As part of the 1987 domestic new car issue, Car and Driver also served up “Short Take” reviews on new and/or updated products. Read on for details about the Camaro convertible conversion by ASC, the upgraded power train and chassis for the AMC/Renault GTA, face-lifted and upgraded Dodge Daytona Shelby Z, the front-wheel-drive H-Body Bonneville and the value-packed Plymouth Horizon America.
Convertibles and Pony Cars go together well. Ford took the lead for the 1983 model year by introducing a drop-top Mustang. Built in-house by Ford, the Mustang Convertible sold around 15,000 to 20,000 units per year. Since speed-to-market was not a GM strength in the 1980s, it took 4 model years before Chevrolet served up a convertible Camaro. The result was a convertible conversion by ASC, available only at select Chevy dealerships, that carried a whopping upcharge–the Camaro that Car and Driver tested stickered for $22,593 ($49,650 adjusted). The combination of high price and limited availability hindered sales, which fell far short of the 5,000 unit target for 1987: just 1,007 were sold.
The last gasp for AMC/Renault was an upgraded Alliance, intended to compete in the “pocket rocket” category against the likes of the VW GTI. The GTA did offer a much needed performance upgrade, along with “boy racer” styling enhancements. The lofty sales targets were a joke, however–it’s highly unlikely that many of the 36,336 Alliance models sold in 1987 were GTAs. The blood was in the water for AMC/Renault at this point anyway, and a shark named Lee was circling…
The G-Body Dodge Daytona received some timely upgrades for 1987. The smoother nose with pop-up headlamps led the charge for all models, while a new Shelby Z burnished the Daytona’s performance image. The Shelby Z featured an enhanced Turbo II 2.2L 4-cylinder mated to a Getrag 5-speed manual, along with suspension enhancements and sport seats. 7,152 Shelby Z models found homes for 1987, representing 22% of total Daytona output.
To me, the 1987 Bonneville was by far the nicest of The General’s H-Body front-wheel-drive full-size cars. The interior in particular was one of the best from GM for the year; other than the plastic woodgrain trim, the flowing, clean instrument panel looked like it could have come from a far more expensive imported sedan. Pontiac also deserved kudos for tweaking the handling on the SE models to make the big Bonnie feel more nimble and connected than was typical for a full-size American sedan. But… the boxy, shared H-Body greenhouse and doors were generic “big” GM, while the corporate 3.8 V6 played the same tune in countless other GM cars. When model year sales were tallied up, 69,904 LE models (also including the SE, which was not broken out separately) were delivered, along with 53,912 base Bonnevilles. Though the results were a nice lift from the previous G-Body Bonneville and B-Body Parisienne, the new FWD Bonneville was about 30,000 units behind both the H-Body Buick LeSabre and Delta 88, proving that older buyers still gravitated to traditional styling cues.
I had first-hand experience with a 1987 Bonneville SE, as my Pop had one as a company car for a few years, so I had plenty of time in it, both as a driver and passenger. There was a lot to like about the car: it was comfortable, drove well for a traditional domestic (though I’ve never driven a B-Body with F41, I imagine the SE package had a similar buttoned-down feel), and was reasonably powerful. Build quality was borderline acceptable, with paint glitches, loose trim and a hood that shook at highway speeds. For GM standards of the 1980s, though, it was probably great as far as quality was concerned.
Pity that Pontiac wasn’t allowed to offer a sleeker greenhouse or a unique power train for its H-Body to recapture some of the special Bonneville magic that had thrived in the 1960s. The car was close enough that it could have been a real contender in the quest for younger, import-oriented buyers, but GM took the cheap-n-easy route and wound up with a good, but not great, big sedan.
Scrappy Chrysler certainly made the most with the least in the 1980s. The company got more mileage out of core platforms than most people ever dreamed possible, and the Plymouth Horizon America was a perfect example. The L-Body platform was entering its 10th year as 1987 got underway, so Chrysler simply “value engineered” the product to keep it competitive against newer rivals. With an as-tested MSRP of just $6,970 ($15,317 adjusted) with A/C, power steering, upgraded trim and freight charges, the America models were priced at the low-end of the economy car market. Materials and build quality were decent, mechanicals were tried and true, the relatively roomy FWD hatchback body style was still viable and the price could not be beat. Americans responded well to the America treatment: combined sales for the Plymouth Horizon America and virtually identical Dodge Omni America hit 146,356–not bad for a decade old design sharing showroom space with the newly launched subcompact Plymouth Sundance/Dodge Shadow models.