I wasn’t happy with the ’86 Firenza I had bought on the cheap. Too slow, not great on fuel, and not a good handler, I wanted something fun, and cheap. A Neon for $500 in the buy and sell paper? Sure!
They were supposed to be the new hope for Chrysler at the time. An all-new design inside and out, an all-new 16-valve engine, tuned for performance. It wasn’t altogether a bad package, and lots were sold. The only real carryover I can remember in these was the old Torqueflite automatic, from the K- and similar cars. Mine had the single-cam engine, and a 5-speed. It was plenty peppy, good on gas, and fun to drive. It wasn’t uncomfortable, either, aside from being a bit low to the ground.
Looking at the above picture brings back some memories. It must have been one of the last cars to have a pull-out knob for headlights, and I don’t remember the signal light and wiper switches feeling all that nice, either. It didn’t have A/C, or cruise, but it did have power steering. I also recall having to weld up the window track mounting spots in the doors, as they were frameless, and whoever owned the car must have closed the doors by slamming the glass shut.
I don’t think the car had that many clicks on it…
I also upgraded the instrument cluster with one from a junkyard for $50, and replaced the awful SPS/Audiovox factory-lookalike stereo with an aftermarket deck. The car worked well for the first few months, but on a trip to Halifax to a former co-worker’s wedding, the car began overheating. It was putting pressure in the rad…Sure enough, the head gasket had let go in the fashion these were known for.
Head back on…I can see the spray glue on the head gasket.
Allpar at the time recommended the dealer’s updated head gasket and parts, so the new multi-steel layer gasket was gotten, along with assorted seals and gaskets, and a can of Mopar spray contact cement, for added stickyness, I guess. It wasn’t a difficult job. A few evenings later, and the car was as good as new. The car was good for bombing back and forth to work, but at MVI time, it was found to have some bad bushings in the front end. After trying and failing to replace them, I threw up my hands in frustration and went to one of the car dealerships in town and made a deal on a new car.
A roof rack with handles on a car. It did set it apart.
The car went to my brother. He had it fixed, and drove it for another year till it failed for rotten rocker panels, and then it got sold to a co-worker of mine for what I’d paid for it. He patched up the rockers with spray foam, and his girlfriend drove it till something finally took it off the road. It wasn’t the engine, though – it got donated to the girlfriend’s mother for her own Neon. It was a good car. It kept on giving.
I came close to buying one of these once or twice but could never quite convince myself that any of the Chrysler-Plymouth or Dodge dealers in my area were going to be around long enough for me to pay off the loan. And sure enough, 1 or 2 folded and/or changed hands. It also didn’t help that dealers almost never had a car with a manual transmission in stock. Inventory at several dealerships I stopped at seemed to consist of stripper/price leader models or cars with every possible option ticked off. Though I do have to say that unlike the foreign competition, Neons never had a lot of ridiculous dealer added options like striping packages and optional leather upholstery kits.
I also have to add that the Neon was one of those rare cars where the 2nd generation model didn’t look a lot worse than the first generation which at one time was the case with Detroit models.
I remember the commercials when these first appeared. “Hi”. Appeared to smile. Friendly. Nowadays the commercials would show the modern scary-alien-insect-Transformer-complete-with-angry-cartoon-eyebrows face of the modern car and scream “What the **** are you looking at!” Or just stab you and set you on fire. And tell you your children are ugly. Oh, I mean “aggressive styling”. I miss these cars and the optimism they represent.
I lol’d – your comment is spot on! Honda also used to have friendly designs. The new Civic looks so angry now.
Yeah, everything seems to have a sort of angry face, anymore. I guess it’s just a sign of the times that everything has to have a Resting Bitch Face (maybe like many of their drivers) and would suggest that the Mitsubishi Mirage has taken the mantle as the latest cute-styled, friendly-looking, cheap car.
Although, I really liked the ‘startled-squirrel’ look of the first generation Chevy Spark with its headlights that ran the entire length of the front fenders..
The Versa Note looks like it’s trying to smile but…I agree, cars look so angry now.
Toyota has perfected the gang tattoo with teardrops front end. Older Toyotas look so comparatively wholesome now. No way I’d buy a new car these days, they all look like a hall of mirrors nightmare.
The Lexus is the worst. On another thread in here, someone christened that front end look as the angry catfish. And yeah, it is.
