By on September 30, 2015

21- 1985 Dodge Lancer ES Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

Chrysler hadn’t been making the K Platform for long before they branched it out into the bewildering K Family Tree that confuses everybody to this day. Iacocca’s Chrysler-saving (or demise-postponing, depending on your point of view) platform gave us both the worst car in human history and a Dodged-down version of the swanky LeBaron GTS. Here’s an example of the latter that I saw in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service yard.
15- 1985 Dodge Lancer ES Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

The Turbo I 2.2 engine made 142 hp in this application, which sounds pretty bad now that the Misery Package™ rental Corolla makes 132, but keep in mind that the Slant-6 in the ’83 Diplomat made just 90 horses and the base 318-cubic-inch V8 in the ’85 was rated at 140 hp (the cop 318 was good for 175 horsepower that year).

10- 1985 Dodge Lancer ES Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

The word “TURBO” carried magical connotations during the 1980s, as did creepy car-stereo ads and graphic equalizers on factory stereos. That scratchy joystick-based balance/fader control lingered well into the 1990s in Chrysler products.

25- 1985 Dodge Lancer ES Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

You’ll find one in every car, kid. You’ll see.

The cassette tape levitates right into the deck, while dancers leap over the car.

The performance sedan that will thrill you all the way to the redline… hold you to the dotted line… cover you down the line… and impress you with its bottom line.

Self-driving Lancers were all the rage.

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50 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1985 Dodge Lancer ES Turbo...”


  • avatar
    geozinger

    I keep saying I won’t look at these posts…

    I had one of these. A 1987 Lancer ES turbo with the Level 3 suspension, the saw blade wheels, auto tragic tranny, but no pwr windows & locks. I had that car for 11 years and 160K+ miles, and got good service from it. The 5 door hatchback was incredibly handy and it is one of the few cars I think I might like to have back.

    This one was loaded to the gills, however. For an EEK enthusiast like myself, it’s a shame to see one like this. But, they were considered throw-away cars, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Mine was a 1986 Lancer ES Turbo. Gunmetal blue/grey with grey cloth interior. Mine came with the farm tractor-grade manual transmission. I ditched the stock rims and bought a nice set of five-spoke alloys, then built an incredible custom stereo (I was just shy of 20…what was a guy to do?). My best buddy had a Shelby Charger so we enjoyed our Turbo Dodges…his was faster, but mine was more comfortable over longer distances. I loved that car and always thought it was one of the best iterations of the K-car. A relatively clean design (dare I say almost “European?” Well, at least on the outside. The dash was typical 90-degree square). The seats were great, which helped one forget how much work was going into rowing the manual through the gears. This really came home when I would drive my sister’s new 1989 CRX Si and came to find out what a truly enjoyable stick shift was all about! Still, for a college kid, the Lancer ES was kinda swanky!

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        I was already married with a child on the way when we bought this car. It was a car that had been sold but then taken back by the dealer when the buyer’s credit fell through. I got a heck of a deal on that car. I also had the really good sport seats in mine, the cheap-o Japanese copies of Recaros. I could drive that car 8-10 hours at a time and not feel bad at all.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Hey, what’s the name of the font they used on this? :)

    • 0 avatar
      Kruser

      Ah. This was the first car that I owned. Mine was an ’85 turbo with the automatic, power locks and windows, and leather. It also had the manual pop-out moon roof. What a great car. My only problem was that the turbo crapped out, so it was removed. It then went to my brother and then to my older sister, who put in a new 2.2. I think all told it had over 150k before it was scrapped.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I had an 85 Lebaron GTS, non-turbo, 5-spd stick. What a wonderful car that was! Black, gray interior, bright wheel covers.

      I got mine used in 1988 with 56k on it, and drove it until 2000. It was traded with 206k miles on it.

