By on May 5, 2021

Much like when Carroll Shelby applied sporty touches to the compact Dodge Shadow to make the Shelby CSX, Dodge added zest to the midsize Spirit in the early Nineties to create the Spirit R/T. Let’s go.

This won’t be our first rodeo with an R/T badged vehicle, as that honor goes to the Daytona IROC R/T featured early this year. Customers for the Spirit were a little more practical, and knew they needed all four doors present and accounted for in their sports car.

The Spirit was born in 1989, as a replacement for the aging 600 and Lancer midsize cars. It was smaller and less expensive than the Dodge Dynasty and shared one year in showrooms with a midsize dinosaur, the Diplomat. Among all the K-car platform variants, the Spirit was a new AA: a K stretched a medium amount. Spirit went head to head with cars like the Ford Tempo and Chevrolet Corsica.

A time when Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Eagle-Colt-DeSoto-Renault-Plymouth-Mitsubishi badged its cars with many different names, you might also know the Spirit as the Chrysler Saratoga, Chrysler Spirit, the Plymouth Acclaim, or the fancier Chrysler LeBaron, or indeed the Chrysler Acclaim. No matter the name, Spirit was built in Delaware, Mexico, or Venezuela.

Engines on offer varied as one might expect, and included displacements of 2.2, 2.5, and 3.0 liters. The 2.2 had a turbo, and on the 2.5 a turbo was optional. The only V6 was the 6G72 Mitsubishi unit which saw very wide usage. Transmissions had between three and five speeds. Automatics were three- and four-speeds depending on the year, and the manual transmission was a five-speed.

The Spirit ran through the 1995 model year, and the sedan was offered in four different trim levels throughout. There was always a base trim, and an LE was offered between ’89 and ’91. The ES also arrived in ’89 and was available until ’93, which meant the last two years of Spirit, only base models were available. In between was the sporty R/T, offered only in 1991 and 1992.

R/T was meant to have a noticeably more sporty character than the standard Spirit, and all examples used the 2.2-liter turbocharged engine with a DOHC head of 16 valves. Said head was designed by Lotus, who beat out two other firms in competition for the design. The Turbo III engine as it was named made 224 horses and 217 torques. R/T customers were required to drive with Manuel Transmisen on board. R/T also included four-wheel disc brakes, and ABS was optional.

On the visuals front, there were many sporting touches for the Spirit R/T, with lots of color-keyed trim, cladding, and special painted wheels of a snowflake design called Eurocast. Those wheels were joined by Turbo Blade wheels in 1992 (above). Inside were supportive bucket seats, with a color-matched stripe motif in the fabric.

Dodge was not joking about the R/T’s credentials and immediately advertised it as the fastest sedan made in America. 60 miles per hour arrived in 5.8 seconds, which meant the R/T was one of the fastest front-drive cars ever on sale domestically. Motor Trend preferred it to even the Taurus SHO and crowned it Domestic Sport Sedan of the Year in 1991 and 1992. For 1995 Spirit was sold alongside, and replaced by, the Cloud Car Stratus, which was not really sporty but was more purple and gold.

Today’s Rare Ride is a red example, one of 774 sold in the R/T’s first year. Located somewhere in Alberta, it is not near Downtown Canada. It needs a little work, but overall looks very solid. The asking price is $4,000.

[Images: Dodge]

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25 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1991 Dodge Spirit R/T, Big Performance...”

  • avatar

    “Manuel” transmissions? Those must have been the ones built in Mexico. :-)

  • avatar

    “Motor Trend preferred it to even the Taurus SHO and crowned it Domestic Sport Sedan of the Year in 1991 and 1992.” Has there ever been an era when Motor Trend wasn’t the laughing stock of buff mags? They’d name a grocery cart “Car of the Year” if it was new and the manufacturer bought ad space. The SHO was an order of magnitude better than the K-car update, it, the Grand Prix STE and in ’92 the V6 Ford Contour 5-speed we’re both better cars. The Dodge was fast, but looked like the box the others came in, had an interior chiefly designed by Lego and a cable operated shifter that felt connected to the gearbox by bungee cords. Admittedly, great choices were limited in ’91/’92 but calling the Spirit the best of anything outside of Avis is a far stretch.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Have to both laugh and agree with this post. Just check how ludicrous the historical Car of the Year listings are/were. I believe one reason why this website was originally launched?

      • 0 avatar

        Didn’t the car of the year have to be new for that year? That can significantly limit the options.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Past winners inlcude the Vega, Volare, Citation, Dodge Omni, Renault/AMC Alliance, Ford Probe, Chrysler Cirrus, Lincoln LS, PT Cruiser and the retro T-Bird.

          I believe that is sufficient evidence of the incompetency of their judges/system.

          • 0 avatar

            I owned a 1992 Ford Probe. Didn’t realize it was car of the year (maybe it was gen2 that got the award). It was a heck a good car. Very practical. Reliable motor, great mpg (with a stick), lots of storage, refused to rust, and safe. Best of all, it had a ball cooler. Blowing the AC right on your sack is a great way to cool off.

            Lincoln LS was underrated. Deserved car of the year.

    • 0 avatar

      I think it had more to do with the absolute excitement of driving a small American sedan with 224hp, which was astonishing back then.

