In part one I introduced you to the Great Beater Challenge. This time around I reveal the vehicle that will (hopefully) carry me the 1200+ kms of the trip. It is a 1983 Dodge Aries SE four door sedan. Perhaps not the most inspired choice but it is an interesting survivor.
As mentioned in part one a forum member offered to sell me a car that he had bought but did not really know what to do with once he had it. It was located about 180kms away which meant a road trip and a second driver. My friend Rod, who is also participating in the challenge, is always up for a car buying trip was good enough to accompany me. I packed a few hand tools and we headed north after work. The photos below are a combination of his and mine.
The story I have on this particular car is that it was a one owner vehicle until a young person inherited. They took it to a local mechanic in order to pass the safety inspection but were not interested in paying the bill. It sat outside the mechanic’s shop until the guy I bought it from had purchased it. He has a mechanic’s plate which meant he could drive it around a bit without having to register it in his own name. He also happens to be the owner or previous owner of many interesting a low mileage Eighties and Nineties cars in pristine condition. He had a very original 1989 SHO among others which we sadly did not have a chance to see due to time constraints.
I had a cursory look over the car and pronounced it good enough for my purposes. It was clean, had good tread on the tires and, most importantly, was cheap. These vintage travel stickers gave credence to the elderly, one owner story and I think give the car some extra character. Rod and I had a great chat with the seller who has similar vehicle interests to ours. Perhaps too good of a chat as it was dusk and rapidly getting darker as we set off.
As you can see it is a Special Edition which is the top trim level but more importantly worth a mighty fifty points in the vehicle judging section of the challenge.
The interior is refreshingly clean for such an inexpensive vehicle. Usually when I buy at the very shallow end of the budget market the car needs several hours of cleaning to be inhabitable. You can see the cloth seats, padded dash, simulated wood grain trim of the SE trim line. It is not a loaded car however with manual crank windows. The seats themselves seem to straddle the line between a traditional bench and buckets by deftly combining the negatives of both designs without the positives that either would have afforded.
The Dodge Aries for 1983 was powered by either a Chrysler 2.2L or Mitsubishi 2.6L four cylinder engine. Thankfully mine has the (relatively) more reliable 2.2L making 82-84hp and 111lb-ft of torque when new. The engine could be hooked to a either manual or automatic transmission. Most were equipped like mine with the automatic which is a TorqueFlite A413 three speed unit with either a column or floor shift. Like several other American manufacturers at the time fuel injection was not yet on the menu especially at the lower end of the market. The Aries is saddled with an electronically controlled feedback two barrel carburetor that is often afflicted with driveability issues especially when the engine is cold. Suspension wise the front uses struts, the rear has coil springs and a flex beam. Steering is a rack and pinion system that could be optionally powered. Braking is the usual for the era front discs and rear drums. My Aries has 13″ rims with an impressive amount of sidewall on the tires.
For the journey back the Dodge would be in the lead with my trusty Mazda 2 following behind.
I was a little surprised that no one mentioned K-cars in comment section of part one (my apologies if you did and I managed to over look it). Perhaps that is because the K-car’s time in the sun as a beater of choice was a decade or two ago. The early cars in particular are getting very thin on the ground. I had previously owned a 1986 Chrysler LeBaron that was a fantastic inner city clunker but it could not hold it’s oil while on the highway so I was a little apprehensive for the drive home.
Only half an hour into the drive the battery light started flickering signaling an issue with the alternator. We had to turn off all the accessories off in a bid to save every precious electron. The plan had been to trade drivers at the half way point but by then it was clear we would be limping it back home in the best possible scenario so Rod got stuck with the driving duties for almost the whole way. Soon after the flicking battery warning light became more rapid then solidly lit. The alternator had given up the ghost.
As if to foreshadow a greater issue the seat-belt warning light came on despite the fact he was already belted in. It cannot be a good sign when the car tells you to buckle up! We resorted to even more drastic battery management solutions for the last leg of the journey. I suspect the added load of having the headlights on is what did the alternator in. If we had done the drive in the daylight we might have had no problems at all but I would certainly prefer to flush out any issue like this before the challenge.
Despite the mechanical setback the Aries managed to complete the drive under its own power. Although the photo does not show it the headlights were incredibly dim at this point. I believe we had only mere moments before the battery would have been unable to keep the car running. I suspect if the car had been fuel injected there would have been no hope with the extra electrical burden it would have saddled the battery with.
