(first posted 3/31/2016) While walking through my neighborhood after a post-work pit stop made at the local drug store, I came across these two purple Plymouth Neons from both generations – with the older one being an Expresso! The only way the first-generation example could have been rarer would have been if it was a two-door. To find any two Plymouths street-parked nose-to-tail on any street these days is a rare sight, but the opportunity to photograph these two grape Kool Aid-colored runabouts was too good to pass up. These cars are not quite unicorns, as there are still a number of Neons still running around. Production of the Dodge ceased after 2005, and the Plymouth-branded car disappeared after 2001.
I’ve always been partial to the Plymouth brand over others in the Chrysler stable, as I had grown up in a household that had exclusively owned Plymouths for the first nine years of my life (and before). I was actually almost born in a ’72 Fury (thankfully, Dad navigated that beautiful, blue brute with aplomb in that early-morning, Michigan winter snowstorm), which was traded for a new, ’77 Volaré coupe. We also had a ’71 Duster in our family, driven solely by my dad, as it had a column-mounted three-speed manual transmission that Mom couldn’t drive. Our family’s Plymouth streak was broken with a new ’84 Ford Tempo GL that my mom promptly totaled after two days in our possession, but that’s a story for another day.
Seeing both of these cars next to each other served to illustrate just how much of the first car’s charm was lost in the ’00 redesign. I’ve read complaints about the frameless door glass of the earlier cars causing lots of road noise, but taking a 150-mile (one way) road trip from Ft. Myers to Miami, Florida in a buddy’s then-new ’95 Neon was comfortable and reasonably quiet, and the car impressed me with its pep and spacious-feeling interior provided by the “cab forward” architecture.
Aesthetically, I felt certain aspects of the redesigned ’00 model were an improvement. For example, the frontal styling of the newer car retained some of the earlier car’s bug-like “cuteness”, but somehow seemed better finished and more visually interesting. I also liked the elf-eared appearance of the restyled taillights, which seemed to go with the impish, fun character of the car. I must, however, cue the Price Is Right “Losing Horns” for the car as viewed in profile. Those graceless, thick window frames on the doors of the newer car just squash its visual fun-quotient and airiness, even if road noise was reduced.
The name of the “Expresso” submodel, which added power windows and an AM/FM Cassette to the Highline trim level, always irked me. It always reminded me of something one of my Midwestern relatives would have said at the breakfast table while observing me with a French press. “Oh, Joe! Are you making an expresso? Can I watch?” “No, Mom. This is just regular coffee. I’m just using this thing called a French press.” “Expresso” just seemed like such a ‘Murican butcherization of something, where this package could have been named so much more effectively. What was wrong with just plain, old “Express”, even if it didn’t go faster than other Neons? I’ll give Plymouth points for effort, but “Expresso” ranks up there with Olds’ “Achieva” as a model name that, when spoken, is likely to make you sound like your I.Q. is twenty to forty points lower than it actually is.
All told, there were about 458,000 first-generation (1995 – ’00), Plymouth-branded Neons, with only an additional 65,000 of the 2nd-gen cars between 2000 and swan-song ’01, for a total of about 523,000. I was sorry that the Neon (and Plymouth, for that matter) didn’t see further development, as a third-generation model could have improved upon the second-model’s strengths while reintroducing some of the first car’s attractiveness – but that was likely never going to happen under Daimler’s (or Cerberus’s) ownership. Still, it was a flavorful treat to see these two Plymouth subcompacts in my neighborhood after what was an otherwise uneventful workday. With that, it is now time for this achiever’s morning espresso.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Thursday, March 17, 2016.
- From Brendan Saur: Curbside Classic: 1997 Plymouth Neon – Brightening Up The Compact Class;
- From Tom Klockau: Curbside Classic: 1995 Dodge Neon Sport – Say Hi…To Dashed Expectations; and
- From David Saunders: COAL: 2000 Chrysler Neon – A Good Car (Really!).