By on August 19, 2010

Suddenly it’s 1960 (again)! Well no, not that 1960. How about this one, the (more) real 1960? Yes, history repeats itself, and every so often, Detroit was forced out of its  delusional slumber and denial to face the music that always seemed to grate on its ears: small cars. In response to a growing avalanche of European imports led by the VW in the fifties, in 1960 the Big Three launched their first-ever compacts: Ford Falcon, Chevrolet Corvair and Chrysler’s Valiant. By the mid/late seventies, those were all gone, but the Japanese were all here. So Detroit geared up for the second big import showdown of 1980-1981. Once again, Chrysler’s weapon was clearly aimed at the traditional American-car buyer: more technically advanced this time (FWD!), but conservatively styled, still smarting from the painful lesson of their bizarrely-styled 1960 Valiant.

The K-cars set out to recreate the 1960 Falcon’s success, all-too eager to recapture its spirit: small, boxy, roomy, pragmatic and all-American, right down to the front bench seat. Well, maybe a bit too 1960 America; just like the Falcon, the K-car appealed to traditional American-car buyers, but had no apparent impact on the the explosive growth of the Japanese imports, just like the Falcon failed to dent the Volkswagen’s success. So ironically, although the K-car saved Chrysler in the eighties, it did little or nothing to stem the tsunami that ultimately overtook the Pentastar a second time. History repeats itself…

The story of the little Chryslers is a large one, especially given all the endless variants that Lee Iaccoca’s Imaginarium spawned: everything from stretch limos, Italianesque two-seat “sports cars”,the most successful mini van ever, and a multitude of other niches in between. Yes, we’ve already covered the mini-van, the convertibles, the K-New Yorker, and the Daytona coupe. But I couldn’t resist this fairly pristine one-little-old lady owner ’83 Aries with 97k miles. I’ve shot plenty of the ’85 and later face-lifted K’s, but this is the only first-series I’ve caught so far; they’re getting mighty rare. And since it’s for sale, I thought I would give you true-blood K-car lovers the chance to grab it before it’s gone: $1600 or best offer. Hurry! And while you’re manning the phones and negotiating (the sign says it “needs nothing”, but where’s the A/C compressor belt?), I’ll take a stab at the history of this seminal K-car.

The basic boxy outline of the story is well etched into the memories of us that lived through the K-era. In the years leading up to it, the Valiant and Dart kept growing, and were eventually replaced by the now mid-sized Volare/Aspen twins. Arriving in 1976, those were already one or two sizes too big given the spiraling rise of oil prices and the downsizing already underway at GM. In fact the Volare and Aspen eventually morphed into Chrysler’s “big” cars, the last RWD sedans until the modern 300.

That doesn’t mean that “big” cars were actually all that roomy inside. In a graphic testament to just how space-inefficient traditional American cars of the time were, the drastically smaller K-Cars (176″ length) equaled most of the key interior dimensions of the 1972 mid-size Satellite and the Volare-based 1986 Grand Fury (both about 204″ long). Seating for six and bench seats were a major criterion for the clean-sheet K-car design, and who can blame them, if you’re a polygamist and you want to take your wives and your buddy and his two wives out for dinner like this happy set of trios above? Who else would find themselves in this scenario above?

Yes, the K-car was one of those rare times when American designers and engineers were given the chance to start from scratch, although Chrysler’s experience with the (mostly) European designed Horizon/Omni came in mighty handy. The suspension design was quite similar, and quickly becoming ubiquitous: front struts and rear twist-beam axle. Chrysler already had FWD transaxles, including the automatic TorqueFlite from the Omnirizon. That still left the body, a new four cylinder engine, and to make it all work together harmoniously.

The result must be considered a qualified success. Let’s leave the qualifications for later and focus on the good: given the times and Detroit’s state-of-the art, the K-Car structure was not only space efficient, but fairly stiff, sturdy and sound, especially given its light weight (2300-2400 lbs). This contributed to a decent ride quality, and adequate, if totally uninspiring handling.

And the new 2.2 liter OHC four, which does look a bit like a slightly scaled up VW 827 engine (as used in the Chrysler Omni/Horizon), turned out to be a rugged basis for future development, even if the early units had a bit of an appetite for head gaskets. And, of course, it suffered from the horrible state of smog-controls of the time: electronic-feedback carburetors that were balky, expensive to replace, messed with the ignition timing, and gave mediocre power: all of 84 hp was the result, in the first two years of production. The optional Mitsubishi 2.6 four had a hint more torque, and was a bit smoother with its pioneering balance shafts, but had its own set of issues. This Aries sports the 2.2 and a column shifted three-speed automatic.

I had the distinct displeasure of being an Aries (or was it a Reliant?) driver for a couple of months in 1985. It was my temporary company car (extended-term rental) right after a stint with the all-new Nissan Sentra, and just before I screwed up my courage sufficiently to sign (for the start-up company) a five-year lease for a brand new MB W124 300E. Sandwiched between the remarkably brisk and tossable Sentra and the superb 300E, the Aries was bound to disappoint. It did.

My commute then was a dream, for LA standards. Straight through Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive, and up, over and down scenic and winding Coldwater Canyon into the Valley. Or Laurel Canyon, for a change of scenery and even tighter twisties. Running against the usual traffic flow, the canyons were a wonderful way to start the morning, but not in a Reliant. The Sentra was eager, willing and brisk, if a bit primitive. The Aries, with its bigger motor, had the typical tip-in and torque to “feel” powerful from a start, but was strangled as the revs (didn’t) build. Early versions of the K car tested at 13-16 seconds for the amble to sixty. The Sentra could do it in ten. And driving a K-car down Rodeo Drive every day didn’t exactly do much for my self esteem. Bring on the Mercedes!

The steering was (still) too light, and the car just wasn’t set up to deliver any fun. Yes, it did beat the wooden and lame bigger Chryslers of the time, but don’t even ask what it felt like compared to an Accord. And therein was the crux of the problem: The K-Car was a big step forward for Chrysler and Detroit, and a reasonably capable car. But by the time it arrived, Honda was readying the second generation of the killer Accord. Comparing the two is an exercise in futility. The Honda simply felt (and was) profoundly better in every possible metric. It took a long time for Detroit to finally narrow that gap.

Lee Iaccoca is usually referred to as the father of the K-car, but he arrived at Chrysler when the K-car program was already well on its way. But he successfully made it his own, using it as the primary (sole?) hook of his dog and pony show to convince Congress that Chrysler had the new FWD technology to be a safe bet for their $1.5 billion in loan guarantees (doesn’t that amount seem quaintly small now?) And the K-car was not originally developed with any thought to the endless permutations it spawned. But the K-car platform was quickly stretched, spindled and mutilated, a testament to the simplicity and adaptability of such a straight-forward design, as well as the talents of the Chrysler engineers.  The various offshoots lasted at least until 1995, even though the Aries and Reliant were gone by 1989, replaced by the Spirit/Acclaim, or Sundance/Shadow, depending on your point of view.

The Aries/Reliant sold well, exceeding 300k units the first year. The upscale LeBaron expanded the total first-gen K-car sales to over 350k per year, and maintained close to that through 1988, when their replacements appeared. The K-cars did exactly what Lido sold Congress on: they were profitable from the start, and generated enough profits with which Chrysler repaid all its government-backed loans by 1983. And that was just the start: the cash really started rolling in with the mini-vans and other off-shoots, allowing Chrysler to buy Jeep, and invest in a whole new line of cars in the 1990’s. The K-car truly created the New Chrysler.

And given the missteps that GM made with their hyper-recalled X-Bodies of the same vintage, the K-car’s launch was relatively trouble free; hardly a given in those times. In Chrysler’s case, that was literally essential; if the K-Cars had arrived with serious problems, Chrysler’s resurrection might have turned out quite different. Yes, the early versions had their issues, and build quality, performance and refinement steadily improved, especially with the ’85 refresh. A Toyota or Honda it wasn’t, but after the botched launch of the Aspen/Volare twins, and GM’s X-Body woes, the K-car escaped the wrath: Kraptastic; yes. But in a slightly endearing way.

