I’ve been having some fun finding multiples of the same car in one shot. But Teddy has outdone me with this three-fer; someone is fond of Dodge Lancers. Looks like at least two of them are turbos.
I’ve recounted on this site my experiences with a 1986 LeBaron GTS (the Chrysler counterpart of these Dodges) as my first car before, but the short version is that it was a terrible car from the day my parents purchased it with 42,000 miles in 1991. If the VHS tape hasn’t yet turned to dust or been lost, there’s footage of its odometer turning 100,000 miles at my parents’ house, as proof was required since no one believed it would ever make it. Mine was cursed with the automatic and the 2.5L, and it even had the rare column-shift/center “bench” combo instead of the standard console with shifter.
That said, I always thought these “H-body” cars were good looking, and I think the styling holds up very well even today. I’d love to get my hands on a turbo example with a 5-speed, the sort that Chrysler advertised as besting a contemporary BMW. I haven’t seen one on the roads in probably five years or more. Last time I saw one at all was in a junkyard in Detroit. Once in awhile I see one online for sale, but never the turbo-manual combination (probably just as well or I’d have to find a space for yet another car!).
I hope this owner keeps them all going for a long time!
I remember test driving the LeBaron GTS version (in turbo/stick trim) in 1985. It was a disappointment. I guess I am drawn to cars that do one thing really, really well. The VW GTI that I bought did just that, and so did the runner up Mustang GT. This lacked the roadholding and subjective fun of the GTI as well as the free-flowing torque and attitude of the Mustang. I wanted to like the car, but just couldn’t get there, which was tough on an old Mopar fanboi.
The long version:
I had a 1986 LeBaron GTS as my first car. It was the brighter red/burgundy color with an orange pinstripe (well, parts of an orange pinstripe anyway), and a matching burgundy interior. Mom and dad bought it with 42,000 miles in 1991 after mom totaled her 1985 Cavalier Type-10, and they gave it to me when mom bought a new Grand Am in 1996. Apparently the dealer offered them practically nothing on the trade, so dad told them to pound sand. They came home with mom’s new car and the LeBaron, threw a set of keys at my barely 15-year-old self, and told me I now had a car.
Mine had the odd bench-seat column-shift combo one could order as a delete-option (delete center console) in these cars. The “bench” wasn’t so much a bench as it was a seat-belted padded fabric-covered insert that went where the center console normally was. While three people *could* fit in the front of my car, it was not a great idea.
My car, besides having the odd column-shift option (which obviously means automatic), was cursed with the 2.5 base K-Car engine. This meant my LeBaron, while being deemed a sports car by the insurance company, was literally slower than a 1990 Tempo with an automatic. How do I know this? A buddy had a 1990 Tempo sedan with an automatic, and we raced them. He beat me quite handily.
Then there was the reliability When mom and dad gave me the Red Baron, it had 102,000 miles on it. It had eaten a head gasket at 48,000 miles. At 72,000 miles it needed a full rebuild because the head cracked. We literally shot video of the odometer turning 100,000 miles because we had never dreamt it would make it. The engine had a horrible tick by then, and given the past history we figured it wouldn’t be long before it went down again.
So, at 102,000, I had the engine rebuilt again (happily mom and dad knew a mechanic with a junkyard at the time) only to have the transmission fail at 110,000. Never before or since have I seen an automatic car peg the TACHometer before shifting from 1st to 2nd! Funny thing was both transmissions had the same exact clunk when going into Reverse or Drive, something I came to call the Chrysler Clunk of Quality. Not too long after the family friend’s junkyard transmission replacement, a CV joint let loose and managed to break part of the subframe when it did thanks to the rust.
The rust was fun. The body of the car looked fantastic! Not a spot of rust was visible, and the only flaw (when I got the car) was where I’d accidentally power-washed away part of the pinstripe. Underneath, though, the car was a mess. Mom had to wear white uniform pants at the time, and she could never figure out how her pants got muddy in a three mile drive to work on paved roads. Turns out there was a hole rusted through the footwell that allowed road spray through it.
After the CV point/subframe episode, the electronics started to go nuts. The car, even when mom still drove it, had an interesting quirk-the door chime would occasionally go off when we hit a bump. By the time I got it, it would also trigger the “Fasten Belts” light. At about 115,000, though, it started to trigger the “Check Gauges” light (Chrysler’s version of a Check Engine light in that car). Then at about 117,000, the electronics finally decided they were no longer tethered to reality. The tachometer would randomly peg itself, bounce up and down, or quit working. The lights would all come on, all go out, flicker, whatever. The door chime by this point just came on randomly and went out randomly, so I’d be driving 60 miles per hour with “Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding” going on for miles at a time.
