COAL: Cars Of My Father, Part 3 – The Mopar Era

Internet photo. I could not find any photos of the actual car.

Picking up from where I left off last time, my dad was moving on from the conversion Chevy Van that had outlived its usefulness.

1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS

Suffice it to say that the negative experience with his last three GM vehicles (and the relatively positive experience with the Plymouth Reliant) soured my dad on GM and converted him into a semi-regular purchaser of Chrysler vehicles for the rest of his life.

The first of these Chrysler purchases was a 1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS (not to be confused with the ‘85 LeBaron GTS I would own several years later in college).

Despite my best efforts, I could never convince my dad to get a family car that could be considered cool by the standards of a 1980s high school kid: No hidden-headlight Honda Accord, no Pontiac 6000 STE (yes, that was cool car. Change my mind). He was certainly not going to buy an imported car (even if the Accord was made just up the road in Marysville, Ohio).


What he ended up with (the LeBaron GTS) was probably the next best thing. It felt kind of imported, with its unusual 5-door hatchback body style. It had a five-speed manual transmission, albeit a rubbery cable-activated K-car unit, but hey, three pedals for the win!

But best of all, it had Chrysler’s 2.2L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, pounding out a pavement ripping 146 hp and 168 lb-ft. Paltry numbers by today’s standards, but back in the ‘80s that wasn’t too far off from what a Camaro or Mustang was putting out (or so we convinced ourselves).

This was also my first run-in with forced induction. The Turbo I (first-generation) engine had no intercooler and massive amounts of turbo lag. Unless you were willing to abuse the clutch and tires, a typical launch from a stoplight might go something like this:

  1. Release clutch, drop accelerator to the floor, hope you don’t stall the engine.
  2. Wait as other cars, pedestrians, and grannies with walkers all pull past you. This thing is really slow off-boost.
  3. Wait for the turbo boost to kick in.
  4. Wait a little more, and showtime! Blow past the pedestrians and grannies. Holy crap, we’ve gone plaid! This thing’s gotta be faster than a Vette. What a rush!

In my defense, I had never driven a Corvette at that point, and therefore the only point of reference for how fast the GTS accelerated was in comparison to how slow it was going a few seconds earlier.

Unfortunately, the LeBaron would end up being short-lived. For reasons I can no longer recall, I was driving it back to college (as opposed to the Reliant or other family rides that I normally commuted in) and ended up totaling it in a freeway accident that all involved miraculously walked away from.

So my dad needed another car quickly, so back to the Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge dealership we went.

1988 Dodge Dynasty

Wow, what can I say? After the Karmann Ghia, the Ranchero, the conversion van, and the LeBaron GTS, I’ve long since given up trying to get a bead on my dad’s automotive tastes. Clearly he had a soft spot for Personal Luxury Coupes (hence the Galaxie 500, the Monte Carlo, and the Bonneville), which is where I think his heart truly lied. With the PLC all but extinct by 1988, a Dodge Dynasty was probably the next closest thing. Unlike the LeBaron GTS, which half-tried to emulate a European sports sedan, every aspect of the Dynasty (even down to its name) was pure Lido Iacocca. That is some seriously formal roofline going on there.

Dad’s Dynasty was a curious mix of new and old. It was gold, like the internet-sourced photo above, which I think is one of its more flattering colors. It also had the same wide whitewall tires. You would have expected fake wire wheel covers to complete the look, but no, it came with alloy wheels, which again work pretty well here. It even had power seat controls on the doors, a useful feature that modern cars would be wise to emulate.

Even though the Dynasty’s AC platform was loosely based on the K-car platform, I was impressed by how well it hid its K-car bones. Unlike Mom’s Reliant, which felt tinny and flimsy, the Dynasty felt solid and substantial. The doors closed with a satisfying thud, and there was nary a squeak or rattle to be heard inside. Honestly, it wasn’t a terrible car: The Mitsubishi-sourced SOHC 3.0L V6 accelerated the car with authority and had a satisfyingly expensive cammy sound, although an OHV V8 probably would have been more in character with the car. The 4-speed Ultradrive transmission shifted smoothly and was apparently one of the few trouble-free units produced that year.

OK, there was one aspect of the K-car origins that Chrysler engineers couldn’t hide: The width. While Chrysler was able to stretch the length and wheelbase of the K platform, The AC rolled on the same 68″ width of the original Aries/Reliant and every other K-Car derivative.  Compare this to a contemporaneous Oldsmobile 88, which was almost five inches wider. This long and narrow profile was prone to excessive brake dive and acceleration squat, not helped at all by the excessively compliant suspension. But still, overall it was a decent car.