I’ve compared the Aries/Reliant to the original Falcon, but what fills its shoes today? The first car that pops in my mind: the Nissan Versa. A quick scan of the specs confirms my intuition: They’re exactly the same length (176″), and within an inch in width and two inches in wheelbase. The Versa sedan is a bit taller, which gives it the edge in headroom and rear legroom. They both sold on the same premise: maximum American-scale interior space for the buck, even if the Versa doesn’t offer a front bench. And just how do they stack up in that value proposition? The Aries started at $6k for a stripper; that’s over $14k in today’s bucks. The base Versa starts at $9,950. Sometimes history doesn’t repeat itself.

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99 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1983 Dodge Aries (Original K-Car)...”

  • avatar

    This ’83 doesn’t look too bad for a 28 MY-old car.

    I was *this* close to buying my dad one of these as a runabout. Mind you, it was a 1990 Chrysler Dynasty (Canada-only) with about 136 (000 km) on the clock and an immaculate paint job. 3.0L Mitsu engine and 3 Speed Torqueflite. Wild.

    They were roomy inside, but to fit 6 adults would be a laugh. Maybe if you absolutely had to.

    • 0 avatar

      My brother had a 1991 Dodge Dynasty about 6 years ago. I learned how to drive in that bugger. It was fun enough, but by the time I had gotten my hands on it it had been badly abused. I see tons of Dynastys (question for Educator Dan – would you still pluralize a proper noun the same way as a regular noun as in the names of cars?) in my area. I don’t know if there would have been a difference between the Chrysler Dynasty and the Dodge Dynasty.

      The Dynasty was my mom’s primary car for a while after my brother got sick of it and it did pretty well until the day she was going to trade it. She was apparently driving down the road and bits were falling out from under it.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Ummmmm…. I’m a history teacher who now evaluates classroom implementation of various district systems. There’s a reason I don’t teach Language Arts. I pluralize it, non possessive when talking about more than one. EX: Parking lot filled with Chevy Malibus. I guess the correct way would be; “There were many Chevy Malibu in the parking lot.” but that’s just clumsy.

    • 0 avatar

      I hear ya. In the end I guess we can do whatever the smell we want to with car names. There’s slim-to-no equity in any car names anymore anyway. If you count A4, A6, A8, R8, MK(insert letter here) names in the first place. The rest of the cars have names that have virtually no connection to the history of cars either (I’m in no way an automotive historian, but most of the “names” on cars now were not there 15 years ago).

    • 0 avatar

      Wow I knew alot of people who owned these and their variants, while not exciting cars, they were reliable and easy to repair, I recall doing work on my grandma’s ’87 LeBaron and g/f’s ’88 Aries K with little more than a wrench and screwdriver. Anyone recall these lyrics?
      If I had a million dollars
      (If I had a million dollars)
      I’d buy you a house
      (I would buy you a house)
      If I had a million dollars
      (If I had a million dollars)
      I’d buy you furniture for your house
      (Maybe a nice chesterfield or an ottoman)
      And if I had a million dollars
      (If I had a million dollars)
      Well, I’d buy you a K-Car
      (A nice Reliant automobile)
      If I had a million dollars I’d buy your love.

  • avatar

    Kraptastic. I couldn’t have thought of a better word to describe the original K car.
    When you own and drive one, you are acutely aware of how crap the car is by most standards. It’s cheap, tinny, plasticy and a whole host of other derogatory words. It handled like a barge, and during my ownership, piece by piece the interior started to fall apart.
    Yet when I finally sent mine to that great big scrapyard in the sky (a combination of accident damage and various and numerous required repairs), I missed the car almost immediately. It had never failed to start; the 2.2 engine never missed a beat, the bench seat and column shift were endearing, I drove it thousands of kilometers and it was my introduction to motoring in North America.
    Crap? Yes. Fantastic? Equally.

  • avatar

    My mom’s 3 year old 83 Dodge Aries K was my first car! And god I hated it. Un-sexy, un-reliable, un-fun.

  • avatar

    Great summary on a great car. An 83 Aries was the only car my father-in-law ever bought new. Somehow he thinks the head gasket replacement he needed was worse than the new tranny his 2000 Buick needed at 30k miles.

    I owned an Aries derivative, an 85 LeBaron GTS (5 spd stick – rare), which thankfully had throttle body injection. It was very durable and I owned it 12 years, between 56k and 206k miles. Many of the interior trim pieces fell off; I had an ashtray filled with them. It was one of the more stylish Mopars of the time. I think having the manual transmission saved me lots of headaches. The engine pic above brings back lots of memories servicing that car.

    The Aries family and derivatives were also fairly cheap to fix, not something you could say about an Accord back then.

  • avatar

    What’s old is new again. That center stack would look at-home in roughly half of anything built today– with it’s stupid painted silver trims.

    Does no one that works in interior styling have fingernails? I think most people do…

    We had the LeBaron K and the Aries back in my formative years. These, coupled with a pair of identical Ram Prospectors formed a tight bond between my family and the Chrysler Corporation. Reliability is relative, just as normalcy is relative. We replaced CV joints and engine-mounts on the Aries about every other oil change. My Brother was 16, and these early FWD vehicles just couldn’t hang. Anecdotally, I had a Taurus as my first car, and it required all the same pampering.

    Taurus spanked this car in styling, but I believe the pricing on the Ks was quite favorable to the Fords. His car was $800 in 1992– mine was $2,800 in 1995. Big price difference for some modern trim and all the same headaches of the cheaper car.

  • avatar

    We had these as news cars at the ABC affiliate in Las Vegas when I was there from ’84-’86. Six of them. Bad enough around town, but when I got sent to cover the Legislature in Carson City…410 miles away…the station was too cheap to spring for airfare and a rental car, so I had to drive one of them for three weeks straight…about 1500 miles all told.

    The Ryder rental truck that I used to move my belongings from Reno to Vegas was more fun.

  • avatar

    There has always been a market for no-frills, no-nonsense A to B motoring and the K-car is a great example. Such cars are often and unjustly dismissed by car enthusiasts as “boring” but they are engineering achievements in their own right – just with the purpose of economy rather than luxury or sport performance.

    It’s also a reminder of how competition from Japanese and Korean cars has made cheap and cheerful motoring a fiercely competitive market segment. Consumers rejoice.

    • 0 avatar

      Well-said. We can’t all drive high-performance luxury cars, SUVs, or trucks, nor do we all want to. That’s the stuff of automags.

      It was a little shocking to see the word “profit” associated with Chrysler and the K-cars, but there it is. Such a product, done well, can be a boon for an automaker. The Versa mentioned in the article is a good example.

  • avatar

    The body integrity and build quality were quite good for early 80s Detroit, and nothing short of stellar for Chrysler, following its horrid record of the 70s. Not mentioned is that they were highly rust resistant in salt country – there was lots of galvanized metal in the lower bodies. Also the front drive Torqueflite transaxle was as good as any front drive auto in recent history.

    You are correct that the K was probably the reason Chrysler finally got the loan guarantees. By 1980-81, it was imperative to have small, efficent cars in the pipeline, and Chrysler had one of the best of the era.

    The only weakness in these from a market point of view was that GM’s X cars offered a V6 that offered better performance. However, I wonder if offered the choice between an X and a K today, would ANYBODY (but V71silvy) choose the X? And poor Ford had nothing to sell but the good but very outdated Fox platform (though in retrospect, it may have been the best of the 3).

    I never had a K, but I knew some people who did. The Ks did not excite, but they were good, competent and fairly durable.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember seeing the early publicity shots for these – Chrysler released them during the Congressional debate over whether it should get the loan guarantees. I thought that they looked like a starchier X-body Olds Omega, with a few LTD touches thrown in for good measure. Which was quite logical, given Lee Iacocca’s former employer and Chrysler’s long penchant for aping GM styling.

