(First Published 9/17/2014) In many ways, this 1994 Chrysler LeBaron sedan represents a number of “lasts” for Chrysler. Starting at the very core, it was the last Chrysler sedan derived from the vintage-1981 K-car, and one of the final vehicles whose entire development took place under the tenure of CEO and Chairman Lee Iacocca.
With his firm hand and unaltered sense of direction, Lee Iacocca may have been the right man to lead Chrysler out of the rubble in 1979. The K-cars were spot-on for the times, and their success restored Chrysler to profitability. By applying the K’s architecture and components to a number of vehicles, Chrysler was able to save considerable money while expanding its vehicle portfolio.
Yet despite enough change to invest in newer, more innovative cars, nearly ten years later Iacocca was still building and applying his outdated sense of style to offshoots of the increasingly antiquated little K-car. It was cars like this 1994 LeBaron that represented the “Old Chrysler,” where the good ‘ol boys ruled, and Iacocca always had the final say.
Arriving as a 1990 model, this final LeBaron sedan was Chrysler’s variant of the AA-body. Much like the K-body LeBaron it replaced, this car came a year later than its Dodge and Plymouth brethren. While it also served as the technical replacement for the H-body LeBaron GTS and, to some extent, the E-body New Yorker Turbo, this AA-body LeBaron sedan was essentially the second generation of the basic K-car.
A little bit roomier, slightly refined, and restyled inside and out (though still very much to the preferred taste of Lido), the AA-body was a nice update of the original K-car, albeit a few years late. Had it came out around ’86 or ’87, and then replaced with something more modern around ’92, the AA-body would’ve been much more competitive.
But the reality is that these cars, which looked and drove much like the 1981 Ks, were rolling off assembly lines right up until December 1994. By that time, Ford was already near the end of its second generation Taurus and Sable, cars that redefined the mid-size American automobile. Toyota and Honda were also busy building some of the best Camrys and Accords ever.
The only vehicles the AA-body really stood a chance against were the equally elderly Buick Century/Olds Cutlass Ciera and, possibly, the slightly newer GM W-body sedans (the Regal and Cutlass Supreme, in the upmarket LeBaron’s case). Chrysler could keep piling on brightwork and vinyl roofs (which hurt more than helped this poor car’s image), but these K-based cars could never compare to newer, more advanced sedans in terms of fit-and-finish, NVH, style and overall refinement.
The AA-bodies were clearly outdated and outclassed in many areas by most of their competition. That’s not to say that they were horrible cars. They did have some strong points (mainly their spaciousness and available Mitsubishi V6), but they could have been a whole lot better. They didn’t have to outdo the Accord in handling, the Camry in interior quality, or the Taurus in packaging. But at the very least, looking at them didn’t have to be as excruciatingly dull as watching C-SPAN.
The LeBaron’s shortcomings were made more obvious with each passing year. As competitors consistently improved, the AA-bodies were simply left to wither. Prolonging their life continued to hurt Chrysler’s image and fortunes, both of which were rapidly declining.
In terms of style, their sharp-edged lines and boxy shape said “screw you” to the aero revolution that was influencing virtually every other car design. Sure, corners may have been rounded a bit versus their predecessors, but excluding the wheels, nothing remotely curved or circular was to be found either outside or within. The upright “formal” roofline was easily one of the two most vertical rooflines of the nineties.
In fact, the AA-bodies might as well have been a 95-percent copy of the exposed-headlight Dynasty/New Yorker Salon. Sheet metal and interior panels were unique, but it didn’t change the fact that they looked almost exactly alike. In addition, the two were both K-derived, so just about everything under the thin surface was shared. Prior to 1993, every Chrysler sedan was virtually indistinguishable in terms of looks, hardware, and dynamics.
However, all that was about to change. A new wave of Chryslers was coming, spearheaded by the sleek and stylish LH sedans. Coinciding with Lee Iacocca’s retirement, the introduction of the LH cars only solidified the LeBaron’s ancientness. Its own “cab-forward” successor, the Cirrus, would not arrive for two more years, leaving the LeBaron as the final K-based sedan in Chrysler’s lineup for 1994. The LeBaron convertible and the Town & Country minivan would stick around through 1995, but those were more specialized vehicles, deviating greatly from the original K. For all intents and purposes, this LeBaron was the last K-car.
Although there was never an official Brougham model, the AA-body LeBaron (particularly the upmarket Landau model) was the last Chrysler to embody the defining characteristics of the Great Brougham Epoch. It was the last Chrysler available with wire wheels, a padded vinyl roof, and opera windows.
On a grander scale, it was the last American car to feature the available loose-pillow style, button-tufted seats that were so popular in the 1970s.
The LeBaron sedan was the last Chrysler without a front-passenger airbag. It required a motorized front-passenger seatbelt–another last for Chrysler. This car also holds the distinction of being the last mid-size Chrysler with 6-passenger seating, courtesy of its standard 50/50 front bench.
In addition, it was the last Chrysler to sport a boxy, K-inspired dashboard. The two other K-derived Chryslers, the LeBaron and Town & Country, had received dashboard redesigns.
Excluding the Town & Country minivan, the LeBaron was the last Chrysler car available with a digital gauge cluster. It was, sadly, the final Chrysler sedan with a stand-up crystal Pentastar hood ornament (which, unfortunately, had broken off this car).
Now I know throughout this entire article my tone comes off largely critical of this LeBaron and its siblings. Yet truth be told, in retrospect, I have a soft spot for these cars. Fifteen years ago, I would’ve described them as ugly little boxes. While the box part hasn’t changed, I’ve grown to appreciate these final K-cars for the very qualities that made them look so behind the times when new.
