(first posted 3/25/2016) Considering the grave situation Chrysler was in by the late-1970s, it was nothing short of a miracle (and a little help from Uncle Sam) that the automaker was able to recover from the brink of death so quickly and so spectacularly. Although the K-cars unquestionably played a vital part in restoring Chrysler to profitability, as far as product is concerned, they unfairly get all the credit for “saving Chrysler”. Yet the K-cars and Chrysler’s preceding government bailout would likely not have occurred were it not for the L-body Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon, whose front-wheel drive and strong sales provided a glimmer of hope for the future.
By the mid-1970s, it’s fair to say Chrysler was up to its neck in quicksand. Sales of its still quite large and inefficient mid-size and full-size cars were faltering, with overflowing inventory rusting away at the infamous Sales Bank. Chrysler’s only home-grown smaller cars, the archaic Dodge Dart/Plymouth Valiant, weren’t all that fuel efficient, and they were rapidly losing ground to more modern competitors.
Their new-for-1976 successors, the Aspen and Volaré were largely just the same old formula with some new mechanics, not to mention a quality nightmare. The smaller, captive import Mitsubishis sold through Dodge and Plymouth dealers were enjoying moderate success, though their appeal was limited and their sales were not enough to provide much relief. It was quickly becoming clear that a smaller, fuel efficient car capable of selling in high volumes was needed for Chrysler to have a fighting chance of survival.
As Paul has stated before, Chrysler’s lack of capital required to develop an all-new subcompact exclusively for the North American market was probably a blessing in disguise. Unlike its North American rivals with their own subcompacts, Chrysler went the route of the Europeans, with a subcompact that was externally small, cleanly styled, respectably fuel and space efficient, and most notably, front-wheel drive, the first of its kind for any North American-built subcompact. Highland Park not only looked across the pond for inspiration, but in fact turned to Chrysler Europe and its plans for Project C2 (codename for the Horizon), a subcompact which would be sold under the Simca, Talbot, and Chrysler brands in Europe.
Already in the clay model stage, when North American Chrysler execs saw Project C2, they were quite confident that it could be sold in North America, albeit with some expected changes. Although the basic platform and body shell were shared between the European and American versions, the American-spec Plymouth Horizon and Dodge Omni (often abbreviated as “Omnirizon”) received unique powertrain and a different suspension setup from their European cousins, and more predictably, different bumpers, exterior lighting, and interiors.
Ditching the Simca’s costlier torsion bar suspension setup, Chrysler employed more basic MacPherson struts up front and trailing arms with coil springs for the rear. Production constraints dictated that Chrysler purchase engines and manual transmissions from Volkswagen as opposed to manufacturing their own. As a result, the initial engine offered was not the Simca’s 1.6L 4-cylinder, but rather a version of the Volkswagen Golf’s 1.7L, modified to feature Chrysler’s intake manifold and carburetor. Mated to either the standard VW 4-speed manual or Chrysler’s optional Torqueflite 3-speed automatic, depending on models years, this engine’s output ranged between 68-75 horsepower and 83-90 pound feet of torque.
Interiors of the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon were also substantially different than the European cars and more in line with other American small car interiors of the time. Steering wheels, dashboards and door panels were unique, with dashboards featuring a strip of wood tone applique as part of the premium interior package. Woodgrain also adorned the full-length floor console that was available with either transmission. During the first several years, a variety of all-vinyl and cloth-and-vinyl seat choices were offered, ranging from spartan to rather comfortable, by late-1970s subcompact standards that is.
Somewhat unfortunately, the Omni/Horizon followed Chrysler’s pattern of ill-timed introductions, going on sale for the 1978 model year, which ended up a strong year for large car sales. In light of this, combined first year sales of the two models totaled over 188,000 units, making them Chrysler’s best-selling car line through 1981. More importantly, the mere existence of the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon was instrumental in gaining government assistance, proving that Chrysler could successfully cope with the changing environment.
Sales and general publicity of the L-body took a back seat after 1981 with the introduction of the Aires/Reliant K-cars and all their descendents. Still utilizing the Omnirizon’s efficient front-wheel drive layout, the K-cars boasted roomier dimensions and a more traditional full-range of body styles, contributing to their far greater popularity.
Despite a diminished role in Chrysler’s hierarchy, the Omni and Horizon enjoyed respectable sales, even experiencing somewhat of a resurgence mid-decade. They quietly soldiered on through the end of the 1980s, sticking around for the inaugural year of the 1990s. In spite of this, the Omni and Horizon were not neglected. Trim details and equipment levels were expectedly shuffled around every few years, with new seat designs, upholsteries, and wheel covers among the visual changes.
The K-cars’ slightly more robust 2.2L inline-4 was added as an option in 1981, mated to either a new 4-speed manual with overdrive or the Torqueflite automatic gearbox. The Simca 1.6L finally found its way into the American Omnirizon in 1983, replacing the VW engine as the base power plant. The 2.2L would become the only engine from 1987-on, finally gaining electronic fuel injection in 1988.