      Too bad nobody builds a roomy 5-seat 5-door hatch anymore (except Tesla). I really liked the 3-box sedan look, rather than the flat rear hatch that is so popular today.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Now that I’m home from work, I took the time to look at the commercials. My Lancer looked like the black one in the second commercial; only I had the maroon interior and a red “laser” (pin) stripe on mine.

    • 0 avatar
      MoDo

      A high school buddy had a red one, turbo, 5-speed, red on red and it was mint – until he pulled out in front of another car and destroyed it. I kinda thought it was a cool car, but indeed a throw away.

      Another friend briefly had a white/blue 2-dr turbo GTS but the turbo had already been removed and it was a dog. ANOTHER friend had a V6 convertible, with around 400,000kms on it – 1996, it was Lebaron fever for all!

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Turbo, leather, and a digital dash?

    The future is here!

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      It’s funny, I still recall just what those stereo buttons feel like, and the click the radio makes when you turn it on. And I haven’t been in a vehicle with that sound system since about 1998.

  • avatar
    06V66speed

    I’d like to imagine that this would have been great fun to toss around (in its heyday, mind you) with a 5-speed.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      The 5 speed wasn’t as much fun as you’d think! The feel was more like rowing gears on a John Deere. Look up “notchy gear shifter” and you’ll likely find a picture of my Lancer! But it was still a car I remember fondly. Quick (for the day), comfortable and even somewhat stylish.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        That sounds like a Syncro-Range, the standard transmission in all row-crop and larger JDs from 1960-1982. Talk about doublespeak–the only syncros were between pairs of gears (1-3, 2-5, 4-7, 6-8), not the entire range.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        The government agency that I worked for in the 1980s had K-cars in their fleet. Inexplicably, many of them were manual transmissions (maybe they were the cheapest, but what fleet manager in their right mind orders manual transmissions for pool cars?).

        It was like moving a lever stuck into a block of Jello. There were no gates. You just guessed where to move the lever, and if you weren’t correct, massive grinding ensued. My grandfather’s 1953 Allis-Chalmers WD tractor (on which I first learned to drive) had a better shifter!

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        Yes, it was Chrysler’s early cable shifter. Reliable, but you couldn’t shift it fast. Too fast, and they’d strip.
        Still, I was glad I didn’t have the automatic.

  • avatar
    balreadysaid

    These were what made dodge popular with younger people. College kids loved these! I had one here in my shop parking lot 87′ with roll up Windows otherwise well equiped, even a moon roof. 225+ on the o do with a bad head gasket. As far as I’m concerned only saw a grand prix super charged go with higher miles in that class of American turbo car. Emissions is the only reason dodge couldn’t keep building on platforms like this. Quality went downhill mainly because of added electronics that were for the The most part useless..

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    This was a well equipped model.

    I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for the five-door. How people hate these today I just don’t understand. More cargo room without the sacrifice of passenger room.

    I think the last really interesting one was the Mazda6

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I agree. The five door hatch was a very versatile car. Myself, I liked the Malibu Maxx SS version. I had a Maxx, but the regular LT version. This was back when my kids were teens and growing, and growing… Plenty of leg room in the back of the Maxx.

  • avatar
    Jezza819

    We acquired the local Chrysler/Dodge dealership in 1978. These cars were the first ones that actually made us think that good things were on the horizon. They were definitely better constructed than their K body ancestors including the Chrysler E Class and Dodge 600.

    It was something that I wasn’t used to, a fairly tight handling and sporty Chrysler product that wasn’t a 2dr. The Dodge Daytona Turbo and Chrysler Laser Turbo had come out the year before these H body cars. My dad had a black Lebaron GTS loaded with red cloth seats as a demo. I don’t think he liked the stiffer ride though.

    Dodge sent me to Road Atlanta the summer of 1985 to flog these cars around the track. We hammered them pretty hard and I still remember one of the Lebaron GTS coming back into the pits with a very loud ticking noise coming from the engine.