For better or for worse, this LeBaron signified the end of an era for Chrysler. Out with Iacocca, and everything that embodied his K-hrysler K-orporation, and in with a new era of more open-minded executives, cross-platform teams, and an age where styling mattered. While that may be glorifying the situation a bit, higher times did come to Chrysler, even if they were short-lived.
CC Capsule: 1990 Chrysler LeBaron Landau – Comes With Everything You See Here
Curbside Classic: 1994 Plymouth Acclaim: If It Was Good Enough For Zackman And Tina Turner…
I find the LeBaron to be the best looking of Chrysler’s K series of cars.
I’ve been listening to Bob Lutz (Icons an Idiots), and it’s interesting to look back on this car and the Iaccoca legacy.My daughter had an ’88 LeBaron convert, and I had Dynasty SEs as company cars.
We did not have a strong Ford dealer in our area, and GM was very late with improved engines and ‘good’ EFI. So compared to the Ford potatoes, these cars were old fashioned looking, but drove well and were reliable.
I would agree that the LH platform that followed was Chry-co’s high point. Those were the last Chrysler vehicles in our fleet – until the Suburban prices hit the stratosphere and we had to go back to the T&C mini-vans for people haulers.
With the domestic names out of the mid-size truck business, I recently bought a Dodge Journey for our service fleet. It has gotten rave reviews, and the mileage is as good as our 5 cyl Colorado truck fleet. It is the only thing in the lineup I would consider.
That said, we’re probably going to move to Nissan or Toyota mid-size trucks next year.
Though not the Chrysler iteration, my folks bought a 1990 Plymouth Acclaim new. It was a 4 cylinder model without a lot of options, beige with a beige velour interior. I always thought that it had suprisingly high initial quality of fit, finish and materials. It proved to be reliable and it stayed screwed together very well for a domestic car of that era. That said, it was absolutely and without a doubt THE most dull and anonymous car I have ever been around. It was literally a transportation appliance and had no soul at all. For its intended purpose it was very functional but it would never have elicited even the slightest emotion. Like the A-body GMs from this era, they had made the K car derivatives for so long that they worked nearly all of the reliability/quality issues out of them. Too bad they were so dull…
I had a beige 92 Acclaim. Extremely reliable. No problems whatsoever. BUT it was dull, boring, which eventually led me to trading it in. It was probably one of my most reliable if basic cars
I had a ’92 Acclaim as a rental for a couple of days and I remember being impressed with it’s comparative roominess and drivability, dull though it may have been.
There was nothing fancy about the K-Cars, but the core ones, like these, were well proportioned, reasonably reliable, and surprisingly well put together. The paint held up well, and the cloth interiors were quite durable. I know this from my mom’s ’85 LeBaron T&C wagon and my dad’s ’68 Reliant SE wagon.
Guilty admission – I actually LIKE the looks of these cars. Not saying I’d own one, but if someone gave me a landau spec’d New Yorker of this vintage I’d definitely keep it running.
I have no idea why, and I’d probably hide it away somewhere and not admit it’s existence – but there it is, one of my guilty automotive pleasures.
Believe me, I have similar feelings. They’re so gaudy and overwrought, that they kind of appeal to me.
At the time, in 1990 when we bought our 1990 Acclaim, I believed they were the best domestic sedans in their size on the market, although I looked seriously at the Chevy Lumina as my GM “hate” had softened a bit. The Asian counterparts were still much smaller, especially in the back seat area.
We went with the Acclaim because it was the least expensive and offered the most interior volume because of having our two kids and my mom as passengers and we couldn’t afford a minivan. The Acclaim also was the easiest to get in and out of the back seat because of the upright roofline.
I have said time and again how much we loved that Acclaim. Do I miss it now? Nope. Especially when I have had super service from our 2002 CR-V and my two Impalas. Wishing for a third…
AA cars were the “best rental car” in early 90’s, IMHO. Would pick them over Tempo, Skylark, or Corsica. My company would only pay up to that car size on biz trips. Would get lucky and get “free upgrades”, sometimes.
When these cars were new, I was young, and all about the Intrepid. Let’s see what Mopar is really capable of! Well, they were capable of making me vow to never buy another LH-era Mopar. After being suckered by a ’96 Intrepid, I missed my ’91 Dynasty.
Now I’m almost middle aged, and these things look a lot better to me. Make it a 3.3, please, get off my lawn, time for Matlock, etc.
hahahaha, not THAT is funny…and say off my lawn!!
That’s a pity that you had such a bad experience, as others did. I bought a 1993 Intrepid new (base model, 3.3 liter) and owned it for four years and 60,000 miles, and really enjoyed that car. A friend of mine, however, bought a 1994 and ended up hating it. His was a base model too, but had the 3.5 liter engine, I don’t know if that made a difference reliability-wise.
When I saw the guesses for yesterday’s clue as Acclaim / Spirit, I figured that was right. I had forgotten that Chrysler had fielded a low end LeBaron. It seemed like most sold as the Landau version, the base was too much like a high end Acclaim.
I really wanted to like the Acclaim, Spirit, and base LeBaron as second gen basic K cars, but I couldn’t, mainly for the reasons outlined in your excellent write up. They are cars of many virtues, but the styling seemed phoned in: “Take a file to the edges of the ’81 K body, call it good and take the afternoon off.” I was a fresh college grad looking for where I wanted to go automotively, and nobody in my position was choosing these over an Accord or Camry. The father of a girl I dated briefly was a bookkeeper sort of guy, and had an Acclaim. That pretty much sums it up.