Please excuse the messy garage but the Aries is now safety home awaiting a new alternator as well as any preparation work I can fit in. I have an idea for a team name and theme/costume at this point but I would definitely be open to suggestions as well.
The humble K-car may have saved Chrysler in the 1980s but how will it fare on a beater challenge?
The whole series:
CC Road Trip: The Great Beater Challenge, Part 1 – Vehicle Selection
CC Road Trip: The Great Beater Challenge, Part 2 – 1983 Dodge Aries Purchased
CC Road Trip: The Great Beater Challenge, Part 3 – Vehicle Preparation
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 1, Part 1 – Off To A Slow Start
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 1, Part 2 – Rain, Rain, and a Hotel with Character
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 2, Part 1 – The Big Climb
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 2, Part 2– Finale
Amazing condition for an ’82. How many miles does it have on it? Seems to be rust free as well. Good the car was a few miles away so the alternator failed before the trip started.
Maybe “Lee’s Legacy” for a nickname? Not sure how this would translate into a costume theme, though.
It looks better in photos than in real life, A few spots of rust and wear but nothing too bad. It is a survivor.
The odometer show 72k kms but I would assume its gone around once so likely 172k kms which is 107k miles.
When the Concours d’Lemons started they had a special prize for K-Cars and derivatives; they called it “Carozzeria Iacocca”.
Also, I can suggest a theme song! “Acceptable in the ’80s” by Calvin Harris;
Wow- that is quite a find! Haven’t seen a early K here in NH in years. I’d be happy to drive that as a DD. Glad you were able to make it home in spite of your alternator issue.
It’s a K-car, you were lucky to find it and it made it back to your digs (only just, but it did).
I propose to call it / your team: ¡K Suerte!
Go for a Latino theme of some sort… Sombreros and a “Cucaracha” klaxon?
Looking at that car gives me a sense of deja vu, my buddy’s folks bought an almost identical one new back in ’82. It was pretty basic transportation, but it gave many years of good service. His youngest sister was in Grade 3 or so when it arrived and she drove it off to university 15 years later.
It did have a few quirks as it aged, such as being hard to start when cold and overheating on long mountain passes( that little 4 cylinder was pretty hard pressed to maintain a reasonable speed on long grades). There was always a can of ether and a gallon of coolant in the trunk just in case. Just sayin….
Good luck with the challenge and safe travels.
I will definitely be bringing extra coolant and oil. Plus just take my time.
Great find! And I’m reasonably optimistic about its abilities for your planned tour. It’s actually a good thing that alternator went right away; on less possible issue resolved. I’m looking forward to how this plays out.
I have two of these vintage cars, one an 83 LeBaron with 2.2L and the other an 88 Reliant with 2.5L. Both still run well and are reliable. Well, almost. The 83 went on a 700 mile one way trip when the fuel pump decided to give up the ghost before the return trip. Otherwise, 1400 miles with no other incident. Fortunately, the car gave up the ghost in the driveway of an auto parts store. They didn’t have the pump, but another affiliate close by did. Talk about luck.
Your car will perform well for you.
I sure hope so!
sweet ride. please, try not to trash it!
David have you fixed the charging system at this point or just know it’s not charging? The alternator on this car is the standard old Chrysler type that is externally regulated. (i.e. turned on and off). A little on the car testing may save you the hassle of pulling the alternator for bench testing. The electronic engine control module regulates the alternator output on this vehicle. Identify the field control terminal on the back of the alternator. A service manual or wire diagram is helpful here. With a voltmeter connected to the battery with the engine running momentarily touch a ground jumper wire to the field control terminal. If it begins to charge the problem is external to the alternator. The field driver in these early ECMs were more failure prone than the alternators. If that proves to be the case and one cannot be sourced on the cheap a regular old Chrysler external solid state voltage regulator can be easily retrofitted between the voltage sense wire and the field control wire. The regulator must be grounded.
Not trying to sound like a grandiose know it all, but just sharing my experience with any number of these cars that came into the shop with shiny new alternators and still the same problem. Often these cars were in beater class state but the engine controllers were still quite expensive.
I wish you good luck competing with this car. It’s going to be exciting to follow.
