By on July 25, 2018

It was one of those make or break moments. A company teetering on the financial verge which threw a Hail Mary at the right time — and at the right target. The company in question was Chrysler, and the Hail Mary was the K-car platform.

Today we ask you: What was peak K?

I got to thinking about the K-car recently, both as financial savior and platform-sharing wonder. Among its virtues of affordability and flexibility, there was also an aspect of unfortunate longevity. One basic platform, tons of variants, and a timeline stretching between 1981 and 1995.

To put that in perspective, people drove a new K-platform car to see Raiders of the Lost Ark at the movie theater. They did the same thing in 1995 when they went to see Jumanji, a film which actually featured the final K variant sold — the Chrysler LeBaron (though an older one, which was not great for giant mosquitoes).

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

In between, just about every body style was covered by the K: sedan, coupe, convertible, hatchback, wagon, limousine. From base wheel covers to, well, brougham wheel covers, models ran the gamut in price. They all had a couple things in common, though: front-drive and a transverse engine. I’ll try and make a platform derivations list below.

  • K came first, compacts
  • E and H, larger cars in the midsize class
  • AG and AJ, sporty driving cars
  • S, minivans to 1990
  • AS, minivans 1991-1995
  • AP, later version for revised compact cars
  • AC, later luxury midsize sedans
  • AA, later standard midsize sedans
  • Q, one-hit wonder for the TC by Maserati
  • AY, longest wheelbase luxury sedans

Somewhere in that extensive list there’s undoubtedly a peak vehicle, though you may have to look up which particular version of K resides underneath. Let’s hear ’em.

[Images: IMCDB, Steph Willems/TTAC]

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87 Comments on “QOTD: What was Peak K-car for You?...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    This is easy, the limo, because nothing says you’ve arrived (to the trailer park gala) like a stretched K-car limo

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Nixon had one in the 80s.

      http://forum.chryslerkcar.com/viewtopic.php?f=42&t=5156

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Lol, Nixon was never right again after that whole Watergate thing

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I’d be curious to know what Ford and Carter were given. I mean if you think about it, President Reagan is given a custom Cadillac but here’s a K-car Tricky Dick.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            Although it wasn’t an official state car, Herbert Hoover apparently rolled in a V16 Cadillac.

            bonhams.com/auctions/15398/lot/443/?category=list

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Good for Hoover. It certainly alters the picture I had of him given that he was our first real “Businessman” president – never elected to anything until he was made Chief Executive (although he had been appointed to positions prior to running for office.)

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Pretty sure Carter had a standard Crown Vic panther, man of the people and all that. I have no idea about Ford

          • 0 avatar
            Sub-600

            Ronaldus Maximus actually drove a Subaru BRAT around his California ranch. Gerald Ford’s rides included a ‘69 Mustang and a ‘72 Jeep.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            It appears you are correct about Reagan’s BRAT

            https://jalopnik.com/5877037/how-ronald-reagan-became-a-secret-subaru-test-driver

            Interesting story

  • avatar
    threeer

    My 1985 Lancer ES Turbo. Loved that car, despite it’s, um, agricultural 5-speed. As a college kid (1988-1992), that car felt like a rocket-ship. Gun-metal grey, those lovely sport bucket seats, 5-speed manual and after-market 5-spoke wheels along with a rather nice $2k stereo made it one of my favorite cars I’ve owned.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike Beranek

      That’s the one, I remember it well. Easily the best-looking K, and probably the best-looking midsize FWD sedan at that time.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Likewise, my 85 LeBaron GTS (non-turbo, 5-sp manual). I loved that car, drove it from 88-2000, and traded it with 206k on it. Mine was black, with steelies.

      Tremendous utility, space, and comfort, good looks, economical, and reasonably reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      The refined K-platform Lancer ES and LeBaron GTS Turbo were favorably compared to the Pontiac 6000 STE as sport sedans comparable to mid sized European models like the Saab 9000, BMW 5-Series and Peugeot 505.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I had a 1987 Lancer ES turbo also. Had it for 11 years, 160K miles. Loved that thing even though it wasn’t fully debugged in the early years. After that, no worries.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Personal favorite : “Q-body” Chrysler TC by Maserati.

