Ahh the K-car. So much can be said about it as a whole and its various derivatives, and quite honestly, so much has already been said about it here at this publication, ranging from admiration to utter disgust. Ultimately, after some 15 years of production and mutation, Chrysler did quickly phase out every last K-car derivative to make way for its modern Cab Forward styled cars. One of the very last K-cars, this final generation LeBaron sedan has been detailed here before, though not entirely in its ultimate Landau form. The last of its kind in so many ways, among them, the 1994 LeBaron Landau holds the distinction of being the last Chrysler equipped with a factory vinyl roof, and the last American car featuring button-tufted loose pillow style seats.
The basic design of the car was about as textbook K-car as one could get in the early-1990s. Extreme notchback roofline, slabbed sides, substantial front and rear overhangs, relatively narrow width, and a lot of shared parts inside and out.
Alas, the front fenders on the officially designated AA-body sedans (Chrysler LeBaron, Dodge Spirit, Plymouth Acclaim, and export-market Chrysler Saratoga) had a slight curvature to them, but compared to most contemporary midsize sedans the Chryslers were decidedly boxy and out of step with current “aero” design trends.
For its final top-line Chrysler-branded K-car sedan, the automaker was determined to go out with a bang, bringing all the show stopping qualities that came to define the Brougham and Malaise eras, as well as the very K-car itself. Padded vinyl landau roof with opera windows? Check! 14-inch wire wheel covers? You bet! Crystal Pentastar stand-up hood ornament and bright chrome waterfall grille? Oh absolutely! Chrome exterior mirrors, chrome fender flares, full-width taillights, two-tone dual pin striping, and bright grooved lower bodyside cladding with argent accents? Obviously!
A textbook Brougham in nearly every respect, Chrysler wasn’t as quick to slap the name “Brougham” on every top trim model as GM and Ford, instead naming this model after the very style of vinyl roof it bestowed, as if to highlight just how exclusive it was on a midsize, mid-1990s sedan. Adding to its distinctiveness, the LeBaron’s Landau roof was of the rear 1/4 variety, the style preferred by Chrysler since the late-1970s.
If the namesake Landau padded vinyl roof wasn’t distinction enough, the LeBaron Landau’s most buzz worthy quality was its seats. Simply opening one of its four doors (and looking past the exposed attachment screws of the vinyl roof on the inside of the rear doors’ tops) unveiled inviting seating that would not be out of place in Nana’s formal living room.
Featuring bench seats adorned with button-tufted loose “floating” cushions upholstered in either Kimberly Velvet or the finest of Highland Park’s leather with vinyl trim, the LeBaron Landau boasted six-passenger comfort — so long as the rear middle passenger could squeeze their body between the loose pillow cushions and the front middle passenger could do the same whilst possibly sitting staggered and be jabbed in the buttocks with the passenger seatbelt buckle. For those with the outrageous demands for perforated leather bucket seats, they would have to wait another whole year for the 1995 Cirrus.
Beyond its seats, the LeBaron Landau treated its occupants with a few Chrysler exclusives to ensure he or she didn’t suspect they were in a Dodge or Plymouth, no matter how spirited or acclaimed they may have been. Rich artificial burl walnut accents trimmed its instrument panel and accented its door panels, while the top of its dash was adorned with faux French stitching engrained right into the plastic. A higher level of standard and available equipment was expected as part of upgrading to the flagship of midsize K-car sedans.
Humor aside, one could be quick to call out Chrysler for slathering on all the tacky gingerbread of the bygone Brougham era with this LeBaron Landau. That criticism may be just, but wouldn’t it have been worse if Chrysler had tried to market this K-car LeBaron as a premium European-inspired luxury sports sedan, with aero accents, monochromatic trim, and sporty buckets affixed to the boxy K-car body, à la Cadillac Cimarron?
Chrysler actually committed this very crime somewhat, in the European market no less with the Saratoga, but that’s another story for another day. In the U.S., at least Chrysler recognized the lesser of two evils and that it could easily eek out a few more stodgy buyers with the LeBaron Landau than it could import buyers with a Euroesque sporty premium LeBaron. As the Chrysler brand’s final K-car sedan, the LeBaron Landau was a fitting tribute to the K-car, Lee Iacocca, the Brougham Era, and all they embodied.
