(first posted 12/19/2015)
Compared to the GM X-cars article R&T posted in May 1979, this is thin as Sardine.
One might say that R&T were GM inclined. Hmm…
Well, read on (taken from 1980 August issue):
“…if they build them correctly, Chrysler shouldn’t have to retool…for a number of years to come.”
If they’d only known…
Not just that, but retooled from building “sports utility vehicles”! Surely with dwindling supply and rising fuel prices, nobody will want SUVs in the future….
I really wished that they could’ve made a RHD K-car for Australia or Japan… It got me going on my Late uncle’s newest project, a 1985 Dodge 600 Convertible being retrofitted to RHD. If I ever go to New Zealand or Australia, I’ll start a K-Sensation!
Hard to believe now that late-’70s boxy designs like this & Ford’s Fox were said to get wind-tunnel optimization. No objection to boxes, mind you, but compare against contemporary SAABs & Citroëns. I suppose they feared negative consumer reaction to more ambitious designs; look at the fuss over Ford’s later Taurus & Sierra.
The K-car dash looked recycled from a 60’s Plymouth, but w/o all the nice extra gauges. Actually the whole car looked like a FWD remake of the Valiant/Dart.
Better that than the original Road Toad, the 60 Valiant. Or the 62 full size Plymouth.
The F-Body had tests in wind tunnel too, but it would be just hard to imagine how.
You can see the wind tunnel part around 1:56, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cy_RwOsbJ0Y
This video looks just so ’80s with all the most advanced technology available shown at the time. In the end, he said Slant Four engine too.
Looks like Frank Converse narrated that video.
A worthy winner of the Motor Trend COTY, in a weak field. The Reliant sedan/Aries coupe’s closest rivals being the Escort three door, and a Lynx wagon. With the Fairmont-based Ford Granada, Olds Cutlass Supreme, and the Chrysler Imperial rounding out the domestic competition that year. I thought the Ks looked best in their early squared and chromed versions. The 1985 aero restyle didn’t suit the boxy shape.
Brings back a lot of memories. For those few of us who were Mopar fanboys in those years, we hung on every word about the K cars. Everyone knew that the company’s future was riding on them. And we were hoping that Chrysler would not screw them up as they had managed to do with most of their other recent product launches.
They certainly turned out to be the right cars for 1981-83, and turned out to be better in several ways than the GM competition. It was really a 2 way race, with Ford still relying on the rwd Fox platform, which was seen as hopelessly retrograde then.
Of course, fast forward thirty-some years and the Fox is far and away the most loved of the three.
Ahh, but JP, they made the same mistake at the time that Chevrolet did later with the Cavalier: nothing but high optioned, decked out offerings initially. And then did it again years later with the Pacifica. Caused quite some consternation at Chrysler at the time.
What I wouldn’t give for all that open space in the interior of a small car today !
Yes, I remember the reports of initial slow sales because of a product mix geared too high up the option list. This was especially a problem for Chrysler in 1981 because for the prior 5 years had been slipping more and more into a mecca for strippo low-end cars. Also, the economy was terrible. The higher equipment levels might have worked if the car had come out 3 years earlier or later.
And as Chrysler new product launch screwups go, this was pretty benign.
Not to mention the same mistake Ford made 20+ years earlier with the Edsel’s debut. The lots were full of loaded up Corsairs and Citations while the Ford-based models were few and far between. What Rangers and Pacers there were on the ground in the fall of ’57 were themselves loaded with options.
That also was an answer to the Japanese, particularly Honda, who offered a lot of standard equipment and got away with charging a slight premium as a result. Witness the Accord, which even in its most basic form was hardly a stripper.
And the Accord was the target for all the J-cars, save maybe for the Cimarron, which may have been a bit ahead of its time, as Toyota took the concept, applied it to the Lexus ES and ran with it.
The K’s were a lot like the Valiant – simple, rugged, easy to work on, and durable (and rusty!). I had an ’85 Dodge 600 coupe, 2.2 EFI, and there wasn’t anything I couldn’t fix on that thing with a boneyard part or two and a socket set. Hard to argue with 214,000 miles, and it still ran well when I got rid of it. I later had two Gen 2 minivans and a ’93 Dynasty that was impossible to kill; all of these reached 200,000 miles on my watch.
Between the early K’s and the X’s, which one do you have a realistic chance of seeing on the road in 2015? Exactly.
I’ve read that some of the engineers that developed the Slant Six also worked on Chrysler’s new four.
Don’t know, but wasn’t the Plymouth K almost called Valiant?
That would be interesting to know for some future article of Collectible Automobile.
However in Mexico, they recycled the Dart, Magnum and… Volaré nameplates for the K-car.
The funny thing is that I still see examples of both driving around on occasion.
