I present to you one of my first, serious car-crushes of my middle school years: the second-generation, front-wheel-drive, G-body Dodge Daytona. Long before the “Pacifica” name was attached to Chrysler’s minivan platform, it had served as an upscale trim level for the Daytona, a name that had, itself, been attached to the respected, homologized racing version of the B-body Dodge Charger from the late 1960s. I was at the North American Auto Show in Detroit when I first laid eyes on the restyled ’87 Daytona. At that very moment, it seemed like any remaining traces of Chrysler Corporation’s “loser” image had vanished.
Many of us have experienced an “awkward phase” in our development into adulthood. Mine was definitely during middle school, concurrent with the debut of the refreshed, ’87 Daytonas. I had liked the original, new-for-’84 G-bodies when I had first seen them. I had been living abroad for the second half of 1983, and returned to the United States at the end of summer ’84. Upon my return to the U.S., my first impression of the Daytona was that the little L-body Charger 2.2 had been bulked up, given a complete makeover and renamed. The early Daytona had all the hallmarks of Chrysler styling of the day – angular, chiseled and geometric, but the Daytona (and its Chrysler Laser twin) had something extra. Though it wasn’t as obviously striking at first glance as, say, a Chevrolet Camaro or Toyota Celica, the early G looked mean, muscular and serious.
By the time of the original Daytona’s last appearance for ’86, though, its looks were decidedly out-of-step with the more rounded, aero forms coming out at the time, even within the Chrysler stable – citing the ’85 Chrysler LeBaron GTS and Dodge Lancer as examples. As a brand-new, bright red, ’87 Daytona Shelby Z revolved slowly on its brightly lit platform at Cobo Hall in Detroit, with rays of spotlight gleaming through its open-hatched t-roof, I thought to myself, “If this is what became of the dorky Daytona, there is hope for Joe Dennis.” At the time, the new models seemed to me to be less of a mid-cycle refresh than a complete stem-to-stern redesign. Only a closer examination of its hard points and the shape of the doors finally put it all together for me.
The nose had been lengthened and given pop-up headlights (!!), that oh-so-1980s design feature present on so many respected performance cars. The tail had been un-slanted and fleshed out to great effect, with full-width, smoke-effect taillamp lenses applied where the previous, non-descript, outboard, rectangular units had been. The lower-body sculpting of the front fenders and rocker panels on the upper-tier versions now suddenly gave some pleasing, extra curvature to what had previously been an almost exclusively linear design. Even the base models looked good, with the slight lip of the trailing edge of the hatchback looking just right enough without needing a rear spoiler. (By contrast, if my ’88 Mustang had been “born” from the factory without its standard rear spoiler, its butt would have looked droopy and, quite frankly, terrible.)
While the Shelby Z carried the high-performance banner, I was just as intrigued by the luxury/technology proposition that was the Pacifica. For all intents and purposes, the Pacifica was Dodge’s Daytona “Berlinetta”, similar in concept to Chevrolet’s upscale Camaro variant. The Pacifica came standard with Chrysler’s 146-horse, turbocharged 2.2L 4-cylinder, with the 174-hp”Turbo II” 2.2L optional. There were myriad technological and luxury features both standard and available, such as an almost infinitely adjustable power driver’s seat with inflatable lumbar support, digital dash, trip computer, factory air horns, sun visors for the rear seat passengers, and leather seating surfaces.
Despite its knockout restyle, Daytona sales actually fell from the prior year, dropping by about a quarter from 44,500 in ’86 to 33,000 in ’87, of which roughly 7,500 were Pacificas (just under a quarter of the year-end tally). This was even despite the discontinuation of the Chrysler Laser for the ’87 model year. Daytona sales handily rebounded for ’88, with about 66,500 finding buyers – its best sales year. The Pacifica edition proved to be short lived, with only about 4,750 finding buyers in ’88 before being renamed and recontented as the “ES” for ’89.
In a butterfly’s metamorphosis into becoming a caterpillar, it goes through a transitional phase where it becomes a chrysalis – the stage from which it springs into a beautiful, winged creature. I love the ideas of reinvention and renewal, and of the proverbial ugly duckling’s ultimate transformation into a powerful, beautiful swan. For me, the 1987 Dodge Daytona embodied a kind of rebirth and sold me on the idea that things can, and do, improve. For these personal reasons and many more, this generation of Dodge Daytona, though somewhat scarce on the ground these days, will always have a special place in my pantheon of favorite automobiles.