Featured white LeBaron photos generously provided by CC contributor, Will Jackson
Ah yes, the “toupee” cars. I’m afraid I fall solidly into the “hate” camp on these. They were so wildly out-of-touch with the market at the time it was almost appalling. And it highlights to me one of the things that makes Lee Iacocca such a fascinating automotive titan. He toggles between being a ‘savior” and a “slayer” at companies-alternating between producing huge hits and almost killing them. At Ford, the Mustang and Lincoln Continental Mark III were massively successful, but his later malaise-era turds almost put the company into bankruptcy. At Chrysler, the minivans and AMC/Jeep acquisition allowed the company to carry-on, but then all the dreadful, endless,old-fashioned K-Car variants badly eroded the company’s image and very nearly killed it once again.
I thought these were near the top of their class in 1991, but by ’94 they were dated. IIRC a passenger side motorized seat belt was added to satisfy the “passive restraint” law because there was no airbag there.
I’m fine with the styling – it made for one of the roomiest interiors in its size class. I assure you it’s easier getting in and out of this car (especially in back) than new cars with their squashed pillars you need to duck under. I don’t care about the marginal front center seating position, but do like how the split bench seats leave the front console area open which lends a roomy feel. The double fold-down armrests are actually long enough for your arms, not just your elbows, and they adjust with the seat so they’re always in the right position. And the column shifter is more convenient and doesn’t take up space. BTW, those loose-pillow seats were very comfortable – they have considerably more lateral support than many bucket seats of the era did.
The styling may not have been cutting-edge, but the LeBaron was ahead of its competitors in offering an air bag or 4 wheel disc ABS.
Pro tip: If you don’t smoke, remove the front ashtray. You will then see a second cup holder that can be slid sideways to take up the space freed up by the removed ashtray.
I love it when folks are able to point out neat features that car owners don’t know exist, like that “extra” cupholder.
That made me smile, is a plethora of cup holders an American thing?
Our older British cars always made a big thing of having a number of folding picnic trays in the seats and dash; as if people were constantly having picnics !
Sadly it is.
Personally, I couldn’t care less. I don’t eat in my cars, and usually the only beverage I will have is bottled water or a coffee. I more commonly use my cupholders as storage for other items such as my phone, wallet, and sunglasses.
Very much so. The underlying sentiment seems to be that because of our long stretches of wide, straight roads, we don’t care (or don’t “have to” care) about things like handling or engine efficiency, but rather about things that increase comfort and convenience. It also plays into the typical American stereotype of requiring unhealthily large amounts of sustenance (usually liquid) at all times.
A similar underlying sentiment may also be that manufacturers and marketers would rather focus on those things that are very easy to add and apparently matter a lot to the day-to-day usability of the vehicle, especially if it’s a family-oriented vehicle like a minivan or three-row CUV/SUV. All you have to do to make a cupholder is create a recess in a door or other piece of trim (which often happens semi-naturally during the design of thicker doors to accomodate more crash protection and/or sound insulation) then close off that recess slightly to create a compartment for a drink container.
The new Subaru Ascent, for instance, was designed expressly for the American market, and is advertised as having 19 cupholders, many of which are just door pockets that have been compartmentalized: https://jalopnik.com/i-found-all-19-of-the-new-subaru-ascents-cupholders-1820928343
Cup holders and sunglasses holders.
A good friend of mine bought a new 2017 Lexus RX350 back at the beginning of MY2017. She loves the vehicle a lot. The only thing she hates is that there is no sunglasses holder. I have read other folks reviews of the vehicle where they were complaining about the RX350 not having a dedicated sunglasses holder.
I cannot believe that this is actually an issue for folks especially since the RX350 has a deep center console.
I have those sunglasses holders in my cars and have had cars with them for years. I have never used them. My Raybans live in their case in my closed center console.
Sunglasses holders and the lack of them are a first world problem indeed.
A friend of mine just bought a low milage 1990 black red leather interior chrysler imperial it’s one owner garaged all its life it was imported into the UK in 92 that car gets more looks more thumbs up more notes under the windshield asking if it’s for sale he’s been asked if it can be used in music videos and fashion shoots the young kids love it.. What kind of car is that it’s sick man (good) it’s just so unusual looking and in black very cool I love it I think it’s very cool and your feature car Europeans always love American cars.