    Most important : “S-body” minivans

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    Peak “K” was when I saw the first one in person in Navy Housing, Bremerton, WA, 1981. Don’t remember what flavor, don’t really care.

  • avatar
    OzCop

    K car police packages…can not recall the official nomenclature from Chrysler, but it was indeed a beefier suspension, wheels, brakes, and drive train upgrades. Our’s used the 2.6 Mitsubishi engine and in a city setting, were decent cars. We only had a couple of them in the fleet marked as police units, but had several more used in detective bureau and the Safety Officer program. Surprisingly, they were not maintenance nightmares, and held up quite well, being assigned individually as opposed to fleet use.

    My inlaws purchased a new Chrysler Town and Country wagon, and my mother in law drove it most often. It was a great car for her, but my father in law, being 6′ 5″ tall, and big boned, pretty much hated driving and riding in it…

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Is this lebaron on the pick? I had sedan. What a junk! Was broken bi-weekly

    • 0 avatar
      MoDo

      Had 3 friends with those in the 90’s, a V6 auto convertible, a turbo stick sedan and a turbo stick coupe. The turbo coupe (sans turbo IIRC) was the only problem child from what I can remember. Growing up in the 90’s k-cars and their cousins were literally everywhere.

  • avatar

    Peak…the mini van!
    My favorite..the Plymouth turbo station wagon, they made 52.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    1990… the last model year that the straight 2.2 was put in anything (turbo 2.2 was around for a few more years). After that you could only get the 2.5 or the V6. Both of those were way too smooth. The shakey 2.2 was the soul of the K-car :(

    OK, serious answer? The Spirit/Acclaim R/T! Loved these when they came out but never got one. Not even sure I’ve ever seen one in the wild. (I loved the Volvo 240 turbos too.)

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      my dad had a Spirit R/T. blast to drive (I learned to drive with it) so long as you fed it timing belts and head gaskets.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I’ve seen ONE Spirit R/T in the metal, cylinder head engineered by Lotus was one of the coolest parts of that car.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          @JimZ and PrincipalDan, looks like less 1399 of these things built (according to internet sources, which I guess are accurate… there would never be circular reporting on the internet, right?). I misspoke- no such thing as an Acclaim R/T.

          I remember reading the reviews and marveling over the guts of these cars. Reading about the specialized bits and pieces in the engine, bigger brakes, bigger wheels and tires… the malaise era was getting smaller in the rear view mirror and this was exciting stuff. The company must have had a lot of fun developing them. To me, they were in the spirit (no pun intended) of the old Dart Hemis (IIRC about 7,000 of those built).

          I figured the maintenance on these would be… different, what with stuffing that much heat inside the same space as 100-140hp engines.

          I still like the look of the Acclaim/Spirit (all models). I like square, no-nonsense styling (also 600/E series, Diplomat, Fairmont/Zephyr, all square Volvos, etc.) and the aero jelly bean styling of many early 1990s cars took a long time to grow on me.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      The 2.2 stuck around through ’94 with the death of the Sundance/Shadow – I learned to drive in a ’93 Sundance, and it absolutely had the 2.2.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    My favorite K derivative would the Plymouth Acclaim or the smaller Sundance. I also liked the Dodge Daytona.

    But, as others mentioned, the minivans were the most important. They brought people into the showrooms more than anything else.

  • avatar
    C W

    Loved my 1985 Dodge 600 convertible 2.2, even though its non-turbo acceleration was, to be kind, leisurely. No problems, no breakdowns, no surprises for the three years / 50,000 miles I owned it.

    As a guy who came of age in the Malaise Era, I can tell you the K-cars were solid machines for the time. If you’ve got to mock them, don’t forget to smack around their competition: Chevy Citations and four-cylinder Iron Duke Camaros, and Ford Escorts and EXPs and Tempos.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    John Voight’s Lebaron!

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Weren’t the Spirit and Acclaim designated EEK? “Extended Everyday K-car”, or something like that?

    I had a Spirit. Excellent design. I thought it was prone to problems, until owning a Ford.