I ordered the alternator online as it was cheap I didn’t have time not but I was going to see if it was the regulator. I’ll try your debugging steps before pulling the old one. Thanks!
You can retrofit an external regulator and avoid the need to replace the computer, since it is carburetor. Haven’t bought one in more than a decade but they used to be ~$20, a whole lot less than even a wrecking yard computer.
Wow, I haven’t seen an early K-car for a long time, it seems all that is left is the final production from the late 80s, which there seems to be a lot of around this area of Vancouver Island.
Same here. Almost all survivors from the last couple years. I think fuel injection helped their survival.
Nice find. My girlfriend had one back in the ninties. It was pretty good for a few months until the automatic transmission gave up the ghost. Being a starving artist she sent it away and had me drive her around..
I would guess that by this point in it’s life the transmission has been overhauled or you got a good one.
Good luck maybe next year I will have to enter.
K car, NEVER seen one not ever, Chrysler left this part of the planet completely in about 1980, Mitsubishi took up the pentastar cudgel replacing the cars with their own which in most cases were better products. Chrysler versions of Rootes cars were fairly crap and Aussie Valiants had stagnated since 76.
I’m looking forward to more tales of this things travels buying cars in the dark and driving them 300+kms home is something a mate and I have done several times with french Peugeots and Citroens, we always made it back.
Last year I bought a Triumph Spitfire in March for a $1000. Drove it home on in -20C, snow and at night. That wasn’t the plan but it just seems to work out that way.
Not sure the K-car was any worse than others of its time. Against GM’s Citation it looks pretty decent. Ford’s North American Escort and later Tempo wasn’t wonderful either. It is a product of its time.
I was going to mention the K-car’s competition. Percentage-wise, I would imagine the Fords survived the most.
Just imagine what might have happened if Iacocca had won his battle with Henry II. The sharp boxy style might have been at Ford and the 86 Taurus might have looked like a K car instead.
Peugeots and Citroëns has not the best reputation for reliability the last 20 years here in Northern Europe. After 505 they have not been good. I’ve never had any major problems with my old american cars, either from the 60/70/80/90s, and most of them drove over 200.000 miles before I sold them, some of them I still have today. My father has owned a lot of Peugeots. The 505s was good (not the rust proofing though), the 406 not so god, but very rust proof, the 508 so far pretty decent. I think the last really good Peugeot was the 504. Then we can talk about reliability.
Certainly looks better than the one I saw in the parking lot as a district car of all things for the Mt. Diablo School district last year. I was stunned just seeing it with the district emblem on the doors.
This was just after looking at a 86 Caravelle with 68,000 miles owned by an elderly retired Navy Captain. Dirty, but cleanable. Sagging headliner. Also a 2.2L auto but with a throttle body. Problem was failing smog in California for being too rich. Drove fine but needed work to pass smog. I could fix cheaper (throttle body leaking) then the owner could ever do it and offered lower than his stated $1500. He wouldn’t budge and now the car sits in the driveway off the streets 16 months later. Shame, as they are easy to wrench on.
Just as well because after he turned down my offer I was offered another car, older one I had seen, for $800 later that day with more pizzazz.
That seems an ideal match for the criteria you set out in the previous post. Real nice condition for what I assume was a much lower price than this pristine ’83. Yours, being an ’82 Canadian-spec car, might very well have come from the factory configured to run on leaded gasoline: no catalytic converter, no small-diameter fuel filler inlet, no “UNLEADED GASOLINE ONLY” labels. Canada’s emissions standards weren’t as tight as the US regs until 1985 or so—one could still buy a carbureted, manually-choked, no-catalyst Volvo 240 there through ’84—and Chrysler Canada’s promotional material for the ’82 K-cars touted their ability to run on leaded regular gasoline as an added-value feature since it was cheaper than unleaded.
As Rich C mentions, a standard ’70-’89 Chrysler voltage regulator can very easily be installed if the engine control module’s own voltage regulation function has failed, which is more likely than the alternator having given out. Quick diagnostic: remove both of the small (field) wires from the alternator and tape them off to guard against shorts. Ground one of the alternator’s field terminals. Connect the other field terminal to the alternator’s B+ (output) stud. It does not matter which field terminal gets which of these treatments. Start the engine, but do not rev it and don’t run it for long—just long enough to look at the ammeter. If it swings toward “C”, the alternator’s fine and you need a regulator. Even if this test is flunked, you may just need a new set of alternator brushes, which are cheap and very easy to install without removing the alternator from the vehicle.
