By on June 26, 2018

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

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.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

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]

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87 Comments on “QOTD: Thirty Years On, How Do Your K-car Memories Hold Up?...”


  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    My Dad drove one of these for several years, same color as the one in the photo except his was a wagon. He had a small aluminum fishing boat he used to pull with it. I don’t recall him having any issues with it. My sister borrowed it one day to work because snow was predicted and she didn’t want to drive her then new 1993 Z-28 Camaro to work. On the way home she slid it into a ditch and totaled it. She was fine. My Dad would probably have driven it several more years if not for the wreck.

  • avatar
    whynot

    My grandfather had an early-mid 90s Dodge Spirit (it had the full width taillights) which I think is a K car derivative. It was maroon. I don’t remember ever riding in it. It was replaced by a gold 2nd gen Dodge Intrepid. No one else in my family has ever owned a K car. I have never driven a K car. K cars are ugly, all looked the same (not helped by Chrysler completely giving up on trying to make their brands look distinctive), and were everywhere like cockroaches. That is the extent of my K car memories.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    The early ones could span the range from painfully cheap to very plush, in a 1980’s sense. But, until the introduction of EFI, they were not great. By the time EFI got on line, the factory had been screwing them together for awhile, so the assembly quality got better, also.

    I used to carpool with a guy who had a 1981 Aries and later traded it for a 1988 Caravelle (both US versions). The Caravelle was basically the Aries with a slightly different body and the EFI Trenton motor; solid, reliable, unexciting transportation, which is what a guy on the retirement path was looking for.

    As I get older, I could go for a re-boot of the K-car. I would also hope we would get all of the variations back, too. I had an H-body Lancer turbo that I loved, it would be great to see a contemporary rendition of that car. But, with the passage of time, the niggles and minor issues I had with my Lancer have largely been forgotten. I’m sure if I were to have to experience them again, I’d probably think the car sucked…

  • avatar
    BunkerMan

    My mother had a grey 1984 Aries with a red interior. A family friend owned a used car dealership associated with the local Chrysler dealer. He gave her a good deal and from what I remember it did the job well.

    I was in elementary and middle school when she owned it, so unfortunately I don’t have much memory of it. I guess it was pretty reliable.

    It was replaced with a new 1989 Escort, followed by a succession of Fords and Saturns.

    My grandfather had a K-derived Plymouth Caravelle right around the same time (from the same dealer). I remember driving it once after getting my license a few years later. It had more power than what I was used to at the time. I’m not sure which engine was in it, but it was not your standard K-car for sure.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    My Dad (RIP) had a mid 80s Dodge version with the 2.6 engine. A fairly reliable ride, as an elderly person he was accumulating about 3000 miles a year. After he passed, it moved to my brother (also RIP) and slowly dissolved on the salt coated streets of suburban Cleveland meeting its end shortly after Y2K, with some major suspension/structural failure.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    The K-cars were part of a moment in time. Chrysler needed something in the early ‘80s and the K-car was a big part of it. The minivan was just around the corner, Ronaldus Maximus was in office, and things were starting to look up. America could now flush “Jimma” Carter’s Malaise, disco, and the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The K-cars went a little over the top with styling, they were after all just econoboxes, but they sold well enough to keep Chrysler moving downfield. Affordable cars for a recovering economy.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      The Milaise Era did not start with Carter. Frankly its roots were sown in the late sixties with products that saw declining assembly quality and gas guzzling attributes that did not mesh with consumers desires during the first gas crunch. Nor did it end during Reagan’s first term….

      • 0 avatar
        EquipmentJunkie

        Agreed. As a young teen, I saw the dawn of hope dometically with the ’83 T-bird. To me, it seemed to mark a significant departure from what I knew as the norm. It took a few more years for things to right themselves.

    • 0 avatar
      "scarey"

      I had a Dodge K-car. I made weekly trips from Georgia, where I was working at the time, to Nebraska where I lived. The little K-car got me there and back for a few months with no problems until I traded for a Ford Taurus and a little more comfort. Yes, the K-cars were cheap, but I would not say disposable. Mine was very sturdy.

    • 0 avatar
      backtees

      For some reason it sticks in my mind from reading the Iacocca bio many years ago that a key part of the design of the k car was the length due to trying to add more per railcar shipment. Cost saving move that added many millions to the bottom line.

      Grandpa had one for a few years. Unremarkable and reliable.

      • 0 avatar
        pragmatic

        If my memory is correct the sub 100 inch wheelbase allowed it to meet different safety regulations. When the rules later changed the wheelbase grew slightly.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Back in the day we were a GM family so no K cars, or even Fords!

    To my eyes they always seemed cheap and disposable, especially to the BoF Olds 98 my old man drove, and even cheap to his later ’87 Nissan Stanza (which he bought three of for highway duty).

  • avatar
    ant

    back in 1991 I was 17 years old and was driving. In our family we had both 1984 dodge aries wagon, and 1984 honda wagovan.

    The honda had double the miles on it (120k vs 60k), and the differences in the engineering was very stark.

    Comfort, speed, durability, efficiency, dependability, utility, driving feel, agility, visibility; the honda stomped all over the dodge in all categories.

