By on May 26, 2012

Yesterday’s Junkyard Find was one of the better-known examples of the Simca-based “Omnirizon” platform, and you still see 80s Dodge Chargers here and there. What you won’t see often is today’s Junkyard Find, a first-year Plymouth Horizon. I found this one languishing in a Denver self-serve junkyard.
This car was the first true subcompact car Chrysler ever built in North America, and it (along with its Dodge sibling, the Omni, and the French-market Talbot/Simca Horizon) was a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Prior to the Omnirizon, the only subcompacts sold by Chrysler in the United States had been rebadged Mitsubishis, Hillmans, and Simcas, all built overseas.
The Plymouth Horizon was an Americanized version of a Chrysler of Europe design, and it wasn’t any more miserable to drive than other front-drive subcompacts of the late 1970s (e.g., the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Rabbit, Datsun 310). If that sounds like faint praise, remember that expectations were lower during the depths of the Malaise Era.
The ’78 Horizon listed at $3,976, which was actually 200 bucks more than a new Plymouth Volaré two-door (but $250 less than a new Rabbit). With gas prices and inflation soaring year after year, however, the gas-sipping Horizon looked like a good deal next to the much thirstier (and not much roomier) Volaré.
You see some odd little luxury touches in this otherwise minimalist econobox. Look, “wood” on the glovebox door!
The Omni, Horizon, and their L-body variants continued production in the United States until 1990. By that time, the mid-70s-ness of the design had become a bit embarrassing for Chrysler.

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65 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1978 Plymouth Horizon...”

  • avatar

    Its funny how through out the Omni Horizons life span nothing really changed, other than the options list got much smaller.

    There was just one face lift which was just a cheaper made grille, a refreshing change to the norm.

    I used to have a 1990 model, served me alright until the tranny went at 89k. I did enjoy the 70’s cosmetics, but not the 70’s build quality.

    That and i didn’t care for the grey interior, broken radio, awfully rusted underside, tendancy to stall, refusal to accept a new fuel pump, clunky handling (despite a one year anti roll bar), rattily dash, nor the incredibly flimsy trim. It was pretty dent resistant though.

    • 0 avatar

      There were actually two other fairly substantial changes. First was the availability of the 2.2L beginning in 1981. That engine made the cars much more livable. Second was the America model for 1987, where some of the optional equipment (including the 2.2) was made standard, the options were trimmed, and the base price was cut from $7,199 to $5,999.

      • 0 avatar

        Offering a stripper isn’t really a substantial change in my book,the only big change was sticking a K-Car engine in the OmniHorizons, or offering a quite rare french built 1.6l engine.

        To be honest, the 2.2’s always felt too big and heavy for these cars, they were going to make a 2.0 but scrapped the idea presumably to save money.

        With the 2.2 basically being a clunky copy of VWs 1.6 (and the 1.7 being a VW engine with a few mods), nothing really changed with the 2.2 other than you got more torque.

        Unfortunately, you still had a slow car.

        Weird thing is, there were a few rumors of a diesel powered OmniHorizon but nothing surfaced, Chrysler made a good number of weird one-offs with these cars like a convertible Charger.

      • 0 avatar


        First of all, the 2.2 was a lot torquier than the smaller fours, which made it much more suitable to American driving tastes, particularly with an automatic transmission. The 2.2 was a good engine that owed nothing to VW and it was delivering a quite healthy 83-99 hp even in base form. As for slow (which it really wasn’t by 1980s standards), Chrysler and Shelby saw to that pretty well.

        Second of all, the 1987 Omni/Horizon America was not a “stripper” model at all. In base form it had much more standard equipment than the equivalent 1986 car, yet it was priced $1,200 less. Also, the build quality and finish were improved. Even though the basic car was getting quite old, the America was still seen as a really good value and a very smart move by Chrysler.

    • 0 avatar

      @Ryoku75: The 2.2 was a brand new engine for Chrysler. It was the last engine designed by the original designer of the Slant Six. It may have looked similar to the VW unit, nothing was shared.