That passenger motorized seat belt in the late versions of these is one of my favorite carp points on government and to some degree the attitude of automobile companies. This “solution” to a problem that arguably didn’t exist, caused its own problems with safety, convenience, comfort, complexity, and added cost that didn’t provide any benefit over basic seat belts. My ’89 T-Bird had them on both sides, and I got caught in the runaway belt a few times. The worst was when I was working on the car and reached in through the window to start it. The car tried to kill me. I’ll give Chrysler credit, I’ll take motorized over the door mounted belts GM was so fond of.
A final thought, wouldn’t the LH cars arguably be the last cars under Iacocca? And possibly a redemption for his overplaying the K hand? Also, the “Cloud” cars were likely to be at least in development before he left.
Yeah, the LH cars were just about ready for production when Iacocca was essentially forced into retirement in late ’92. I purposely said this was “one” of the final vehicles whose development took place under his tenure. His involvement in the LH was a lot more scaled back though. People like Lutz and Francois Castaing pushed the LH, and the team of younger engineers and designers were often at odds with Iacocca. He never really had faith in the LH, and privately denounced the cars. I’m sure it was no mistake that production versions were unveiled at his farewell Gala in Vegas, almost as a way of sticking it to him.
I recall that retirement and ouster were about one and the same when Iacocca left Chrysler, I just couldn’t recall the time frame. In some ways, crediting him with (blaming him for?) the 1990-1993 Imperial would seem to be the ultimate Iacocca era send off! That may have been the car where the kids at Chrysler saw that it was time to take the keys from papa Iacocca.
I have an October 1992 Life magazine that we saved as it was a White House bi-centennial issue, and Chrysler was the exclusive advertiser. My wife saved it for the White House feature, what amounted to Chrysler’s product catalog in the edition was good enough for me. Fun feature: The Grand Cherokee as woody Grand Wagoneer. That may have been a one or two year edition.
Anyway, the roll out of the LH cars was also a big feature. One of the ads was signed by Mr. Iaccocca. Probably one of the very last promotions he was part of.
Life magazine pages don’t fit on my scanner……….
Yeah the new Grand Wagoneer was a 1993 exclusive, and a very rare one at that. Even as a kid seeing one of those was a really big deal. To be honest, the last one I remember seeing in person was a white one in the fall of 2001, driving on the highway up to New Hampshire. And yes, I remember those details because that’s how big of a deal it was! 🙂
Whatever di-noc woodgrain they used on those GWs wasn’t as good quality as previous Wagoneers or the minivans. It was notorious for peeling within a few years.
If I recall as well, Lido tried to fight the modern dashboard redesign of the 1990 LeBaron coupe/convertible. How dare they get rid of his boxes!?
Dark green made a comeback that lasted a bit longer then this Grand Wagoneer. A wee bit big for the scanner………..
I saved that same issue too!
These cars, along with the GM A-body cars were sort of charming in an archaic way. By the end of production for both lines the original owners were almost always conservative and elderly. I have seen few loaded versions of the end of production, though there was always a decent take rate on the V6 versions.
Personally I’d love a Spirit R/T turbo for the silliness of it.
“…the original owners were almost always conservative and elderly.”
Ha ha! Well, you have that half-right, at least in my case! I was about to turn 39 when we bought ours!
They were ok cars. Dad had a 10-yr old ’92 Spirit R/T non-turbo that was loaded. It was relatively reliable, pretty comfy, but still felt old and clunky at that point. And it used the same K-car floorpan, which meant the same welded seam under the driver and front passenger’s feet that always let in moisture and started to rot. Same thing with the Aries and Reliant I owned, and the Town & Country wagon my Dad owned previous to the Spirit.
No, no, you need a monochromatic white Dodge Spirit R/T for maximum effect! Or perhaps a Plymouth Acclaim in Emerald Green Metallic with the Gold Package.
It is interesting how they are described as “ugly little boxes” as I also used to think of K-cars in that same way. Now, many years after they have been discontinued, they have joined all of the other “classics” and do turn heads when a pristine example of one is seen in good condition. I guess when any automobile becomes an antique, it will gain a following of dedicated fans.
My feelings echo those of DaveB. The future Mrs. JPC was considering a new car to replace her 88 Accord that had suffered significant hail damage. I was excited about the first new Mopar sedans since the K, and we went and looked at an Acclaim just after it was out. I really, really wanted to like it. But after being used to her Honda, we never even made it to a test drive. The car just screamed “old lady”. She ended up keeping the Accord.
From everything I have read, these were actually pretty good cars. Proving once again, that after WWII, Chrysler could make a good car and an appealing car, but almost never and the same time.
My date at the time, who’s father owned an Acclaim, was not a fan of it. I started to say something complimentary, and could tell that I was not going the right direction. Oh well, I started dating my wife soon after, and she put up with my buying my ’87 Grand Marquis LS, and we’ve made it 21 years! Buying her an ’89 Thunderbird was the solution at the time.
The other comparison one could draw with these would be the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz, which were of comparable vintage (the Tempo/Topaz twins arrived later than the K-cars, but were based on the 1981 U.S. Escort), similarly long-lived, and about as dull. I suppose the Tempo looked more modern, since its aero styling was initially novel, but by the end, it was pretty much the quintessential rental car.
The Tempo/Topaz was worse. On one trip when my rental car was from Hertz (then owned by Ford…no convenient location for Thrifty, where I had a substantial discount) I had a Tempo. It was really hardly better than an early 1980s Escort. What a dump. It developed an electrical gremlin and Hertz said to bring it in. I was happy to swap it for some boring Chevrolet four-door which at least was less bad than the Tempo.
“less bad” – Oh dear!
I had a ’91 Dodge Spirit ES (silver) which I bought used in ’95. I loved the boxy styling very much – sightlines were great and as a tall person I had plenty of room. The roomy trunk with fold down seats meant it could haul lots. In many ways it was the “spirit-ual” decendant of the Valiant/Dart (which I also owned).
