By on August 22, 2016

1989 Plymouth Reliant America in Minnesota junkyard, LH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

In last week’s Junkyard Find, I shared the first discarded BMW E30 I have photographed after nearly a decade of writing about junkyard vehicles. Yes, the E30 was a fine automobile (though right-thinking car experts recognize that its Alfa Romeo Milano competitor was faster, cheaper, and had a much better-sounding engine) and we should take a moment to appreciate this important piece of German automotive history.

Right, now that we’re done with that, let’s admire a piece of automotive history I find much more fascinating: an example of the final model year of Chrysler’s company-rescuing K-Car, photographed in a muggy, buggy, cocklebur-overgrown Minneapolis self-service yard.

1989 Plymouth Reliant America in Minnesota junkyard, front seats - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Of course, we all know that various K-platform-derived and K-platform-related vehicles — influenced by the design of the Simca/Chrysler Europe Omnirizon platform, just to add some more branches to the K family tree — rolled off the showroom floors well into the 1990s, but the group of true K-Cars is limited to just the Dodge Aries, Dodge 400, Chrysler LeBaron, and Plymouth Reliant. Eventually, Renault DNA (via the Eagle Premier, after Chrysler’s absorption of American Motors) supplanted K-platform data in Chrysler’s genome. Still, the end of the line for the Plymouth Reliant was a bittersweet milestone for Chrysler.

1989 Plymouth Reliant America in Minnesota junkyard, engine - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Under the hood: a fuel-injected version of the versatile Chrysler 2.2-liter four-cylinder, in this case making 93 horsepower.

1989 Plymouth Reliant America in Minnesota junkyard, quarter window - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

This one has “Reliant LE” emblems on the quarter windows, but there are no “LE” decklid badges and the build tag says it’s a base-model Reliant America. The ’89 Reliant America two-door listed at $6,995, which was way cheaper (and bigger) than the $9,057 Ford Tempo or the $8,849 Pontiac Sunbird. Car shoppers had lost their enthusiasm for the Reliant by that time, though.

1989 Plymouth Reliant America in Minnesota junkyard, RH rear view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

My parents fled Minnesota in a new 1973 Chevy Beauville van when I was in the first grade, but I go back every so often to see relatives and experience rusty cars. This one is pretty solid for a 27-year-old Upper Midwest machine.


My personal experience with the Reliant has been pretty miserable, but I will refrain from any “worst car ever built” tirades here (anyway, the wretched X-body Pontiac Phoenix takes that prize in my book).

The pride is back!

[Images: © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]

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48 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1989 Plymouth Reliant America...”

  • avatar

    And not a single Barenaked Ladies joke was had that day.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    What’s the deal with the made in Mexico sticker? Where I grew up, that sort of sticker would mean it would never leave the lot. Why would Chrysler want to advertise that fact on their cars?

    • 0 avatar

      That utterly boggles me as well. Shout it out!

      And if it was dealer-applied for rapport with a local hispanic market, why English?

    • 0 avatar

      Because Minnesota:

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe the UAW forced Chrysler to put this on any cars not assembled by them in the US?

    • 0 avatar

      It was part of the deal to close the AMC Kenosha Assembly Plant.. The UAW got as many digs in at the company as it could and this was one. Realistically the assembly for one year could have been transferred to Kenosha and kept them working an additional year but Chrysler wasn’t having it so the UAW made them put the stickers on… Most Dealers removed them in PDI though… by the Mid 90’s Nafta time it was forgotten as most dealers were removing them anyways

    • 0 avatar

      Because they knew that years later only Mehicans would DD them…so it’s market engineering at it’s most foresightful.

      • 0 avatar

        Back in those days free trade was thought to be a good thing for both the US and Mexico. Advertising a Mexican assembly was just a way of explaining the vehicle’s bargain price with, presumably, no loss of quality.

        Now, decades later, the needless gutting of the industrial Midwest is apparent. IMO, some form of managed trade is needed, at least for a while. You need only to look at the relatively attractive fate of the Mexican and Canadian auto industries to appreciate the degree of the failure of NAFTA for the US.