    This was during the time when a lot of options on cars were ala carte and my brother was doing the ordering for us. He was ordering stripped base cars with no right side mirrors and no center armrest so they were sitting for a long time on the lot. I took it over in about 1986 or 1987 and balanced out the inventory and they started to pick up some. But Chrysler didn’t really stick with these cars and got away from this body style and went back to 4dr sedans with the Dodge Spirit and Plymouth Acclaim in 1989.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    My Dad bought an ’85 Lancer ES Turbo in the same ‘desert bronze metallic’ as this car. It was a disaster. The horsepower rating in ’85 was 146 instead of 142 though. That was the car that taught us how meaningless warranties are. Supposedly, it had 5/50 powertrain coverage. Every repair still cost hundreds and the car never saw 40,000 miles, let alone 50,000. We usually kept our cars for at least a decade, but the Dodge was gone in less than 3 years. My Dad was offered a 30% residual trade in value on a 25,000 mile car, which was so bad that he decided to give it to my sister instead. It lasted her hundreds of miles before the third headgasket blew, and then it sat at a mechanics home for years until my parents received a notice from the state saying they were the recorded owners of an abandoned car. The hood vent in the pictures is there so you get early notice of headgasket failures via smoke and steam rising from it.

    It was fast for the day and it had great cup holders. The hatchback body was useful too, although as flexible as a 100K mile VW. About a year after we bought it, it had to start sharing the driveway with my Mom’s new Porsche 924S. The difference in assembly quality was eye-opening. Suddenly we noticed that all the body panels were aligned with all the precision of the slices of a Papa John’s pizza. Paint had drips and pools that were absent on the Porsche. There were little dents where the UAW or CAW had tried to align the roof panel with the C-pillars. None of the interior trim panels aligned with the window openings. It was pathetic, but we’d always had American cars before, so it hadn’t been obvious to us.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      A 1980’s Porsche had better build quality than a 1980’s Dodge??? You don’t say.

      Coming up next in the Obvious News, water is wet, everyone eventually dies, and driving over the speed limit can get you a ticket.

      Stay tuned!

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        It was a $20K Porsche, so there shouldn’t have been that drastic a difference. A 1987 Honda would have revealed the Dodge’s flaws just as dramatically.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          Original MSRP on an ’85 Dodge Lancer ES was $9,600. (NADA Guide)

          Original MSRP on an ’87 Porsche 924S (first year for the 924S in US market) was $19,900 (NADA Guide).

          So again, it must be water is wet day to declare that an entry level premium Germany sports car had better quality than a half-the-sticker-price bread and butter mid-level K-car.

          Adjusting for inflation, the Lancer would be $21K new today, and the Porsche would be $42K new today.

          Darn skippy if I’m dropping $42K on an Audi A4 (in modern terms) it better be built a Hell of a lot better than a moderately equipped Cruze.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            The Porsche had three available options. The Dodge came standard with nothing. The magazine test cars; with their leather, power everything, sunroofs, 15″ wheels, trip computers, digital dashes, and joystick radios were $16K. Our ES Turbo, automatic, cloth, no power anything, 14″ alloys with caps that fell off when the brakes got hot, midline stereo cassette, digital dash, some trim, and air conditioning was almost $13K. The point was that until we had a car that wasn’t from the Big-3 we had no idea how a car was supposed to be put together. Once I became aware of the difference, I couldn’t help but to notice that a lot of cars I didn’t consider were much better made than Detroit cars too.

  • avatar
    EAF

    1st: add boost and egt gauges
    2nd: add manual boost controller & fuel pump
    3rd: install front mount intercooler
    4th: remove cat converter install 3″ exhaust
    5th: 110 octane

    You guys remember that movie “The Wraith?” I’m always reminded of it when I see pictures if these 80’s turbocharged Chryslers. It was a cool prototype for its time.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      For the time? It was as ahead of the curve as a SR-71 Blackbird was in the early 60’s.

