By on April 13, 2016

K-car Superstar

Hump Day can be a drag, but nothing puts a smile on the faces of hard-working Americans like value-laden Chrysler Corporation compacts and telling OPEC to go screw themselves.

While diving deep into the YouTube wormhole the other day, a promotional music video for the 1981 Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries twins reared its patriotic head.

It needs to be shared.

“K Car Superstar” is the song you need to feel good about life again. Three-and-a-half minutes long, it’s a halcyon portrayal of the Lee Iacocca and Ronald Reagan era, featuring upbeat and carefully coiffed Americans heading out to make the best purchase of their lives.

It’s morning in America, see, and the K Cars are here. And not just the K Cars — the future is here, too.

Little Bobby waves to the driver of the (General Motors) big rig that’s shipping the gleaming Ks to Anytown, U.S.A., while Linda and Jim (these names are guesswork) sip Sanka while reading the front-page news of the vehicle’s arrival.

One lady, who we’ll call Carol, even takes public transit (for the last time) to get to the dealership!

The floundering Chrysler Corp. hadn’t make its K Car jackpot yet, so it’s understandable that some of the pop-country song’s lines don’t seem to rhyme. You gotta buy what you can afford, which was essentially the pitch for the K Car itself. The video does make up for the horrible lyrics with exceptional hair, both on men and women. It’s strange how curly/wavy hair is completely gone from the over-30 male crowd these days.

The message of “K Car Superstar” is this: if you can handle having good personal grooming habits and a positive outlook on life, you could be Dodge (Aries) material.

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105 Comments on “Brighten Your Wednesday With a Glimpse of Glorious K-Car America...”


  • avatar
    CobraJet

    I can’t count how many of the K-car variants I have driven over the years. Mostly in rental fleets. I’ll always remember the Reliant and Aries for their use of cotter pins for door hinge pins.

  • avatar

    Those cars were the right medicine for people with suddenly lowered expectations. We could do with something like them again, I think. Practical, reliable for the time and with little extra content.

    It’s hard to look back on these from today’s standpoint. I know, this time last year I was driving an ’83 Shelby Charger, but when they were in the showrooms they were a breath of fresh air.

  • avatar

    First off, who would trade a Caprice for a K-Car (1:26))?

    Second, check out all those leftover R-bodies in clearly unsellable colors culled by gunpoint from Sales Bank (1:34)!

    Were there bad Malaise Era cars? Sure. But they were mainly CHRYSLERs. The downsized B-bodies were solid entries, so were the G-Bodies.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      … or the 245. All I can say is, cocaine is a hell of a drug.

      Oh and also who refers to their product by the internal platform name and not model name (i.e. Aries, Reliant)? Did GM say come get your W-body? Did Ford say we’ve got a Panther or Fox for you?

      Those two R-bodies look like they were painted red all over, why i don’t know.

      • 0 avatar
        Geekcarlover

        I figured they were pushing the concept of “All new, no really, we mean it”. As apposed to the previous seven decades, when all new meant a different grill and tail lights.
        When my folks bought our Aries in 82, they were still calling it nothing like any other Dodge before.

      • 0 avatar

        Like I said, Sales Bank orphans. Probably never-titled ’79 models with faded MSOs sitting in some poor manager’s deal jacket that fell behind the filing cabinet.

      • 0 avatar
        Rspaight

        The actual badging on the Aries and Reliant was “Aries K” and “Reliant K” for the first couple of years.

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        The K-car was Chrysler’s justification for getting loan guarantees from the U.S. government in ’79-’80. Thus, the platform designation became well known in the press and by the general public, so Chrysler used this to their advantage.

        “X-car” was widely recognized at the time, as well. Front wheel drive was a huge deal at the time, particularly the GM cars, which were supposed to crush the Japanese. LOL.

        The W platform also got a ton of industry press for much of the ’80s under its original codename, “GM-10.”

        • 0 avatar
          Robert.Walter

          Only car company the X-car crushed was GM.