        I could go on, but why bother? What to do is obvious.

  • avatar

    For those who are curious and haven’t googled it yet, Lee Iacocca is still alive at age 91.

  • avatar

    Given the age and locale, this baby is in great shape.
    And the interior…pristine!

    I wonder if many of its years were spent as a retiree car that stayed in the garage on most winter days? My Dad (RIP) had an 87 with the Mitsu 2.6 motor.

    Also aren’t there rural areas in Minn. where they don’t salt the winter roads, just plow and apply sand?

  • avatar


    *This car made in Mexico.

    And that wood tone is writing checks the rest of the car can’t cash. Someone took care of this though – look at the clean state of the interior and the engine bay. Wires and hoses all look good.

    I’m betting one owner, all the way through to the end. Perhaps the car landed on the ground here shortly after she was underneath it.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Death caused by a terminal rusty sub-frame?

  • avatar

    Except for the driver’s side rear fender, car is in exceptional shape for a 28 year old non-collectible. Engine compartment is the cleanest I have seen in this series. Wonder what the story is?

  • avatar

    The Marine Corps used K-cars as Military Police vehicles. In 1989 I was an MP stationed in North Carolina. We made a traffic stop in a parking lot and when we were out of the vehicle, that thing popped into drive & started rolling at a high idle! I managed to dive into the passenger side, flop on the front seat, jerk the wheel to the left to avoid hitting the car we stopped & push the brake pedal with my hand to stop the car.

    My buddy was driving it and he swore he put it in park. Again, that thing had a fast idle so there was no way you could get out of without putting it in park.

    Lo and behold, the Chrysler recall came out a few months later about those things jumping out of park, but before that, being the military, if we’d hit that car we had pulled over no one would have believed it & he would’ve been in hot water.

    Wonder if I can still move that fast…..

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I don’t know if they all did it, but my parents’ Reliant K Wagon, that I learned to drive in, had a *ridiculously* fast idle.

      I swear that thing would idle at 25mph.

      • 0 avatar

        A roommate had one. The thing rattled and shook at idle. Dashboard/cowl, steering wheel, little plastic bits, all seemed to visibly vibrate in different planes. Maybe turning it up was the way they solved it.

      • 0 avatar

        The high idle problem of the fuel injected models occurred when “false air” made it into the engine from a leak in the intake. These cars did not have a mass airflow sensor; the used a so called speed density system that used a MAP sensor, TPS sensor, and a look up table to calculate proper operation. Upon start up the predetermined value was used to allow engine starting and then once started, the MAP sensor would provide a value. This is why that a failed MAP sensor was easily identified by a start-then-die at every attempt to start the car. A very common problem on these cars as they aged was that the EGR valve would rust away and allow uncalculated air into the engine. All the basic system could do was close the idle motor but with all that air coming in it was pretty much irrelevant. Replacing the EGR with a new one restores the idle to normal.

    • 0 avatar

      A close relative of mine renounced Chryslers the day that her rental popped out of Park and rolled down a hill and through the back wall of the local police station. … That might do it for me as well.

      • 0 avatar

        This is why driver’s training (that I never received) and driver’s handbooks always stressed the importance of cramping the wheels full lock then allowing the vehicle to roll against the curb stone before selecting park or any synchronized gear then setting the park brake .


  • avatar

    A friend used to take the comfy seats out of K-Cars and put them in square-body Chevy trucks.

  • avatar

    Hecho en Mexico by L. Iaccoca.

  • avatar

    Wow ;

    _SO_ clean and tidy , too bad the tin worm got it .

    Oops ~ I just realized I thought but didn’t typ , how much I hate those mud-bog junkyard where the car settles right to it’s belly pan, making tranny removal near impossible .


  • avatar

    Reminds me of the ad for an 88 Aries:

    “Over 85% of Aries owners have a fixed address”

  • avatar

    This K-Car looks suspiciously like one that a friend of mine sold just a couple of years ago, but it had only ~24K on the clock and a front bench seat.

