In part one I introduced you to the Great Beater Challenge. This time around I reveal the vehicle that will (hopefully) carry me the 1200+ kms of the trip. It is a 1983 Dodge Aries SE four door sedan. Perhaps not the most inspired choice but it is an interesting survivor.
As mentioned in part one a forum member offered to sell me a car that he had bought but did not really know what to do with once he had it. It was located about 180kms away which meant a road trip and a second driver. My friend Rod, who is also participating in the challenge, is always up for a car buying trip was good enough to accompany me. I packed a few hand tools and we headed north after work. The photos below are a combination of his and mine.
The story I have on this particular car is that it was a one owner vehicle until a young person inherited. They took it to a local mechanic in order to pass the safety inspection but were not interested in paying the bill. It sat outside the mechanic’s shop until the guy I bought it from had purchased it. He has a mechanic’s plate which meant he could drive it around a bit without having to register it in his own name. He also happens to be the owner or previous owner of many interesting a low mileage Eighties and Nineties cars in pristine condition. He had a very original 1989 SHO among others which we sadly did not have a chance to see due to time constraints.
I had a cursory look over the car and pronounced it good enough for my purposes. It was clean, had good tread on the tires and, most importantly, was cheap. These vintage travel stickers gave credence to the elderly, one owner story and I think give the car some extra character. Rod and I had a great chat with the seller who has similar vehicle interests to ours. Perhaps too good of a chat as it was dusk and rapidly getting darker as we set off.
As you can see it is a Special Edition which is the top trim level but more importantly worth a mighty fifty points in the vehicle judging section of the challenge.
The interior is refreshingly clean for such an inexpensive vehicle. Usually when I buy at the very shallow end of the budget market the car needs several hours of cleaning to be inhabitable. You can see the cloth seats, padded dash, simulated wood grain trim of the SE trim line. It is not a loaded car however with manual crank windows. The seats themselves seem to straddle the line between a traditional bench and buckets by deftly combining the negatives of both designs without the positives that either would have afforded.
The Dodge Aries for 1983 was powered by either a Chrysler 2.2L or Mitsubishi 2.6L four cylinder engine. Thankfully mine has the (relatively) more reliable 2.2L making 82-84hp and 111lb-ft of torque when new. The engine could be hooked to a either manual or automatic transmission. Most were equipped like mine with the automatic which is a TorqueFlite A413 three speed unit with either a column or floor shift. Like several other American manufacturers at the time fuel injection was not yet on the menu especially at the lower end of the market. The Aries is saddled with an electronically controlled feedback two barrel carburetor that is often afflicted with driveability issues especially when the engine is cold. Suspension wise the front uses struts, the rear has coil springs and a flex beam. Steering is a rack and pinion system that could be optionally powered. Braking is the usual for the era front discs and rear drums. My Aries has 13″ rims with an impressive amount of sidewall on the tires.
For the journey back the Dodge would be in the lead with my trusty Mazda 2 following behind.
I was a little surprised that no one mentioned K-cars in comment section of part one (my apologies if you did and I managed to over look it). Perhaps that is because the K-car’s time in the sun as a beater of choice was a decade or two ago. The early cars in particular are getting very thin on the ground. I had previously owned a 1986 Chrysler LeBaron that was a fantastic inner city clunker but it could not hold it’s oil while on the highway so I was a little apprehensive for the drive home.
Only half an hour into the drive the battery light started flickering signaling an issue with the alternator. We had to turn off all the accessories off in a bid to save every precious electron. The plan had been to trade drivers at the half way point but by then it was clear we would be limping it back home in the best possible scenario so Rod got stuck with the driving duties for almost the whole way. Soon after the flicking battery warning light became more rapid then solidly lit. The alternator had given up the ghost.
As if to foreshadow a greater issue the seat-belt warning light came on despite the fact he was already belted in. It cannot be a good sign when the car tells you to buckle up! We resorted to even more drastic battery management solutions for the last leg of the journey. I suspect the added load of having the headlights on is what did the alternator in. If we had done the drive in the daylight we might have had no problems at all but I would certainly prefer to flush out any issue like this before the challenge.
Despite the mechanical setback the Aries managed to complete the drive under its own power. Although the photo does not show it the headlights were incredibly dim at this point. I believe we had only mere moments before the battery would have been unable to keep the car running. I suspect if the car had been fuel injected there would have been no hope with the extra electrical burden it would have saddled the battery with.
Please excuse the messy garage but the Aries is now safety home awaiting a new alternator as well as any preparation work I can fit in. I have an idea for a team name and theme/costume at this point but I would definitely be open to suggestions as well.
The humble K-car may have saved Chrysler in the 1980s but how will it fare on a beater challenge?
The whole series:
CC Road Trip: The Great Beater Challenge, Part 1 – Vehicle Selection
CC Road Trip: The Great Beater Challenge, Part 2 – 1983 Dodge Aries Purchased
CC Road Trip: The Great Beater Challenge, Part 3 – Vehicle Preparation
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 1, Part 1 – Off To A Slow Start
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 1, Part 2 – Rain, Rain, and a Hotel with Character
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 2, Part 1 – The Big Climb
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 2, Part 2– Finale