          Oddly enough, the X program manager was Bob Eaton, guy who crushed Chrysler as an independent car company.

          • 0 avatar
            JustPassinThru

            Good catch – and it explains a lot.

            Seems the “Other” Bob, Eaton, was all about maximizing profit – not through value but by the time-saving, if not time-honored, method of shortcutting.

            Cut so many corners on the X, that’s what’s left is a useless lump. Later, as the Executive of the resuscitated Chrysler, negotiate stock options – and then solicit Daimler-Benz in as a money fairy.

            It didn’t work well for Daimler, or Schrempp or the others who participated in that poorly-planned looting that rendered DaimlerChrysler worth LESS in the end and took out one of the three American companies as viable independents. But…we don’t hear much of Eaton anymore. I gather he’s probably in high clover in his declining years, with Jurgen’s Folly money keeping the wine flowing…

            One more illustration of how GM, and the American auto industry, tended to kick incompetents and crooks UPSTAIRS.

      • 0 avatar
        ppxhbqt

        At the risk of unfairly defending Chrysler Corporation’s actions, I still must vigorously defend accuracy. First, on the Caprice question, gas averaged $.86/gallon during its model year of 1979; it was $1.31 for 1981. The Caprice was rated 16 city, 21 hwy w/ the 5.0L. The K-cars were rated 25/41 with the 2.2L. It’s easy to see someone making the trade with that kind of jump, especially if kids had left home.

        As for the sales banks, Iaccoca had killed them upon his arrival and they didn’t come back until well after he left. So while some R-bodies were sold in sales banks, it’s hard to imagine any were left by the time the K-cars hit the street.

        While GM never said W-body, the press had long been talking about the X-cars vs. the K-cars and Chrysler realized it was a good way to make sure the public knew these were the cars everyone was talking about. The K was later removed and the dealers made such a fuss it was put back. And while it never went inter-divisional at GM, it must be noted that quite a few Pontiac models sported their body code as part of their model name for a year or two, such as Bonneville Model G and T1000.

        As for the colors, there are three R-bodies shown. The two New Yorkers are both freaking white. The Newport is the exact same color scheme as the Caprice shown, just reversed in placement. Such could be found on rail car after rail car of B-body Caprices and Bonnevilles, as well as LTDs and Marquises, in both Panther and Fox formula, of the era. The other three cars are all J-body Cordobas (including the red LS versions with a version of the body-color grille of the previous generations’s 300 model that someone has already mentioned) and again one is white. The red looks muddy in the video, but a Google search shows in fact it was a vivid hue called Graphic Red. There’s little reason to think any look faded beyond anything else shown in the video and that such look is due to anything but the age of the video, not the car at the time, excepting maybe the Volvo.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      …First off, who would trade a Caprice for a K-Car (1:26))?…

      THIS!

      Had the exact same thought when I watched the video.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        Two tone Caprice is worth a hundred K-Cars.

        I’d rather have the Cordoba LS (seen at 1:35, the red car with the crosshair grille) than a K-Car too.

      • 0 avatar
        JustPassinThru

        We know that.

        But the Chrysler people didn’t know that…then. First, most of them probably never drove a B-Body. And as with the Tri-Fives, their enduring value wasn’t so apparent when new. They were just nondescript, reasonably-good cars, which means as they were delivered they were hardly noticed.

        Second, no one knew the K-Iacocca Specials would come to be known as “cheap.” No one knew Japan would school the world on quality in the coming decade. No one knew the K would be cheap by comparison and would try to hold sales figures by getting cheaper.

        It’s not always apparent. The Ford Panther, the longest-running platform in Ford history…started as a budget-targeted cheapo downsize of the Ford Neanderthal full-size. It was chosen by Hank the Deuce and Lundy the Bean-Counter an alternate to Hal Sperlich’s desire for a totally-new FWD full-size chassis.

        Which came to be anyway, eight years late…the Taurus.