    The dodge was a piece of junk.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    I remember a hot chick who owned one. She was so hot she made that car look sexy when she sat in it.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The car I owned the longest (12 years, 88-00) was an 85 LeBaron GTS, built on the K platform but called the H-body. It was a 2.2L with a 5-speed stick, and it had awesome utility being a 5-door hatch.

    I rebuilt the engine at 160k, and replaced the clutch just because. I ‘totaled’ it in 1992, but had it fixed anyway because I couldn’t afford anything else. Eventually, rust got to the underside (fuel lines, etc), and that’s when I decided to trade it at 206k miles.

    Comically, many little interior bits fell off, which I kept in the ashtray just for fun.

    So yes, I miss the K cars for what they represent and the happy time in my life when they were around. Mine was pretty good overall.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Oh man, my uncle had a LeBaron GTS with the 2.2 Turbo and 5spd. I thought it was actually a pretty cool car. The style did away with a lot of the K car Iacocca stodginess. He called it his “Ferrari” and would pop the clutch and spin the tires for amusement.

      • 0 avatar

        I lost count of the number of test drives I went on with my Dad in LeBaron and Lancer GTS’s when he was looking to replace his very tired ’78 Corolla. He wanted one so bad. He eventually decided he couldn’t swing it at the time and settled for a 1985 Turismo Duster when the Corolla finally succumbed to rust. His experience with that car wasn’t great and it was replaced with a beautiful red ’88 LeBaron coupe after a couple years. That became the first car I ever drove.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      I had the Lancer variant (also GTS). Gun-metal blue, 5 speed and those great front buckets. I exchanged the original rims for a nice set of five-spoke alloys and dumped about $2k into a rather nicely-balanced stereo system. For a college kid, (I bought the car used in 1990, IIRC) it was a rather sweet car. Fairly fancy, actually. Never mind that the clutch and gear shift were better suited for a John Deere…I truly loved that car.

      So yes, we all likely have a little “K” in all of us. Cars that simple will never ply the roads again as we clamor for more “stuff” inside of them and continue our lemming-like march to complete CUV/SUV domination.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Those bits falling off was part of Chrysler’s DNA. I owned a Dodge Dart, and while you couldn’t find anything as reliable as a slant 6 and torqueflite, the bits came off the Dodges and Plymouths with regularity.

      They sold well anyhow because they always started and ran, and they made the same parts for so many years you could always find a replacement part in a junkyard, sometimes from ANY chrysler Corporation model made within five years of the model you had.

      There was so much expertise in replacing or re-attaching interior parts, that when my driver’s inside door handle came off, there were three people I knew who had the proper tool for re-attaching it, and one had the parts numbers for the needed replacement washers and clips. Parts stores kept them in stock because, well, there was steady demand.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    They were everywhere well into the 90s, tooling around into high mileage with that familiar diesely “ugga dugga dugga dugga” of the wrist pins. Our family never had one, but we knew many people that did. I remember them being painfully slow utility vehicles that served their purpose well. They lasted long enough to be well amortized by their owners. Interiors thoroughly stained, then thrown away to be shredded and turned into Dodge Caravans.

    Apparently there is a K car preservation society. I doubt they’ll ever cash in on Barret Jackson money, but there’s a place in history for them. Even if it isn’t in car shows.

  • avatar
    brettc

    While not built on the original K platform, our neighbour – who worked at the local AM radio station in ad sales, bought a 1983 Chrysler E class brand new, one of the talking cars.

    He didn’t tell his wife before buying it. When she came home and discovered it, she didn’t talk to him for a while. Charlie did some goofy things, like buying a brown talking car. I don’t remember how long he had it, but the talking functionality got disabled after a while.

  • avatar
    walleyeman57

    I bought.new a 1984 dodge Daytona “turbo z”. Put 40k miles on it in a year. Sold it to the first sap that came along after 1 year and 4 A/C compressors. It had the look of a performance car wrapped up in k car underpinnings. My wife said that car- with the black tinted windows- was the reason she went out with me. Well, that and the fact that I had a job, didn’t live with my parents, and let her drive it. So, yea, despite the problems, I have fond feelings for all the K cars.

    • 0 avatar
      cimarron typeR

      I’ve always had a soft spot for Daytona Turbo Z. I mean it was as much of a start as the actors in “Hunter” as the actors themselves.
      I remember riding in a Sundance coupe(?) turbo 5 m/t in college, late 80s or early 90s model. It was the same color as the article’s specimen.I was impressed with the turbo gauge, although it didn’t necessarily correlate with significant amounts of forward velocity.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Three memories. The first was an early build 81. I learned a lot about working on cars with that one. Did my first head gasket. Junked at 120k it was not a reliable ride by any means. That carb was a major pita to keep in tune. But since I had so much experience working on it, that lead to Memory #2.