A potential theory…
Lee Iacocca, being born in 1924, was a child of the Great Depression. Anyone who has spent any time around children of the Depression has likely noticed that nothing is wasted and how their definition of luxury differs from others.
The C-body Dynasty, New Yorker, Fifth Avenue had their last year in 1993. Might Chrysler have had some amount of vinyl and pillow tufted seating material remaining? Maybe, maybe not.
So combine a person who does not waste anything with Chrysler having no other “traditional” luxury-esque car for buyers of particular predilections. It was a perfect marriage.
Styling is a subjective thing as is interior accoutrements. For maintaining the original K-car idiom of maximum room, minimum footprint, these kept the recipe alive long after the K-car was as obsolete as a rotary phone.
While the seat material may not be my first choice, seeing the interior of this Chrysler is somewhat refreshing. First, space is maximized by having the gear selector on the column and there is no chastity belt-like console gobbling up interior room. Yeah, I’ve heard the speculation current consoles are for covering wiring and such, but I have trouble believing that; cars are 12 volt and the runs aren’t that long. I’ve installed long runs of 220 volt wiring in my house and the diameter was around that of my pinky finger. Why have something so big covering something so small?
This isn’t a rant so much as a pointed observation.
Did these AA-body Mopars go past their sell-buy date? Yep. Did their image become marred due to it having the LeBaron name, a name the was seemingly plastered at some point on every Chrysler built during the 1980s? Could be.
Remove all the gingerbread from both the interior and exterior and these are nice, purposeful looking cars. These are very much in the vein of the A-body Century and Ciera and they certainly fulfilled their mission.
You have to admire the way that Chrysler was able to make a series too-small cars so competitive for so long by making them so sumptuous (in a 70s-80s kind of way). A complete reversal of the fuselage era where the cars were competive in size and mechanicals but in little else.
My biggest gripe with these cars was with the dashboards. It was like someone had decreed that the big rectangular dash face of the 1973 LTD had achieved design perfection and would therefore be copied in this car – with a slight softening of the corners as its sole concession to the aero revolution.
Finding this car parked outside of a JC Penney at a mall is perfection. This car could be really at home nowhere else.
Nearly 30 years after the first 1965 LTD rolled off the line, here it is, The Last Brougham. Looking for all the world to be exactly what it is, a tarted-up K-car, complete with wire-wheel covers. It’s VW Beetle-like how much mileage Iacocca tried to squeeze out of the K-car chassis. A few variations were great successes (minivan) but most were, well, not so much.
You really have to wonder if Iacocca were still in charge of Chrysler today, would there still be broughams? Would there be a 300-based New Yorker with a padded vinyl roof, fake wire-wheel covers, a button-tufted interior, and stand-up hood ornament?
In the AA’s defense, no one knew for sure that the “aero” styling was really going to take hold. Look at the ovoid Taurus, Ford thought they were going to dictate future styling trends with that car as they did with the OG Taurus. It didn’t happen that way.
Like the Seville-esqe GMs of the 80’s into the early 90’s, this form of styling was a good bet. Look at the original release Dodge and Plymouth models in 1989, they weren’t that far away from the mainstream at the time. I feel the LeBaron takes a lot of shots as it was aimed at a specific demographic back then; many of us that were there at the time have a negative reaction due to our own prejudices. With many of the comments I see on FB groups though, I’m pretty certain FCA could re-release this exact car today and younger folks would snap it up.
The AA’s were probably the best evolution of the original K-car. It had taken all of the original characteristics of the K-car and turned them up to 11. Had it been released in 1985 instead of 1989, it may have made a huge difference in Chrysler’s fortunes going into the 1990’s.
Good point. IIRC, Iacocca famously derided the Taurus when it came out, claiming it would never sell. Looks like Lido really missed the boat on that one and it goes a very long way to explaining why he stuck with the K-car for so long.
Simply put, for once, he didn’t know which way the market was headed and, rather than take a chance on bankrupting the company (again) with a major retooling investment for a vehicle that might bomb, he went ultra-conservative and stuck with what he already had (K-car) and what he had been so successful with in the past – the good ‘ole brougham-mobile. It was a bad call and I dare say he would have been gone much sooner if not for the enduring success of the Chrysler minivan.
