By on June 14, 2021

1981 Plymouth Horizon Miser in Colorado junkyard, RH rear view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsEven while importing Mitsubishi Colt Galants and badging them as Dodge Colts, Chrysler looked to its European outposts to find an additional suitable econo-commuter to sell in North America. The Hillman Avenger aka Plymouth Cricket hadn’t worked out so well, and nor had the Simca 1204, but the Simca/Talbot Horizon under development in the middle 1970s looked very promising. Soon enough, an Americanized version made it into production, making its debut here in the 1978 model year and staying in production all the way through 1990. I’ve documented quite a few of these cars in junkyards, but the super-economical Horizon Miser had eluded me… until now.

1981 Plymouth Horizon Miser in Colorado junkyard, emblem - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIn the dark years right after the 1979 Energy Crisis, many car buyers felt that avoiding gas lines via extreme fuel economy was a worthwhile goal, and so Chrysler made an extra-stingy version of the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon known as the Miser. Today’s Junkyard Find is one of those rare cars.

1981 Plymouth Horizon Miser in Colorado junkyard, engine - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsSeveral engine types went into the Omnirizon during its long production run, with the Chrysler 2.2 taking over completely starting in the middle 1980s. At first, the 1.7-liter Volkswagen EA827 went into all these cars, giving it the same heart as many Rabbits sold here.

1981 Plymouth Horizon Miser in Colorado junkyard, gearshift lever - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsBy 1981, Horizon buyers could opt for the Chrysler 2.2 and its mighty 84 horses; if you wanted the super-gas-sipping Miser, however, you had to get the 68-horsepower VW 1.7 and the four-on-the-floor manual transmission.

1981 Plymouth Horizon Miser in Colorado junkyard, patina - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsEven though this is the miserly Miser, it still has these disco-style tape stripes (much-faded by the bright High Plains sun).

1981 Plymouth Horizon Miser in Colorado junkyard, steering wheel - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWas it better than the 1981 Dodge Colt/Plymouth Champ? All we can say is that it got the job done with a certain European flair lacking in the rebadged Mitsubishis.

George Kennedy wasn’t going to allow America to be pushed around any longer.

Why buy Ford’s World Car when you could have a genuine French American econobox?

For links to more than 2,100 additional Junkyard Finds, visit The Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

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35 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1981 Plymouth Horizon Miser...”


  • avatar
    JMII

    I learned to drive on my mother’s Omni and can’t imagine a slower, weaker version. In contrast my Civic S 1500 was a rocket ship with nearly 95 HP.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      JMII

      Civic s 1500 was a Civic Si before there were civic si. Great car. Lusted after one. Push tab on the clock would display time even if the car was off.
      GM never thought of this, nor as AC compressor ‘on’ button to run ac in any mode, nor 1 key for the door AND ignition and on and on.

    • 0 avatar
      IanGTCS

      My mom had an 85 civic with the 1.3 and a semi automatic. I remember it being really slow but it sipped fuel and was very reliable over the almost decade she owned it.

      For whatever reason these didn’t seem to sell well in my area. There was no shortage of Chrysler products in my area, nor was there a shortage of this cars competition. My highschool parking lot was populated with 80s economy cars but none of these.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Driven carefully, these early economy cars really could hit their EPA numbers. But you might not enjoy doing so.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Chrysler started offering mileage maker aka Mizer versions of their compacts just after the first OPEC oil shock in 73-74.

    From Wikipedia:

    “The Feather Duster featured lightweight aluminum parts including the intake manifold, bumper brackets, hood and trunk bracing, and manual transmission housing, for a weight savings of about 187 lb (84.8 kg)—5% lighter than a standard Duster similarly equipped. It came with a 225 Slant Six with its distributor and single-barrel carburetor calibrated for economy, a low-restriction exhaust system, an extra-high rear axle ratio, and was offered with either the Torqueflite 3-speed automatic or A833 overdrive 4-speed manual transmission. It was the most fuel-efficient car in its size class, achieving up to 36 mpg highway and 24 in the city with the manual transmission option (along with Dodge’s version, the Dart Lite)”

    Many auto racers like to search for the aluminum parts from these “lite” versions to modify their vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      celica0774

      How slow was that Duster?
      “…a 225 Slant Six with its distributor and single-barrel carburetor calibrated for economy…an extra-high rear axle ratio…”
      My wife’s 78 Camaro with a 305 and 2.00 rear gears was, well, leisurely from a stop. Smooth at highway speeds.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    So much cheap Mopar in one package

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    George, don’t you have an airplane to troubleshoot somewhere?

