Curbside Classic: 1988 to 1991 Dodge Dynasty – Familiarity Breeds, Well, Familiarity

There is a big part of me that wants to triumphantly and enthusiastically title this essay “Dodge Dynasty – Among The Best Cars Ever Built”.

However, there is another part of me that wants to boldly and loudly title this piece “Dodge Dynasty – The Automotive Version Of Chlamydia”.

The hell of it is both would be correct because as often seems the case with Dodge there is no middle ground.  Enriching this experience is how life has provided ample opportunity to have driven more of these buggies than the average schlub.  No wonder my thoughts about them are so bipolar.

The Dynasty first entered my life in the annual Motor Trend update for the new 1988 model year.  I seem to remember there was some literary skewering of Chrysler for naming their newest, largest Dodge the “Dynasty”.  It’s hard to know what possessed Mother Mopar to give a car such a lampoon worthy name.

Yes, there was a nighttime soap opera at the time that shared the name but I prefer to think perhaps somebody at Chrysler had just made the voyage of a lifetime to China and had the Ming family on the mind.  I also helps to think said person was gleefully oblivious to popular culture, mistake though it was.

Thinking about the Ming clan sounds so much better than some television show in which one was always worried about the possibility of sleeping with someone who was actually their amnesiac uncle (aunt, grandma, brother, etc.) or encountering their long-lost evil twin.  Appropriate, as with all the Dynasties I’ve driven there was some evil lurking in a few of them.

The first Dynasty I laid eyes on had been proudly parked in my parent’s driveway by my maternal grandparents Albert and the late Violet.  They were fed-up with their 1985 Dodge Aries, dumping it in late 1987 for a new base model 1988 Dodge Dynasty.  My casual mention of the Dynasty being powered by a Mitsubishi built 3.0 V6 was nearly enough for my World War II veteran grandfather to become uncharacteristically apoplectic and threaten to return it to the dealer.  After some amount of (dis)cussing the source of the engine, he calmed down.  Part of that may have been due to my grandmother telling him to button his lip.  He and my grandmother kept that car until late 1992.  It never gave them an ounce of trouble except for the switch that turned on the a/c compressor.

Speaking of World War II, Grandpa Albert is doing great at 95.  He’s been living in assisted living since late 2017; he is flourishing as he views it as an all-encompassing resort.  During my last visit, as mealtime approached I got to witness Grandpa’s routine of walking down the hallway, knocking on doors to tell residents the “mess hall” was open.  At one door was Louis, a slow-moving man whose hearing had departed him sometime prior.  Poor Louis was slow to respond but that’s okay as he had just turned 100 a few weeks earlier.

Anyway, my grandparent’s Dynasty was so flawless as to inspire my parents to purchase a gray 1991 Dodge Dynasty LE in the summer of 1990.  It was the first 1991 model anything I had seen.  Unlike my grandparent’s Dynasty, my parents had purchased one with the 3.3 liter V6 and the Ultradrive automatic.  Being an LE, it was also pretty well equipped.

The 3.3 in their Dodge was an amazingly smooth engine that was well suited for the size and weight of the Dynasty.  It was also quite efficient for the time, often netting 27 or so miles per gallon on trips and around 25 miles per gallon in everyday driving.  For my size and build, it was also a phenomenally comfortable car to drive.  Drive it I did, too, as this was the car I would drive as far northwest as Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1995.

As another aside, that gray Dynasty my parents owned was capable of 120 miles per hour.  I did it at least twice (and I suspect my sister did over 100 a time or two).  It would have done more but the dashboard was shaking too badly at that point to explore further.  Oh, the missed opportunities of youth….

The Dynasty had accumulated 135,000 miles by the time it was jettisoned in late 1995.  In that entire time my parents had exactly one issue with it, a weird problem which turned out to be a bad sensor that would stall the engine three seconds after starting it.  It happened two days after I returned home from my trip out west at which point it had around 125,000 miles.  That was the extent of its problems.  No hiccups from the Ultradrive, no trim falling off, no rattles, nothing.  That Dynasty was, apart from one isolated event, as reliable as the sunrise.

In 1996 I began my professional career.  My first job involved a considerable amount of travel so every time I had to travel, I’d go get a car from the motor pool.  Invariably for the first year it was a Dodge Dynasty, mostly from model years 1992 and 1993.  I drove green ones, white ones, baby blue ones, gray ones, dark blue ones, and one that was burgundy.

Most were forgettable, silently doing their job of providing drama free transportation to countless drivers and passengers.  These Dynasties were all equipped with a V6, primarily the 3.0 although a few had the 3.3.  They were renowned for their effortless ability to smoke their narrow and undersized front tires at will, although the 3.3 had better low end torque for doing this.

By my best estimation, I’ve driven about two dozen of these Dodges.

Remember the lurking evil mentioned earlier?  While maybe that particular baby blue Dynasty I was assigned wasn’t evil it was certainly possessed.  And that possession made itself known when I had to make a sudden and unplanned business trip to Overland Park, Kansas.  Naturally, I had to sweet talk somebody to get a car with no notice and that possessed baby blue Dynasty was the only passenger car available.

In retrospect, I would have had less drama had I taken the decade or so old, one-ton Chevrolet flatbed that had been parked nearby.  The trip from Jefferson City to Overland Park is 150 miles – not far, but quite tedious when the Dynasty you are driving has consistent transmission slip.  If forced to say something positive about this Dynasty it would be to say it never got worse as it was equally bad when I returned home as it was when I left.

Naturally I reported the problem when I returned.  It likely got a new transmission.  A coworker at the time got another Dynasty from the motor pool when the transmission decided to retire along I-44 near Springfield, Missouri.  It retired so throughly he claimed it would still roll despite the transmission being in Park.

The odd thing is whenever I hear the Dynasty being maligned, I have this sudden bout of inner turmoil.  How can they be so bad, I wonder.  I was around some really good ones.  Then I think about the really good ones and wonder what happened for them to avoid the mechanical maladies to which others succumbed and I experienced.  The turmoil is real.

What is also real is there still being a Dynasty on the road; well, on the road four years ago.  That same day I also found two similar vintage Imperials which tells me these cars aren’t as fragile as many would think.  There were a lot of other cars from that era that aren’t being seen with any regularity.

So was the Dynasty all bad?  No.  But then again there is a reason they have cultivated their less than desirable reputation.  My overall exposure time to all things Dynasty was great with the bad being but a fraction of the whole.  It would be great if that scenario was more universal.

Found May 2015, Hannibal, Missouri

Related reading:

1991 Dodge Dynasty – Enter Alexis by Brendan Saur

1990 Chrysler New Yorker Salon by JS