    • 0 avatar
      HeeeeyJake

      EEK is an acronym used by the cult following which means “every extended K car” to describe all the derivatives.

      I believe the term was popularized by allpar.com in their k car history pages, but was probably coined and in use earlier than ~2001, when I first came across it.

      Hope this helps.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    In my opinion, “peak K” was the 1987-1988 Dodge Daytona Shelby. That was as near as the K Platform ever came to street performance cred. I know, I know – the Spirit R/T was faster by a lot – but that was much later and the sedan was too staid to be looked at by the greater public as a “performance car”. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, you couldn’t drive anywhere without seeing multiple Daytonas and Chrysler Lasers. I had a 1991 Shadow ES Turbo (same platform) during that era that I lightly modded with Mopar Performance parts, and it was a lot of fun back then – but I wanted a Daytona. Also, the importance of the performance-oriented K-cars as a marketing and sales foundation/springboard for the later Diamond-Star sister cars is often overlooked.

    I also have good memories of my wife (then girlfriend)’s third-generation Chrysler LeBaron. That was actually perfect for her at the time. Unfortunately, it was totaled while parked on the street in Detroit, by an old man in a Cadillac who thought that was a lane of moving vehicles (really!).

  • avatar
    brettucks

    Omni GLH(S) for the funnest of any K car, but the original caravan was what really showed the versatility of this platform. Good space, fuel economy, ease of parking and an attractive price – it could do 95% of anything needed to be done (except towing).

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Sorry man, the Omni/Horizon were different platforms and unrelated to the K-car. They shared some drivetrains and other parts and people cross-shopped both (my Mom chose leasing a Reliant over buying a Horizon… probably happened with more than a few customers), but they were different cars. Their derivatives overlapped a bit too- the Charger/Turismo’s last year was 1987, the first year for the Shadow/Sundance.

      • 0 avatar
        brettucks

        Thanks for the info – I think I see the 2.2 and FWD and throw it into the mix without considering it.

        Thanks for catching that!

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          yep, the L-body was a joint project with what was then Chrysler Europe. The K- architecture was heavily inspired by the L, but not the same.

          in much the same way as the LH architecture was inspired by the Renault-based Eagle sedans they inherited from AMC.

    • 0 avatar

      Having had a GLH Turbo but not S, which wasn’t a K car, it was a stiffer Peuguot frame, the best K car I drove was a Daytona with the same 2.2 Turbo but with an intercooler. It rode way better than I’d expected, and the shifter wasn’t as tight as the GLH. The GLH was still a better performance car, but the Daytona better highway cruiser….sat at 80 just off boost, and back in the day, was good power.

      Many years later, a friend of the wife had a Lancer ES. This car had the same engine as the GLH, but had seen the sort of maintenance that a single woman in the bronx who had zero idea how a car worked gave it. It lasted far beyond what I’d ever have thought….so they were tough too.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    The mid-1980’s Mopar line up. They had so many cars made from the same platform, but somehow they didn’t manage to trip all over each other like GM’s A-, J- and X- body FWD cars did.

    I was in many of them back in the day, I really can’t pick a specific model that I like above all of them. Well, maybe my Lancer ES turbo. Especially since I owned it for 11 years.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    One can never achieve peak K-car.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    By far the best K variant were the V8 powered RWD Dodge Daytonas used in the IROC racing series.

    What?

  • avatar
    Adam Tonge

    Never go peak K-Car

  • avatar
    brettucks

    If you wanna go back in time there is a 25 mile example of a sundance on car ‘find’ site today !!

    • 0 avatar
      mjg82

      oh my god and it’s in my city. We had a 93 in the family from 1996-2012, with it being mine from ’01-’07. I loved that thing. I can’t tell if it sold, it was at auction on July 21st. I think I’d pay more than anyone else would for this car.

      https://northtorontoauction.com/v/207514

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Peak K car? That’s easy – the 1990-1993 Chrysler Imperial. The ultimate broughamtastic making of a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Lee Iaccoca’s ultimate dream.
    http://momentcar.com/images600_/chrysler-imperial-1991-1.jpg

  • avatar
    Lemmiwinks

    The 1987 Dodge Diplomat (Salon edition).