      Having had driven a few of them over the years, I can assure you it is a stout, well engineered power unit, and for it’s time, more than a match for contemporary 4 cylinder engines.

      It was designed to be turbocharged, unlike the Ford 2.3L and was later bored out to 2.5L and fitted with turbos and various DOHC heads from Lotus and Maserati to provide horsepower that compares favorably with engines released 20 years later.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        Indeed it was: the 2.2 transformed the Omnirizon pair from wheezy econoboxes to zippy hatchbacks which could easily get out of their own way, even with a full load of passengers and cargo. A close friend in a neighboring state misses her dear departed Omni America and its ability to handle the steep mountain grades of Route 6 between Price and Provo with aplomb, as well as the equally challenging section of I-70 between Grand Junction and Denver. She boasted of 35 mpg along those routes, which was excellent for any small car of that era.

        I still wish Chrysler had seen fit to offer the 2.5 in regular and turbocharged form for the final Omni America years; with no giveaway badging, those would have entered the upper ranks of factory sleepers.

        Per your lower comment, I always boasted about my Omni’s interior passenger room to passengers who couldn’t believe they actually fit in the rear seats. “Among small cars, these are the big guys.”

      • 0 avatar

        According to an interview done with one of the original 2.2 designers on Allpar, the 2.2 was never made to be turbocharged. It was meant to be supercharged but Chrysler insisted on a turbo.

        At Tonyola: I think that the build quality went down more than up, my 1990 was far more a rust bucket than this 1978. I owned a ’90 Horizon, and I can assure you that even after a few minor mods and a fesh tune-up the thing was a tad slow.

        At Felis: Omni Horizons were very roomy, though they felt more like small cars that were trying to be big.

        As far as how well the 2.2 was engineered, well, I just wish that the trannies were as well made. My Horizon had a healthy engine but at 90k almost everything else was broken, including the automatic tranny.

      • 0 avatar

        Whether mechanical supercharging or exhaust driven turbine supercharging, the block and internals are set up very similarly. I was going from memory last evening, I guess I should have refreshed my memory before posting…

        Regardless of that, the little beasts were stout.

      • 0 avatar

        the 2.2 was a solid motor, put 360,0000km on a 1987 version, only problem was that it burned oil and I’ve driven smoother manual transmissions in tractors

  • avatar

    With scrap metal prices as they are, how is that still there?
    Oh, someone might buy the cylinder head for $200?
    Don’t think so. That is dead inventory of the highest order.

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    Lewis Black had a great bit about the Horizon – Not a Joy to ride..

    “While I was in Miami, they stole my rental car, because apparently, they didn’t have enough time to load up a gun and shoot me. On the street, there was a Lexus, a BMW, and in the middle was my car; the rental car: the Plymouth Horizon. Here’s a math problem for you, don’t ponder it too long or your head’ll explode, but how many drugs would you have to consume, in what period of time, to be on the street and go… ‘Well, I gotta have the Horizon! Are you kidding me? I’ve never driven a car that’s aqua!’ So I called the police, I told them, ‘They’ve stolen my rental car, a Plymouth Horizon.’ And the officer said, ‘They must have taken it for a joyride.’ I said, ‘Hey. I don’t think you’re listening. The car is a Plymouth… HORIZON! It is not a joy – to ride!’ We’re talking about a car that goes 45 miles per hour with the wind! If you actually turn off the air conditioning you can supercharge the little *** to 48.”

  • avatar

    What I remember most about these was the god awful steering column angle/driving position. The 4-wheel equivalent of ape hangers.

  • avatar

    Had friends who had a base beige 82 version of this car and he drove and drove and drove that little bugger and it never seemed to fail him, but he’s one of these super bright engineer types who can McGyver, McGyver.

    Eventually, he loaned it out to someone, I think in the family and off it went, never to return if I recall right.

    In any rate, while basic and a bit plain, it served its purpose and helped Chrysler stay afloat.

