By on April 26, 2013

When I go to my local wrecking yards to photograph cars for this series, I’m looking for historical significance. Some might say that the Chrysler P-body (based on the ancient and venerable K platform, like so many Chrysler products of the 1980s and 1990s) lacks such significance, and that I should instead shoot the 60s Chevy pickups and VW Beetles I mostly ignore, but I disagree. Someday, wise old men will discuss the importance of the fourth Plymouth to bear the Duster name, but it’s the “America” series of stripper P-bodies that really get my attention. Jack Baruth explains why the Omni America and the cut-price P-bodies that followed it sold so poorly, and it’s the rarity of these things that gets my attention. So far in this series we’ve seen just two: this 1991 Sundance America and today’s ’92 Shadow America.

The selling points of the Shadow/Sundance America were spelled out very plainly in this ad: cheaper than the Civic, cheapest car with a standard airbag, and cheaper (per day) than lunch. Did we mention cheap?

The non-America versions had an equally exciting commercial.
The base two-door 1992 Shadow America with manual transmission listed at $7,984; the four-door we have here would have listed at $8,384. You could get a ’92 Hyundai Excel for $6,595, a Subaru Justy for $6,445, or a complete stripper Honda Civic CX for $8,100.
This one didn’t rack up many miles, and the condition of the paint and interior suggest that it spent a decade or more parked in the Colorado sun.
If Allpar is to be believed, the 2.2 engine was still being built in China as of 2000. Its final year in an American-built car was 1994.
The optional automatic transmission would have added $585 to the cost of a new ’92 Shadow, and what would have been the point of such extravagance?

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43 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1992 Dodge Shadow America...”

  • avatar

    Has a “vehicle starts” on it so I assume it will still drive (unless it needed a clutch or something). Seems pretty complete and rust free though.

  • avatar

    It’s funny to see the stick so worn. My 88 shadow had a nicer looking shift knob but by the time I sold it in 1996 it was worn cue-ball smooth. If I concentrate, I can still feel it in my hand.

  • avatar


  • avatar
    wreath and crest

    Not a head gasket on this one(pre Neon).Indestructablw engine,just throw a distributer pick up plate at it once and a while.I’m not a Dodge fan,but this was a decent cheap car.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. It was solid transportation. Decent enough ride and handling, and the only fault my family’s ever had was a bad thermometer. (Word to the wise: Don’t drive around all winter without heat. It may just be a $16 part that needs replacing.) Ours was a 2.5 auto, not an America.

      The big strength of the P-bodies was packaging. The hatchback was very useful, and even the two-doors had a very usable backseat with loads of headroom. Visibility was unbelievably good compared to present-day cars, though the same compliment could be paid to many ‘80s and early ‘90s models.

      The idiots designing (and buying) today’s sloped-roofed monstrosities could learn a thing or two from it.

      • 0 avatar

        “.. and even the two-doors had a very usable backseat with loads of headroom.”

        You sir, have a vivid imagination! In one afternoon driving around Toronto in 1990, as low boy on the business totem pole I was consigned to the back seat of this piece of low rent(al) tin.

        I’m only 5’9″ and it was torture that went on for 3 hours as we tracked Toronto Hydro’s efforts in tree trimming. My disdain for this bag o’ shite car stems from that day, staring at the nastiest plastic from a contorted position. As you can tell, it is a vivid memory for me to this day. Room? Hah!

        • 0 avatar

          For the record, I’m taller than you are and did two 700-mile-plus, one-day drives in the Shadow (though I was only in the back seat for about 25% of each trip).

          Have you tried the back seats in present-day cars? If you’re 5’10” or over and don’t slouch, your scalp will brush the headliner or rear window in the vast majority of cars on the market, including mid- and full-size models. This was most definitely not the case with the Shadow, hence my comment.

          I’d never argue that ingress and egress for the back seat of the two-door was good; it’s not for any two-door. And if you were working on a project that required getting in and out of the car repeatedly, then yes, that would be a pain. But that’s not the same as roominess or headroom.

          Can you name a single two-door on the market today that would have better room in the back seat? Maybe the Accord coupe. *Maybe*, and it still probably would lose to the Shadow in terms of head room. And that’s a much larger vehicle than the Shadow was.

    • 0 avatar

      Even the 90’s-90’s 2.2s would blow head gaskets sometimes, but I honestly think it was a mix of hard driving and a delicate transmission.

  • avatar

    Say what you will about the K platform, but it worked well – too well for Chrysler. The problem was they kept it too long in all its flavors while the Japanese cars steadily improved and passed it by.

  • avatar

    Darlene was in a holding pattern.