A housemate drove one of these. I took a ride in the passenger’s seat once. I remember that everything – cowl, steering wheel, hood, etc., shook and shivered in different directions when the engine was at idle. Much like the intro to The Simpsons.
We use Nissan Versas at work as delievery vehicles and peaple ask all the time how we like them and I always answer they are great cars for someone that doesn’t really like cars but need one. Looking at that article made me think that the K cars were just that, simple basic transportation. I know anyone reading and posting at this site love cars but there are a lot more out there that has no attachments to cars, they are just a tools to get around and those folks bought a lot of K cars.
A friend’s family had one of these in the mid 80’s that was white with no options. It was SO plain jane and reminded me a lot of my ’63 Valiant 100 skinflint special.
Jakengle: I have a stripper 63 Signet, skinflint special: radio, heater and probably whitewalls when new. In white [though originally red]. It’s helped feed my love for minimalist cars.
My recently-divorced Mom had a ’71 Pontiac Catalina that needed replacement due to the high fuel bill and asked me to help her find a smaller replacement that “got good gas mileage.” She was all hot to trot over a K-car at a used lot in town, so I went with her to look at it. When I opened the hood to check the engine, it flexed severely because it was such thin metal with minimal reinforcement. I told her the rest of the car was likely built the same way and would likely not be a car that would last.
So she bought a Citation instead…
In hindsight, do you think that was a good or a bad decision? I can’t imagine the Citation lasted a great length of time, given what the consensus is on them these days.
Did you have to ask? 🙂
The cars in the background are more interesting. Is that a ’73 Mustang convertible? I think I can barely see a VW Beetle
Not sure if it’s a vert but I think it’s a 72, but definitely not a 73(horizontal marker lights). It’s got the Mach 1 style nose but the flat hood means it’s not, IIRC there was an appearance package for 72 that used the Mach 1 grille
Mustang, Datsun Z, Ford Fiesta, Volvo …
Don’t forget the first gen Seville on the far left
Take a look at the price of gas ($3.17 per gallon) at the very top left of the photo.
No wonder K and X cars were such sales success….
Yesterday, I was able to buy gas at $1.17 per gallon
Price I paid was $1.67. Fat thumb key punch error!!!
Still, half of what is listed in photo.
First the K-cars and then the Dodge Caravan. To say these cars saved Chrysler is an understatement. I knew many people that had these, drove them into the ground and loved them.
My father had an ’84 Voyager (with the stick on the floor) and an ’88 Reliant K wagon. He loved both. A Mopar man through and through,though he’s driven Ford, Pontiac, AMC, Chevrolet and now Nissan.
I still find it somewhat amazing that both GM and Chrysler designed their first homegrown transverse FWD platforms in an era of rapidly rising fuel prices and designed scratch built gearboxes with only 4 speeds (manual) and 3 speeds (automatic). How much more would it have cost to match or beat the Japanese competitors with a 5 speed manual or 4 speed auto? Arguably GM was even worse because they designed a new V-6 for the X-body that was OHV when all their foreign competitors (and the K-car) were using OHC.
Sorry, remind me again who had OHC V6’s in 1980? Because Honda didn’t introduce one until 1994, Toyota until 1989, Ford? When the SHO came out, Chrysler? Not until the 1990’s, they didn’t even have a domestic V6 until they cut 2 cylinders off the 318 in 1987.
I believe the PRV V6 shared by Peugeot, Renault, & Volvo was OHC, but of course that was in a pricier range & thus not a fair comparison.
Ferrari had one too!
I suppose Toyota got around to it in 89 and Honda in 95.Giving credit to GM for having a good new 60 degree V6 in their small offerings in 1979 would be too much for some people. GM spent the money to have a” small block for the eighties” and others just did not. It may not be the others fault, it is not like Chrysler knew the minivans were coming or how much the K car could be stretched. Or Honda knew how big the Accord would get. Or did they and just got cheap.
Virtually all the European and Japanese makers had gone to OHC engines by 1980.
If you compare a K-Car to an Accord of the same year they are impossibly crude (and ugly). They were low-priced basic cars for people who felt compelled to buy American and/or were impressed with Iacocca’s tough-talking loudmouth schtick.
The late-80s LeBaron was decent-enough looking though. It just took them half a decade to get the platform into decent shape.
“Compare the K car to an Accord of the same year…” Why would you an 81 Accord was smaller inside than an Omni. Oh because it cost more.
If you think folks buy cars only because of their size, it’s a reflection of the ignorance you’ve been flaunting all afternoon here, as well as most days. It’s becoming tedious. I highly recommend taking a break from commenting until you can find something intelligent to say.
Interior volume is one of the very basic aspect of comfort when driving a vehicle. Omni is small enough and anything smaller than that would serious compromise basic comfort.
Actually Honda came out with a OHC engine in 1986 for the release of their then flagship 1987 Acura Legend.