New taillights also came for 1983, with each brand getting its own design. The following year, the cars received new front fascias with brand-specific grilles. Inside, a slightly revised upper dash with new gauge cluster came for 1984, along with two new cloth-and-vinyl sport bucket seat designs for the base and up-level SE models.
1984 also saw Dodge turn to Carol Shelby to add some spice with the Omni GLH. With a higher compression ratio and revised camshaft profile, output from the 2.2L was up to 110 horsepower and 129 pound-feet of torque. Along with a 5-speed manual, Dodge’s first foray into the hot hatch segment was capable of a zero-to-sixty time of 8.7 seconds. Among other performance modifications, Shelby also added stiffer springs, firmer dampers, bigger brakes, performance tires, and a quicker steering ratio. Cosmetically, the GLH was differentiated from lesser Omnis by its blackout trim, special badging, and 15-inch “Swiss Cheese” aluminum wheels.
For 1985, the GLH was now available with a 2.2L turbo, bumping horsepower up to 146 and torque to 170. A body kit was now standard, as were a new wheel style. For the GLH’s final year in 1986, 500 examples were badged as the Shelby GLHS, gaining a host of additional performance upgrades, most notably a new turbocharger that boosted horsepower and torque to 175 each. Zero-to-sixty times for the GLHS were around 6.5 second. No bad at all for 1986.
With the arrival of the Dodge Shadow/Plymouth Sundance for the 1987 model year, the Omnirizon’s end began to look probable on the horizon. Trim levels and separate options for both the Omni and Horizon were consolidated into a single, standard-equipment “America” trim, with an available Discount Package adding all remaining optional features including upgraded high-back sport buckets, center console, and AM/FM radio. In doing this, Chrysler was able to reduce production costs and complexities, thereby increasing value and quality for the consumer.
With sales holding steady and all tooling for the L-body paid for, each Omni/Horizon sold were pure profit for Chrysler, a key driver in the automaker keeping these cars around for so long, despite newer models superseding any real need for the L-body. The Omnirizon entered the ’90s and its swan song season with several updates including larger exterior mirrors, a driver’s airbag, a new center console, and a redesigned instrument panel with centrally-located HVAC controls.
After thirteen years of production, Chrysler quietly discontinued the Omnirizon duo after the 1990 model year. Total Omni/Horizon production (excluding the 3-door 024/TC3) totaled 1,658,312 units, with the breakdown at 762,552 Omnis and 895,760 Horizons, for a 45.9/54.1 percent split. Largely due to the success and widespread application of the K-platform, the L-body Omni and Horizon are largely forgotten today, despite their unusually long shelf life for a Chrysler product. Regardless of their memorability, the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon were a crucial vehicle in Chrysler’s history, and without them, there likely never would have been the K-car or a Chrysler today.
1978-1990 Plymouth Horizon and Dodge Omni
A familiar face in the UK as a Chrysler then Talbot Horizon. A very long time since I saw one
BaT has a GLHS offered for sale, car has only 34 thousand miles on it, and looks quite appealing.
I guess what always kept me from buying one of these when they were new was the 4 door only body style. Their VW “inspiration” offered 2 and 4 door models, and nowadays I’ll concede that 4 doors are more practical, but when you are in your 20s and 30s 2 doors says/used to say: sporty. And yes, there was the TC3 and 024 coupes, but again Dodge and Plymouth failed to follow VW and instead made their “sporty coupes” longer/heavier/SLOWER than the sedans they were based on.
STILL, I recently found a Dodge Rampage on my local Craigslist that is somewhat attractive at under $4K…..with supposedly working A/C.
Sorry if it’s an abbreviation I should know. I promise, I tried Googling it…
EDIT: It just dawned on me. Bring a Trailer! (I’m off to get more coffee…)
I remember the GLHS ‘s… they were competing with the VW Golf GTI’s. I thought they looked HOT! Shadowlined, ground effects, etc., though I figured the interiors would fall apart cosmetically? I remember the wheels looked like the photo attached… not the one’s on the BAT listing?
http://bringatrailer.com/2016/03/24/one-of-500-34k-mile-1986-dodge-omni-glhs/ $13,500 OBO
And Ebay (same car)
Good and comprehensive story.
Its 1985 successor in Europe was the Peugeot 309, originally it was developed as a Talbot model.
Does anyone remember why Chrysler designed their own head for the VW 1.7?
I seem to remember it being a capacity issue at VW. Or perhaps a contractual issue. Either way, Chrysler was only able to acquire short blocks and they had to add their heads.
This is going from memory.
Thanx for this tidbit , I had never heard about it .
It was not a “short block”. It was a complete VW “long block” with head. Chrysler obviously didn’t want to spend the extra bucks for fuel injection so they added their own manifold and carb.
It’s pretty hard to imagine a manufacturer wanting to buy someone’s short block and then designing and building their own head. Cylinder head design is pretty complicated and time intensive, especially in this age of emission controls. Might as well just build the whole engine.
