Look At What I Found!: 1991 Plymouth Sundance America, Driven Only On Sundays

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Look At What I Found! was inspired by Murilee Martin’s original Down On The Street series over at Jalopnik. For today’s installment I’ll be performing a trifecta of plagiarizing M&M’s work because we’ll be talking about not just a car I found when out and about, but about an exact model that Murilee covered in a Junkyard Find, with a side dish of Nice Price or Crack Pipe, another car blog staple that sprang, Athena-like, from the fertile mind of our own ‘Ms. Martin’. The main difference between Murilee’s find and mine is the car’s condition. Murilee’s was ready for the crusher, but this one belongs in a museum, showing only 18,000 original miles on the odometer. With a little detailing it could win a prize at a car show, maybe even a concours. That’s not much of an exaggeration. Other than the barest hint of surface rust inside one of the rear wheel wells and the door hinges, the body is flawless. No dents or dings or any sign of damage. The interior looks just about brand new. The carpet by the driver’s seat shows minor wear but the pedals are not worn at all. The kick panels on the doors look like they’ve never been kicked. Other interior panels look similarly pristine. The back seat appears to never have been occupied, certainly not by any enfant terrible scribe pitching woo at an autojourno’s wife.

Now who would enter a Plymouth Sundance in a concours, I don’t know, but then it’s hard to imagine someone who would keep one in showroom condition either. This is a Sundance , not an anniversary or pace car Mustang, Corvette or Firebird. The Sundance was one of Chrysler’s seemingly unending iterations of the K-car, revised to create the P-car platform for the compact Sundance and it’s Dodge Shadow corporate sibling. They were attractive enough cars, but their weight and Chrysler’s reliance on their workhorse 2.2L engine meant that they didn’t get as good gas mileage as competing cars.

So the Sundance is a fairly mundane car to be getting the creampuff treatment in the first place. This is not just any Sundance, though, but rather it’s a a Sundance “America”, which was the moniker that Chrysler used in the late 1980s and early 1990s to designate an economy model. You couldn’t quite call them “stripper” models, since they came with enough standard equipment, like A/C, to be sold on value but as you can see from the photos, even the simplest radio was optional equipment. Nobody pampers a special value package thinking it will, someday, be worth more money.

From Allpar:

In 1991, following the success of the Omni/Horizon America models, Chrysler brought out the Sundance America and Shadow America. These were nicely featured versions of the vehicles with lower prices – they were the lowest priced cars on the market with driver’s-side airbags, and retailed for under $8,000 – for a full dollar under $8,000, unless you added in the destination charge, or $163 for the common rear-window defroster option. Still, at $8,627, it was hard to beat the Sundance/Shadow America, with their big 2.2 liter engine – providing much more torque than anything else in its class – along with a nice cloth interior with bucket seats, driver airbag, prop-rod-free hood, power brakes (discs up front, drums in back), fourteen-inch wheels, fold-down rear seatback, hidden-hatchback storage, and other niceties.

The niceties did not, apparently, include a radio as standard equipment

The niceties didn’t seem nice enough to most consumers. Chrysler never reached their goal of 200,000 units a year. That may actually have been fortunate since Chrysler is said to have lost money on each and every P-car it sold. Perhaps the most significant thing about the Sundance/Shadow is that it was replaced by the Neon, Chrysler first credible small car. Last March, Murilee was surprised to even see a Sundance America at a Rocky Mountain junkyard:

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…

The Sundance America was probably the most comfy of this group and it looked like a helluva deal, but buyers avoided it like chlamydia.

I’m not surprised that Murilee hasn’t seen more of those Sundances or Plymouth Shadows that Chrysler did manage to sell awaiting the crusher, or on the street for that matter. With the America model appealing to folks looking for cheap transportation, my guess is that most Sundance Americas had every possible mile wrung out of them and have long since been recycled into various and sundry items labeled Made In China. That makes the condition of this particular Sundance America all the more remarkable. Who’s going to save an economy car?

Who? Maybe somebody exceptionally frugal, someone who used the car as frugally as they bought it. 18,000 miles in 20 year works is less than 20 miles a week, on average. Maybe this car really was only driven to church on Sundays.

Either way, this may be the lowest mileage Sundance America that exists. That’s why Danny, the nice Chaldean guy who owns the Sunoco station where I found it, is asking $3,800 for it. That’s a 25% premium over the Kelly Blue Book retail value for a Sundance America in “excellent” condition. KBB says that only 5% of cars are considered to be that clean. This one could be show quality with some touch ups and detailing. I say that based on having attended a lot of car events in the Detroit area. Car events in Michigan are different, in a good sense. In addition to the top shelf Concours of America and Eyes On Design events, car cruises across southeastern Michigan attract thousands of high quality cars and smaller local car shows attract hundreds. Regional GM, Mopar or Ford clubs meets more often than not feature rare and historically significant cars in survivor, pristine original and 100 point restored conditions.

As a matter of fact there was another, more collectible Sundance in very nice shape at the WPC [Walter P. Chrysler] Club’s Great Lakes Region’s all Mopar meet last fall. It was a rare Shelby CSX-T model, Chrysler/Thrifty’s answer to Ford/Hertz’s Shelby GT-H rent-a-racer. Again, you can imagine someone saving or restoring a CSX, it being a rare high performance car with Ol’ Shel’s provenance. It’s a bit harder imagining that happening with a plain vanilla Sundance, and the even plainer unflavored gelatin America version. Still, like I said, it belongs in a museum. If you parked it next to the CSX-T, or next to any of the other cars at that show, it still might have drawn a crowd.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options.

The niceties did not, apparently, include a radio as standard equipment

Ronnie Schreiber
Ronnie Schreiber

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.

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  • John John on Jan 15, 2012

    Read the article yesterday. Today on my craiglist - a '91 Sundance, V6 auto, looks as well kept for as that one in the pictures, for $6,800. 56,000 miles. What IS it with the people who bought those?

  • Cognoscenti Cognoscenti on Jan 17, 2012

    I had an '87 Dodge Shadow ES Turbo 5MT. I absolutely loved that car. It ran 7.5 lbs boost stock, but Mopar Performance sold a plug & play computer that I bought and installed (behind the front passenger kick panel, natch). It was good for 10 lbs peak and 7.5 lbs sustained boost. That, combined with a drop in K&N filter and a modified exhaust, meant I could run honest 15-second flat ETs at the drag strip, and when I did it was fun to surprise the occasional stock Mustang 5.0 that got a bad launch or was a slushbox. I never had a single problem with that car, despite running it very hard. The 2.2 was rock solid - no blown head gaskets here! Sadly, I sold the car to my sister and she promptly wrecked it. All that we salvaged was the ridiculously loud sound system I had built in it (worth more than the car's KBB at the time)!

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