  • avatar

    I see one in the parking garage at my local Walmart every time I go. I assume it’s an employee’s car, rather than simply having been deserted there (perhaps I assume too much). I haven’t examined it closely, but I should.

    My dad ordered a base model Omni shortly after they were introduced. It was not a bad car at all. Lots of good memories. I’m embarrassed to relate this, but in November 78 we took it on a road trip from OK to the Grand Canyon. The embarrassing part? The passenger count: dad, mom, 14-year-old me, my 9-year-old brother, my 6-month pregnant sister, and her husband. And all our luggage. Hardly seems possible. Of course, it’d be illegal today — more passengers than seat belts.

  • avatar

    Not only are they rare in junkyards, Bob Casey, the curator of the Henry Ford Museum’s automobile collection, told me that in putting together the museum’s new Driving America and Racing in America exhibits, they had to acquire a number of new vehicles for the collection, and the hardest one to find was a ’78 Dodge Omni. He said that the ’73 Chrysler Newport was also a challenge. For newer cars, the museum prefers unrestored examples and it’s tough finding 1970s cars that are in museum quality original condition.

    Pics here:

    • 0 avatar

      Has the Ford Museum changed much over the past 30 years? I visited it with a friend in 1980, and it was one of the lamest places I have ever been to.

      • 0 avatar

        Since 1980, they have added quite a few new permanent exhibits, including one called “The Automobile in American Life” which encompasses the timeline of the automoble, from Henry Ford’s Quadricycyle to the Honda Accord. It has since–earlier this year–been updated, and now runs from the Quadricycle to the Toyota Prius. If you like museums, Moparman, this is the one in Michigan to see.

      • 0 avatar

        Pretty much the entire museum’s been redone since ’80.

  • avatar

    Do my eyes deceive me, or is that a junkyard with a giant concrete pad for the cars to sit on? Could it be…. A junkyard where you don’t have to lay down in a mixture of mud, rocks, rust and broken glass?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    My neighbor growing up had the Plymouth Turismo TC3. Not a bad car but not as cool as the Shelby version. One thing about the Omnirizon was the build quality was pretty decent, you rarely see a rotted one around.

    • 0 avatar

      I dunno, I’ve seen plenty of Omni Horizons with rust under them.

      I had a 1990 model and this ’78 has held up better to the elements!

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        The 90, which was the last year of the Omnirizon had the drivers side airbag standard. Mopar had the sense to install it instead of going for the miserable passive restraints.

    • 0 avatar

      At MRF: It actually had a passive restraint of some type for the front passengers knees, it was just uncomfortable more than anything.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        At the time I think it was the least expensive vehicle with a standard airbag. The passenger side restraint was just adding more padding to the lower part of the dashboard.

  • avatar

    My mother had a TC3. It had its virtues. You could fold the rear seat down and lie down in the back. It got 35 mpg highway. With the 2.2 and a manual transmission, it was significantly quicker than the average car of the day, but got 35 MPG on the highway. Although Mom’s was a manual, it didn’t have a tach! This was the car that set the grass on fire with its catalytic converter.

  • avatar

    That was the orig.

  • avatar

    My cousin had one and my one memory of it was that the hood release looked and felt like the head of a dipstick.

  • avatar

    I had a Dodge Omni I biught at a buy-here-pay-here place in Georgia. It was a faithful, reliable car. Obviously not fancy, but very solid and depandable.

  • avatar

    My father bought one of these new in 1979. It was a four speed with the 1.7 liter engine. These were the same engine as the VW Rabbits of the era but the Chrysler version has a carb instead of fuel injection. My Dad’s Horizon was bright orange and was easy to find in parking lots. The car held up fairly well and they had a sturdy body but the mechanical bits weren’t all that great. The car burned oil at around the the 75K oil mark and I remember that the speedometer head went on the car. The carb also had to get rebuilt. I inherited the car and college in 1985 and did a lot of repairs on it including the carb. it was an expensive job. The car was fun to drive and as stated above the angle of steering column was uncomfortable. My Dad bought it in April of 1979 for $4300 new. This was just before the summer of ’79 gas crisis and I remember packing it with five people and going to Maine from Connecticut for vacation that year. Much more cramped as compared to our old 71 Torino wagon we took before that. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I enjoy these Junkyard Finds and wish cars that old in Maine looked as nice for so long. They usually rust out here in 8-10 years with the salt brine mix they use on the snow.

