The Most Obscure Special Editions and Forgotten Limited-Run Models: Mopar Edition, Part I

1976 dodge charger daytona richard petty

(first posted 10/19/2015)     You may be thinking, why is this instalment of the “Obscure Special Editions and Limited-Run Models” simply called “Mopar Edition”? While researching this article, two things became clear. Firstly, there has been a lot of obscure metal from the Chrysler Corporation, especially over the past 40 or so years. Secondly, Chrysler generally made less of an effort to distinguish a Dodge from a Plymouth (and sometimes even from a Chrysler!).

Sure, it wasn’t always that way, but it felt disingenuous to include, say, a Plymouth Neon in a Plymouth article when in some years it was badged as a Chrysler or a Dodge (or both!) Chrysler wasn’t the only company guilty of badge engineering – not by a long shot – but Ford and General Motors were generally more willing and financially able to distinguish their brands.

As a result of these conclusions, these instalments will be known as the Mopar Edition and will be split into several parts covering the Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth brands. As for those after some Jeeps, stay tuned for a future instalment.

plymouth arrow jet

Plymouth Arrow Jet

Years produced: 1978

Total production: ?

Somebody in Highland Park was cognizant of Plymouth’s sporting heritage when they signed off on the Arrow as their captive import offering for 1976 instead of the frumpy Colt sedan and wagon. The opposite occurred in Canada, where hot snow falls up and Intrepids are badged as Chryslers. The Arrow, a rebadged Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste, was mechanically similar to the Colt but featured a modern, angular and rather fetching body. Its relatively low list price, subcompact size and pleasing lines naturally gave the Arrow an appealing base for a series of special editions and option packages. These included the GT, the striped GS, the bold Fire Arrow and this: the Arrow Jet. The Jet made the others look almost subtle. Available only with raised white-letter tires and road wheels, and in eye-catching Spitfire Orange paint with black lower paint, bumpers and a flat black hood, the Jet package was distinguished even more with an unnerving number of decals as pictured. They were going for some kind of aviation theme, but the end result more closely resembled a child’s coloring in of a Plymouth Arrow.

While for 1978, Plymouth promotional material listed the GS and GT as trim levels and not option packages, the Jet was merely an option package on the base Arrow. As such, it appears to have only been available with the smaller 1.6 “Silent Shaft” four-cylinder and four-speed manual or three-speed automatic. The GS and GT were available with a larger 2.0 and a five-speed stick. The following year, the Fire Arrow would receive an even larger 2.6. Thus, for all its silly “Caution: Restricted Area” decals, the Jet was pretty low on the totem pole of performance although even the 1.6 had Mitsubishi’s new combustion system, appropriately named MCA-JET. But even in a decade of often tasteless tape-stripe specials, the Jet didn’t appear to be very successful and the option package disappeared after 1978.

1975 dodge charger daytona ad

Dodge Charger Daytona

Years produced: 1976-77

Total production: ?

It’s funny how a few decades passing can alter one’s perspective. The second-generation Dodge Charger and first-generation Dodge Challenger are lauded as some of the most desirable American cars of the muscle car era. Enthusiasts cried foul when Dodge dared to use the Charger nameplate on a four-door sedan in 2006, despite its competitive chassis and available Hemi V8. But let’s rewind to the 1970s for a minute. The first Challenger was a belated entry to the pony car segment, sold well below expectations, and was axed after 1974. A few years later, Dodge dusted off the nameplate and slapped it on a Japanese captive import. For 1975, to arrest a sales slide in a market dominated by personal luxury coupes, Dodge restyled the Charger with very formal styling. To retain some degree of performance credibility, though, Dodge recycled the Charger Daytona nameplate. Now, it seems like an affront. Then, it didn’t seem quite so offensive: the now-legendary ’69 Charger Daytona, like its Plymouth Superbird counterpart, was a slow seller and languished on dealer lots. Why not re-use the name?

1976 dodge charger daytona

The Daytona wasn’t initially available with the standard Charger SE, instead arriving in late 1975. All Daytonas received two-tone paint jobs: for 1976, the roof, hood, rocker panels and trunklid were painted a different color from the rest of the body, while for 1977 the Daytona received wilder tape striping and the second color was shifted to the fenders and roof.

dodge charger daytona 1977

The treatment was entirely cosmetic, as a heavy-duty suspension set-up was only an option. Engine offerings were the same as the SE: 318, 360 and 400 cubic-inch V8s. A three-speed TorqueFlite was the only transmission, and the Daytona came standard with a column-shifter. A floor-shifted automatic was optional, although Daytonas came with standard vinyl bucket seats. Slick Urethane-styled road wheels were also optional and the standard tires were whitewalls.

