Curbside Classic Lite: 1984 Dodge Aries – When a Compact Sedan Was a Savior, Not a Coffin Nail

Lee Iaccoca would love us. We’ve given the K cars more attention here after all these decades than he could ever have hoped for. Um; on second thought, no one could ever give Lee or an Iaccoca-mobile enough love and attention, even if he had very little to do with it, like the actual K car. So we’ll keep at it, as he so richly deserves the never-ending accolades.

There’s also the fact that these pre-facelift Aries and Reliants are getting more than a bit scarce, especially as daily drivers. We’ll have to thank the owner’s grandmother for that, as she kept it in good nick for many years before it was passed on to him, although he has been driving it now for 16 years. Even Lee would have been impressed.

Yes, the K car was already well along its development path when Lee showed up in 1978. What a mess he stepped into; Chrysler was totally on the ropes. But he essentially used the K car as collateral for the government loan guarantees that kept the lights on until the first ones rolled off the lines in the fall of 1980.

And it wasn’t the instant savior he was hoping for, as he was too greedy and had all the initial production too heavily optioned. That didn’t go down well in the teeth of the nasty recession underway. Folks wanted a neo-Valiant, but a basic one, not a mini-me LTD. Lee had some adjusting to do, as that was not really his style (he rather hated the original Falcon).

That’s as deep as I’m going to wade into the K car history, as I’ve done it once before, with this 1983 Aries. I shot that almost a decade ago, and I was pretty chuffed to find a running pre-facelift K then. never mind trying to find an ’81 or ’82; like practically all new American cars back then, the first year or so came with plenty of issues, and they did not generally survive.

Here it is 2018, and as I’m shooting this one, the firts of its kind I’ve seen in some time, its owner comes strolling from across the street with a clipboard, where it looks like he’s been doing some door-to-door canvassing in an apartment building. It’s not just a daily driver; it’s his work car! And as I mentioned earlier, he got it from his dear old grandma some 16 years ago. Dang; I forgot to ask how many miles are on it. probbaly not all that huge a number, as he strikes me as a certain kind of Eugenian for whom a car is a necessary evil.

Well, maybe not exactly evil, but let’s just say…necessary, for when the trip is a bit to long for the ten speed bicycle he or she has owned since 1971. Sometimes a car just comes in real handy, so if grandma is giving away her K car, sure, I’ll take it off her hands. But I’m not going to actually to buy a car. That would cross a sacred line of some sort. Which makes this Aries something of the ultimate virtue-signaling mobile.

Sixteen years? Maybe he said six years. Or sixteen months. I hate to indulge in stereotypes, but this interior is mighty pristine. Turns out some hippies really did take baths back in the 60s. Or maybe he only drives it if he really, really needs to.

Little American cars of this era are really starting to look odd in today’s streetscape. “Classic” American cars were either big and long, or muscular pony cars and such, but this looks like a box Panther LTD that went to see a shrink and ended up at a genuine head shrinker instead. It didn’t exactly solve its personality issues, but it sure whittled them down to size.

They’re shockingly small now, and they have to be the smallest car ever advertised as a six seater. Of course people were mostly still shrunken then too, at a time when widespread food shortages and malnutrition in America (and other parts of the developed world) kept folks undersized and unable to reach their full potential. Fortunately that problem’s now been solved, and the car makers can no longer count on stunted car buyers to keep their cars small. Now asking any more than four folks to get in a Tahoe would be risking charges of abuse of one sort or another.

How did we end up here? Maybe it’s best just to end here too. This Aries is a relic of an increasingly distant era, when cars had very different mission statements. In 1981, this little six-seater compact four-cylinder sedan saved Chrysler. Today such a thing would be a coffin nail.