      As you note, these weren’t too bad, given the times and the dire straits of the parent company. They were much less problematic than GM’s X-cars. The bloom was already off of that rose by late 1980, when the K-cars debuted.

      Chrysler made good use of the K-car platform, although in my mind the company jumped shark with the K-based 1983 Chrysler New Yorker. That was carrying the front-wheel-drive theme TOO far.

      In the end, Chrysler stuck with the K-car platform for far too long. By 1988, it was time for something new, but Iacocca was curiously reluctant to bring out all-new vehicles that the firm really needed. And Chrysler did absolutely nothing during the 1980s to better distinguish Plymouth, Chrysler and Dodge from each other.

      You’re also right about the Fox-based Fairmount being the best of the bunch. But in the early 1980s, front-wheel-drive was the way of the future – reinforced by not only the X-cars and K-cars, but also by the VW Rabbit and Honda Civic and Accord. Rear-wheel-drive reeked of Detroit’s old, discredited way of doing business. So Ford followed the lead and began trimming the Fox-based offerings to the Mustang/Capri and Thunderbird/Cougar/Mark VII. Too bad we didn’t get an improved second-generation Fox SEDAN platform.

    • 0 avatar

      @geeber: “…Iacocca was curiously reluctant to bring out all-new vehicles that the firm really needed.” It could be said that Lido was embracing his inner Henry Ford I (ca. 1926).

    • 0 avatar

      Geeber, about the lack of differentiation between the brands: I recall reading at the time that this was intentional. Chrysler’s market penetration was really low about 1980-81. The decision was made to put the big pentastar in the middle of every trunk lid of every car Chrysler made. The brand name would be in block letters on one side and the model in block letters on the other. This way, the public would see all those pentastars and know that Chrysler was selling some cars. Although we all know (and knew then) that Plymouths and Dodges were part of Chrysler, the company wanted maximum impact.

  • avatar

    My family never owned a K-car, but my mother did buy a new ’86 Omni with the 2.2 and 3 speed auto. I could write a book on the problems we had with it (the first problem was within 24 hours after she picked it up new at the dealership when it refused to start – dead battery), but in a nutshell, she gave up after 2 years of continuous electrical problems and dealer indifference. 2 years. Anyway, she went with an ’88 Toyota after that. My mother wrote an angry letter to Lee Iacocca. Never got a reply – hmmm.

  • avatar

    Great editorial Paul. I could look at that 2.2 all day. And nice shot of the XJ in the background of that last picture.

  • avatar

    I had a new K car in 1988 as a company vehicle. I found it depressing and cheap. Idled like a 3 cylinder; the a/c would stall the car at traffic lights. My main memory is ripping the sleeve of my dress shirt on the door trim while getting out of the car – twice. Quality? Starts with Q and that’s waaaaay farther down the alphabet than K.

    Part way through the year, I dumped it for a Chevy Citation. I always thought of the Citation as “the people’s car” with its practical design, bench seat and 85 MPH speedo. It seemed exactly what I’d image that a Central Committee would design for the workers. Not that bad, reliable, ugly – oh and beige. GM knew what was good for you. It depressed me, and particularly when I remembered my red 69 Camaro.

    However I viewed the K-car as capitalism at its worst. Grab any parts lying around, slap ’em together as fast as you can, slap it simplist to make square body on it and sell it cheap. That car was an umbrella with wheels and not much more. While the GM depressed me, I HATED the K car. There was a 68 225 slant/six Plymouth Valiant in my past. Twenty year older design and not nearly as cheap or crude as that @^%!#^ K car.

    ‘Nuff said.

    • 0 avatar

      “Grab any parts lying around, slap ‘em together as fast as you can, slap it simplist to make square body on it and sell it cheap. That car was an umbrella with wheels and not much more.”

      True, compared to some of the imports at the time. But the K turned a profit for a desperate Chrysler, and that mattered more than producing a refined vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      “However I viewed the K-car as capitalism at its worst. Grab any parts lying around, slap ‘em together as fast as you can, slap it simplist to make square body on it and sell it cheap.”

      Can you could provide an example of socialist/communist automaking at its best?

  • avatar

    My father was so impressed with Iacocca’s pitch to Congress that he signed up for a Dodge franchise. He rode the K wave and the original minivan boom and (wisely, IMO) sold that store in ’87. I was an undergrad at the time and worked in parts and service and although it was a long time ago, I have no recollection of head gasket issues with the 2.2 (that was the Mitsu 2.6’s curse). What I do recall was replacing a lot of camshafts in the 2.2 for premature lobe wear …frequently before the 80k km (50k mile) warranty had expired.

  • avatar

    There was also a station wagon version of the K-car. Something the Sundance/Spirit/Acclaim/LeBaron never had. And convertibles. With continental kits.

    This car looks like the front fender has been replaced, since its paint doesn’t match. Probably due to an accident rather than rust. And probably a minor accident since the bumper seems to match the rest of he car. I hate mismatched paint.

    • 0 avatar

      “I hate mismatched paint.”

      Heck, you can see that on brand-new Cobalts today. Just look at a yellow one – their rear bumper facia doesn’t match the quarter panel color at certain angles. I pointed this out to the Chevy rep at the local auto show when the Cobalt was introduced, and they had no answer. Unfortunately, the production ones look the same.

      You can see it here:

      So I’d say the old Aries is doing pretty well!

  • avatar
    Cerbera LM

    My K-car story.
    Grandpa had a K-car (with a 2.2) and one cold Christmas eve (many moons ago) I had the privilege of driving it 60+ miles. Grandpa was smart enough to say he didn’t want to drive at night and rode with dad. Me, mom and 5 kids piled in. Turn onto a flat Minnesota highway 60. A mile later mom asks, “Can you go any faster?” “No, I’ve had it floored since the corner and we’ve doin’ 45.” The bad news is I’d rolled the stop sign at ~10 mph.

  • avatar

    Does anyone remember the Yankee Doodle Drive Train? I swear I remember seeing an advert somewhere for these things with an engine painted up red, white and blue. Blue valve covers with white stars on them. I think Lido was in the ad too.

    Meh. Maybe it’s a flashback.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re not hallucinating, they did exist. In print anyway, I don’t think I ever actually saw one in the flesh. Might have only been the first year, since the 83 doesn’t seem to have it.

      I hated these back in the day, but I kind of appreciate the clean, simple, albeit boxy lines now.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    ENOUGH WITH THE K-CARS PAUL! Other than the fact that Chrysler tried to base a whole dang company around them. I’ve never seen any reason they should be more iconic than the FWD A-bodies that GM put out starting in 1982.

    I really would love it if you could find one of the last late 1980s Chrysler RWD Fifth Avenues and due a CC on the last RWD Chrysler sedans until the LX cars.

  • avatar

    It looks very nice for being a 80’s car. The interior looks nice too. It even has a soft-touch dash. I dig it. We didn’t got those here because Chrysler left the country in me thinks, 1978.

    I guess someone can buy it and swap a 2.2 Turbo II or Neon SRT4 drivetrain and have a very nice sleeper.

  • avatar

    I have many good memories of my mom’s second new car. Shortly before my parents divorced, My mom picked up a brand new 1992 Sundance. It was bone stock, cost less that 10 grand, new, and was spartan as spartan can get. It was nowhere near as nice as her old 87 Escort GL that she pawned off to my father, but it was the iconic family car of my youth. It was there for my whole High School experience, Took me too and from college, and finally, it was my first car. Needless to say, twenty thousand miles later, death by misfortune in a rear end collision. Rip old Sundance, 0 – 110000 miles.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Ah, the K-car. I basically grew up in the wagon version of this. Same color, even. This one has much nicer-looking seats, though it seems to lack the “Chronometer”?