    Gunmetal gray, with interior seating cloth made out of fabric akin to pipe cleaner fuzz.

    Who needs a cassette deck when you’ve got that bangin Pentastar hood ornament?

    The horn module would easily pop right off the steering wheel… perfect for storing, uh, things. (Definitely not an airbag.)

    And a 4 speed auto transmission which entirely devoured itself by roughly 1997.

    Plus, it looked like a rural-road cop car at night.

    That’s my peak.

    • 0 avatar
      StudeDude

      I think you may be really talking about a Dodge Dynasty. The Diplomat was not equipped with a 4 speed auto and never had airbags.

    • 0 avatar
      MoparRocker74

      Diplomat is the M body rwd car. The bones go back to the Aspen/Volare. Not even CLOSE to a K car.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      the Diplomat was rear-wheel drive (and thus not a K-car,) genius.

      • 0 avatar
        Lemmiwinks

        Thanks for the info. Maybe don’t be rude about it, genius.

        As for the rest: I actually said it did not have an airbag. Just an easily-removable horn insert. And I thought it was 4 speed, but then again, it must have been 3. It still was in shambles within a decade.

        It definitely was a Diplomat Salon. Glad to learn more about it.

  • avatar
    mjg82

    I think the Gen-2 minivans would be peak K car. That’s the model where nearly 50% of the kids I grew up with were chauffeured around in. They were everyone’s default car choice if you had kids. My parents and their friends/my classmates parents had one in every colour

  • avatar
    ragtopman

    I’ve owned four K-Cars, including the ’94 version of the convertible pictured above. I owned the black convertible for six largely trouble-free years, although it did have a predilection for collecting snow in the alternator during some of our big snows in Iowa. The K-Car is a quirky machine, for sure, but I think it gets an unfair rap in general. Who would have thought a little car like that could pull an entire company out of bankruptcy?

    I’d buy another K Konvertible if I could find one in decent shape, but, alas, they’re getting harder and harder to find all these years later.

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    Peak K price —-Q body TC Maserati.
    Peak K importance—S and AS minivans.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Easily the minivans. My personal pick would be a LeBaron turbo, or maybe the Spirit R/T

  • avatar
    CobraJet

    I remember renting a Dodge Dynasty in San Francisco around 1989. Drove it all around the central valley down to Fresno and back during that week. I was used to driving GM A body Cutlasses and felt the Dodge was very good. The ride was softer but it handled ok. Very roomy inside.

    The wife and I shopped for vans in 1992 and drove the Dodge and Chrysler minivans. Started to buy one but went with a GMC Safari instead.

    Lee Iacocca and Chrysler got their money’s worth out of that platform. It saved that company, I am sure.

  • avatar
    rokop

    Since I really like simplicity, I’m a big fan of K-cars. I had four of them! A Plymouth Horizon TC3, a Dodge Omni 4-door, a 4-door black Shadow turbo with manual, and a 2-door Shadow coupe.

    Lately, I wish I had a brown Reliant wagon with manual transmission. I guess I would be in heaven.

  • avatar
    road_pizza

    “Peak K-Car” LOL… trhat’s about as funny as asking “What was your peak STD”!!! All K-Cars were FWD crap.

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    Any Daytona Shelby Z. The 4-eyed ’84-’86 models with the original styling got the look right, and each restyle was a step backwards IMHO even if overall it was a great looking car that still looks nice today.

    Obviously the IROC R/T with the Lotus head and Turbo IV motor is the one to have from a performance standpoint.

    My ideal would be a 4 eyed T-top car with SRT-4 motor/trans swapped in.

  • avatar
    DEVILLE88

    Favorite would be the 1990 New Yorker 5TH avenue. followed by my 1985 Lebaron convertible. 1st gen mini vans the the Reliant.