        But the built-to-bookkeeper specs Panther endured, and has as many apologists as the 1977 Caprice, now. And there was no way to know where the K would wind up in the general picture.

        But the Chrysler sales-campaigners’ job was obvious. Pump. Hype. Inject the sales bodies with artificial enthusiasm.

    • 0 avatar
      Buff Monkee

      AGREED!

      And now I need to find my cowboy hat, I think that the style is coming back …

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    It’s morning in America.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    1981 was a pretty sh*t time.

    There wasn’t even much in the way of good movies or music.

    • 0 avatar

      Compared to today it was a golden age of cinema.

      Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Road Warrior, Das Boot, Escape From New York, and others…

      Music was less than stellar, but I’d like to think it was a year of transition. The Billboard Hot 100 shows a lot of disco but there are a few classics in there and a some other names that would get big in the ’80s.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        Oh wow, forgot those were all 1981! Maybe I was thinking of 1980.

        You forgot Empire Strikes Back too, unless that was 1980. I honestly forget.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        1979 was also Star Trek the Motion Picture.

        1980 was also the Blues Brothers and The Jazz Singer.

        1981 was also Chariots of Fire, and On Golden Pond. The Space Shuttle roared off the launch pad for the first time. And yes, the hope of Ronald Reagan replaced the pessimism of Jimmy Carter.

        1982 was also Star Trek II, the Wrath of Kahn (edit — and I almost forgot – Tron.) Some of my favorite movies and movie sound tracks came from these few years. It was soundtrack music as well as some pop music that was finally putting disco out to pasture.

        I had a 1974 Plymouth Fury as my first car, my family then purchased a pair of Volaries. Yes Flybrian, the K-Cars were a breath of fresh air; and they were called either Reliant K or Aries K.

        They held the same number of people as my Fury, but made better than twice the mileage. They felt somewhat tinny with their thin metal panels, but the benefit was they handled like a go cart compared to the Chrysler’s they replaced. Chrysler was quite proud of the aerodynamic tweaks they also made to the K-Car; though they were quickly overshadowed by the Audi 5000 and upcoming Ford products. The 2.2L fours that were standard were far better than the Iron Duke in the GM; almost approaching 287 Slant Six levels of reliability. Chrysler even took one, twin-turboed it, and got 1,000 HP out of it, at least for a brief time.

        My Dad liked them so much he ended buying three K-Car station wagons, one for me and one for each of my two sisters. I was constantly going around tightening screws to keep it from squeaking; but it still had much better build quality than the Chryslers they replaced. Looking at this video, I do remember the times very, very fondly; there was such a spirit of optimism compared to the darkness and gloom and doom we have today.

        The first car I purchased was a 1990 Dodge Spirit. It had the 2.5L; the 2.2L was so overbuild that they bored it out to make the 2.5L. It had a even better build quality than the Reliants they replaced, and I had over 200,000 miles of trouble free service before I sold it, barely but still running (leaky radiator mostly) in 2004.

        Despite the hatred I hear from others who did not live through it, they were good times. There was optimism in the air, and the aerodynamic cars, space shuttle, and other developments made it feel like the future was here at last. Then it all fell apart….

        • 0 avatar

          Great post. I think it captures the optimism of the time quite well.

          It’s only because we know what comes later, AIDS, crack cocaine and Duran Duran, that we understand that the dawn of the Reagan era was just the calm before the storm.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            Not to mention 9-11 and flame surfaced angry catfish styling. Where did it all go wrong?

          • 0 avatar
            TrailerTrash

            At least I wasn’t standing in line at the gas station in Los Angeles on an odd numbered day for my gas.
            THAT was bull…the Carter years were poor times.

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          And how can I forget, I picked up my first computer, a Commodore 64 in 1986; though my brother had a Vic-20 before that, and a friend of mine had an Atari back in the seventies.

          We seemed on track at the time to actually fulfill “2001 a Space Odyssey” and “Star Trek.” Now, I have little faith that either will happen; the shear cash flow needed to pull them off is not there, and likely never will be.

