First article from R&T’s 1987 July issue is this road test of the LeBaron.
Here you go, you can guess where it’s going from the headline:
Up until about 5 years ago, these were so common they were almost invisible. A co-worker had a 94 or 95 (?) convertible in that gorgeous dark green with tan top and upholstery, that I admired, but which developed a bad transmission. Another co-worker had a red coupe as his daily driver with a late 60s Barracuda as his “fun” car.
I hadn’t realized/forgotten that these were produced for such an extended period of time. They appear to have been “inspired” by the ’83 “aero” Thunderbirds, and I sometimes thought it was too bad the Tbird wasn’t a bit closer in size to the Chrysler. But then, that was the Mustang’s niche.
These editors were harsh! Granted, I’ve never driven one of these J-body LeBarons, but I’d say this platform was my favorite permutation of the K (edging out even the G-body Daytona / Laser twins). From a style perspective, these knocked it out of the park. Never could afford the Avanti / Avanti II of your dreams? This wasn’t no Avanti – but it was the closest thing I felt to a modern interpretation of one – based on proven mechanicals, to boot.
This slanted, biased, pithy road test is a prime example of why “Car & Driver” was my favorite car magazine in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. “R&T” was merely a back up/alternative.
Mark Cross leather package ?
Ha That is great. My son bought one of these off the Honda used car lot for his first car. Sr. yr in high school. Went to college in a small town 4 hrs from home. Drove it all thru college and for about a yr into his first real job. It was a great reasonably reliable first car. After work one day it lost power and developed a huge engine knock, must have spun a bearing or broke a piston.He took care of it too. Always changed oil etc. in our garage during breaks. The End! Good Bye first car. Still attached to it. See very few any more. He drives a Grand Cherokee now.
The drop top version had something of a (limited) following in Austria as a sort of an sanely-priced alternative to the M-B, Jaguar and BMW offerings. You could – up to not so long ago – see them here and there but no more…
R&T really wasn’t too kind to Chrysler, pretty much ever. That being said, that headline really almost makes reading the accompanying article a redundant technicality.
For better or worse, based on the total number of vehicles I’ve had experience with over a lifetime, I’ve probably spent the most time behind the wheels of Chrysler products of the 80’s and 90’s. Sadly, the observations in the article are pretty spot-on. It does feel a little unfair to heap so much negativity on the driving dynamics of a beautiful impostor like the LeBaron though. Yeah, the steering column shuddered at stoplights, the dash trim panels creaked and groaned against each other in cold weather, and those pretty little eyelids on the front clanked open and shut like last weeks recycling on it’s way to the curb (while they were still opening and closing, that is). But they really were pretty cars. The attention to detail in the styling was really pretty good too, even if those details were forged from a lot of plastichrome and faux burlwood.
I mean c’mon, everybody KNEW they really were just K cars with pretty faces. But they still sold well, just like those cubic zirconia things that were becoming all the rage on QVC around that time. If I had to compile a list of some of the best automotive styling from the 80’s I think I’d rank this one pretty high. And it’s even more impressive when one considers from whence it came.
I think that is part of the problem. The handsome looks of these cars promised more than they could ultimately deliver.
A friend of mine had one of these coupes, and a high-mileage 1968 Dodge Dart hardtop coupe. During his divorce in the mid-1990s, he let his soon-to-be ex take this car, and he kept the Dart. His family thought that he had made a mistake in giving up the newer car.
Guess which one gave up the ghost first?
Great looking cars in their day, and a better fit for Chrysler than the outgoing Laser. Too bad that this combo (coupe, 5spd, turbo) was such a rare bird. Id love to find one just like it and get to hot rodding. These little turbo Mopars can scoot like crazy if you massage them a bit.
A friend had one of the early convertibles. Constant brake problems and it felt pretty willowy to me as a passenger.
But it was quiet on the road and nicely trimmed.
It was one of Chrysler’s prettier cars of the decade. No wonder the Chryslerati never sold well. The LeBaron had it beat in the looks department and even looked a lot like it for a lot less money and pretense.