    1987 EFI Reliant. The polar opposite of the 81. A model of reliability, it never let me down or required a tow truck. Drove that one over 250,000 miles. Weak point was the MAP sensor. I simply bought out our local junkyard of all MAP sensors and kept them in the trunk. I trusted that car with long distance ski trips right to the end. It blew the head gasket at that high mileage, and since my now late mother gave me her Sable, I let it go. I can’t help but wonder how many more miles it would have lasted. Still have the Sable…but I kind of miss that car…

    Memory #3 was dad’s 84 New Yorker with the 2.6 Mitusbishi MCA Jet silent shaft four. For the first 18 months that car car was a disaster. Stuff like the radio, seat track, battery, Mikuni carb, and on and on. Interesting to note was that once these defects were finally repaired the car ran for a decade with nothing more than cleaning the decel valve in the carb on occasion. Dad said he knew he was in trouble when it was delivered with a bad electronic cluster that refused to recognized the fuel sender in the tank. First start he was greeted with a “your fuel is low” voice. Seats were great. A used set ended up in my 87 Reliant.

  • avatar
    saturnotaku

    My first car was an ’86 Aries, 2.2L, 3-speed automatic. Surprisingly reliable and durable. Drove from LaCrosse, Wisconsin to Chicago on a blown head gasket without overheating. Even parked outside in below-zero temperatures/wind chills, the little bugger would start the first time, every time. “Dodge Aries Parody” was one of the first Youtube videos I ever watched, and it remains one of my favorites to this day.

  • avatar
    analogman

    My (late) mother-in-law had a 1983 Chrysler LeBaron, perhaps the ‘top of the line’ *luxury* K-car variant (if there could be such a thing). She *loved* it when she got it, and for the 2 years and 24,000 miles she owned it. I vaguely remember some kind of maroon colored, ‘tufted’ upholstery (can’t remember if it was velour or leather, likely pleather).

    Unfortunately for her, she never changed the oil. Literally. She drove it for 24,000 miles on the original oil fill from the factory (her husband couldn’t be bothered with looking after his wife’s car). My then girlfriend and now wife and I were in grad school at the time and weren’t nearby, but I mentioned to her several times that she needed to change the oil.

    Big surprise, the engine blew at just under 24,000 miles. It’s a miracle it lasted that long. Her only comment was an outraged ‘The dealer didn’t tell me I was supposed to change the oil!’.

  • avatar
    BoogerROTN

    The K-car was my driver’s ed car (summer school, 1987). They were all over the place where I grew up, thanks to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and Chrysler government contracts. Anyway, I was so enamored with the thrill of driving and the freedom of movement that I completely overlooked the craptacular qualities of the K. That said, I was also pretty ignorant of what a quality vehicle was and it was a considerable step down from the driver’s ed K-car to my first car, a ’63 4-door Chevy II (pea soup green).

    For the record, my driver’s ed instructor was not the gym teacher (which seemed to be SOP). Mine was my spanish teacher, so we learned to drive and conjugate verbs.

    The only other K-car to enter my life was my neighbor’s, which hit one of our trees in the front yard after too many refreshments. The police came and arrested our neighbor; sounds like a sad story, but he went 12-step and never drank again. He also had a pet quail named “Chi-Chi.” That’s for trivia.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      Did you attend Richland High or Hanford? I was a Richland High graduate, and then worked out at Hanford for a few years after college – some of the government pool cars were manual-transmission K-car sedans (which I have never seen either before or since) which had no shift gates that I could tell – you just tried general areas to push the lever and it ground metal if you were wrong.

      I was curious if you did go to Richland High and who the spanish teacher was – I had Mr. Lujan who I just saw a week ago at a memorial for the HS auto shop teacher Mr. Hill – Mr. Lujan is in his 90s now and still doing pretty well.

      • 0 avatar
        BoogerROTN

        Good old Richland High…I always thought the mushroom cloud on your helmets was the coolest logo this side of the Cougs’. For the record, I went to Kamiakin; I’m not sure if either of our logos is politically correct these days. The only high school logo shirt I have now is from “Thompson High,” the fiction Spokane school Louden Swain wrestled for in “Vision Quest.”

        Another funny thing inre Hanford and government contracts: There used to be an insane number of early 80’s AMC Concords running around the Tri-Cities. I can think of a half-dozen guys I went to high school with who drove them, thanks to frugal fathers and government auctions. Pretty sure they were all government gray. Pretty sure the guys driving them never found any action in the back seat either…

        • 0 avatar
          redmondjp

          Ah yes, I remember those Concords as well! They may have been deluxe with FM radios. Can’t remember if any of those pool cars had A/C or not, but can’t imagine driving them if they didn’t, in the summer out on the site.

          The Dry-Tri also seemed to have a good number of ex-forest service pickups & suburbans running around too, in that light pea green color. My brother just bought one in West Richland last year – a 1993 F350 crew cab 4×4 with service box with well under 100K miles on it. It came from a dry area so no rust.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick T.

      My drivers ed instructor was indeed my junior high phys ed teacher! I unfortunately didn’t get to drive much. I had my learner’s permit for a couple months before the start of summer instruction. I was behind the wheel for about 10 minutes when Mr. Maupin told me to pull over and change places so the other three guys in the 1970 Impala who didn’t know how to drive could get more seat time.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    My memories hold up very well thank you.

