By on May 20, 2019

1980 Plymouth Horizon in Colorado wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAfter the Oil Crisis of 1973, Chrysler didn’t have the resources needed to design and build a subcompact economy car from scratch. Fortunately, Chrysler’s Japanese ally, Mitsubishi, was willing to ship over plenty of cars to be sold as Dodge and Plymouth Colts (we will not discuss the wretched Plymouth Cricket aka Hillman Avenger at this time). The Colt didn’t get front-wheel-drive until 1979, though, so Chrysler USA turned to Chrysler Europe for the Simca-designed Horizon platform and began selling Dodge Omnis and Plymouth Horizons in 1978.

Here’s an early Horizon in a Denver self-service yard.

1980 Plymouth Horizon in Colorado wrecking yard, Dodge Omni hood badge - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe generic term for these cars is Omnirizon, since the versions were nearly identical, and this car lives up to that name by sporting badging from both types. The hatch and hood came from an Omni, while the rest is Horizon.

1980 Plymouth Horizon in Colorado wrecking yard, spare parts - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis car shows all the signs of having been owned by a serious single-interest Omnirizon collector. In addition to the mix-and-match body parts, it has a cargo area packed with spare parts. They were still there when I saw the car two months later, so it appears there’s little demand for Omnirizon parts in Denver these days.

1980 Plymouth Horizon in Colorado wrecking yard, engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Omnirizon stayed in production in more or less the same form for an eternity in car terms: the 1978 through 1990 model years. Three completely unrelated straight-four engine families were used over that time: the Simca 1.6-liter, the Volkswagen 1.7-liter, and the Chrysler 2.2-liter. This car has the Volkswagen 1.7, which was rated at 68 horsepower in 1980 (of course, given that this car shows signs of extensive parts swapping, we might be looking at a slightly more powerful version of the 1.7 here).

1980 Plymouth Horizon in Colorado wrecking yard, stripes - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsPlymouth called this the “Sport Stripe” option package.

“Relax, Horizon can handle it.”

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43 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1980 Plymouth Horizon...”

  • avatar

    Wasn’t it true that in the 1970s and 80s, “sports stripes” added at least 50% more horsepower to your car? That’s why cars of that era were LOADED with them!
    (where’s the sarcasm font…)

  • avatar

    These things were all over Ithaca NY’s downtown when we first immigrated in ’92. I used to think they were dumpy little things, but now really appreciate them for their utilitarian nature and clean and simple styling, and as I understand it fairly durable mechanicals. Probably decently peppy too with the 2.2L under the hood.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed, gtem. This is a design that seems better to me in retrospect than it did at the time.

      There probably are other examples, but I can’t think of two unrelated cars with a stronger resemblance than the first-gen Golf/Rabbit and the Omni/Horizon.

      rec’d viewing:

      – – –

      Murilee: “Chrysler didn’t have the resources needed to design and build a subcompact economy car from scratch.” So a European subsidiary of Chrysler doesn’t count as part of Chrysler? OK then . . . .

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        In 1981 when my Olds Cutlass was once more in the shop, and my brother was using the Datsun 210 I was ‘forced’ to rent one of these for a long weekend road trip.

        It was actually only my 3rd experience with FWD, my first being an Eldorado.

        And came away quite impressed with its practicality, visibility and yes even its driveability. Yes, it was almost a ‘skin deep copy’ of the original Rabbit/Golf. Same sort of looks and set-up, but not the same level of engineering.

        As an aside the Mitsu import was available as a Plymouth Cricket in Canada, replacing the Avenger. The Mitsu was a considerable improvement and a reliable little commuter for that era.

        There were however a considerable number of problems reported with with the VW engine.

    • 0 avatar

      My parents got a Horizon about the time I got out of high school. I drove it for a couple of years of college. It wasn’t as good as our ’78 Civic, but it was a good car. Shockingly roomy, and quite dependable. I wanted to dislike it, but it won me over.

  • avatar

    The parents of my best friend back in high school had two of these, and he inherited one of them as his first car. He was super tall and I was pretty wide and I remember it being surprisingly roomy. We drove hither and yon in the thing and one memorable summer night we were getting near my house when it started to buck a little and then the oil light came on. We got out and lifted the hood and while it wasn’t boiling over the heat was immense off the engine (I think it was a 2.2L).

