COAL: 1984 Dodge Daytona – It’s Got a TURBO!

Note: Not the actual car, but the same colors with pizza wheels

Although I had owned several K-cars in my car flipping activities, in 1989, I acquired my first official K-car through marriage.  Not an Aries or Reliant, but a genuine K-sports car called a Dodge Daytona.  Equipped with Chrysler’s 2.2L turbocharged 4 cylinder, it was a pretty good performer.

My wife had previously owned a 1983 Olds Cutlass Supreme.  She loved the car, but it apparently had a carburetor problem that the dealer could not resolve.  Tired of the dealer runaround, and since I was not in the picture at the time as her personal mechanic, she traded it in on a 1984 Daytona.  New for 1984, the Daytona was a hatchback, had good cargo space, and was very comfortable.  The turbo engine was fuel injected, quick, and got good fuel economy.  Since she bought it soon after introduction, the available colors were limited and the car had huge “turbo” decals on the doors.  There was no doubt what was under the hood.

When I mentioned “pizza wheels” at the beginning of this post, here is what I was referring to.  The folks I knew at Chrysler called them that because they looked like they were a pizza with pepperoni on it.  Still attractive to me today, the only downside of these wheels was that the tires were always leaking air.  When I asked the folks at Chrysler’s tire lab what the cause was, they said that the tires shift ever so slightly on the wheel when you go over bumps in the road.  Each time that happens, some air leaves the tire.  The recommendation was that I break the tire from the bead, clean the corrosion off the wheel, and apply some bead sealer, and then reseat the tire.  I did that one weekend and it worked well.  No more having to constantly add air to the tires.  Fortunately, I owned a tire machine at that time so it was not too difficult.

The interior was very comfortable, as the seat had adjustable lumbar support as well as side bolsters.  Interestingly, the rear hatch also had sun visors for the rear seat passengers.  The rear seat itself was child sized, so one had to wonder why Chrysler bothered with sun visors.

Note: This is not my foot in the picture

The dashboard was K car based, but was much more attractive with racing style gauge faces, full instrumentation, and a turbo boost gauge.  It also had a multi-function chronometer that not only told the time, but also served as a timer.  When my wife bought the car, she noticed that half of the instrument panel would not illuminate at night.  Several visits to the dealer failed to resolve the problem.  One weekend when I visited for a date, I offered to take a look at it.  Reaching under the instrument panel, I proceeded to wiggle some of the connectors on a hunch.  It paid off in that the lights returned and worked like they should have from the beginning.

This car was my introduction to the wonderful world of Chrysler 2.2 head gasket issues.  One weekend, I offered to do some routine maintenance on the car.  I flushed the cooling system and installed new coolant.  While letting the car idle in order to burp the cooling system, I noticed a small leak on the front of the engine near the camshaft sprocket.  Turns out it was the head gasket.  I had heard many stories from the engineers at Chrysler about head gasket problems in the early days of the K-car development, but supposedly they had solved those issues.  NOT.  I learned the right way and the wrong way to do the head gasket job on the 2.2.   You cannot easily remove the intake and exhaust manifolds with the engine still in the car.   You can remove the aluminum head with the manifolds attached as long as you have good arm strength and long arms.  The turbo comes along for the ride with the manifolds.

The biggest difficulty comes when you try to remove the spring loaded exhaust pipe bolts at the exhaust manifold.  No matter whether you try to do this from the top or the bottom, they are rusted together and will never move.  Cue the blue wrench (oxy-acetylene torch).  Working carefully from the top, you can cut the bolt off.  You just have to make sure that you don’t cut or damage anything else nearby.  Timing belt tension is also critical to success.  If it is too tight, it will make a whining noise.  Too loose, it will either jump time or run as if it has no guts.  Just right, and it will run for a long time.  I did check the head flatness with all of the other parts attached and it was within spec.  If not, then I would have had to remove the turbo and manifolds to get the head machined.  When reinstalling the cylinder head, bolt torque is important.  These are torque to yield bolts that must be replaced on a mandatory basis.  You must also use a torque angle meter after the initial torque.  In the end, I did everything right and was successful.  Little did I know that I would have to do this job again several years later.  This time, though, Chrysler had introduced a multi-layer head gasket to solve the problems with the original design.  So that is what I used.  When the head bolts loosen over time, they cause the head to scuff the gasket.  What I didn’t know at the second head gasket replacement was the Chrysler had issued a service bulletin calling for the installation of larger diameter head bolts.  Oh well.  After the second head gasket replacement, I never had to do that job again.

I did have to do some body/paint work on the car.  The rear spoiler clear coat disintegrated, so I wet sanded it and refinished it with base coat/clear coat.  The bottom edges of the doors sprouted rust, so I sanded them, used my favorite all-metal filler shown above, and repainted them.  The hood also required a repaint due stone chip damage.  Other than these items, the body was durable and showed no rust in the floor boards.

After 140,000 miles, a new issue surfaced that would eventually cause us to sell the car.  My wife was driving it from school one afternoon and it just quit running.  Several tries to restart it were unsuccessful, so she call me to come and get her.  Before I arrived, however, the car started so by the time I arrived there was nothing to do but follow her home.  Several months later, we were going to visit my parents and the car quit again on a busy road.  Started right away with no hint of what was wrong.  I checked the car over and found nothing.  At that point, my wife decided that my car would be her primary transportation and that I could drive the Daytona until I figured out what was going on.  The car failed to start on several more occasions, with varying amounts of time between failure and when it would start again.  Since I only lived three miles from work, I figured that I could always walk home if I couldn’t get it to restart.  I figured that since I liked the car, I would eventually pull the engine and do a complete rebuild.  Not so fast.

On the last occasion, we were both in the car when it stalled again.  My wife tapped me on the shoulder and said “It’s time to get rid of this car.”  Who’s to argue?   A couple of days later, I cleaned the car out and gave it a good polish.  Then I gave her the title and told her to sign it.  Why she asked.  Because I’m not coming home with this car today.  There were a couple of BHPH used car lots near work, so I started at the first one and was determined to work my way down the line until I found a taker.  At the second lot, the owner said he was interested but wanted his mechanic to look it over.  Of course, when I went to start the car, it wouldn’t.  Then it did.  The lot owner had a look on his face that told me he knew what was wrong.  His mechanic looked the car over, successfully started it several more times, and declared that it was fine.  The lot owner made me an offer for the car and I accepted.  I don’t think the car was on his lot more that two days before he sold it.  The failure mode was the Hall effect pickup in the distributor.  I would later learn that its failure was common and would rank right up there with the infamous ballast resistor.  We stopped at the local Pontiac dealer on the way home and checked out the new for 1992 Pontiac Bonneville.  Of course, I wasn’t going to get the new car, rather, I would get my car back from my wife.  Is there any other way this works?

A year later, I did see the car on a local freeway doing just fine.  How did I know it was my old car?  Must have been the TURBO decal on the door.

All in all, the Daytona was a very good car and gave us 140,000 miles of service.  Plus, it gave me lessons learned (head gaskets, hall effect pickup) that I would eventually apply to my car flipping activities.  It would also not be my last K-car based vehicle.