Wasn’t the VW injected by 1977-78? This might explain why Chrysler needed to design or spec out a manifold and carb.
There was a contractual limit of 300k engines a year from VW. Chrysler could have sold more, especially in 1980-81, but VW was selling everything it could build too and refused Chrysler’s request for more engines.
My first VW (haven’t owned anything else since 1981) was a ’78 Scirocco, which had fuel injection. Don’t know when they started equipping them with it, but by ’86 when I was in the market where I bought my ’86 GTi, I was also considering a Honda Accord, which only offered fuel injection in the LXi model that also came with power windows/locks, which I didn’t want…instead I bought the GTi.
This is going to sound a bit odd, but the closest thing my Dad bought as a mid-life crisis car was his new ’80 Omni 024…in fact, I looked at an Omni when I bought my Scirocco, but didn’t bite.
As I currently own a ’00 VW Golf, I have to like these, which they strongly resemble. One thing I don’t like though are the low mounted controls, unfortunately my ’00 Golf also has these, but earlier generations had high mounted radio. It had a small center stack, but mostly for storage and low mounted instruments, but most were up high. VW sold out and went with the now common central stack, which I think works out worse.
I have old issues of Motor Trend for when the Omni/Horizon was introduced. I believe it was Chrysler’s reluctance to use the Bosch fuel injection that necessitated a head for their carburetor. It wasn’t that they rejected FI as it was helping other companies with pollution control; they had to make sure that it could be serviced by their techs before, eventually, putting it in their cars.
Chrysler didn’t design and build their own head for the 1.7; they bought complete engines from VW, except for the intake manifold and carb. It doesn’t take a new head to switch between FI and a carb; it’s all just a different intake manifold. VW also built carb versions of this engine. The first two years of the Rabbit (’75-’76) had a carb, and in Europe, the great majority of Golfs had carbs for decades.
I believe Chrysler used a larger carburetor than VW to offset power lose from the emissions equipment . The ports and intake runners were a little larger too so many it was a way of helping it breathe better.
“It doesn’t take a new head to switch between FI and a carb”, Mmmm, technically, it really only works 1 way, namely FI head could be adapted to carb, but not other way round.
H2O cooled VW heads in basic form if fuel injected have 4 ports cast/ machined above the intake runner ports, that take a insulator bush which then accepts a push in injector, (at least for the CIS and CIS-E systems, i believe Digifant and following systems used something similar, but i have no intimate knowledge of those details,
True enough that the 75 and 76 USA rabbits were carb. equipped, with the awful zenith 2B2 and the miles of corresponding vacuum lines. Those heads had ports on the other side of the head for air injection via air pump, pollution gear. The carb was reintroduced on rabbits in I believe ’80 or thereabouts for 1 or 2 years in a special economy edition rabbit which ran a single barrel solex, (with air suction only for smog), on the 1500 displacement block,(as opposed to the 1600 and 1700 mills in issue at that time).
None of the heads designed specifically for carb use would be adaptable as is, to FI, but a FI head could be used with a carb manifold if you made up plugs for the FI ports. Of course you would loose the ability to properly connect the air injection system as no ports would be present for that.
I wasted enough of my life working on the damned things so it just feels good to pass the info along, as useless as it is now!
I didn’t mean to imply that the FI and carb heads were exactly the same. My point is that VW had both versions, and most of all, that Chrysler did not design and build a new head themselves. That blooper keeps getting circulated…
For increased horsepower
I drove 2 of these as a teenager. One was VW 4 speed powered, no power brakes and no power steering. It was a little slow but lots of fun. It had a sporty direct feel to the road, and required determined rowing on the gearbox to get ahead of traffic. This sportiness was entirely not intentional and was the result of the low dollar platform. But it never felt cheap, and, unlike a low dollar Pinto, Dart or Chevette, it never felt like a cheap penalty box.
The interior was nice for a basic car with cloth buckets, proper carpet and instruments. We beat the hell out of it and the only problem occurred when the rubber inkake manifold split, allowing the carb to fall off.
The other was a new 2.2/auto combination, fully optioned that drove more like a conventional American car.
But even at the time I wondered why these things were not more popular. Here was a totally modern, fully developed American made subcompact easily the match to any competitor. There was such fuss over the X and K cars, but not this, even though it beat them to the market.
Brendan this was a good write up. Aside from the low price and the increasing quality that comes from a long production run, adding the 2.2 into the basic car added so much. The five speed was quite responsive and the automatic was well supplied with torque.
I think the success of adding the 2.2 to the Omni lead later to the decision to offer the Neon with the large and torquey 16 valve 2.0 as standard to give a similar advantage to the Neon. Remember that the Chrysler 2.0 was offered in smaller displacements for Neon sales worldwide. The Horizon world experience taught Chrysler to offer a little extra in the home market.
As I am sure Brendan is aware due to his Mini expertise, the small displacement version of the Neon engine eventually found it’s way to the USA in the early Mini Coopers.