My only personal experience with a Neon was limited to what can best be described as a “bombing mission” run between White Plains NY, and Williamsburg VA where we rented a Neon, drove straight to our destination, spent 3 hours there, and drove straight back. The “WHY??” isn’t important, but it was important to my friend and such is the price of being friends. In any case, it was a total immersion experience with driving, passenger, front seat, rear seat, dining, and sleeping tests.
I rather liked the car (which was, of course, rental-spec basic). It was a bit rough, and a bit noisy, and had a cheap interior, but it seemed well built and while a little crude compared to the Japanese it didn’t seem flimsy. I really liked the power which I thought was above par for its class, and a good selling point for the car. Good acceleration makes up for a lot of sins (in my book anyhow).
I rated the Neon as a solid “B” economy sedan and predicted it would do well with the market. Chrysler was really on a roll in those days identifying niches, and filling them with interesting product. I loved the idea of a twin-cam ARC Neon. I didn’t have the money or the circumstances for a track-toy car, but if I had, it would have been a Neon.
I was a bit disappointed when the head gasket problems started surfacing; I recall stories saying the engineers knew, but the bean-counters won. By the time the paint started peeling off them in sheets, I’d lost my affection and felt like Chrysler had had “Almost A Great Notion” with the Neon and yet another chance to roll back the Japanese tide had been missed.
” I recall stories saying the engineers knew, but the bean-counters won”
Robert Eaton took over as head of Chrysler in 1993. Management by nickle and dime cost cutting.
Lokki, I agree 100%! I live in an area where almost everyone bought American, because of steel manufacturing and the supporting industries. When they’d get, um, taken advantage of they’d keep going back. X-car b.s., K-car valves, Escort/Neon head gaskets, whatever. There was a stigma to buying foreign or perceived foreign. Except for the large pickups, and Charger/Mustangs, the everyday cars are all Camrys, Accords and Altimas. Even the beaters are older Avalon’s and Maximas. The US cars could have owned this market forever. Out of pettiness and greed they lost it forever. People finally realized they were in an abusive relationship and got out. My Explorer had a complete transmission failure at 40,000 miles and that marked my cross the Rubicon moment. So now I am all Toyota and happy. It didn’t have to be his way…
I truly loved mine.
They sold these in OZ & NZ I remember they landed with quite a thud absolutely panned by the motoring press, Ive seen exactly one in recent years, what ever is was that killed then it must have been a epidemic.
Even around here in the US they are mostly gone. I haven’t seen a first generation in ages, and even the later generations are rare, as well as the subsequent Caliper which was just a Neon with a new body on it.
From what I saw they were generally pretty solid cars until something suddenly goes catastrophic on them (often the head gasket). An expensive repair combined with low resale value is usually the end for them.
The main thing that sticks in my mind is the three-speed auto.
In Australia they required quite a degree of optimism to buy. Chrysler had just returned to the market after being gone since they sold out their local operations to Mitsubishi around ’80. So you had to have optimism that this new-to-Australia company was going to stick around, faith that they knew what they were doing when it came to small cars, as well as blindness to the excellence of all the competition.
This was such an appealing little car in 1995, and a great example of the maddening self-harm from Robert Eaton’s time running Chrysler. They were making money hand over fist from efficiencies in the development process and were in the midst of a string of sales hits. But that wasn’t enough – there was a need to cheap-out on parts and components. This is understandable when a company is on the ropes, but not when they are flush.
It was like they couldn’t see that just a little extra investment in the product would yield happier customers, lower warranty costs, better resale value and more sales down the road. Nope, we need to squeeze a nickle here and a dime there so that we can drive our stock price even higher. It worked for awhile until the cars were a few years old and everyone knew that the cars were fragile.
They didn’t have to be better than Toyota to succeed through the 2000s, they just had to be better than GM. But the ex GM guy (who had been chief engineer of the FWD X cars in the late 70s) probably didn’t see it that way.
Thats what I find incredible and maddening about Chrysler, they had been through it before, and not just once, how could they not learn such a simple lesson?
Just a little more money on them and they would have been better than a Cavalier or Sunfire. The engine, aside from the head gasket issue, was more powerful and refined than the pushrod 4 in the Cavalier, which had its own head gasket issues. They both had 3-speed automatics if I recall.
Supposedly, the original Neon concept didn’t have the round headlights. But in one of his final acts as Chrysler CEO, Iacocca was reputed to have insisted on the round ones. Even on his way out the door, Iacocca still had glimmers of the brilliance that had made him an automotive legend.
