By on March 15, 2011

Really cheap, low-optioned Detroit cars haven’t done well for decades, but that didn’t stop Chrysler from following up the super-downscale Omni America with the car advertised as “the lowest priced car on the market available with a standard driver’s-side airbag.” Apparently, no 1991 Plymouth Sundance Americas made it out of the showrooms. Well, none except for this example that managed to dodge The Crusher’s jaws for two full decades before its final tow into a Denver self-service wrecking yard.

Yes, it’s a K-car— technically a P-car— and 1991 car shoppers could get themselves a new four-door Sundance America for just $7,799. Compare that to the ’91 Ford Escort Pony’s $7,976 price tag, or the base ’91 Hyundai Excel’s $6,275; the Sundance was bigger and (arguably) more luxurious.

Of course, those same car shoppers might happen to wander into a Honda showroom and take note of the base ’91 Civic’s $7,095 sticker, and then there was that damn $6,488 Toyota Tercel, the $6,295 Subaru Justy, and the $6,795 Geo Metro XFi (fortunately for Chrysler, and the car-buying public in general, the last year of the $4,435 Yugo GV was 1990). The Sundance America was probably the most comfy of this group and it looked like a helluva deal, but buyers avoided it like chlamydia. Brand image problems, or just a general air of cheapness hovering about the Sundance America?

One nice thing about the standard driver’s-side airbag: no horrible self-deploying seat belts.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

39 Comments on “Junkyard Find: Loss-Leader Sundance America Lasts 20 Years, Has Last Laugh...”

  • avatar

    Ah, yes, the “America” series. That’s how Chrysler managed to get another few years out of the K platform before the Acclaim/Spirit models, and in the case of the Sundance/Shadow, the Neon. Brilliant marketing, I think. Somebody bought them.

    • 0 avatar

      We had a Dodge 600 – its only saving grace is it was much more reliable than an Olds Omega (good ole AM radio, Iron Duke tractor engine, exterior panels falling off and the roof cloth falling down so that I wound up stapling it up).  These were the 2 first cars I got when I was a teenager and the worst cars I’ve ever driven (except a late 80’s Excel – now that was a POS).  After these two I found an ’85 Prelude and never even considered another American made car until 20 years later.  That Prelude then converted my Dad away from his dedication of Chrysler (had several lemons).

  • avatar

    Love the floormats, they must be dealer installed. I remember having a soft spot for the America’s dorky-sporty relative, the V6 Plymouth Duster.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Ah yes the V6 Plymouth Duster, likely faster than the 1980 Road Runner one of the guys I went to college with had.  He thought he was sssssssssssssoooooooooooo cool.  Honestly another friend of mine with an old Diplomat cop car was way cooler.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah Dan, those old cop cars were proof that such as Diplomats and Aries could be made to handle with the right suspension, wheels, and tires.

    • 0 avatar

      1986 Dodge Shadow ES Turbo. With 5 speed. Best P car ever.

  • avatar

    Well, I bought a ’91 Escort Pony  a couple of months after graduating college (for $5800, cheapest actual price for the civics were around $7500 in Seattle). I think, having test driven ALL of those cars at the time, the Sundance’s problem was when people actually test drove the cars.
    Those self deploying half seat belts were horrid though.

  • avatar

    Back in the early 90s I had a coworker with an Aries K car, which I assume is closely related to the sundance.  He liked to brag that it was actually two cars — the front half and rear half of two salvage vehicles had been welded together to create his car.  I always felt nervous riding in the rear seat, wondering if I’d end up left behind on the highway.  It actually was a comfortable riding car; the interior was certainly low-budget looking, but it was reliable.

  • avatar

    Yuck. It looks like it has chlamydia….

  • avatar

    My first and only new car purchase was an ’89 Omni, the year before the “America” series debut. I was so sick of driving and fixing heaps that I was willing to take on a car payment. The sticker said $6595, but Chrysler had a whopping $1500 rebate on the leftovers in August of 1989. I paid about $5500 out the door.
    By that point, the L- and K-bodies were about as refined as they were going to get, which was pretty good. The Omni had 2.2 liters, EFI, and a 5-speed, whereas most of the competition had about 1.6 liters, 4-speeds, and goofy emissions carbs.
    I beat the crap out of it, and it took it well, until the payments were done. Then I sold it for a grand. It was not an unpleasant experience.

  • avatar

    And look at that enormous dealer badge.  Thanks for taking the pic of that, Murilee.  I wonder if it’s just stuck on or if they drilled the sheetmetal to attach it?  I don’t see as many of these big chunks of metal anymore, which I consider a tremendous improvement.  I’d never go to a dealer that did that to cars, but the judgement of the person who bought this car was already compromised so it’s not surprising.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      The first car my father ever bought that had a “sticker” for the dealer badge instead of the riveted on dealer badge was a 1987 Oldsmobile that he purchased in 1992.  Shortly after that I began seeing the license plate frames announcing the dealer.  (Of course this was in Ohio where the state required a front license plate.  Here in NM it’s almost always a dealer front plate with the dealer logo and name.)