    There weren’t very many in the little NW Ohio town I grew up in (village limits population 300 – entire school district 2500 souls) because the county always was on again off again with Chrysler dealers. One would last 5 to 10 years, go out of business and then 5 to 10 years later someone would decide to try a franchise again.

    However I have 2 K-car memories that stick out. Classmate Eric who blew out the transmission in his Dad’s Dynasty by doing doughnuts in reverse in a gravel parking lot. The second one would be my buddy Jeff and I who were hanging out and cruising in our little town, warm late fall night. We struck up a conversation with some attractive ladies from one town over of our same age who had Daddy’s Dodge 400 convertible as their ride of choice for the evening. This would have been 1994 or so and that K-car was in mint condition.

    They did not know how to operate the convertible top and wanted to have an open air experience. Jeff and I graciously offered to help (him operating the switch thank god) and we forgot to zip out the glass rear window.

    (Sound of glass breaking)

    What might have been if we had not been so young and dumb.

  • avatar
    DEVILLE88

    I liked these cars when they came out. i liked the 4 doors best. when the Lebaron came out, i wanted one to me it was a mini Cadillac. alas i wasnt making the money i am today back then. I do own a 1985 Lebaron convertible that endears itself to all who see it. It gets compliments wherever i drive it. so yeah if the k-car came back………….i’d buy one!!

  • avatar

    The K car. ” why do we use the K car for the basis of these projects, spite mostly” Red Green

    In the late 80’s my parents bought a mid trim Aires wagon red on red which became primary family transport. It replaced a 1980 210 wagon (which was kept as a 3rd car). I have decent memories of it seemed to be a decent car not rusty like the Datsun, not sure what did it in but it got replaced in the early 90’s with a 88 Caravan which was pretty loaded in comparison. I remeber hauling lumber with the Aires and sleeping in the back on road trips.

    In high school in the 90’s these were common rides. I had a friend with a loaded caravelle and another with a manual transmission sedan all were fairly reliable.

  • avatar
    Dilrod

    Oh yes. The Marine Corps had the bright idea that the Reliant would make a suitable Military Police vehicle. We had one at New River Air Station in 1990. Marines beating the tar out of it for 12 hours at a time didn’t help.

    Some of you may remember Chrysler did a recall on these because the transmission would unexpectedly jump out of park into drive. This happened to me and my partner on a traffic stop. I had to DIVE into the passenger side on my belly as it rolled by, spin the steering wheel with my left hand and push the brake with my right to prevent it from hitting the car we stopped. I needed a smoke after that one.

    Another time somebody on a crotch rocket took off at a high rate of speed in front of us. We hit the lights and the MP driving it (I was riding shotgun) punched the gas and the car went nowhere. I mean nearly zero acceleration.

    The bike got away.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I wonder if in 30 years there will be any fond memory posts for the 200?More likely the Journey, as it’s now the K car sedan for FCA

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    I have very good memories since I still own an AJ body version, a ’92 Lebaron LX convertible. I bought it used in 1996 and it has fulfilled its mission of a cruising machine very well. Historically, I owned 2 Q bodies, aka TC Maserati, as well as an AA body 1989 Plymouth Acclaim 2.5 turbo. Many chassis and engine parts interchanged and all were relatively easy to work on. The turbo cars were a blast to drive but the 3 spd autos were short a least 1 gear.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Chrysler’s minivans were launched using a ‘stretched’ K-Car platform, thus enhancing its legacy.

    I drove Hondas in that era and they were superior to the K-Car in so many ways.

    However if you wanted to buy an ‘American’ ride, on a budget, you could do worse. I for one, liked the size, visibility offered and styling of the K-Car, particularly in wagon form. Its interior space was ‘family sized’.

    What I did not ‘appreciate’ were the ‘upscale’ versions. As a basic family hauler and fleet vehicle, it was a worthy endeavour.

  • avatar
    mankyman

    A 1984 beige Aries wagon was my first car. I basically commandeered it from my dad. I made a sexy time many times in the back seat with my girlfriend.

    And it had the “hemi” so I wore out a set of front tires doing burnouts. I got into two accidents with it in the first 6 months and that poor thing was about beaten to death after a year of my driving it. It actually had good pickup for an 80s car.

    The other K car I drove in was a lebaron. Severely underpowered.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    The only K platform derivatives that I recall with any fondness were the G platform Daytona and J LeBaron. I always thought those were pretty nice cars for the time, though admittedly, have never driven either. A good friend of mine had a Late 1980’s-early 1990’s Chrysler Imperial that his father drove, that seemed pretty nice, believe it was also a K derivative.

    I have seen plenty of them, but having a difficult time recalling anyone I know owning any of the earlier examples of K cars.

  • avatar
    spyked

    Good friends parents had a mid-80’s Plymouth Caravelle TURBO! No tach in the gauge cluster though. I remember it seeming fast compared to my Volvo 240 of the day (non-turbos). I also remember the ICE COLD aircon that thing had.

    That same friend then got a Dodge Shadow Shelby 5 speed in like 90 or 91, pre-owned. HOLD ON TO THE STEERING WHEEL when giving it gas is my only comment.