    It was 1AM, and Darlene was about to run out of smokes. She turned off the TV, and walked outside the trailer. While enjoying one of her last cancer sticks in the cool night air, she looked around the confines of the Pioneer Village trailer park. Although it was late, TV’s could still be seen flickering inside many of her neighbor’s “mobile” domiciles. She extinguished her cig in the improvised bird bath ashtray, and got in her trusty Dodge. She labored to depress the stiff clutch pedal, and turned the key. She was acute to the long cranking time on this occasion before the Shadow fired up. Be it from not having a tune-up in 60k miles, old fuel, low battery, or just being a thing old cars do, Darlene speculated on the real cause. “It must be that damn fuel pump thing again.”, she thought to herself.

    The interior of the car reverberated akin to sitting inside a subwoofer as the blown out exhaust flex joint droned. Window shades moved as her neighbors took note of the loud vehicle starting in the compound. Though the little Dodge looked like hell, it certainly wasn’t out of place in the neighborhood. There was no need to display wealth here. The loud exhaust of her car on these typical late night cig runs was becoming an embarrassment however.

    Darlene quickly put the car in reverse and cranked the wheel to clear the pickup parked outside the adjacent unit. She was completely oblivious to the sight and sounds of plastic shattering under her tires.

    She lit up another cig on the way to the Super Wal. Inside the store, she gathered some essentials, and whirred about on the electric cart. She browsed the aisles, free of any agenda. She admired the price of cereal. “God lord.”, she commented on the exorbitant price. A cigarette would go nicely with this little cruise. Noting the absence of another soul inside the gargantuan store, she lit up. She felt a devilish satisfaction and chuckled as she puffed and whirred about. Her fun was quickly put to an end while browsing the $6 T-shirt section. “Ma’am, there is no smoking inside the store.”, said the worker matter-of-factually. The fun was over, and she made her way to the checkout.

    On the way back, Darlene’s leg felt sore. She began to actually think about her car. While the Shadow was acquired free, it was not well-suited to her geriatric abilities. Along with the stiff clutch, the lack of A/C made her stew in her own juices in the summer. She droned her way into the mobile community. She was greated with a horrifying sight upon arriving at her unit. SOMEONE had smashed her yard gnome! “Why would anyone do this to me?!”, she wondered while picking up the little plastic bits. “It must have been because of that loud muffler.”

    The very next day, the Shadow was gone. It was replaced with, in her eyes, a perfect automobile. Perfect, at least for awhile.

    “I should have never gotten rid of that damn Dodge!”, she said after the subframe dropped onto the street under her 1999 Taurus.

  • avatar

    Amazed at the paint on this car. I’ve never seen that sort of weathering on a Michigan car. It must be ours rust out before this transformation can occur.

    • 0 avatar

      No no, you just haven’t been paying attention. This was a common defect in the paint process for the time. It stemmed from the need for low VOC products, and not adhering to proper procedures such as drying times. It also effected clearcoats on a lot of cars. I had a late 80’s K2500 Chevy in my fleet that looked just like this. Only 70k miles, and spent almost it’s entire life inside the building. It was white too.

      • 0 avatar

        I heard in the late 90s GM had a “cancer” (a quote) in the paint in the late 80s models, if you ever saw an 87-90 H-body post 2000 they all seemed to have these sort of paint problems. Maybe the problem wasn’t limited to GM.

        • 0 avatar

          It definitely wasn’t a GM-only problem. In the late ’90s it seemed to become really noticeable that lots of cars from around 1990 had paint flaking/peeling problems. In my neck of the woods it was most prevalent on Dodge Dakotas as well as Chevy Astro and Ford Aerostar vans, particularly in blue (I think the dark color contrast with the grey primer made it stand out more).

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        What is it with late 80’s early 90’s paint especially white? Back in 90 my dad bought a 91 S-10 Blazer 2-door in white, the 91’s came out early that year. After a couple of years sections of the roof and hood started to look like this Shadow. After a few complaints to GM he managed to wrangle a respray out of them. He finally sold it last year and the paint was still holding up well.

    • 0 avatar

      To be fair, I grew up in Colorado and the amount of sunlight they get there and the fact that there is a mile less of atmosphere between you and the sun’s rays means paints and interior plastics suffer. It’s also not coincidental that Colorado has a very high rate of skin cancer, perhaps even the highest in the U.S.

      Back to cars – during the mid to late 1980’s Ford, GM and Chrsyler products used to shed their paint in sheets in colorado. Everybody (and I mean everybody, including Japan and Germany) had trouble making plastics and interior padded vinyl surfaces resist warping and peeling, much less retaining their intended color in the Colorado sun.

      My boss at the time had a launch year Chevy Lumina (1990) whose dash pad looked like a roller coaster after just 1 year of use. GM interiors were especially prone to warping, cracking and peeling. My favorites though were the early Hyundai Excels that would end up being 5 different shades of blue (or red, or gray or whatever) after a just a year or two. Many of the plastic parts in those Hyundias would get a chalky appearance and turn to powder in your fingers – my how far they’ve come.

