Curbside Classic: 1986 Chrysler New Yorker – Just A Little Off-Broadway Production

(CC Cohort Photos: Colin)

Spanning a lifetime of over half-a-century, the Chrysler New Yorker’s story played out in many shapes and forms. Offering everything from inline-8s and V8s to V6s and even turbo I4s over the years, the New Yorker saw life in both rear- and front-wheel drive, sedan, hardtop, coupe, and convertible body styles, and went from a very large car to a rather small one, as evidenced by this 1986.

Quantitatively, this particular twelfth generation New Yorker holds the record as the smallest New Yorker, while qualitatively speaking, it’s very likely the least remarkable-looking New Yorker of all time. Of course, much of this is owed to the fact that the twelfth generation (1983-1988) New Yorker is a K-car. More specifically, this New Yorker rode on the Chrysler E-body, the first of many extended K-car platforms.

Riding on a 3-inch longer wheelbase of 103.3 inches, and having a nine-inch longer overall length than the standard K-cars, this New Yorker measured in at only 187.2 inches, some 45 inches shorter than the ninth generation New Yorker of less than a decade before. For comparison purposes, the “compact” 2017 Dodge Dart sedan measures 183.9 inches in total length and the “midsize” Chrysler 200 measures 192.3 inches.

At a time when the flagships of every GM and Ford division were still rear-wheel drive, available with V8 power, and were at least two feet longer in length, deescalating the Chrysler brand’s most prestigious nameplate to a front-wheel drive, four-cylinder only car that was smaller than GM’s midsize FWD A-bodies was a questionable move. While Chrysler did retain the rear-wheel drive, V8-powered M-body, even that car was still smaller than competitors from GM and Ford.

Adding insult to injury, much to probably even Chrysler’s surprise, the M-body (which was in fact briefly the eleventh generation New Yorker for 1982 only, becoming the New Yorker Fifth Avenue for 1983, and less confusingly, just Fifth Avenue thereafter) enjoyed a resurgence in popularity mid-decade, outselling our featured E-body New Yorker by a vast amount. Its profits were also considerably larger, considering all its tooling and development costs had been paid for.

While the E-body New Yorker proved reasonably popular, its sales were still generally less than 50% the volume of the older, less technologically advanced M-body Fifth Avenue. I should also add that it is the K-based “Y-body” 1990-1993 Chrysler Imperial which tends to get the bulk of criticism as an overwrought, over gussied-up K-car masquerading as a flagship luxury sedan. While this may be well-justified, in actuality, is what Chrysler did seven years earlier with this New Yorker any better?

Using the same body shell as Chrysler E-Class, Dodge 600, and Plymouth Caravelle, Chrysler Lee Iacocca applied all the textbook tackiness clichés of the Brougham era to the basic six-windowed stretched K-car to justify its prestige and price. Chrome waterfall grille… check. Fiberglass capped “formal” roofline… check. Oversized Landau quarter-roof covering the rear quarter windows… check. Fake front fender louvers… check. Opera lights… check. Wire wheels… check.

Inside, designers did their best to mimic the interiors of larger New Yorkers that immediately preceded the E-body, while upping the ante with a few more baroque touches. As it so happens, E-body New Yorker interiors were initially a bit more restrained and progressive, and therefore a tad more tasteful, as evidenced by this promotional photo featuring the available Mark Cross Edition leather interior package, supplied by the namesake leather retailer.

Unfortunately, things would regress for the car’s second model year, presumably because Lido stuck his nose a bit further into interior design input, demanding more candy on the gingerbread house. Seats, whether standard velour or available leather reverted back to the button-tufted floating loose-pillow design. Likewise, leather was no longer supplied by the Mark Cross company (despite its continued availability on the LeBaron), but once again of the “soft Corinthian” variety.

Interior door handles were changed from a standard strap to woodtone and chrome “Lavaliere” casket door pulls. On the positive, faux woodgrain trim was at least changed from contrasting cheaper-looking patterns to the still very fake-looking faux burl walnut appliqué. Chrysler also unleashed its latest electronics for 1984, in the form of a fully-digital gauge cluster with the infamous, harass yo ass Electronic Voice Alert.

As stated, at its heart, the 1983-1988 E-body New Yorker was little more than a gussied-up stretched K-car. George Neil recently summed Detroit’s approach to luxury during this period quite blatantly honest, as “lots of low-cost sound-deadening materials and plenty of fake wood trim”. And truthfully, a lot of sparkles applied to a much lower-cost car, then sold at significantly higher prices was Detroit’s approach to luxury cars at the time. Little in the way of different engines, suspensions, or mechanical refinements whatsoever came into play.

Using the same beam axle with trailing arm rear and independent iso-strut front suspension, three-speed TorqueFlite automatic, and initially, the ubiquitous 2.2-liter “K” inline-4, the E-body New Yorker provided no advantages in ride quality or driving experience over the basic Reliant/Aries. The engine lineup was shuffled around a bit, with the previously optional Mitsubishi-sourced 2.6L G54B becoming the standard engine for 1984 and 1985, and the Chrysler 2.5L K taking over for 1986-1987.

The turbocharged version of the 2.2L K was available from 1984-on, adding about 40% greater horsepower and a tad more torque. The turbo also brought with it the very out-of-place hood vents, apparently for Mopar drivers who missed their Barracudas and Chargers. The turbo was the sole engine offered in the 1988 E-body New Yorker, which was now officially called “New Yorker Turbo”, to avoid confusion with the new C-body New Yorker and the M-body Fifth Avenue, which was still referred to as “New Yorker Fifth Avenue” in some promotional literature — I know, confusing.

Although continued downsizing and rampant badge-engineering was the name of the game among the Big Three in the 1980s, Chrysler took a different, somewhat more drastic route than its larger, fuller-pocketed rivals. So while the debasement of the most prestigious and former flagship nameplate of the Chrysler division (as Imperial was still its own marque) by slapping it on a badge-engineered car of truly compact dimensions very well might be seen as blasphemy to some…

…It worked for Chrysler, at least in the short-term. As it so happens, all the corsets, makeup, hairspray, and rhinestones (after all, it was the ’80s) was enough to make E-body New Yorker a relative sales success, somehow recapturing the aura of larger New Yorkers from the past.

Notwithstanding its late-1983 introduction and early-1988 discontinuation, the higher-gross New Yorker was the best-selling E-body, surpassing the less-costly Dodge 600 (when excluding the K-body 600 coupe/convertible), Plymouth Caravelle, and short-lived Chrysler E-body by a substantial amount. In total, the E-body New Yorker sold to the tune of 283,216 units, and most significantly, its average annual volume was higher than most New Yorkers and Chrysler-branded products of the past decade.

Although the E-body New Yorker turned out to be a surprising mid-1980s “hit” for Chrysler, and nonetheless, an interesting effort, in the end, it remains one, if not THE least remarkable New Yorker, and is a car largely forgotten today.

Related Reading (Chrysler E-body):

1983 Chrysler E Class

1983 Dodge 600

1985 Chrysler New Yorker

1986 Plymouth Caravelle

1986 Plymouth Caravelle SE