In fact, it kind of reminds me of Rambler under George Romney. Their whole corporate ethos revolved almost exclusively around one compact car. How Iacocca stuck with the K-car for so long is a good way to respond to those who say Rambler should have done the same thing, as opposed to AMC’s Abernethy diversifying in the sixties, trying to go mano-a-mano with the Big 3, model for model. Yeah, it didn’t work, but sticking with just one car line probably wouldn’t have worked any better.
Boy do i miss when American cars transferred your living room to your car. If i could find one of these resonably priced…………….i would buy it. Say what you will but at least these cars stand out and don’t look like what everyone else is driving. Talk about cookie cutting? before it was an in house company thing…………..now it encompasses the whole industry.
There is a “twin” to the white car on the Gainesville, Florida Craigslist, tho it looks a bit scruffy. The seller makes a few claims about the condition that the supplied photos don’t seem to carry out. But the price looks decent for what you are getting.
“wouldn’t it have been worse if Chrysler had tried to market this K-car LeBaron as a premium European-inspired luxury sports sedan, with aero accents, monochromatic trim, and sporty buckets affixed to the boxy K-car body”
They did sort of, as a Dodge at least, the Spirit RT. Definitely the best K-car derivative, IMO.
+1. The Spirit RT is my favorite “K” as well.
Wasn’t this car the fastest four door in the world at the time ?
I’ve never had any desire to own one of these, but consider the timeframe. For a reliable, comfortable set of wheels meant for the predominantly retired set, there were far worse choices in 1990ish. Many of our parents friends and acquaintances drove these cars for decades with a minimum of muss and fuss.
Agreed. It looks like a K-car that someone had left in the rain, it bloated up, and the corners and edges all got wet and rounded off.
With that said, I have to admit that Iacocca knew his market. This is definitely a toupee-wearing, white-shoes-and-belt geezer-mobile and, for a working-class retired person looking for an alternative to an archaic Grand Marquis or pricier, less economical Buick, these weren’t too bad, especially in the snowbelt where FWD would come in handy. In that context, these were okay.
I might even go so far as to suggest these were an aspirational car for someone who had bought an early K-car, liked it, retired, and wanted to move up within the Chrysler family.
It was what it was. And I’d sooner have one of these than one of today’s tortured-looking aero blobs with a monstrous fish mouth grill. There, I said it and I’m glad!
My, what a controversial opinion. Hope you don’t get crucified for it here. 😛
For what it’s worth, I agree. Your descriptive opinion of modern automotive aesthetics made me laugh. And, yes, they all look alike.
Monstrous angry fish mouth.
A lot of Lexus (Lexuses, Lexi??) also have adopted the “dripping-mascara” look. UGH!
I absolutely agree. Todays styling is so ugly. Nothing is clean and classy. And unfortunately, America has lost the car wars. It’s all so sad.
I have one of these AA body Chryslers. One of the reasons I bought it, is because it´s a classic notchback sedan and not one of these fish mouth grill aero blobs. But living in Germany it means it´s a Saratoga and not a LeBaron Landau. So no gingerbread for me. And as much as I like this Brougham stuff, it looks not good on this car. This 1/4 rear Landau roof looks ridiculous, as do this opera window. In my opinion the AA body is one of those designs that look pure their best.
Von allen AA-Autos ist das Saratoga mein Favorit. Ich bin ziemlich neidisch auf dich.
Step back to 1994 and consider who was buying Chrysler cars.
Here’s a hint: it wasn’t folks under 50.
Yes, Chrysler had good luck with the K-Cars, and certainly with the minivan, but the Dodge and Plymouth variants of K-Cars were either rental fodder, fleet vehicles, or a car somebody settled for, rather than had as a first choice.
If one wanted American, and one wanted luxury, then you probably bought the Town Car or the DeVille. If you wanted smaller (and those who wanted luxury rarely wanted smaller), you could get the Seville or El Dorado, but no Lincoln, so this was the last option. Unless you were a die-hard Chrysler fan (and there were still a few left then), you had this as your one choice. This was the real killing off period for American Luxury, as the demographic aged out and stopped buying in such numbers as they had in the past. The collapse of the “near luxury” marques was in full effect, with Mercury, Buick, and Oldsmobile slowly fading into obscurity, and there was no longer a feeder market based on the Sloane ladder. The market moved to foreign luxury and has never looked back.
