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 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.
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.
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.