    Dipstick was completely dry so we let it cool off and then I grabbed a couple quarts of Pennzoil my dad kept around for unloved lawn mowers. I still remember the sound of that oil making it’s way through the engine as we poured it in. After 2 quarts, the dipstick tip was just barely wet. I told him to get an oil change the next day and that beast kept running for several years after that. Tough little car for it’s day.

    • 0 avatar

      My family had an ’86 Aries with the 2.2L, and it was a tough little son of a gun. Even parked outside for more than a dozen Chicago winters, it would start the first time, every time. It blew a head gasket when on a road trip in Minnesota, and it made it all the way home with nary a whimper. Replaced the bad parts, and it ran perfectly for years after.

  • avatar

    After selling his Valiant, my best friend in HS got his parent’s hand-me-down Omni with the 2.2L. For the time it was pretty peppy. It lasted him enough years that he was still driving it after college; albeit with different colored seats since the originals were shot.

  • avatar

    In 1987 I was driving a ’78 Scirocco and working a summer job at Jiffy Lube. I was astonished to open the hood of one of these Chrysler [email protected] and see a VW motor!
    I thought it must have blown it’s original engine and the VW was a swap/improvement. As you may be able to tell, I had a high opinion of Volkswagen and a low one of US hatches.

  • avatar

    My first brand-new car was an ’89 Omni. Stripped out $6k out the door.

    Was a fine little car for what it was. Except for the depreciation. 4 years and 60k miles later, I was lucky to get a grand for it.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      Four years and 60,000 miles later you got a grand out of an American economy car that had cost six new? You did all right, eggsalad. You should check out the way most high end German cars depreciate after four years…

    • 0 avatar

      Did you live on Old Brook Road? That sounds exactly like the car a friend of mine bought when he wrecked his Integra a couple days before he was supposed to start graduate school at Georgia Tech. Actually, I think he paid $900 for an ’89 five-speed in 1995. It was in great condition until he got to GT and drove into a parking garage with his $2K bicycle on top of his $1K car. Other than some scrapes on the roof, the Omni survived. That’s more than could be said for the Pinarello.

      He bought an Alfa-Romeo Milano to replace the Omni. There was so little interest in the Omni that it was practically abandoned. When the Alfa broke, he found it and it went back into service. I think by the end of their run they were really about as good as Chrysler products ever got post-Valiant. I guess everything else Chrysler sold and the early ones soured the market.

  • avatar

    We ordered a Horizon in 1978. It was pretty early in the year, but the ’78 models with the options we wanted were all spoken for, so she waited months for a 1979. It was probably the most heavily optioned Horizon I ever saw, although later models came with far more standard equipment than early ones. My grandparents last American car was a stripped 1980 Omni, which didn’t have such things as carpet or a center console. There was still a ‘miser’ model available below that. My mother really liked her Horizon, as it was the first car she owned that wasn’t twice as big as necessary.

    It had the VW-Audi 1.7 liter and an automatic, which was far from quick but not a hardship. It could peg the 85 mph speedometer and accelerate with traffic, unlike an automatic ’79 Chevette or ’81 Escort. We did learn to carry oil and check it every fuel stop, good practice for all the German cars that followed it.

    I used to laugh when people bought minivans when they expected their first child, as the Horizon was the only 4-door car my parents ever had when my sister and I were young enough to accompany them on trips. I took my driver’s test in the Horizon, and it was my first car for a few weeks. I landed a jump too hard for it one night, necessitating new struts and other parts. About then my mother bought herself a new Porsche 924S and I received the ’71 Scamp my sister had been running into things with and neglecting in college.

    I sold the Horizon to neighbors who ran a church out of their house a few months later. The water pump had perished and it had metal-to-metal brakes. IIRC, it was ‘worth’ about $1,100 with 70K miles on the clock. Cosmetically it was very good, but there was a river of coolant running out from under it, and the brakes were grinding. I advertised it for $650. The neighbors asked if their mechanic could look at it and I said sure. I didn’t know if they’d still want it, but I also didn’t want them buying it with their eyes closed. Their mechanic told them to buy it, which they did for $575. Then the phone calls started. They thought we were good people. How could we have sold them this car that needed a water pump and brakes? I pointed out that nothing was concealed, their mechanic looked at it, and AS IS means as is. Their last call was to gloat, as they found out that the car’s KBB value was twice what they paid. It was probably a coincidence that I priced it so low and it had obvious needs.

  • avatar

    I was high-school age and I happened to be walking to a store in town. A lady with two little boys stopped and offered me a ride. I sat in the back, and the boy next to me said “I think you’re too tall for this car”. I was forced to agree, as I had to tilt my head sideways, yet it still rested firmly against the ceiling (I’m not an especially tall guy). It was about a 4 minute ride, but it was a damned uncomfortable one.