One other thing was Corolla was still RWD, live axle in 1981, until 1984. What makes them ‘reliable’ is sticking with older tech for long time. Once can still buy a new Corolla today with a 4 speed auto! 😉
And I sure hope they improved it if, the the low mileage 2012 Corolla I rented a few years back had an absolutely awful 4 speed auto. Constantly up and down and up and down, couldn’t pull a gear, but wouldn’t hold a gear. Especially in what I’m sure was an electronically controlled tranny, it was just inexcusable. Go up a hill on the freeway and you’re down to 50. Then it downshifts and finally you’re back up to 65, buzzing away. Then it upshifts and you drift down to 50. Repeat, often. Did engineers really get paid to program that thing? I’d have been too embarrassed to cash my paycheck if I’d done that work.
The impression I got was that each of the “Big 3” REALLY only looked at what the other 2 were doing….and MATCHED them. With the exception of the K-car, none of them ever seemed to look at the foreign competition and try to match them.
I love the fallacies that are part of the OHV and OHC arguments… Is anyone else aware that the OHV system is newer technology than the OHC system? It’s smaller, lighter and more compact than an OHC system. Engine decks can be lower, and since you don’t have to pump oil to the top of the engine to lube the cam, it’s much more tolerant of less than ideal conditions.
For so long, OHC and particularly DOHC engines were performance engines; I’m not surprised by their performance statistics. Many times they got the upgraded ignition and induction systems that were not applied to the OHV counterparts. With fuel injection, optimized engine management and exhaust systems common now, OHV engines are very close to the performance of OHC engines.
I have a OHC engine in my Epsilon Pontiac, which is a marvel of modern engineering. But there are days I want to swap the 3.4L 60 degree V6 out of the minivan and stuff it in the G6. The low RPM torque band and smooth power attached to the 6 speed autobox would make my G6 a fantastic everyday car.
Actually, the first ohv engine was built in 1901 and the first ohc engine in 1902. But that’s quite utterly beside the point.
There were many ohc engines that weren’t performance engines, all through history. Some manufacturers just chose to use that design. International trucks had ohc engines back in the 1920s.
The intrinsic breathing advantage/potential of ohc engines was understood very long ago. But there are many factors that go into the decision as to what to build. In the US, manufacturers generally favored side-valve (flat head) and ohv engines, because they were….cheaper to build, period.
The real point is this: although ohv engines have obviously been shown to be able to be reasonably competitive in many respects to the ohc engine, and of course are more compact, they have a very specific intrinsic limitation, which is why there are so very few left (the GM and Chrysler gas V8s are the only ones I’m aware of in the whole world,being built in significant numbers).
That limitation: it’s essentially impossible to have the intake ports come straight out of the heads, due to the pushrods being in the way. This tends to diminish their breathing capability, which is shown by the fact that the Chrysler hemi and GM V8s have difficulty exceeding one hp per cubic inch, although the latest ones are up to some 1.2 hp per cubic inch, or about 75 hp per liter. (non super-charged, of course)
But OHC engines started exceeding the 100 hp/liter level many decades ago. Ferrari exceeded it in 1958. And then the Honda VTEC fours did it in 1990, and it’s become routine since then.
GM and Chrysler have done an excellent job of showing that a large displacement V8 can still be relevant with ohv. But there really is a reason why nobody else is still building them.
And one more point: the torque characteristics of an engine have zero to with whether they’re ohc or ohv. These generalizations have come about because historically American ohv engines had poor specific output, which meant that their torque peak had to be low. But an OHC engine can be tuned that way too. Think Vega 2300; it was the torquiest engine in its class by far, but had very low specific output and did not rev high.
With variable valve timing and such on modern engines, the torque curve can be very wide, and with a modern mutli-speed gearbox, should not feel sluggish at moderate throttle.
I’m not quite sure that referencing a Ferrari OHC engine doesn’t just reinforce my point about OHC engines getting better hardware than most OHV engines. IIRC, the VTEC engines were the upgrade or performance option for Hondas at the time, but have since become the norm.
TL;DR: Each engine design has their strengths and weaknesses. I’m just happy to be able drive them.
By not reading what Mr. Niedermeyer wrote, you completely miss his point about the pushrods being in the way of intake tract. Nor can I see why deck height would be less on an OHV. That is defined by the piston height and connecting rod length chosen. Finally, how do you think rocker arms and shafts were lubricated? An oil supply, naturally, seen it myself!
To cover a couple of other points relevant here, it was a truism for decades that four cylinder engine shouldn’t go over 2 litres if you didn’t want to overly feel the shakes caused by the secondary imbalances. Mitsubishi were the ones who started putting the balancer shafts in their larger fours, and smooth they were. The K Car 2.2 never had a balance shaft and it was rough one. The balance shaft came years later in the 2.5 version or it would have rattled your teeth out.