    • 0 avatar

      Some states (e.g. California) have outlawed dealer badges completely.

    • 0 avatar

      That dealer badge and the rust where the rear bumper was both tell a story…Rust Belt! I wonder if the rear bumper just fell off from rust or if a wrecking yard customer actually bought it…in general the car, like yesterday’s Mitsubishi, doesn’t seem to have been bothered much by folks looking for parts.

    • 0 avatar

      That one is a bit on the large size.
      When I lived in Florida, I used to like to check out the car dealers every week to see what was happening, and I noticed that they would get a lot of trade-in’s from other states. I knew that they would take off the other dealer’s emblems and replace them with their own, so I started beating them to it. Now I have a huge collection of dealer emblems from all over the country. Don’t know what to do with them, but it’s a neat collection of Americana I think.

  • avatar

    I still see lots of Shadows and Sundances around so they must have been pretty durable. I looked at buying a low-mileage used one once (with a stick-shift!) and the engine and shifter were unbelievably crude, let alone the clunky doors, interior, etc. I passed.

    • 0 avatar

      Dunno where you are, but there are none of these left to speak of in Northern New England.

      Then again, pretty much the only 15+ yo cars you see on the road in Maine are Swedish or German.

  • avatar

    I love how Chrysler was so cheap with these things that they didn’t even get “real” emblems – just two-dimensional stickers.  Interesting juxtaposition between the 2D emblems and the 3D dealer badge.

  • avatar

    fortunately for Chrysler, and the car-buying public in general, the last year of the $4,435 Yugo GV was 1990).

    Same sentiments goes to that stinkin’ 1991 Hyundai Excel which was no better than the hand-warmer Yugo.

    • 0 avatar

      The ’91 Excel was much, much better than the ’87 Excel. The ’87 may be the worst car sold in the United States in the 1980s, and I am including the Yugo.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a ’91 Excel. Got it for about free. Fixed a few things and sold it for $850. It looked good (clean but not my cup of tea styling wise) but I drove 80s Fiats that I liked better! Fiat 127, Fiat 500 (original one), Fiat Pandas, etc. Buyer got years of good service out of that car as I would see it occasionally around our small town.

  • avatar
    Buster Brew

    My sister had a 1987 2 door turbo.  She needed a hatchback, but wanted the look of a trunk, and the Sundance fit the bill.  The thing was a hoot to drive, with lots of power compared to what else was available at the time… just hold onto that steering wheel when the turbo kicks in!

  • avatar

    No wonder it didn’t sell well.
    Look at the manpower needed to lift the thing and run that UPC code bar across the scanner!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar

    These cars were so unloved because they looked like cheaper versions of cars we no longer had an interest in. By this time we had seen K cars turned into many different brands and models. We were just bored with them. Who wants another K car? Who wants a cheap K car?

    Everyone who wanted a K car had bought one or two of them by 1991. There was a huge used car market filled with K cars. Chrysler simply saturated the Market with the same car for so long, the Sundance didn’t sell. We all moved onto cars that weren’t boxy and appeared to be the automotive equivalent of white Wal-Mart athletic shoes. Even the rental fleets were tired of the same K car spin offs.

    K cars were never really “cool”, anymore than a Chevy Corsica. They were cars for people who needed wheels and were partial to Chryslers. Dusters were more interesting than K cars. Valiants had a geek panache that was admirable. But K cars? Nope.

    It wasn’t an ugly car. It wasn’t overpriced. It wasn’t any worse than the competition. It just wasn’t really a new car.

  • avatar

    Reminds me of it’s bigger “brother” the Lancer/Lebaron. I actually owned a 1986 Dodge Lancer ES…yeah, the one with the turbo 2.2.  For a college kid, I thought this car was pretty awesome…sport seats, cool gun metal gray paint…added some five spoke rims and a serious upgrade to the stereo and I thought I was BMOC.  Right up until I was graciously allowed to borrow my sister’s then-new 1989 Honda CRX Si.  The clutch on my Lancer would have made Lance Armstrong cry, and the gear changes were downright John Deere-ean in effort and feel.  Having said that, it ran me around faithfully for almost three years and some odd 170,000 miles on the odo before I sold it.  My cousin’s wife had a Dodge Omni for a time that also did remarkably well (also tractor-like five speed).  My best friend’s Dodge Shelby Charger, however…literally went up in flames.  I guess 2 out of three mid 80’s MOPAR wasn’t too bad!  Never drove the Sundance, but the 6 cylinder variant held a certain appeal…and yes, that 2.2 turbo had some wicked torque-steer when the turbo (eventually) kicked in.  Plan your passes, boys and girls…!