    While it was never aspirational, the K did provide a basic level of utilitarian competence and generally avoided the fall-apart-in-the-driveway craptacularity of early-80s GM and Ford products.

  • avatar

    I have owned many cars, and most of them have been Honda, as is my current ride. How ironic it could be, then, that my most reliable car, and one of the best I ever owned, was the K car’s replacement.

    Even though I was a 27 year old male, my job and financial position put me in a 1993 Dodge Spirit, purchased in 1995 with 60,000 miles on the clock. Mine was a typical “rental/company car” with the 2.5 version of the “Trans 4” mated to a bulletproof 3 speed auto.

    At 80,000 miles, either the cat clogged and caused the EGR to fail, or the EGR failed and clogged the cat. Either way, both went out. That’s important to note because it was the only corrective maintenance I ever had to do on the car. Sure, it got brakes, tires, a water pump, timing belt, plugs, and a half shaft; all wear items that I don’t consider corrective maintenance. Outside of that, from 60,000 to 196,000 miles, it never let me down. Furthermore, it got around 30MPG on the road at 70MPH, was comfortable, simple, and really didn’t draw negative or positive attention to itself.

    A few years after I got married I had to get rid of one of our cars, either the 93 Spirit with 196K, or a 97 Ford Taurus with less than 100K. No brainer, right?

    Not so fast. A year after that, the Taurus, at 110K miles, started self destructing. It went to the auction less than a year later, blown head gaskets, transmission issues, and two cats completely shot.

    Getting rid of the old Spirit was one of the worst mistakes I ever made.

    • 0 avatar

      The Spirit was the perfect 3 box car, it was still a modified K platform underneath though. Plenty of room inside and a big opening for the trunk. Modern cars go for the swoopy rear end look that cuts into rear head room and leaves a short rear deck with a tiny trunk lid.

      It’s one of those cars that never really dies, just starts getting really tired and cranky as it ages. They are built like tanks, everything about them felt heavy and solid and NOTHING rattled, ever… Even after almost 400,000 km’s ours was dead quiet inside.

      What happened at Chrysler in the late 90’s? They had a good thing going.

    • 0 avatar

      The A bodies (Dodge Spirit, Plymouth Acclaim, and Chrysler LeBaron 4 door) were the pen-ultimate K car. Much more refined and reliable than the original K and available in everything from the base sedan with the 2.5, to the less reliable Mitsu 3 liter v6, to the fire breathing Spirit R/T with 224 hp 16v turbo intercooled fun.

      My first drive in a K-car was borrowing my best friends’ mother’s car. The weather had turned bad and it started to rain. Then it started to sleet. After the road was quite coated with the slippery stuff I found myself suddenly facing a steep hill. My previous ride being a 1975 Ford Maverick 2 door (one of several Ford mistakes I have made) I gunned the engine thinking I would need momentum to get up the hill as traction would be questionable. The little car with it’s front wheel drive just clawed up the hill like nobody’s business. That sold me on fwd in adverse weather.

      I remember a Mopar specific magazine rented a Plymouth Acclaim, checked off all the insurance boxes on the rental application, and then proceeded to flog the poor car mercilessly – OFF ROAD. They drove to some Godforsaken spot over dirt, gravel, rocks, deep water and mud. They said the underbody was full of gravel and dents – and it never got stuck or stranded. They finally ended up somewhere and met up with a guy who had big 4wd rig who couldn’t believe they got the little Plymouth all the way out there.

      “What happened at Chrysler in the late 90’s? They had a good thing going.”

      In a word, Daimler.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 Windswords ““What happened at Chrysler in the late 90’s? They had a good thing going.”

      In a word, Daimler.”

      My first car was an ’85 Horizon with a manual and the 2.2L that ventured offroad occasionally. It also separated from the ground now and again. That was a solid ass car.

  • avatar

    This old K car looks spectacular! I can’t believe someone took such good care of it for so many years.

    My first car was a Plymouth Sundance with the 2.2L/3A combo. Despite its issues (hall effect sensor, anyone?) it was a tough little car that took my teenage beatings well, up to and including airbag deployment. Sold it to a friend and it’s still on the road all these years later with over 200k on the clock.

    That under-hood shot brings back many memories. Thanks for finding this one Paul!

  • avatar

    I had a ’86 LeBaron for seven months or so. The ride was decent, handling appalling but it was quite charming its own, cheap beater sort of way. Made a decent city for the $160 I paid for it. Interested $20 in a paint job too.

  • avatar

    $1600? If I lived within a day’s drive (16 hours max, or 1,000 miles) I’d buy it today.

    Kraptastic? Yes. Kraptastic compared to some of it’s competition? Not really. Cheap to run? Absolutely, and cheap to repair.

    There’s still many of these and their variants running in Winnipeg. Impervious to rust, and built like a tractor (or wait, sounds like a tractor!). It seemed as though quality and fit and finish were very dependent on which plant they were assembled in; we had two as company cars, and the wagon (I remember they were built in different plants, but I can’t remember which was which) was just an all around better car than the sedan. The wagon eventually became our delivery car driven by young men in all sorts of manners, and yet it ended up with over 300,000 km’s on the odo by the time it was t-boned by a drunk truckdriver.

    They were an honest car, meant to be a form of reliable, unadorned transportation for middle class America, and they more than lived up to their mission statement.

  • avatar

    Never had a K car but my middle sister for a short while had an ’87 US Gov’t spec 4 door (in the light Army green color) in the early 90’s as a replacement for a run down, not terribly reliable 78 Olds her first hubby got her as at the time, she was divorced and needed something reliable to get around. I did get to drive a 1988 Dodge Caravan with a smoking V6 (the Mitsubishi unit I think) that my oldest sister and her second husband had, it was a decent driving machine for a mini van and I’d wager that by then, Chrysler had improved handling to a great degree, making them more pleasurable than when first brought to market but I’d also wager still had a ways to go with the likes of VW or Honda at the time.

    Back when they first came out, I recall entering a contest in the hopes of winning one, and if I did, get the wagon and I think the manual if I had a choice as I rather liked their homespun looks and the versatility of the wagon, but that WAS in 1981-82 and I WAS in HS at the time. Now, I have much higher asperiations than that, the Ford Fiesta etc being more my bag these days.

    Anyway, as to your comparison to it not handling anything like the then new 2nd gen Accords, having test driven them when I was looking to buy a small car in 1992, found them fantastic but ended up with the ’83 Civic, 1500DX w/ 5spd, 3 door hatch, the best car I have owned and the 92 Ranger truck I own now and the ’88 Accord LX-I I got after the Civic came close – all three with 5spd manuals, drove both Hondas to around 180-183K each respectively, the truck currently at 228,600 or so on the clock – and that’s with the Mazda sourced manual (2WD only) and the 4.0L V6, I think also a Mazda design.

    That Civic might not have had the panache of the Accord, but it WAS a fun car to drive and drive it I did. It’s sad that it took us until very recent years to build cars with that kind of fun quotient in more modest price points but still too far in between what can be found over there.

  • avatar

    It is, What it is? That’s why it it sold enough to bail Chrysler out the 1st time, It’s a inexpensive 5 seater (6 if 1 is like 10 yrs old).It gets good gas mileage, The 2.2L is a simple solid motor. Build quality for that era was better than average, When compared to its Ford, GM, and even Japanese counterparts. (The Germans were king of quality in the 80’s). It’s a compact car with a big car ride and feel. Maintenance is inexpensive. How many 1983 American, or Japanese compacts do you see on the road? I owned a early 80’s Toyota that was cramped,loud, and had a top speed of about 70mph (1600cc motor screaming like a banshee!). No, Your not going to win any races in it and it doesn’t handle like a Porsche on canyon roads. It gets you from point A to B in relative comfort with good gas mileage. That’s what it was designed to do. (Yes, I probably am partial considering the car pictured above Is mine,but Grandma bought the car new, Loved and Maintained it for 27 years and it shows)

  • avatar

    That example must have been someone’s Grandmother’s car to have been so nice. Edit: To Chuck F above: I certaintly called it even before I saw your post. It was the bone stock AM/FM radio which clocked if for me. Anyone else either had a better stereo tape deck or would have replaced the stock unit by now. Good luck selling it. Someone needs to buy it for the car show circuit.

