The first full month of autumn in the northern hemisphere is here, and it’s a little hard to believe it’s already October. I have some friends who aren’t “summer people” who had immediately started posting things on social media about pumpkins, bonfires, and hot apple cider even before September 22nd had arrived, the first official day of fall this year. I’ll say that moving back to the Midwest from the Southeast years ago had brought a much welcomed return to a comforting, familiar rotation of four, clearly defined seasons. At the same time, I’m definitely that friend who will call someone out for the premature celebration of a season that has barely just arrived. Hold up. Just put away those hay bales and cozy, fleece blankets for a second. It’s still literally 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside. One red maple leaf does not automatically make it fall.
(Flint suburb) Burton, Michigan. Saturday, September 18, 2021.
One thing I don’t mind, however, is the thought of rewatching all of the upcoming, holiday-themed television specials that usually start airing toward the end of this month. There’s a part of me that will always get really excited when I start seeing commercials for It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. All of those animated specials featuring the characters of Charles M. Schultz’s Peanuts comic strips will always act instantly as delicious visual and aural comfort food for me, with their jazz fusion-y soundtracks that feature lots of Fender Rhodes electric piano putting me in such a happy place.
(Lee Mendolson Film Productions and Bill Melendez Productions)
This particular Halloween special was one that was near and dear to my heart, since I was unable to go trick-or-treating with my friends until I was already in the seventh grade and quite “big” for doing so, as some neighborhood people who would answer the door would point out. My mom had insisted for years that Halloween was satanic, and my dad had simply let her run with this. Somehow, however, knowing that Lucy, Schroeder, Pig-Pen, and other members of the gang out there in Charlie Brown-Land were loading up on chocolate bars, candy corn, popcorn balls, and other treats was of some comfort to me, as witnessed through the warm glow of the Zenith in our living room. I may not be getting any candy, I’d think to myself, but at least I’m getting extra television.
(Lee Mendolson Film Productions and Bill Melendez Productions)
The outlier of that animated group, however, was always Charlie Brown. During the actual trick-or-treating sequence of that half-hour special, and while everybody else was getting tons of loot (including filthy Pig-Pen and chronically unpleasant and undeserving Lucy, who was fittingly dressed as a witch), Charlie Brown was treated like complete garbage, seemingly arbitrarily, door after door, by complete strangers. “I got a rock,” became his familiar, deflated refrain, after everyone in that group had gone around describing all the goodies that had been dropped into their bags.
I’d love a rewrite of this sequence where Charlie Brown gets a diamond, precious geode, or some other kind of expensive “rock” where he could then afford a fortune in candy, flaunt it in front of his so-called friends, and not give them so much as even one disgusting, orange circus peanut or Good & Plenty out of his bounty. By this paragraph, I realize that no one needs to point out to me that my essays sometimes meander a bit from my overall premise, but I guess that all this is to say that a rock for a Halloween “treat” is about as generic and nondescript a thing as I can think of.
Which brings me to our featured car. I’ve already written with about a different Plymouth product from that era that I was so thankful my parents didn’t end up bringing home, a latter-day Reliant four-door. The Acclaim and its Dodge twin, the Spirit, were introduced for model year ’89 as de facto replacements for the similarly sized K-cars, which included the Dodge Aries. The Acclaim was built on Chrysler’s new K-based AA platform, and was initially offered in three trim levels: base, mid-range LE, and the upscale LX.
Of their styling, I remember thinking when they were new that they were nice enough-looking cars, even if I couldn’t stand what looked like a nearly vertical rear window that looked like it was at something like a 95-degree angle to the trunk’s horizontal surface. Still, they looked clean and purposeful when they first came out, and I was encouraged that there were three different variants available, which seemed to convey some commitment to the new model by Chrysler-Plymouth.
First-year production numbers were decent, at around 78,000. The next year, figures were up sharply by almost 42%, to over 110,000. Indeed, 1990 would be the Acclaim’s brief, shining moment of glory during which it sold over one hundred thousand units. This was against about twice as many (195,000) Chevrolet Corsicas and also 266,000 Ford Tempos. Unlike Plymouth with the Acclaim, Dodge wouldn’t break the 100,000 production barrier with its Spirit, which came close in 1990 with 99,300 units built. The Spirit, however, would get a genuinely hot performance variant in the R/T for ’91, which was named Motor Trend’s “Domestic Sport Sedan Of The Year” both that year and in ’92, beating out the vaunted Ford Taurus SHO for that honor.
Initially, the Acclaim came standard with Chrysler’s naturally aspirated 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine with 100 horsepower, with the optional turbocharged version of that same engine yielding half again as much horsepower. For 1990, a 141-horse 3.0 liter V6 was added as an option. The turbo 2.5 disappeared after just two years, with only the standard four and the V6 remaining through final-year ’95, after which the Acclaim was replaced by the smoother-looking Breeze which featured Chrysler’s new “Cab Forward” design language. Total Acclaim production was about 470,500 over seven model years, a number which barely edged out that of its Dodge Spirit twin, which managed about 8,000 fewer units over the same time period.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Monday, September 20, 2021.
The Acclaim was given one restyle for ’93, featured on this example, by which point the three distinct trim levels had gone away just the year before. While the original Acclaim was no beauty winner, it could look like a reasonably attractive family car for what it was. However, on the mildly redone version with the larger, rectangular holes in its chrome grille and wheel covers that look so house-brand that I didn’t realize until later that the ones on the passenger’s side of this car didn’t match, the Acclaim’s sense of style seemed to have gone from looking passably middle-tier to nearly invisible.
I know it sounds like I’m piling on this undistinguished model from a storied make that had atrophied by this time to next to nothing from its halcyon days of hot Formula S Barracudas and Duster 340s. It’s just that I had such high hopes for Plymouth when the Acclaim came out. I had honestly thought its introduction was going to be one of the first steps in Chrysler Corporation reestablishing Plymouth as a volume make. I felt personally invested in Plymouth, as my family of origin had owned three Plymouths when I was very young, with a Duster, Fury, and Volaré all gracing our driveway at various points in the 1970s.
Getting back to Peanuts, I can imagine that by 1993, having one’s new car choices limited to an Acclaim and a few other extremely low-profile cars might have felt like the equivalent of getting a rock chucked into your trick-or-treat bag. Thanks, life. But, hey – a car is a car, and if it runs and accelerates well and gets one to where one needs to go and back, that would net huge points for a domestic car of its day. From everything I’ve read about it, the Acclaim was a very reliable machine. By the time it was new, Plymouth had definitely devolved into the “Charlie Brown” of makes, with no luck and no respect, not only within the Chrysler stable, but within all domestic nameplates. I look at this particular, nearly thirty year old car, though, and I can identify one other characteristic it shares with everyone’s favorite cartoon scapegoat: it seems almost just as lovable, simply for existing and for its determination to keep on going.
Edgewater Glen, Chicago, Illinois.
Monday, May 17, 2021.
1993 Plymouth Acclaim brochure photos as sourced from the internet.