(first posted 10/26/2017) 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 from 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.