      440 HP out of a 2.2L 4-cylinder mid-engine mounted four banger, 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds, and a top speed of 194 MPH – all on 1982ish technology. This would be astounding numbers in a car today (and could be produced for less than $1 million a unit, the cost I understand the M4S Turbo cost)

      Given tire technology of the era, put some modern rubber on those rear wheels and you could probably break the 4 second to 60, squarely in modern supercar territory. It would have roasted any “supercar” of the era that you could buy.

      The only thing missing to meet modern supercar cred (beyond the soul crushing weight of required safety equipment) is AWD and a 7-speed manual or DCT setup instead of the ancient 5-speed manual it came with.

      This was a stunning car

      • 0 avatar
        EAF

        Damn! Very cool… I thought it was just a prototype chassis/body with likely a 2.2 like the one pictured above. I had no clue! I am going to research it now that you’ve inspired me!

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          Never went to production, four built, along with several “sleds” for the movie The Wraith to be destroyed.

          It had a very custom specific bronze paint (dark brown FTW). It was never meant for production – but what they built was remarkable, even by modern standards (strictly from a performance number stand point).

          In comparison the gold standard of the era the Ferrari Testarossa (at least from the little kid want factor – and admittedly the Testarossa was a production vehicle) put out these numbers:

          380 HP out of a V12 engine (so 3X the cylinders)
          Top speed of 180 MPH
          0 – 60 in 5.3 seconds
          1/4 mile – 13.5 seconds

          Other than top speed, this is Pontiac G8 GT (not even the GXP) territory. A Hellcat would destroy these numbers. Heck, a V6 Camry SE could make the Ferrari driver nervous in a sprint to 60.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Apparently only one was ever built with a Dodge engine, the PPG pace car that was in the Walter P. Chrysler museum. The ones used in the movie that had engines at all were sitting on Beetle chassis and had VW engines. I saw a video put out by the people selling replica bodies based on a Wraith movie car that they restored. The photo of a body being mated to a donor car revealed enough for me to identify the donor car as a Ferrari 308GT4.

  • avatar
    TDIGuy

    Had the one step lower Dodge Shadow turbo with the manual trans. Base model, too. Didn’t even have a tape player. Never gave me any problems. The boost guage was mounted top centre of the dashboard to boot. My friends all loved to watch the “happy gauge” as we hurtled down the on-ramp to the freeway.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    When you’re loading up a Lancer to this spec (I don’t think I’ve seen one with this many options AND leather AND trip computer), aren’t you well into “fancy” LeBaron money? Seems an odd choice.

    I won’t lie, as a child I found the LeBaron sedan very tasteful and luxurious looking, and thought it was some smaller trim level of the New Yorker.

    http://momentcar.com/images/chrysler-le-baron-1993-11.jpg

    Of course the LeBaron convertible was also desirable, because they stole it in Jumanji (ahh giant mosquito attack!)- and even before I had ever played any GTA I was interested in stealing other people’s cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      “…and thought it was some smaller trim level of the New Yorker.”

      That’s just what Lee Iacocca wanted you to think!

    • 0 avatar
      thattruthguy

      Car for car, a lebaron gts was about $200 more than a lancer. You could get a gts with non turbo engine, steel wheels, Manny windows, cloth seats, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I had a friend with a Lebaron GTS. His car had power windows and locks that didn’t work, but it didn’t have the turbo, nice wheels, a passable suspension, supportive seats, the digital dash, or the 6 speaker stereo; all features our Lancer ES had. It was the same color inside and out though. I think the only difference between the Lancer and Lebaron GTS were the color of the headlight buckets, the tail lights, the grill, and the steering wheel. Everything else was optional on both of them.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I’m just impressed Lido let a design out of Auburn Hills that didn’t lend itself to a Brougham top. I assume the Lancer/LeBaron and Sundance/Shadow were all approved while he was on vacation or something.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      That was Iacocca’s right hand man, Hal Sperlich. He saw the possibilities of a stretched K-car 5 door hatch, but sales weren’t good enough to keep the hatch going for the Chrysler 3.3 V6, which arrived just after the hatch production ended. The interior space of the Lancer was huge compared to the base K-car.