And the build quality. Oh the build quality! The dash had a permanent squeak I could never solve, despite tightening the exposed fasteners again and again. The chairs used an almost-corduroy sort of fabric, oriented with the stripes from front to back. Needless to say, by the time I got the car, the chairs had long-since split open. Applying Armor-All to the dash buffed away the burgundy dye and revealed the yellow plastic underneath. The driver’s window crank (yes it had manual windows and manual locks) broke off in my hand. I fixed that by taking the passenger window crank for my side.
The cruise control was a joke. It would lose 7 miles per hour when I set it. Hitting Accelerate ran it up 7 miles per hour before it dropped back 4 (net gain of 3). Hitting Decelerate dropped 5 miles per hour. The air conditioning was a joke, as in it stopped working in 1993. The parking brake was a joke, as in the pedal was literally rusted in place. The gas gauge was a joke, as anything below 1/4 meant the car probably wouldn’t restart. Imagine the embarrassment my 17-year-old self felt having to ask my grandma for a ride to the gas station because the car ran fine pulling up to her house but wouldn’t start when I went to leave!
In my junior year of high school, I took the proceeds from my after-school job and bought a 1989 Bonneville for $1,800. The Red Baron was approaching 120,000, and it seemed like every day there was a new noise or a new flaw or something else had stopped working properly. I ended up selling it for $500.
In 2002, I was coming home from university for break, and as I passed the junkyard/last-chance car dealer near my parents’ house I saw a familiar car out front. Turns out that, yes, it was my Red Baron, and with only 4,000 more miles on it than when I had sold it three years before. The interior had been destroyed. The radio had been removed. The exterior had a couple more dents than when I had it. Turns out the people I sold it to ran it for a few months before it quit all together. They abandoned it in their yard for three years before they finally sold it for scrap. The junkyard people figured out that the ECM (or whatever Chrysler called it) had failed, so they put in a different one from one of the junkyard cars.
They were asking $375 cash for the car. That’s how far downhill it had gone, that in 2002 they were asking $375 for a running drivable car.
What’s extra funny is that in the same time frame mom and dad were running the Red Baron, my uncle had a 1986 LeBaron, same exterior color as ours, but the higher-spec version. His had leather, the digital dash, and the Turbo motor (with automatic, though). His liked to eat alternators and turbos. When he was faced with replacing the turbo a third time, he abandoned the car in his yard. It later became his dog kennel before he sold it for scrap.
You wanna know the sick part? Now as I’m in my 30s, there’s a part of me that, if I found a cherry example with a manual and the Turbo engine, I’d have a hard time walking away from another LeBaron GTS. I still think they’re sharp-looking cars, and it’s hard for me to deny how much fun I had in the POS example I had.
My mother’s new 1989 LeSabre had a similar issue to your door chime one- the interior lights would flash on and off, usually as the result of hitting a bump.
We took the car back to the dealer multiple times over the first few weeks, but they couldn’t figure it out. Fortunately, maybe because a family member worked there, they were determined to fix it. Finally the dealer kicked the problem up to the Buick zone office and they sent an engineer who finally figured it out.
One of GM’s infamous 80s assembly robots had dripped some sort of glue or other substance into one of the LeSabre’s back door, which at times would rattle around and disrupt the door-switch circuit. Or at least that’s what they told us. In any case, it never happened after that.
(That LeSabre was a really well-made car other than that problem. It finally bit it around 15 years and 200,000 miles IIRC.)
The good ole’ “Mopar Lottery”, gotta love it! Seems like there have been times where you either got one that was an awesome world beater, or a pile of poop. When I was in HS, we had neighbors who owned a string of Iacocca-era Chryslers and had great luck with them despite these people being the anti-maintenance oriented types. They had a turbocharged T&C minivan that saw mostly day to day shuffling but the one that REALLY got beaten like it owed them money was the Lancer. It was a turbo/5spd that he did pretty much nothing but around town driving with it. He was in and out of that driveway something like 75 times a day and theres not even a LITTLE b.s. smeared on that. Every 15 minutes you’d hear that raspy exhaust note and the turbo spooling as Pat took off somewhere else for a 20 minute jaunt, caning the living hell outta that Lancer. He finally sold it with something like 275K rode hard put away wet miles on it, and when I briefly moved back to TN in ’01 I finally saw that car at a shop with the engine pulled out. Knowing what I know about turbos and how synthetic oils were a novelty then, I don’t know how he wasn’t cooking them ever few months.