The Tritec 1.4 and 1.6 engines used in the first generation Mini hatch are not from the same family of engines as the Neon engine. Some 1.6 Tritec engines were installed in some export Neons and PT Cruisers, but they are not small displacement versions of the Chrysler/Neon engine.
There was a 1.8 L version of the Chrysler/Neon four especially built for export too. Maybe you’re mixing the two up.
My father purchased a new Omni in 1981. It was blue with a blue vinyl interior and powered by the 1.7 VW engine attached to a four-speed.
This was his daily driver for his 96 mile round trip to work. Routinely knocking down over 30 mpg, the Omni was trouble free for the 113,000 miles he had it. By 1985 I had nearly reached my full adult height and any family outing was either in the Omni or the 1983 Reliant. The Omni gave me a smidgeon more rear seat room at the time, perhaps due to the bucket seats. It went away in 1986 for a barely used Ford Crown Victoria in which my sister and I could more easily fit in the rear seat
I do remember the car being pokey. For a Cub Scout gathering, we were making a fifteen mile trip to the closest town (yes, I grew up in a very rural area). Two other mothers drove in addition to mine. One was in her late ’70s Coupe deVille with the other in her ’77 Pontiac Grand Prix. My mom was in the Omni. On level ground, they flat left the Omni in the dust, with my mom flogging the Omni up to 70 or 75 mph to catch up – to no avail.
While I wasn’t wild about the Omni, they have grown on me. Brendan, this was a good catch; I haven’t seen one in a long time.
Funny, I remember my mother’s 1980 automatic to be relatively quick. Of course my point of comparison was an automatic Mustang II, which was a dog of the first order.
My dad bought a new 1978 Omni…dark green with chestnut tan upgraded vinyl interior, AM radio, auto, no A/C. All four outside door handles broke at least once, the 13 inch steel wheels were VERY prone to getting bent in pothold impacts, the steering wheel vibrated alarmingly at idle. The whole family detested that car, and it was about worn out at 60,000 miles. Got traded in on an 82 Cutlass.
On the plus side, the vinyl interior held up very well, and the interior materials were very nice. I don’t think it ever failed to start, or left anyone stranded, it just wasn’t very robust and was just a little turd.
Last Mopar anyone in my extended family ever bought.
“All four outside door handles broke at least once…”
Door handles and locks seem to have been a weak point with all of the L-bodies, especially in cold weather. I had repeated problems with them on the ’85 Plymouth Turismo that I owned from 1989-95, and I know of several people who had similar experiences with Omnis or Horizons. It’s a good thing most of the L-bodies were hatchbacks (all except the Rampage/Scamp utes), so there was still one “door” you could get into the car through….
The ’78 models had one-year-only “squeeze type” outside door handles. The lever, which was up inside a stationary clamshell type chrome handle had a tendancy to corrode, get stiff, and ultimately break or bend to the point that it became inoperable. From ’79 on the exterior handles were chromed pot metal, and were the regular pull-type. They worked better, but were a bit flimsy and subject to breakage if used with a heavy hand. Either way the door hardware on these was a weak point. I can recall disassembling and replacing more than one handle, cable or latch.
But the original Omnirizon had a computer controlled air intake thingy on the engine, maybe called Lean Burn system, so it was sort of halfway to fuel injection. I don’t know how it worked but I had a 1978 that crapped out and needed a new computer which cost about $200.
No problem with the door handles over 130K miles though. I once read that the
original design was not compatible with long finger nails, which would not have occurred to the all-boy engineering staff..
Learned to drive in one of these! Right before my driving test, my dad took me out in his car to practice parking. Needless to say, I did very well parking that driving school Omnirizon after an hour or so of maneuvering a ’78 Coupe de Ville!
My Mom had one briefly as a company car. It was a new metallic blue 1986 Horizon with blue cloth interior. I remember it was our nicest car at the time. Our other two vehicles were a rusty 78 Cutlass with droopy headliner and a two year old 1984 Chevy Cavalier leaking fluids with a Check Engine Light that no one could figure out. Compared to those two, our Horizon was a luxury car. I really enjoyed riding in it.
A short time later, she changed jobs and had to give up the Horizon. That was a sad day. Eventually, she replaced the Horizon with a Buick Regal which I also loved, but that’s another story…
An ’82 Omni was our first new car in my first marriage. I have very pleasant memories of the car, it did it’s job very well, and was replaced by an ’85 Caravan C/V because by that point our SCA involvement and my wife’s idea of camping (look at the royal pavilion in any medieval movie) meant we needed lots more hauling space.
Up to about 1980, there was nothing domestically in this car’s class. Ford was still selling the Pinto, and had nothing with four doors. Ditto for GM, which was still selling the Monza et al. There was the X car, but it was up a size and more expensive.
That upscale American-style interior is what sold my mother on the car. She was adamant that if she was going to settle for something smaller, it was going to be “plush” (in her words). And it was – it was a very nicely fitted out car, especially for its size. That was the one area where the Japanese had not yet caught up to middle American tastes, at least in their smaller stuff.
