In my ideal world, I’d own an RV. And I’d be mechanically savvy enough to feel confident driving an older model RV on long trips, and to tow a small, older car for use once I arrived at my destination. So naturally, I loved the sight of this 26-year-old Dodge Shadow convertible being towed by a similar-vintage motor home.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Shadow convertible, so this one was a welcome sight to break up the monotony of a drive across the blustery Illinois prairies. Chrysler’s 1987-94 P-cars (Dodge Shadow and Plymouth Sundance) were good values for budget-oriented buyers, and the ragtop version hit the bargain convertible market (to what extent that existed) right on target. This car had a good combination of attributes: It was relatively affordable, comfortable, and offered the fun of a convertible without the drawbacks of a sports car. As a result, I’ve always had a soft spot for these convertibles.
The Shadow and Sundance did a decent job carrying the torch of frugality for Chrysler in the late 1980s (though production awkwardly overlapped with their Omni/Horizon predecessors for three years). Available as 2- or 4-doors in a wide variety of trim levels, these models largely avoided the penalty-box awfulness of many small American cars of its era. In 1991, its fifth year of production, the P-car model range expanded in two contrasting directions – with a bargain-basement “America” series starting at about $8,000, and with a new top-end model at about twice that price… a convertible.
The Shadow convertible’s appeal (despite its sunny name, Plymouth’s Sundance never got a convertible version) was that its price undercut that of most other droptops. While not a huge seller, convertibles made up a fairly large chunk of Shadow’s total sales for the three years they were produced; total convertible production is estimated at about 44,000.
This particular convertible is an ES, an upgraded trim level that brought sporty upgrades like the quintessentially ’90s wiggly heartbeat line along the door, fog lights, and an air dam. More importantly, though, is that this car features the optional 141-hp 3.0L V-6 (the same Mitsubishi-supplied engine as used in Chrysler’s minivans), which made for a rather fun package.
Shadow convertibles certainly weren’t perfect; they were prone to chronic leaks, interior materials were of low-quality, and the driving dynamics barely up to 1980s standards, let alone those of the 1990s. Yet the allure of an affordable convertible was enough to overcome these drawbacks, and in the end, Dodge’s decision to offer a convertible Shadow was probably a positive one.
Road & Track magazine noted that the Shadow convertible was “a perfect car for a date.” Certainly a valid point… and it would also be a perfect accessory for a long-distance vacation. Hopefully these folks were heading to a warmer climate where the Shadow could be more in its element. As for me, I doubt that I will ever own an RV, but should that ever change, I might look for a Shadow convertible to tow behind it.
Photographed on Interstate 72 in Morgan County, Illinois in April 2019.