    Wasnt the K car loosely based on these?

    • 0 avatar

      Odd, I had always heard that these things were remarkably roomy for their size, although maybe that pertained to leg room and not head room?

      • 0 avatar

        I remember ours being quite roomy. My father is 6′ 3″ and had no problem driving ours. He certainly looked less cramped than he did in our Honda Civic of the era.

    • 0 avatar

      The K Car was loosely derived from this platform. This was Chrysler’s first real dive into a front wheel drive platform, and with a bit of help from their European and Japanese friends, they made it happen (and saved the company!)

      • 0 avatar

        Loosely based is probably the right way to put it. As far as getting everything you need for a compact front wheel drive car to fit in a small package, yeah, some of those ideas influenced how Chrysler put the K platform together on the drawing board.

        K Cars were very, very space efficient. When you look at a cutaway drawing, it’s pretty amazing how they squeezed six people, a powertrain, and a useable trunk in such a small car. Well, six normal-sized people, not six post-1990s/sedentary lifestyle/HFCS processed food diet/”I’m not fat, I’m ‘curvy,\'” sized people…

        You think they cribbed a few ideas from the Omnirizon (and Cricket, Colt, etc.)? You bet they did.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      The Omni Horizon was based on the Simca-designed platform from Chrysler Europe.
      Here in the northeast there were plenty of these on the road. I’ve had friends families buy them and get years of reliable use. The bodies seemed to hold up well it’s rare you’d see a rusty one.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree they seemed curiously well rust-proofed, unbelievably so for a cheap economy car from the 80s. The one weak spot must have been the rear bumper, I always remember seeing them with 2x4s on the back. My dad and I gave our ’90 Civic wagon a similar treatment (hidden neatly behind the stock plastic bumper cover).

  • avatar

    The “Omnirizons” were once so common, but are now essentially vanished. I did a blog entry on the 1980 Horizon about two years ago:

  • avatar

    “They were still there when I saw the car two months later, so it appears there’s little demand for Omnirizon parts in Denver these days.” There are precious few 30+ year old economy cars on the road these days, and not very many of them inspire collectors to keep them alive this long.

    Back in the 90’s I dated a woman who drove one of these. It seemed like a pleasant enough ride, and it didn’t give her much in the way of trouble. The only thing I had to do to is was unclog the A/C condensate hose, it had gotten gooped up with dirt and mildew and caused the condensate to drip on the passengers side footwell.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine had one of these turds back in the mid 80s. We nearly got killed when the engine locked up just after pulling out onto a highway.

  • avatar

    In my high school days we had a Guidance Counselor who had a Omni GLH for a while.

    I didn’t realize what it was until years later – in our rural county Chrysler vehicles were scarce and I was obsessed with muscle cars.

  • avatar

    My elderly neighbor finally ditched his 1964 Valiant wagon and bought a 1988 Horizon. The plymouths were very well appointed, but that one had a stick and his wife couldn’t drive it. He swapped it for a 1988 Omni that had a much more basic interior.

    His only mechanical problem was the fan that continued to run after the engine shut off, to dissipate engine heat, would never shut off until the battery was dead. After two sensors failed to correct the problem, he rigged the fan to shut off with the engine, even though the intent was to keep the heat from warping the head.

    His wife died in 1999 and he died in 2005, and his son and grandsons are still driving it.

  • avatar

    I bought a 1988 Horizon in ’89. I just built a house and was, er, financially challenged and needed something better than the string of sub-$500 junkers I was notorious for. At the dealer I pointed to the car and said I wanted a test drive. The battery was weak from sitting and the sales guy went to the shop for help. I rolled the car down the hill, popped the clutch for an air start and went around the block. Yes this will do fine.

    The salesman pounded a few numbers on his desktop calculator and handed me the paper tape. “Here’s my best price, shop around.” No one could touch it including the “buying service” my employer used. I returned with financing in hand and was out the door in 15 minutes.

    That car withstood 175k miles of often brutal use. Midnight at 20 degrees, a fire call and I’m redlining a stone cold engine to get to the station. Taking 4 people to lunch during the week and hauling 8 ft 2x4s (with the hatch closed) on weekends. Driving on fire roads to go fishing. Bashing a curb to make a last-minute flight (one bent control arm…$270 total).