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          Porn I think is just a part of it; it is the whole entertainment culture as a whole (starting with MTV and music videos.) Used to be once you got away from the TV and/or computer all you had was the radio or your Walkman portable tape player. Now, thanks to the Internet, portable computers, and smartphones; it is nearly 24/7; my kids and grandkids have very little life without a screen in front of them. No entertaining themselves; just being entertained. Nothing else, not even a job or family, seems to matter.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          Everyone thinks disco died but disco just morphed.

          Madonna’s first big album was definitely of the so-called “post-disco” genre and nobody cared. It just became one of the de facto sounds of 80s pop music alongside synthpop and New Wave.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            Classic rock also came out in the 1980s. Prior to 1980 all there was on top-40 radio stations was disco; I actually turned to classical music because I didn’t like country and that was about the only other format you could find (on public radio.)

            Madonna and the MTV crowd were just another music format along with classic rock and the ones you mentioned by the time the ’80s rolled around. A lot of it was because of the movies — Chariots of Fire and the various space films made synthpop popular along with classical music, and The Blues Brothers single-handedly brought about a Chicago style blues revival.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Indeed, disco just sort of changed into funk for a short while, before becoming pop.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Disco begat Pop? So… if we go back and kill Disco, Pop will simply fade away?

            To the DeLorean!

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I can think of two decent examples of early ’80s post-disco pre-pop funky type songs off the top of my head.

            Linda Lewis – Class Style
            Debarge – Stay With Me

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          A few detail corrections for you- I think you’ll find the 2.5 was a stroked 2.2 (not bored out) and the Slant 6 came in 225, 198, and 170 cid displacements (and 265 down under) but not 287.

          They were good cars for the time in that they were economical and they did what people expected them to do. They had a lot of space for such a small car too.

    • 0 avatar
      MrGreenMan

      1981 was a good year for heavy metal.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        I prefer 1982-86.

        After all, Powerslave is my favorite Iron Maiden album and that came out in 1984.

        • 0 avatar

          Talk about your transitional albums. Parts of it are so much like their earlier stuff while other parts predict where they are headed. I remember longtime fans hating that album when it came out. It was just so “different.”

          Today, I like Iron Maiden’s later material so much more than their earlier albums. Powerslave is where that started. You have good taste.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            It’s funny that you say that because I’m not a huge fan of Somewhere in Time and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. They’re alright, and I do love The Evil That Men Do, but I prefer songs like 2 Minutes to Midnight and Aces High.

            And 1986 also gave me two of my favorite albums, Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Megadeth’s Peace Sells…but Who’s Buying? so that was a good year for metal.

          • 0 avatar

            I agree. I think there was a long evolution after they started to change up their songs. By the time they made Fear of the Dark they had what they were looking for, I think, there but my favorite is Dance of Death.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        Yep, when the movie by the same name which came out in 1981 made it popular. A few years later (1986) the movie The Mission made music that mostly features the pan flute popular.

        Disco’s grip on the top-40 music stations was dead and gone thanks to many of the movies that came out in the early 1980s and the rise of classic rock stations.

        • 0 avatar

          New Wave was what came next.

          New Music was pretty much the whole world outside the AOR corporate hellhole which was any big city music playlist-there were a few stations in LA and friends who came from elsewhere had tapes of bands we’d never heard of. Depeche Mode ?

          I recall one night, clear and warm summer evening, taking home a very blonde young lady at 3:30 am, as she had to be home before dad got up for work. Zapped at a legit 85 mph on an empty Southern State Parkway, the truth got me a laughing Trooper and a pass, although truth be told, I actually was sober.. On the Blaupunkt, Live from the Malibu on WLIR. A weak signal, but the only ‘new music’ outlet in the NYC area.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          Circa 1981, what is called “classic rock” today was called AOR (album-oriented rock) in the radio business, and had a firm lock on the FM dial.