  • avatar

    The filth on that engine is shameful.

    I forgot how deep-dish the steering wheels were on these cars – truly impressive.

    The TBI 2.2 engine was a godsend for these early Mopar econoboxes. Lots of customers had to suffer through the misery wrought by the VW engine in this particular car.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    In early 1979 my parents traded their 1974 Ford Torino wagon for a new, 1979 Horizon. This was the first domestic sub-compact with a transverse-engine, front-wheel drive layout. At the time it seemed so radical and advanced compared to the domestic competition. These cars were cheaply made. Perforated cardboard headliners. Hard, glossy plastic on the dash and steering wheel. A spongy manual shifter. The quality wasn’t great by modern standards, but by malaise era standards you could do worse.

  • avatar

    I bought an ’89 as my first brand-new car. $6k out the door. The 2.2 was a lot of power for the light chassis, and it would scoot. It was also geared right so I could get 45mpg on the highway if I was gentle.

    Unfortunately it started crapping out around 60k and I dumped it for a grand. Still, it was a decent car for the dough.

  • avatar

    My father bought one of these for an employee as a company car in 1979. I got to drive it brand new before going off to college. What sticks in my mind most? Well the structure would creak when you drove it over a steep driveway apron. Years (and 150K mi,es) later, I took the car, fixed the scrapes and blemishes, painted the lower edge of the doors and sold it to a guy who came for the test drive drunk. I did note that these held up to Syracuse salty roads better than most cars of the era…but that shifter…ugh…it felt like an oar in a bucket of bolts…

  • avatar

    My 1980 Omni with 66k miles on the clock was the best $900 I’ve ever spent…

  • avatar

    I almost got a 1986 Omni as a first car. IIRC, the climate controls are to the left of the steering.

    I finally got a 1989 Tercel.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      You poor thing. I experienced the 1987 Tercel with the bad carb. But it was the rare 4-door hatch. A really cool little car except that it just would not accelerate. It did well for my wife. She couldn’t tell anything was wrong.

    • 0 avatar

      LOL, once I sold my 1990 Horizon I brought a 1989 Tercel!

      Yea it was smaller, but its far more fun to drive and more lively if you throw a weber on it.

  • avatar

    My parents owned a string of absolute rock-bottom penalty boxes in the 70s and 80s, and a Horizon was part of it. The list also included a Pinto, a Vega, a Monza, and a Tempo. They refused to pay extra for anything other than a stripper base model and were paranoid of used cars, its still how they shop, but modern cars, even cheap ones, have improved considerably since then.

    I don’t remember much about the Horizon, other than my dad constantly making fun of my mom for insisting they buy it, and that the thing had to be towed home from the supermarket on about 3 occasions and that the carb was constantly acting up.

    When I got to high school, the business teacher/football coach drove a beige Omni that looked exactly like the one my parents had, and it was also the first time I had seen one on the road in about 10 years. Can’t remember seeing another one since. These were everywhere in the 1980s and basically disappeared by the mid 1990s.

  • avatar

    Actually, it is pretty easy to find one in Metro Detroit, though you have to pay about $15 to see it. A beige 1978 Dodge Omni (with a large dent in the hatch) is in the permanent collection of the Henry Ford Museum.

  • avatar

    A former co-worker back in the 80’s had one of these. He had two cars, an original Reliant K-car, and this Omni. Both cars were equipped with the 2.2 and autoboxes. Compared to the K-car, the Omni seemed like the ride and drive was much more smooth and composed.

