Junkyard Classic: 1994 Plymouth Sundance – Come On Down!

At one point in the very early 1990’s, I tried to convince my father that a Dodge Shadow or Plymouth Sundance would be a very wise purchase for him as a commuter car.  I was convinced he deserved a new car, having owned only used cars to that point.  I completely failed to persuade him though, and I’m fairly certain that was the time he replaced his Fox-body Ford LTD with a used Chevy Celebrity wagon instead.  In any case, I for some reason really liked the Shadow/Sundance, so when I came across a final year model Plymouth Sundance in a junkyard a few months back, decided to document it. 

Introduced for 1987, the Sundance/Shadow was basically a shrunken K-car, the body looking much like a shorter Dodge Lancer on a new platform known as the P-platform (also AP-platform).  Its big party trick was that it was only offered as a 3-door or 5-door liftback, the only versions with an actual trunk lid were the later convertibles (Dodge Shadow only).

It’s not at all readily apparent that these are liftbacks, and I’d not be surprised if some had thought they were sedans all along.  Chrysler would confusingly call them 2-door coupes and 4-door sedans for much of the run, and then variously call them either hatchbacks or liftbacks as well, none of which helped, but then again the U.S. market was notoriously anti-hatchback in general at that time.

At first I thought this was one of the “America” editions, which were pretty much a completely stripped down version of the regular car to the point that even the badging was in the form of stickers instead of plastichrome badges – however those were only offered in 1991 and 1992, with the other years having a non-named “base” version, of which this is one.

Quite inexpensive throughout its run, I recall seeing these regularly on various TV game shows of the era: “Bobby, if you solve the puzzle in the next six seconds, you will win a brand new 1994 Plymouth Sundance base 5-door with every single feature that is standard and nothing more except a tax bill at the end of the year!”

The base Sundance was powered by Chrysler’s ubiquitous 2.2liter 4-cylinder, here generating 93hp and decent for a small car torque output of 122lb-ft.  Coupled with a sub-2700lb curb weight they were sprightly enough, likely more so with the standard 5-speed manual gearbox than the optional 3-speed automatic (4-speeds were available but only on V6 powered models).

This one has the automatic, along with some fairly drab gray mouse-fur-looking upholstery and gray plastics of a hue and sheen that Chrysler seemed to have perfected as looking low-rent by this time.  However, this car has a very unusual combination of safety features.  Yep, that’s an airbag.  For the driver.  Now look at the passenger area.  No airbag, but they get a motorized seatbelt which the driver is not forced to endure.

The powered belt was added for the last model year only to comply with federal regulations instead of a passenger airbag.  While Chrysler was sort of in front of the ball back in 1990 when they added the driver airbag to the line-up and advertised it as the least expensive car so equipped, by 1994 I assume they didn’t want to engineer a passenger one knowing it was the last year of production.  But then they did go to the trouble of incorporating the motorized seatbelt which doesn’t seem that simple either.

Eh, only 133,000 miles, or about what an average consumer might expect from a Mopar product of the time.  While better equipped than some others cars we’ve seen, that’s still a fairly sparse instrument cluster, at least there are no obvious blank spots.

With the liftback up, there’s decent room in the back, especially once the rear bench is folded.  The cargo cover is a nice touch for that sliver of space that the metal portion of the hatch doesn’t physically cover and the gas struts still work after twenty-five years.

The car really is fairly attractive, or at least not ugly.  The flush headlights that replaced sealed beams in 1989 and the chrome egg-crate grille with a not garishly oversized logo look good, or at least so to my raised on Japanese designs of the era eyes.  A little generic, perhaps, but perfectly acceptable for the price leader class.

The NL sticker on the back is the euro tag for Netherlands, perhaps this belonged to one of Johannes’ relatives.  Or it could be a joke by a resident of the mountain town of Nederland which sits right above Boulder and is about an hour from this junkyard.  I don’t see many Plymouths at all anymore, either on the road or off like this one.  The Sundance logo has a bit of a whimsical touch the way the letters bounce up and down rather than being buttoned down in a straight line.

The rusty areas are a bit of an odd pattern but overall the basic attractiveness of this car still comes through besides the wheel choice, which is the basest of base designs that they likely felt they could get away with without offering a hubcap on a black steelie.

Built in November 1983, this was about four months before the last one would roll off the line in favor of the new Neon which was certainly a far more interesting car, no matter how much I may have liked this one.  These were built in Sterling Heights, Michigan, although there was also a version for Mexico, the Chrysler Shadow, that was built in Toluca, Mexico.  Europe also received it as the Chrysler ES for several years during the run.

Advertising for the Sundance seems to have been cut from the budget for its last year so the best I could do is this ad from a few years prior in 1991 regarding the new for the time America trim level.  It talks about the payment being $128 per month or about $4 per day, less than one might spend for lunch.  In hindsight, maybe that was the reason I couldn’t convince him, my Dad always brown-bagged it…

Looking for more? Here you go!

Brendan’s comprehensive overview of the Sundance and Shadow

Jim Grey sees a Shadow ES 

William Stopford discusses the Sundance Duster

Andrew Parker on his Grandmother’s Sundance and the Shadow/Sundance in general