Confession: I really had the hots for these LeBaron’s when they were introduced during my sophomore year of high school. They looked great in most every color and it was obvious it had been designed to be a convertible. I really wanted to drive one.
The wish came to fruition sometime between ages 35 and 40. Who says dreams can’t come true?
This LeBaron belongs to my father-in-law. Several years ago I wrote a CC on it (here) and I’ve driven it several times since. In early May I was granted temporary possession of this LeBaron. Frankly, I’ve enjoyed it immensely.
Just don’t interpret my enjoyment as a grand exultation of perfection. It’s twenty-three years old, stored outside, and still driven albeit irregularly. Nothing fitting that description is going to be perfect.
That is precisely what makes this car so darned enjoyable.
This LeBaron is powered by the Mitsubishi 3.0 liter V6, or as I’ve heard many mangle it, a Mits-a-bitchy V6. This was the V6 found throughout the entire Chrysler line in the late 1980s and early 1990s, prior to the Mopar brewed 3.3 coming online for minivans, Dynasty’s, and New Yorker’s. Hooked to a Chrysler Ultradrive automatic, some of you may be thinking “Mitsubishi V6; Ultradrive; Chrysler. That’s three strikes against it.”
The only strike against it would be the narrow, 14″ wheels. More on that later.
Perhaps the most memorable element of the Mitsubishi V6 is many of them smoking like Cheech and Chong after it gets a few miles under its belt. Such is not the case with this LeBaron despite it having around 100,000 miles. Nor are there any transmission woes. Maybe there were issues prior to my father-in-law purchasing it, but the Ultradrive now under its hood works flawlessly and shifts as smooth as silk.
This Chrysler is deceptively small. While driving it, I have had to look up to see the tail end of a Nissan Versa. Much of the size can be attributed to its K-Car underpinnings, but it does not drive anything like I remember a K-Car behaving. It has a comparatively more solid and substantial feeling to it, like the C-bodies of the time; while not of the same stability as the 1960s era Chrysler branded cars, it is reassuringly well planted to the ground.
Part of this well-plantedness could be the ride height, which is much lower than any K-car I have experienced. To plop one’s derriere into the drivers seat requires some free-fall. Yet once in, the accommodations are ample and any feelings of scraping your hide on the pavement evaporate. Chrysler built this as a two-passenger front seat (or more likely as a two passenger car) so the width is nicely split between the passengers.
Perhaps you have noticed there is a console. Unlike today’s cars, most of whom have a console that is as considerate to the desires and maneuverability of the user as a neck cone on a post-spayed dog, this console was designed with respect to the needs and anatomy of the passengers.
The console works seamlessly with the occupants, with the gear selector at a wonderfully natural proximity and height with storage areas of deceptively large volume. This Chrysler is proof it is possible to construct a usable console that isn’t the size of some of the states in New England.
The convertible top, while not in optimum exterior condition, does not convey air leaks at any speed.
The only air leak is from around this rear window. Age has had its deleterious affect on some mechanisms, and the power window motor has succumbed to it. My father-in-law has employed electrical tape and I drafted the wooden shim into use. A periodic adjustment is all that is needed and an air leak is the signal for adjustment. Sure the motor could be replaced, but my father-in-law is a practical man and doesn’t foresee any real gain from the expenditure of time and effort to fix it.
Driving the car is where it all comes together. Hitting the starter motor reveals a fast-paced variation of the time honored Highland Park Hummingbird. The engine fires quite eagerly and rapidly, with the cherry bomb muffler in the back giving a sudden bark of activity. Finding the gear selector in a truly intuitive location nets the driver the familiar whine of the Ultradrive. The throttle is touchy at low speeds, as a goose of the happy pedal makes the front end attempt to point skyward.
The steering is a tad on the heavy side, but that’s not an unwelcome trait. Acceleration is best described as brisk; while you won’t win too many drag races, you can easily keep up with traffic at any speed. It seems many of the cars and pickups I have driven all have their sweet spot of speed. This Chrysler, however, doesn’t have one; it’s as happy as a doodlebug in a sugar bowl at whatever speed you drive it. I’ve cruised at 45 mph and at 85 mph – it has never complained.
I will offer up two downsides, one intrinsic and one age related.
This LeBaron rests on 14″ wheels with narrow tires. The vast majority of the time that is not an issue. However, for those occasional brisk drives on curvy two-lane roads, their petite size can make their limitations quickly known. The LeBaron seems to enjoy such blasts on rural roads and wider 15″ tires would be beneficial. I’m just not sure how much space there is in the wheel well to accommodate them.
As I said earlier, age has set in and the electronic components seem to be the most affected. The speedometer has taken bouts of sitting on zero while going down the road. It works about 95% of the time, but that other 5% can make for an interesting experience. The cluster has been replaced multiple times but it continues. Maybe the real culprit lurks deeper within the wiring harness.
So for anybody seeking a convertible to blast about in, these are great. Unfortunately, these are nowhere near as plentiful as they once were and I’m starting to see it catch people’s attention as I zoom by. However, I would still recommend it. It has netted me nearly 26 mpg and my father-in-law says it works great in the winter for plowing out his 0.2 mile long driveway.
Dream maker, fuel efficient, open topped, and snow plow. How many cars can claim such a wide range of competencies?