This owner must particularly like this model. Earlier this year, I saw four early Saturns on the driveway, four LeSabres on the other. Must like them a lot.
For a second, I thought I’d come in contact with that white one. But it doesn’t look like its a Shelby, much less even a turbo…but there isn’t enough of the car visible. A guy in my Mopar group has an all original–if a bit crusty–’89 Shelby Lancer manual trans. That car is a paint and interior restoration away from being a prime specimen much as these 3 appear to be.
Count me as a fan of these and their LeBaron GTS siblings. The 5 door hatch body style is brilliant, much like contemporary Saabs. The best thing about 5-doors is that the usefulness is far superior to a comparable sedan and this still looks sporty and sharp, as opposed to frumpy, stuffy or cheap. Any variant with a turbo and manual would make a great car whether as a daily beater or as a project to build up.
It’s hard to keep from wondering if these three are about 20% of the remaining Lancer’s still in existence.
Earlier this year I photographed an immaculate ’87 LeBaron GTS base model (below). I’m still planning to write up a CC on it eventually — it’s too good of a find not to devote some attention to it.
The Lancer is rarer overall than the GTS, though I think in the later years of its model run, the Lancer caught up to the GTS, probably since the sport models retained their appeal for longer.
I really like the design of these cars — very clean, efficient and attractive design. The powertrain didn’t quite live up to the sports sedan billing, though, but overall these were great mid-80s mid-sizes.
“. The powertrain didn’t quite live up to the sports sedan billing, though, but overall these were great mid-80s mid-sizes.”
If you maxed out your options with the turbo/manual then Id say it was a credible sport sedan in its day. The problem was that these could also be spec’d out to be no different than a regular K car with a base engine, bench seat and column shifter. That layout is perfectly fine for a Reliant/Aries sold to some Elmer from Pig’s Knuckle, AR. But in a car like this which is supposed to have some sporty Euro leanings, that’s just a dumb way to equip it. These should have been pushed upscale a bit with the turbo standard. Could well have been the most expensive flagship of Chryslers in these days much the way the Seville was to Cadillac.
I agree with your sentiments here regarding the ways you could equip the H-bodys. If Chrysler really was wanting these to be sport sedans to put up against the Euros, they should have equipped them that way.
Turbo engine should have been mandatory. Turbo I could have been the base engine, with the Turbo II being optional. Auto or manual, fine. No bench seat available, standard buckets and console. No base suspension either, full sports suspension all the way.
This should have been the 4-door version of the Daytona Shelby Z, or the Laser & Lebaron J-car. I know that the Daytona and Laser/Lebaron could also be had with a non-turbo 4, but you didn’t have a sporty looking coupe available elsewhere. Anything and everything that was available on the Shelby Z should have been on the Lancer.
If someone wanted a bench seat, automatic column shift… Dodge and Chrysler had several other sedans to look to in order to fill that role. Dodge Aries/600 and the Chrysler Lebaron (K)/New Yorker. Chrylser may have not sold as many Lancer/Lebaron GTS, but I think that those lower spec models only canaballized sales of other K-derivatives. Push that car to the sportier end, with higher transaction prices… show that it was a little bit different.
Damn, now I’m wanting to go out and find a Lancer and build a Shelby Z Lancer. 🙂
We had a LeBaron that went through our family. Dad pre-ordered a silver one before they were in the dealers. It was quite a change from his previous car by the same name, which was a brown phone booth. The turbo was a hoot. Like many early boosted American production cars, it started flatly, then jumped sideways when the boost came on. Mom named it “George” because of the deep baritone voice emanating from under the dash. Those early GTSs would not allow the voice to be silenced. The car did appear to be engineered to a price if you looked at the pillar arrangement. Chrycos of that era had lots of seemingly extra window joints in the back half of the greenhouse (The TC3s were notorious for that), at a time when Audis and Tauruses had flush glass. The seats were nice and grabby, but very narrow, and we broke two sets of driver’s side seat brackets. George went all nutty when it got cold out. I worried that the turbo would give problems but it was still working as designed when the car was finally given away at about 115,000 miles, not long after I had a head gasket replaced. The guy I gave it to passed it on, and got a call about 6 months later that it had been left derelict by the next owners and was towed to the police compound. A very slow death.
I think the white one is a Dodge Lancer Pacifica which I thought was quite sharp back in the day.