    I remember that a girl in college (1987-1988) had a 2dr K-Car with a stick shift in it though I never personally rode in the car…

    • 0 avatar

      “… I never personally rode in the car…”

      Guess this means you never got a, um, kiss from her either… ;O)

    • 0 avatar

      hehehehehe! The car in the pic was my Grandmas. I was a senior in High school
      when we picked it up at Lithia

      Dodge. Grandpa died about a year earlier and left her a rusted out POS 1978 Olds
      Cutlass Supreme with a 2.8L V-6 that ran terrible and nothing worked on it. She
      had me drive her to the bank,went through the drive-thru, made a sharp left, and
      looked over and she was gone. The door was wide open, and she fell out,she
      didn’t get hurt, luckily! The next day we were at the dealership, getting her
      1st new car(she was 58).She loved that car,She kept it maintained like it was a
      Rolls Royce. She did typical grandma things,no seat covers but fresh towels on
      the seats, get yelled at if there were finger prints on the windows, no eating
      or drinking in the car, and no grabbing the front seat from the back.We had good
      times though, Seahawk games,Seattle,Vegas,all through the mountains and coast.
      The car never seemed to age and neither did she,until the last year of her life.
      she fell and broke her hip and went downhill from there. She was 85. I moved
      next door to her about 10 years ago.the house came open, and I got it at steal.
      so I was Grandmas go to guy for everything. She left me her house,belongs, and
      of course, The Dodge Aries K. I have a old and sentimental 1988 Jeep Cherokee
      that’s my daily driver and my wife has a Volvo wagon that she loves. So, I
      figured that I would sell the Dodge to someone who would appreciate it, Like a
      single Mom on a budget, or a students 1st car. So. I just put best offer on the
      sign. and that’s the story of the Dodge Aries K. (The guy who took the pic for
      TTAC was just driving by and ask if he could take pics for his article, He was
      amazed at the condition)

  • avatar

    I miss mine VERY much. If I could find a nice clean 1st generation around the Detroit are, at a reasonable price, I would buy it in an instant.
    Very reliable (no jokes please) and fuel efficient car. I’ve had others since my first and have been happy with everyone I’ve owned. The last one I had was a 2nd gen that I gave away (running and driving) back in 1999 with 200k plus miles on it.

  • avatar

    “bizarrely styled 1960 Valiant”? Always thought those were kind of cute, and look at that roomy greenhouse! Would you rather drive a Toyota Matrix with its tank-slit windows?

    Okay, the “Continental kit” trunk lid is pretty lame. But the Slant-6 (which was new in this car, wasn’t it?) to keep the hood down was cutting-edge technology in those days, and legendary for its reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      It’s a matter of taste. The 1960-1962 Valiant was technically superior to the Falcon, but sold poorly, until it was completely restyled in 1963. The buyers spoke their taste with their wallets.

  • avatar

    I nearly ripped the oil drain plug fully out of a Reliant with the (IIRC) then new Mitsubishi-sourced 2.7 (or was it 2.6) on the Chrysler Test Track … 1 quart of oil to get back to Ann Arbor, another quart to get back to Farmington Hills, 3 or 4 quarts so my dad could drive it back down to Dearborn the next morning … this car was a pool evaluation loaner that my dad had wrangled over the weekend so that I could get into and drive at the CPG (his Ford company car would not have been allowed entry…)

    I spent the next couple of days trying to find an oil pan for a brand-new, just barely on the market, car with a Japanese-sourced engine … Totally fruitless endeavour, I tell you (these things were so scarce at the time, that not even my sister’s then boyfriend a Chrysler Engineer could find one in Highland Park.)

    So Monday morning, dad shows up at the Fleet Manager’s Office with a sheepish look … and explains what happened “hit a bad pothole said the man that never lied…” just to save my skin … (dad was an upper-management type, and he had known the Fleet-guy for years, so it was “Don’t worry about it, those things happen. No problem Herb.”)

    Later that afternoon my dad got a call from the fleet guy … “where are the hubcaps” he asked. Puzzled, my dad caled me at home … “In the trunk,” said I (afterall, “I didn’t want to loose them at the PG.”) Returning to the fleet-guy with that, the pothole theory was exposed, and dad’s cover was blown, but nothing was said, except “Bob?”, “Yes, Bob.”, “Ok, then.” (Friendship and rank really does seem to have its privledges.)

    Edit: The K-car saved Chrysler, and Dad saved me… This event happened nearly 30 years ago … and dad’s been gone now nearly 10 years … and in writing this, I realize now, what dad did by covering for me … after all, he was what today might be called Chief Compliance Officer, and had a reputation to protect … but he spun a tale to take the blame … if he was here now, just for 5 min even, I would thank him again for this (from an adult perspective, not one of a 20 year old) and a few other things … somehow, good parents are like the K-Car was, simple, trustworthy, unpretentious, and would always bring you home… and sometimes, it takes 30 years of perspective to realize how great they really were…

  • avatar

    btw, the car in the photos seems to have had the front fender repainted (or, conversely, everything from the A-pillar back repainted.)

    • 0 avatar

      The front fender is the same as the rest of the car, I went and checked, It’s a photographic illusion. It looks the same from all angles and the molding is exactly the same dark brown vinyl,and the pin striping is exactly the same. Nothing has been done to the fender

  • avatar

    In the eighties I worked for an auto group that had a Chrysler store and drove dozens, if not hundreds of these in all configurations and states of repair. We even kept a fleet of them as loaners for the Jaguar customers.

    They were excellent appliances, dependable and cheap to repair. A far better car than the X’s or Tempo’s. They also had a strong repeat buyer following and brought decent money used…..I always thought the best ownership plan was to trade them when the original tires worn out.

    I bet this Classic gets a huge number of replies and most of them will be positive!

  • avatar

    I remember seeing one of these on I-96 in Livonia not long after they were introduced. Somebody was taking his family of six (or else five of his closest friends) out to dinner, and was trying valiantly to get close to traffic speed of about 65 before merging. Unfortunately, he was only doing about 45 at the bottom of the ramp. Then, in true Detroit fashion, he immediately moved over two more lanes, still doing only about 50. It’s only because of the alertness of a lot of rush-hour drivers he didn’t single-handedly cause a 20-car wreck.

  • avatar

    While the K-cars were never exactly charismatic vehicles, they were
    certainly better designed and constructed than those POS General Motors X-cars. Now there would be a subject for a curbside classic.

  • avatar

    Craptastic, yes, and it’s unlikely the K-cars put much of a dent in the unrelenting growth of Corolla/Accord sales.

    But compared with its natural competitors, it was better (GM X-cars) or at least as good (Tempo/Topaz), and that was enough. For the time, Iacocca’s clever use of the K’s platform for damn-near the entire Chrysler line allowed the company to flourish (until Eaton and Daimler showed up, anyway). For that reason, alone, despite its flaws, the K-car is an integral part to the positive side of the Chrysler story. While it was no Valiant (and I’m refering to the anvil-tough sixties’ legend, not the goofy-looking ’60-’62 Virgil Exner version), the K-car was okay.

    Speaking of which, one of the biggest negatives not mentioned is that it could be said that the K-car was the vehicle that really accelerated the demise of the Plymouth division. It began with the virtually identical Omni/Horizon twins, but it was cemented with the Reliant/Aries. From that point forward, there just was never any reason to buy a Plymouth instead of a Dodge, and the elimination of the once proud Chrysler low-priced leader was a foregone conclusion.

  • avatar

    I don’t think this post is complete without the lovable spoof/parody ad starring the Aries …

    “My name is Tim. I drive an Aries.”