          AOR evolved out of free-form radio, which had begun in the late 60s. You can thank the federal government for inadvertently creating the format; in 1968, the FCC forbade broadcasters from simulcasting their AM radio programming on FM stations (as had been common practice at the time), which encouraged station operators to try new formats. By 1981, AOR was a successful commercial format and nothing new.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I remain shocked that Toyota and Honda could have possibly competed against domestic competition that was as formidable as that.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Honda and Toyota firmly entrenched themselves when Chrysler was building Aspens and Volaries, not K Cars; Ford was building Mavericks and Pintos instead of Escorts and Tempos, not to mention GM and the Chevettes and Citations. These were the cars that ever so slowly but progressively clawed their way up to near even build quality with the Japanese; though at this time they still had a ways to go.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        I don’t think Honda offered anything as “big” as the K Car in 1981. The Accord then was about the size of the Omni/Horizon. The Toyota Cressida was about the same size as the K Car but it was a much more expensive car (and a much better car).

        Some customers cross shopped the brands but the K Cars were on their own for six seats, a usable trunk (not everybody likes hatchbacks…), overall small size, and low price.

        I can’t remember if they had the 5/50 warranty on these cars from day one or if that didn’t come until a while later, but that 5/50 warranty was a really big deal at the time.

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    So, I was too young to drive these (although we owned one!) but I WAS in Auto Mechanics at the time these were being discussed.

    There was a lot of interesting history there – the innovative changes Chrysler made to both save money and simplify design. I think the one I remember most was their design for an electric points system for the distributor. That design, AFAIK, became the source of all future contactless distributors until the DIS came along.

    They may have been crap, but there were some interesting engineering modernizations inside.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    The truck hauling the cars looks classier and more sleek than the cars it’s hauling.

    Also, I tip my proverbial hat to the voice talent, who managed to get through that whole interminable song without cracking up.

    I was still watching Sesame Street when this came out; in what context would a 3 1/2 minute commercial appear on TV? (Ok, not counting some of the toy-company-produced cartoons I watched…)

    • 0 avatar
      Steph Willems

      I tried to find the source of the song/video/promo to no avail. Lengthier digging could hit pay dirt but is it worth it? I’m assuming this was created with the intent of chopping it up into snippets for commercials, but all the ads I’ve seen for the early K Cars simply feature people hocking cars. Maybe their ad people just threw everything into the pot!

      This did bring back some memories of my dad’s Reliant wagon, which he traded for a great deal on a used ’80 Pontiac Phoenix (that was another story…)

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        Maybe it was a promo targeted at dealers themselves (during a dealer conference?) to get them all hyped up about selling K-Cars? That would certainly explain referring to the cars by their platform code instead of the nameplates that a consumer would actually purchase…

        • 0 avatar
          Syke

          This is definitely something that would open the regional dealer conference (franchise owner, general manager, new cars sales manager would be in attendance – salesmen would get their chance way later). This film would open the show, then the cars would be driven out, then after the speeches the dealership personnel would get to look at the cars up close.

          I saw something like this back in July of ’65 at the Pittsburgh Zone introduction of the ’66 Chevys. Dad took me with him that time, and I got to meet the owner of the chain of dealerships that day.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      I’m going to take a stab and guess they were run during movie trailers.
      Even though I don’t recall advertising like this back then in theaters.

    • 0 avatar

      My guess would be that Chrysler bought a block of time on in a popular show, say The Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color on Sunday night, and then used other ads to hype it as a “reveal.”

      This would have been a major TV advertising event. It would have been used just that once and then put on the shelf. I think it’s unlikely that it would have run in a dealer, VCRs were still high-end machines and really uncommon.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Beta to the Max, Mr. Kreutzer!

        The only jingle I recall from that era is the one for the 1980 Chevy Citation. “It’s the First Chevy of the ’80s,” followed by the big ending:

        “Chevy Ci-TAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-Shun!!!”