      Iacocca didn’t like the look of the Lancerer/GTS, possibly because it had the utilitarian look of the VW Dasher. Iacocca’s thing was taking a standard sedan and gussying it up for a pseudo-luxury look with higher prices at modest expense. Chrysler was still too close to its near-death experience at the time for experiments.

  • avatar
    Timothy

    Haha. Oh the memories. My first car (a hand-me-down) was an 85 LeBaron Turbo GTS, blue over beige. The parents bought it new in 1985 and when I laid my 16 year old hands on it in 1997 it had already lead hard life. Blue over beige. Fancy.

    Dad crimped the throttle linkage so it would never make full power, ya know, cause he was smart and I was oh so stupid. But hey, it said TURBO on the side so it was still cool as hell.

    I got my first speeding ticket in that car…77 in a 55. Memories indeed.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      He could have just disconnected the MAP line to the logic module, thus forcing Limp Home mode and ensuring the boost went phooey.

      A lot of intelligent idiots tried using carburetor air bleeds in the MAP line in order to trick the system to crank up the boost, instead of simply ponying up $180 for the high boost logic module, which offered a significant gain in power for the nice price of ~$10/hp.

  • avatar

    Hmm, keys with it and a broken taillight and paint transfer on the corner and passenger side.

    Probably totaled after a minor accident.

  • avatar
    denvertsxer

    Still a very nice design, and the five-door hatch configuration is appealing.

    Odd that the featured car has no pentastar on the grill. Doesn’t look like it ever did.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I always thought these were the most appealing K-Car based vehicles along with the Daytona/Laser and the 2nd gen LeBaron coupe/convertible. At the time there were a few mid-size 5 doors in vogue such as the Mazda 626 (turbo 4ws would be quite a find), short lived 1st gen Camry 5 door and the more upscale Saab 9000 so you figure it made sense that Chrysler would stretch the K-body to compete with them.

    Consumers Reports and a few of the car magazines did side by side comparisons with the Lancer ES and Pontiac 6000 STE. I forget which one came out on top.

  • avatar
    PentastarPride

    I liked these. An aunt of mine owned the sister of this car, the LeBaron GTS. Very modern looking and I absolutely loved the seats. It looked like a sedan even though it was a hatchback. The rest of the interior, namely the dashboard, seemed to be an afterthought though.

    Out of all the K-cars these seem to be the rarest. I can even spot an old 1983-ish Reliant or Dodge 600 if I looked hard enough, and that’s hard to do. A Dodge Lancer or H-body LeBaron? For some reason, it’s difficult.

  • avatar
    ZCD2.7T

    In a box somewhere in my basement I have a photo of the speedometer of my Lancer ES Turbo 5 speed reading 124 mph – heady stuff in those days. Ropey shifter, gritty engine and all, I really liked that car, until the turbo died.

  • avatar
    Curt in WPG

    My Dad bought a new 85 LaBaron GTS turbo 5 speed in 86, the year after I got my license. To a 17 year old kid who learned to drive on an 82 Reliant wagon this was European heaven. Wicked torque steer when you dumped the clutch but it would skoot pretty good for its day. One thing I remember about it was leaving my friends cottage which had a steep hill loaded with 5 people – unless you could get the turbo to kick in it wouldn’t climb the hill so you had to rev the snot out of it and ride the clutch to get it to climb. In Winnipeg where we have no hills it wouldn’t be a big thing but I remember thinking what it would be like in hilly places. Still, a fun car and the stereo brings back memories of Motley Crue and Scorpions :-)

  • avatar
    wantahertzdonut

    Haven’t seen one of these in a long time.

    I have an IS300 Sportcross which fits your 4dr hatch craving bit it’s really more wagon than hatch. Super fun to drive too.

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