Speaking of which, it was a MItsubishi OHC V6 that optionally went into the K-Car derived 1989 Plymouth Acclaim. I liked it on several rental vehicles I drove. This was the first cheap OHC V6 on the US market.
To your point about the transmissions, Stingray: Product planning for these cars were started in the mid 1970’s; on a production family car the three speed autobox was the standard. If you wanted more engagement, you got the four speed manual. Outside of specialty sports cars, few mainstream cars had five speed manuals. The foreign car makers had to have a distinctive difference in their cars, fun to drive was the raision d’etre, because economy and longevity weren’t necessarily going to compare well to the domestics.
By the time these cars were released in the late 1970’s, the engineering programs were locked in, and at launch this is what they had. I can remember that time; for many of us a four speed manual transmission (no matter how badly spaced) was fairly exotic, it had only been about 5 to 10 years before that the “standard” transmission in most cars were three speed transmissions. Five speeds were the provenance of exotics, like Ferraris and Porsches.
Competition in the automotive arena is good, look at what we have today. But remember, back in the day, the engineers knew as much then as they know today. But other factors kept cars from being equipped to 2015 levels.
One thing the domestics did with their four speed was see that 4th gear was a tall overdrive instead of the direct drive as it was in older offerings. If you checked, you would find that forth was often a taller top gear than the smaller imports with 5 speeds. The higher torque of the bigger USA fours also gave more engine flexibility.
Does anybody really think a 72hp Honda 1981 1.8 engine would work better in a K car than the 2.2 84hp motor it had?
Does anybody really think a 72hp Honda 1981 1.8 engine would work better in a K car than the 2.2 84hp motor it had?
And does anybody think a 1981 Honda Accord would have been a better car with the K car’s engine?
Are you familiar with how these engines actually ran, in terms of noise, vibration, harshness, and other qualities? Nobody ever accused the Chrysler 2.2 of running like a fine sewing machine or such, which is what the Honda four was often compared to back then.
This reminds me of something I read on how Honda was able to achieve such smoothness in their engines. With the domestics, engine parts (specifically, pistons) were spat out by the hundreds, thrown into a box, then someone would grab however many they needed. The problem was, although technically all within spec, there would still be a wide variation in tolerances and weights.
With Honda, pistons would be manufactured and shipped in specific lots of four. Doing so would ensure that the tolerances and weight would be as close together as possible. Such attention to detail did amazing things as to how smoothly the engine would run, as opposed to an engine with pistons that had big differences in tolerances and weights. Yeah, they’d run, too, but nowhere near as smooth.
The foreign car makers had to have a distinctive difference in their cars, fun to drive was the raision d’etre, because economy and longevity weren’t necessarily going to compare well to the domestics.
And how do you square this statement with the rise and eventual dominance of manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, and the other Japanese in the US during the 70s and 80s in the smaller size sectors? You do realize that it’s almost universally acknowledged that they had better quality and economy, and that was the predominant reason?
I’m not denying that the major two Japanese producers were supplying nicely assembled cars. Most of the ones I saw/drove/wrenched on back in the day deteriorated at the same rate or faster in our harsh conditions, which is why I made the statement about longevity.
Toyota introduced its five speed manual in 1972. It clearly was superior, because it gave four properly spaced gears as well as an overdrive.
Four speed transmissions were extrinsically compromised. If they had an overdrive fourth, than they were really just a three speed, with not enough intermediate gears. If fourth was direct, then there was no overdrive for quiet and economical cruising.
Toyota showed the world how to do it right, and revolutionized it that way. Soon four speeds were seen as obviously less than ideal. GM Chrysler and Ford had plenty of time to see this and counter Toyota with a five speed, but in their typical cheap and obstinate way, the chose not to, until they were forced to because of competitive pressure. But they waited way too long.
In a world where freeways weren’t common, four speeds worked reasonably adequately. But Toyota saw that this was changing, and anticipated a world where the benefit of a five speed would quickly be accepted as the new standard. It was one of the reasons Toyota had such success, and is where it is today globally.
Their five speed manual revolutionized the industry: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/automotive-histories/automotive-history-the-toyota-5-speed-transmission-takes-over-the-world/
US automakers at the time, most likely they felt 5-speed wasn’t a priority at all. Many cars with 4-speed were more or less after thought, evidenced by the driving ergonomics mindset ( high beam switch, parking brake ). They wouldn’t pay much attention to the manual transmission as it wasn’t so necessary on most models.
Probably when it wasn’t a priority, they could wait for other international divisions to develop some transmissions with more gears to borrow afterwards.
I don’t really believe that the Big Three were sitting on their hands while Toyota came out with a 5 speed manual trans. I believe the Big Three simply did not care. After all the use of manual transmissions by the North American market(especially the USA) had been declining since the late 1960’s and that most of their buyers were buying cars/trucks with auto transmissions in them. This is a trend we see today as less then 10% of cars sold in the USA are with a manual trans and out of those most are in sports cars.