But then there’s the other, not-so-great parts of the 1G Neon. Besides the head gasket, there’s the quite lame business of power windows that were only supplied for the front doors; the rear were all manual winders, regardless of how the fronts operated. OTOH, at least you could lower the rear windows.
And that Torqueflite. While still rugged, the Neon was saddled with a 3-speed while all of its competitors had long since upgraded to 4-speeds. But that might have been a hidden benefit in that the Neon’s 3-speed Torqueflite managed to keep a solid reputation (unlike the Ultradrive 4-speed used in the minivans).
Finally, there’s those frameless windows, a Chrysler trademark. While stylish and lighter than framed doors, they have their issues, like the aforementioned problem of the glass becoming misaligned by yahoos closing the doors via the glass rather than the door. And the wind noise.
But Chrysler did sell a lot of them. For what it was, the Neon was okay (certainly better than the Daimler-era successor Caliber), and for years, they were everywhere, rivaling the Cavalier in their ubiquity. But, as mentioned, after so many years when something major did finally break, it just wasn’t cost effective to keep fixing them, so off to the boneyard they all went.
One final note on the way Neons were stocked as to being either fully loaded or stripped, a word is needed on the op-art colors in which they were initially offered. It was almost like a step back in time to the old High-Impact musclecar days of the early seventies, with the most notable being a return of the old Sublime green. It didn’t sell well and I distinctly recall a sales manager losing his job at a Dodge dealer because he’d ordered a bunch of the green things which sat on the lot for years, even with huge discounts. It seemed no one wanted a Sublime green Neon, even at giveaway prices.
I LOVED that green color! I was s totally broke college kid when these came out, and actually looked into buying one. Of course no bank would touch me…
Then years later I was gonna buy either a Miata or an ACR Neon (both used, of course) My decision was made when the Neon was totaled by the kid test driving it before I got there to see it!
These are all gone where I live, too. I also miss small, light cars and hope they make a comeback when gas goes back over $5 a gallon (and please don’t make them angry looking!)
The 2G Neon also had the front power window/ rear crank window thing going on and Ford’s currently gen Focus has (or had) the front power window/ rear crank thing on the base Focus.
In a way there is a logic to it. How many folks have all 4 windows down if there is no other folks in the car? In all the 4 door cars I have owned, I don’t think I ever put the rear windows down. I used AC in the summer if the heat was oppressive and the two front windows down if it was warm but not super hot.
The reason I couldn’t live with a vehicle that didn’t have rear power windows has to do with air flow. Whenever possible, I try to keep the windows down for cooling instead of the A/C (I’ll even run the A/C on a low setting with the windows down at the same time).
The problem is the buffeting that occurs from the open front windows. It can be alleviated by, you guessed it, cracking the passenger side rear window an inch or two. The same applies to using a sunroof.
Getting the rear window open from the driver’s seat would require some difficult (and dangerous while driving) contortions with crank winders in the back.
Another Neon color that recalled the early 70s was Magenta, a shade not that far off from the old Panther Pink. A friend bought one. He was looking for the best deal he could get on a Neon. He was colorblind and said any color was fine. The salesman said he could do a great price on a Magenta car he had in stock. My friend asked “What color is Magenta?” The salesman said “It is a kind of red.” My friend said fine and bought it.
Nearly bought the twin to your pictured car brand new in 1995. Instead, I bought a used Buick LeSabre and also kept my Chevette. The idea was my mom could also use the Buick – the first car I actually paid for that had an automatic, while I would keep my ‘vette as a smoking parlor and for general slumming. Didn’t work out so good between my mom and my lady friend, neither of whom could drive a stick. Reading your post today makes me wonder what my life would have been like had I bought the Neon.
Sorry ain’t gonna say my point of view is ruling , but here in the Southern hemisphere of continental America the brands Chrysler and Fiat are both the symbol of the same feeling : cars that look attractive when new, but nobody can bet what’s gonna become tomorrow . Or very low reliability . In general , Chrysler abandoned the game earlier than expected ( suddenly ceasing even parts’ supplies , suddenly closing most dealers ) no surprise all local Neons if not gettin’ stranded they’re owned by just careless niggas . At least Fiat every now and then gives an explanation to their owners , just think of luxury Fiat Linea imported from Turkey , from night to morning no more official service ( as it happened with many Chryslers ) .