I recall driving one of these (with the turbo) that belonged to my friend’s mother when it was new (replacing her tan Toyota Corona) and being impressed with the amount of “go” on tap. Smoother, quiet, fast, and cushy with those leather seats. It stuck with me, besides maybe (maybe!) a John Voight special LeBaron Cabrio with wood trim, these are probably my favorite K-cars.
The White one could be a Shelby Lancer. It has the Shelby rear window spoiler at least. I’ve seen pics of them with and without the hood vent so it’s really up for grabs.
These are kinda rare but I have two one to drive and one I’m stripping for parts built within a couple of weeks of each other and sold new from the same dealership the green one is diesel manual the parts car 1.8 petrol auto it ate a headgasket at 104,000 kms the interior is like new as is the suspension CVs etc all harvested ready for transplant when needed.
I think it has been well over ten years since I’ve seen one of these in the great state of Maine. I wonder what it would have looked like with flush headlights.
But re: the Mopar lottery, I won it in 1999 when I purchased a 1994 Dakota 4×4, which I kept until 2004 – the only thing that I had to replace besides consumables was a water pump. Was a really good truck, I only wished it had the 5.2 instead of the 3.9 V6.
I’ve always liked the style and apparent practicality of these H cars. Perhaps if one was so inclined, they could retrofit a new powerplant with modern transmission and have a car that could have relevance in today’s driving scene. Even still, with the reliable 2.2 and torqueflite at urban speeds, it would likely be okay today as a runabout.
I’m actually inspired to check out eBay or carsforsale.com, just for fun, to see if an opportunity to own a near new vehicle like yesterday’s 7k mile Chevette even exists. Probably does.
Dynamic update: Nope. Oh well….
The 2.4 engine has some lineage with the common block 2.2 and 2.5. Its a common upgrade to use the DOHC 16V crossflow head on those older blocks, especially in conjunction with a turbo. The Daytona IROC R/T and Spirit R/T used a Lotus head that does the same thing, but the 2.4 parts are common as dirt. OR, you could just go whole hog and swap in the whole power unit from a PT Cruiser GT or Neon SRT-4 which has also been shown to be compatible with the K platform. Personally, Id make sure to get the SRT-4 transaxle since that comes with a LSD.
+1. That would make for a fun little project car…. Lancer with the SRT-4 drivetrain.
My grandfather bought a LeBaron GTS Turbo in ’87 to replace a K-based ’83 New Yorker. It was loaded, in gunmetal bluish grey, with light gray leather interior. He only held onto it for 2 years, as my grandmother didn’t appreciate its firm suspension, euro-inspired seating or turbo whine. Its replacement was an ’89 New Yorker Fifth Avenue, a much more granny-friendly car. I remember being annoyed that I hadn’t been asked to buy the car for trade-in value, as I probably would have tried to finance the purchase. I really liked that car, but admittedly it never seemed an appropriate fit for my grandparents.
I don’t know about the silver one on the far left. I can’t see a hood vent and it’s wearing crab-style wheels more popularly fitted to Daytonas and Shadows. With the amount of snow on the hood of the white one, I can’t tell if it has a hood vent or not. Could be a Shelby, could be a Pacifica. I’d need to see more of the car to know. The black one looks a lot like the one I owned. If those are the sawtooth wheels, then it would be a twin! With the exception of the rear wiper. I didn’t have that on mine.
I bought a leftover model 1987 Lancer ES Turbo with the Level II suspension. It wasn’t terribly loaded, no power windows or locks, but it did have the best Recaro knock-off seats I ever spent time in. It was my first front wheel drive car, my first four door car, the first car I had a five year loan on and the first car I brought home my babies in.
I found my car by accident, I was skulking around the local Dodge dealer looking for a replacement for my POS 1985 Mercury Capri. The Lancer had been brought back after the original purchaser’s line of credit fell through. The 1988 models were out and this car was costing them money. I got a heck of a deal on it.
It was not trouble free, but it was reliable. I had an issue with the ignition module on this car when it was still in factory warranty. The way the selling dealer treated me was awful (but normal for the times), so I eventually switched to the dealer closest to my office. They understood customer service; after that point the selling dealer never saw my car again. Until I moved down South, then I had to look for a dealer to trust all over again. It took a while, but I did eventually find one I liked.
I used to get a kick out of the service departments at the Dodge dealers in the Atlanta area that I would go to; after the car was couple of years old they were certain I’d purchased the car used. Much to their chagrin, I was the original owner. The 7/70 warranty was not transferable.