The sad part is that is has been a slow, painful death. We see fits and starts to bring back the luxury segment to American manufacturers, but it just is not happening. As much as I would love to see Lincoln, Cadillac, and even Chrysler become status-symbol luxury marques again, I don’t see it happening. Cadillac is really becoming more like Buick, Lincoln is taking the place of Mercury, and Chrysler looks to be acquired by Hyundai and liquidated once FCA shares drop a bit more. It seems that the luxury market has moved too far away to ever return to American shores.
A few years ago, I owned a 1992 Lebaron with the cloth button tuft seats.
I paid $400 for it and it actually a pretty good car for the money. It was very roomy and the 4 speed auto transmission and 3.0l V6 made the car scoot pretty quick. While it had some rust, it still looked presentable.
Other then having to replace the tires, I had no issues for the time I owned it. The seats were comfy to sit in and unlike a lot of cars out today where you have to sit hunched over in the back seat or you would bang your head against the roof, this car had a lot of headroom. Even though the AA car was a dated K car, the car had a lot of pluses. It was comfortable to drive and ride in. It had ample headroom all around. The trunk was roomy
Here are some pics of mine from the day i picked it up. It was bought from the dealership wholesaler. The car is missing a hubcap because I lost it on the test drive. The thing took off from the car and passed me then his something so that it veered over to the other side of the road and missed a car. Then it shattered itself against the protective fencing that kept stuff from falling onto 95
It may not be enthusiast car, but at least it has full instrumentation!
That was one thing Chrysler could usually be counted on for. GM and Ford mostly did away with full-instrumentation, even going so far as to only include speedometer and fuel level gauge in most many models. This was especially true with larger vehicles, as apparently they figured that buyers wanted to be as isolated from the road as possible in every sense.
We had a 1994 base model.My wife was a road warrior. Her parants had just moved into our town, and we would need to transport them often.
The Chrysler dealer advertised ex rental LeBarons. They had 60 plus at their lot. The salesman said there were even more at the airport. The price was of course dirt cheap. There were only three colors. I test drove 4 and picked the best of the litter.
It did exactly what we wanted it to. My Father in Law asked is they would sell him one at that price. I replied “1 or 130”. 80,000 miles later it was gone.
Sleeping pill on wheels. Look at it long enough and my eyes get…very…heavy.
Then again, except for the first couple of years, I was never a K-Car fan…while still greatly appreciating the role they played in ChryCo’s 1980s revival.
I want to dislike these but… I can’t. In fact, I like them a lot more than the larger New Yorker and Imperial of the time. (Fun fact: these were badged New Yorker in Mexico)
There’s something to be said for putting such plush seats and formal styling cues on a rather trim package. I hate landau roofs but even it doesn’t look horrible on this. But then, I have a soft spot for the first FWD New Yorker and this is really just a better version of that.
Was the AA-Body LeBaron completely out of step with the times? Yup. But I don’t mind it…
I always thought the LeBarons without the landau top were very clean looking, and the waterfall grill was a nice touch. I always wanted one, but ended up with a 91 New Yorker Salon. Either was excellent for its intended purpose. It was comfortable, plush transportation. Not to everyone’s taste, of course.
“Kimberly Velvet” sounds like a good stage name for a stripper!
I like K-cars of all generations. And, since I ‘be owned four, I guess.you could say I know what I like.
This car had its place. The demographic for it still existed. They were comfortable cars. WIth the Mitsubishi V6 their powertrain performance was competitive (better, I think, than a base Ford Taurus with the Vulcan V6). For those who wanted newer, Chrysler itself had a far more modern alternative: the Dodge Intrepid and its siblings (“This changes everything”). The plant capacity and an ample supply of parts made on fully amortized tooling were available. So why not?
Chrysler made a big profit on every one of these they sold.
I am not certain if the following has been posted here: for a few years, this AA-body sedan was also marketed as the upscale Chrysler New Yorker in Mexico! I am unsure of which years. Here is a brochure pic. from 1990.