    After 9 years of hard life the maintenance curve was climbing fast and a broken mount for a front strut (probably a result of the 50 mph hit into the curb) was the end of it. The 2.2 engine was still good though (the Civic that replaced it ate its engine at 175k).

    An impressively robust, reliable and comfortable car that never failed to get the job done. If Chrysler had built the rest of their cars as well they wouldn’t have been the bitch of foreign companies or private equity firms.

  • avatar

    I know the K car basically gets all the love for saving Chrysler but these don’t? I don’t get it, seems these were just as important.

    • 0 avatar

      They were a stepping stone in the product line. Their low advertised price got a few more shoppers (future customers) on the dealer lots just like any price leaders. I wouldn’t say they were just as important.

      The K platform was the backbone (literally) of about 90% of their product line by the late 1980s.

      The Omnirizons didn’t derive into very much- the sporty Charger/Turismo (didn’t sell well and were discontinued) and the Ramcharger sporty pickup trucklet (really didn’t sell well), and the GLH (a really fun but obscure, low-volume version that did more for employee morale in the engineering department than it did for sales or company financial health). That was about it.

  • avatar

    Back in the mid ’80’s I worked with a guy who had an 80 or 81 Omni like the one in the pics. We car pooled with two other guys from our office; all of us at least 6 ft tall and at least 180 lbs. All these years later, the main thing I remember about the car is that it was comfortable and could accommodate four corn-fed midwesterners with no problem. It was a reliable car for him until I left the company; I don’t know whatever became of it, though.

    In the late 1980’s a buddy of mine wanted to get into parking lot autocross. We’d been successful with running a series of Chrysler products at the local dirt track and managed to talk a local dealer into sponsoring us there. When we made the switch to asphalt, they were able to hook us up with a new, strippo Omni with the 2.2 and five speed. We bought a bunch of “Carroll Shelby approved” parts from Mopar’s Direct Connection performance parts channel and bolted them on the car.

    Autocross was a bit different (to say the least), our first outings were awful but we improved steadily every event. Sadly, late in the season that year, his mother passed and his father was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer. My buddy was still single at the time, so he moved back home to be with his dad. I was about to be a father myself then and would not have been able to continue solo, so I sold my share of the team back to him and he liquidated. The car was sold to another racer a few counties over, so I never really got to see how well it could have done.

    It seems that every decade or so, Chrysler pulls a rabbit (no pun intended) out of their hat and develops a really tough, dependable car that gets no respect during it’s product run. It’s only years later that they get recognized for what they can do/did. This car is the heir to the Valiant/Dart of the decade before, plowing new ground technologically and upholding the mantel of a good, inexpensive Chrysler.

    • 0 avatar

      I wonder, what current FCA product in production will be looked back on with the same fondness for unexpected durability and overall competence? The LX cars maybe?

      • 0 avatar

        I’m MoPartial, and I love this game! I’m also a contrarian, so I’ll give you a couple decades-worth:

        Neon– Baruth was still racing one (may still be?) just a couple of years ago. Stout little things, and cute to boot. Any DOHC neon would wipe the street with the original Civic Si– while the R/T and ACR out-handle them.

        LH– Anyone that knows their history knows the LH was a brilliant exercise in engineering that still sits underneath the LX/Y– and even helped Mercedes-Benz integrate 4Matic into their portfolio.

        LX/Y– Engineering enhancements made by Chrysler to improve LH into LX/Y fed upward into E-Class and S-Class lines.

        Clouds– Cirrus/Stratus styling gave Chris Bangle the ability to bring back the boat-tail sedan.

        PT Cruiser– Tough as nails, stylish and special while being practical. The cars were so expensive to design and produce that they had to be cheapened to be competitive. The PT’s business-model was founded on a small (30k/yr IIRC) run of premium-finished economy cars. Something the market was not used to just yet, but that the buying public responded to in a big way.

        Any and all manner of Jeep. Jeeps are so special we don’t really need to elaborate. Even the Renegade is a standout– as much as any <$18k SUV can be. Jeep offers the most 4×4/manual vehicles of any manufacturer, and we need to recognize this.

        • 0 avatar

          “Any DOHC neon would wipe the street with the original Civic Si– while the R/T and ACR out-handle them.”

          Which “original” Si, the ’84-’87? ’88-’91?

          I daresay a B16 equipped ’99-’00 Si would keep up with a DOHC Neon (although it’d be closer than most Honda guys are willing to admit).

          • 0 avatar

            I left every Civic in my wake. No matter the model. 3.8 Mustangs were no problem for that car, either.