1977 chrysler cordoba dodge charger

The specifications made for a somewhat confused attempt at a “sporty” car, not helped by the Charger’s very square-rigged, formal styling shared with the Chrysler Cordoba. The Cordoba ended up dramatically outselling the cheaper Charger, and by 1978 the Charger was replaced with the redesigned (but still very similar) Magnum. There was officially a 1978 Charger SE, but no Daytona. The Magnum GT would represent more of an effort by Chrysler in producing a sporty mid-size model.

dodge o24 de tomaso 3

Dodge 024 De Tomaso

Years produced: 1980-81

Total production: 1952

Before the Chrysler TC by Maserati, there was another Italian-American tie up between Lee Iacocca and Alejandro de Tomaso. This one was actually delivered on time, but that was because it was simply an appearance package on the Dodge Omni-based 024 coupe.

dodge o24 de tomaso 2

The 024 De Tomaso was available in either bright yellow or bright red, and each example was outfitted with unique cast aluminum wheels, wheel arch flares, blackout air dam and grille, and rear spoiler and window louvers. There was also a brushed metal, wraparound “targa” roof band, a rather perplexing fad that appeared at various times throughout the 1970s and 1980s (see: AMC Hornet AMX); another faddish item were giant text decals, spelling De Tomaso, festooned all over the body.

dodge o24 de tomaso exterior

Inside was a little more subtle, with unique features limited to black vinyl bucket seats, a special dash plaque, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Underneath was completely indistinguishable from regular 024s, with the same 65 horsepower 1.7 Volkswagen-sourced four-cylinder and four-speed manual transmission. As far as “European” special editions go, the 024 De Tomaso was vaguely convincing in that the Omni’s mechanicals were indeed very European (four-wheel independent suspension, front-wheel-drive). After all, the Omni/024 was based on the European Chrysler Horizon.

The rarer 1981 models had a shot in the arm in the form of Chrysler’s 2.2 four-cylinder, but this was still the pre-turbo era at Chrysler: power went up to just 84 horsepower. The De Tomaso option was retired after 1981.

1983 plymouth scamp gt

Plymouth Scamp

Years produced: 1983

Total production: 3564

A one-year wonder, the Scamp was a Plymouth-badged version of the short-lived Dodge Rampage. This segment of front-wheel-drive, car-based pickup never truly took off: in its debut year, the Rampage mustered only 17,636 sales. Despite these figures, Chrysler saw fit to give its Chrysler-Plymouth dealerships a version, dusting off (no pun intended) the old Scamp nameplate last seen on a two-door hardtop version of the Valiant in 1976. This new Scamp effectively replaced the Mitsubishi-sourced, utilitarian Plymouth Arrow Truck.

1983 plymouth scamp 1

Scamp sales amounted to only 3,564 units, of which 1,380 were GT models. The Scamp was marketed more as a sporty li’l ute than a serious load-lugger, although it had a legitimate half-ton load rating. Sadly, the Rampage and Scamp were both sold in the pre-turbo era at Chrysler so the only engine was a 2.2 carburetted four-cylinder with 96 horsepower.

plymouth scamp gt 1983

The sporty Scamp GT added a standard five-speed manual transmission, sporty cloth-and-vinyl high-back bucket seats in black and red (all-vinyl buckets were optional), tape stripes, non-functional hood scoop, full instrumentation and 14-inch wheels. Air-conditioning and power steering remained an option, as did a three-speed automatic; regular Scamps had a standard four-speed stickshift.