  • avatar

    Darn, I forgot the one thing I absolutely loved about the Spirit I had. Since the brake rotors were the same ones that Chrysler used on everything from vans to sport cars to convertibles, they were plentiful and cheap. I remember the front rotors and shoes were out the door less than $30. All of the parts were like that.

  • avatar

    My family had a k car wagon (red aries) for about 7 years, I don’t think they ever did much to it other then brakes as I recall, My sister did it in by rolling into a ditch as a teenager. As a kid i remeber it had pretty good room in the back seat, way better then my dad’s car at the time a Datsun 510 wagon. Plus the aries never had any rot while they owned it, the Datsun on the other hand was pretty rotten when it was rolled into another ditch by my sister in the early ninties.
    As a side note I have heard of two turbo K cars that I would love to see.
    A good friend of mine headed up the sales dept of a large dodge dealer back in the late eighties and told me there was a regional sales rep who had a two door k-car with a 5 speed and a turbo 2.2 from a daytona CS swapped in.
    I also had a teacher in High school who worked in the motor pool in the national guard for 20+ years he said they had a series of K cars come thru back in the day, but they had a tester for a while a blue wagon with a 2.2 turbo that was slightly modified, he said it did absolutely screaming burnouts, he said it was designed to be an escort vehicle for motorcades but he didn’t think there were ever more then one or two of them made.

  • avatar

    There are still lots of Spirits and Acclaims in very nice condition in places like Vancouver BC. I have a ’90 Spirit. Whatever it needs, I just do it. It just got new front brakes, polyurethane bushings for the rear trackbar, shiny new headlights, new back shocks and new spring isolators for the back end. The front struts are next. New struts and shocks are basically free because they’re 9-year old Monro’s and I have the old purchase receipts! Endemic engine (v6) and transmission (4-spd) problems have been addressed. Still a nice car with only the slightest traces of surface rust underneath. Just got its first muffler replacement last year. Roomy, comfy, can go like stink with the V6. Capable of 42mpg (Imperial gallon) at 80-90kph. Breezes through annual emissions testing.

  • avatar

    Ah, the memories. My grandparents had a 1981 Dodge Aries SE 4 door sedan, mint green metallic with the Mitsubishi 2.6 engine. They bought it around 1989 and it needed some engine work (probably head gasket, not sure). I took my driver’s test in that car in the summer of 1990, July 12 to be exact-passed the first time, too! I remember how reclined the seat in that car was; you leaned way, way back. Even more so when the seat mounts eventually broke and my grandpa propped up the seat with a 2×4 stuck in the back seat…grandma just loved that! They later bought a dark gray 1983 Reliant 4 door sedan from my aunt. I think it had the 2.2 Chrysler engine. I recall that it needed new rear struts and that the rear strut towers were beginning to rust through. My grandma was involved in a very serious collision with that car in 1994. It was T-boned on the passenger side by a Lincoln Town Car going 60 MPH. The Reliant’s passenger compartment was about half its original width. The impact was so violent that the grill popped right off the front end, even though the front of the car wasn’t directly hit. My grandma came out of it badly bruised but alive. I also recall checking out a used 1985 Aries sedan for my sister when she was desperate for a car, a POS with accident damage, bad catalytic converter and a trunk that didn’t open…definitely passed on that one. I was with her when we looked at an ’87 Reliant wagon, but passed on that one too because the car itself looked great but the engine had a bad knock at only about 70K.

  • avatar

    One thing that I always remember about the K-Cars is that the original Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries (with their flat, thinly-padded seats) were considered to be “mid-sized” cars by the EPA based on their interior volume (using their dubious formula for calculating such things).

    When the fancier Dodge 400 and K-Car-based Chrysler LeBaron came along (using body-shells that were identical to the Reliant and Aries) the seats had noticeably more padding, enough to reduce the interior volume to the extent that they were classified as “compact” cars by the EPA.

  • avatar

    The K car, the Rodney Dangerfield of automobiles. It just doesn’t get any respect!

    Back when Cerberus picked up Daimler’s cast off, CNN Money did a report on the “12 cars that made Chrysler”, a look at the “most important cars in the company’s history”.

    The K car, which had saved Chrysler and made them enough of a profit to go on and create the mini van and thus buy Jeep, was not even listed.

  • avatar

    My wife and I bought an original 1981 Plymouth Reliant. The example you reported on was a mid-term freshening – the back door windows rolled down, albeit with a much-too-large fixed pane that was made narrower in the next refresh. Ours was a basic floor-mounted stick shift, 2 door, no air, no radio or anything else except an indoor-adjustable driver’s side outside rear view mirror. It was beige with a beige interior. This was the “$5880.00” edition as sticker shock was rearing its ugly head at the time and that was Chrysler’s answer to it. Worked for us with no regrets! Basic as basic got, but it did have some style with the wrap-around side molding outlined in “chrome” with a nice chrome grill and headlight surrounds. We loved that car and kept it for seven years.

    There were some body issues – rusting drip rails and an actual rust HOLE above the top driver side corner of the back window, but Chrysler bent over backwards to make things right and they did. Of course, I wouldn’t put up with that now, but February 1981 was a different time.

    It was a scaled-down Ford LTD Crown Vic – look at the lines!

    Yes, this car wasn’t enough of an effort to compete with the latest Japanese offerings, but so far ahead of the GM “X” cars, nothing more need be said.

    I always preferred Plymouth over Dodge – generally a bit flashier. That includes the 1990 Acclaim we owned for 10½ years and the 1992 LeBaron convertible we owned for 8½ years.

    • 0 avatar

      This was not a mid term example. The car’s owner’s grandson is selling it,and it’s from 1983.It is of the first generation just as the author states.

      The refresh didn’t happen until 1985. The rear windows on this one roll down because it’s a 4 door. All the 4 doors had windows that rolled down. The 2 doors never did.

    • 0 avatar


      Not all 4 door K-cars had rear windows that rolled down. Very early models had fixed rear glass with only little flip open vent windows. Such was the case with my grandparent’s ’81 Aries sedan. I distinctly recall sitting in the back of that thing and being annoyed that I couldn’t roll the window down. The rear windows did roll down on the ’83 Reliant sedan they later purchased. Chrysler accomplished this by changing the size of the panes of glass in the rear door. Compare an ’81 to a somewhat later model and you’ll see what I mean-fixed large main glass with little vent windows on early ones, and on later ones smaller roll down main glass with larger fixed panes where vent windows used to be, as on this example.

  • avatar

    Nice article, but again, “but where’s the A/C compressor belt”?

    By the time the K-car evolved into the Spirit/Acclaim, it was a darn fine commuter car: roomy, comfortable, cheap to buy and run. Two of them gave me fine service. A square car for square people, and I don’t mean that pejoratively.

    But at the beginning (1981) the K-Car was a lemon. My parents bought an Aries right after they came out. Poor build quality and all sorts of things went wrong. Many trips back to the hapless dealership. When it came time for new tires, they found Chrysler had spec’d a very uncommon (at the time) size because the rear wheel housing provided minimal clearance. I think only Goodyear had it, and the price was sky-high. Another way for Detroit to piss off customers.

  • avatar

    When I was stationed at NavSta San Diego, EVERY command, it seemed had one of these awful things. But the maintenance on them was mad easy and they ran forever. But they just felt so…..insubstantial.

  • avatar

    I too had one of these, and this edition of CC had me grinning from ear to ear. I was 16 at the time (early 1989), and was lucky enough to snag a neighbor’s ’84 Plymouth Reliant 2-door that at the time had an astoundingly low 6,800 miles on it. A true grandma car: white on blue cloth, 2.2-liter, column-shift automatic, cloth bench seat, AM radio, no A/C (didn’t matter much then in in western Oregon), etc. I was thrilled to have it, and kept it through high school and halfway through college. I admired its ease of operation, high MPG, big trunk, room to fit my tall frame, and the fact that it looked like a more mature, grown-up car in the student parking lot. I even piloted her across the entire United States at age 17 (my age, not the car’s) as part of a 3-car convoy during my family’s summer move. Years later, I started getting irritated by the typical cranky carburator stall-outs and front suspension issues. I ended up selling it a few years later after a move to the deep south, where having a car without A/C is a miserable experience for much of the year. In all, the fact that the car went about its daily routine most of the time with a quiet dignity and simplicity really makes me look back and admire that car. Chrysler had a great thing going with that model, and I can’t blame them for milking it all they could. The right car at the right time. I’m glad I got to own one.

