By on October 16, 2017

1985 Chrysler LeBaron in Arizona wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
While Chrysler made a bewildering array of vehicles based on the staving-off-bankruptcy K Platform, only four models could be called pure K-cars: the Dodge Aries, Plymouth Reliant, Dodge 400, and Chrysler LeBaron. All the rest, from the Town & Country minivan to the Imperial, were based on mutated K hardware.

Here’s an example of a fully luxed-up LeBaron convertible, featuring body trim made from the stately trees of the Magical Petrochemical Forest, spotted in a Phoenix self-service wrecking yard.

1985 Chrysler LeBaron in Arizona wrecking yard, fake wood trim - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
Detroit had a long tradition of phony woodies going by 1985, but this stuff took the phony part to the next level. Note the grain on the “pegs” here.

1985 Chrysler LeBaron in Arizona wrecking yard, engine - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
With the 2.2-liter turbocharged engine under the hood, though, the power in this car wasn’t phony. 146 horsepower was a lot in 1985, particularly in a 2,530-pound car. Manual transmissions were available in the early K-LeBarons, in theory, but I have yet to see one.

We may laugh at a barely-over-a-ton luxury car with not quite 150 horses and so much mock wood, but plenty of Chrysler shoppers saw these cars and said, “Yes, I must have this!

1985 Chrysler LeBaron in Arizona wrecking yard, front seats - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
This one has suffered its share of bleaching and general deterioration in the Arizona sun, and would have cost $15,000 for a restoration that would have resulted in a $2,500 end result. Chrysler appears to have dropped the “Corinthian Leather” name by 1985, but you could still get the stuff in cars like this.

1985 Chrysler LeBaron in Arizona wrecking yard, hood ornament - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
We have seen numerous K-cars in this series, including this pair of early-1990s LeBaron convertibles, this 1989 Plymouth Reliant America, this 1982 Dodge Aries wagon, this 1986 Aries sedan, this 1981 Dodge Aries wagon with HEMI 2.6 badges, this 1988 Dodge Aries wagon, and this 1983 Dodge Aries sedan.

Of course Ricardo Montalban did LeBaron ads!

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53 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1985 Chrysler LeBaron Woody Convertible...”

  • avatar

    I wonder if this is the one that was owned by Jon Voight?

  • avatar

    It might not have any working gauges, but the radio is as clear as a bell.

  • avatar
    pale ghost

    Planes trains and automobiles

    • 0 avatar

      I remember watching that movie, I was so happy when that POS burnt. It was burning my eyes before, and it just made it funny instead of pathetic. Even as a kid, I hated it.

      I’m a proud supporter of the American automakers, but these were shameful. I couldn’t imagine working at a Chrysler dealer when this was new. “Sure, you could wait on a list for a Honda, but…well, actually, that would be smarter. Have a nice day sir, enjoy your Honda.”

      • 0 avatar

        It boggles my mind how stupid these things were too. A K Car convertible with wood grain siding. Yea! And they sold. Sold big. I remember seeing a lot of them. Does anybody have the production numbers?

    • 0 avatar
      Car Ramrod

      You’re going the wrong way!

    • 0 avatar

      It was called something like “Grand Detroit Turbo Versailles” in that movie. They showed the nameplate on the front fender ever so briefly.

      Shades of the Wagon Queen Family Truckster.

  • avatar

    Uuhhggg, its just so terrible. They didn’t just beat it with an ugly stick, they glued it to the sides to make sure the ugly stayed.


  • avatar

    I hate to admit it out loud, but that black one in the ad actually looks kind of tasty. Of course, it’s not likely to have existed for long.

  • avatar

    Of this body, I liked the Dodge 600 ES Turbo best, in black or silver. I was a teenager at the time. The subsequent J-body Lebaron was and still is attractive. This,not so much.

    • 0 avatar

      Had a 1985 Dodge Lancer ES turbo for a number of years and absolutely loved the style/shape of that car. Gun-metal blue/gray with surprisingly comfortable seats. I do recall the manual trans being somewhat “agricultural” in operation, but at least it WAS a manual. For a college kid, having power everything on any car back in the late 80’s, early 90’s was something.

  • avatar

    My Grandmother (she was 52 at the time) had one of these completely tricked out including the full digital driver’s display. This was an excellent car, quick, handled well and was fantastic with the roof down. The car was also surprisingly rugged in a crash, Grandmother was T-boned by a Giant Foods semi running a red-light in Havre de Grace, MD one fine Sunday afternoon, the impact speed was estimated 40mph by the state police, she staggered away with a broken collar bone and lacerations from flying glass BUT the car kept her breathing.

  • avatar

    A sad end to the LeBaron name as applied to woody wagons.

    This rare 1981 is much more appropriate for the name.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    Is that Jon Voight’s car?

  • avatar

    I would love one of these with a concours quality restoration and antique plates, sneak past the security at Pebble Beach, and park it in a place of honor.

    Just to watch the faces of the 1%.

  • avatar

    On-topic, I met Bobby Rahal at a charity event recently. He was a bit nonplussed when I complimented him on this ad:

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    There were a few LeBaron’s and 600’s that came through with the manual. Even fewer drop tops.
    I always thought the 600 ES convertible was the more stylish of the K-Cars. Blacked out trim and fender and hood vents on turbo models outweigh faux wood.

    The auto magazines of the era used to comparison test the 600ES sedan with the Pontiac 6000 STE as well as the LeBaron GTS and Lancer SE. Three K based cars in the mid sized sport sedan segment.

    • 0 avatar

      The 6000 obviously wins every time.

      • 0 avatar

        GM 60 degree V6 torque > turbo K

      • 0 avatar

        Could I have none of the above, please?