  • avatar

    I had a LeBaron GTS that was actually a decent handling car. The interior was very cheaply built. After a few years foam was poking through the dash.

    At the time K-cars were far more reliable and better built than the GM X-cars. It didn’t take much in those days to satisfy car buyers. In those days if your car came with a digital dash you thought you were in the cockpit of a Lear jet.

  • avatar
    nlinesk8s

    I saw a K car for sale recently on Craigslist. Fake wood on the sides with fake wood framing. Think about it: Somebody paid money for that…

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    I learned to drive in an Aries K wagon.

    (I think it was the LE trim, and thus probably an ’85, though I don’t know for sure; at the time I was Not A Car Person and didn’t care.)

    It was worse than useless in any snow at all, had a ludicrously high idle speed (over 25, I think?).

    Tolerably well built, in that it wasn’t always in the shop and indeed I don’t recall it ever having any serious issues, and not *especially* slow, especially compared to the Metro I got as my first car.

    (That makes me pretty sure it must have had the 2.6L engine.)

  • avatar
    carve

    I’ve two memories, both from the early 90’s.

    1) My high school owned one. A teacher was driving me to a student competion, and called the car “a gutless wonder”

    2) My uncle rented one. He complained about how slow it was the whole time. He let me take a stint at the wheel since I had my permit, and I had to agree.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Something tells me Saturns are the K-Cars of the ’90s for those of us born in the next decade.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I’m fortunate, in that I never had to own or drive one. I helped a friend work on one once (it belonged to a paying customer of his). The things I remember were that it had a bench seat in front, and the radiator fan (yes, it had a/c) was a two-bladed fan.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    2 big memories of these. The first was Lee Iacocca defiantly pointing at the camera proclaiming “If you can find a better car, Buy it!”. I found many better cars over the years.

    The second involves replacing a friend’s girlfriends muffler on a Reliant. Worked to the wee hours cutting it off only to have it sound the same.

    Those memories are just fine

  • avatar
    Boff

    My grandparents had one, a light blue 4-door that had exactly one option…auto trans. The memory of driving it for the first time is vivid. My Opa came to pick me up at school; I hopped into the driver’s seat, threw it into reverse, gunned it…and nearly backed into a tree at high speed. No power steering, you see. The one finger twirl was not happening. I also then discovered that it did not have power brakes, either…but by then I was so gobsmacked that I drove the rest of the way like an Oma. Otherwise the car lasted them many years, until they were no longer fit to drive, after which my cousin drove it for several years before it was completely kaput.

  • avatar
    sherstat

    Had four K company car variants from 1981-1986 after I convinced my employer to offer GM alternatives.
    1981 Plymouth Reliant: A crude car with a metal top dashboard that vibrated horribly when the AC turned on. Thirteen inch tires that seemed to wear out once a month. Kind of like an American version of the Trabant.
    1983 Dodge Aries. A more refined version of the original 1981. Padded dash top and 14 inch wheels were a big improvement.
    1984 Dodge 600. Thought I had a big promotion with the fancy crushed velour interior and cool AM stereo radio (!)
    Quality control not so good with the front passenger door always hitting the front fender on opening. Had a Mitsubishi 2.6 which ran really well when the car was new. After around 50k miles, it developed severe drivability issues that no CP/Dodge dealer could solve in spite of adding all kinds of plumbing recommended in service bulletins.
    1986 Dodge 600. This one had the optional 2.5L fuel injected four and probably ran the best out of all four of these K’s. Body panel alignment was the worst I had ever seen. Really bad QC.
    Only drove the 1986 K for about 20K miles and soon moved on with my career. While I look back on the Chrysler’s K car efforts as crude executions that were generally reliable (ironic that the Mitsubishi engine was exceptionally bad)

    I never purchased a Chrysler product after experiencing the K Cars. For me they served their purpose as kind of a transportation appliance but could not imagine any scenario that would motivate me to purchase one.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    My only memory/experience with a K car started when my best friends girlfriend at the time got one. She hated it, he hated it, I was indifferent towards it.

    I had a 1987 Ford Tempo GL coupe 5 speed I had taken in on trade from a buddy who wanted a V-8 Dakota I had with a blown engine (I got it that way). The Tempo had sat for 5 years after his MIL put it in the ditch during a snow storm. I replaced the grille, head lamps and front bumper and it was fine.

    I was driving the Tempo around and she (the K car owner) kept asking about it. She asked if we would teach her to drive a manual with it. She got the hang of it quickly and kept pestering me to sell her the car. She wanted to trade me the K for it, I was like no. I enjoy driving the little 5 speed, I have no interest in going to a 4 door automatic brand X car. She saved up her money to buy the Tempo from me, but always ended up a little short. So, jokingly, I said I’d give her $50 for the K and for $500 on her part, she could have the Tempo. She jumped on it and I showed up to work the next day with that K.

    I drove it home that night, and back to work the next day. I hated it. I hated how it drove, how it looked, and the electrical issues annoyed me (the CHMSL would flash with the turn signals, as an example).