It was not a surprise that Toyota came out with a 5 speed as at that time Toyota was offering small cars with small fuel friendly engines that were a complete and utter dog when mated to a auto trans (utter dog as in having your Toyota passed by a 80 year old man on bicycle that weighs 500 pounds)
I’ve mentioned this before, but all of the Big Three had operations in other parts of the world, there’s nothing they couldn’t have adapted to the US/North American market. They seemed to have siloed their operations for sure, with occasional exceptions like the “captive imports”.
I suspect it had more to do with profit margins (and maybe some regulations) more than any technical issues. We’ve spent many pixels lamenting the fact that certain European models could have been adapted to US conditions, but weren’t.
Fun to drive was one way to be one up on the US and Euro car makers, at least the more pedestrian ones.
That may have been the case with the larger cars, including the X Bodies. But the lack of a five speed in the 1981 J Cars, which were designed specifically to compete with the Accord, was one of the many shortcomings of those cars that GM had to hustle to address. By 1983, there was a five speed available.
Sticks were still quite common in the class the J Cars competed in back then.
The Mustang didn’t get a five-speed manual until 1982.
FWIW, one could buy a 1975 Olds Cutlass with a 5 speed manual trans, but only with 260 V8.
So can’t say “they didn’t try”. But, average Olds buyers were desiring “Hydra-matic or nothing”, so…
Good A to B transportation at the time. In the late eighties the radio station I worked at had an early eighties four door K car for news staff. Very basic with automatic and cloth interior. The station owner put the word out the car was for sale and he was open to offers. I discussed the possibility with my wife of buying it as a second car. Then the head gasket blew on the 2.2 engine leaving one of our beat reporters stranded in a nearby city. So I passed and later got a used Fairmont wagon for $1500.00. That car had no issues for the years we drove it.
I think ultimately why the original K-cars succeeded was because it was as safe and inoffensive as the X-bodies were radical. Bench seats, column shift, lots of space inside for the size, safe and soggy handling. It was like they shrank an intermediate car and gave it front wheel drive. Also, while not as reliable as a Honda or Toyota, they were no X-car in terms of reliability either. The chemistry was right.
They give Mid America what they wanted at the time, smaller family cars and then Caravans.
We had an ’83 (I think) Aries K with the 2.6 Mitsubishi engine, bought off an old guy for $2000 with maybe 40,000 miles in 1991. Proved to be a pretty darn good car. Had its quirks (like door latches always getting stuck in the “open” position in the winter, so at random times the doors wouldn’t close) but nothing serious. Drove it another reasonably trouble free 60,000 miles, sold it with a little over 100,000 and it still ran just fine.
The K-cars hit the sweet spot of the market at just the right time. They were small, but had amazing amounts of space inside. The handling was safe and predictable for most drivers, and do-it-yourselfers loved these things for ease of repair. They could also be quite pleasant on the higher-end models which had better seats and nicer interior furnishings. They also didn’t have the design or quality issues of the X-cars and fuel economy was pretty good. On the downside, the drivetrains were pretty crude compared to Japanese models and the engines vibrated quite a lot, unless you chose the troublesome Mitsu 2.6 4-banger with balance shafts. It was smoother but had issues all on its own.
We had several of these in the family in the ’90s, the nicest one was Dad’s 1984 LeBaron woody wagon.
Fun fact: early models from 1981-84 had oversized cotter pins holding the doors on, while from 1985 on they received proper door pins.
Wasn’t the K-car completely finished by the time Iacocca took the reigns at Chrysler and he had virtually nothing to do with the final product? If so, it should go down as a gross injustice that he got all the credit for it when his predecessors Gene Cafiaro and John Ricardo are remembered as goats that very nearly lost the company.
OTOH, I supposed Iacocca can be forgiven, considering the K-car based minivan ‘was’ all Iacocca, and it was a smash success, crossing into the rarified gamechanger category that very few vehicles ever achieve. If Cafiaro and Ricardo had stayed, even though their K-car was a success, it’s quite doubtful that they would have followed up with the minivan to keep it going.