    • 0 avatar

      Reminds me of an old friend’s Aries that another friend used to stock up on supplies while we were on a camping trip:

      Friend 1: “It’s got no tires, no steering, no brakes….”

      Friend 2: “…no schitt!”

  • avatar

    I remember my father paying $2k for this car with 80k miles back in the early early 90s. We got a replacement and then put the ad in the paper to get rid of this guy (by then it had racked up double its purchase price in repairs). My dad hosed down the engine compartment before a guy came to pick up the car and it wouldn’t start again. Junked it for $200 or something like that.

  • avatar

    The engine compartment is insanely clean. What’s up with that?

  • avatar

    Hey Murilee, can you shoot a Saturn Ion? I haven’t seen one in ages but as a mid to late 2000s GM product, there’s gotta be some in the yards already…

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    This just aches for a 2.2 Turbo intercooler build. The 89 was the last of the Reliant/Aries K-Cars still around as a value leader when the Acclaim/Spirit were introduced.

    I remember a bunch of these in the same color bought in 88-89 for government fleets.

    Murilee, any LeBaron GTS’s among the Junkyard Finds? I always had a soft spot for the loaded ES version. It competed well against the 6000STE.

    • 0 avatar

      Black GTS with leather, the “Atari dash” and Voice Alert was THE CAR to have in 1985 in some quarters.

      Got to drive one a couple times. Decent, except for numb steering WITHOUT the self-centering of the GM A-Bodies. Performance was nothing to write home about, and the blown motors (in many ways) are why I distrust turdos today!

  • avatar

    Are we sure that isnt the 2.5? That air cleaner box looks identical to the one I had in my 88 LE, and that definitely had the 2.5. I think the 2.2 had a slightly smaller one, with no “Chrysler Electronic Fuel Injection” label on it.

    Edit: NM, apparently they both had that airbox for the 88-89 MY, I’m thinking of the smaller one from my 94 Shadow 2.2. Otherwise, unless you can see the deeper oil pan or have the VIN#, the 2.2/2.5 are nearly visually identical.

  • avatar

    They were the best domestic family sedans when they debuted. That is not saying a whole lot when your competition is the GM X-CARS and Ford Farmont.

  • avatar

    Summer of 1989: My first job, at age 16, was at a brand-new Chrysler-Plymouth dealer in Houston. I fondly recall these spanking-new ’89 Reliants coming off the convoy truck. I’d remove the plastic wrapping from seats, install wheel covers, do a quick road test, and do much of the PDI. However, for not much more dinero, the all-new Acclaim looked and felt tremendously better.

    • 0 avatar

      Those drove nicely, IIRC. And they were bulletproof, with a YUUUGE back seat helped by having hardly any package shelf.

      (Well..except for the 3.0L/Ultradrive, or was that only in the minivans?)

    • 0 avatar

      The Reliant must have felt absolutely horrid, my sister’s Acclaim had zero steering feel (and plenty of play) and the non-reclining bench seat was uncomfortable.

  • avatar

    Gotta dig that 8.9% financing of $500 cash back offer….

    I learned to drive in an 84 Plymouth Voyager with the 2.6 L 4. Oh the memories of spoiled milkshake in the carpet, leaky power steering fluid on the lane-way, AC that was as cold as an osculating fan in a sauna,

    The bright burgundy interior with the complimentary silver streak paint and the mandatory wood grain vinyl strip on the LE models…

    My father acquired my grandmothers 13 year old 1985 Dodge Aries… It only had 36000 KM on it as it was driven in a small town of 1500 people. the longest trek was about 40 KM every couple weeks. I really loved that car. It had the 2.6L it was a real hoot to drive – quite a bit peppier than the Voyager. This car was silver with the gunmetal blue interior, AC that was actually cold, and front bucket seats which were really comfortable (how Chrysler lost its way with seat comfort over the years is beyond me). The only thing about this car was it tend to float over potholes and bumps and then rebound like a bouncy castle….perfect for making passengers sea sick.

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