Wrigleyville, Chicago, Illinois.
As photographed between 7/31/11 and 8/12/12.
Related reading from:
- Brendan Saur: Curbside Classic: 1987 Dodge Daytona Shelby Z – Baby Steps; and
- William Stopford: Curbside Classic: 1985-89 Chrysler LeBaron GTS – Hatchback Setbacks.
…just before it was made ugly again with that horrid 1992 facelift.
I find the early models more distinctive nowadays, however you are right that these ’87s were visually very up-to-date when they were launched.
The comparison of the Daytona Pacifica to the Camaro Berlinetta is apt, considering the Daytona was effectively Chrysler’s Camaro/Mustang rival.
It makes me think though how luxury pony car trims have dwindled in popularity and disappeared. You could once get Gran Coupes and Type LTs and Esprits. Nowadays, you can get all manner of luxury features in pony cars – Nappa leather, ventilated seats, active noise cancellation – but there are no specific luxury trim levels. While there’s plenty of customization in terms of different wheel designs and stripes and such, you have a choice between a base model-looking pony car or a very sporty-looking pony car. There’s no modern day equivalent to those “fancy” pony cars of old with their vinyl roofs and wire or turbine wheels.
No argument here about the 1992 facelift. Just for grins I’ve attached a picture for reference.
Will, I agree with you and tonyola that the ’92 restyle was… not to my liking, either. It tried too hard to “aero”-out a very angular design that was, by then, far past its sell-by date. With that said, I wouldn’t kick an IROC R/T out of my driveway.
I also like the idea of a luxury pony-type car. The ’67 Cougar I spotted and wrote about, and Tom Klockau’s ’69 Cougar piece that just reran, had me thinking this.
I once had a Turbo Plymouth Sundance, an ’89. Chrysler from ’87-’89 was looking quite amazing. I always wish that there had been a 2.5 Turbo II, as I think that would’ve been the perfect combo for refinement and traffic. The 2.5 Turbo I, as my Sundance had, was smooth and quiet, tamed by a balance shaft and force fed by a smaller turbo to resist lag. Add more pressure and an intercooler, and the 2.5 Turbo II should’ve made about 180 hp, with a torquey character. It would’ve been nice in a Pacifica.
One of the two best K-derivatives there was. Being close enough to Joe’s age, these also captured the attention of a teenager. When the time came to get a car, a white, base ’88 Daytona was on the short list. I couldn’t get past the sour cream vibe and had to find something with color, thus my ’89 Mustang.
Joe, you are so correct on that awkward phase of life, before entering adulthood. Mine’s being going on for right at 30 years now. 🙂
Hahaha!!… Jason, me too. I’ve learned to embrace my idiosyncrasies.
One of my neighbors in Flint had an ’88 base model that I can thought was particularly sharp. I had an ’88 new car buyers’ guide, and if I recall correctly, the base Daytona and Mustang were priced at around $10,000 (similarly equipped), and within a few hundred dollars of each other.
Im the same age and was a die-hard Mopar fan in the 80s, and it was hard to be a die-hard Mopar fan in the 80s. With 5.0 Mustang GTs at the Ford stores and Grand Nationals, Trans Am GTAs and Monte Carlo SS’s from GM, we were left with K-cars, no matter how they were dressed up. I think the Daytona and the 1987 LeBaron were styling knock-outs, but underneath, they were still weak and flimsy FWD K-cars.
To a 13-year-old raised on scary fire-breathing musclecars, there is nothing awe-inspiring about a FWD 4 cylinder.
I am a little older than you LTDan, and I felt the same way… the MOPARs of my day had a lumpy idle, dual exhausts, and a V-8 engine, be it a 340, 440, or 426 Hemi. Sure, by 1985 they were dinosaurs, but once you’ve seen a T-Rex it’s hard to take those little mammals that are replacing them seriously, even if you know they’ve already won the war.
That aside, I couldn’t see the Daytonas as performance vehicles in their own right. The numbers just weren’t there. “The Pacifica came standard with Chrysler’s 146-horse, turbocharged 2.2L 4-cylinder [engine]…” . My 1974 2 liter Alfa Spider had put out 132 horsepower, without a turbo.
