I attended high school from the late ’80s through the early ’90s and have recently been thinking about many of those fashions. School’s out for the summer season, and many friends have been posting on social media about their children’s graduations and acceptance into colleges and universities around the country. In my recent essays from within only the past four weeks or so, I’ve made reference to both buying age-appropriate clothing at my current stage of life, as well as having made a trip back to Flint, Michigan, the city in which my life’s story began. All this is to say that if some of my thoughts as expressed at Curbside have tended to have more than a hint of nostalgia to them, these recent experiences have sent my memories into overdrive. It’s fun to look at pictures with peers from when we were younger, especially what we were wearing, and also for many of us guys, what thick, lustrous, and plentiful hair we used to have atop our heads.
1990 Dodge Shadow brochure pages courtesy of www.oldcarbrochures.org.
Rewatching excellent and still-hilarious episodes of the Fox sketch comedy show In Living Color provides a pretty accurate snapshot of at least a few things many of us had in our wardrobes at the time. Included among those items in my own closet and folded neatly were an assortment of mock turtlenecks. I’m admitting to this because I’ve shared much more personal information in my essays without fear of being judged. The mock turtle: the pullover that was halfway between a turtleneck and a crewneck shirt, looking a bit like the latter from a distance, but with more of the informality and breathability of the former. In theory. I remember thinking about what a revelation they felt like when I first discovered them, maybe in the pages of the Sears catalogue. I could easily layer one beneath one of my button-down shirts for extra winter warmth without feeling like I was suffocating in class next to one of the radiators that blasted heat into our 1923-built high school.
I had maybe three mock turtlenecks in rotation at any given point in high school. There would be ones in the staple black and white colors, and then also in a shade like pine green that I would have chosen to try to look “older” and more collegiate. I also had some real turtlenecks, including an old, rib-knit, acrylic number I had purchased from the Salvation Army in the most 1970s shade of burnt orange you can imagine. That was probably one of my favorite items of clothing at the time, but that itchy fabric often had me scratching my neck. The resulting marks weren’t a good look, as much as I tried to convince myself that my classmates might have thought they were hickeys. I wouldn’t have been kidding anyone with that one, not even myself. I was mostly okay with not getting any action, as I had a lot to figure out and little to no help or support with that. Everything happens, or doesn’t happen, for a reason.
If someone had tried to tell me that the new-for-’87 Dodge Shadow (and its Plymouth Sundance twin) was a hatchback, I might have asked him or her to politely shut up and sit back down. I can’t remember the first time I saw one with the hatch open, but I do remember feeling like I had been tricked, and I didn’t like it. Chrysler stylists had given this de facto replacement for the Dodge Omni / Plymouth Horizon a distinctively notchback shape, with a well-defined rear area with what looked like a trunk, albeit one that was a bit stubby. I’m not talking about something that resembles the slight bustle of the first- and second-generation Ford Escort, or even what Chrysler had done with the rear of the larger LeBaron GTS (and related Dodge Lancer). The back of this Shadow looks like the trunk is hinged right below the bottom edge of the rear window, with a lid that opens all the way down to the bumper. Some cars were offering low rear liftover heights by then. But, no. This is a straight-up hatchback.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can appreciate that Chrysler sought to differentiate its subcompact offering from the competition with this aesthetic approach. The two-door Escort of the day looked like a hatchback. The GM J-bodies, like the Chevy Cavalier, were always going to have a more premium look to them, given that they had originally started life with more upscale aspirations to compete with the best imports. Hatchbacks still seem to carry a stigma in the United States for being synonymous with cheapness, versus their counterparts with proper trunks. I respect the hatchback, having owned an ’88 Mustang that was sporty (looking) as well as versatile, capable of moving my belongings from between several different residences, as well as being able to hold my bike with the hatch closed, or even a small banana tree I had bought with my father. Giving the Shadow a hatchback with the profile of a trunk may have given a Dodge salesperson an edge in convincing a potential buyer that this was a higher caliber of small car.
The Shadow was never on my personal car shopping list, but looking at this really nice example, which appears to be a recent purchase from a used car lot, reminds me of Chrysler’s resurgence by the end of the ’80s, capping a decade that started with the corporation narrowly avoiding bankruptcy and ended with a full range of products including genuinely exciting machinery like the Dodge Daytona Shelby Z and a very successful and popular range of minivans, a market segment the company helped pioneer in the United States. I paid attention when a convertible Shadow was offered from between 1991 and ’93, and even if I would rather have had a Cavalier among the small convertibles, I liked the Shadow drop-top simply for existing.
The original styling of the ’87 lasted for only the first two model years, but by third-year ’89, there was a slight restyle that introduced a reworked front and rear fascia, including composite headlamps, a revised, body-colored Dodge “cross-hair” grille, and updated taillamps. I felt the restyle was retrograde, making the front look like something that came out of a Mold-A-Rama souvenir machine. I know this example is from at least 1990 as it has a driver’s side airbag. Maybe the monochromatic paint scheme would make it from later than ’90. That’s really all I’ve got. (Shadow experts, please chime in in the comments if you can narrow down the model year further.)
The Shadow was successful for Dodge, selling an average of just under 84,000 for each of the eight years in which it was sold through ’94, with over 671,000 units having found buyers over its production run. There was a slight preference for the five-door over the three-door, with a 54% / 46% split among the closed-roof models over the long run, though the convertible did sell a respectable 29,500 units during its three years on the market.
It appears that one can buy still new mock turtlenecks in 2022. I’m all about mixing vintage and retro pieces in with the other modern clothing I wear, but I’m not quite feeling sartorially nostalgic for the early ’90s just yet. Wrapping up my thoughts about the Shadow’s faux-trunk, modern vehicles feature almost a complete reversal of this idea. Many cars with sloping fastback profiles that look like they would or should have hatchbacks have proper trunk openings, and I’m not just talking about two-doors. For just one example of many, the current Chevy Malibu comes to mind. The sloping rear of that car in profile makes the back window of the Shadow look almost bolt upright. The little P-body Dodge may have sporting the “mock turtle” of hatchbacks. It may not have started any lasting styling trends, but it was distinctive for its size class and sold well. That was more than enough until the Neon was ready.
Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, June 26, 2022.