Road and track really went on a tear about the K platform in this. The idea of so many different bodies aimed at vastly different people just really got their goat. From a modern point of view, I was reveling that Chrysler was willing to spend so much on the tooling on these different bodies.
Tooling must be more now because every major automaker worldwide has shrunk the number of platforms like 80s Chrysler. Imagine adding a few inches to the wheelbase of a Mustang, a new body, and abracadabra, a new Thunderbird. One could only imagine, because what Chrysler did so easily with the Daytona to create the Lebaron is somehow not possible. Also not possible is a Prelude off a Civic or a Scirrocco off a Jetta. Makes one really miss Lee Iacocca. The only automaker still doing this is BMW, and sure enough, silly critics give them grief for it.
You are aware that many markets, though not North American markets, are able to buy a new Scirroco? VW resurrected the name and “spirit” a few years ago, though the new Scirroco has diesel engines as well as petrol engines (the original Scirroco I don’t believe ever had diesel engines).
This review is dripping with attitude. Bad attitude.
I remember seeing it, and ignoring it.
Beautiful cars, one of the better coupe designs of the 80’s. I’ve always loved the hidden lamps particularly. But, as is well known, the body wrote a check the mechanicals couldn’t cash.
A co-worker of my Dad’s bought a red LeBaron convertible around 1989, which was quite a nice car for the time. He traded in his absolutely mint ’84 Daytona Turbo Z. Wonder which one he’d rather have back today? (Then again, we lost track of him in the late 90’s, it’s entirely possible he still owns the LeBaron.)
The article gives a taste in how diverse the definition of “mid-size” and “personal luxury” had become in 1987.
They mention the Chevy Beretta, Mazda 626, Ford Thunderbird, Honda Prelude, Toyota Celica, and Nissan 200 SX as possible competitors. All they left out was the Ford Aerostar minivan!
And to think that GM was still selling its old 1981 – 1988 RWD G Special cars such as the Cutlass Supreme Classic! Talk about something for everybody.
This car really did fall in the middle of the pack in terms of size and demeanor. I can see a lot of people upsizing or downsizing into it – and they did – both the coupe and convertible sold pretty well for a few years, and even got into the hands of some people my age – around 23 at the time these came out.
This was probably the first reemergence of Chrysler style since the ’70s that didn’t involve the words “utilitarian” and “geriatric.” But, it was nice to see Mopar getting a little mojo and they were finally headed toward their style renaissance that made them a powerhouse in the mid 1990s.
“They mention the Chevy Beretta, Mazda 626, Ford Thunderbird, Honda Prelude, Toyota Celica, and Nissan 200 SX as possible competitors. All they left out was the Ford Aerostar minivan!”
That stood out with me as well. Who here has ever cross-shopped a Thunderbird and a 200SX, ever?
Known as a Chrysler Phantom R/T in Mexico. 2.2 litre DOHC 16 valve Intercooled Turbo.
Had a 1992 GTC convertible briefly, in a beautiful aqua blue with the monochrome package (basically the grille was body-colored, not chrome). It was ~15 years old at the time, but had been pampered, garage-kept and only had 80,000 miles on it. Pristine, and it got lots of compliments, even in the late-2000s.
Sadly I can’t disagree with the review too much. Body flex was terrible in the convertible, the suspension crashed over rough roads, the steering was lifeless and the car still felt very heavy and ponderous despite the harsh ride. It had the Mitsubishi V6 which was smoother than the 4-cylinder, but still sounded pretty raucous and sent plenty of NVH through the chassis and interior. Mine had been kept in amazing shape, but the driver’s door had still sagged over the years, causing the frameless window to not seal properly with the fabric top when it was up. I never, ever drove that thing in the winter – it squeaked and rattled only slightly less than a city bus.
Still, I liked the car and have good memories. It looked great, especially with the top down and was a really fun cruiser in the summertime on a smooth road with the music up. I forgave a lot its shortcomings simply because it was a convertible, and convertibles are inherently fun. I also didn’t keep it long enough to have the Ultradrive grenade or any other significant repairs, which helps color my fond memory. I flipped it for about what I paid when it started to reach 100K miles.
