(first posted 8/21/2015) In the Chrysler Corporation’s lengthy history of badge engineering, a tradition that appears to be drawing to an end, usually you could count on the clone bearing the Chrysler nameplate to be the fussier-looking variant. Particularly during the 1980s, “Chrysler” often meant wire wheel covers, a vinyl roof, perhaps an upright grille and a smattering of chrome. The 1983 Dodge 600 bucked the trend by looking messier than its Chrysler E-Class counterpart, but the 600 endured while the E-Class was quietly discontinued after just two years.
Both the E-Class and 600 eschewed traditional Mopar nameplates for blatantly European ones. While the E-Class favored plush luxury, albeit not quite as plush as the related New Yorker, the 600 wore two hats: conventional family sedan and quasi-sport sedan. Plymouth missed out initially on a version of this E-Body relative of the K-Car, except in Canada where the Plymouth Caravelle debuted in 1983.
The range-topping 600 ES was Dodge’s attempt at a cut-price Euro-fighter, a Mopar alternative to the Pontiac 6000STE offering uprated suspension and instrumentation as well as bucket seats and a console. You could option it with a baulky five-speed manual transmission, although initially the only engine was the same 2.2 four featured in the Aries. Journalists compared it to the 6000 and various European and Japanese rivals and found it lacking in both mechanical refinement and build quality but it was not entirely without charm, boasting competent handling and steering. It still lived in the shadow of the critical darling 6000 STE. Sales of the ES generally accounted for 30-50% of the 600’s already mediocre volumes.
Those seeking more performance would have been pleased to find a turbo join the 600 range for 1984, and it was available in either plain, six-seater base trim or in the fancier ES.
With the arrival of the Lancer hatchback, the 600 was revised and repositioned. It lost the Mirada-inspired grille and fender vents, and adopted simpler lighting assemblies. Effectively, it was a Plymouth Caravelle with a crosshair grille. The European-style ES was dropped, leaving a choice of base or SE sedans. You could still get a turbo four, but the 600 was now plain old family transport.
Never a strong seller, the 600’s sales volumes dwindled over its 1983-88 run despite the even older Aries selling strong right up until its demise in 1989. For much of the 1980s, Dodge simply lacked a strong-selling mid-size sedan. The Lancer experienced an even harder fall from grace.
By 1988, Dodge had launched the even more conservative Dynasty with an upright roofline and an available V6. Finally, for 1989 the boxy Spirit arrived and the 600 was gone. Despite the Taurus’ revolutionary styling indicating a change in consumer tastes, the dowdy Dynasty and Spirit sold considerably better than their forebears. The 600 would become one of the forgotten Mopars of the 1980s.
Car & Driver’s July 1983 “Escape from Baja” comparison test, one of my favorite comparison tests, which pitted the Dodge 600ES against the Pontiac 6000 STE, Audi 5000S, Datsun Maxima, VW Quantum, Saab 900 Turbo, Volvo 760GLE and Toyota Cressida