  • avatar

    The issue with these cars was that they were the answer to a question nobody asked. The P cars were supposed to replace the L cars. Buyers decided it wasn’t going to work like that.

    At least we got some more of Shelby’s funky stuff out of them..

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I have a mechanic friend of mine who swears by old Rangers and the P platform Chryslers. He has a 1992 Dodge Shadow Duster with the 3.0L v6 and 5-speed. It’s a hoot to drive. But God what a cheap interior.
    Back in 2002 I visited Maine for a week and drove one of these as a rental vehicle. It actually wasn’t that bad. If you need an around the town vehicle strictly for scooting around, a low mileage car like this would be fine.
    But you really have to be apathetic towards cars to drive something like this. Same goes for the Corsica and the 4-door Escorts of that time.

    • 0 avatar
      Diesel Fuel Only

      My sister and I had a shared first car, a Corsica – had to have been a leftover from the last year they were made knowing my parents.  Blue with a blue velour(ish) interior.  It handled reasonably well but was mostly a POS, I remember the paintwork not being all that good.  The interior fittings had a distinctly fischer-price feel and whatever 4-pot it had was gutless, esp. coupled to a truly terrible auto trans.

      Of course, as such things go, the shared car quickly became sis’ car and I quickly moved on over to VW’s.  She went off to grad school in it, never serviced it the entire time, and sold it when she graduated.  The lady who bought it from her took it to a shade tree mechanic to get all the gunk cleaned out of the intakes & c. and he must not have cleaned all the solvents out all that well because the engine literally exploded – scratch one chevy.

  • avatar

    My wife had one of these for a while but the Dodge Shadow version complete with the peeling paint. It was pretty zippy with a 2.5L four and 5spd.

  • avatar

    1990 Sundance 2-dr, 2.5L 4-cyl auto, root beer exterior, tan interior, always garaged, pampered, rebuilt trans, suspension, brakes, CVC, never been in a body shop. Zero rust. 5 replacement windshields, All replacement parts high-end including tires and ignition. Always passes emissions, compression is nearly identical across all cylinders, always used Chevron, Valvoline.
    I’d better get out there and check the Battery Tender is Ok and reset the clock to DST.

  • avatar

    I remember when these were introduced in 1987 (I think) to great fanfare with “Come and Get It” by Badfinger – or someone covering BF – on the advert IIRC.
    My mom had one as well, an 1988 with 2.2 Auto, bright red with gray interior, nothing special but I don’t recall it giving her much grief either.
    I’m not too sure about the US but they sold millions of these in Canada though I don’t see them around very often today.
    I did find a little gem on Kijiji that you can review at the link below.
    Sadly the car at the scrapyard is in better shape then this one. Perhaps the owner put too many zeros when setting the price.

  • avatar

    A friend drove her’s for ~170K miles before retiring it – original engine and tranny too. Man tit was ugly! It had a reall,y really hard life. I towed it about 50-60 miles to her apartment with our 1st Gen CR-V and my tow dolly. ‘V towed it fine but lacked enough brakes to be a good tow vehicle…

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I still see a few of these in the metro NYC area, even some Dusters with the Mitubushi 3.0 V-6.
    The Shadow convertible version would be a find.

    To digress what is it with white paint on cars and trucks from he early 90’s? It has a habit of peeling like the boneyard Sundance. Back in 90 my dad bought a 91 S-10 Blazer in white. 91’s came out early that year in the spring. After a couple of years it started peeling where you could see the gray primer and he had to wrangle a new paint job out of GM and the dealer. 

    • 0 avatar

      I think that was when there was a switch to paint that used less solvents and was more environmentally friendly. My white 95 Neon’s roof started peeling in 97 too.

  • avatar

    Our family had one of these exactly like the feature car, except it was an odd sort of reddish-mauve color. It managed to be bad at basically everything. Uncomfortable seats, no room in the back, a leaky trunk, got pretty poor milage for such a small car. Past 120 km/h the whole dashboard vibrated alarmingly. It sounds like hyperbole, but it is the God’s own truth: my grandmother described it as underpowered. When it died, it was not missed.

  • avatar

    If the rear end of this Sundance could be repaired, I could see some Shelby CSX-style ground effects, Pentastar V6, and an AWD system being installed.

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • EBFlex: “According to a T-shirt I saw a young man wearing on June 19th at church celebrating the 4th of July...
  • EBFlex: “His keyboard doesn’t have spell- or IQ-check.” “Certainly no IQ check. But probably an...
  • Inside Looking Out: Happy July 4th to all!
  • DenverMike: It’s not just the parking thing. Most Americans simply can’t drive something that big, scared...
  • DenverMike: Unless you were already struggling to feed the beast, yeah a few small changes and you’re good. Yet...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber