By on June 15, 2011

Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth

Serious Civil War reenactors have a term for folks who don’t measure up to those activists’ high standards for authenticity. They call them “farbs”, as in “far be it from me to criticize another enactor but if they want to be authentic they should be wearing hand stitched woolen underwear that hasn’t been changed or washed for two months, not BVDs”. Every hobby has its one-uppers. One of the things that I like about car culture is that it’s a mosaic of subcultures. Diversity can be a good thing and I’m a big tent car enthusiast. You may be a trackday fiend who would never slam a lowrider or restore a Messerchmitt microcar, but you can appreciate the folks who would and you can find common ground with them in your shared love of things automotive. Still, none of us like folks who put on airs. Every hobby, though, has its snobs.

We all love our cars and can bore even other car guys with minutia about our favorite marques and models, but at a car show with prewar Packards, don’t you think that it’s a bit pretentious to put “historical’ license plates on a Chrysler K-car?

Every June, the Veteran Car Club of America, the Packard Motor Car Foundation and the Motor City Packards car club sponsor the Cars ‘R’ Stars car show at the Packard Proving Grounds north of Detroit. The theme for this year’s show was “the classic beauty of wood in auto styling”. There was a nice variety of marques represented in addition to the expected Packards, including woodies built by Buick, Ford, Chrysler and Chevrolet.

Someone in the organizing committee must have a sense of humor because in addition to all the maple, ash and basswood carpentry and marquetry present, parked right near impressive classic Chrysler Town & Country and very rare Ford Sportsman woody convertibles, were a couple of mid 1980s Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country convertibles replete with wood grain vinyl and fake wood body cladding. Far be it from me to criticize another car buff, but while I agree that with a total of only 1,105 LeBaron T&C convertibles made from 1983 to 1986 the car is collectible, parking a not-so-well-disguised K-car near all those genuinely classic wood trimmed and bodied cars seemed, well, out of place. It was more of a symbol of Detroit’s decline over the past 3 decades, how it traded on former glories and ersatz luxuries, fake wood, coach lights and opera windows, than of how the beauty of wood is used in automotive styling. In those real woodies, wood is used as an integral part of the design and sometimes even the structure of the cars’ bodies. The LeBaron is not a bad looking car, but its “wood” is clearly an afterthought. It has more in common with plastic clad Pontiacs than with maple framed Mercurys.

Which of these cars’ owners has to worry less about termites?

I’m a kibbitzer, so when I went to take a photo of one of the K-car “woodies”, I joked to the owner that I was surprised that they didn’t make him park at the end, like the members of the Yellow Mustang Registry accept owners of tangerine orange Mustangs into their club but make them park at the end of the row at car shows and meets. I must need work on my comedic delivery because the guy took offense and got indignant. He said that the show organizers told him to park there and that I was “prejudiced”.

Okay, I’m not without my biases. Still, considering that at that car show there were a couple of real 1940-42 Lincoln Continentals, a Continental Mark II, about a half dozen real Oldsmobile 442s, and many other genuinely rare and collectible cars (including quite possibly a car body or two that was actually made by Ray Dietrich’s LeBaron) the K-cars looked out of place. For sure they were in show condition, no doubt the apple of their owners’ eyes, but their placement was quite possibly a joke by the show organizers that this LeBaron T&C owner didn’t get.

Note the period correct mid 1980s style installation of the weatherstripping on this historical American motor vehicle

That sentiment of mine was reinforced when I stepped to the rear of the car and saw that it was wearing “historical” license plates. Talk about pretension and putting on airs! I don’t think that I saw a single other car at that show that had modern day historical plates. There were plenty of cars at the show with vintage license plates, since Michigan now allows owners of old cars to register them with old plates to complete the vintage look. There were also a few cars wearing vintage “historic vehicle”, either period correct or indicating that they’ve been in the hobby for many decades. Though many, perhaps most, of the cars at the Cars ‘R’ Stars show were indeed historic, it was only the one K-car owner that felt he had to prove that his car was significant enough to be recognized so by today’s bureaucrats in Lansing. The other LeBaron owner apparently didn’t find the same need for validation.

Vintage car buffs spare no detail. Z/28 restorers are careful not to extend racing stripes beyond the rear spoiler. Mustang owners make sure that the right grease pencil markings from the factory are under their hoods. No historical plates on this Town & Country but it appears that this owner, like the other LeBaron enthusiast, made sure that the trunk weatherstripping was also exactly as it left the factory.

I’m not an automotive snob. I don’t even like it when jerks who need to be validated with their Lambos and Porsches rightly get called douchebags. Like I said before, the LeBaron Town & Country convertible is at least arguably collectible. As an automotive history buff that has gone out of my way to take photos of a cherry ’91 New Yorker Fifth Avenue to commemorate the final revision of the platform that not only saved Chrysler but spawned almost infinite iterations like these LeBarons and the Caravan/Voyager minivans, I can say that the car is worthy of historic note. It clearly has a community of serious enthusiasts if there were barely more than a thousand made and two of them show up at a single car show. I’m sure that this K-car owner treasures his car as much as the folks who own those Lincolns. A show dedicated to “the classic beauty of wood in auto styling” doesn’t necessarily have to be restricted the beauty of real wood. Still, I would have been more comfortable if either the show organizers had set aside an area separate from the real woodies for K-car LeBarons, Ford Country Squires, “woody” AMC pacers, Family Trucksters and other examples of vinyl applique automotive art.

An original Chrysler Town & Country convertible. Not quite the same thing, is it?

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, which features 3D graphics and outstanding writers to give a realistic perspective on cars and car culture.

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90 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Automotive “Farb” Edition...”

  • avatar

    Well, here in Maine any car 25 years old can get “classic car” license plates as long as you have something else as a daily driver. Big advantage is you don’t have to have it inspected ever again. So I fail to see a problem with the plates in and of themselves.

    However, parking that turd in with actual classic woodies is another thing all together, and I would be too embarrassed to even contemplate doing so.

    • 0 avatar

      Same here in Connecticut; anything (I think) 25 years or older is eligible for a “classic car” plate. In fact, here in Connecticut they seem to push what we call an “Early American” plate at the DMV for anything that old. There aren’t even any restrictions on mileage from the DMV.

      • 0 avatar

        I like the fact that some states also charge a one-time fee for a “historical,” “collector” or “antique” plate, and there’s NO annual renewal.

        One less thing to think about (and one less fee to pay) when I owned a beater truck, although I know that was not the intent of lawmakers when these special plates were introduced.

  • avatar

    Could it be that the owner gets a substantial insurance break for having a limited use “historical” car? That said, loosen up. The Ks and their various iterations did bring Chrysler back to solvency. It also made affordable convertibles available to average Joes. While the fake wood is pretty lame, the pedestrian underpinnings proved be be a versatile platform and a reliable one at that. Ok, once they became injected and a revised head gasket hit the scene. I have to admit a soft spot for Ks…maybe because I had many a good time in my ’87. And it was unbelievably reliable… 254K on the clock before it moved on. I even took a picture of the odometer…too there is no way to post a photo here. But I have to admit I’d feel way out of place putting this with “real” classics. I do think that all enthusiasts share a common bond. Someday there may be a 83 Camry restored at a car show. It would be even more out of place than this. But it would be cool to see nonetheless. I even am OK with Mustang II’s…

    • 0 avatar

      I was really ambivalent. On one hand, I love the guy’s moxie. He loves his car and sees it as worthy to stand next to those classic postwar (and one prewar) woodies. On the other hand it’s still a historic plate on a K-car. Eventually just about everything becomes historic and collectible by default of everything else decaying or getting destroyed. They made something like 14 million Model Ts and even more VW Type Is, yet today a Model T or even a ’60s Bug in good shape will find a collector who loves it. I just think the guy with the LeBaron above is jumping the gun a bit.

      BTW, there was a much better license plate on the custom ’48 Ford woody wagon. It said VIAGRA. If you follow the link in the post to the woody gallery at Cars In Depth, you’ll see it.

      Every car has its aficionados. Mustang IIs with a 302 V8 weren’t entirely terrible (“A V8 in a go-kart” according to the Drive By Truckers) and no Malaise Era (©Murilee Martin) collection would be complete without one. I can understand the folks who collect the Mustang II, but I just don’t want them telling me it’s much more than a Pinto with a body kit.

      Look, I don’t understand the Studebaker fans who prefer the garish Hawk and Golden Hawks to the ’53 Starliner coupe. I appreciate their passion, I just think they have sh*t for taste. Oh well, wouldn’t life would be a drag if we all liked the same things?

      • 0 avatar

        C’mon, Ronnie, you dissed the guy’s baby! what did you expect? :)

        Seriously, though, that old LeBaron is actually a halfway decent car, if you ask me. And the fact that it marked the resurgence of the convertible makes it (somewhat) significant. Plus, let’s be honest: does anyone diss a ’64 Mustang because it has Falcon bones?

        (OK, maybe not the best comparison…)

  • avatar

    It’s the same here in Arkansas. If your car is an 86 or older, you can put ‘classic’ plates on it. I’ve seen classic plates on 80s Cavaliers and Tempos ferChrists’sake. The cool thing about it is that your car is now exempt from property taxes, and once you buy the classic plate, you never again have to pay for a new sticker every year or property assess unless you own something newer.

  • avatar

    I once saw a Chevette in Florida with “collector car” plates on it. I couldn’t stop laughing for 10 minutes!!

  • avatar

    What, is seeing Historic plates on a K-car making you feel old?

  • avatar

    It’s Jon Voight’s car!

    • 0 avatar

      No, Jon Voight’s LeBaron was fake wood over black or dark blue, not white. Same model, though. Funny how Seinfeld and Larry David managed to pick a car model that is genuinely collectible (1,105 produced).

      • 0 avatar

        Were those plastic wood-clad K-car convertibles really that exotic? The reason I ask is that we used to se several of these driving around Knoxville when I was in middleschool and highschool. I distinctly remember the other kids mocking the K-car with plastic wood on the sides (I also remember how the screw covers never matched the grain or color of the surrounding plastiwood).

        At the time, we figured that the only way to get a convertible (other than a Golf) was a Chrysler convertible, and all of those seemed to have the plastic wood.

      • 0 avatar

        To be historically correct… was John Voight, the dentist’s car, not Jon Voight the actor.

  • avatar

    …ersatz luxuries, fake wood, coach lights and opera windows. It has more in common with plastic clad Pontiacs than with maple framed Mercurys.

    Hey now, some people are into that stuff. It’s a little disappointing the the K-car guy seemed to take himself so seriously though.

    I’m not into car show segregation either, I personally love seeing stuff like a mint 442 Calais parked in between a ratty ’87 and garage queen ’70 W30.

    • 0 avatar

      Frankly, if it was just the two LeBaron T&Cs I would have laughed it off, but after the guy whined about “prejudice” (to someone who won’t shoot ’69 Camaros and ’57 Chevys because he’s too busy shooting AMC Hornets and Nash Ambassadors) and I noticed the historical plates, I figured he deserved some loveable teasing.

  • avatar

    Ronnie, I disagree although I understand your sentiments.

    Your treatment of the K-car owner is like Porschephiles who disown anything not rear-engined and air-cooled as not truly a Porsche.

    At what point does the K-car become a legitimate entry? It meets the 25-year threshold for ‘classic’, and the examples you saw certainly qualify due to their limited production and ‘classic’ – if fake – woodgrain siding. Sorry, but that’s the nature of woodgrain since the 1960s, and its fakeness is a charm in itself. To me, this qualifies as part of the “classic beauty of wood styling”, even if you don’t approve of the direction it went in.

    Unlike me, my dad used to shun classic car cruises because he lived those days, and found the old cars to be nothing but trouble – high maintenance, unsafe, and unreliable. Nostalgia is the art of looking at the past through rose-colored glasses. TTAC is that those 1940s cars were dogs that should be put down, and the K-car is a much better vehicle signifying the resurgence of Chrysler.

    The survival of those ancient cars says more about the owners than the cars (most of them are in the junkyard). Similarly, dissing the K-car guy is a jab at him, not his car, and in my opinion, in bad form.

    Since the show theme was ‘classic beauty of wood styling’, you’d have to add some other criteria to omit the K-car guy, like pre-1960 production or something. Otherwise, he gets in just like everyone else. For completeness, his entry really provides a historical bookend to the wood styling period.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      I like it.

      It’s funny, and the best part is the owner pretending to be serious about his car.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re missing the point. He IS serious about the car. To him, that’s something important in his understanding of automotive history. And it is a nicely done restoration (or, more likely, keeping it pristine original).

    • 0 avatar


      I had a reply to you, but I misspelled the word won, and when I tried to correct “one the lott&ry”, the comment got flagged for spam. We’ll see if it gets released from moderation. In the meantime, I don’t disagree with much of what you said. I didn’t want to slam the guy and you can see from some other comments here that I did try to take a balanced position. Mostly I think it was humorous.

      Just to argue the point, I think that you can get a Flex with fake wood, so the “wood styling period” continues to this very day.

      Of course the ultimate wood bodied car is the Splinter project, but I think that’s currently stalled due to lack of funds.

      • 0 avatar

        That Splinter reminds me of the high-performance YAK-9 wood-skinned Soviet WWII fighter.

        Actually, I don’t like wood trim in cars of any era (unless it’s functional), although I admire owners who can keep the really old stuff intact.

        And I think you’re right about the Ford Flex, although I couldn’t find it on their web site (aftermarket, maybe?). External fake wood is nasty, and really ought not to be on a 21st-century car.

      • 0 avatar

        You can get a woodie Flex? SIGN ME UP.
        My friend in high school had a 1979 Lebaron wagon (M-body, not K). It was slathered in fake wood that rotted and disintegrated, just like real wood.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Being in negotiations for some donor GLHs (or 3) for specific top condition interior and exterior trim pieces and doors to clean up my GLHS Omni (#053) I can appreciate the effort required to maintain 80s automobiles. It is especially difficult when many people went out of their way to destroy the products of that era as well as push all sorts of revisionist stories in addition to simply ignoring the period as if it did not exist. I enjoy busting their bubble with all the tales of upsets, pocket rockets and surprise sleepers (I made a point of hunting down and humiliating Camaro drivers while looking nerdy in mom’s 1st-gen turbocharged Dodge Caravan), especially when all the whiz-bang hardware did a much better job of differentiating the various offerings. I was the lone domestic guy in a group that specialized in hot hatchbacks including GTIs, FX16GTs, the occasional CRX Si and the “one with everything” 323 GTX, but apart from the ribbing we engaged in on cruise nights there was never any feeling of “know your place” which has sadly become the norm among most of the one-make/model forums and the restoration community (where NOS is neither slang nor trademarked).

    • 0 avatar

      Which is why I happily park my ’87 924S in line with all the 911’s. I love tweaking the types to take it all too seriously. And they can’t even openly bitch about my car because I’ve got the Porsche engine (as opposed to the Audi block).

      Now, where I get all indignant (I’ve been in the vintage hobby since the late 1960’s) is putting street rods and customs in the same show with restored-to-factory originals. I can remember a time when street rods weren’t allowed in vintage car shows, and wish that hadn’t changed. Unless . . . . . you’ve restored a 50’s or 60’s (built) street rod/custom to the same specs that the original builder created. To me, that’s a vintage car, just as much as a four door sedan restored stock.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s also why I love taking my ’77 Chevelle to car shows and entering it as a Chevelle. the purists come up to me and tell me that the name died after ’72, I’ll pull the owners manual out of the glovebox and it says right on the cover ‘CHEVELLE’. The look on their faces is always fun.

  • avatar

    Virginia is the same way. Gets you out of both the annual state police safety inspection and possibly the emissions inspection, although I think cars over 25 years are automatically exempted from that. You are limited in the number of miles you can drive.

    Although I’m 10 years away from qualifying, I am looking forward to the plates. Quite tired of explaining that a saab 900’s rear fog lights are only meant to light up on the drivers side.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s no actual mileage limit, but there is a “no general transportation” rule – you have to have another car, and at least in Fairfax county, people have gotten pulled over for driving a black-plated car during rush hour.

      Maryland is much more lax. Their “Historic” tags don’t seem to carry much of any restriction, and they’re available at 20 years. But then, Maryland doesn’t have annual inspections anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      And in some counties, personal property tax. I live in Hanover County and used to get a giggle that my ’30 Indiana 101 Scout, while being more valuable than the sum total of the rest of my motorcycle collection, never appeared on the annual tax bill.

  • avatar

    Ronnie, stop trying to be so diplomatic about the guy. Call him what he really is. An asswipe! Period. End of story. No enabling here. Tough love only.

    • 0 avatar

      “asswipe”? The guy has a car that he loves,and is proud of. So the dude didn’t pick up on Ronnies sense of humour. Does the make him any less of a car guy?

      @ Ron…If it was me, I would have laughed like crazy. But for sure I would have thrown a couple of verbal jabs your way.

      But thats me.

      BTW…I have a passion for what many would consider “chick cars”.

      The car shows I’ve been at, I can hold my own with anybody, that may find a fault with my passion.

      • 0 avatar

        “BTW…I have a passion for what many would consider “chick cars”.”

        This is a shocking reveal, Mikey. Somehow, I have a hard time picturing you digging on the Nissan Pulsar… you know, the white ones with the silly tail lights with the white tape/paint on them.

        Other than the VW Cabriolet, that Pulsar is the ultimate chick car.

  • avatar

    Not guilty on both counts

    He’s not guilty for the historic plates, because he’s just being financially smart, not conceited.

    He’s not guilty for parking next to the awesomemobiles because that’s where he was told to go.

    The only think he’s guilty of is questionable use of time and money, and for that crime we’d probably share the same cell.

  • avatar

    Ronnie, you gotta take it easy on folks like K-Car Guy. I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of this car, but it was neat to see the pics and would have certainly been more interestingly to see in real life.

    Think about it. If we all became big snobs about what can be a classic car, then big events like Woodward Cruise would be a big parade of maybe ten different cars that were deemed acceptable like the Camaro, Vette, Charger, etc. but nothing else. All Porsche events would be an endless sea of air cooled 911s and nothing else.

    I’m glad that someone wants to keep this car alive. I hope that someone out there is keeping a Geo Metro convertible alive. Or a Yugo. Or a Porsche 924 turbo.

    I like the variety. It probably took balls for this guy to drive his “historical” K-Car into that show. You were probably the tenth guy in the past hour that came up to give K-Car Guy a hard time about his car, and this is why he had the attitude.

  • avatar

    A year or two ago, there was great wailing and gnashing of teeth when the first Caravan/Voyager minivans became AACA eligible and appeared at shows.

    On the one hand, I understand how it can be hard to think of appliance-mobiles as collectible. On the other hand, 1957 Chevrolets were once ubiquitous grocery getters too. I seem to recall that in the early to mid 1970’s, some noses would still wrinkle at any post-WW2 car appearing in certain shows.

    I think there is another thing going on, which is that cars are overall lasting longer so it doesn’t seem as much of a milestone anymore for a car to reach the 25-year threshold so often used to mark collector status for plates, insurance, clubs, shows, etc. Is the first Taurus collectible or “historical”? It’s 25 years old.

    • 0 avatar

      I think that people that get upset about minivans and the like in cruise lanes at events don’t realize that back in the day we were far more likely to cruise in Mom’s Polara wagon or Dad’s LTD than in a Z/28 or Mach One.

      • 0 avatar

        That might be exactly what’s on their mind, though; they might be entirely happy seeing a pristine 1986 Mustang GT, and they might just as well turn up their noses at a daily-driven 1968 Polara wagon.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d say the first gen Taurus should certainly be considered collectible. It was a landmark car, not just for Ford, but for the industry. It was the vehicle that really brought aerodynamic styling into the mainstream and ushered in a new styling era for family sedans.

      Also, even given the large sales figures, there are probably relatively few first year models that are mechanically original and that still look and drive like new.

      • 0 avatar

        The Audi 5000S and Mazda 626 of 1983 got there before the Taurus did, although the Taurus was certainly revolutionary for an American car. Just look at the GM A-cars and 1985 LTD for perspective. In Europe, Ford launched their aerodynamically styled Sierra three years before the Taurus too.

      • 0 avatar

        Ford in North America introduced the Aero T-Bird at around the same time as the Sierra and Mazda 626.

        Still, I think the Taurus and 5000s were more influential designs that changed the way big sedans looked for the next 10 years or so. The Taurus was arguably more influential as it was a more affordable car and sold in much greater numbers.

        The Taurus had a huge influence on Japanese cars as well – compare the square mid ’80s Camry or Maxima to the late ’80s or early ’90s versions.

        A first gen Taurus might not be collectible, but it is certainly a worthwhile “curbside classic”…

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        The 5000 and 626 simply looked like their predecessors had been left in the oven a few minutes too long. The Taurus not only wowed everyone with its stressed-skin look, it also sported a clean sheet interior which integrated with the exterior in ways Audi and Mazda couldn’t match. Eventually that would change, but considering how quickly it destroyed Japan’s entire Origami School of Folded Steel look, it’s clear Ford’s styling exercise was the most important one of the past 30 years.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree that the original Taurus should be considered collectible. Probably not for cruising around town in, but worthy of a museum for it’s signifigance. Naysayers always love to point to Audi and say they invented that look, but everything I’ve read has indicated the Taurus was an all new design ground up that was thought up in the basement of some Ford building in Dearborn. I dare say Detroit hasn’t come up with anything as revolutionary since. Back in the 1990’s I recall reading a Business Week article where they interviewed the lead engineer at Toyota responsible for the Camry. He said that they bought a Taurus and tore it apart to study while designing the 1992 Camry. Toyota built a better Taurus for sure, but historically speaking, originality matters more.

      • 0 avatar

        My recollection is that the Audi 5000 was noted for it’s flush-fitting side glass and how the window channels were turned 90°, which made it really expensive to do right to give the car that smooth look. Still beautiful after all these years, too! I know I wanted one real bad! I also believe it had a drag co-efficient number of .032, which was note-worthy, too.

      • 0 avatar

        I remember when the Thunderbird first came out: it’s new aerodynamic sheet metal was such a big deal that it made the national news (I was in middle school at the time).

      • 0 avatar

        I had an Audi 5000S. I believe the advertised CofD was .30, helped by being one of the last big luxury cars to be sold on 185 mm wide tires. The tricky flush window mechanisms were unique, which was apparent by the way the windows were screwed to little arms at their leading and trailing edges. When the driver’s window mechanism broke on mine, the dealer told me the easiest repair would be for me to buy a new door. Instead, a friend who is a surgeon fished all the bits of plastic out of the bottom of the door and reassembled them into a working part. That worked for a while, but one cold night it came apart again. That time I simply took the door panel off, pulled the window up, and used a hose clamp on the drive track to fix it in place. Then I sold it. Rube Goldberg didn’t inspire my favorite engineers.

  • avatar

    Plastic is for when you can’t get the real thing.. in more ways than one. The movie shoot people are always complainng that not enough survives from the 80’s. Really tough era to find wheels. No wonder.

  • avatar

    Would this car be more or less socially acceptable if the vinyl (assuming it isn’t original) were replaced with actual wood veneer?

  • avatar

    Give the guy a break. He has a car that he must like and can afford, and the show gave him a chance to show it off. I’d find it just as interesting as all the other cars there that were made before I was born if I were at the show.

    • 0 avatar

      Give the guy a break? If he wants to show off his car his LeBaron Town & Country is now featured at one of the most popular car blogs there is. Thousands of people will see it.

      BTW, I’m not sure if there were any Cougars at the Cars ‘R’ Stars show but at the Hot Rod Power Tour stop in suburban Detroit last week there was a very nice yellow Cougar Eliminator. I put up a post on it over at Cars in Depth.

      • 0 avatar

        The Cougar Eliminator may be my favorite muscle car of all time.

        As for the K-car LeBaron, some things are just wrong. I’m sure someone, somewhere, found Rosanne Barr attractive back in the day, but nobody tried to add her to the SI Swimsuit issue or a Victoria’s Secret catalog.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    The plastic fantastic K-car certainly tells a story about a place and time in US history, and as such is justifiably historical.

    Consider that any decent history of twentieth century fashion would have to cover the double-knit leisure suit era. I’m not about to wear a leisure suit, but I would give high marks to anyone brave enough to do so in public :).

    A car doesn’t have to be beautiful to be a legitimate piece of automotive history. Nothing says Iaccoca era Chrysler like a fully tarted up K-car!

    Personally, I give the owner full marks for having pride of passion. Not my thing, but I still admire the passion someone is showing for the K-car.

    Here are the rules for a Michigan Historical license plate:

    “Michigan, the automobile capital of the world, has many residents who collect and restore
    antique vehicles. Since 1956, the state has offered a special, inexpensive vehicle registration for older vehicles that are operated on the road only occasionally.
    A Historical vehicle must be:
    • 26 or more years old — based on model year
    • Owned solely as a collector’s item
    • Used only for events such as historical club activities, parades, and car shows.
    Note: A vehicle registered with a historical plate cannot be used for routine transportation.”

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Absolutely, +1. History is history. At some point my fiance’s 2005 Vibe will be representative of a certain time period within GMs history; When the best selling Pointac was based off a Toyota design and built in a joint factory with Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse


      You are on to something here…historical context.

      When one observes a K car today, it’s not particularly attractive or classic. It’s certainly not a dynamic driver now — or even when it was brand new. The build quality and materials are not particularly nice (okay, they’re mostly bad).


      Without K car (and the minivan), there is no Chrysler.

      K car kept the doors open and the lights on. It may be, using historical context, the most important vehicle in Chrysler’s history.

      From my personal history, I drove an Aspen 4-door. It was very used by the time I got it, I hated it, but in retrospect, it got me from Point A to B without much fuss or expense.

      I don’t see K cars ever becoming a “classic” in the “classic” sense. But it does have its fans — and considering the history of Chrysler and the automobile in America, the K car certainly has its place.

    • 0 avatar

      Historical significance, indeed!

      Nehru shirt & medallion in 1968 (worn to every school and church dance): Check.
      Leisure suit in 1976 (worn once): Check.
      K-cars in the 1980’s: Check, check!

      The K-car and its many derivatives were the “Cockroaches of the Road”©geozinger in their time! Love’em all!

  • avatar

    You know, I have a good friend who has a major executive position here in San Francisco with a major, Fortune whatever corporation, he could probably expense a Ferrari, yet he drives one of those old K-car convertibles.

    He seems utterly oblivious to cars and seems to be utterly happy to have one worth less than his stove. It is a reliable commuter daily car for his in SF 1.5 mile commute, and once a month, with the top down, he takes out of town guest across the Golden Gate Bridge at twilight, in the “Alpen Licht” glow.

    And in that light you might as well be in a Bentley Azure.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    His inclusion in the show is valid, if for no other reason, it clearly illustrates how far the mighty have fallen. It also serves younger auto enthusiasts the opportunity to see how cheesy cars really got in the 70s and 80s. So things can’t be explained. They have to be demonstrated.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      This, and it helps the real-wood cladding look less gaudy and asinine. (There are many aspects of “car culture” that I absolutely don’t get, and gluing and screwing slabs of wood on the side is one of them.)

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. There is no ‘real’ difference between real wood and fake wood on a vehicle. Both are ridiculous. If anything, the fake wood is more practical and doesn’t require murphy’s oil after you drive home from work. There’s a reason why those cars died off.

        Props to the man that kept that K car so cherry. I’m a firm believer that there should be well preserved examples of every automobile. If it’s rare and in great shape, show it.

  • avatar

    Sorry Ronnie, you sound like a snob to me. To each his own.. the man is enjoying it, why bother busting his chops. I suppose you are a “matching numbers” snob too. If anything, this car makes the others there look all the better. It’s a convertible K-car with wire wheel hubcaps, enough said..
    Nothing to see here, next!

  • avatar
    John R

    “…don’t you think that it’s a bit pretentious to put “historical’ license plates on a Chrysler K-car?”

    Not pretentious so much as wildly optimistic.

  • avatar
    M 1

    Notice the first K-car’s tag is labeled “historical”… The ironic humor of the situation might run a bit deeper than Ed realizes.

    That which is history-making; something important in history.

    Everything from the past, whether it is important or not.

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    Oy…this hits close to home. As others mentioned, Ohio allows for historical plates at 25 yrs old (no annual registration after that). So I got some for my 1984 Toyota Van. We’re the original owners and it’s truly in excellent shape (garage queen…driven 1-200 miles/year now in the summers ONLY). Luckily my dad kept the original plates, so I have period-correct plates on it at least.

    For what it’s worth, I still get lots of smiles and thumbs up since most people haven’t seen one of these for a while (or ever). It’s a 5 speed too :)

  • avatar

    It is simply a dirt cheap way to register the car.

    $3 per year for plates that are good for 10 years.

    You can apply for historical plates if your prized vehicle is 26 years old or older, owned as a collector’s item and used only in parades, exhibitions or car club activities. You cannot use a designated historical vehicle for everyday functions such as driving to and from work or running errands.

  • avatar

    That’s one beautiful LeBaron! I’m extremely prejudiced, because I was a HUGE fan of ANYTHING Chrysler back then and I bought their products to back it up! I owned a 1992 LeBaron convertible for 8½ years, bought in 1999. It was a classy-looking ride because I took very good care of it. I owned a 1990 Acclaim, a 1993 Spirit, a 1996 Intrepid, a 1980 Dodge pickup, a 1980 LeBaron, a 1984 E-Class, a 1981 Reliant. My wife’s side of the family also bought Chryslers, too. Chevy killed me with their Citations and I couldn’t afford the Impalas at that time and Ford was never on my radar.

    So yes, that car deserves those historical plates! I wish I had the time and desire to fully restore the 1992 LeBaron at that time, but I got rid of it, but my Impala is my baby for now.

  • avatar

    There may have been 1105 of these made, but I personally destroyed 3 of them during one of my stints at Chrysler (2 rollover tests, 1 fuel system integrity). As I recall, we used the woody versions because the dealers wouldn’t take them if they had the chance.

    I think the Dodge versions were even rarer. Some of those even had manual windows.

    As someone who once had a collection of Vegas, I would be reluctant to criticise a collector of K cars, even woddies. But it sure does make me scratch my head a little.


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    And hey guys, at least he did pick something fairly rare now. Although I guess the % of survival rate for convertibles is higher than say an Aries K sedan.

  • avatar

    Sorry Ronnie, anytime a person starts a statement with how they’re not a snob about this or that, they are setting themself up to make a snobby comment – just the same way every racist starts their nasty comments with a statement about how many black or hispanic friends they have. Not to say you are a racist, but you are a car snob.

    I started driving in the 80s and I remeber seeing K-cars everywhere. It amazes me (and saddens me a little) at just how completely they have disappeared from the streets. I think its great that this guy has taken the time to preserve one and show it off. You say yourself it was show quality, why not just look at it for a while, smile and remember when you were a little younger? That’s what its all about anyhow.

  • avatar

    My Dad traded his 64-1/2 Mustang ragtop for a Pinto wagon with fake wood on the side in 1973. I guess both would be considered classics today, although one would probably be a classic pile of rust. I still curse his car buying skills.

    • 0 avatar

      My folks traded a maroon 66 Mustang hardtop with a 289 for a 1973 Torino Wagon, white with fake woodgrain on the side. I can bemoan what might have been (66 is my birth year), but he Torino was a better family hauler on long trips for many years.

  • avatar

    Ronnie, I agree, we cannot let riff-raff like that in our society. We have worked hard and earned the right to judge and not be judged. Just because some simpleton spends hundreds of hours and pounds of sweat making his POC presentable does not make him one of us. We should require entries to post a million dollar cash bond to prove that they indeed belong here. Yes, Ronnie, you are entirely an ass.

    • 0 avatar

      It may be a fat ass but it’s a pile driving ass.

      Seriously, though, I never said they shouldn’t have let the guy in the show. I even said that a show about woodies should have a display of fake wood cars. I said the guy loved his car as much as the other folks there. I said that the two LeBaron T&Cs were show worthy and collectible.

      So just because I think it’s kind of silly to put historical plates on a K-car (while acknowledging that the K-car was indeed a historical and historic car) and that positioning a 1985 LeBaron T&C with fake wood next to a real T&C is a bit visually jarring, that makes me “entirely an ass”?

      The guy was prickly. People with far more valuable and more significant cars at the show were also far less prickly. I’m entitled to my opinion about the guy. I didn’t slam him, just wrote a mildly humorous article about him and his car. More people will see his car because of this post than might have seen it had I not written about it. Looking at the comments here it’s clear that I’m not the only person who thinks that it was kind of pretentious. Still, I was hoping to express the ambivalence that I felt. On one hand, he’s just another guy with a car he loves. On the other, it is still a K-car with historic plates. The fact that there are over 80 comments in this thread, with opinions on both sides, shows that at least I picked a good topic for a post.

  • avatar


    For historical understanding, we need examples of EVERY car saved, if only for a complete record of what passed before us. Saving the Ferrari’s, Jaguars, etc., is easy. After all, they’re worth serious money and the restorer will eventually get his financial reward.

    The true aficionado of antique cars takes the time, effort and money to save the Citation’s, Chevette’s, Yugo’s, Renault 5’s and the like. Cars that will probably never make their restoration costs in the owners lifetime, are derided as crap, but, in the grand scheme of things were more important than anything turned out by Marinello or other such factories of exotica.

    I really hope that someone out there has figured a way to sleeve the old Vega aluminum four, just so there’s at least one of those still running without an Iron Duke or a dropped-in smallblock. Deride it all you want, in the early 70’s the Vega was an important car, and is a necessary point in the history of the American automobile.

    By the way, nobody considered the 55-57 Chevy classics back in 55-57. They were just cars, to be sold and used as daily transportation. If anything, the 58 had a much bigger immediate effect on the market than the 57.

    Ronnie, may your entire collection of cars (assuming you have one) be turned into Pinto’s, Vega’s and Gremlin’s. I can’t think of anybody who deserves it more.

    • 0 avatar

      Syke, there’s really nothing you say that I disagree with.

      At car shows I generally avoid shooting ’57 Chevys, since I’d rather shoot something unusual or oddball, precisely like a Pinto or a Gremlin. I specifically shot a Vega at the Hot Rod Power Tour. I’ve always liked the Renault 5 (and think it get’s a bad rap for Le Car).

      One vehicle on my lottery list is a Pinto wagon with a Lotus Twin Cam.

      I have no problem with people who restore Citations.

      I think K-cars have their place at car shows.

      I also think it’s humorous to put a K-car “woody” with historical plates right next to classic postwar woodies.

  • avatar


    I think your reaction was better than mine would have been. I wouldn’t have approached him with humor, I’d have walked right by his car ignoring both him and the machine.

    In the future, I’ll try to approach things more like you did. Though the guy didn’t take your humor in the manner intended, you did give him a chance to talk about his car.

  • avatar

    Pretty snotty attitude throughout the entire article.

  • avatar

    Why is it every time I see one of these cars they all had the AAA sticker on the bumper in the same spot it seems lol

  • avatar

    The car is certainly show worthy, but a sense of humor should be mandatory for anyone showing a K-car. I was fresh out of college and driving a beat up 20 year old Mustang when that car was built, and I honestly think I would not have swapped vehicles given the chance, a woody LeBaron was that uncool.

  • avatar

    Count me in the snob category. This car was and is a wart on a dead pig’s ass.

    As others before me have said, all that this car does is show how low the US car industry could go, since the K-car (as much of embarrassment as it is) was actually a acknowledgement of the present and future that Detroit had been denying.

  • avatar

    Got some bad news Ronnie, you’re a snob. As soon as a statement like the following pops into your head you’ve cemented it.

    “Still, I would have been more comfortable if either the show organizers had set aside an area separate from the real woodies for K-car LeBarons, Ford Country Squires, “woody” AMC pacers, Family Trucksters and other examples of vinyl applique automotive art.”

  • avatar

    I am angry. I didn’t have time to read all the comments here, but here are my thoughts (my social filter is out for cleaning, so apologies if I offend or sound preachy):

    – I am disappointed in much of the discourse here … both in the article, and in many of the comments. Below, my thoughts are directed to Ronnie, but they are not intended to be exclusively to him, but rather to anyone that would be mean-enough to depersonalize and denegrate somebody’s beloved posession… with no care for the personal back-story or larger historical context that that vehicle played in the life of the person or the history of the industry … the thoughts ramble below, but there is a thread of reason in them as well as a summation:

    – I was immediately reminded of this: “Princess Anne Insults a Fan: On Christmas Day 2000, 75-year-old pensioner Mary Halfpenny spent three hours making a flower display for the Queen Mother, then waited patiently outside a church on Sandringham Estate hoping to present it to her. The exchange never happened. Instead, Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth II’s only daughter, grabbed the bouquet and huffed, “What a ridiculous thing to do!” The incident left Halfpenny reeling. “It was a really hurtful thing to say,” she told reporters. “I’ve made baskets of flowers for the Queen, and she has always said how nice they are.”,28804,2076816_2076800_2076802,00.html #ixzz1PSYZhDrw

    – then I thought about a family friend who lives in the neck of the woods near you Ronnie, popularly called “The Woods” by locals, and he would aggressively defend his decision not to buy a Benz because they are built by The Holocaust Crowd, yet had no qualms about filling his non-Benz with (at least in part) Arab Oil from arabic station owners (IIRC, Mr. Fischer sold off his distribution company long ago), and some laughed at him behind his back for this dichotomy, but to him, and for him, it was real and personal;

    – then I thought about my own 78 y/o mom and her PT-Cruiser with the woodie trim, and how much she loved it (before trading it in for her 4th PT) because it reminded her of the Good Old Days, even how she at 15, without a license, tried driving her boyfriends (real) woody on a country lane, and side-swiped some old clunker of a 1930’s car …

    – then I thought about how after the Great Death of the American Convertable, there was a period from ca. 1976 (Eldo EOP) and 1983 (T&C SOP) where there was, even in contemporary discussion, a dearth of nice-looking cars (code talk for rag-tops), and in this time, Detroit was glum because of Chrysler’s 1st of 3 well-known near-death experiences, and Ford’s simultaneous but lesser-known near-death experience, and GM’s rudderlessnessirrfahrt … and how the appearance of the K-ragtop, and it’s success (don’t forget, because nobody was sure that there even was a convertable market anymore, these were converted off-line, in Brighton, MI, by Cars & Concepts) – think pent(astar)-up drop-top demand – paved the way for the Mustang rag-top (and maybe even this mind-set, in a broader-sense, paved the way for an emergence from the malaise and bunker mentality still hanging in that early 1980’s air) … these cars, like each of the others before them and after them, played their vital part in an Automotive Continuum (they, like GLH, or GLHS, or were a halo-vehicle, pointing to a certain demographic, and helping to keep the Chrysler boat afloat and pointing toward Chrysler’s courage to try old things again, or new things anew;