    The Omni was one of our carpool cars, four of us commuted the 34 mile round trip with each of us taking a turn, driving a week at a time. I was the biggest, tallest person in the cars, in any position of the Omni I was fine. When he drove his Reliant or the other guys drove their penalty box Nissans and Corollas, I had to sit in the passenger front seat, I couldn’t get comfortable anywhere else. The one outstanding memory I have is that I could fit into any seat on the Omni, something I couldn’t say for many other cars.

    AFAIK, the car was fairly trouble-free. By 1990 the owner of the K and Omni had retired, and I had left that company, also. I ran into him later in the early 90’s, he’d traded the Omni for a Caravelle of all things…

  • avatar

    Way back in the day I owned a slew of sh!tboxes: 74 Pinto, 72 Datsun 1200, 75 Datsun B210, 76 Honda Civic,74 Corolla, 76 Corolla, 74 Celica, 74 Capri, among others. But the 79 Horizon TC3 that I picked up as an expendable winter beater (to protect my RX7 from road salt) turned out to be the sorriest piece of woefully inadequate engineering ever cobbled together.

    The manual trans linkage jammed consistently and had to be unstuck by crawling under the car through the frozen salty slush and whacking it back into alignment. Door handles (inside and out) broke off under normal operating force. The seats spilled me into the door (or my passenger’s lap) if I took a turn faster than lawn-tractor speed. Ergonomics were non-existent. Carb ice stranded me several times. Electrical glitches made British Leyland products seem the epitome of dependability by comparison. Handling was almost as crisp as that of a 68 Cadillac with worn shocks and tired springs and braking was scary as hell.

    It’s one thing for an entry-level late-70s domestic car to be out-classed by the Japanese offerings of the day. But it’s pathetic that the Omni/Horizon twins were upstaged by even the afore-mentioned Pinto.

    • 0 avatar

      1978-1979 were very dark years for Chrysler, and it was hard to motivate the people on the assembly line to do a good job when there was no assurance that they would even have jobs in the near future. I remember seeing brand new 1979 Dodge vans that had daylight shining through the welds between the roof and the side panels.

    • 0 avatar

      Too bad I’m not in a position to buy your old TC3, Zeus. I recall an old Mopar Action article about a 1981 TC3 whose owner installed a 360 V-8 in its engine bay. With the automotive technology available today, and if I had the money, I could do something similar. However, I’d use an Art Morrison chassis, a 6.1 Hemi, a wiring harness from Painless Performance … and a Viper 6-speed.

    • 0 avatar
      Firestorm 500

      I bought a 1979 Plymouth TC3 brand new. That was the first year for the 2 door hatchback. It was a pretty good car. I used the 5 yr/50,000 mile warranty a couple of times. At least once for the carburetor as other have mentioned. The rear brakes squeaked every time you released the brake pedal. The dealer wouldn’t cover that. Yes, the shifter did feel like an oar in a barrel.

      Ended up selling it to my wife’s cousin. She put many more miles on it after that.

  • avatar

    I knew a guy in college that had an `83 Horizon that was pushing 330,000 miles when the tranny grenaded. We joked that it went about 250K more miles than it was ever designed to do, but apparently his family had actually taken care of this little shitbox, so it actually lasted a long time.

  • avatar

    That 1990 Horizon that I keep mentioning was a tough son of a gun, when I brought it the alignment was off, the tires were mis-matched, and yet the AC still worked. It also made it from Indiana to MO with no issues.

    I only had to tow it once when the timing belt snapped, luckily the 2.2 is a non-interference design.

    Funny thing is, I found a radio from a 90’s Duster that was exactly like the one in my Horizon outside of a tape player, I took that out to see that it had been in a Dodge Shadow originally, then threw it in my car since for some reason the radio in my car was acting up (and yet this example was fine despite being in 3 cars).

    A year later and at 89k, my automatic tranny decided that it wasn’t going to downshift anymore when I’d stop and a re-build would cost too much so I sold the car at a loss. Plus the car had plenty of other lovely bits of “character” like stalling on left turns, a loose gas pedal, pieces of it falling off of the bottom, a refusal to accept a new fuel pump, a dash that would rattle loudly, random hesitation, and no headliner.