The major defects were: Ignition module, paint on lower doors chipped prematurely, head gasket (due to faulty turbo cooling line), transmission failure, a/c compressor failure, idle air control valve failure (multiple times, due to design problem with emissions control system) and an outer CV joint (from clipping a curb). All issues with the car with the exception of the outer CV joint were covered by the 7/70 warranty. Not great by today’s standards, but not bad at the time, especially when I got 160,000+ miles out of the car.
I was told some bullshit story about the idle air control valve on the turbo motor would go bad from gasoline vapors bypassing the carbon canister and somehow tarnishing the electronics that ran the valve. They would last about two years between needing new ones and were pretty easy to replace. I really think what happened was that the pintle would get full of carbon and not retract or extend (I forget which it was supposed to do) and the idle would go bonkers. $50 every two years for a new one wasn’t a bad deal, IMO.
I’ve heard plenty about the Mopar lottery and I think mine was in the dead middle of the spectrum. It did have some issues, yes. But then, I never replaced the exhaust system, had the car realigned, or several other things my FIL’s “golden” Camry did replace. Heh, in semi-arid Georgia, he replaced the exhaust system twice!
Like I said, I did a lot of growing and growing up in that car; I liked the size, the space, the handling and the power the car made. It’s one of the few I would want back.
Awful cars…everything derived from the K-car was. Good riddance. Anything after 1971 from Mopar.
I rented one of these with a turbo in 1985 in Colorado Springs. Wanted to go up Pikes Peak so I asked at the rental counter if they had anything turbocharged.
I liked the looks and it was an ok car for the times.
The design is still great.
Wish there was a “console delete” option [ mentioned by xequar above ] available in modern cars. The bloody things have taken over and could be a 2nd or third passenger in themselves.
There wouldn’t have to be a bench seat, just space. I’ve grown to despise consoles over the years.
Always thought these were the best looking home grown Mopars from that time period. Based on my recent experience with a Plymouth Acclaim 2.5 turbo, the manual trans would have been the way to go, primarily because of highway gearing/noise.
Blargh. To paraphrase Crocodile Dundee, that’s not a Lancer…that’s a Lancer!
Back in the day, I really wanted one of those cars. Or, the very similar Chrysler LeBaron GTS. Back about 6 months ago, somebody in the area had one on Craigslist. Guy had purchased it from the elderly original owner and fixed about 10 or 12 things on the car. Body was still in very good shape. Mileage wasn’t too much over 100K, and he was only asking like $1200. I texted and let him know I’d be there the following day. Less than an hour later I got a text that it had sold.
Im wondering if that white one is the 86 Lancer Pacifica. Pretty rare from what I remember reading about years ago. I can’t remember if the Pacifica came standard with a turbo motor or not, all the photos I could find in a quick search all show the vented turbo hood.
Still a fantastic-looking car. Yeah, it’s K-based underneath, but it’s one of the best variants of that humble platform.
Also, I will always remember the LeBaron GTS twin of this car as being prominently featured in the movie “Short Circuit 2”. Anyone remember that one? I think it was the villains’ ride.
I agree, it is one of the best looking K derivative, especially for a sedan. For a while I was on the lookout for a Shelby Lancer as a project car. I was unable to locate one though. 🙁
I never did get a good full shot of both cars, but here are my 1985 Chrysler Lebaron GTS and if you look in the lower right corner, you’ll see my 1987 Dodge Lancer ES-both turbocharged.
Probably a dumb question, but what’s the car at upper left? I can’t quite make out the details due to the somewhat grainy picture, and it’s bugging me.
There is so much jpg artifacts from multiple savings of that image that it is really hard to tell when you zoom in to full size. But from the thumbnail image shown, I’m going to guess that it is a 1986-1987 Ford Tempo GL sedan.
Could be–what made it interesting was that my brain’s first reaction was to call it a Ford Sierra, but that’s highly unlikely over here. The six-window roofline of the early Tempo owes a lot to the Sierra. Grille still doesn’t look quite right but if the divider bar is missing or blacked out, then we have a match.
I originally thought Sierra as well because it looks like it could be a touch larger than the Tempo. But the headlights are smaller than what you would find on a Sierra. The bar in the grille is missing when you zoom in, but you can almost make it out in the thumbnail. I think because it would have been so small, that’s been lost to the JPG oversaving and has disappeared.
I came back to check out what people had determined the mystery car to be.
I, too, thought it was a Tempo but the rear roofline looks suggestive of a hatchback, almost like a Ford/Merkur Scorpio. But perhaps that is attributable to the shocking quality of the image. I guess it really is a Tempo.
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