I get that you don’t like FCA products but there is no need for racial slurs.
I’m happy I was sitting down for the revelation that you bought a NEW CAR. I was floored. All the way from a series of $500 beaters to a NEW CAR! I think the cheapest car I’ve ever managed to own was an $850 Volvo 740 station wagon bought and flipped a couple of years ago. In Atlanta, there are no $500 running cars so I am amazed.
We had the predecessor to this car, a 4 door ’89 sundance bought new after a succession of awful used cars. This car was before the Sundance got cheapened into the America series and was quite plush for a smaller car, with very nice upholstery and trim. The hatch made it incredibly large while the trunk style kept your valuables secured. Perhaps it was made out of K car bones but those bones made it cheap, dependable, and Iacocca could trim it up like a much nicer car for the price, and those bones had been refined over the original where the Sundance wasn’t rattly and handled decently. A very well put together car which met a protracted demise when my brother backed it at full speed into a concrete light pole at the mall.
As Rudiger mentioned, Iacocca made at least one key decision: making the headlights round. Another key decision was to use the Dynasty tooling for this car which gave it enormous room on the inside and an enormous wheelbase. I remember a county commissioner (who was obviously not on the take) had one of these as her personal car and I was impressed with the size inside but the grey plastic interior left me cold. They were VERY cheap on the inside, and, unlike the early Sundance/Shadows, were only available in the grey plastic interior.
Rudiger mentioned that the power windows were only for the front, which is common in Europe, and when the Neon debuted, power windows were still somewhat rare even in midsize cars. It made sense, because adults would be sitting in the front seats with children who shouldn’t be playing with electric windows relegated to the rear, but it looked cheap.
The 2.0 was a derivation of the K car engine with new heads and some new features, but there wasn’t anything really wrong with the K car engine.
They sold well, but by this time, the Escort had moved to a Mazda platform which was miles better than the previous Escort. It was better than the Cavalier, but everything was better than the Cavalier.
I think these had some of the worst delaminating paint problems. I’ve never seen a purple one that was all the same colour and didn’t have most of the paint off. Honda also had delaminating paint problems then and I’ve never seen a Green 95 Accord which was all the same colour.
I still see some first gen Neons around Atlanta, which is remarkable. For some reason, cars just don’t last very long down here. It’s not rust . . .
The Caliber was infinitely worse. We looked at one once just cos it was cheap and the horrible interior and droning CVT rendered it unfit for human consumption.
My mom owned one of these as her last car. She bought it brand new, a 1999 Neon 2 door with the manual transmission. I’m assuming it was a bare bones model, as when I asked why she didn’t get a 4 door, she said hers cost less. She also insisted upon a manual shift because she was deaf. She could “feel” the car whereas she couldn’t hear it. I couldn’t believe she bought what thought was a piece of crap, but she loved it. She had spent the prior 14 years driving a Ford Ranger followed by a Nissan Hardbody and was tired of the compact trucks’ ride and lack of a trunk. Say what I will about these cars, and I read some less than flattering comments here, she drove it well over 100k miles until her death in 2007, with virtually no problems whatsoever. She did service it religiously, right down to a preventative timing belt replacement. She also drove it like the stereotypical little old lady, that is, soft and easy. I hated riding with her in the trucks, she was sooooooo slow and courteous; however, I don’t ever recall riding in the Neon. All I can say is Chrysler had a happy and satisfied customer in her; too bad there was no repeat business, though. Rest In Peace, Mom.
My dad bought one of these new – a 1995, in the one year only base model with the giant grey bumpers, in Aqua. It was the car I learned to drive on and took my driver’s test on.
I thought it was a decent car, but my frame of reference was pretty narrow. I don’t have any data on it’s longevity, because it was totalled in 1997 after being sideswiped by a woman driving, of all things, a Renault Encore, who basically made a left hand turn into it. Dad replaced it with a gently used 1993 beige Plymouth Acclaim, a vehicle more suited to his age and personality.
For me, this is one of those cars that was briefly ubiquitous, but never really crossed my path. One co-worker had one that he used for a long commute, but I never knew anyone else who owned one, never rode in one, not even a rental. The performance spec’ed Neons built for the race series seemed like bargains.
I still see them occasionally here in Michigan.
But what I’d like even more than THAT is another Omni/Horizon, especially in Rampage/Scamp form with a 5-speed…..