So, yes, the Daytonas were beautiful, yes, and I knew a lot of people who were crazy about them, but even in those days I was an old curmudgeon muttering about real horsepower.
Agreed, the 80s was a tough time to be a MoparMan. You were into the muscle, I was into the big C bodies. There was some decent RWD V8 stuff to sort of satisfy us up to maybe 1982 or 83, but then it was nothing but K cars, Omnirizons and that damned 5th Avenue.
I tried to love the FWD Mopars of the 80s and could feel some pride that they were doing a better job in that segment and with that technology than Ford or GM was doing at the time, but that was about as far as I could go. At least you could still buy the B vans and wagons. 🙂
At the time, Chrysler owed its very survival to those fwd K-cars and Horizons. They saved the company until the minivans came along, and money could be spent on more captivating products.
As a little younger guy I was 6 when these came out I thought the FWD mopars were great. Some of them could run with the Camaro and Mustang of the time as well. Turbo2 Daytona’s ran 7 sec to 60 a mustang and Camaro weren’t much quicker. The Glhs was even faster. They were also cheap to modify a little time fiddling with the turbo and waste gate would get you a 5.0 killer for very little cash. These were really some of the first true FWD performance cars.
I respected the G-bodies for exactly the reasons you stated. They could be spec’d out with performance figures not too far off from the traditional RWD ponycars.
Chrysler nearly went under from losing tons of money on its sales bank. SO, so they couldn’t bring back the E body in 1980’s suddenly. Mustangs and Camaros were carried over and nearly died.
Easy to have 20-20 vision and think that Lee I should have brought back 1971 era Mopar muscle cars, but not everyone can afford to buy new and operate them. Also, was easier to buy a used ’68 Road Runner, Charger, or Cuda in 1985.
It think you may be no longer be entitled to your opinion
I liked the first two years of the Daytona turbo, esp in red. Without the pop up lights.
I have, actually, come back around to appreciating the original styling of the Daytona and Laser – perhaps moreso now than even when they were new.
When I was in college (mid-’90s), my buddy Dennis had an ’86 Chrysler Laser XT Turbo in red that was fully loaded with everything but T-tops. Even though by then it was “just” an older performance car, it was in beautiful shape and I coveted it. Dennis took great care of it, though, so I was happy about that.
I actually rode in one of the rear bucket seats on a trip from Gainesville, Florida to Jacksonville – a trip that took a few hours. I was cramped back there, but I remember when he “punched it” a few times and when the turbo kicked in. It was a hot car that justified my love for these.
Bears a lot of similarities to the first Ford Probe. I wonder if Ford was trying to copy some of the design language.
As I understand it, Ford intended the Probe to be the next Mustang, replacing the fox body. Thankfully, they thought better of it. I’m sure they were looking at the same market conditions and consumer preferences that Chrysler was at the time.
GM had FWD versions of Camaro/Firebird in planning, too.
My brief crush on these was for the initial 84 Chrysler Laser. By 87 I had kind of moved on and was tuning out of the new stuff. But I can see that the styling on this example was quite nice.
I like to think that you got farther in life than the 87 Daytona ever did. 🙂
By some weird coincidence, the first car that I bought myself was … a 1984 Chrysler Laser. Base model, but with turbo engine and five speed. Garnet red. I loved that car, and it was sporty and comfortable and stylish.
What it wasn’t, though, was well built and reliable. The rear spoiler had to be re-painted twice because the paint bubbled. The cruise control drained the battery overnight and led to non-starting in the morning (that one took five dealer visits before they finally figured it out). The clutch cable snapped one day in traffic, leaving me unable to shift, with a useless pedal swinging merrily in the footwell. I could go on, but you get the idea.
But damn, that car looked good and was so fast!
(The attached pic is not my car; I don’t have any pictures as far as I know. Mine did not have the alloy wheels, but the color is right.)
That’s a great-looking car. It’s funny how the design of Chrysler’s sporty coupe(s) went from looking to the future with these cars in the ’80s, to looking backward for inspiration with the Challenger in present day.
Thanks for sharing your ownership experience!
Yeah but future cars turned out to be shaped like dinner rolls, that’s not exactly something to look forward to. As much as I like the Challenger I wouldn’t mind if designers looked backward towards these clean wedge shapes again either.
