This Was as Hot as the Dodge Omni Got, and It Can Be All Yours

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

The Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon twins didn’t get much respect in the 1980s, and even today’s hipsters – who’ll cling to anything avante-garde or ironic – failed to bestow them with latter-day reverence.

Well, never mind the haters. If you’re in Monterey, California on Aug. 19, and you have a hankering to spend a seemingly ludicrous amount of money on a 30-year-old econobox, your day has come.

RM Sotheby’s plans to auction a 1986 Dodge Omni GLHS, once owned by legendary tuner Carroll Shelby. This was the original hot hatch, with only 500 of the Shelby-tuned, turbocharged and intercooled Omni variants build before the model’s swan song.

Spotless and gleaming black, Shelby’s personal vehicle has just 7,733 miles on the odometer. Certainly, there’s no Omni nicer than this one, or as expensive. The auction house lists the vehicle at $40,000–$60,000, offered without reserve. Proceeds will go to the Carroll Hall Shelby Trust.

In many ways, the Omni GLHS is the ultimate sleeper. An ultra-rare performance version of a wholly boring and unsexy hatchback might be someone’s ticket to car show fame.

The Omni and Horizon were born out of desperation. In the late 1970s, with Chrysler’s fortunes falling like rust from the fender of a Dodge Aspen, the company re-engineered the French Simca Horizon in order to add a fuel-efficient subcompact to its stable of thirsty dinosaurs. The original 1.7-liter Volkswagen four-cylinder was soon joined by the 2.2-liter unit from Chrysler’s phenomenally successful K-car line.

The thing about that iron block SOHC 2.2-liter was that it could handle modifications with ease. Eager to exploit existing engine inventory, Chrysler added a turbocharged variant — the Turbo I. Soon after came the Turbo II, which Carroll Shelby thought would make a nice addition to a performance hatch.

Shelby Automobiles took the Turbo II and worked it over completely, leaving almost nothing unchanged. When it left the shop (and entered the Omni), Shelby’s unit cranked out 175 horsepower and a flat 175 pounds-feet of torque. Because the Chrysler 2.2 was already known for its low-end grunt (and often nothing else), an engine computer was added to tamp down the Turbo II’s torque. Without it, owners could kiss their Omni’s stock 5-speed manual transmission goodbye.

The Omni GLHS made the 0–60 mile per hour run in 6.5 seconds, topping out at a 135 mph top speed. The following year, Shelby worked his magic on 1,000 Omni-based Charger coupes, but they simply don’t have the nerd appeal of these done-up boxes.

[Image: Sotheby’s]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Geo Geo on Aug 08, 2016

    What's with the Omni hatred? They were a decent car in the eighties. Smooth ride, good power, powerful even with the 2.2, and usually held together well. I remember it handled and cornered better than my dad's Rabbit. Hopelessly outdated by the end of its run, but it was a good run.

  • Dividebytube Dividebytube on Aug 08, 2016

    A good pal of mine had a 5-speed Omni, replacing his '78 318 Valiant. The Omni - non-GLH - was not a bad performing car for the 80s. Not great compared to today, or the 60s, but still not bad considering the general performance crappiness of the time. We could play with the Monte Carlos SS and the 305 Camaros of the time. One night my friend came across a GLH loaded with teenagers - I told him not to even try once I saw the badge, but he didn't listen. The GLH pulled like a bull and had 2-3 cars lengths on us in a few seconds.

  • Bd2 Probably too late to do anything about it for the launch, but Kia should plan on doing an extensive refresh of the front fascia (the earlier, the better) as the design looks really ungainly.
  • Namesakeone Since I include SUVs and minivans as trucks, I really cannot think of a brand that is truly truckless. MG maybe?
  • Sobhuza Trooper Subaru, they were almost there with the BRAT. --On a lighter note, where the hell is my Cooper Works Mini truck?
  • Mike Evs do suck, though. I mean, they really do.
  • Steve Biro I don’t care what brand but it needs to be a compact two-door with an ICE, traditional parallel hybrid or both. A manual transmission option would be nice but I don’t expect it - especially with a hybrid. Don’t show me an EV.