I always thought of the K cars as being crude as a tin bucket but also – as reliable as a tin bucket. It would have been 1986 or when I first drove one. My company had some Reliants as company cars, and interestingly enough, also had some Citations, and our office ended up with one of each. Subjectively, on first impression, the Citation was a much more sophisticated design. It seemed to have been engineered as a unit, and was quieter, more solid, and more comfortable than the K which had clearly been built on a budget. The K struggled to idle at stop signals when the a/c was on. I tore the sleeve of a suit jacket on the door trim when getting out of the car one day. These facts did not endear me to the car. The seating position struck me more as ‘school bus’ than sedan and that fit my feeling that the K’s were mere transportation tools rather luxurious mobile lounges like the broughams of the 70’s. The Citations were also visions of a chastened brave new world for me. No more “longer, lower, wider!” No more ‘Rocket 88 spaceship’ feeling. All pretense at performance, luxury, or beauty were stripped away -not a bit of chrome or panache anywhere ; GM had decided we were all going to be adult and practical about cars, so shut up. Cold water is all you really need. I really couldn’t shake the feeling that the Citation was a car that the Soviets would issue to citizens if they had GM’s resources. To be fair, the impression was probably boosted by the fact that the car was beige and had a bench seat. My chief memory of the Citation is driving it down the expressway at an indicated 85 MPH and wondering how fast I was going (a mix-up had left an important visitor stranded at an airport some 40 miles away). It seemed solid enough at whatever speed, but souless at whatever speed too. I hated that car for what it represented – the end of the American dream of more and faster!. It was such a rational but rationalized design. Cheap practical work shoes. Just you never mind about where we cut corners making them, they’re good enough for you. The K represented something different though. It was hope. Sure, it was a crude car but you knew that it was just the start of a comeback from the edge. Yeah, we were down – the Hostage crisis had shown we were weak, inflation made it impossible to afford a house, and some car loans cost 20% but Iacocca sold us all on ‘Not dead yet! In fact I’m feeling better’. You wanted to drive a K. You wanted Chrysler to suceed because it was all of us somehow. You can feel the doubt and depression in R&T’s article BUT the SOB actually made it happen. Crude maybe, but reliable and they just kept getting better. By the time market-leader world-leader Caravan appeared we were all feeling much better.
That’s a good comparison between the Citation and the Reliant. The Citation was as if GM was throwing in the towel on American prosperity, sort of a domestic Trabant with GM money and engineering behind it, a cold wet towel in the face that this was the automotive future, so get used to it.
The Reliant, OTOH, while not being nearly as forward-engineered on the whole as the Citation, was trying to cling to some of the old-school US automotive values. You could still get a front bench seat and column-mounted automatic in a Reliant. The Citation even looked like it was FWD, but the Reliant seems to have been intentionally styled to appear that the the drive wheels were in the rear.
You could get column mounted automatics and bench seats in ALL of the X-cars.
Plus power windows and seats and broughamy pillow interiors in the Oldsmobile and Buick versions.
The X-car bench seats were not configured for a center passenger though, so they couldn’t advertise them as 6-passenger vehicles like Chrysler did with the K-cars (as shown). None of them had center seatbelts, and four-doors with reclining seats and all coupes lacked had empty space where the center backrest would be except on the top-line models with fold-down armrests. 1981 and later X cars had a fixed plastic tray in the center to make it clear you weren’t supposed there.
1980 X-cars with automatics had a column shift even on cars with bucket seats and a center console. Starting with the ’81s, console-equipped automatics had floor shifters, but even if you ordered bucket seats the console was still a separate option, and I believe cars with buckets but no center console still got a column shift. I drove a ’82 Phoenix with buckets (6-way power on driver’s side, reclining on both) and console, and when you moved the auto floor shifter you could see the collar on the steering column move with it! I think the basic linkage still assumed a column shifter on automatic-equipped cars and the floor shifter just pushed the column clockwise or counterclockwise as needed.
What are these “seat belts” you speak of? 5 or 6 is debatable, in either one of these, the only way those people all fit in that “ghost” K-car image is if they were all 5ft tall and 80lbs, remember these were pre strong seatbelt laws, and the theory was, if its flat, you can sit on it….
“not a bit of chrome or panache anywhere…” ?
The Citation still had chrome 5 mph bumpers, and the Buick/Olds versions looked like smaller LeSabre/88.
But, GM made the X’s cheaply, expecting owners to ‘trade up’ to future 1985 era FWD W/N/H/C bodies. They didn’t plan to keep the RWD B body, until economy stabilized.
I’ve never been a K platform fan, but there’s no denying that the sales and popularity of the car were not only an important part of Chrysler’s history, but also for automotive history. The cars were a bit crude, but effective……and their smaller size came at a time where a lot of bigger engines were already strangled by emissions and low compression in the 70’s. Turbocharging in the late 70’s and early 80’s had the right idea, but were fraught with many design flaws in their actual execution (and were expensive to work on when they broke down). In many ways, it only seemed to make sense, at that time, to buy a car that was small, and powered by an engine that only used as much fuel as it needed to power the car to get from point A to B.
What’s with the low total cargo capacity of the wagons? It looks like they’re measuring floor-to-window line instead of floor-to-ceiling without saying that’s what they’re doing.
