My Curbside Classic: 1991 Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue – Almost Doesn’t Count

I’m not the usual car guy…where words like HEMI or SS454 would excite a normal person, it is “Tufted Velour” and “Padded Vinyl Landau Roof” that gets my pulse quickening. So, when my friend sent me a Facebook listing with both those things (and in my favorite color blue), I had to go see it for myself. The seller was listing it for her father, with the car being from his aunt in Georgia – it drove fine without any issue, only having 39k miles on the analog gauge cluster. The paint is faded, the headliner was replaced in a rather crude way, and the plastic wood trim pieces are missing from 3 of the doors – but the Ultradrive shifted smooth as silk with the torquey 3.3 providing the go power.

Now I have two other nice domestic Broughamtastic examples in the driveway – however, they are way too nice to drive in the harsh Western PA winter. PennDOT must get a helluva deal on salt because they throw it down like it’s going out of style. With that in mind, a nice front wheel drive winter beater would be a good investment to make sure the other two stay in good shape for many springs and summers to come. Plus, I owned a 1993 New Yorker Fifth Ave and enjoyed its take on traditional American luxury.

This example has very few options – no power recliner, no leather wrapped steering wheel, no power trunk pulldown, or even a power passenger seat! But as someone pointed out to me on Facebook, that is just fewer things to break down the road. ABS would be nice, but the car stops very quickly as it is – or I’m just used to the longer distances of the Fleetwood Brougham.

Chrysler kept comparing this car to the 89-93 Cadillac Sedan deVille in advertising – now, I owned a 1991 Sedan deVille and while both look comparable on the outside, under the skin the Cadillac is a much better car. That extra $9k got you rear independent suspension, standard ABS, a more powerful V8 with the same fuel economy as the Chrysler V6, and a wider body that could truly be called a 6 passenger vehicle. Oh, and the Caddy had the standard “Symphony Sound” AM ST/FM ST 5 band EQ cassette radio whereas the Chrysler has only an AM/FM ST radio as standard equipment.

Yes, the Chrysler has the better warranty and longer rear seat legroom, but as my dearly departed father once told me “Why do you care…you aren’t riding back there!” Promo videos also tried to sell the Chrysler as more traditional looking whereas the Olds 88/98 and Buick Park Ave looked like “dinner mints on wheels.”

The exterior has all the hallmarks of Iacocca – chrome trim slathered on everywhere, waterfall grille, pop up headlight covers, padded Landau vinyl roof. This car has the standard wheel covers instead of the fake wire wheels, so it doesn’t look quite as baroque as the same year Imperial. I think these types of cars look best in dark colors, with my car being painted Medium Blue Gray Metallic Clearcoat – wore off in some spots as Chrysler would need another few years of practice before getting clearcoat down to a science.

Inside, the seats are covered in tufted Midnight Blue Kimberly cloth (feels like velour to me) among the acres of plastic wood on the dash and doors – along with the tufted cloth inserts on the doors for the true Lido touch. Chrysler thoughtfully included cupholders in the front arm rests, however they are too small to be useful with the crazy sizes of most to-go cups these days. Unusual for a luxury car is the full complement of gauges – only a tach is missing to make it complete, but with the auto transmission it doesn’t matter.

My 93 had the digital cluster, but the analog unit is much more readable as the years have gone on. Originally outfitted with the premium sound system consisting of 4 speakers with an AM ST/FM ST tape deck and 5 band EQ (and a port in the back for a CD player), I installed an aftermarket Kenwood head unit as these tuners are not very selective on FM nor is the filtering on AM very good. A bonus of these cars is I was able to swap the radio in 10 minutes and only two tools – Philips head screwdriver and a 10mm socket. Only FoMoCo vehicles with the quick release tabs are easier to swap.

But how does it drive? Popular Science was not impressed when they did a 4 way shootout between the Chrysler Imperial (the Y body sister to the Fifth Avenue), Lincoln Town Car, Buick Park Avenue Ultra, and Cadillac Brougham – the results were not complimentary to the Y body platform. Popular Mechanics echoed the sentiments as well.

Granted the New Yorker Fifth Avenue was not marketed against the Brougham and Town Car, but the C Body DeVille/Park Ave/98 from GM was better in almost every aspect. The 3800 V6 produced more power than the Chrysler 3.8, the four wheel independent suspension provided a better ride, and while the narrower New Yorker is more manageable in city traffic, I don’t think it was worth the tradeoff in hip/shoulder room reduction. My wife jokes when we’re in the car that she’s never been closer to me – and while that is nice, I wish Chrysler had widened the Y body to at least that of the minivan (72 inches vs 68 – same as the K car).

Chrysler also pushed that the 5/50 “Crystal Key” warranty (7/70 powertrain) as a response to the Ultradrive fiasco in the advertising – a quote from the movie “Tommy Boy” comes to mind: “Because they know all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of s#it. That’s all it is, isn’t it? Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will.”

While I don’t believe the Y body is awful, like I mentioned above it keeps coming up short when compared to offerings from Ford or GM. Which is a shame because with a little more effort on the underpinnings (and a little less worrying about the chrome) the car could have been a more serious competitor instead of being the queen of Dollar/Thrifty rental lots.

Oh yes, back to how it drives – Chrysler’s home grown 3.3 V6 is a good fit for this car – it has plenty of torque off the line and has no issue getting up to highway speed or passing, even in the hills of Western PA. The Ultradrive shifts smoother than the 200R4/4L60 in the Cadillacs, and aside from some worn out door seals causing wind noise at highway speed, cruises nicely. Unfortunately the rear air ride failed leaving the rear end sagging – a set of heavy duty springs and Gabriel Hijackers later the rear is now lifted and not looking ragged out. Still rides smooth on the highway but now without the wallow or long recovery times from the stock setup.

With all the snow we’ve gotten lately, the Chrysler has seen daily duty – even on the Hankook Optimo all season tires it gets around like a mountain goat. It only loses traction if I really try to cut it loose – perfect for winter beater status. About the only thing on this car that doesn’t work is the blower motor – it comes and goes, but eventually will stay on. The AC has a slow leak, but that’s a “future Tom” problem…if we keep the car that long. Given how uncomfortable the car is for two on road trips due to how narrow it is (and how wide I am), the fine little Chrysler will most likely be sold sometime this spring or summer.

Overall this is not a bad car, just not a car that was better than the competition in any measurable way (aside from the complete instrumentation – which Jon Davis pointed out when MotorWeek reviewed the 1990 Chrysler Imperial). Unfortunately, this car carries the baggage of The Old New Chrysler – Lee’s cynicism about the consumer shows even down to the “Euro Style Soft Touch” climate controls – the controls internals were the same as before, just with different styled controls. Same cheap feel, but rounded buttons. Slather enough chrome, vinyl and plastiwood on it and people might not know it’s a warmed over K Car.

There are people who love these vehicles, and I can appreciate its charms on a good day, but when it comes up short in so many ways (room, ride, comfort, handling, economy, and overall quality) you can completely understand why only the Pentastar Proud bought them instead of anyone cross shopping Olds/Buick/Cadillac or the imports.

The LH generation New Yorker would fix all of these issues (except for quality), but those sold in even less numbers than the C/Y New Yorker did. Chrysler mercifully mothballed the name in 1997, leaving those wanting “traditional luxury” to grab an LHS with the bench seat option. I should be thankful to Lee for his cynicism for one thing – it allowed me to have a cheap winter beater to save my other two cars.