on alternating weekends and it was always a comfortable, reliable ride. The 1991 was almost as good, though Chrysler changed the interior in 1990 (I think) and made it more like the Ford Probe (which itself was a copy of the sport-hatchback Daytona) and it lost some of its weird ambience. The cup holders were gone, but it had a better shifter, the dashboard had a rounded cowl, but it wasn’t as invitingly soft as the old one, the seats were more modern, but they weren’t as plush of comfy. Still, that car lasted me 225k, I traded it with “manual” flip up headlights and an unexpected Spy Hunter Smoke Screen Anti-Tailgating Fogger for a brand new 1999 Ford Escort, the car I still drive.

    The Daytona is one of the reasons I don’t want to count Chrysler out just yet, part of it is my nostalgia for hot late summer nights with the windows rolled down and Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face” blasting through 8 joystick-controlled Infinity speakers, or speeding along Rt 195 at a mind-altering (for the time) 95 miles an hour and feeling like the car was bolted to the roadway, or climbing out of it wrecked, fully shaken and terrified but otherwise unhurt. Part of me wants them to offer another sporty car that defies convention and offers the same sort of fun and reliability that I had in my Daytona.

  • avatar
    Turbo G

    I bought one of these for a winter beater one year in Michigan back in high school.  It still ranks as #1 on my list of least reliable cars I have ever owned, leaving me stranded so many times I lost count.

  • avatar

    Granted they weren’t the most reliable, or flashiest cars around, but I have always had a soft spot for the humble K.
    I have a rather large collection of diecast cars, Matchbox sized, and in that set I have five K-based cars that are among my favorites, one of which is a beautiful Daytona Turbo Z that my late aunt gave me in 1986. And coming soon, courtesy of the Bay of E, I will be adding to my collection a 1981 Plymouth Horizon sedan, I can hardly wait!
    BTW, the Daytona of today’s CC appears to be a 1986 model, as I see it has the CHMSL under the spoiler, which is where Chrysler mounted it for that year. :)

  • avatar

    Once the K cars had morphed from Aries to Spirit, et al, they were inexpensive yet sturdy commuter cars, just fine for the daily “rush” hour grind. Comfortable, too.  A boxy car is practical; a bullet-shaped vehicle is a style statement.

  • avatar

    It’s all about the Dodge Rampage! I know it’s a little older but every time I see an old Daytona I think about the Rampage.

  • avatar

    I know these could be modified to be pretty quick but the only person I know spent every couple of months dealing with leaking head gaskets (if he was lucky) or a warped/cracked head.   Finally, he just couldn’t take it anymore and pawned it off at a huge loss.  Good riddance.  I hated the 80s.

  • avatar

    “A special-edition four-cylinder Fury, for all of us who had genuine V8 ones to laugh at?”

    Don’t laugh…they made two prototype Cudas based on the TC3.  Fortunately that didn’t go into production.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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