  • avatar

    Here ya go.

    If you want to understand the inherent inferiority of ‘D3’ product vis-a-vis Hondota, this is a wonderfully illustrative genesis point.

    One of these POSs shopped against a Honda Civic of the same vintage
    resulted in a lifelong Honda buyer.

    The K-Cars were absolute crap – better than GM’s offerings, but still, absolute garbage. Flaky plastichrome, pathetic instrumentation, and paint and panel flaws visible from space.

    Interior finish? Yeah, cutting edge of Serbo-Croation chic.


    Who could afford Chrysler resale values? God knows our middle-class family couldn’t.

    If you were one of the chumps who bought this POS I bet you learned something. (That is, never buy anything from the D3…)

  • avatar

    Sorry I missed this CC…short and sweet, my ’87 was a model of reliability other than MAP sensors. 254,000 miles, it was reliable until the end. A head gasket (the first, BTW) made me decide to let it go. Performance parts for the other variants made it a decent handler…it as easy to upgrade brakes, bushings, bars, etc. Slow, yes, but this was the only old car that I ever knew that I would trust to take on a road trip into the mountains…it only let me down once in all those miles when the fuel injection flooded the engine during a -25F winter morning in Vermont. A far car from the ’81 Reliant that I bought used…that cranky carb sucked…not to mention the front wheel bearings, distributor, A/C clutch that melted down…

    • 0 avatar

      Golden, I can split the difference between your two Ks! My Mom’s ’85 Reliant (carburetted 2.2 with 3 speed auto) was good for what it was- basic, useful transportation. A good family friend had a LeBaron K (which we found to seat eight by doubling up little kids in the seatbelts), at the time it seemed like a good car, the local dealer service department had a good reputation, so Mom went out and got a new Reliant. When the it was new, she used it to commute to school for a year. Later on it survived a couple of us kids learning to drive.

      The carb was temperamental in the cold. It would always start… eventually… pump the gas pedal once or twice first but it sure liked to stall at the first stop sign, the one after that, the one after that, the one after that.

      The car even survived me ramming it through a giant snow drift. (Long story but it was during a blizzard way out in the country- either I got past the drift blocking the road and nearby civilization or I backtracked a long way. Being an invincible teenager helped too.) I don’t think I’d try that one in an airbag car!

      Nothing big broke on that car in the ten years it was in our family. One day it was replaced by a Caravan with a 3.3 and 4 speeds (overdrive automatic, wow!!), but that’s another story :)

  • avatar

    I worked for Chrysler service for many years and the K car was really no worse and a whole lot better than most of the American stuff on the road. However, I do not think that they caused on person not to buy a Honda or a Toyota. What Chrysler achieved with the K car was totally because of a brilliant advertising campaign equating the car with patriotism. People who bought them would, at the time, never buy an import. This is why they bought the K car more than any other reason because the cars were never cheap, especially on introduction.

    The cars suffered from head gasket maladies from day one; the only way to solve the problem was to use an aftermarket gasket. The Mopar one was designed to be cheap. The build quality was not too awful, the PDI process went relatively well on them. The cars were throw away, however. The 7 year/115,00 km warranty almost broke Chrysler and was ignominiously withdrawn after a couple of years. We made a lot of shop labour on that warranty but we rarely made a dime on retail on the cars. The owners did not car to pay for dealer service. Probably 90% of what we did on them was warranty and there was plenty of it, especially water leaks in our Wetcoast climate.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for validating the facts.

      The K-Car was a POS. An expensive one at that.

      A wonderful marketing gimmick and nothing more.

      Markedly inferior in every way to the comparable Hondota product.

      This why ‘they’ won folks.

      How can anyone not see it? Really?

  • avatar

    I don’t disagree with you, I didn’t buy the Aries K, I inherited it. It just
    happened to be in really good shape. With your name sake(Porsche) They also had
    good marketing ploys,With there super High quality, 914,924, and 944, Probably
    The best built, high quality, super performing, awesome reliability, Plastics
    never falling off, never rusting Porsche’s ever made( not like those POS 911 and
    928’s). Hell, I see more High quality Porsche’s on the road than those
    craptastic “K” cars. Don’t you? Can you feel the sarcasm oozing out?

    • 0 avatar

      Yes Chuck, I can feel the sarcasm. And I do love sarcasm.

      I just get the impression (correct me if I’m wrong) that you were not of driving/buying age when the K-Car was new.

      I was.

      As for seeing 924/944s everyday – I do. Don’t know where you live but here in (an admittedly upscale swath of my midwestern burg) I’ll see half a dozen of them if I’m out and about for an hour.

      In that same time frame, in a very depressed ‘burb where someone may be keeping one alive, I might see 2 or 3 K-Cars. Maybe.

      I’ll see more Cayman/Boxsters and 911s than 944s and Ks combined.
      (Lotsa Boxsters. Damn things are everywhere. Almost as bad as a 5-series…)

      Cayennes are a dime a dozen. I’d need a calculator to keep track of BMW product (The Ultimate Status Leasing Machine).

      As to rust, once again, not sure where you live.

      Here in the MW where we still salt roads heavier than fries at Mickey D’s, and my daily drivers are Porsches regardless of the weather, I haven’t seen a big issue on anything beyond the 914. Yes, pre-2K 911s have some rust issues, but the fanbois know how to prevent it.

      The 928 features an aluminum hood, front fenders, door skins, and many pieces on the underside are alloy. The rest of the chassis is coated Thyssen steel, which will corrode if you really try, but I’ve got a coupla 300K milers that have never had more than surface rust. Stored outside. Year-round.

      Finally, though I learned to love Pooches in private HS, I was there on academic scholorship. My first car was a ’67 GT6 that I bought with my own cash. My parents weren’t of the Porsche income class.

      In the world I lived in, K-cars were getting starters and alternators before 70K miles. The interiors fell apart in 2 years. The build quality was the cutting edge of Afghan technology. The driving feel was pathetic. Try to find a K with a 5-spd.

      Oh yeah. The Ks were either 2 or 3 box-straight-line-drawn-by-5thgraders-abortion-plain-ugly.

      They looked more than vaguely Soviet.

      Best part was they cost thousands more than a Civic. Or even an Accord.

      My family wasn’t rich enough to afford the K-car’s 30+% higher purchase price, worse gas mileage, huge depreciation, and massive R&M costs. Let alone suffering on the bench seat of one of Lee’s rattle traps for a couple hours a day.

  • avatar

    As much as I hated these cars as a teenager (who knows nothing about what’s really involved in car ownership), I have to say that we had a lot of neighbors who liked their K-cars, Escorts, Horizons, Cavaliers and A-bodies just fine. Sure, the Accords, Coronas, Cressidas, Camrys, Maximas and Stanzas might have been less troublesome, but they were also a whole lot more expensive (because of the Voluntary Import Quotas???) and they were a lot smaller. This Aries was classified as a “midsize” by the EPA. The Escort of the same year was a “compact.” The Accord and Maxima were both “subcompacts” with the fwd Accord actually outsizing the rwd Maxima. No wonder Escorts and K-cars sold so well among family buyers.

    • 0 avatar

      Com’n guys, stop bashing that classic K-cars. These cars have a lot
      thats good about them and need to be saved. They are a ground-breaking car. Check out my car club, the Chrysler K-Car Club, at There are less than 200 1983 Dodge Aries sedans left in the world. This car has been well maintained. Any car can last as long as someone is willing to value it. Long live the Chrysler K-Car Club at 930 members strong!