        The only thing I remember from the “K”s was good old Lido saying “[b]uy a car, get a check!”

        Were you and yours affected in any way by the earthquakes?

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Seriously.
    I don’t know which decade I dislike more…the seventies or the eighties.

    The seventies did have the WORST styles and music and hair.
    And the seventies had the worst movie sound.
    Both were cocain muddled by everyone.

    I suppose the eighties at least were my fav years age wise…my 30s.
    The 30s are the best years of one’s life. If you are there now…really stop and notice. And try to enjoy.
    Maybe too old to be a sports star…but at least your eyes haven’t failed.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I will heed your words but I can’t help but feel a little crestfallen now that I have heard them.

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t take those words too much to heart. My 40s have been great and my 50s should be as well assuming that I don’t have too many health issues.

        Part of this is because I spent most of my 30s living in poverty that I wasn’t really able to work myself out of until the past few years, but now that I have it has been a good old time.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      I was in college in my late teens and early twenties at the time. I think the fact that was in college made these years so happy, optimistic, and carefree to me. The late twenties through my forties was also punctuated by lots of financial struggles, not to mention Hurricane Rita turning our lives upside down.

      Things are better in our 50s. We are seeing the fruits of our labors as our kids grow up and have kids of their own. Even with my eyesight and hearing getting worst.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        Not sayin all hell is gonna come after 30s…but healthwise and brain wise you are at a perfect blend.
        You get older and wiser…but physically you lose in the same proportions.
        This is why I say the 30s were my perfect blend.
        40 were great…but at 45 my eyes needed glasses.I LOVE my eyes and HATED glasses.
        Youth, as they always say, is wasted on the young.
        And in your 30(ish), you are at the best blend.

        28 cars later might feel crestfallen…but pretty soon you feel just fallen from the crest!!

        The so called hill is peaked at 40/45. Don’t fall for that middle aged thing being in your fifties.
        Full Bull crap. You are on the downhill side already.

        • 0 avatar
          GS 455

          There was an ad for a men’s hair coloring product where the announcer says: Now you’ll look like you know what you’re doing and can still do it! Life after 45 can be great, you can buy it in a bottle.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Enjoy your fifties above all. At that point you’re finally smart enough to know what you’re doing, and you should be healthy and fit enough to do what you really want.

      After sixty, its definitely downhill.

    • 0 avatar
      mikedt

      Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974, it’s a scientific fact

    • 0 avatar
      GS 455

      30 years from now kids will be saying music, hair styles and clothes in 2016 were the the absolute worst. Every generation does this.

  • avatar
    Cerbera LM

    The second best part was the GMC General, with 2-stroke Detroit Diesel power, hauling the K-Cars to town.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      Always loved the 80s GMC design aesthetic of “MORE GRILLE THAN YOU EVER DREAMED OF”. Made the trucks imposing and powerful.

      However…that’s a Brigadier, not a General. General had a narrow nose, while the Brigadier and TopKick had that wide nose with the giant grille.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    This video would have been perfect if a K car passed by Ronnie Raygun standing near the street, and he gave it a thumbs up as it passed. That would have been the complete morning in america moment.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Unlikely given that Jimmy Carter had just bailed out Chrysler, and made the K-car possible.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      That song is a reflection of the flag-waving which began then under Reagan, and continues to this day.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Timing. Those cars are ’81’s? Which means this film was shown to the dealers in the summer of ’80. Was filmed about May of ’80, and was being written in the winter of ’79/80.

      Carter still had a year to go. Hell, he was getting ready to kick Ronnie’s ass.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        “Carter still had a year to go. Hell, he was getting ready to kick Ronnie’s ass.”

        As it turned out, only in Minnesota ;) (the only state where Reagan lost both ’80 and ’84 elections).

        Though what you said was true about a lot of people’s expectations at the time.

        • 0 avatar
          Syke

          Yeah, President Carter was hoping Reagan would be the Republican candidate because he was certain he’d wipe up the floor with him. Something resembling a reverse ’72 election.