I’m sure my positive opinion on the K’s is a minority view, but I’ve always loved these little cars. When they arrived on the scene it really was as if they came out of the womb screaming, “I’m the epitomy of the NEW AMERICAN CAR!!!” There was nothing remotely European or Japanese about the styling, the look or the feel of this car. It was safe in every way that the buying public needed it to be. I always felt like these looked and felt like what a three year old would draw with his crayons if told to draw a car. It’s just a basic straightforward design that worked and did exactly what it was intended to. For all their flaws these little appliances really were a triumph. If ever a car deserved to be reincarnated a thousand times over into every possible configuration known to the automotive world, this is the one.
One thing I’d forgotten until seeing this (although not mentioned in the article) is that the K-car four-door sedans and wagons, like the 1978 GM intermediates, had fixed rear-door windows with small flip-out sections. Eventually Chrysler switched to roll-down windows; the former flip-out sections became larger and fixed.
Only the first-year K-cars had fixed rear windows in the rear doors. I wonder if they went to roll-down windows for 1982 because that year was also when they introduced the K-based LeBaron which had vinyl padding covering up the flip-out window section, which would have left them without even a vent window for rear passengers to open.
Later, the divider post was moved back a bit to give a larger and more proportional roll-down section.
Wow! I’ve been off the web all weekend and I missed all this! Suffice it to say our K-Cars served us very well all those years ago.
I’m sure that by 1984 a Cressida, Camry, Accord or Nissan equivalent may have been a better buy, but “foreign” cars weren’t options for me at that time.
K car? The only thing I see in the picture is the Javelin in the background.
I think your Javelin is a Mustang…..
Right…. And I was so excited about it… Gone…
35th Anniv of K car, soon will be 40; time goes by too fast!!
Not sure if any remember the launch fiasco of the K-cars….
For some reason Chrysler was producing so many of the upper price range models that it didn’t have enough lower priced ones to sell – this was the Jimmy Carter economy that was killing everything and higher priced “budget” cars were not selling. Many of these unsold high priced K-cars were sitting in lots near the factory. Chrysler’s potential solvency was almost destroyed by the wrong product mix. It was a very serious situation at the time.
I had never heard of the situation you describe with too many optioned K cars sitting in fenced compounds. That certainly was the case before Lee Iacoca took over.
I do know that GM when introducing certain vehicles that were popular with fleets (small vans) would first build basic, commercial models to shake out early quality issues, then ramp up to models with a higher level of options, equipment.
You are right, GarryM. Iacocca nixed the sales bank immediately, certainly by 1980. I do recall reading that they miscalculated on the option mix with early cars, with too many loaded models built. But in the universe of Chryco launch snafus, this one was pretty minor.
Hindsight being 20/20, it turns out (IMO) that the K-cars were one of the greatest success stories in the history of American cars. In the same vein as the ’60 Ford Falcon, they started as ordinary cars for everyman, but wound up with extended lives far past what the original designers expected or intended.
A great car? Perhaps not. But a great success? Most certainly.
Re: OHV versus OHC engine
It’s hard but not impossible to get straight ports with an OHV engine – you would have to have offset pushrods which complicates the valvetrain.
I think the biggest issues are: It’s hard to get a crossflow unless you have crossover pushrods, and the increased weight of the valvetrain makes it difficult to reach high rpms, or even at low rpms get very fast valve opening/closing.
With a pushrod valvetrain, you can make the total engine height (not the height of the deck) lower, because there isn’t a camshaft and related hardware above the valves. This has some packaging and weight advantages – one reason why the Chevy V-8 was lighter than the Jaguar Six. The more engines go to short-stroke/large-bore designs, the less important that height advantage becomes. It’s also very easy (in comparison to an OHC engine) to have automatic hydraulic valve adjusters, which was a big advantage for quite some time.
You CAN get high rpms and good breathing in a pushrod engine (a notable example is the Harley XR-750). The Velocette M-series, for example, replaced an OHC design with a “high-cam” pushrod design, chosen because with the short pushrods the RPM capability of the OHV M-series was essentially the same as the OHC K-series, and the M-series was much cheaper to assemble, and probably lighter as well. Moto-Guzzi did something similar. Four-valve engines are also possible (Moto-Guzzi again, or the recent “Milwaukee-Eight” Harley engine).
But, eventually, after going to all that trouble to make an OHV engine competitive with an OHC engine, with cross-pushrods and high cams and highly stressed valvetrain to deal with high RPMS, it just isn’t worth it. If you want a very compact, simple-to-assemble, mechanically-straightforward engine with hydraulic valve adjusters, and you aren’t worried about extracting the very last bit of performance out of your available cubic-inches, then a straightforward OHV engine makes a lot of sense. The various bulletproof American V-8’s and straight-6’s, the Volvo B-20, the Ford Kent engine, The BMC A- and B-series, The Toyota 12R, The Nissan A-series, all had the advantages of simplicity, reliability, compactness, and adequate power. At this point in the game, however, the advantages of DOHC in specific power output and emissions control are undeniable.
