In 1976, working part-time and going into my junior year in college, I found myself with a little extra money. Up until then, I had owned only used cars; which I had purchased, respectively, for $500, $800, and $2800. Maybe it was time for a brand new car…
As I was driving by the Chrysler-Plymouth dealer one day I saw a very sharp-looking small compact car parked on the front line – fastback with GT stripes. I stopped by for a look. It was a Plymouth Arrow – a car I had not heard of before.
While I was aware of Chrysler’s earlier captive imports from the Rootes Group and Mitsubishi’s Dodge Colt, it never dawned on me that this Arrow might have its origins somewhere other than Belvidere Illinois. Not until I got to poking around it a little. Surveying the outside at the dealer, I noticed nice, even panel fit and high quality paint. Inside it was beautifully assembled, and all the switches had a firm, solid feel. The five-speed shifter was pure “snick-snick”. So I then popped the hood and immediately saw all the Japanese kanji symbols. A-Ha! I got it now…
Fortunately the salesman was a straight-shooter and knowledgeable of his product. He had quite a few brochures and even some marketing manuals that he shared that discussed Chrysler’s alliance with Mitsubishi and photos of the home market Lancer Celeste, the model the Arrow was based on. I was able to learn quite a bit about the car.
The other fortunate thing was that they weren’t that popular. The dealer had three or four on the lot and they’d been there awhile. I assume that was due to the limited marketing effort by Chrysler. I can remember they didn’t do much to push their Rootes Group imports either. So I was surprised when doing some research for this post I came across quite a few vintage advertisements on the web. I was a routine Sunday newspaper auto ads reader and subscribed to the major car magazines – and I never came across an ad for the Arrow. After I bought it, I do remember the TV spots with the Harry Nilsson song, “Me and My Arrow.” Irrespective, its lack of popularity worked in my favor – the sales manager was ready to deal, and as a result, I bought it right at invoice.
And it was just a great little car. Arrows in ’76 came in base 160, GS, and GT form, and with 1.6 or 2.0 litre SOHC inline fours – the 2.0 had the new balance shaft technology, marketed as “Silent-Shaft”. In 1979, the larger 2.6 litre balance-shafted four became available in the “Fire Arrow” model. Paul has an excellent post on it here. I knew a guy who had one of these – he said the 2.6 made the car quick but also front heavy, and it handled poorly compared to the smaller-engined models.
Mine was the GT with the 1.6, in bright yellow. I was never a fan of yellow before but it looked right on this car, and contrasted nicely with the black GT stripes. The 1.6 wasn’t fast but it felt brisk with the 5-speed manual – curb weight was just a little over 2100 lbs. In three years I never had one problem with that car – you’d just get in, fire it up, and you were on your way. Like every other rear-drive Japanese car I drove during this era, it “thrummed” down the road – not an objectionable sound but unique. The Arrow left me with nothing but pleasant memories – quite the contrast to last week’s post.
Arrows were never big sellers; again I think Chrysler’s lack of marketing had something to do with that. Model year breakout for 1976 to 1980 was as follows;
I would have kept the Arrow but as I mentioned in last week’s COAL, I was headed to upstate NY and while it could handle a dusting of snow, a New England winter would be a challenge. I traded it for a 1979 Subaru 4WD Wagon, which was great in the snow, but not near as much fun to drive.
We all know cars are inanimate objects, but we also sometimes ascribe personalities to them. The Arrow always reminded me of a playful puppy – eager to see you and ready to go anywhere.
I know that sounds strange, but that was my impression – and I recognize some of that may be colored by the fact it was my first brand-new car. But even though I’ve subsequently had vehicles that were larger, faster, more powerful, more luxurious, and/or more prestigious, the Arrow ranks up there as one of the most enjoyable and satisfying cars I’ve owned.