      Its certainly not a well-rounded car, thats for sure.

  • avatar

    Quaint option selection here.

    1) Fancy stereo
    2) Power locks
    3) Cruise control
    4) crank windows

    Welcome back to 1991, when you could pick and choose options.

    • 0 avatar

      The A la Carte option building was wonderful. It was still possible when I ordered my 82 Chevrolet Citation.
      I went heavy on the function and light on the decorations. The custom interior, AC without adding tinted glass, the F41 sport suspension, and the gauge cluster with tachometer, and the V-6. All stand alone options! They even built it with an interior/exterior color combination that was not listed. The car had a lot of positive aspects but overall the ownership experience was quite subpar, as in lots of unscheduled maintenance, and an unfortunate tendency to swap ends on slick roads.

      • 0 avatar

        What was the idea of no tinted glass?

        I had a new X-11 at college. Fast. Roomy. Utter POS.
        Swap ends. TRUE
        Threw it s AC belt at 2000 Miles.
        Boiled over between London and Sarnia one Sunday evening on my way to FLint. BEFORE the 402 was built. (nice man saw my troubles and brought me water. (Canadians are GREAT people. One of few stories))

        Sold the POS and got a Monte Carlo SS. took a BATH. Big improvement tho.

        • 0 avatar

          Cheap! I did not want to pay for tinted windows.

        • 0 avatar

          I ordered my ‘85 Chrysler Laser XE Turbo with manual, base radio, and with everything else except tinted glass. I intentionally passed up a $300 option-package discount so I could get the clear glass. The only kind of tinted glass that I consider acceptable is light gray all around. The Laser’s tint was bluish, so I didn’t want it. Later on, that was a problem when the windshield got cracked, as clear replacement windshields became no longer available.

          Nowadays, if/when I need a minivan, I’ll be forced to take the awful “privacy glass”, since they don’t sell them any other way. Such dark glass makes the vehicle a lousy place to spend time in.

  • avatar

    I’d be intrigued if I hadn’t come across Car and Driver’s 1991 comparison of this, the Taurus SHO, and the Lumina Z34, which in turn stirred a childhood memory. C&D handed the Spirit an abrasive last place; it had superior acceleration and the highest objective handling capabilities, yet asserted that its chassis lacked the poise for real-world roads. I’m inclined to believe them, too. My father rented a Dodge Spirit ES V6 from Budget and drove it right back within hours. He liked the power, but couldn’t stand the ride quality, which he compared to that of a shopping cart.

    • 0 avatar

      At least you could shift it. The (donkey) SHO clutch wouldn’t let you shift at higher RPM. I don’t know if the magazines are allowed to tell you that, but it ended the test-drive early for me, with a stinky clutch.

      Ford went full cheap and parts-bin’d the Temp/Escort/Mazda gear box and clutch. I’m sure the clutch is no bigger than 6 inches and not meant for much over 3K RPM. Damn shame too.

      • 0 avatar


        I was aware of the MTX SHO’s recalcitrant transaxle. A past family friend demonstrated it to wincing effect the handful of times she took us out in her husband’s first-generation SHO. Her kids were about my age (13/14), and adored the car. As passengers.

  • avatar

    I didn’t care much for this boxy styling back in the day, but now that everything’s a C/SUV or blobby 5-door coupe, I find it appealing. Impressive power, but I suspect the commenters’ critiques of the tranny and suspension are all too accurate.

  • avatar

    Is it true Shelby had nothing to do with these except agreeing to them (for $$$$) putting his name on them?

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think they put the Shelby label on these—-I think the car you are referring to is the “Shelby” CSX which was a Sundance/Shadow.

  • avatar

    “Fastest” implies top speed. Correct 0-60 terminology is “Quickest.”

    [This post brought to you by my inner James May.]

    2nd picture here provides a useful graphic (from a largely-useless sport):

  • avatar

    You wanted that. I had the 2.2 turbo with no intercooler. It was fast till things got hot, then the spark advance went away….you wanted the intercooler.

  • avatar

    Got to drive a Spirit when my Shelby Charger was in the shop for repair after being hit by a vehicle that ran a stop sign on a highway speed road. I thought the Spirit was a fun ride. Decent acceleration where I didn’t expect it.

    As to the accident: Messed up the front end of the Charger a bit. I was watching the vehicle from a half mile away and had already let off the accelerator ‘just in case’. There were trees that blocked my view of the last 30-40 yds before the stop. When the vehicle emerged from behind the trees it had not slowed at all so I slammed on the brakes and tried to mitigate the impact by steering away from it. Interesting to watch the vehicle drive away to another road maybe a hundred yds north of that intersection, turn and stop, dome light goes on then off and then it returned to the scene of the accident. I and my passenger opined that the driver did that so he and his passenger could toss whatever open containers were present in the ditch. We both mentioned this possibility to the officers who arrived to write up the accident. They did not seem interested in checking it out unfortunately.

  • avatar

    LOL “purple and gold” certainly sums up the cloud cars. Purple / white for Breeze / Stratus (interchangeable) and gold for Cirrus.

  • avatar

    The Spirit R/T would run circles around today’s awkward handlings SUVs.

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