(The pictures in this article are not of the actual car but very similar ones borrowed from Google)
In my previous COAL, my experiment with a European car did not go well. In fact, by this time, I had gone through four cars in two and a half years! I needed some stability and some reliability. As usual, I didn’t have much money but needed a car for work. My Dad’s co-worker’s husband owned a small used car business so Dad made a phone call and arranged a meeting. For $1,200, Dad’s friend hooked me up with as he put it, “a vehicle that will not last you a lifetime but is solid and will give you a few years of service.” I wasn’t so sure about that but I had to be at work on Monday so I became the owner of a 1988 Dodge Aries America that looked just like the above picture…with 153,000 miles? Uh-oh! However, the salesman said…”don’t worry about it…it’s fine!” Surprisingly, he turned out to be right!
What exactly is an Aries America? From the brief research that I did, I learned that the America package was also applied to the Omni/Horizon and was essentially a value package that included equipment that was originally optional at reduced cost. For its final year in 1989, only the America version was offered. My car’s interior looked identical to the picture above. Notice the wood trim and integrated cup holder. Another thing I noticed was the console mounted shifter. Prior to owning this car, I thought all K cars only came with column mounted shifters and bench seats. The bucket seats in my Aries America were actually quite comfortable.
It also came with this pivoting map light that folded neatly and unobtrusively into the passenger side sun visor that I found very useful. Although it kinda reminded me of the examination light in the dentist’s office. I was actually quite impressed with the level of equipment and comfort that the car offered. I know, I know…I’m gushing about a K Car! To top it off, everything worked, including the air conditioning! Under the dash was a push in kill switch that disabled the starter which required a special key to disengage. The installation did not look at all aftermarket but very professional and almost factory. I’m still curious as to how it got there. It seemed like overkill for a Dodge Aries. Albeit the most well equipped Dodge Aries I’d ever experienced.
The powertrain consisted of the venerable 2.2 Liter four cylinder good for 99 horsepower and 121 lb./ft. of torque and console mounted automatic with lockup torque converter. While not a hot rod, it did have adequate power on the highway and accelerated smoothly and did not feel at all underpowered. In the handling department, I noticed that it did not feel loose or wallowy, even at higher speeds. I also remember that it got better gas mileage than my previous cars. This was helpful because my job at the time involved a lot of driving around to different sites.
The car seemed too good to be true, especially for an eleven year old K Car with 153,000 miles. A trip to the mechanic a few months later revealed the reason. It would seem that the salesman really did do my Dad a favor when he sold me the car. Apparently, the engine and transmission were not original but were newer units recently swapped in. The drivetrain had far less than the 153,000 miles on the body. In addition, the entire front end had been recently rebuilt with heavy duty parts explaining the unusually tight handling. Moreover, the entire undercarriage and frame had been reinforced.
I would like very much to know what this car was originally intended for. I know that there was a police package available for the early cars, but I did not think it was still available in ’88. I have since learned that the local Fire Department where I bought the car used K cars as well as the State Government. I wonder if this was one of those vehicles.
This car turned out to be a great daily driver and long distance cruiser. It was economical, roomy and comfortable (I can’t believe I’m talking about a K Car). Ownership turned out to be a nice respite to the automotive troubles I had suffered of late. I do recall one repair when the Check Engine Light illuminated followed by a loss of power. It turned out to be a faulty injector. The repair was not cheap but it was really the only one I had to do on the car. It did not bother me because unlike my previous cars, the repair solved it and it did not have chronic systemic issues that led to my being stranded or unsafe. In fact, in a reversal of roles, the K car and I rescued a few people who were stranded or were having automotive issues. It felt good to have something reliable for a change.
The car served me and my fiance well. We took it on many trips, especially our wedding planning trips. It even helped us move when we consolidated our households a few months before the wedding. It also served us well through a brief period of unemployment, needing nothing and taking me on my job interviews. I eventually landed another job which paid substantially more than my last one. For me, this meant an automotive upgrade was in order. I ended up selling it to an older gentleman who was going through tough times. Having recently gone through a similar situation, I was filled with empathy and let him have the car for $400. I hope the car was as good to him as it was to me. My next COAL was very much influenced by the good experience I had with this O K Car.