With The General offering a costlier-than- an-S-Class Cadillac built in Turin and Hamtramck (the two assembly lines connected via custom-built 747 freighters) as well as Italianate Buicks and Oldsmobiles in the late 1980s, Lee Iacocca decided to leverage Chrysler’s investment in Maserati to create a K-Car-based Italian sports car: the TC by Maserati. Like the Allanté, Troféo, and Reatta, the TC hasn’t held its value so well over the decades, and I find the occasional example during my junkyard travels. Here’s a crashed ’91 in a yard near Denver, Colorado.
Today’s Rare Ride is one of the rarest versions of Chrysler’s third-generation LeBaron, in its run up to the final days and the conclusion of the very long-lived K-car platform. Sporty, turbocharged, and done up in black, the LeBaron had a long and winding road to get to its terminus.
Let’s talk about that history a bit.
The demand for executive limousines in North America was once satisfied by OEM-lengthened versions of domestic sedans. The Detroit Three built them in-house, or sent regular cars to a domestic coach builder. The lengthened cars were then sold via the regular dealership network. The desired buyer was a wealthy customer who’d have a driver for their daily conveyance. By the Eighties, the limousine market shifted in favor of coming with length: Stretch limousines were in demand. Independent companies built super-extended wheelbase cars for livery-type needs. The factory limousine car market faded away as business magnates chose standard sedans, or long-wheelbase offerings that were not limousines.
But there were one or two holdouts in the factory limousine marketplace, and today’s Rare Ride is one such car. It’s the Chrysler Executive from 1983.
Lee Iacocca’s original Chrysler K Platform spawned an incomprehensible tangle of K-related offspring between the 1981 and 1995 model years, but only a few U.S.-market models were true K-Cars: the Chrysler LeBaron, Plymouth Reliant, Dodge Aries, Dodge 600, and Dodge 400.
An aluminum garage door rattles open on its track. As the goldenrod-colored panels lift up and away, a luxurious family wagon comes into view. Once the kids, parents, and Golden Retriever are lightly secured inside, the luxury wagon glides out of the lightly sloped driveway and away from the bi-level with the paneled den.
It’s 1978, and it’s Town & Country time.
TTAC commenter Bruce suggested today’s Question of the Day, and he wants to talk tech features. Specifically, the kind which are all the rage for a short period of time, then fizzled into nothingness.Today we ask you to tell us about automotive tech flops – past, present, and future.
While Chrysler made a bewildering array of vehicles based on the staving-off-bankruptcy K Platform, only four models could be called pure K-cars: the Dodge Aries, Plymouth Reliant, Dodge 400, and Chrysler LeBaron. All the rest, from the Town & Country minivan to the Imperial, were based on mutated K hardware.
Here’s an example of a fully luxed-up LeBaron convertible, featuring body trim made from the stately trees of the Magical Petrochemical Forest, spotted in a Phoenix self-service wrecking yard.
When I was a kid, I knew there to be two universal automotive truths. Number one was that the Lamborghini Countach was really cool. I, like all kids, had a Lamborghini Countach poster on my bedroom wall, which I’m convinced was part of a cunning decades-long Lamborghini marketing scheme: first, hook them when they’re seven. Then, thirty years later, come out with a model that’s actually drivable. And now that buyers are getting older, confuse them with special editions.
The other universal truth was that if you wanted a convertible, you were going to the Chrysler dealer to buy a LeBaron.
I saw it this morning. Slipping along the in the dim, pre-dawn light and shrouded in the thin early morning fog that wicked up in wispy tendrils from the damp pavement, it was an apparition, a beast from another age. Like poor Yorick, alas I knew it well and although, in time, it has become the subject of infinite jest, it was in its day the most excellent fancy of many young men and it bore my youthful dreams upon its back a thousand times. It had, I thought, no right to be among the living when so many other, better, vehicles of its era were consigned to their graves, rotting away in fields, pulled apart for their components or crushed, shredded and melted wholesale back into their base elements. Why then, knowing through the clarifying lens of history the terrible truth about the trouble that lurked beneath its slick sheet metal, did its unexpected appearance stir a long-forgotten longing in my heart?
One of the worst things about the Malaise Era (other than the ascendance of Captain and Tennile) was the lack of cars with convertible tops during the period. The last convertible Cadillac Eldorado rolled off the assembly line in 1976, but the decline of the convertible had started a few years earlier. The top-down drought held until the last of the Malaise years, when machines such as Rabbit Cabriolets and LeBaron convertibles became available. Chrysler kept making the K-based LeBaron convertible until 1995, but you don’t see many of them these days. Here’s a pair of early-90s examples I found side-by-side in a Denver wrecking yard.
By early 1979, Chrysler was really circling the drain. Lee Iacocca was in, the “too big to fail” government bailout loan wasn’t a sure thing, rebadged Simcas and Mitsubishis weren’t luring many subcompact shoppers into showrooms, and the front-wheel-drive K platform was still a couple of years from showrooms. Let’s follow up yesterday’s Chrysler Malaise Era Death Spiral Junkyard Find with the quasi-luxury car Chrysler hoped would help the company stagger, zombie-like, into the 1980s.
Way back in 2008, I created the Nice Price or Crack Pipe? series for Jalopnik, kicking things off with— of course— a $12,500 Chrysler TC By Maserati. NCOCP was a way for me to do something with car ads that didn’t quite work for my Project Car Hell series, and it has remained a Jalopnik readership favorite since I passed the NPOCP torch to the very capable hands of Graverobber aka Robert Emslie. These days, however, I sometimes see cars for sale that make me wonder… hubba rocks required or real-world price? While in Wisconsin last week, I saw this fairly solid ’91 Lebaron convertible in a laundromat parking lot with this very compelling self-service invitation. How much?
Chrysler has used the LeBaron name on and off since the 1930s, and the prestige level of the LeBaron badge has been on a gradual downward spiral all along. Some may disagree with that assessment, however, depending on whether they judge the transition from the M (Dodge Diplomat) platform to the K platform in 1982 to have been a step up or a step down. I think the presence of a Slant Six under the hood disqualifies any vehicle from claiming luxury status, and that’s what we’ve got here.