It was somewhat more trouble prone than her prior GM cars and her later Crown Victorias, but given Chrysler’s track record in the second half of the 70s, it was not a bad car at all.
Unless it was the limited VW engine availability, I can only surmise that Chrysler’s miserable quality reputation was a huge factor in why these didn’t sell better. Plus, by the time they came out, Chrysler was looking rather like Studebaker in 1962. For the time, the Omnirizon was okay, quite a good domestic response to the Rabbit/Golf, much better than the Chevette, and at least on par with the German Ford Fiesta.
I don’t remember that many of these in 1978-79, and you are likely right there.
But by 1980, Lee Iacocca was on board, the loan guarantee deal was done and anything that got good gas mileage was selling. And, in 1980, this car was a very appealing package. I am sure that Ford or Chevy would have sold a ton more of these, but these were very well received for a Mopar. My mother had never expressed any interest in a ChryCo vehicle before, but she liked these. And trying to order an Omni was a months-long process before she gave up and picked a Horizon out of another dealer’s small stock.
I’m impressed you found one of these in MA, I haven’t seen one on the roads around in ages. Doesn’t look too bad either. I still regret passing up an ’85 that I could have gotten for next to nothing about 15 years ago in favor of a Plymouth Gran Fury. Clean, straight and in good mechanical shape. Saw it about a month later and it had been on the losing end of a battle with a front end loader. Felt bad for the poor car.
Oh my…the cars that were coming of age back then made me fear for some manufactures. This one included. Though I was too young to understand the reasons, I thought this car was a big step down for dodge. I remember many friends, a lot of them females who proudly showed up with a sporty new one, (slick salesmen),.. only to become very preyed upon as their pretty cars quickly ended in expensive (for the day) garage repairs. Salty roads easily destroyed them within a year or five in our parts of Canada. All the while mechanical breakdowns from potholes and freezing weather eliminated those that held any special place in auto love. This car is why so many females moved over to Toyota in the 80s…and we all said it then,…they ain’t never commin’ back.
The later ones with the 2.2 and built after Chrysler under Iacocca put at least some effort into QC were actually quite reliable. Used L-bodies had almost legendary status as winter beaters.
1978 to 1990…that’s an eternity. Maybe that’s also why this doesn’t *look* like a 1978-vintage design to me, because I still remember seeing lots of them as nearly-new cars when I was a kid in the late 80’s. The plusher trims were history by then, lots of steel-wheeled America versions, but you’d still see some two-tones with nicer wheel covers here and there.
They should bring back 2-tone paint and di-noc on subcompact hatchbacks.
That’s a great find in the wild these days. I used to see one locally every now and then but haven’t stumbled across it in a while. I’ve gone on record time and again saying how much I absolutely adore these little cars. From 1983 until 1992 or so I probably drove 10 different individual examples of the Omni, Horizon, 024/Charger and TC3/Turismo regularly. If I stumbled across a late 2.2 fuel injected 5-speed version for sale in decent shape I’d pay handsomely for it. I know, I must be out of my cotton-picking mind, but I have nothing but positive memories and experiences with these. Every time I see one it brings a smile to my face.
The thing as I always remembered about these cars were those weird “Porsche-like” (as a magazine described it) steering wheels with the two horizontal bars. The first Omni I rode in had the burgundy interior and that matching, deep-set steering wheel looked so weird from an angle.
Then I got my first car, an ’85 Dodge Shelby Charger Turbo… I was always repeating that long title and having to describe what it was as no other teenager in the mid-90’s seemed to know what it was or who Carroll Shelby was. Plus, they kept asking why I was calling it a Dodge “Chevy” Charger. It had blue interior with a blue version of that weird, cheap-looking steering wheel.
Looking back, it was a very rough riding and rough sounding car, despite the good condition. Fuel injection was still new to our family so it was nice just turning the key and it firing up on cold mornings. And it was fairly quick… I need to quit; this is turning into COAL.
My first brand-new car, purchased in 1989. With end-of-year rebates, I paid $6k out the door – absolutely no options – no radio, certainly no a/c.
On paper, the FI2.2/5-speed put it way ahead of the competition, most of which only had 1.6 liters. It really could scoot, yet still get 45mpg on the freeway, due to the torque and the gearing.
It was a perfectly good car, except for the depreciation. In 4 years, I put 60k on it, and felt lucky to sell it for $1000.
Gee, as yet not one mention of the NOT ACCEPTABLE rating that Consumer Reports gave the Omnirizon. Maybe magazine sales were slow, or perhaps Consumer Reports’s rabid anti-Americanism got to their editors one night when they were all smoking pot while putting that issue to bed? By basing that rating of a very competent car on a maneuver that only the insane or drug-crazed would attempt…and which nobody would encounter in normal driving…they firmly cemented the magazine’s role as bird cage liner.
It was as though, in a case of journalistic prejudice, they went out of their way to specifically derive a test that the Omnirizon would fail, BECAUSE it posed such a very real threat to their favored importmobiles.
