Many of my contributions to this website are homages to my parents to some extent; after all, they have always encouraged my love of four-wheeled friends. In fact, many of my earliest memories involve local car dealerships, where I would load up on brochures and sit behind the wheels of everything on the showroom floor, leaving my poor father to play the role of blocker against any number of eager salespeople. He was my earliest wingman, ready to jump on the grenade so his little man could get his latest fix.
Dad is, has been, and always will be, a Ford man. My dalliances into GM cars and Mopars puzzles him, but he’s always been a good sport, even if I am somewhat of a heathen in his eyes. His absolute least favorite place to visit was the local Chrysler dealership, where we invariably fell into the clutches of local salesman Pat (last name withheld). Pat came from the school of the hard sell, and there was no such thing as browsing the inventory on his watch. Browbeating was more like it.
One unfortunate evening in roughly 1985, Dad rewarded me for whatever I had done well by taking me to look at Chryslers. I should have misbehaved. Pat waited, crouching in the wings for his poor, unsuspecting potential customers. We didn’t even make it through the front door before being accosted by Pat and shoved into a waiting LeBaron GTS Turbo.
I really had no interest in taking test drives with salesmen at that age. I was eight at the most, and being a bit of a shy little guy, showroom wanderings were more my speed. Old Pat, however, turned onto the main drag and poured on the coals. For the mid-80s, the 146-horsepower “Turbo I” engine had superior acceleration, but was really, really rough. Our family cars back then were always V8s, and their smoothness just accentuated the coarseness of the Chrysler turbo four.
The GTS was, however, optioned with the cool digital dashboard, and I remember liking that feature while watching it climb incrementally toward the red “dash” when Pat got on the gas. Digital instrumentation is hopelessly 80s in retrospect, but at the time, it didn’t seem cheesy at all: it was the future! After all, Corvettes had digital dashes. One of the coolest features on Dad’s ’87 T-Bird was a digital speedometer, which was oddly mixed with analog temperature and gas gauges, but it was better than nothing. Oh yeah, a dashboard like a Casio was high style.
From what I remember, the GTS was also one of the Chryslers that talked to the driver in a synthesized female voice, which was too robotic to be attractive. Modern British GPS voices were still a couple of decades away, and Robocar must have been unimaginably annoying after a few months of ownership. My memory fails me, but I want to say that the LeBaron of our test drive was a manual, which must have been fairly uncommon even in 1985, but was a listed option in the brochure.
Upon our return to the dealership, Pat made it clear that he wasn’t quite through with us yet. Possibly noticing that my dad wasn’t all that thrilled with the LeBaron, he tried to peg him as a sporty car kind of guy, so off we went in a new Chrysler Laser! From what I remember, this one wasn’t a turbo model, and I believe it had an automatic. It must have been forgettable, because all I can remember is looking at it in the parking lot.
When we finally got back to the dealership, I looked forward to collecting my brochures and wandering the showroom, as was my normal policy. My normally preternaturally patient father wrangled me into the car at once, leaving me confused and a bit annoyed. Subtlety and the reading of human emotions weren’t yet a part of my social palette; and although I found Pat more than usually annoying, I couldn’t understand why Dad wouldn’t let me do my thing that day. Today, however, I can look back on that trip to the dealership and realize with certainty that my dad was, like the LeBaron pictured above, an American hero for putting up with the world’s most high pressure salesman on that day, and many others in the future.