Curbside Classic: 1986 Dodge Daytona – The Un-Boxy K

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(first posted 4/6/2013)    Eugene is K-Kar heaven: every permutation of Lee Iakkoka’s Karmagination is on display, everywhere. Sometimes even two at a time:

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I was shooting this lovely Daytona in a 7-11 parking lot when a brown Reliant came into view as it was leaving the gas station across the street (above). I managed an iffy shot of it behind its sporty offshoot. But then, instead of turning left, towards the intersection, it shot across the street and through the 7-11 lot to short-cut the poky red light at 6th. It just had to get a little closer to the Daytona and give me what might appear to be a perfectly staged shot (below). Thank you, impatient Reliant driver!

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We’re going to save the Kreation story of the Kars for another day, and focus on this particular variant. Dodge and Plymouth already had twin sporty FWD coupes, the Omni 024/Charger and the Horizon TC3. Based on the K-cars’ spiritual and technical predecessor, the less-than-handsome coupes made themselves most notorious with the wild turbocharged Shelby Chargerversion. It was a raucous and woolly little beast that surprised more than a few  Mustangs and Camaros in its day, if one could keep it in a straight line.

By 1984, Krysler was ready to supplant the ugly twins with the much more contemporary and sleek Daytona and its virtually identical twin, the Chrysler Laser. Tagging a sporty little FWD coupe as a Chrysler was typical of the Plymouth self-mutilation that the Pentastar had been practicing for decades until eventually they accomplished their presumed goal. Chrysler buyers used to rich Corinthian leather and padded vinyl topped Fifth Avenues were rightfully confused by the Laser’s less than laser-sharp brand identity, and left it to die on the vine within a couple of years.

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But the Daytona knew where the Dodge Boys hung out (at the 7-11?), and it sold a decent 50k or so units for several years, despite the in-house competition from the little Charger for its first few years. Three versions were on tap: the basic Daytona like this one came with a 99hp version of the venerable 2.2 L four. The Turbo kicked out 146 hp, and the Turbo Z added a body kit to make it look a lot more dangerous than it was.

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In 1987, the Turbo Z morphed into the Shelby Z, now with 174 hp and non-optional turbo lag. But the best was kept for last: in its final three years (’91 -’93), the wildest Daytona  became known as the IROC (R/T beginning in ’92), and these used the mythical Turbo III engine sporting a Lotus designed DOHC 16 valve head. It made a whopping 224 horses from 2.2 liters; no big shakes today, but eye-popping stuff in its time. The Turbo III regularly popped more then just eyeballs: its reliability issues are as legendary as its rarity.

By 1990, Mitsubishi’s tame and less self-explosive 3.0 L V6 appeared in Daytonas, and the Turbo III died along with the Daytona after the ’93 model year. But the Daytona IROC R/T and its Spirit R/T brother were colorful additions to the performance car scene. They may not have been everyone’s cup of tea (like mine), but they pioneered FWD high performance at a time when that was almost an oxymoron with the conservative RWD-only US pony-car crowd. But more than a few Mustang 5.0 drivers learned to expand their horizons beyond just worrying about a Camaro taking them out.

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We’ve let our Kreative imaginations stray pretty far from this actual gutless Kraptastic Koupe, whose distinctive wheezy 99 horsepower moan through its 3-speed slush box was so eloquently displayed by the brown Reliant as it merged hurriedly into traffic. That flooded me with memories of driving an identical brown Reliant for a few months in LA. We’ll save that highlight of my autobiography for another day. Meanwhile, wish me luck finding an IROC R/T in Eugene; but than stranger things have happened. After all, this is Kurbside Klassik.

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