I think for many of us, Chrysler became the new ‘AMC’ during the 80s. Fulfilling the underdog role AMC used to own. As the mid decade passed, Chrysler seemed to be launching more interesting, and competitive designs. Even if predictably, everything was K-car or Omni/Horizon derived.
I thought these looked sharp when introduced. Knowing the roots of all Chrysler’s then, their basic mechanicals and engineering would never place them higher that low to middle of the pack against the competition. They would compete on price and value, as many Chrysler products seem to have done since the 70s.
By the time the Laser and Daytona hit showrooms I was a year into the loan on my new Pontiac J2000. I was living in a small town in the middle of Texas, and the closest Dodge or Chrysler/Plymouth was in a town an hour away….a very small town, and the dealership didn’t even have a showroom it was so small. That dealer had a Plymouth Scamp (the Dodge Rampage twin) that I really wanted, though.
I think that the lukewarm reception given these cars by the car magazines contributed to my not considering them as a possible next new car. After the J2000 I would buy my first Japanese car, a Honda Civic, and never went back to a domestic branded car until 2 years ago.
I never liked the midyear blank-faced Daytonas; pop-up headlights where there was clearly enough near-vertical surface to accommodate fixed, flush composite lamps (which were the Big New Thing still) seemed wrong to me. And by the time it did get them as part of the final round-cornered facelift it was too little too late and the only new Daytonas were being bought by Thrifty Car Rental.
These cars always looked good in red, and this one was obviously well cared for as it still looked factory fresh 25 years later. Didn’t know Chrysler had used the Pacifica name before.
I seem to recall there was a Chrysler badged car called the Laser that was the same body style as this. An acquaintance purchased one, and I thought at the time, man he bought a niiiice car, sporty looking and all. With the benefit of hindsight, now I would have a much more subdued reaction.
Yet another rare and fantastic find, Joe! I did not realize there was an upscale Pacifica variant of the Daytona–seems a bit late really, given that the whole “luxury” Sporty/Pony Car segment was on the wane by ’87 (though it had been bigger earlier in the decade, with Mustang Ghias, Supra Ls, Berlinettas etc.).
I’m guessing that the slatted window covers as seen on this Daytona Pacifica were an accessory–for both the rear side windows and the hatch glass. They sure do scream ’80s!
GN, yes – the louvers!! And not just on the rear window, but also on the rear quarter windows! That’s what made this car such a throwback. 🙂
Geez… does that thing have some HORRENDOUS front overhang! Yikes!
By today’s standards, a number of 80s and earlier cars did. By comparison, look at the excess front and rear overhang on the ’86 Monte Carlo.
Rear overhang looks better than front overhang. These cars were designed when the 5mph crash bumper standard was still in place, and the necessary protrusion was essentially camouflaged in many early 80s designs like this, resulting in massive front overhangs. Downsizing for better space efficiency played a role as well, eliminating the previously dead area between the wheel opening and door and shortening the wheelbase. 70s cars weren’t far from these in overhang but the longer wheelbases made them much better proportioned.
Today’s standards are equally bad, but their bad proportions come from wheel dwarfing high beltlines. Front overhangs are merely camouflaged by having the headlights pulled back into the fenders.
Take a gander at Dodge Chargers from 1966-1974 and you’ll see some MASSIVE overhangs.
The Daytona and Laser were GORGEOUS cars, period.
I had no idea that the Pacifica name was ever slapped on a Daytona.
If I got a new Pacifica in that “murdered out” black on black that they are offering I’d remove all the Pacifica and Chrysler lettering (leaving the Chrysler badging) and slap that RED “PACIFICA” on the rear.
It was also slapped onto the Dodge Lancer for a year or two as well. Probably the same two years that the Daytona had it. Named after the Chrysler Pacifica design studio.
The liberal use of body kits used to look cool in some applications back in the 80s. Today, it makes many cars from that era look like hovercrafts. As the spoiler looks somewhat like a strip of door weatherstripping. 🙂
I had a 1990 Daytona 3.0 – in the same bright red color. Mechanically, it was reliable and the seat was the most comfortable in any car I’ve owned.