Had no seat time in one of these, but that condition is the best reassurance.
I’d go all Carrera Panamericana in its disguise. Hehehe
I wish you lived closer to Ontario David, I’d offer to trade my Grand Cherokee for the car.
I had 3 of them back in the day. all three were mechanical disasters but every time I see a decent old one like this I have an uncontrollable urge to take it home with me!
and my GC is a Limited too! that would get you your extra 50 points I’m sure!
This is really the perfect unassuming beater. I’ve always liked these earnest K-cars. In a way, their very pedestrianness makes them so much more unique than today’s overstyled counterparts. Have fun! A beater challenge is a fantasy near and dear to all the folks here at Curbside Classic!
Fare thee well, little Dodge.
Those sold here in Austria reasonably well (for a US-made vehicle) and some survive in everyday use, believe it or not. The below V6 Saratoga lives not too far from where I live and according to the License plates is out of state and obviously is capable of travelling regularly from Salzburg to Langenzersdorf (app. 400 Km)…
Quite so. Take a look at this German’s account of his ownership of two ’90-’91 Saratogas.
Living the dream, David! Team “No Better Deal” for the win!
Nice looking “beater” David. I think the original owner was a elderly person that was very safety minded because he or she had a 3rd brake light installed which was not added to cars till 1986.
I can believe that the miles are only 72K. It was owned by a older person(who probably drove little) and then sat for a while at some repair shop.
It is funny that you mention it was not fully loaded because there was no power windows. The only Aries/Reliant I have ever seen with power windows was the Motor Week 1985 Aries Test car. I have never seen any other. i have seen scores of LeBarons with them but not an Aries/ Reliant.
These cars were very comfortable to ride/drive in which is one of the big reasons that they were massive sellers(the other was they were cheap) was the comfort and roomy interior. The Accord of the same era was a cramped miserable shitbox.
Anyway do the following:
1. Change plugs and wires(this will take you all of 15 mins to do)
2. Change the coolant
3. Change the belts (that might have been your charging problem)
4. Have the battery checked and consider replacing it(who knows how old it is, it was taxed to capacity on your drive)
5. Look over the entire cooling system and replace all original hose clamps (originally ones were the squeeze clamps that you removed with a pliers) with the more efficient worm clamps
6.replace or keep a spare timing belt in the trunk
7. External trans cooler will help the trans as it was heat that killed most of these A series transmissions
Good luck with that car. Last I had a 1992 lebaron sedan beater I bought for $700 that I drove for a few months before passing it on. It was a pretty good car for what it was.
Having a decent amount of time in an ’84 Accord as a passenger, and a bit as a driver, I’d vehemently disagree with calling it a “cramped miserable shitbox”. But you know what they say about opinions.
Just seen the name you’ve chosen. So far, one of the funniest between the teams 🙂
(If this has shown up twice, it’s because the first time wasn’t showing up in the browser. Sorry.)
Very nice! This is an era of car that I approach with some trepidation – it is old enough to suffer from the kinds of ills that all old cars suffer from, and it is new enough that elderly electronics become both troublesome and difficult to diagnose. However, on the budget that you have to deal with, you seem to have done well.
I have no firsthand experience with these – all my time in Mopars of this era was spent in L body Omnirizons. In fact, the 2.2 remains a muddle in my mind, having read some people raving about its durability while reading others who have panned it as a POS engine. For your purposes, I hope the “Trans 4″s fans are right.
My family had several of these back in the mid-90s, mostly because we just couldn’t afford anything better at the time. Best one I had was an ’85 Aries with the base stripper interior and plain bench seat, same as the seat in the ’84 Reliant my BIL had around the same time. The Aries ran great but wasn’t that comfy. Prior to this I had an ’84 Aries wagon with the SE upgrade and the split bench seats with armrest. This seat wasn’t as comfy as the buckets Chrysler was putting in these cars back then, but it was a damn sight better than the base bench, which I found to be lacking in lower back support.
