The K Car and all of its many permutations are a challenge to keep straight. Jason Shafer’s excellent Complete K-Car Chronology is as good as it gets, but it missed this European-market oddball posted at the Cohort by T-Minor: the Chrysler Saratoga.
It’s a bit of a challenge to fully grasp, but Chrysler was on quite a roll in Europe during the nineties and well into the aughts. It was mostly based on the huge success of the minvans and the Grand Cherokee, which were both assembled especially for Europe at Magna-Steyr’s plant near Graz, Austria. And since Dodge and Plymouth had little or no brand awareness, all the non-Jeep cars were branded as Chryslers. Which lead to some oddballs, like this Saratoga, which was of course a Dodge Spirit, in spirit and in the flesh, except for the Chrysler grille, which still had the Dodge cross-hairs.
Why didn’t Chrysler just sell the LeBaron? Well, it was probably too upscale for Chrysler’s marketing. There was no way they could sell these against Mercedes and BMWs and such, so they focused on the popular-priced segment (Opel, Ford, etc.), and the Dodge version made the most sense. There’s no doubt that Chrysler’s success in Europe in the 90s was one of the attractions for Daimler-Benz in “merging” with Chrysler, as a lower-priced brand that didn’t dilute their own Mercedes brand.
Not surprisingly, Chryslers sold particularly well in Austria. Well, they were locally-made; just about the only cars to be made in Austria, and by the famed Steyr works, no less, where the last home-made Steyr-brand Puch 500s had been assembled, using Fiat 500 bare bodies mated with Steyr-Puch’s running gear. The Chryslers were the closest thing Austria had to a home-market car, even if the Saratoga wasn’t built there. Maybe they should have named it the Chrysler Salzburg.