    – and then my thoughts drifted to automotive snobbery, how instead of looking over with a smile and respect (for the other person’s situation and limitations), folks too often look down with a sneer and contempt (for the the other person’s limitations and situation), and how at best, snobbery made the concept of A Product for Every Purse and Purpose practical, but, at worst, it artificially separates us from one another and prevents us from increasing our breadth of knowledge, experience, and joy (and returning each in-kind);

    – then I thought about how many of the cars we consider classics today the T’s and the A’s, the Star’s and the Chrysler Six’s, the slab-sided 50’s Ford, or the Max Hoffmann-era Beetles (Max didn’t share the same qualms about dealing with the Jerries!), or the Bricklin Subaru’s or Safety Cars, or Delorean ponchos or chevy’s, or a (pick your year) F150 style-side short-bed, or long bed, or step-side, or Good Humor conversion, etc., etc., and in so thinking, I thought about how when they were born, they were just one of a tremendous many, like you, or me, the everyman of their generation, normal and ordinary, representative, but like in the Great Human Holocaust years ago, each of these cars are survivors of a continually-occurring automotive holocaust, and they, like the good people, who gather in the former Old Orchard Theatre a bit North of 12 Mi on Orchard Lake Rd., they have stories to tell, of how they went from ordinary, to special, from endangered, to survivors, because of some combination of luck, charity, foresight, whatever. But mostly, I think, the equation sums to the same as to the reason why they were born: Love. Somebody, or somebodies, crossed their path, and cared enough to give birth to them, or to shelter and care for them, because they had some intrinsic value, which they spoke to someone’s heart… and in that message, just as in the human one, they found a resonating beauty which endures.

    – point is, motor cars are emotive time-machines, that people buy, or inherit, which both grow on their hearts and are an affirmative part of their psyche, and the collector world should be the Biggest Tent of All, with room for all who love cars, in what-ever form, to enter… and one in which all of can, and should, respect that person’s choice and they ours and take joy that that person has found something which they can appreciate and makes them happy. This guy brought his baby to the show because he was proud of his little spectra of the automotive continuum, he brought it because it brings him joy, he brought it because he wanted to share that joy with others, and basically, no matter how great a day he was having, you insulted him, his baby, his decisions, his choices, his memories and you stole either a portion of, or all of that day’s joy. Looking at the pics of him, I think you may be lucky he did not reflexively take a swing at you.

    So, just as it was not proper for some to laugh at the sensibilities of our friend from The Woods, or others to tell someone their new baby is ugly, even if it truly is, it just ain’t good form to directly-insult somebody’s motor baby…

    Because, to paraphrase something attributed to Freud, sometimes a car is more than a car, more than near-post-malaise metal, plastic, rubber and glass (no matter what shape it is formed and assembled into) it is a physical embodyment, a talisman, for that person’s (and by extension, our own, be they ones we chose, were made to have, or were lucky to miss) experience, memories and dignity…

    • 0 avatar

      Robert, that was beautifully written but I had no intention of denigrating the LeBaron owner. It was intended as gentle ribbing, like I said above, loveable teasing. If there was a national meet of K-car enthusiasts here in Detroit, I’d probably try to attend. One of the cool things about that particular show is that it has everything from Corvairs to stately prewar Packards that are worth six figures or more.

      Understand that I didn’t just see the license plate and snort, “Hah! Now that’s a joke!”. I saw the plate after I’d already interacted with the owner of the car, who seemed to be a bit humorless. I was smiling, obviously joking, and he got all serious on me. I kind of like it when people have a sense of humor about their possessions.

      If you had been there, you would also have noticed that the K-car woodies looked out of place. They were 30 years newer than any of the other cars in that area, all Packards and woodies.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree with Robert on this one. If you find humor at someone else’s expense it is humorless. If I called you a flaccid old blowhard and then smiled and said just kidding, would you find it funny?

  • avatar

    Great article on the “Cars ‘R Stars” show in yesterday’s Detroit News:

    Photo gallery from the event, not every vehicle was a “woody”, but they all look super. Wish I was there to see them in person:

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll be putting up a gallery from the full show in the next few days on Cars In Depth.

      BTW, that article in the DetNews says this about the K-car woody:

      Woodies were celebrated this year and some 16 — from the authentic to a custom and a 1984 imitator — occupied an inner circle…

      A 1984 Chrysler LeBaron convertible with faux wood paneling and owned by Andy Agosta of Farmington Hills, Mich. sat demurely among its betters.

      So I guess it wasn’t that unusual for me to have commented on the presence of that “imitator”. Actually, there were two K-car woodies, something I didn’t realize until I was processing the photos.

      • 0 avatar

        So, if the other kids are knobs, its ok for you to be one too? :)

        I wonder how many times that day the owner of that K car got insulted or asked “why did you bring that here?” He prbably had a good reason for being defensive.

  • avatar

    I am a member of our local car club here in Dublin, Ireland.

    One of the things I like about it is that everybody is welcome.

    From the guy with 35 pre war Rolls Royces, the guy with Aston Martin DB4, DB5 and DB6 and many others to the guy with an Austin Princess or Austin 1100.

    It is the same interest shared by them all. The only difference is the price of entry.

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