When I bought it, I was enticed by the “Japanese quality” Mitsubishi V6. It was a nightmare and cost me 5-10 times in upkeep and repairs compraed to my wife’s ’91 Tercel. A constant problem was the headgaskets, which I’m cerain were manufactured with leak holes! The turning circle on these cars was unnecessarily large, and perhaps specific to the ES, the steering was heavy.
We had it several years before family needs meant switching to minivans, but it was a great car to start with, despite the quality woes.
In the early 1990s my travels called for me to rent cars frequently. With a special and substantial corporate discount at Thrifty, which was owned by Chrysler, I frequently rented Acclaims, Spirits and LeBarons. Chrysler leased them to Thrifty and the intent all along was to resell them. As a result, not only were they usually of low mileage (under 9000…today one can rent Hertz cars over 30,000) but many had V6 engines and not the 2.5 Four. I found them competent and much refined over the Reliant and Aries. No match for a Taurus, but easily the better of the hoary GM midsizes in the driving experience, though smaller. I enjoyed driving them, more so than the Dodge Dynasty which seemed to suffer from being stretched while remaining as narrow as the originsl K-Cars…it handled sloppily and felt like it.
In early 1993 I embarked on a trip and went from the airport to Thrifty again. There in the lot were their first LH cars. I was assigned a Dodge Intrepid and was so impressed that two years later when I decided that my 1987 Mercury Sable, after being rear-ended, was finally run out at 190,000 miles, my next car would be an LH. By 1995, most of the teething troubles seemed to have been ironed out. I still own that 1995 Intrepid now, and it has been nearly trouble-free. But as for this CC, though they were nice enough, I was never inspired by renting one of the AA-bodies or the Dodge Dynasty to actually go out and BUY one.
“The only vehicles the AA-body really stood a chance against were the equally elderly Buick Century/Olds Cutlass Ciera”
I don’t the AA body cars even had a chance against the 82-96 Century and Ciera ether. The AA Bodies were noisy, rattled and generally felt like they were not put together well. By contrast the Buick Century and Ciera though older cars felt more refined and were more pleasing to drive. They offered a traditional big car ride experience for a good price. Even now used Centry and Cieras are still sought after as a spare or commuter car.
No kidding about the GM A-bodies. Last week I sold my ’93 Century in seven hours at my full asking price.
Why did you get rid of it? During your posting last year about Iowa City you said this:
“I’m keeping it until one of us croaks. On the trip up, in a stiff breeze, it got 26 mpg; much better on the way back, but I didn’t calculate it. The only thing I would change, and then hesitantly, is it was born with a 3 speed automatic. The overdrive would give it a few more mpg.”
Do you miss it? Those cars are some of the best I have driven (I owned a 1989 Century wagon for 5 years and my folks had a 1996 sedan until a drunk hit it)
I think these need to be understood in their context. Today, the ‘subprime’ market often means people with warrants, criminal records, active bad debt trade ins with liens from an auto-pawn. There’s still money to be made financing these risky customers when the base interest rate is low. In the 90s, these customers wouldn’t be let anywhere near a new car lot.
Subprime in the 90s, meant American Car Buyer.
Rewind to the 90s. It was a different world. The primest of prime customers couldn’t get an Accord financed at a dealer or bank for below 6%, and Honda knew that someone else would buy it so they didn’t haggle. Regardless of the asking price, if the finance package you got was 9% or worse, it just made the car too expensive every month. It is the price per month that is what gave Accords and Camries near-luxury status in communities where most people were on the median income.
This is why people buy Tempos and Acclaims. They were cars for young people who rent or just bought their first house and don’t have the credit of a 50 year old at the top of their earning curve.
The finance deals that are subsidized by the manufacturer enable ‘normal’ people to buy a new car even when the base interest rate is so high. Granted, these deals also mean the cars lose value like a brick (which is how they look too) and this is painful if you ever need to sell. However, at that time, Chrysler had some of the best warranties, which meant that you were generally safe for the length of the car note.
For normal people, pre-cab forward Mopars gave hundreds of thousands of miles of reliable transportation, and are worthy for what they are. I don’t want this to sound patronizing, as it was me in the 90s and my parents in the 80s. It was only due to these unfashionable ‘double coupon’ cars that allowed us to drive something new and with a good chance of reliability. Keep in mind the alternative of a ‘used car’ meant a used malaise era car, with all of the risk that entailed.
As an aside, is it just me, or is the kid in the catcher’s uniform in the Dynasty photo saying ‘ha ha- my dad drives a Taurus. Loser!’
I completely agree–these were an important segment and they were pretty well done. I think that the interest rate that my folks paid was near 10% and they were solid people with great credit, if not overwhelming income (both teachers).
It was a great boone to this class that good american cars were once again becoming available after there having been a pretty dismal 1970’s and to an extent the 1980’s for domestic autos.
Brian makes good points here.
I think it was late ’90s-early ’00s that “subprime” came to car buyers. I was driving beater-ish cars when people I knew suddenly sprouted 3-series and Lexii. Now I see entry-level luxury cars driven by young people, and rather than thinking “Wall Street,” I assume they’re actually broke, or soon will be.
For cars that seemed to be one step above “disposable” they must have gotten the kinks worked out by late in the model run. They’re starting to get thin on the ground now, but it seems that until a couple years ago, there were still quite a number of late-run Acclaims and Spirits puttering about. Often missing hubcaps, or with bad paint, or any number of other maladies, but they were there if you looked for them, fading into the background of the automotive scenery. I wonder if those were primarily ex-rentals or if there were still a lot of retail buyers until the end, tempted by price, simplicity, warranty, or easy financing?