We were all waiting for you, as we know well about your feelings for CR and this particular topic. 🙂
Yes, complete conspiracy theory nonsense.
I remember that test and Not Acceptable rating quite well. The test was definitely odd — it involved swinging the steering wheel violently to one side at a set speed, and seeing how long the steering took to self-center. Definitely an odd test that did not really relate to any real world driving situation, but the Omni and Horizon were unique in wildly swinging back and forth without self-centering, which no other car had done for the several years that CU had used the test. I recall that Chrysler’s solution was replacing the thin original steering wheel with the larger dished wheel shown in the car featured in this article, whose greater mass reduced the oscillation and made the steering self-center normally.
I’ve used CR as a starting point reference source for washing machines, vaccum cleaners, vcr/cd players and other home appliances over the years; but much less so for cars & trucks.
When I read of their …unique…road test that got the Omni/Horizion branded with their “Not Acceptable” curse; my first thought was “WHY would anyone WANT to do this to their car? Flucke these stupid, idiotic people and their asinine test!”
Lest we forget, for years CR’s favorite, highly recommended car was a Rambler American. As much of a kitchen appliance of a car as their ever was! Just shows where CR spends their time.
Chrysler badly needed this car. It was the only thing that indicated there was still life within the company. After the Volare/Aspen fiasco, the massive rebates, the giant cars with dated styling, Chrysler looked used up.
1978 was important for Chrysler with this car, and for Ford with their Fairmont. Both cars showed US buyers that their worst days were behind them and that they could build world-class cars.
Yet – neither was prepared for the 1980-1982 recession. Chrysler needed the Federal government and the Carter administration to keep them alive, and Ford’s Escort arrived in the nick of time. Ford fell to number four in the auto market, its worst showing ever. AMC was bought by Renault, and a serious domestic auto crisis was diverted for another 30 years.
Chrysler may have needed help, but they should’ve filed for bankruptcy if they couldn’t find surety, like real capitalists are supposed to do. It set a bad precedent, such as the GM & bank bailouts. Since when is resolving someone’s business failure my problem as a taxpayer?
Of course many will pragmatically rationalize it by saying Chrysler made good in the end.
It’s been your problem for generations, whether your tax money props up banks, agriculture, automobile makers, or even individuals through welfare, medicare, social security or college loans.
It’s ‘Murcia, dammit.
Anyway, as much as the 2009 bailouts irritated me beyond belief, at least I could give a hat tip to Iocca & Chryco for their complete repayment of the ’79 bailout.
I picked up a strippo ex-utility-company 1981 Horizon in 1991 for $800. It served as my 4-door car for when family visited. Despite it’s used-up status when I got it, it handled quite adeptly and was fun to blast around in. After a few years of little-use, I donated it in 1996 to a charity.
Great cars, underappreciated by the fan boys and sadly lost in the dust. 2.2 is legendary and, as a person who appreciates the underdog, the Horatio Alger aspect has always made me a fan. You see quite a few on the road today, a testament to the rugged and efficient design. I love reading and thinking about these cars which were abused by the family beater demographic and came back for more! The one I drove tracked straight and for the time was remarkable in low end pull, ride, space, and handling. In my work as a USA manufacturer this inspires me as we try to apply Yankee ingenuity and functional innovation leveraging existing parts for efficiency and interchangeably. Well done!
Good article and I agree with your assessment of their importance. Prefer driving one of these to a K car but like them both. Lots of service personnel bought these when they came out. Heard them described as the VW beetle of the 80s and I think I agree with that. Simple, durable, and would carry the contents of a barracks locker across the country with ease.
I rode in one of these in the early ’90s, a co-worker’s car and I remember thinking how nice it was inside with very comfy front seats and lots of legroom. It also rode quite well too. I think these had more personality than the K-cars which seemed quite a bit blander.
1978 Motor Trend “Car of the Year”.
The Simca alias Chrysler alias Talbot Horizon was also the 1979 European Car of the Year.
Another contemporary French -in rust we trust- hatchback was the Renault 14, introduced in 1976.
“…the archaic Dodge Dart/Plymouth Valiant…”
But FoMoCo’s brand new for 1975 Mercury Monarch/Ford Granada, which were nothing more than a heavily restyled, fifteen year old, 1960 Ford Falcon were ok and not “archaic”?
Well, he didn’t mention the Granada/Monarch, so what is your point?
Both the Granada and Dart were old, the Granada just had a fresh new appearance. The Dart didn’t.
Perhaps I had enough automotive history/knowledge rattling in my head to spot the Granada for what it was/what it wasn’t.
All you had to do was look under the hood/start it up/listen to it run/drive it around the block to spot it as a re-skinned Falcon.
“Fresh new appearance”? C’mon now…..
Actually I quite distinctly remember in 1974-75 the shouting about the coming Granada being the perfect sized/styled mini-LTD. And they sure sold a ton of them.
I doubt anyone with deep Ford knowledge bought one; the non-Ford-knowledge folks didn’t care that they were Falcons with lipstick.
