Curbside Classic: 1994 Plymouth Acclaim: If It Was Good Enough For Zackman And Tina Turner…

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In the late 1980s, Chrysler looked like it was back on top of its game. The government-guaranteed loans were paid in full, the minivans were selling like there was no tomorrow and everyone in Highland Park was happy. However, the one product that had both saved and helped define Chrysler through the Eighties, the K-Car, was getting a bit long in the tooth. Enter the new-for-1989 AA-Body Dodge Spirit/ Plymouth Acclaim.

While the AA-Body appeared to be a new car, in truth it was merely an evolution of the extended K platform on which the Dodge 600, Plymouth Caravelle (CC here) and Chrysler New Yorker were built. Even though the Aries and Reliant were built through the 1989 model year, these (AA-Bodies) were in effect their replacements.

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Though boxy and conservative, they looked pretty good on paper. For example: room for six, a choice of 2.5-liter four, Turbo-four or 3.0-liter Mitsubishi V6 engines and the world’s first electronically-controlled automatic transmission (whose teething problems have been well documented elsewhere). For such a seemingly small car, it had an immense amount of interior room, way more than its 181.2-inch exterior length suggested.

 

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Even though Chrysler also offered the similar Dodge Spirit, the upscale Chrysler LeBaron and Euro- market Saratoga versions of this car, today we will turn our focus to the Acclaim.

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The years 1989-1991 saw the Acclaim available in three flavors: the base model, mid-level LE and top-line LX. The biggest difference between the LE and the LX was that the latter had a lower front air dam with integrated fog lamps, plus a little more standard equipment.

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By 1992, the LE and LX had been dropped, leaving the Acclaim offered in just one model but with many of the previous options still offered.

Throughout the Acclaim’s model run, visual changes remained minimal. The biggest change, in 1993, involved a new grille that somehow caused the car to look like it was furrowing its brow. Because Chrysler was planning to replace the AAs with the “Cloud” cars around 1995, they didn’t wish to invest much into them; thus, when 1994 Federal standards required all U.S.-market cars to have automatic passive restraints, Chrysler did an odd thing: While giving the front passenger got a motorized shoulder belt, they continued using the traditional belt and airbag (introduced in 1990) on the driver’s side.

While it’s true that Chrysler’s reputation for quality had not fully recovered at this point, these little cars actually proved to be rather well built and even robust. Even here in “The Corner of Nowhere”–aka Northern Lower Michigan–these are still fairly common on the roads, with even the Mitsubishi V6 models soldiering on.

Today’s feature car really caught me by surprise. It’s a base model 1994 Acclaim that I’d seen for sale in someone’s yard back in the summer, after which it disappeared. Fast forward to last week, when I saw it sitting here at my local Chrysler dealership, and in excellent condition overall. That’s all the more remarkable considering that the odometer showed a little over 250,000 miles! And yes, it has the V6.

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I wanted to take some better interior shots, but the car had some strange kind of aftermarket alarm system that went off as soon as I opened the door. Because I didn’t want to attract too much attention, I left until it shut off and then went back for the pictures.

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Rumor has it that after Chrysler discontinued these cars, they shipped the tooling to China; however, due to budget issues the cars were never assembled and the tooling was scrapped.

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These were the last of the boxy Chryslers so dearly loved by Lido, and the last of the many variations on the venerable K-Car. While the JA cars (Cirrus, Stratus and Breeze) that replaced them were light years ahead in terms of styling and overall dynamics, there was a certain honesty about these cars that many–including your humble author, Zackman, and apparently Tina Turner (see TV spot below)– found appealing.