One of the motor magazines (not sure which) did a review on the Chrysler LeBaron Coupe. It compared the car to the Burger King jingle “Have Your Way”. You got a basic K-car frame, but you could top it the way you wanted (coupe, mini-van, GTS, sedan or wagon). The accompanying photos included a LeBaron Coupe parked in front of a Burger King restaurant.
The review was somewhat harsh and sure to offend some K-car lovers. Someone must have a copy of the magazine stashed in the back of their mid 80’s minivan.
I had a 90 convertible, and I still think it was one of the prettiest cars to come out of the 80’s. Chrysler did get a lot of mileage out of the K car platform, but it’s not like everyone else created bespoke platforms for every car. Look at Ford and the Fox platform for example. In the early 80’s every Ford car was a Fox except for the Escort and the Crown Victoria–Fairmont, Mustang, LTD, Thunderbird–to say nothing of the Lincoln Continental and Mark VII. Chrysler just stuck with it a little too long.
A pretty exterior and seats that looked pretty comfy. Other than that I really don’t know why anybody would have bothered with this. Personally I would have bought a 2-dr Lebaron with an upgraded suspension and all the options and the 2.5 4-banger.
I owned a1989 Turbo Coupe & I generally have fond memories of it despite the fact that it was a bit of a money pit (I bought it as a 6 yr. old used car & I spent a few bucks getting the A/C to work & paint the lower portion of the car). I still feel that the design was one of the best of the 1980s (the K-car underpinnings were still pretty modern compared to those of the original Avanti).
The car magazines can’t pat VW on the back enough because they use the basic Golf platform on so many of their car lines—VW, Audi, Skoda and such. Why are VW engineers so smart now and Chrysler’s engineers that used the K platform on many model scoffed at? I really liked the look of these Labaron’s but wonder how Lee didn’t trot out Dodge and Plymouth versions?
Well, are the Golf derivatives competitive in their markets?
The problem wasn’t specifically that Chrysler recycled a platform, it’s that they recycled it into a car positioned in a market where R&T thought it should go up against something like a Honda Prelude or Toyota Celica. The K platform wasn’t meant to stand up to that level of competition. Now you could argue that it wasn’t Chrysler’s intent to compete with those vehicles, but that’s just not how this reviewer saw it.
By 1987, the K-car platform was past its sell-by date. If this car had debuted, say, in 1982, the review would have had a different tone.
As for why there weren’t Dodge and Plymouth versions – this car replaced the Chrysler Laser, which was a badge-engineered version of the Dodge Daytona. The goal was to provide greater differentiation between Dodge and Chrysler by giving Chrysler this car, while Dodge kept the Daytona.
Plymouth was pretty much an afterthought at Chrysler by this point. It stuck around to give Chrysler-Plymouth dealers lower-price cars (Horizon, Reliant, Sundance) to sell.
These were great looking cars at the time–still are. As R&T point out, though, the quality underneath was the problem.
I find there to be nothing wrong with parts bin usage, and in fairness, R&T mention how expensive a complete retooling can be. The question ultimately is whether Chrysler had the correct parts to begin with. Being on death’s door, you can’t imagine that they had a whole heckuva lot of money to really utilize, so I suppose that they had tried to eke out the most out of something that maybe wasn’t engineered the greatest to begin with. If something costs a dollar extra per car, and you sell a million cars, well….that’s a million dollars. If something costs $10 extra per car, you can see the problem multiply.
The issue then becomes whether it’s better to eat the cost of certain things that will ensure a better build and build a longer term buyer that may buy other cars with you in the future. Or the alternative is to cheap out on critical things and save money in the interim, but jack up the profit margins, and have a whole lot of one time buyers that won’t repeat because of the shoddy build quality. You may get lucky, with people that feel that for the price, it’s worth the hassle of the additional breakdowns. Other people (which is usually most) want something that’s just going to be reliable, no matter what.
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