1983 Plymouth Turismo-Scamp-12

The Scamp had made even less of an impact than the Rampage, and Rampage sales had actually declined considerably for 1983. The mini-pickups were effectively Dodge O24/Chargers with a pickup bed and a simpler leaf-spring rear suspension. Although their coupe origins made them vastly more fun-to-drive than other pickups like the Ford Ranger and Chevrolet S10, it made them less practical. However, the Scamp and Rampage were still priced similarly to the Ranger and S10. Perhaps it was this lack of ability and practicality, perceived or otherwise, that sounded the death knell after such a short time on sale.

dodge avenger rt awd side

Chrysler Sebring Limited AWD & Dodge Avenger R/T AWD

Years produced: 2008

Total production: approximately 925 (Avenger) and 500 (Sebring)

It’s not often an automaker introduces an entirely new drivetrain offering in one of their models and then ditches it after only a year, but this occurred with the all-wheel-drive variants of the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger. Offered only in high-end Sebring Limited and Avenger R/T trim levels, AWD had such a low take-rate that Chrysler saw no point in bringing it back for 2009.

dodge avenger rt awd 2008

The low take-rate shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Firstly, all-wheel-drive mid-size sedans have rarely been offered outside of Ford and Subaru showrooms. Secondly, the 2007 Sebring was a catastrophic misstep and the 2008 Avenger was little better. Despite trick technology including optional heated and chilled cupholders and a hard drive-based infotainment system, the Sebring and Avenger were victims of cost-cutting. Their interiors were filled with hard and brittle plastic. The 2.4 four-cylinder “World Engine” was hardly refined and the optional 2.7 V6 was woefully underpowered for the segment. Build quality and driving dynamics were far from class-best. The Sebring’s exterior was almost universally derided as a mess of epic proportions. Chrysler paid dearly for their errors: the Sebring and Dodge Stratus each sold around 100,000 units per year in the early 2000s, but in 2009 Chrysler sold 27,460 Sebrings and 38,922 Avengers.

chrysler sebring limited awd

The Sebrings and Avengers they were selling were budget-friendly (and Budget Rent-A-Car-friendly) four-cylinder models, the worst such models. The 3.5 V6 all-wheel-drive Sebring Limited and Avenger R/T were the best Sebring and Avenger, respectively, but for $27k there were much better offerings in the extremely competitive mid-size segment even if most of them didn’t have all-wheel-drive. And unfortunately, all-wheel-drive didn’t have a transformative effect on the sedans’ fun factor: despite having a rear-wheel bias at speeds above 25 mph, the sedans’ dynamics were still hampered by an uncertain transmission and fairly lifeless steering.

2008 chrysler sebring awd

To add insult to injury, the AWD sedans achieved an EPA rating of 15/24 mpg. The FWD 3.5 V6 models achieved 16/26 mpg. Their 235 hp/232 ft-lb V6 engine had to haul around a surprisingly hefty 3700 lbs and even a modern six-speed automatic didn’t aid fuel economy: for comparison, the 4000 pound Buick Lucerne with a 4.6 V8 and four-speed automatic had an EPA-rated 15/23 mpg. Fuel economy was also worse than rivals like the all-wheel-drive Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan.

dodge avenger rt awd rear

The Borg-Warner-sourced all-wheel-drive option had a 1.5% take rate in the Avenger and an even more abysmal 0.7% take rate in the Sebring. This was despite Ford reporting a 20% take rate for all-wheel-drive in its Fusion and Milan sedans. The Dodge Journey, mechanically related to the Sebring/Avenger, had a similar all-wheel-drive take rate. So, the blame can be laid less on the unpopularity of all-wheel-drive and more on the unpopularity of the Avenger and Sebring.

2008 chrysler sebring limited awd

For 2009, the Sebring and Avenger were front-wheel-drive only. For 2011, the sedans were were heavily revised: the 2.7 V6 was dropped and the 3.5 was replaced by the stronger 3.6 Pentastar V6. The Sebring was rechristened 200 and the exterior styling dramatically changed; both 200 and Avenger received completely redesigned interiors with vastly better quality materials. For all the narrow-minded criticism these cars still received from some voices in the automotive media, they were now competitive offerings. Buyers agreed, and sales leapt back up to the 90k range. Offering three different engines and optional all-wheel-drive didn’t help the 2008 Sebring and Avenger. As it turns out, refinement, quality and good presentation sell cars.

Did these Mopars deserve obscurity, or is there one you would happily clear a space for in your garage? What limited editions and short-lived models do you hope to see in the next instalment?

Related Reading:

1974 Plymouth Satellite Sebring Sundance

1992-94 Plymouth Sundance Duster V6

Monteverdi Sierra

Obscure Limited Edtions and Forgotten Limited-Run Models: AMC, Buick (Part 1 and Part 2), Lincoln-Mercury (Part 1 and Part 2)