I can respect them for what they were, and the Lebaron Landau in particular as perhaps the last remnant of the Brougham Era, but the only one that ever interested me at all was the Spirit R/T. The car mags all seemed to love that one when it appeared…
I have always wondered if their low resale is part of why they have seemed to vanish so suddenly; in high school one of my best friends inherited a ’92 Spirit from her grandparents when she got her license. That car took plenty of abuse from us for several years without skipping a beat. It was taken out of commission when someone hurled a brick thru the back window, slightly denting the sheet metal around the window frame in the process. The car was sound mechanically and physically otherwise, but insurance totaled the car out regardless… She took the meagre pay-out and put it towards a newer Galant.
I’ve come close to buying a Plymouth Acclaim a few times in the last year or so. Being in northern Florida you would think the Chrysler versions would be more plentiful…but they are not. It’s Plymouth, Plymouth, Plymouth….with Dodges and Chryslers almost non-existent. But maybe it’s because they “die” with their owners?
I also rented a Tempo once. I’m a fan of the blue oval but Tempo/Topaz were colossal piles. Ford should have been ashamed to market those cars. An Escort chassis with a slightly longer wheelbase (but no increase in width) and an antiquated OHV engine that was a 6 cylinder with 2 of the cylinder lopped off.
I love the fact you could still get the pillow style seats that debuted with the ’74 Imperial in these.
It had been an affordable modern styled car combined with classic features built inside. Lots of Acclaims, Saratogas, Dynasties, Le Barons, etc. came from U.S./Canada to Europe as private imports then. The E-Spec versions appeared much simplier then the U.S. imports. I like this U.S.-spec rear all-red tail light applique…
I have a soft spot for the Broughamed out versions of these later K car derivitives. I would enjoy a New Yorker if I got it for a song. My buddy had a burgundy Dynasty that was pretty Brougham, save for the vinyl roof. I would call the back seat, it was so comfy. It had the rear leveling air shocks and was just a pleasure to ride in drive. It also could scoot if you wanted it to. It made it well past 140K miles and then some dumbass rear ended him and that was that for the Dynasty.
A little bit roomier, slightly refined, and restyled inside and out (though still very much to the preferred taste of Lido)
This should have been a red flag right there. A CEO demanding to style the cars is a sign of a runaway ego.
It’s not like Iacocca was a renowned designer or engineer. Only through authoritarianism rather than merit would he have a large say in designing the cars, and everything was infested with his old-man, loud-checked-polyester-pants-and-white-shoes-on-the-golf-course mentality.
It must have been demoralizing for Chrysler’s designers and engineers. They did their best work in the 90s after Lido was finally pried out of the executive chair.
In the several books I’ve read about Chrysler over the years, there are many stories of Iacocca sticking his nose in late into the development of a vehicle and demanding silly cosmetic changes at the cost of millions and to the frustration of designers/engineers.
Examples include: The C-body Dynasty/New Yorker, in which a Taurus-inspired “cockpit” dash was planned. He made them redesign it to be more square and include fake wood. The 1991 Minivans: He didn’t like the corners of the rear windows. One of his loosing battles was over the modern dash redesign of the 1990 LeBaron coupe/convertible.
Not only new vehicles, but a number of minor updates came to existing vehicles immediately after he left.
Actually, the 1988 Dynasty and New Yorker dashboard was a cost cutting measure by using the driver side IP of the Lebaron GTS/Lancer and finishing out and raising the section in front of the passenger. Everything interchanges. Same glove box door and cup holder pull down as well. Exact structure carried over. No new design there, just more cost cutting by Chrysler.
The Euro-spec versions hadn’t wore the “Pentastar” hood ornament either! :-I One of the features that are missing from the majority of today’s automobiles…
The only thing I can positively say about these cars is that light up ring around the ignition switch was cool.
This is typical Iacocca and his “Slight of Hand” tricks using the same underbody such as:
Chrysler: K-Car/Mini Van/Sundance/Acclaim/Dynasty
Once Ford and Chrysler got away from milking these platforms, they were able to grow and customers got a better car.
There isn’t anything wrong with platform sharing when done right, the Fox platform was essentially Ford’s K car in the 80s, Fairmont, LTD, Mustang, Thunderbird, Mark VII, Continental. It was a solid platform for these cars, and styling was well differentiated after the 81 Granada fiasco(the closest it came ever to K-car laziness). And really the Falcon “platform” never actually shared structural stampings car to car, it was more of a template for similar running gear than a universal platform ala K or Fox.
Separate platforms tailored for every model sounds great in buff books since snarky authors can’t predictably knock a sporty model for being based on an economy car, but in practice good engineering can make an average platform above average, and platform sharing can bring down production cost and reduce line complexity, which can mean higher quality and content.
I actually saw one just like this today, I checked the license plate to see if it was this one, but it had a Mass plate.
I had a ’90 Spirit turbo for a company car. In 150K miles, a piston in a caliper stuck and I ground the pad into the disc. Two rebuilt calipers and two rotors. Radiator cracked at the upper hose connection at 125K, O2 sensor and a vehicle speed sensor. Other than tires and scheduled maintenance, that’s all the repairs it had. In ’90, Consumer Reports had the Spirit and Acclaim as the only American cars with above average reliability.
For what Mopar charged, these were easily the best bargain back then.