Horizons are now very rare in Europe; I’ve seen just one on the road in the last several years.
How much did the K car share with the Horizon?
The K Car was a direct evolution of the L Car (Omnirizon). Its basic chassis configuration, suspension, steering and powertrain layout were all directly based on it, with modifications for the larger K car as necessary. The Torqueflite automatic transaxle was a direct carryover. And the 2.2 L Chrysler four used in the K car looks very much like a somewhat enlarged VW engine, with which Chrysler had plenty of time to become familiar with it.
So while not many parts might have actually been the same, the K Car shared a great deal under the skin.
Never knew that Paul. Very interesting! So a 1988 New Yorker even has the Omni/Horizon as a distant relative!
I owned a twin of the red one in the article – an ’83 Omni. I had never owned a Chrysler product of any sort until then (this was in 1988). I bought it in a hurry because I’d wrecked my previous driver (a ’78 Ford Fiesta) and needed a small, economical car for my commute.
I was told mine had a 1.6 litre VW engine (was it Simca instead?). It had the 4-speed manual transmission.
I’ve seldom owned a better vehicle for basic transportation. When I bought the Omni, it had 65,000 miles on it. I sold it several years later to a friend of my wife’s when it had about 136,000 miles on it (she wrecked it 6 months later).
I NEVER had any issues with the car. All it needed was regular maintenance.
That purchase influenced the purchase of 2-3 other Chrysler products later on. And all of THEM were good cars, overall (except the Plymouth-Acclaim-from-hell, but that’s another story…)….
I talked my Father into buying a new 1980 Plymouth Horizon 4 door, using my lemon (HOW apt, HOW appropriate!) yellow Fiat 128 4 door sedan as a trade in. The sales manager knew my Father well, from selling him a 1960 Valiant, 1962 Fury and 1966 Barracuda, and a 1976 Cordoba, gave us both a below sticker price AND a decent trade-in on my POS Fiat.
Baron red, tight brown/tan cloth interior, dealer add on A/C (mistake), 4 speed manual with the VW engine & Mopar/Holley carb. As long as I kept the front tires at the max specified air pressure the manual steering wasn’t all that hard (esp after the Fiat 128!).
It was peppy enough, for the time period, esp after the Fiat 128!
Quite reliable, no rust issues here in the deep South, shifted ok if you didn’t try to be “Speed Racer” and push/rush the linkage.
We shudda got power steering and factory Air Conditioning; but no 4 speed manuals were to be had equipped that way. Dad and I put almost 90K on it with very few issues.
I traded this car in on a later model K-car variant 2 door with the 2.2 fuel injected engine and 5 speed overdrive manual tranny.
IMO, the K-car was more of a main-stream, middle America car; the Horizon more “foreign feeling” and sportier.
My mom bought a Horizon in 1980, when I was 5. To this day she considers it one of her favorite cars, and she has owned some very nice ones since. She drove it till about 1986, and then sold it to a friend who drove it for a few more years.
I can still remember seeing these for the first time, as my oldest brother was looking for his first new car. He looked at everything you can imagine that was for sale in 1978. In our area these cars were in fairly high demand when they first were released. We took one for a test drive and the salesman (whom we thought was very high pressured) insisted he bought it today, because they didn’t know when they were going to get more. This totally irritated my brother and we left. (I wanted to test drive the bright yellow and orange 024, but no luck.)
As it happens, they were relatively scarce, for a while. Then, probably a couple months later, they started streaming in. One of the folks who bought one of the earlier ones was Ed, a former co-worker of mine. Our office was a 17 mile (one way) commute every morning, so we took turns car pooling. He mostly drove an early-ish K car Reliant, which felt like a slightly smaller, slower version of my EEK turbo Lancer (which it was)
But the older Omni was a much nicer car to be in. It was definitely quieter than the Reliant, but the Reliant was a very low trim level. The front seats in the Omni were much more comfortable and I swear to this day that the interior (overall) had more room than either his K or my EEK. If we had extra commuters with us, which we would occasionally, I had no problem fitting in the back seat, even with another six foot tall adult in front.
I encountered other Omnis later on, and they had been decontented compared to Ed’s Omni. Or maybe his was a higher trim level than I realized/remember. But either way, the car was a great little commuter. Once Ed retired, he traded it off on a new Plymouth Caravelle, loaded to the gills.
I still want to drive that damned yellow and orange 024, though…
My one great buy! I bought my two-owner ’88 Omni five speed with 51k miles for cash, drove it to 287K miles with just regular maintenance and replacement of normal wear items, easy to work on to boot. It delivered 38mpg without fail, would go through any depth snow on good snow tires in any weather. It allowed me to save enough money to live a voluntary early retirement at 50 years old. What more could a man ask? Great transportation service and a major moneysaving enabler, hail to thee ’88 Dodge Omni, you done good!
As always, fantastic write-up Brendan!