          Unfortunately for him, it worked in reverse. And Reagan was what the country needed at that moment, as least psychologically. You’ve got to currently be in your 50’s or older to really understand how depressing it was to be an American during Carter’s term.

          He turned out to be one of the best ex-presidents in our country’s history. Pity he was such a flop while in office.

          • 0 avatar

            Egads. Carter’s “Malaise” speech was a national low point.

            Go back and listen to The Charlie Daniels Band’s “In America”, out in the summer of 1980. It’s really easy to romanticize the past, but if you were there and had to work and pay your bills, the 70s well and truly SUCKED.

            The REAL Morning in America started in 1984 as the US began to emerge from a recession brought on by tightening the money supply at the beginning of Reagan’s first term. Inflation and interest rates began to fall and the economy started to recover…just as Detroit was beginning to discover how to build performance engines that could be cleaner and more fuel-efficient.

            I’ve never seen this clip before, but it’s so many bad 1980s cliches rolled into 3 1/2 minutes…and so lily-white.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    As I recall, Chrysler and Kmart had some kind of tie in at the that time, ooh, K cars at Kmart! and so we had a couple of them sitting at the front doors of the store I worked at (ah the joys of assistant management – still sucking after all these years). Compared to the wife’s Accord and my Fiat 131 they looked and felt positively cheap cheap cheap. I would think a modern comparo of a Datsun B210, Chevy Chevette, Ford Pinto and an Omni would be fab reading. Add a first generation Civic for that whole “driving down the road in in a metal garbage can while someone is pounding on the lid” feeling. Presuming you could actually find running models…..

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      The Kmart I used to work at (built in 1980!) is finally closing down. Good riddance.

      I can’t wait for the Sears Holdings Corporations board to give up, cash out, and shut the whole thing down, because Sears and Kmart are never going to have a comeback.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        Yeah, I can’t figure out why Eddie Lampert just doesn’t let them go to somebody that has some interest in running a retailer.

        Sears wasn’t doing horribly until Eddie (who at the time owned K-Mart) snapped them up.)

        He inexplicably thinks he can somehow turn them around (and he’s put his money where his mouth is, he keeps dumping more money into them) through spending pretty much ZERO capital on store improvements, leasing out square footage inside of stores, and hyping the “loyalty program.” (Notice that he invariably refers to customers as “members”, as if anybody that’s ever handed over their phone number is a Sears/K-Mart loyalist.)

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          I’m honestly surprised that they paid to fix the malfunctioning automatic door at the store I was working at. It was broken for at least the last six months I worked there.

          Not to mention the outdated poorly functioning cash registers from 1998.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I wish my younger brother was here for this Sears/Kmart conversation’ he would have much to contribute as a former seven year veteran of the “before and after” Sears.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    My, that song did go on.

    I was able to confirm that, yes, K cars did in fact come from the factory with squatting rear suspension. I might ask why if anyone knows.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      They didn’t actually squat right from the factory but these were very light cars and to emulate the ride that people were used to they were very softly sprung. Any weight at all in the trunk or people in the back seat would cause a full back end squat.

    • 0 avatar
      Paddan

      I’ve always noticed the rear squatting suspensions as well. I thought they made the K cars seem cheap. The first one I saw on a dealer lot in August 1981 was a two door coupe that had a vinyl roof with what looked like a burn mark on the side. That car was just delivered and I ran down to see it. So much for quality control, I thought, and left unimpressed.

  • avatar

    did i just hallucinate that ? ahhhhh

    the paperboy’s Schwinn was the correct one, tho.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    Ah, 1980 – I remember it very well and have fond memories of those times. There was such an air of confidence and optimism it’s hard to describe. Even though we lived through a very harsh recession in 1981/82 there was never a sense that we wouldn’t recover from it.