    The second day at work, I overheard a co-worker saying he desperately needed a car, so I piped up and said something to the effect of “I got the perfect car for you.” It was pay day, and he gave me his entire paycheck for the K, which I believe was around $230 (he was part time as I recall). I was so happy to be rid of it, and actually make money off of it, I guess you could say that was the happiest moment of my K car ownership experience.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    1. I test-drove a Chrysler Laser Turbo in late 1983. Though I loved the styling and even liked the electronic dash (how ’80s!), the coarse engine and notchy shifter were disappointments. What sealed the car’s fate was when I accidentally stalled the engine and an electronic voice rang out “Check oil pressure! Check oil pressure!”. I told the salesman who was riding along that I did not like the nanny. He said that I could turn it off but I replied that I’d still be paying for the damn thing. It was back to the dealership and my Laser dreams were forgotten – perhaps for the best given these cars’ service history.

    2. A young Japanese woman who I dated throughout much of the 1990s had a 1985 Dodge Aries LE sedan – gold-colored with a red cloth interior, 2.2 engine, and automatic. It was a fairly reliable car overall though very unrefined. There were nuisance things that happened later on like the cloth headliner falling down and the glovebox door falling off. Also, the thing was gutless – pressing the accelerator hard produced lots of noise but not much forward motion. She eventually traded it in on a Corolla.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    The car that I drove in for most of my permit stage was a 91 Dynasty with a V6. It had previously belonged to my brother who allowed his miscreant friends to beat the hell out of it. It just soldiered on and did its thing, but it finally gave up the ghost and dropped important driving bits as mom went to trade it in. Needless to say it wasn’t traded and eventually found its way to the junkyard it was 13 years old at the time and had about 150k miles on it if I recall correctly.

    Generally speaking I have no opinion of them one way or the other. They feel and look like other smallish American cars from the era.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    In high school I dated a girl who had an 86 Lebanon Convertible with the 2.2 turbo (turbo II, maybe?). The car was about 14 years old at the tome. When the lag finally passed it did move pretty well,though it sounded course like a box of rocks. The interior was hard and dated, and the vinyl seats were way worse than my Wrangler of similar vintage. It’s possible the inside never saw a vacuum or Dustbuster, so maybe I’m not being fair. That car left her stranded many times, but again, she didn’t want to maintain it.

    My aunt bought a later J-body based Lebaron with the Mitsubishi 3.0 in 1993, brand new during a midlife crisis. When she bought it, I was 11 years old and thought it was the coolest car ever. 7 years later it was beat up, rarely driven, leaked oil, and smelled like mold from a leaky top despite being garages most of the time. I preferred the V6 to the turbo 4 for its smoothness, but the turbo seemed more durable.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Friend had a brown Plymouth Reliant with tan interior. Back in the day it was all he could afford. He hated that car to death. He beat the snot out of it repeatedly but it was reliable. He bought it used with 60k for 2500 back in 89/90. It did have the death knock from the bottom end though. It slowly got worse and at 140k, he decided to swap the motor. We did that and it went on for another 7 years at which point the body was too far gone. Still started and drove great being over 20 years old and having nearly 200k on the original transmission.

    I did drive the car a few times and while it was not my cup of tea, I thought it was solid and felt good on the road. Plenty of front legroom and headroom too.

  • avatar
    Tomifobia

    My mother had a K-derived H body, a LeBaron GTS. 2.2 turbo with automatic. Drove nice, and was pretty damned quick, but it died young death (~100k miles) after the head gasket went in a sudden burst. Nice car otherwise. :

    I will say this about the original K: You see far more of them on the roads now than you do any of its competitors of the time.

  • avatar
    EquipmentJunkie

    My college roommate had a dark red, two-door Dodge 400 with a white padded vinyl top. It had matching dark red velour upholstery which faded easily in the sun. The carbureted 2.2 liter stammered and stuttered at every request to put this heap into motion. It had all sorts of electrical problems. No two ways about it, I hated that car. So deep was my hate that I seriously questioned whether I should proceed with the order of my ’94 Ram 2500 diesel. That lousy 400 nearly killed Mopar’s chances with me. I decided to show the brand some grace and am better off for it.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    All hail the mighty K-car.

  • avatar
    mjg82

    My dad bought a new ’89 Reliant when I was 7. Charcoal grey with grey interior, me in a booster seat in the middle flanked by car seats on either side for my younger sisters. It replaced a 2 door Granada Coupe, (green w/white landau roof) so 4 doors was very exciting to me. I remember when my parents were car shopping. They brought me to the lot and asked them what colour they should get. I pointed to a used red Ford Tempo, which they scoffed at. Turned out since the Reliant/Aries were ending their run, grey or this pinkish beige were the only available options.

    Before a 3hr drive up north, my pops stopped and filled the tank. The car ran like shit for the whole drive, and never felt the same since then. Shortly after a bunch of gas stations in the area got busted for diluting their gas with something that ate rubber gaskets. I wish I knew the specifics, it was Toronto in ’91/’92. By then I was 10 and my sisters were 8 and 7, and sedan life came to an end with a ’92 Voyager taking it’s place.