            1998 neon sport coupe 5-Speed DOHC w/ sunroof and all options. It was not the stripped/lightened ACR.

            The Si should have been more car for the reputation it’s held. Sport Compact Car ranked it the only compact in the 1997-1999 models that was a better drive than the original neon.

            The shoebox Si never counted. Different class of car. That was for the GLHS and Shelby Lancers to play with.

          • 0 avatar

            Published specs would disagree with you. By the numbers, a DOHC 5spd Neon is about even with a ’92-’95 Civic Si, and losing to a ’99-00. Maybe you were racing the Si-stickers-on a DX crowd

  • avatar

    I learn to drive stick in my mother’s Dodge Omni, this was back in ’82 or ’83. Since it was the first car I ever drove I am kind of fond of it. We had a 2 door VW Rabbit but once me and my brother became teenagers that car was too small so we “upgraded” to the Omnicron as we called it. Despite being boring and crappy it handled the abuse of two teenagers learning to drive stick. Everything about it was unremarkable, it was basic transportation but it that one job pretty well. It was roomy and functional with the rear hatch. The windows were big, flat and upright thus the car had excellent visibility. To me it represented your average car in just about every way, kind of like Dodge’s version of the Toyota Corolla.

  • avatar

    I liked the 024/Charger body styles over the Omnirizons. The 2.2l engine in mine ran well. The only issue I had was the occasional head gasket leak, but I did DD the car for around 20 years so that’s to be expected from my pov. By that time the clutch was needing some attention as it was slipping a bit under hard acceleration. Not bad for an 84 that got me to 406k before the rust made it quite unsafe to drive.

    • 0 avatar

      The steering wheel always seemed to be a bit high in these, and the mirrors always seemed a little low on the four-doors. Did these ever have tilt steering as options?

      Heck, the final couple years saw these get a driver airbag!

      I knew a couple folks in my college years that had these, and they shrugged off abuse and kept going (I think they had the 2.2).

      Successor to the Valiant/Dart (though without knowing it at the time)? Yes.

  • avatar

    Friend in h.s. had one. Faded orange paint, black interior, no A/C. Was an early model, this was mid-80’s. It was well-worn by then, but to it’s credit was subjected to unspeakable teenage abuse. Rode hard and put away wet everyday but it somehow lasted and was subsequently sold to another teen abuser. I kinda admired the basic-ness of these cars. No b.s.

    Funny think is right before it was cancelled it had some substantive upgrades: driver airbag, HVAC finally moved to the center,rear shoulder seatbelts, and the dipstick and other checkpoints were colored yellow to make them easy to find.

    • 0 avatar

      I forgot that the HVAC controls were on the driver’s side of the dash until the last years!

      Surprised Murilee didn’t get a snap of the odometer in this one.

      • 0 avatar

        I believe the Horizon and Omni had a five-digit odometer to the end; if this one did, Murilee has stated that he generally does not take a picture, since it’s impossible to know how many times it revolved.

  • avatar

    The Dodge Colt was offered starting in 1971, before OPEC shut off the pipeline.

  • avatar

    I had the GLH Turbo version of this, bought new. 2.2 Turbo (150 hp) no intercooler.

    The difference between this and the same drive train in the Laser/Daytona was that the Daytona was marginally more comfortable, but the Omni had a way stiffer chassis.

    The intercooler made all the difference for these engines, without it would sprint then get hot and pull the ignition advance….if it had the intercooler it would grow long legs and run.

    Mine died the death of all good muscle cars…..wrecked by a stupid kid. (me)

    I’m surprised the prior owner had so many parts…normally if you are going to the trouble, it’s built the GLH-S version…or why bother.

    Last bit, the GLH versions had two fuel pumps, one of which would crap out at any given time.

  • avatar

    These were the cars of my youth- they, along with the K cars were everywhere in rural PA, where there was still a strong reluctance among many rural people of the time to buy foreign cars, but they wanted good mpgs. My parents never owned one, can’t remember riding in one, but it seemed like every 3rd car in the area was an Omni or Horizon. Funny that they just aren’t on the roads at all anymore. Here in NC, I sometimes see random ‘time warp’ cars that are pristine and probably belonged to an old person for many years. Most notably, a mid 80s 4 door Escort that looked almost perfect, a Ford Futura from the early 80s, and someone on my street has an early 80s Sentra Wagon they use as a daily driver but it looks like it was garaged and only driven to church for the past few decades.

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