I was the first person the say Spirit or Acclaim on the posting showing the mystery white bumper. U too forgot that Chrysler offered a low end Le Baron version of the car.I had a 1991 Spirit ES, white, white wheels, gray interior with grey/black/red striped seats, Mitsubishi V6, and every single option. Brand new the car cost me around $12,500. I absolutely loved that car. It ran perfect, never had a single problem, and looked great. The car was extremely comfortable and was a joy to drive. I had to hide the keys from the wife and she preferred driving that to our 1985 Tbird. Everyone loved the look of the monochrome exterior and the somewhat luxurious interior. I have to say, the fit and finish were perfect and the quality of the materials were spot on, well except for the hard plastics on parts of the dashboard, I kept the car for 10 years and 150,000 miles before selling it to a neighbor who kept it for about 5 more years. When he finally got rid of it, the car stilled looked great, ran good, and those fancy seats held up beautifully. That had to be the best $12,500 I ever spent Boy, I do miss that car.
Ill say this: For a 20 year old beater, and one in the northeast, I don’t see much of any rot on this car. Ive long upheld the K as a solid, well made and versatile platform. It spawned a good many long lived cars. I would never buy one of these, personally. 4 door sedans aren’t my thing. I don’t like the looks, and the layout is all wrong for my needs. Now all that said, these made perfect sense to me.
I see a lot of naysaying about the conservative styling and competent if dull driving experience of these. But guess what: Its a SEDAN. If sporty styling, crisp handling, or tire shredding performance is your priority, then buy a performance coupe. Sedans are the spawn of necessity, not desire. That formal roofline that may appear dated makes for a lot more useable rear seat. I don’t get the raked rooflines of todays 4 doors. Its a half baked attempt to make a sedan seem more sporty while compromising the only real reason someone would sacrifice the better looks of a coupe. Trying to pass off a sedan as something ‘sporty’ or ‘aggressive’ is about as convincing as a balding overweight 55 year old guy buying a Corvette and wearing a gold chain and toupee to try to roll back they years.
I do agree that from the K to these, it was a sideways step in styling…but its an honest step which was in line with the demographic of Plymouth and Chrysler at that time. The Lancer/Lebaron GTS made more sense at Dodge since it was more European in its whole look and attitude. As a liftback its not really a sedan, so has a different flavor entirely. THAT should’ve been what became the Spirit R/T.
These cars can still be found out on the road. No doubt the combination of gentler use compared with sportier K’s and plenty of time to work the bugs out led to their long life. Again, it aint for me but I respect these cars for honestly representing the genre. Nothing like that laughable commercial hawking the ‘exciting’ Camry experience. *facepalm*
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a sports sedan. Simply adding 2 doors doesn’t really make much of a difference (although I would refer to it as a “sports sedan” not a “sports car”). If it has enough power, proper suspension tuning and steering feel, and sporty styling, I easily take one over a comparable 2-door with lesser performance.
True that many of today’s “sports sedans” are bloated caricatures of their former selves (I’m talking to you BMW), but still, I find many perfectly fine. The trend towards raked rooflines is largely due to the aerodynamic benefits, not necessarily style. I have a prediction that in the near future, all sedans’ rooflines will resemble those of the Tesla Model S and Audi A7, with a lack of a defined deck lid.
But if you really want sporty, why have two more doors? Sporty cars have “people hauler” way down on the list of things it was made to accomplish. Same reason I don’t like luxury wagons-seems like a weird compromise.
I agree with MoparRocker on this point as a sedan fan. Just for instance, I have a 2004 Impala and I like it for what it is. One thing it sure as hell isn’t is a sports sedan-or sport anything regardless of GMs penchant for slapping a spoiler on these things. Its got four doors and a big trunk and its FWD, none of which make me think “sports car” or “sports sedan” or anything else of the sort. I know they offered an “SS” version that year, but honestly, even with the bigger engine, slapping a spoiler on it and painting it black really doesn’t make the thing a “sports car”. I think it would be much more honest to put a fun engine in the regular car, make it a sleeper with no silly “sport” pretensions.
As an aside, I also just think spoilers looks completely ridiculous on the regular Impalas, Tauruses and other sedans of that type. Its that sort of design point that tries to make the cars into something they are not. Besides, why should every car be “sporty”? I see way too many cars that have been advertised as “sporty” or available with a “sports” package that are no way in hell “sport” anything. Some cars should be conservative and stately, some should just be unapologetically penalty boxes, etc. Honesty is the best policy, me thinks.
Why does every car have to do only one thing well? Though I doubt it will happen for financial reasons, I’d love my next car to be a luxury wagon, something like an A6 Avant or CTS Sportwagon. I want a car that I can drive every day and enjoy, with things like leather and wood that make the cabin a nice place to spend time, and respectable handling and power. But I’d also like some space to haul things, as our other cars are both 2-doors. A luxury wagon fills the bill on all counts, and I don’t mind the way they look. What’s to dislike about that?
In an ideal world, sure, I’d have a coupe for a daily driver, a sedan for when I needed to carry people, an older SUV or pickup for when I really needed to haul stuff. But I don’t have unlimited driveway space (currently I don’t even have a driveway, and street parking is hard enough with 3 cars) nor do I have unlimited funds. So compromise is needed somewhere.
With all due respect to your car, an Impala is by no means a “sports sedan”. Lumping all sedans together isn’t fair. Besides having rear doors, an Impala or Taurus isn’t anything like a 3-Series or E-Class, or even a “4-door coupe” like the Mercedes CLS or Audi A7 in terms of dynamics or styling.
Likewise, calling all coupes “sporty” isn’t fair either. Sure they both have two doors, but a Bugatti Veyron and Hyundai Elantra coupe have little in common. The Elantra coupe even has the same roofline as the sedan.
I loved the “compressed” version of the styling that the LeBaron Landau represents. It is a mini-bar version of the “Brougham era”, and, I feel it worked out rather nicely considering the time it was designed. I would love one in dark wine with wire wheels and white wall tires!