    I don’t understand the dark pessimism that has descended these days.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Yeahhhh, I don’t think it would be a smart move to trade in an “old” ~3 year old Volvo 245 for any 1981 K Car. Hindsight and all…

    • 0 avatar
      RetroGrouch

      The chance that the actual ~1977 Volvo 245 in that commercial is still on the road is a couple orders of magnitude more likely than ANY of those K cars still running.

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      It wasn’t intended to be weighed rationally.

      That was an IMAGE video. Those other cars were all props – including the Sales Bank R-bodies inconveniently stashed near the videotaping site. Most potential K-Car buyers wouldn’t understand what a 242 WAS, or what it represented – or the value it had. And dealers wouldn’t care – I doubt there are many car enthusiasts among car salesmen.

      It was all about generating excitement. Whether the product actually had value was not a concern – moving the metal was.

      The fact those prop-Ks were brought by a GMC truck was telling – and an indication of a trend. Chrysler stopped making medium/heavy trucks in the 1970s. In the years ahead they’d stop making Plymouths – and stop making Chryslers as luxury cars.

      Slow retreat and surrender – the indication of failed leadership in a business that’s dying.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Odd fact for the 1981 model year K Cars: the rear drum brakes were not self adjusting. That meant you or your mechanic had to adjust the star wheel approximately each oil change. It’s easy to do, takes only a minute or two (to perform or to demonstrate/teach), but you do need to take each wheel off first.

  • avatar
    Mackie

    After a couple of minutes… I’m like, “please kill me”. I couldn’t make to the end.

  • avatar
    whynotaztec

    I wonder what would happen today if you pulled up to the “car pool depot” in a coupe?

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    When you stabbed the gas, they’d fall on their face briefly before accelerating away. Instead of forward thrust, they made a comical “mooooofff” sound.

    This happen on every K-car derivative I drove, except turbos and V6s, and once the “new car smell” was gone. I worked a Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth dealer, late ’80s, jockeying cars part of the day, and every one I jumped was like that. I had to drive them around the block, to the parking lot. If you accelerated gently, no problem. It was just with a firm stab or floored.

    I’m guessing they all developed the same gasket failure on the intake side, sucking more air than *gas* was quickly available.

    • 0 avatar
      cbrworm

      It’s funny, I drove a number of these and what I remember clearly about the early K-cars is the sound of the laboring starters and the intake noise w/ lack of forward movement.

      The Mitsu 3.0 V6 combined with the Ultradrive in the later years was a tremendous improvement in the driving experience. That combination felt decades ahead of the 4 cyl 3 speed auto options. Unfortunately in practice, the 4 cyl 3 speed turned out to be much more reliable.

  • avatar
    Fuzzilina

    I grew up in Orange County (CA) and was 15 in 1980. I remember when the K-Cars were heralded as the savior of Chrysler, and I kept my eye out for them, but then I swear I never saw a single one on the road. I finally saw one when my grandfather, who worked in the livery at Pendleton, dropped by our house on the way back to the base. I’m not sure why he was driving it.

    I remember thinking at the time that the rest of the country must have pulled Chrysler out of bankruptcy, because it sure wasn’t us. And maybe it was just the government itself that got Chrysler out of debt. I really don’t think I ever saw one without a government plate.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    There’s an elegant simplicity to the K car. It certainly made me nostalgic for a time when 4 door sedans actually had practical rooflines with doors that didn’t require you to be acrobat to get in or out of.

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      Yes.

      And unlike most American cars, then or now; and even most modern Japanese models…you sat upright in the K. As in a chair.

      Or, more accurately, as in a church pew. Years ago I had a shot at a reasonably-clean K wagon; and I really liked the seating height. But that long bench of slick plastic, plus the general age of a car that was not intended to last forever…scared me away.

      I don’t remember enough of it to know if, going back, I’d have done the deal. I just remember being pleasantly surprised – and I’ve ridden in Wagoneers, had a Super Beetle and have had a number of Toyotas. That K seat was secretarial in its posture.

  • avatar
    love2drive

    This was my car in drivers ed in HS


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