    I ended up buying a smaller and less roomy Tercel afterwards, it may be smaller but its actually fun to drive and the build qualities much better. It has 125k miles and yet the all black dash still dosen’t rattle! And the dash is set-up better.

  • avatar

    Rust Free first gen RX7 in the background?!?!?! Noooooooo!

  • avatar

    My girlfriend in 1978 bought a brand new base model Horizon. It was one of the first in Pittsburgh.

    After having it for a week or so, she parked it on the roof of the hospital garage. There was a heavy rainstorm and when she came off her shift at the hospital, she found that the car was completely filled with water. The Plymouth dealer fixed the leak and dried it out. I wanted her to demand a new car but, she accepted the repairs.

    It was pretty much trouble free after that.

    My most vivid memory was when we used the car for a cross-country trip. The seats were so uncomfortable that we both had aching butts after an hour in the car. We found a medical supply store in Ohio and bought some eggcrate foam wheelchair pads. That helped us make it to California.

    Other than the need to turn off the A/C to maintain speed on upgrades, the car was better than expected.

    I was however, happy to get back to my fabulous Cutlass Supreme.

  • avatar

    I had an 87 omni America. Lasted for eight years of low maintaince in grad school. In 1998 I drove from Pennsylvania to Mississppi in july. The ac died in Maryland and and the headliner fell on me in the middle of Atlanta. That said I got 115,000 miles out of it. Only got towed twice, once for a hose problem I could have fixed myself if I knew more and once for the timing belt. I agree with the commenters who say you could pack that beast full of stuff. Friends used to borrow it to help with moves. But it was cheap and by the end the radio didn’t work, the drivers window wouldn’t roll down and the front seats were pretty beat up. In all a decent car at the price. I bet its engine is pumping water in a village in central America as we speak.

  • avatar

    I bought (used around 1987″) a metallic-gray Omni 5-door with a stick – I think it was an ’81 with the Vee-Dub 1.7. It actually seemed like a nicer car than the ’76 Rabbit that I’d had years before, and I don’t remember any major problems other than having the half-shaft bolts coming loose on the driver’s side and shearing off.
    It had a red cloth interior, and a crapload of room (for its size), and wasn’t dog slow (thanks to the manual, “hammer in a bucket of rocks” shifter.)
    I traded it for a brandy-new 1990 Ford Escort GT (specially priced @ $9999) which had the 110HP 1.9 and a stick – needless to say, it drove like a Ferrari compared to the Dodge.

  • avatar

    My old boss back in the eighty’s loved these cheap chryslers for delivery cars ( dental lab ) actually several different chrysler products all with the 2.2. Chrysler put that motor in everything it seemed like back then. The first one he bought was a 1984 Aries K car wagon new off the lot. I remember walking out to look at it when he first bought it ( brand new ) and I thought man this thing is cheap. That was our delivery car until 1987 when he bought a new Omni America. The wagon got to the point where you were idling in park you had to brace yourself before putting it in drive. ( BANG ) the whole car would lurch forward when you put it in gear. If I remember right many of these auto. 2.2 cars and minivans had this problem back then. He also took good care of these cars maintenance wise, but they all had the hell driven out of them. On to the 1987 Omni America another automatic. Drove it brand new, and remember it feeling better put together than the wagon. The dimmer switch on the headlight switch felt like metal being scraped against sandpaper, and would get so hot you could barely touch it. Every time I drove it I was afraid it was going to catch on fire. It was the last year I believe for the carb on chrysler cars. I believe in 1988 they all were FI. That omni with the carb would run on forever when you shut it off. In 1988 his son bought a 1988 Kcar reliant I think. What a piece of crap lug nut bolts kept breaking on it. Stopped at a stop light the dash would vibate so bad the numbers on the speedo would blur! ( HaHa )