Dad had an ’84 Chrysler Lebaron Town & Country wagon with the buckets and it was the most comfy. Before he sent his car to the wrecking yard (it was rusting thru pretty bad and the 2.6 Mitsu engine need a timing chain) I swapped the 14″ rims/tires on it with the tall skinny 13-inchers on my ’85 Aries – what a huge, huge improvement that made for ride and handling. I later sold that Aries to a co-worker whose son promptly drove it into a rock cut, totaling it. One of the cars I should have held on to a bit longer.
I often see an older guy drive by my home and he has two of these K rides – a 4 door & a wagon. They appear to be in good condition despite being driven on our salt-laden winter roads.
The engine is non-interference…timing belt is actually an easy job.
If the front end has a “mystery clunk” on bumpy corners that may or may not include funky steering feedback, it’s the outer tie rod ends.
If it needs brakes, do NOT turn the rotors unless they are pulsing! And do not replace them…I would take 30-year-old factory parts over new Chinesium.
Do not add the wrong fluid to the transmission…it PROBABLY uses Dexron…but be sure.
Perfect. And as a died in the wool lover of K cars for no good reason whatsoever, I’m jealous over the fantastic find. I have no doubt you’ll have great luck on the tour with this car. I wrung many a mile out of Mopar 2.2s back in the day, and while none is without its faults or fragilities, I wouldn’t hesitate to set out on a cross country jaunt in a decently sorted example today. That interior just calls out to me. Enjoy this great beater, it’s a winner!
That may be the nicest looking K-car I’ve ever seen. I forgot that before they got all tarted up in the later years, they started out as honest little cars.
Canadian 2.2’s never used feedback carbs, our 2.6’s were a little different too–I think it was the lack of the 3 engine valve. Watch for the wires going to the distributor pickup, they car break over time from the timing advance movement.
That would be great if it didn’t. Here is my carb. Very dusty. Seems to have very little action on the first half of the throttle so I’m wondering if the primary barrel is a little sticky.
Great find and a great little car! It shows the basic roots that made a K-car a K-car.
Imagine – that little K-car (being an SE) has the same steering wheel as in the mighty Imperial!!
Hey, I made a cross country road trip in one of those as a kid with my grandparents. My grandfather bought a brand new 1981 Dodge Aries K wagon in about that same shade of blue with the blue mouse fur interior.
One of the first things he did with that car was take me and my little sister along with my mother and grandmother on a sight seeing tour of the US – in fact, I’m pretty sure he bought the car with that trip in mind. The five of us and our luggage spent about three weeks on the road in that car. It was very slow and very hot. A/C and maintaining highway cruising speeds with 3 adults and 2 children plus a luggage packed cargo area are mutually exclusive with only 84 HP. Ascending mountains was especially painful. Otherwise, the car performed just fine and survived the trip without incident. I thought the seats were a little itchy, especially when you were already hot & sweaty. The trip was a trip of a lifetime though.
My grandfather was very excited about the Aries from an engineering standpoint and the utility and practicality of it, as well as the much improved gas mileage over his previous cars. Up until then he’d firmly been a Mercury man with a string of Cougars and Marquis with a ’78 Grand Marquis coupe being the final Mercury. MacPherson struts, FWD and transaxles was all exciting new technology to him. Dad had already bought a VW Dasher Diesel by this time which was even hotter (brown vinyl seats) and slower (55 HP) so we weren’t as impressed – I would’ve rather ridden in grandma’s Grand Marquis but we would’ve run out of gas money by the time we crossed the first state line with that big, thirsty 351.
I remember the paint faded on that Aries very quickly, like, just after a couple of summers it was shot. Otherwise, the car held up OK for the 10 years granny held on to it. It was noisy and tinny though, even when new, and even 9 year old me could tell that it was not nearly as well built as our VW,
Nice find, David. It’s rare to see one of these original K-cars before they smoothed out the front and rear clips for ’85; while that was an effective update, I like the blocky honesty of the original styling. It’s really a fantastic original in all respects–any plans for it once the great beater challenge is complete?
Oh, and if that’s a messy garage, I’d hate for you to see what mine looked like! Unfortunately now I simply don’t have one, but that does serve as a remarkable deterrent for acquiring excess stuff that has to be stored somewhere.
I think that’s a perfect vehicle for the trip! People make fun of K-cars, but I still see them being driven here in Michigan occasionally.
Went to register this today and it turns out to be a 1983 not 1982. Functionally I think 1983 and 1982 are pretty much identical.