CC Outtake: 1988 Dodge Omni – Not Omnipresent But Still Accounted For

Chrysler’s L-Body Bobbsey twins, the Plymouth Horizon and Dodge Omni had a very long run (13 years) with very few obvious changes. Without doing some research, I’d have to say that they might be contenders for some kind of record that way. I certainly wouldn’t have known what year this one was except for Carfax, although there or of course subtle changes and some of you might well have been able to date this one.

The changes were a bit more extensive under the hood, as these cars had three completely different engine families that did their job propelling the L Cars over parts of three decades.

It was a somewhat curious decision for Chrysler to not use the Simca four that the European Horizon used. I’ve never heard a definitive explanation;  I suspect there were about three reasons. One, the 1.6L Simca four was at its capacity limit, and might have been deemed to small and weak-chested to be used with the Torqueflite automatic. That Simca engine also did not have a stellar rep for long-term durability. And perhaps most likely, there probably wasn’t enough capacity in France to produce them in the numbers Chrysler needed. So it went to VW, who was willing to sell them 300k long blocks per year of their SOHC four as used in millions of Golfs and Passats, but with a slightly longer stroke to give 1.7L.

Chrysler added all the rest: intake, carb, exhaust, ignition, and engine controls. It worked pretty well, but the L cars sold so well, Chrysler wanted more than 300k per year from VW, who said Nein!

By that time (late 1981), Chrysler’s new 2.2L SOHC four, as used in the K-car, was ready, and capacity was sufficient to make it available in the L-Cars as an option. And it made them quite peppy, even with the automatic. So after a couple more years, Chrysler ended the engine contract with VW, and replaced it as the base engine (manual shift only) with…the Simca 1.6 L pushrod four, as was used in the European Horizon and other Talbots and such. It was referred to as a “Peugeot” engine, which was technically correct after Peugeot bought Chrysler’s European ops, but it was not really a Peugeot engine in origin or design.

I suspect not very many Omnirizons were sold with the Simca 1.6 in the US, as it was mostly just installed in a stripper price-leaders. And by 1987, it was gone altogether, with the 2.2L now doing duty in all versions.

 

We can be assured that there’s a 2.2 in this one, both because it’s an ’88 and because it has the automatic. There’s probably no need to point out that this three-speed TF automatic transaxle acquitted itself much better than some other new FWD automatics, and was used for a long time, in Neons and through at least a few generations of base swb minivans.

Needless to say, these cars were bi-continental, as the primary development of the basic Golf-inspired body took place both in France and the US, but although the bodies are largely the same on the outside, their interiors were considerably different. And the suspension was quite different, as the European long-travel Simca 1100-based suspension was tossed for the US in favor of a pragmatic (read: cheap) Golf-like struts and twist-bar rear axle.

These cars were like a 110% sized Golf, and that showed up in small but meaningful improvements in interior space. These cars really were well suited as a way to introduce Americans to the modern FWD hatchback format, without the still common lingering worry about buying a foreign car, especially in places like the Midwest and South, that were slower to make that leap of faith. A safe small bet.

That’s my short Omni story, as this is an Outtake. My full CC is here.