  • avatar

    My old boss back in the eighty’s loved these cheap chryslers for delivery cars ( dental lab ) actually several different chrysler products all with the 2.2. Chrysler put that motor in everything it seemed like back then. The first one he bought was a 1984 Aries K car wagon new off the lot. I remember walking out to look at it when he first bought it ( brand new ) and I thought man this thing is cheap. That was our delivery car until 1987 when he bought a new Omni America. The wagon got to the point where you were idling in park you had to brace yourself before putting it in drive. ( BANG ) the whole car would lurch forward when you put it in gear. If I remember right many of these auto. 2.2 cars and minivans had this problem back then. He also took good care of these cars maintenance wise, but they all had the hell driven out of them. On to the 1987 Omni America another automatic. Drove it brand new, and remember it feeling better put together than the wagon. The dimmer switch on the headlight switch felt like metal being scraped against sandpaper, and would get so hot you could barely touch it. Every time I drove it I was afraid it was going to catch on fire. It was the last year I believe for the carb on chrysler cars. I believe in 1988 they all were FI. That omni with the carb would run on forever when you shut it off. In 1988 his son bought a 1988 Kcar reliant I think. What a piece of crap lug nut bolts kept breaking on it. Stopped at a stop light the dash would vibate so bad the numbers on the speedo would blur! ( HaHa ) Iaccoca did bring them back from the brink with tose Kcars though

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    A girl in our office, I kid you not, actually commutes daily around 50 miles round trip in one of these. So Iaccoca and his engineers made at least ONE durable one.

    My ex-wife, who is from Kyoto, came to live in the US in 1971. Her parents sent her money to buy a car, and she bought one of these….

    But no one EVER told her to read an owner’s manual or explained to her that cars have a substance called “motor oil” in the engine, and from time to time this “motor oil” needs to be changed.

    She drove the car for 26,000 miles without an oil change before the engine grenaded on her…..

  • avatar

    Back in 1986, after having a 1983 Chevette CS for 3 years (and living with alternator, AC, oil leak, and various smaller problems), I decided to buy my first new car with my own money saved. I originally wanted a 1983 or so Mazda RX7 GSL or a Dodge Challenger (Mitsu import). I loved those two cars. Couldn’t find either reasonably priced, so I ended up reading a story in Automotive News (in my college library) about Chrysler’s last attempt at making an affordable, profitable subcompact. I never really considered one before (my family was strictly a GM family), but the specs seemed intriguing and by chance I rented a newish 1986 Horizon from A-1 rentacar to visit family about 150 miles away.

    I really liked the car a a lot. It was very quick (w/an auto trans.) and seemed a helluva lot nicer than my Chevette (which was acting up, hence the rental). In fact, I remember getting back to my dorm, and opening the hood and seeing if there was some kind of turbo or something under the hood. Since I didn’t know much about cars at the time, I was shocked such a small engine was so willing.

    Fast forward a few months, and when I got home, I went to Golden Chrysler in Philadelphia and “ordered” a very early (May 1986) 1987 Plymouth Horizon America with the Popular Equip. Discount Pkg, AC, 5 speed manual, basically loaded for $5499 plus options and tax was $6995 out the door. It was Garnet Red with the corduroy velour interior and high back buckets. I learned to drive a stick AFTER I got it (just took it to the Business Park and practiced with my dad). I just loved it. It was quick, looked pretty sharp, and felt 10X nicer than my Chevette ever did.

    In the first year, I had a Direct Connection Turbo installed from a place in N.J. Had BBS mesh wheels installed. Added Corvette-style painted mirrors to it (ditched the goofy round one), added a black Infinity II stereo from the Fifth Avenue (with joystick control, EQ, and cassette), and a sunroof from ASC. All told, it ended up at around $9000 with all the other little stuff (Momo leather shift knob/boot, etc…. you get the picture).

    It was a great car the first year, then I was hit in front. While the repair was okay, the paint was never the same. In it’s third year, stuff began to happen. Carb became fussy. Accelerator pedal (hard plastic) broke off. Window would bind. Clutch would slip. Reverse would grind sometimes. The muffler got louder. The sunroof leaked. Nothing tragic, but it definitely aged quickly.