This car was basically a Spirit/Acclaim with more chromework. I always felt that they should have at least kept the Lebaron GTS body, but from what I understand, that bodyshell was too expensive because of the hatchback design. But I wonder what a success they would have had with a LeBaron GTS sedan with the coupe’s hidden headlights and that funky 1990 revised IP. With at 2.2 VNT turbo or a Mitsu V-6 under the hood, that would have been a formidable competitor to some of the foreign sports sedans that seemed to have come out of the woodwork during that time.
Back in those days Chrysler could make anything out of a body. You could get this kind of Lebaron in a full jam luxury car with leather, digital dash, and a peppy V6, or you could get an Acclaim for about $10,000 less with no options at all. Chrysler was pretty clever.
The K-car was the perfect car for the 80s–if the oil crash of ’85 had not happened.
Yes, it was conservative, but I’ve been that way since my youth. It was reliable (after the head gasket issue was fixed in ’83), smooth, economical.
I had a stretched, K-based (E-class) ’84 New Yorker with a 2.6 Mitsubishi that ran well for thirty years with 140K miles until it was in a nasty accident. I always hated arriving home after a long drive because those pillow-topped leather seats were so comfortable.
Fiat could never make anything as reliable as those were.
I always kinda liked these. Nothing I would buy until my 60s, but I do think they filled a role that is absent in today’s designs, which all seem to strive to be aggressively and anonymously sporty. A rather dignified little car.
That centre stack on the dashboard has a strong resemblance to that used on the Voyager/Caravan. Which comes as no surprise.
Be a great car for the The Great Beater Challenge!
I remember Automobile magazine published a letter from elderly reader complaining about the LH cars and how “they don’t appeal to us WW2 vets”.
About a decade ago, we bought our 18-year-old daughter — who desperately needed a car — a virtual twin of this — except that it was a Dodge.
She wouldn’t drive it.
About a decade ago, our daughter, who was about 20 then, desperately needed wheels. We bought her a virtual twin of the featured car, except that it had the Dodge cross-hair grille.
She never drove it.
Despite their stodgy looks, the AA-body cars were honest to goodness vehicles that delivered exactly what they promised. My father’s company had several of these Dodge and Plymouth variants in the delivery vehicle fleet in the early 90’s, as well as a friend who had a Spirit at that time. Yeah, they were boxy and fairly homely, but that upright rear window really made that back seat roomier than what one would expect. Dad’s company fleet actually was a mix of 2.5/3-speed Spirit and Acclaims, with a 3.0 V6 Spirit and 2.5 turbo Acclaim mixed in over the years. Dad preferred the Turbo Acclaim by far, as it had great response for passing. The V6 Spirit was decent too, but honestly not all that different from the 2.5’s. None ever had any major mechanical issues within their tenure that typically ran about 125,000 miles within a 3-4 year period. The only negative thing that I remember, which was common amongst them all, was musty smelling A/C. He also had Shadows and Sundances in the fleet then, and they were equally well rounded, smaller cars of their time (despite that same stank A/C). In regards to the featured LeBaron, yeah, it’s likely a Cierra or Century would be an equal, but at the lower price points of the Spirit/Acclaim, no way were the other domestics like the Corsica or Tempo/Topaz twins nearly as well rounded. The trade off really came to “style” over substance at this size and price point in those days. The Imports? You get what you (rightfully) pay for. Despite their brick like looks, I very much respect these cars.
Trouble I always had with the K car is that they were basically over by the time I became car conscious, and it was incredibly difficult for me – whose childhood parlor trick was knowing the year/make/model of any car anyone pointed to – to know these traits with K cars and their derivatives. They all seemed cheap, chintzy and stubby, in a completely interchangeable way, and funny enough the one K car that ever looked “normal” and contemporary to me was the 1985 Lancer, which inexplicably got replaced by this dynasty lookalike.
We owned a 1994. We had closed our retail stores and my wife went back into being a road warrior, selling gift items wholesale. The local Chyrsler dealer also owned the local Hertz franchise. They advertised current model year (1994) Lebarons at just over 70% of new list. They had 70 ! at one lot. The salesman said there were more at the airport.
I only saw two or three colors and test drove 3 that were accessible. Each drove differently, although they all had around 10 to 12,000 miles. i picked one and made a lowball offer, which was accepted.
My wife liked it well enough and put 70,000 miles on it in 3 years. Her parents had moved to our city, and the back seat was perfect for them. I liked the looks, but we later had a Volvo, and I like a Ford Flex.
Were those upscale “Loose Pillow” seats as comfortable as they are attractive?
“Asking for a friend”.
I remember renting an Acclaim in 1989 and I was impressed by it. Compared to my father’s Caravelle, the interior didn’t seem as chintzy and compared to the GM 4 cylinder engine I was used to from my Sunbird, the Chrysler engine seemed a lot smoother.
The Chrysler 2.5 had balance shafts, so it did indeed run quite a lot smoother than its competition from GM and Ford.
My brother used to joke that the buzzing and vibrating steering wheel from his “Iron Duke” 4 cylinder Buick Century would wind his vintage watch for him as he drove it to work.
My mother, at my urging based on my father’s father’s excellent experience with a ’91 Acclaim, bought a ’92 LeBaron sedan (no “LE” or any other suffix) in ’95. It was originally a rental fleet vehicle, and was equipped as such: power windows and locks…and that’s it! It had a split bench seat, no tufted pillowtops, with manual 2-way (forward/backward) adjustment. It had a column shifter for the 3-speed automatic. It didn’t have that stupid padded vinyl “Landau” roof that disfigured so many of these. It did have the upgraded instrument cluster, which meant it had a tachometer (please cut me a break) and the “Information Center” consisting of a pictogram of a generic car viewed from above, with little coloured lights to indicate if any of the four doors or the trunk were open, but it didn’t have the trip computer. It had a cassette player built into the FM/AM radio. Oh, and heated power sideview mirrors and A/C and a backglass defogger. 14″ steel wheels with snap-on covers, front disc and rear drum brakes. Silver outside, grey (scuze me, “Quartz”) inside.