HOWEVER… the overall build quality was horrible. Before the car was 5 years old, the pop-up headlights stopped popping up (had to hand-crank them back up); the paint job flaked off everywhere; various knobs & switches on the dash broke off because they were so flimsy. Even the interior door pull -which was made of only compressed foam without any internal support- got brittle and broke completely off; the rear-view mirror fell off every time I went over railroad tracks or a pot hole; the entire back window blew out while driving on the highway on a windy day -it was only held in place by its weatherstripping; the rear hatch struts eventually gave out and I had to hold the hatch open with a 2×4 after that. I’ve had a Mazda now for 11 years, and apart from a couple of rust spots -which I’ve dealt with- it’s still as solid as it was on the day I bought it.
Your experiences were very similar to the ones I had with my ’82 J2000 that I thought was a bit more attractive than these cars were.
The window winder knob broke off on the driver’s door, the shift knob broke into pieces, the speedometer cable rattled…LOUDLY, the rear hatch struts collapsed unexpectedly, and nearly decapitating me, and the exhaust manifold split in two between cylinder 2 and 3 one afternoon. And then there was the interior: originally 1 shade of blue but about 7 shades of blue after 3 years in the Texas sun.
But my point is, your car, sadly was run of the mill for Detroit…apparently.
I bought my ’90 Daytona ES used for two grand from the ne’er do well son of one of Dad’s colleaques in the summer of 1998 – I still remember his mother forging his signature on the title – and drove it another hundred thousand miles in five years. I also had issues – the automatic door lock sensor had to be disabled because the mounting point on the driver’s door got a little weak with age. The fog lamps had broken off because the former owner liked to drive all the way into parking spaces and hit the bollards. Every once and awhile, the entire inside trim of the driver’s door would detach and I would have to remount it – not as bad as my ’85 Olds Regency 98, who had that plus the bonus power window regulator failure and broken AC for the win. Although the AC did break at ten years, along with the front discs and both front bearings – which I did replace – and the pop-up headlights seized in the up position sometime in 2001. And the rear hatch shocks blew – used an ice chopper to prop the hatch open. But that engine never died. I donated the thing to the Lubavitchers and drove it to the local rabbi’s house before strolling the two miles to the Subaru dealership to pick up my new ’03 Legacy wagon.
The ladies I squired around in it – including my wife – liked the car.
I never liked the pop-up headlight version, the original more angular design with 4 headlights and the sloping tail was perfect, and if not for the FWD proportions it would have blown the Mustang and Camaro out of the water in the looks department. The pop-ups were just so clearly tacked on, encasing them in a slightly Aero but still blunt looking nose on the existing upright fenders. I never cared for the taillights either, the cutlines were screwed up with the upright redesign
The one design feature I thought could have been executed better were the pop-up headlights. Maybe they looked too small to me, maybe, or something… while I don’t think they looked as bad to me as to you, something looked just slightly off – but I still liked them on these cars.
By comparison, I think the pop-ups looked better on these Daytonas than on the first-generation Ford Probe, which had a nose that looked even more blunt to me.
Yeah I think the size is probably the most offputting part about it, the shape seems odd too. I mean I don’t completely dislike this restyle, I still like it better than the Probe and a slew of other FWD based sport coupes.
I’d love it if 80s-style sporty liftback coupes in general made a comeback. With T-tops too, of course…
…preceded by the limited-production, 1986-and-California-only Dodge Lancer Pacifica
Never knew of that special edition before!
These were marketed as Chrysler Daytonas here in Canada and yes we got the Lazer version too. I worked at a Chrysler dealer in the early 80’s and got to drive all the cars Mopar had to offer then. One day a charcoal grey 1987 Daytona Shelby Z came in and my buddy had to own it-he had been contemplating a Fiero. I thought the rear bucket seats were so cool in the Daytona and the car acceleration and handling was amazing coming from old school RWD cars. My wife ended up buying a Shelby Charger turbo and the Daytona was a much better car.
Yes, the FWD Daytona is not a true muscle car, but there were lots of Celicas/Preludes/Pulsars running around in the 80’s to compete against.
I’ve always seen a fairly strong similarity to the Porsche 924/944 from the side on these. In seasons № 3 through 5 of “Hunter” Dee Dee McCall drove a bright red ’87, though it was a Shelby Z rather than a Pacifica.