  • avatar

    I understand the clearcoat problem with cars from the 80’s and early 90’s (our family car was an 89′ Plymouth Voyager.) But I never understood how someone could let their paint get that bad. Even if I didn’t have the money to invest in a good paint job, I would at least take it to Maaco or Earl Scheib. That car was probably sent to the junk yard because the previous owner thought it wasn’t worth fixing up and got something new or something with a nice coat of paint. Personally, if that car was still running (as stated in the window), I would get a 299.00 paint special and give it to my nephew that’s learning how to drive. (Everyone’s first car should be a piece of S#!T fixer upper, it teaches them how to take care of cars. )

  • avatar

    I’m not sure that the Omni/Horizon America weren’t successes. The cars were old when the America versions came out. The trim packages on the L-bodies amounted to an increase in standard equipment. I certainly used to see plenty of Omnirizon Americas, but then I was paying attention because we had a ’79 Horizon. I think it slowed the sales slide of what was a pretty archaic model in the late ’80s. Anyone who was in good enough shape economically to buy a new car a decade earlier was rolling in prosperity by ’87, so chances are they weren’t coming back for another econobox. The Omni/Horizon America package probably played a roll in getting a couple hundred thousand people to buy a Mopar instead of one of its more contemporary competitors.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Boy, those pre-Daimler Chrysler interiors sure hold up well. And those Shadow/Sundance seats were very comfortable for long travel, at least for slightly overweight 6’3″ guys. -ahem-

    As for that paint peeling off…believe it or not, supposedly it was caused by deodorants, at the time of application. I understand that, for a while at least, people that worked in the paint area were not allowed to wear certain types of deodorants. Not certain if that story is true, but I read it somewhere.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on the interior

      Lear Corp. made most of the interiors for Chrysler, and they hold up amazingly well. I’m always anxious to see the interior photos when Murilee finds an interesting K car derivative. Notice the door cards, window cranks, carpet and upholstery all still in good shape!

  • avatar

    The near pristine 18,000 mile Plymouth Sundance America that I saw for sale last year didn’t even have a radio.

  • avatar

    Noisy, crude, not too fast, but virtually indestructable. Very easy and cheap to repair as well. The above poster nailed it, the pick up plate in the distributor was about the only thing that would take one of these out. Of course, not changing the timing belt for 150,000 miles could also leave you temporarily stranded, but no worries the as fix was as simple as replacing the belt. No internal engine damage would result. And yes, Chrysler (and many others) had issues with primer during those years. Paint would literally come off in sheets.

  • avatar

    For a project for my driver’s ed class, we had to go through the process of buying a new car, so during the spring of 1992 I went down to my local Dodge dealer (mostly so I could check out the slime green ’74 Challenger they had on the lot) and pretended to buy a Shadow American.

    I don’t recall all of the gory details, but I do remember that had I been able to come up with the downpayment, I could have afforded the financing for the car on my piddly 20 hour/week minimum wage after-school job. So yeah, cheap.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember having a similar assignment in some sort of finance class in high school in the mid/late 1980’s. I went to the Mercedes-Benz dealer and got all the financial details of a 560 SEC. At the time I had an irrational infatuation with the W126 series S-Class sedans and coupes.

    • 0 avatar

      My Econ teacher in high school told us we should all try to buy a car because we were under 18 and could not be held to a legal contract. I did not try it as I looked 5 years younger than I was at 17. But I did join all of the record clubs for 1cent each and got a pile of cassetes. I wrote on the reply card that I was under 18 and never heard from them again.

  • avatar

    A friend has a ’92 Dodge Dakota with the same three-tone paint– white, primer, and rust. Otherwise it’s a great truck!

  • avatar

    What is signifacant is 90’s cars are fading fast from the streets, so these are good send offs to cars once so common, and suddenly you think ‘hey, I havent seen one in ???’

    The ‘this vehicle starts’ tag is maybe from auction. The pick n pull probably paid $50 for it? 1st bid.

  • avatar

    One of the first cars I drove was a 1988 Plymouth Sundance. I went on to buy a used 93 Mitsu6 Duster coupe and then another modded up 92 Plymouth Duster that put out 186HP at the crank..162 to the wheels. It weighed in at 2700lbs. That car embarrassed a lot of people off the line. The motor had an awesome sound to it. It embarrassed a lot of much more expensive machinery off the line. It was practical, fun, and loud. It went 200K before blowing its head gasket.

  • avatar

    My dad had a ’92 Shadow America, the coupe version, in Electric Blue. He actually got it even cheaper than advertised, because it was a factory misfit car– it had somehow ended up with “Shadow GT” stripes and decals. Great car, ran fine to over 315,000 miles, was still running all the way to the junkyard.

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