At 5,500 feet in Denver it was underpowered, sluggish, and slow with the wheezy TBI 2.5-litre Four, but I had urged mother to pass on the more powerful V6 (valvetrain problems, unreliable A604 ProbleMatic transaxle) and although we’d looked, no 2.5 turbo cars had presented themselves.
Mother bought that car with about 70k miles on it. I put in synthetic oil—the kind you walk in a store and buy, not Scamsoil or any other boutique kind you have to get from a “dealer” or other special source—and a good quality filter. The filter got changed every 8,000 miles; the oil every 16,000. She put another ~70,000 miles on it, with some assistance by my sister who drove it at school in Illinois for a year or two. Over the years I specified and directed some upgrades: export-spec headlamps, side mirrors, and turn signals, and a solid steel bar welded into the trailing arm assembly when the original tubular bar cracked and began making “koinnnnnnkkkk” noises. There was a TSB for improved cold-engine driveability by dint of a revised intake manifold, so we got that (no noticeable difference) and I think when we had the timing belt done we might have used a multi-keyway cam sprocket to advance the cam a few degrees to try to compensate for the thin Denver air.
Aside from the occasional flat battery or other such, it never made problems. But at ~140k in 2001 it was getting kind of long in the tooth for her. She bought an almost-new Subaru Outback, and I bought the LeBaron for $1200. I put an additional $600 worth of brake and exhaust work into it (or so) and proceeded to run it about 40,000 of the least expensive, most reliable miles I have ever driven—and that in the harsh climates of Michigan and Ontario. A few more upgrades: a FWD Mopar wizard in Brantford, Ontario worked some magic on the transaxle, so shifts were much crisper. I swapped on a set of the ’94-type taillamps, intending to eventually use their inbuilt reversing lamp compartments for amber turn signals (the ’92 rear bumper had reversing lamps), but I never got round to it.
By 2004 or so the car was beginning to get on my nerves. The driver’s seat, never the world’s most supportive, had grown even flatter than it started and was distinctly uncomfortable on long trips. The driver-side headlamp lens had cracked—the export lamps were glass rather than plastic—and replacements had grown costly and difficult to get. But it still ran and drove well, the A/C was still frosty cold, and everything else still worked including the Chrysler Infinity FM/AM/Cassette/CD player I’d added. I sold the car into the greater Detroit ara for, I think, $1200, to a friend of a friend of a friend. Eventually it needed a head gasket, I heard, and the cylinders were said to still have visible cross-hatch despite the long (by US standards) oil change interval.
Really no substantial complaints. It did an unapologetically fine job of being what it was, and I liked it quite a lot better than I would have liked a comparable car from Ford or GM.
These seemed so terrible and retrograde at the time- I suppose I was nearing the end of high school when these came out- but now they have a bit of period charm about them.
Our area still worshipped at the church of St Mark of Excellence at the time, although them pesky ferriners were starting to make inroads. But I think the feeling of most people at the time was why would the heck would you get one of these when you could pony up a few more bucks and get a GM A-body, LeSabre, or even the newly “redesigned” J cars?
My dad had a company LH Intrepid not long after… ‘96-97? Great looking car, great driving car, but Chrysler. We took a road trip so he could visit some business contacts in the south and then finally end up in Miami to see some family friends. The AC ended up puking copious amounts of water into the interior somewhere in Georgia. Not fun with no AC in the Deep South in August, I will say. Still, that car redeemed Chrysler to us and a lot of friends and neighbors. Good packaging and styling will get people to let quality problems slide in fair amounts.
His 85 Riv was stolen while he had the Dodge, and I’m pretty sure that was the only car he was happy to drive until the Riv was recovered. (Yes, we were one of the only people ever to actually get a stolen car back. The thieves joyrode for a bit, used it to snatch some lady’s purse, then ditched it. This was back in ‘93 or ‘94.)
You are spot on about how outdated the AA was, I live in México, where the market was very alike but so different, it happens that I actually drove so many of these 80-90s Chryslers, and it happens that my family still owns a 1990 Dodge Spirit (or Chrysler since Dodge was only for trucks), only that it has some differences, has a carburetor, and a 3 speed ( it was untill 1991 they had MPFI for all the 2.2 and 2.5 L), its a little bit of a unicorn, since these years Chrysler did put some effort on building this cars, and the first ones had nifty little touches for an economy car, like full instrumentation, remote release for trunk and fuel cap, message center, velour cloth, light group package, alarm, quite comfortable to be honest, although my first car was a 1992 Ford Grand Marquis with its JBL and 10 CD(!!!) sound system and digital dash.
I find the experience of driving this car truly horrible, but kinda endearing too… It´s mushy, slow, unrefined, noisy, but you know these sounds, you know this very numb over assisted steering, you know when its going to understeer. Something that was not so constant on the Grand Marquis, with that rear axle, and NO ABS….
Another thing, since this platform was so long iin the teeth, we have another factor to consider, at least in Mexico where rust is not an issue, they are reliable, dead simple to repair, in a country where you rarely see a Tempo or a Cavalier, this guys are commonly seen still in the streets, our included, its in pretty good shape… And now driven by my 18 year old brother. I like this car quite a bit. actually.
I wouldn’t say the availabilty of the Mitsu V6 was a selling point. All the (few) ones around here were smoking pretty bad in only 2 or 3 years. Some quite a lot.