    I sold it for $4000 after 3 1/2 years with 39K on the odo. to a lady who had the exact car already (without the upgrades and a few years older) but with 150K miles on it. She almost died when she saw my Horizon. When I told her about some of the niggles (including the slipping clutch) she said she didn’t notice anything on the test drive she took. She paid my full asking price at the time (it started at $4500 a few weeks earlier, but got few bites). This was back when classified ads were the only advertising available.

    I went to Jersey a few years later, looked up her address, found the car sitting in front of her house, a bit dirtier, but still chuggin’. When I did a Carfax on it around 2003, it was still registered to the same owner, and had over 250K miles listed. Where it is today, who knows.

    But I really liked that car a lot, even though every car I’ve owned since then has been 100X nicer than it was. But at that time, I was perfectly happy with it.

    As an aside… that was the last American car I ever owned.

    • 0 avatar

      Your radio work sounds cool (no pun intended), but I feel sorry that you lost so much money on that thing.

      I always tell people to keep their modifications cheap, you never know when you’ll need that money for a tune-up or a tire.

      I think that what goofed your car up was that turbo, the carb and exaust may not have been intended to be used with a turbo.

      • 0 avatar

        The stereo was a nice upgrade. It wasn’t cheap, but when coupled with new speakers, it rocked. The car only came with speakers in the front doors (2). No rear… and no where to put ’em. I upgraded the fronts, and designed a place for the two rears.

        I cut out the bottom of the luggage shelf (keeping the carpeted top intact) and mounted a couple 6×9’s underneath. Since that shelf folded onto the back seat when it was folded, I attached the speakers with wingnuts to be able to remove if I wanted a clear flat floor. It actually worked great (admittedly I rarely had to fold the back seat down).

        BTW, the hood was not released by the dipstick-lookin’ thing, it was the back seat (from the cargo opening). Ingenious for sure.

        As far as the little turbo installed, it was a Shelby designed part thru a Direct Connection part catalog and installed by a Chrysler sanctioned installer. I was never rough on the car, so I don’t think it caused the problems (carbs just sucked… last car EVER with one and the muffler came apart at the seam).

        Whatever… the car was a great car for under seven grand and just a few years of ownership.

  • avatar

    My dear wife drove one of these when we met, but I married her anyway. What a bastardized, third-rate imitation of a VW Golf! It was the little details, like the turn signal stalk. Located too far forwards, it couldn’t be reached without taking your hands off the wheel. Like a car designed by a committee… that ever met. She dumped it when, around 100K, the head gasket failed. The block was shot through with spiderweb cracks, so it became the only car I never got some small sum of money for disposing, even if it was an insurance payout.

  • avatar

    I remember my parents buying an 87 brand new. When the car was still new, she accused him of driving too fast. While this wasn’t without merit, she was looking at the tach and not the speedo. Having grown up on cars without tachs, she wasn’t used to looking at it and the Chrysler tach read in 10’s, not the single digits we are used to.

    Looking at this junker and older cars in general, I’m shocked at what we did without for so long. Notice no passenger side mirror? Optional! That was a trend in cheap cars for a long time. I remember driving Dodge Neons while a I worked for Enterprise without passenger mirrors in the mid to late 90’s.

    It was the first new car my parents had bought in a long time. In reference to another Junkyard post, I remember looking at the Conquest TSi in the Chrysler showroom while looking at the Horizon and thinking it was pretty cool.

  • avatar


    In which Denver junkyard did you find this little diamond in the rough??? ;) In all seriousness, I’m interested in purchasing some of the remaining chrome trim from this car for a restoration project. So if you could let me know where you found it, that would be awesome.


  • avatar

    I find the Omni/Horizon very interesting. It was so unlikely that the US Chrysler Co. would want a basically European small car for their own, yet that’s what happened.
    Had I lived in the US in the malaise era, and had I only a small amount of money, the Omni is exactly what I would have owned. Maybe I’m sick in the head, but it seems like it would have been a fine city car.

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