  • avatar
    Vanillasludge

    Sprit R/T. It was nuts for its time.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Peak K-car. Have to go with the minivan because of its segment breaking influence.
    My grandfather owned a 83 Dodge Aires in green with factory air but for some reason no radio. It had the block off plate and cap where the antenna is on the fender. It was a nice driver but as gramps got older in his 90’s the car was misplaced or most likely stolen in Miami.
    My favorites are the 87-95 LeBaron convertible or coupe preferably with the 2.2 turbo. The 3.0 Mitsubishi can be problematic.
    Same with the P-car based Shadow/Sundance and Laser/Daytona. The drop top Shadow even as built by ASC did have a bit of flex finding one would make a neat summer ride.

  • avatar
    Southern Perspective

    Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

  • avatar
    Carroll Prescott

    Daytona/Laser or Minivans.

  • avatar
    paxman356

    Seeing Veronica Mars tool around on one for two years (the third year she got a Satun Vue… a Mars with a Saturn, har, har, har).

    http://pics.imcdb.org/2/105vm_000514_c12.jpg

  • avatar
    rhduff

    Def the J body LeBaron Coupe. It’s still gorgeous today.

  • avatar
    HeeeeyJake

    Turbo III cars with lotus head and getrag 5 spd

    Daytona IROC R/T
    Spirit R/T

    Special mention any talking turbo car, whether New Yorker or Laser XE, etc.

    Daily drove a 2.6 lebaron mark cross conv for 3 years ending last Feb…for a what-the-heck impulse, it was a fun 3 years (no a/c, no emissions, 32/26 Weber 2bbl carb). Traded on ’10 Honda Accord v6-6…no regerts

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    I would say the 1987 and up Turbo II Daytonas. Those things would fly. Honorable mention to the 1987 Shelby Lancer. Those were true K Car bliss.

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    RAMPAGE!

    Seriously? No one has mentioned the most mullet of K-cars? The Rampage was awesome! It’s what you would get if you crossed an El Camino with a Subaru Brat… and took out the rear driveshaft. Everything after the Rampage was bereft of creativity.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Sorry, @Erikstrawn, the Rampage was based on the Omni, making it not a K-car at all.

      It was indeed a mullet mobile though. If Walter White had been born thirty years earlier then at least one of his business associates would have driven one of these.

  • avatar
    AKADriver

    Serious answer: I thought the Spirit/Acclaim actually substantially upped the K-car sedan game and at least felt modern at the time they were available.

    Silly answer: it’s gotta be the AY Imperial, because putting the Imperial nameplate on a K-car… there are no words.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Heh, the ’90 Imperial-ized K-car was sorta Chrysler’s belated, oblique answer to the Cadillac Cimarron (the K LeBarons were sorta more equivalent to the Buick X and J cars more than the Caddys), proving that Pentastar could not only tart up a small sedan but also one-up The General by doing it with a streeeetch wheelbase and posh bench seats. Shazam!

  • avatar
    Featherston

    Mentioned in a thread some months back but worth repeating: I met Bobby Rahal at a charity function and referenced this K-car ad, youtu.be/ABffPdUdRUk?t=24, to him The expression on his face was 65% “part of my career is to be friendly to the public” and 35% “you’re strange, and I’m a little frightened because you might be crazy.”

  • avatar

    I got to drive a Spirit when my 84 Charger was in for collision repairs (drunk individual ran a stop sign at highway speed). I enjoyed the car and thought that I would buy one when the time came. As it is I kept the Charger way longer so I never acquired a Spirit. Also liked the looks of the Daytona/Laser, but never got a chance to drive one. Those would be my picks.

  • avatar
    Dodge440391SG

    I owned a 1985 LeBaron GTS Turbo. Absolutely the most comfortable bucket seats I have ever sat in. Good handling and acceleration. Goofy voice alert and fluorescent dash displays worked at the time I sold it.

    I upgraded the computer to a Mopar performance computer and upgraded the plug wires, distributor and air cleaner element. Turbo worked great; I always let the engine idle down after a drive. Changed oil every 1000 miles. Car required premium fuel, which was a drag, though necessary.

    I raced the car a few times at the track (drags). Little traction, believe it or not.

    The sensors (especially the coolant sensor) would fail a lot, along with the hard plastic vacuum and sensor lines. The coolant sensor was critical to the fuel/air mix calculations in the computer.

    All -all, decent car; but I would not buy another (used).


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