QOTD: Thirty Years On, How Do Your K-car Memories Hold Up?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

It was a little sad, really. Far removed from the rest of the rides at this small-town vintage car meet, a plucky, sensible sedan sat all alone, earnestly hoping some sharp-eyed soul would wander by and pay a visit, presumably while on the way to or from the washroom facilities. Families sat munching hot dogs and hamburgers nearby, ravenous from a morning spent perusing aspirational iron from the 1930s onward. The 1989 Dodge Aries in their peripheral vision went unnoticed.

“I’m over here!” the little sedan seemed to shout. “Still happy to serve. Ask me about my heritage!”

Taking pity on it, I moseyed over, though I now regret not taking my fine-toothed comb. This was the last of the bunch. K-car production wrapped up on December 9th, 1988, but tens of thousands of 1989 model year Aries and Reliants still made it to dealer lots, where the daughter of a former Chrysler store owner told me they sold like ice cream in a heatwave.

It was a grim day when Chrysler Corp. announced the end of the Aries/Reliant line, she said. The automaker could have continued building them unchanged for several more years and buyers would have happily lined up for another.

I couldn’t tell whether this particular Aries boasted a 2.2-liter or dimensionally identical 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Not that it mattered. Moving up to the 100 HORSEPOWER 2.5L hastened your sprint to 60 mph by seven-tenths of a second.

As a child of the ’80s, naturally there was a K-car in my youth. Frankly, it was nearly impossible for there not to be. Ours was a beige Reliant wagon my dad bought from a friend, though we didn’t have it long. I recall no road trips. My mom’s 1980 Phoenix handled most of the day-to-day duties.

I do recall — and not so fondly — my first car, which boasted a K-car platform, engine and transmission. Years removed from Aries/Reliant production, the Chrysler-saving K-car’s Sundance/Shadow descendants proliferated on used car lots, and it was a base model, two-door, stick shift 1993 Sundance that lassoed my wallet on that fateful day. Maybe it was just bad luck, but that thing gobbled every last cent teenage Steph could earn.

Hitchhiking became common. Attempts to gauge just how much horsepower a 93 hp engine with a melted catalytic convertor could put to the front wheels proved pointless. Then there was a time a stuck valve turned it into a three-banger. Gas mileage approached V8 Mustang levels. Surely, my experience was not the one lived by other Sundance/Shadow owners, I thought at the time. This car is the son and heir of the famous K-car! Eighty trillion Americans can’t be wrong! Or can they?

As we near the 30th anniversary of the K-car’s demise, let’s cast our minds back in time and recall those two Iacocca-inspired models. Has the passage of time inflated their stature in your memory? Had nostalgia erased some of the gripes, some of the breakdowns, or was your particular Aries or Reliant a paragon of thrift and reliability? Would you buy one if Sergio Marchionne resurrected the concept?

[Images: Steph Willems/TTAC]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • THX1136 THX1136 on Jul 02, 2018

    My 2 cents: We had a used Reliant wagon - don't remember the year nor mileage. The guy we bought it from commuted around 120 miles round trip so I figured it would be good due to mostly road as opposed to city miles. Figured wrong. I remember it becoming unreliable (no pun intended) from the standpoint of the engine so we got rid of it. I believe it had the 2.2L which I was familiar with as my 84 Shelby Charger had a 2.2 also. That was another thing that gave me confidence as the 2.2 in the Charger was a good experience for me. My guess is the guy did not take as good care of the vehicle as I would have or - it was just one of those cars that were doomed to the Law of the Lemon. Like to have another 84 Charger, but the Reliant - not so much.

  • Guy Coulombe Guy Coulombe on Jul 03, 2018

    I have more than one, and seem to be the only person that cares about these, so I built an international club of 3,000 members. Check us out at www.chryslerkcar.com, and join the club, and stop crushing your classic 30 plus year old K-cars. We want them.

  • Mike Some Evs are hitting their 3 year lease residual values in 6 months.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I am just here for the beer! (did I say it right?)
  • El scotto Tim, to be tactful I think a great many of us would like a transcript of TTAC's podcast. 90 minutes is just too long for most of us to listen. -evil El Scotto kicking in- The blog at best provides amusement, 90 minutes is just too much. Way too much.
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