With the second generation RX-7 serving as the ‘bridge’ between the two designs.
The sloping rear of the original 84-86 Daytona has shades of first generation RX7 too
Count me in as a fan of the Daytona/Laser
I actually like the 87-91 version of the Daytona with the pop up headlights. I have had several cars with pop up or hidden headlights and turning them on at night still brings a smile to me.
I like the 88 ES better because most of them that were around were bright red with a silver painted lower door/bumper setup. It made it more attractive. The little Turbo script on the black part of the doors was cool also.
I think this car was geared towards folks considering a Celica or Prelude and it worked because there was a lot of them around.
I was looking for something sporty in a fairly inexpensive new car in late 1983. I liked the looks of the Laser/Daytona when I scoured the brochures. However, when I drove a 5-speed Laser at my nearby dealer, I was a bit disappointed with the coarse sound of the 2.2, the imprecise shifter, and a general air of crudeness. What really turned me off, however, happened when I accidentally stalled the car. A voice rang out: “Check oil pressure! Check oil pressure!”. That did it. I ended up buying a Honda CRX.
I miss my 1985 Daytona Turbo Z… it was black with black leather, and had every single option including the sunroof which was opened and closed by turning a big knob on the ceiling. I brought it brand new as a leftover, and paid about $15k for it.
The car was great, but it had a few issues: Every time I started the car, I was greeted by it telling me, “Your electrical systems are malfunctioning”. When I turned on the wipers, it told me, “Your engine oil pressure is low”. When I hit about 40 mph, it told me, “a door is ajar”… The power windows always decided not to work on the hottest of days. The paint started fading when it was about 4 years old.
For me, peak Daytona was the 90-91 years. The slight adjustment to the front end details (in 1989, different parking lights) made it look just a bit smoother. With the 1990, you got the updated dash that was shared with the J-body Lebaron. Throw on some color matched 16″ pumper wheels on the white car gorgeous. Best Daytona for me.
Beautiful find! I’m a huge (literally!) Turbo Mopar fan. I’m a bit of an oddball when it comes to G bodies though. My preference is the 84-86 cars then the 87-91. (I blame it on the TV show Hunter and Dee Dee’s Daytona.)
Great find and write-up Joe!
I agree with your thoughts regarding the Daytona’s mid-cycle refresh for 1987. It certainly made the most of the design with effective augmentations. I’ve always been a fan of the spoiler in particular. Easily one of my favorite EEKs.
And yes, we all went through those awkward stages 🙂
One of my favorites from the mid 80’s turbo Mopars. I’d already bought my 86 Capri 5.0L when these made the scene, but I wasn’t quite ready for FWD performance. I think I missed out on a lot. I did end up with a turbo Dodge Lancer, which I thoroughly enjoyed. These days, I scheme on how I can get a Charger GLHS or one of these Daytonas. But, I’ve got a kid to marry off, so no hot turbos for me… 🙁
In 1984 I was a 21 years old and thought FWD meant
” Funny, Weird and Dull!!!” The first one of these I saw was a t-top, red, Daytona-z. It was the first time I had ever looked at a fwd car and myself behind the wheel and not laughed.
They were a cool little car.
I always liked the intro to the TV series Hunter. It was Stepfanie Kramer’s Daytona Turbo Z in the series. She was hot and so was the car! Intro from season 1 below for your viewing pleasure!
A friend’s mom had a blue ’88 Daytona until it basically fell apart. It was loaded up and I liked it, except for one thing. The seats. His mom loved them, and found them really comfortable. She was 4’11”. My friend was 5’11”, I was just over 6′, and his “little” brother was 6’5″, and we could not get comfortable in it. No matter how much we played with the adjustments. His dad flat out refused to be in it at all, ever, it killed his back and he already had a lot of problems. He was overjoyed for it to be gone. It had rusted to the point that it leaked water around the windshield and it had a crack in the subframe too. I was replaced with a 2008 Mustang that was just replaced recently by a 2017 Camaro, which she does not like at all.
I think the 84-93 Dodge Daytona is way better looking than the original and current day Dodge Challenger. Aside from the sexy Dodge Daytona and Chrysler Laser, the most beautiful coupe (in my opinion) to ever bear the Dodge name is the Dodge Stealth. Particularly the twin turbo R/T version. SWEET!!!