As was the case with a lot of vehicles in the late 70’s – early 80’s, quality control was always something of a hit or miss. I knew many people that owned these cars and they either loved them or hated them.
The last couple years of Onmirizon production was done at the AMC plant in Kenosha.
That couldn’t have been the last L-body ever at the end of 1988, since it ran to the 1990 model year and even picked up a driver’s airbag and a few minor detail changes for the ’90 model.
This GLH turned up at the Mopar show at the Gilmore last year.
Interior looks quite nice, especially compared to the usual color pallet we see today of light grey, dark grey and black.
OK here is a good meaty read with quite a few nice hyperlinks as well, seems to tell the whole engine story as well as more.
Clearing out the cobwebs here, sorry!, remember reading that the VW Rabbit body was based on , or on research done on, a thing called the ESV, (experimental safety vehicle), and as a result had very good numbers in crash testing and occupant safety etc.. While looking very similar and being about the same size, I remember also reading that the Omirizon duo performed horribly in crash testing, especially windshield intrusion, and remember some dark humor quotes being repeated in that article from Chrysler engineers who were involved in the project at the time.
My parents bought a 1986 Horizon in Sept 1986, brand new , for less-than 8,000$ ! That was a screaming deal back then ! It had practically every option , excepting : cassette , automatic transmission , and * maybe* a sunroof ; a MoPar passenger side mirror was added at the dealer , per my parents’ request.
That car was stone axe reliable ! Only big maintenance item was a new clutch at some 75,000 miles . Heck , even its original GoodYear Vectors held up nicely !
My folks sold the car in 1990 to my uncle ( mum’s brother ) , and he tallied-up another 100,000 miles.
The collectible GLH. ( Goes Like Hell , was the translation ) was a beast in its time . Their mortality rate was high ; torque-steer was the culprit- —- along with inexperienced drivers .
Long Live the Omnirizon!
I recall all of the ads in the car mags for the Omni/Horizon. Looking at this today I’m reminded that there isn’t anything more useful and practical than a four door compact hatchback. While I never bought an L car I did buy a couple of Minivans, one plain and one plush.The closest I got was an old ’75 Civic wagon, that thing could hold a lot of stuff. I’ve got nothing but good memories for my ’90 Civic SI.Then I kind of lost my way and started in with a bunch of old cars, sporty and luxury cars. There’s a lot to said for a simple practical car. Maybe something like a RAV4 or Honda CRV?
I see this car and think of what might have been. Reportedly based off the Simca 1100, of which I had the US variant, a 1204. Great car, but not a great engine or transmission. So, they based it off that, deleting the torsion bar suspension, F and R, used a VW engine, emasculated by cheaping out on FI, and used it until 1990? So… if they didn’t use the engine or transmission, or use the front or rear suspension, just how was it really based on it’s alleged ancestor? Maybe I’m naive, but how complicated is a floorpan, since suspension and body were much different? Or how good was the chassis it was allegedly based upon?
One detail point is that other sources (Allpar and AROnline in particular) indicate the L-Body was conceived with struts from the start, and the Euro model was converted to torsion bars somewhat late in the design process partly to use existing production equipment and partly to give it more Simca “identity”. One consequence is that Euro models have a higher floor and less usable front legroom than the American one.
The feature car looks like a cross between my mom’s ice blue ’86 that was the first car I ever drove and the red/beige interior ’81 Omni Miser that was my own first car (complete with obnoxiously dated to my 16-in-1990 eyes white stripe tires).
AROnline’s article on the development of the Horizon does not say any such thing. They clearly say what is true: that the European Horizon was essentially an updated Simca 1100, with its torsion bar front suspension. The 1100 was the starting point, and the American version deviated from that, to design it with struts at the front.
As to Allpar, I’m not going to look it up right now, but they and their contributors have a rep for being US-centric, and not always objective and accurate.
As a long time Mopar owner, one of the things I love about Chrysler products is parts interchangeability in unexpected places. The feature car and some of the brochure cars show a low back seat with an adjustable headrest. Once you remove the Omni seat tracks, they are a direct bolt in to any 70’s/early 80’s Chrysler product. Even the headrest interchanges. I know this, because a 1986 Dodge Omni provided the seats I’m currently using in my 1979 Dodge St. Regis replacing the miserable original 60/40 seats the car came with. The St Regis headrests dropped right into the Omni seats. The colour mismatch of the rest of the seats are dealt with by some seat covers. One of these days, I should have the seat reupholstered to match the back but never seem to get to it.
I never thought anything of them back in the 80s when I was in my teens/early twenties – a real shame – they would have been vastly superior to the collonade and K-car I was driving then. The styling of them and their practicality/economy has aged very nicely.
Had Chrysler just made the Euro- spec Horizon, they could have appealed to a more upscale import buyer. Looking at the design details of the mustard car in the ad, you see better looking block tail lights. Nicer rubber- faced bumpers with more rounded caps. The blacked out detailing is just right. Inside, seats that have a Mercedes look and shape. Firm, horse- hair cushions. No American foam. No “America” period.