    FUN FACT: Kennedy married, divorced, remarried, and divorced again the same woman (Norma Wurman) making her his second and third wives respectively.

    He also fought in the Battle of the Bulge under General Patton’s Third Army.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Kennedy

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Ironic the Omni Miser squeezes out more mileage than VW Rabbit given the fact it uses a VW drivetrain.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Note the mileage as stated in the ads…regulations at the time required the highlighting of the City mileage…that was rolled back around the same time the 85 MPH speedo reg was ended…

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    This was the reason why vehicles of this period were called from the “malaise era”.

    • 0 avatar
      Ah_non_e_mouse

      Jimmy Carter’s “malaise speech” to the nation on July 15, 1979. Carter never actually uttered the word in the speech, rather he talked about a “crisis of confidence”, but the speech became known as the “malaise speech”.

      https://theconversation.com/revisiting-jimmy-carters-truth-telling-sermon-to-americans-97241

  • avatar
    midnite_clyde

    The 2.2 was a really good engine. I had the Rampage version of these cars. They were death traps though regarding crash worthiness.

    • 0 avatar

      @ Clyde: I would agree on the 2.2. I had an 84 Shelby Charger (non-turbo) with the slightly higher compression 2.2 and it was quite reliable in my experience. The only caveat would be the head gasket situation. In the 400k+ miles I owned it I replaced the head gasket around 5 times. I was always told it was the ‘fault’ of the aluminum head vs cast iron block and the different expansion/contraction at temp.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    First picture: With a few modifications you could produce those body panels using just a press brake.

    I object to this vehicle: The spark plugs are *way* too easy to reach.

  • avatar
    Kruser

    Strangely enough, my family owned both the Mitsubishi Colt and a Plymouth Horizon. The Horizon was a better car pretty much across the board. Actually, the Horizon was a surprisingly roomy and the 2.2L engine was pretty reliable. I had the 2.2 in turbo form in a Dodge Lancer and it had some reliability problems. In any event, it was good basic transportation… not as good as our ’78 Honda Civic CVCC though. That was a really great city car.

  • avatar
    JMII

    If I won the lottery I’d buy cars like this and engine swap them with a modern power plant. Can you imagine something like a VW turbo making 240HP put in there? It would be the ultimate sleeper especially if you kept the paint as is.

  • avatar
    la834

    Why is the Omni Miser advertised as being at your Dodge Ram dealer? Ram was years away from being a separate brand from Dodge, and this isn’t a truck or van commercial.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Ram became a separate brand by separating it from
      Dodge. The ad refers to Dodge Ram dealerships because Dodge cars and trucks were separate from Chrysler Plymouth dealerships.

      BTW, the first Chrysler branded vehicle had as its hood ornament a leaping ram. That was a Chrysler symbol since 1924. When Stellantis kills off the Chrysler and Dodge brands, the ram will be all that’s left.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Who’s gonna save it?

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    The ‘78 Rabbit got 78HP out of the 1.7 motor still running on regular gas without a catalytic converter. I had a friend with a diesel version from about the same time. 48HP, without a turbo. 0-60 was about 20 seconds, made you want to get out and push.

  • avatar
    wjcraig78

    Had the Duster/Turismo as my first car. Same inside as a Omni. Rode in a Omni many times. Sadly all my Chrysler vehicles died young and I don’t abuse my cars. My later Chevy Astro and Taurus Wagon were far better and never left me on side of road and now a Honda have been superior. Never will by Chrysler again

  • avatar

    The Omni body was significantly tighter than the K cars….My GLH Turbo was a lot more solid than my buddy’s Plymouth Laser…the Laser was bigger, but the cars had the same transaxles, the Turbo with a 5 speed….the Omni had that German bank vault feel compared to the flexy flyer Laser…..

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    Wow, not just stylish but “intensely stylish”. That’s pretty stylish.

  • avatar
    Ah_non_e_mouse

    The student minister at our church had one of these in 1981 (think it was a Dodge Omni). She went to get in the driver’s door and the door handle fell off in her hand ! Think it was about 1 month old.

  • avatar
    tane94

    Chrysler was a 2 engine company in the early 1980s, the 2.2 and the venerable 318 v8. Later, Chrysler offered upsized Mitsubishi 4 cylinder engines and the 3.0 v6 as options. But that 2.2 was durable and super easy to work on.

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