    My only real car-specific memories were sitting on the front bumper in the headlight groove, and my parents best friend having a light blue ’87 Aries wagon that I was vastly jealous of.

    Incidentally my parents needed to become a two car family in ’96, and a ’93 Sundance joined the family. That car became mine in 2001 and I loved driving it. I found it peppy when I was solo in the car, and the liftback was really handy. I even got laid in the trunk of it, when there was just nowhere else to do the deed. The Sundance got me through university and I handed it down to my sisters in 2007. It stayed on the road til ’11 or ’12. It leaked transmission fluid for the last 8 years but was otherwise indestructible.

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    Back in the ’90s we had a neighbor who had a Lancer ES turbo/manual. He could be called ‘mechanically inept’ to be polite. He flogged that poor car around town ALL DAY LONG. Yet it clocked about 250K before they traded it on an Exploder. It was driven around for 5 more years by the next owner before it finally needed engine work. So a damn good little car. My sister had a Shadow 4 door automatic which served her pretty well for several years.

    Myself, I have an unhealthy obsession with the Daytona/Laser. The ’84-’86 models with the sealed beams and grille are by far the sexxiest. Give me an ’86 Shelby Z manual with T-Tops in red, black, or white and Id be a happy man. I wouldn’t choose one over my Challenger but would love to put it in my stable.

    As to a new K car…I just wish the Dart or 200 had followed the Lancer/Lebaron GTS formula with the liftback, available hot turbo and stickshift. A newer version of the Daytona keeping the liftback coupe bodystyle, a turbo 4 good for 300-ish hp and manual trans would definitely peak my interests. Again, Id still buy the Challenger but itd be a good gateway car for new customers or those who just favor lighter designs and boosted engines.

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    Back in the ’90s we had a neighbor who had a Lancer ES turbo/manual. He could be called ‘mechanically inept’ to be polite. He flogged that poor car around town ALL DAY LONG. Yet it clocked about 250K before they traded it on an Exploder. It was driven around for 5 more years by the next owner before it finally needed engine work. So a damn good little car. My sister had a Shadow 4 door automatic which served her pretty well for several years.

    Myself, I have an unhealthy obsession with the Daytona/Laser. The ’84-’86 models with the sealed beams and grille are by far the sexxiest. Give me an ’86 Shelby Z manual with T-Tops in red, black, or white and Id be a happy man. I wouldn’t choose one over my Challenger but would love to put it in my stable.

    As to a new K car…I just wish the Dart or 200 had followed the Lancer/Lebaron GTS formula with the liftback, available hot turbo and stickshift. A newer version of the Daytona keeping the liftback coupe bodystyle, a turbo 4 good for 300-ish hp and manual trans would definitely peak my interests. Again, Id still buy the Challenger but itd be a good gateway car for new customers or those who just favor lighter designs and boosted engines.

  • avatar
    Civarlo

    Quite well, thank you very much. A success story overall as my late high school/early college car. Mine was an ’84 Reliant 2-door base model. Carburetor-equipped 2.2-liter four, column automatic, bench seat, and under 7K miles on it at the time of its purchase from an old lady in the Pacific Northwest in 1989. A 5-year-old ride like that made me feel like an adult at the time, which pleased me. One major drawback: no factory or aftermarket air conditioning. That became an issue when we moved to the American south within months of purchasing it. My K-car did take my 17-year-old self as part of a three-car family caravan (CB radios and all) from the northwest to the Carolinas in August, and aside from the heat, there were no issues. The car got me through my senior year of high school without damage to man or machine, and took me on many happy southern roadtrips as a collegian: SC lowcountry, Myrtle Beach, etc. Easy to drive, good fuel economy, big trunk, and largely sensible transportation that I needed then. My identity started getting tied to that car among my friends. After 30K miles, the carb did start getting out of whack and developed stalling problems when cold. A carb rebuild did help, but didn’t fully solve the problem. After three years in the south without A/C and with the opportunity to buy another low-mileage senior-citizen car…with air conditioning this time…from yet another neighbor, I took the plunge and privately sold my Reliant in ’92 with about 54K(?) miles on it. If I had to change anything, it would have been getting one with A/C and the fuel-injection system that came in later K’s but wasn’t available when mine was built. In all, my K-glass was far more half full than half empty.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    Great line from the movie “Swingers”
    _________

    “People get carjacked!”

    “Ah man…who would ever carjack your fuc#in’ K car?”

  • avatar
    PentastarPride

    I was born in 1992 so I sadly didn’t get to experience all of the different K-cars. My closest K-car experiences were only with their derivatives. My aunt Nancy had an H-body LeBaron until 1998, when she traded it for a Stratus. It was maroon with red leather interior. I thought it was a great car and liked it better than the Stratus.

    My grandma had a 1992 New Yorker, white with blue plush velour interior, until 1998 when she got a Grand Cherokee. Spent a lot of time in the backseat on roadtrips throughout Middle America. Very cavernous, quiet and just too comfortable. Perfect car for long trips. I hated that I’d fall asleep because I was quite comfortable in that car but I wanted to see the scenery and missed out on large parts of the trip. I never could sleep well in hotels/motels, so the comfortable, roomy backseat and cool-as-a-cucumber AC ensured that I caught up with my sleep. As a kid I honestly thought that this was “THE” luxury car to have and no Cadillac or Lincoln could ever come close (or any foreign luxury either, though we didn’t have any Mercedes-Benz/BMW/Audi or Lexus in Kansas. Those cars were truly foreign in the Midwest).