        Though my Grandfather really wanted a 6000STE when he bought the epically horrid ’85 Olds 98 that was his retirement present to himself. But when he went to the Pontiac store, the salesdopes ignored the old duffer in the little yellow Subaru hatch. Cost them a sale, he went across the street and bought the Olds. I would have much preferred to drive the Poncho my senior year, but then again, he may have actually liked it enough to drive it himself. You know a car is crap when the owner would rather drive his diesel Suburban and lets his 17yo grandson drive the new car.

        He test drove a turbo K-car New Yorker – did not make the cut, but I thought the turbo whine was cool.

  • avatar

    By sheer co-incidence, I spotted this LeBaron Woody earlier today, apparently owned by Frank Sinatra, for sale in UK!

    Looks like a nice car, but quite expensive. Prefer the ’86 LeBaron coupe myself.

  • avatar

    There might be some apocryphal to the story, but so it goes that when Lee Iacocca drove a prototype chop top K car out in public, strangers were stopping him to ask how much and where could they get one.

    A lot of the younger B&B here on TTAC missed out on the malaise era and so don’t know first hand how bad some of it was, but Chrysler made good money on these things because there was very little competition in the convertible market mid-eighties.

    • 0 avatar

      Certainly, affordable low-end factory convertibles were all gone by then. What were it’s competitors? Mercury Capri? Honda Prelude? Celica?

      I can’t really think of any domestic cabriolets around at the time.

      • 0 avatar

        Most of the cars you mentioned Corey were not volume models if they were convertibles. Most were chops done by ASC and other shops. An 85 or so Celica convertible showed up in a CL search around me and there were under 2000 made (ad is long since gone).

        Mustang convertible didn’t show up until 83 (84?) model year as a convertible. Not many options for affordable 4-place drop-tops, then or now.

    • 0 avatar

      Right there were rumors in the mid 70s that new safety regs for roof crush standards would be coming and that it would kill the convertible. It never happened but it did give many manufacturers cover to slowly faze out their convertibles. If the Iaccoca was offering the first new convertible (at a popular price) in several years – there was going to be excitement about it.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        The last US factory built convertible was the 76 Eldorado. People bought them up and stored them.
        They thought it was a pending roll over standard was killing off the convertible. However there was a piece in Road and Track back then stating that it was not a roll over rule but customer preference as well as adversion to highway noise that led to fewer sales. Possibly T-tops, targas and sunroofs too.
        Then in 82 the LeBaron convertible was introduced and Ford brought back the Mustang drop top.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          @MRF is correct. Lee brought back the domestic convertible, after it had thought to have been confined to the dustbin.

          • 0 avatar
            MRF 95 T-Bird

            You could see the number of domestic convertible models decline through the 70’s.
            When the redesigned GM mid-sized colonnade models came out for the 73 model year there was no convertible model.
            Same for the 2nd generation F-Body though the T-Top versions became popular.
            When the Mustang II was introduced the sunroof became a popular option as well as T-Tops on the hatchback version.

      • 0 avatar

        Phase out.

  • avatar

    This was my favorite Chrysler Lebaron Woody:

    The wood grained plastic pegs show amazing attention to detail in this example. The fake wood grain look was the equivalent of “High Society” to 1980s working class folk who had reached retirement age.

  • avatar

    Another thing that was weird about the original Chrysler LeBaron convertibles was that they were first only available as 2-seat cars. A lot of their target market thought of the cars as being sports cars. When the production of the convertible changed from 2-seat to 4-seat there were actually people who cancelled their orders because they didn’t want a 4-seat convertible.

    The other thing I remember from those days was that the old Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes ran an ad in which one of the winners blew a chunk of his winnings on a brand new Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country convertible.

  • avatar

    People who weren’t around or too young when these were new can laugh all they want, but Chrysler laughed all the way to the bank – not only making money, put paying back their loan guarantees!

    I was a great lover of the K-Cars and bought new a 1981 Reliant. Base model, 4 on the floor, no options, 2 door. Boy, was that a fun car to drive! Wifey and I both loved it and owned it 7 years with only a carb rebuild and a clutch cable replaced.

    Like it or not, these were better cars than many think they were.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, let the youngin’s laugh all they want, but they cannot conceive the lows we went through in the mid-late 70’s, where all of the fun was sucked out of cars.

      This was a big deal back in the day; we all thought that air conditioning had killed the convertible forever. We were told as much in the mid 70’s, some of it having to do with rollover standards. But cheap air conditioning really did the deed.

      I remember the Griffin conversions, first of AMC Concords (of all things) and then Toyotas. But they were small scale and pretty expensive at the time. The original K car converts were not cheap, but they did filter down. You could get a decently equipped Dodge 400 ES turbo for not much more than a Camaro.

      It wasn’t too awful long before the General got into the game with the Buick Riviera converts and then Ford re-booted the Mustang convertible.

      35 years later, it all seems so easy, but it was a lot tougher than it sounds.

  • avatar

    I was pretty sure you were wrong about the 2-seater, but it does look like this one’s missing a back seat:

    Well played. Guessing they didn’t make many of them.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Good find, Russycle, you are right. That car doesn’t appear to have a rear seat.

  • avatar

    What’s with the 35-star American flag?

  • avatar

    I know these weren’t the best cars. But these were cars I saw during my youth and while I can’t say the want is strong, it’s there. Not the “woody” so much, but a nice clean Lebaron convertible ( upright like this or the aero one) to drive during the summer on occasion wouldn’t be terrible.

  • avatar

    Avis got about $500 from me renting one of these in Florida in the 1980s. Nice work when they could get it.

  • avatar

    I know its been 3 months and being a self serve salvage yard, it’s probably already been crushed, but can anybody tell me if this car is still there, and the name of the yard? I really need some parts from this car!

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