COAL: 1985 Plymouth Turismo – You Can’t Polish A Turd


From pretty much birth, I’ve always been interested in cars.  I took my first trip down the ¼ mile in a car seat with my dad at the wheel of a ‘57 Bel Air.   After getting my driver’s license, it was time to actually purchase my first car.  It would still be a few years before I got my hands on my dad’s 1977 Dodge Aspen (previous COAL).  I had visions of modern muscle cars (mid-80s Monte Carlo SS) and convertibles (68-72 Olds 442) dancing in my head.  The reality of insurance prices and my $2K budget squashed those dreams pretty quickly.  I had a fondness for the 1987 Shelby GLHS and Shelby Chargers, but the turbo motor made that a no-deal proposition.  This narrowed my focus down to one of the non-turbo brothers, a 1984-1987 Dodge Charger or Plymouth Turismo (I preferred the look of the quad-headlight front end on the later models).  Not long after I started my search, in April of 1993 I became the third owner of a faded white 1985 Plymouth Turismo.


For 1985, the hottest performance Turismo was the Turismo 2.2 with a 110-hp 2.2L 4-cylinder, close-ratio 5-speed manual trans, rear spoiler, sports suspension, and ground effects package.  Mine was not the Turismo 2.2.  The next step down was the Turismo Duster.  This had the 96-hp 2.2L 4-cyl, styled road wheels, and the rear spoiler from the 2.2 model.  Mine was not the Turismo Duster.


[The car I really wanted, definitely not the car I got.]

My Turismo was a base model.  It did have the 2.2L 4-cylinder, which made 96 hp when new, mated to a 5-speed manual transmission.  It was a faded white, with a tan interior, and almost solid chrome wheel covers.  The fastback shape made it look sporty, but it really wasn’t.  It  didn’t matter to me,  I had my own car.  I performed my very first oil change on this car.  I cleaned it every week.  During one such session, I performed my first wax job on the car.  About mid-way through, my dad walked out to the garage to inspect my work and casually commented “You know, you can’t polish a turd” and then walked back into the house.   All in jest, of course.


[Not my interior, but it was essentially identical.]

Once my junior year in high school started, I became the neighborhood taxi service.  I shuttled friends to and from school.   After school there was marching band practice, and weekly football games.  Never was there an empty seat in the Turismo, and on a few occasions there were a couple of friends cruising in the back hatch area.  I also got an after school job working at Montgomery Ward, and my Turismo served me well back and forth to work.


After 6 months and countless number of clutch drops, it was time to having to start replacing parts on the car.  The clutch was starting to slip, and the front tires were just starting to see the cords peek through.  I swapped the fronts to the rear, but was still riding on borrowed time.


One afternoon in November, my mom and I were in her car when we heard an advertisement come on the radio.  Rich Ford in Albuquerque was advertising brand new ‘93 Escort Ponys for $6995.  This was to clear out the previous year model’s inventory, the new ‘94s were already on the lots.  We got to talking about car payments, how much I was making at work, etc, and came to the conclusion that I could probably afford the payments on the new car.  A very quick test drive in a Pony Escort and I was absolutely NOT going to buy that car.  My mom’s Escort was a 1991 LX version, and felt like a luxury car compared to the penalty box the Pony was.  It was hard to believe that they were essentially the same car.  I would rather have kept the Turismo than buy that car.

However, I began looking around for other new cars in the same price range.  Several dealerships in the area were offering similar discounts to clear out old inventory.  Within a couple of weeks, I handed over the keys to the Turismo as trade in for my first new car.


[My Turismo after my girlfriend’s ’93 grad party.]

That would not be the last encounter with the Turismo.  About 6 months later on my way to work, I caught a familiar face on a used car lot out of the corner of my eye.  I went back that weekend and sure enough, there was my Turismo.  I took her for a test drive for old times sake.  The clutch was still slipping and the tires were still bald.  The asking price on the car lot was $5000, over twice what I paid for the car more than year prior.  About a year after that, I participated in a jazz music competition hosted at the University of New Mexico.  I arrived very early in the morning, me and my high school jazz band were the first to compete.  When I parked in the UNM campus parking lot, it was pretty much empty.  When I came out a few hours later, the lot was full.  I walked up to my car and sitting right next to her was my old Turismo.  It was easily recognizable because I had painted a silver-dollar sized Marvin the Martian face on the front bumper, and it was still there.  That would be the last time I would see the Turismo.