    Years later, I have the first (kind-of) K-car in a way, a J-Body LeBaron convertible that I just restored.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    I still have a 1983 LeBaron convertible as my summer daily driver and a 1995 Voyager minivan as the pack mule. They’re simple to work on and very reliable.

  • avatar
    mic

    I got stationed in Germany in 1994. A buddy of mine said he was friends with the high school shop teacher and they had a car for sale. I bought the 1984 Dodge Aries for $800. It was a Root Beer brown, 2 door, 5 speed on the floor (with a crazy chrome, curvy shift handle) with bench seats in the front and back. I dubbed it the “Hodge-Podge Dodge” as it had an ’86 engine and an ’87 transmission. It performed admirably for 3 years and I sold it for $400. I got all my repair parts from the scrap yard, even brake pads lol.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    We had two in the family back in the day – my Great Aunt Margie and Great Uncle Melvin, who between them probably weighed a GOOD 750lbs, had a turd brown automatic wagon. With both of them in it the poor thing was about on the bumpstops. My favorite Aunt Susie had a metallic gold wagon with a bench seat and a 4spd stick – not a great combination when you are a 6’2″ teenager and your Aunt is about 5’2″ – until I got my learner’s permit and could drive I had to sit in the back. Both were just cheap and kind of crappy cars, reliable enough, but as usual the Maine winters rotted them out in fairly short.

    Surprisingly, there are still small numbers of them around Maine, all owned by old fogies who probably just never drove them in the salt, or much at all. Just like how my Great-Grandparents managed to keep a Vega for the last 20 years of their lives. I never see any in Florida, but I have come to realize that the inability to get R12 A/C system fixed for reasonable money was the kiss of death for an enormous number of cars down there.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Something missing from the discussion is that K cars were a popular choice for business, government and utility fleets.

  • avatar
    MyerShift

    Oh the K cars! I have such fond memories of these as a child. My great-grandmother had one from brand new (an ’88 which I still own; unfortunately rust has gotten to it and I will need to junk it or part it out), my grandparents had an 84 Reliant followed by an 87 New Yorker Turbo with all the bells and whistles, followed by a 91 Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue, and I myself have also personally owned a 93 LeBaron convertible! I remember these cars fondly as being comfortable, efficient, with ice cold AC. Great headroom, formal looks.
    Economy cars didn’t seem nicer than these.
    I miss them and want to have a good one to DD.
    I am a huge fan.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    A friend of ours had one of the K car derivative limousines.

    I had a 1988 Shadow ES (the good year). 5 speed and a turbo. Was a fun and trouble free car other than a broken front rotor. Handled good for its day and little torque steer. A/C was cold, the stereo sounded decent and upgraded to great with some aftermarket speakers.

  • avatar
    HaveNissanWillTravel

    For the longest time I was part of a K-Car family, all thanks to my dad.

    We had a ‘83 LeBaron in brown with the brown vinyl roof, then an ‘85 LeBaron, an ‘87 Town and Country Turbo 2.2, an ‘87 LeBaron Coupe and finally a ‘92 Spirit with the Mitsu V6.

    All reached 100k and all served us and the family well. Kinda miss the ‘87. It looked like the LeBaron convertible but it was a hard top.

  • avatar
    HaveNissanWillTravel

    Oh, the POWER LOSS light!

  • avatar
    MyerShift

    Oh the K Cars! I have such fond memories of these as a child. My great-grandmother had one from brand new (an ’88 which I still own; unfortunately rust has gotten to it and I will need to junk it or part it out), my grandparents had an 84 Reliant followed by an 87 New Yorker Turbo with all the bells and whistles, followed by a 91 Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue, and I myself have also personally owned a 93 LeBaron convertible! I remember these cars fondly as being comfortable, efficient, with ice cold AC. Great headroom, formal looks.
    Economy cars didn’t seem nicer than these.
    I miss them and want to have a good one to DD.
    I am a huge fan.

  • avatar
    tomlct

    I am a fan of the K’s & EEK’s. The 1st was an 82 Aries sedan, purchased used in 84, which I had until 91, when I bought a demo 91 Plymouth Acclaim, and then gave the Aries to my mother-in-law. The Aries was around until around 95, and the Acclaim was around until 2007. It almost made it to 200K miles, but the engine was shaking and the paint was badly delaminated, so we called it quits.
    In 88, I also bought a new 88 Aries wagon, and still have it, and still enjoy it. It is roomy & has a tight turning circle, so you could almost say it is nimble. The ride is not so bad, with recently installed shocks & struts and almost new Goodyear Assurance All Season tires.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar
    Guy Coulombe

    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 http://www.chryslerkcar.com, and join the club, and stop crushing your classic 30 plus year old K-cars. We want them.


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