      Mr. Guy V.Coulombe
      The Chrysler K-Car Club
      Club president and founder
      [email protected]
      938 members and counting

  • avatar

    I could have become a Chrysler customer had I been exposed to the hot Horizons but my circle of family only had the K-cars in sedan and wagon form. i liked the wagon more but overall I really hated the styling and the numb driving experience that the K provided which is probably what the typical K customer wanted.

    The K was part of what put me off American cars ever since. I didn’t need fast. I didn’t need much of anything but some decent styling and durability and a manual tranny. I’d rather have had a Fiat 128 hatchback for a grocery getter than the K. Yeah my feelings about the K were that bad. GRIN!

    Wonder WHY Detroit took so – so – so long to catch up with the more interesting Japanese cars…

    My sister went from a Dodge 400 convertible (non-turbo K car ‘vert) to a 140K mile ’87 Accord hatchback that I eventually owned. The K was nice but a real snoozer. The Accord I liked looking at, driving and lasted 325K miles the last time I saw it. Maybe more.

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    I have seen exactly one pre-facelift K car in the last 12 or so years. K’s in General are rare, other than the one in my city that I see on occasion, I don’t see any at all. You can see “rust-bucket” 80’s japanese cars every day, along with old german cars and old fords as well (Usually LTD’s and escorts.) Most of the 80’s GM’s and Chryslers(Other than the Mitsu-Rebadges, which still are kicking around) have vanished. Good Riddance. To put it into perspective, I have actually seen more Renault Alliances than Early K’s, which should tell you something.

    Oh and BTW the K that I saw had a Mitsu 2.6. Usually the only old chrysler products still driving are either;

    A: Powered By Mitsubishi
    B: Actually A Mitsubishi

    Though If it’s a V6 it will probably be puffing blue smoke.

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    What people are forgetting is at the Ks start of development (1977),cars were generally boxy and sharp edged,so styling was a no brainer.Chrysler at this time was in deep financial trouble,and it would only get worse.To develop an entirely new car from scratch was very expensive,Chrysler had to cut some corners.The all new engine,had to be one similar to an existing one,so some “borrowing” of design parameters had to take place.The VW 1.7 engine,Chrysler was to be very familiar with.In designing the K,Chrysler aimed at the Fairmont/Impala style/packaging themes.Examples of new Fairmonts and Impalas could be seen in Chrysler’s design studio.And,at this time,while selling well,Chrysler knew all too well that their current Aspen/Volare cars were bloated,and not very efficient.Its obvious they harkened back to the 67-76 Dart/Valiant cars for interior packaging and trim and overall size and concept.Afterall,these cars would be Chrysler’s bread and butter thru the 80s,much as the A-cars were their lifeline thru the 70s.And why was a K car slow? Because at the time,Chrysler could only afford one new engine.The basic 2.2.The 2.6 was added just to give the appearance that they had a performance engine option (like GM Xs had).Chrysler never liked the 2.6 and vowed to eliminate it asap.Some car magazines even had scuttlebut that the 2.6 was to be dropped even during the 1981 model year!! As it turns out,the 2.2 became turbocharged,in prep for Lee Iacocca’s image car,much like Mustang was.Eventually it was decided to put the 2.2 turbo in their upscale models too.But not the K and not the L body (the GLH/Shelby would change that).In retrospect,it made sense,why put a 140+ hp engine in a base model $6000 car when you can sell a $9000 car with the engine instead? This forced the buyer to get a 600/LeBaron or Daytona/Laser if they wanted the turbo.Leave the basic Ks with 2.2s and 2.6 pedestrian engines because their buyers want cheap,economical transportation.And thru their 1989 demise,thats what the Aries and Reliant did,to the chagrin of every lead footed teenager alive at the time.

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    As my avatar implies,I own a K car.A 1988 wagon.I bought it for $200 a year ago.The engine needed some work.These repairs I made,plus I refreshed most systems as this 94,000 mile car had only 2 parts replaced in its lifetime! (one caliper and a waterpump).Yes,brakes had been replaced at least once,thats normal maintenance,but this car even had the original 22 year old exhaust system complete with pentastar on the muffler! It spent 20 of its 22 years in New England and suffered very little rust.What their was (flaking paint on wheel wells and fender bottoms,and some undercoating peel underneath) I took care of promptly.The car can well exceed 65 mph on the highway,drives as solid and straight as an arrow,is ever so roomy (no,your elbow cannot touch the door panel unless you try to reach it),and I have plenty of legroom for my 6’5″ size.With todays electronic nighmares on wheels,constant recalls,and general decline of even Japanese cars,a restorable K looks like a cheap set of wheels that will continue to confound present day car owners who remember their old 80s Accord,Subaru,Tempo,Celebrity,Escort that didnt hold up over the long haul and had to be unloaded for a subsequent long line of newer cars since,all the while the “lousy” Chrysler K car keeps on plugging on.Lee Iacocca might have been right afterall.FIAT would be well to remember the good in these cars,and not jump on the bigger/more powerful/more modern bandwagon too fast.

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    October 2,1980.Thats K day,when Chrysler unleashed the K on America.30 years ago almost exactly.Much like the intro for Edsel,K day was hyped continuously thru 1980.”The K cars are coming” was the tag line….and once they arrived,it was changed to “The K cars are here”.
    And 30 years later they are still here,much to the disdain of those who crave tire burning horsepower,cramped passenger compartments or gas hogs.

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    The K-cars were not glamorous, but they were decent transportation.  My family had always had Fords, btu our 77 Country Squire was a lemon in the engine/driveability department, though I love(d) that car!!!  Beina all of 13 years old in 1980, and already subscribing to several car mages, I convinced my dad that he should replace his stripped 72 Pinto with  K-car.  He ordered an 81 Reliant wagon, stick, vinyl bench, manual steering (PB standard on the wagons).  It also had the crhome driver’s door mirror, digital chronometer (clock), and rear defroster.  I timed him once, 0-50 in 8 seconds.  Not stellar but peppy.  And it got 40mpg on the highway!!!  I learned stick on that car, stalled it once, and then was fine.  The steering was very light at anything over 3 mph.  My parents later owned an 85 Voyager SE (that I drove to HS every day) with he 2.6L mitsubishi engine, an 88 Reliant 2.5l/3A which I had in college my senior year, an 88 Dynasty 2.5L, a 90 Dynasty 3.0L.  My first new car only a year out of college was a 90 Dynasty LE 3.3L with ABS, sunroof, Infinity stero, memory seats, aluminum wheels, and power everything, in midnight blue.  The transmission failed twice in 90K miles, along with a bunch of other mechanical items, but he electtoncis and interior held up great.  The engine was bulletproof.  Avereaged 22mpg in most driving, but on long trips I coudl ge 35mpg if driven modestly , aided by the tall 2.36 OTGR (overall top gear ratio) which pulled abotu 1850 revs/mile.  Replaced that car with a 95 Maxima SE stick, and when that car was totalled by someone behind me, I bought a 01.5 VW Passat GLX V6 FWD stick.  Traded that  car for an 05 Passat GLX wagon with 4motion.  And also picked up an 03 530i (Sport stick) along the way.  Plus my 78 Lincoln Mark V Diamnd Jubilee Edition with 16K miles. 

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    hahah i bought this car!! The guy who was selling it was really nice and lowered the price quite a bit since I’m a college student and couldn’t afford the $1600. It’s still in perfect condition! No dents, scratches, stains, or alterations!

    Unfortunately I locked the keys to it in the trunk the other day. Can someone PLEASE tell me how to get them out?! Does the back seat come off and if so how? Is there another way to open the trunk or gain access to it without a key??


  • avatar

    Current owner of 82 Dodge Aries with 71000 miles and pretty clean car has 2.6 motor…cruises the highways just fine.  Good times.

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