I’m not an OHV fan, IMO they simply don’t work as well.
But I will give you this, a very few, such as the Chevy LS series (and I’m NOT a GM fan at all) are extremely competitive with good OHC engines. While I like the design of OHC, it comes down to what works best. If you can build a 2 valve OHV V8 that has the power, economy and longevity of a DOHC 4 valve engine, and it’s cheaper to build, why not? Reward results, not supposedly superior design.
On the other hand, the automotive business is highly competitive, if it’s that easy to make a better engine cheaper, others would have done it also.
I used to drive a 1980 Chrysler Cordoba Crown which pretty much had everything but power door locks and “Corinthian leather”. One day, I came out of a store to find a 1981 or 82 Plymouth Reliant 2 door had parked next to the Cordoba. What immediately struck me about the Reliant was that it’s styling was almost exactly 3/4 scale Cordoba. Later I realised the same thing about the Aries and the Mirada. When you look at the magazine photos of the Reliant, you can really see it. I replaced the Cordoba with a 1989 LeBaron Coupe which I enjoyed driving for some time. I look at this early Reliant and think it would be fun to do a drivetrain swap with a final year Reliant with the EFI 2.5 and swapping it’s engine/trans, computer, gas tank with the EFI fuel pump, and put in the more supportive front seats as well. If it’s like any of the EEKs I’ve had any experience with beyond my LeBaron, I wouldn’t be surprised if it all just bolted right in.
The Chrysler K car is a silver mine that later struck gold in the form of the minivan. Throughout its existence, the K-car was the silver coming out of the factories, but it was the minivan’s success that kept the K-car being made.
So, the success of the K-car as a coupe, wagon or sedan is secondary. The success is based on the minivans derived from them.
“The 81 Accord was a great, perfect, car” Blah, blah blah…..
Look at how big, fat and boring the Accord became as time went on, and no more manual versions.
The “small car/manual trans/fun to drive car revolution” that Buff Books went on and about during Gas Crisis II died when [certain people] gained weight and got older. Now, lots of [certain people] tolling around in “the biggest SUV they can get”.
Where did all the loyal ‘peak Accord’ buyers go?
I guess the push to front wheel drive was mostly to get as efficient packaging as possible, engines at the time weren’t nearly as efficient as they are today, and to get to the CAFE numbers it seemed like you had to try to get the car as light as possible for a given passenger volume…especially the original K cars were pretty “square” shaped (later ones were swoopy).
My family were living up north during this time, and for us an additional advantage was just better traction in slippery weather for FWD vs RWD. Forty years ago I slid out on some black ice on I89 near Sharon, Vt. on my ’74 Datsun 710….I had the car all the way through college in Vermont, but generally didn’t drive many miles in the winter (commuted 20 mile round trip daily) but FWD cars were still pretty scarce (and expensive) when I bought the 710, which was a light RWD car…a heavier car would probably have been a bit better, but in the early 80’s the fuel shortages of ’73 and ’79 were not too far in the past, so instead of getting a heavier RWD car, I looked for a FWD, when I bought my ’78 Scirocco. Packaging was part of the deal with FWD, but I also wanted something sporty (otherwise would have gone for a Golf…which I own now). I guess I could have gotten one of the disappearing RWD cars, but not being sure of fuel and of course the high interest rates of the late 70’s and early 80’s made me think small was the conservative way to go.
By the mid 80’s we’d moved south (including my parents), so FWD wasn’t as big a deal for traction reasons, but by then the transition from RWD to FWD was well underway for new cars anyhow. My Dad already had FWD, having bought a ’76 Subaru DL, then a 1980 Dodge Omni, and then (the K car tie-in) an ’86 Dodge 600. Engines were also getting a bit better, as fuel injection was becoming easier to find and engines were getting more efficient. I traded my ’78 Scirocco for an ’86 GTi, and seriously considered an Accord Coupe, but Honda was an early “bundler” where that year you had to buy the highest LXI trim to get fuel injected engine (changed the next year but I could only buy what they sold when I was looking for another car) whereas VW pretty much had fuel injection on even base models…I didn’t want the power locks/windows back then (try getting a car without them now) so I bought the GTi instead of the Accord. Maybe I dodged something myself, having owned only VW for 40 years now…I’ve found them maybe more durable than dependable, but entertaining to me such that I deal with their foibles, something I probably wouldn’t have had to do had I just bought that ’86 Accord Hatch (they got rid of hatches, so I’d probably have to buy something else, even if a Civic, depending on what they sold the year I was looking to buy). Not sure why I didn’t consider a Subaru, my Dad bought one back in ’76 (FWD not AWD) but his rusted pretty quickly and I guess I wasn’t too impressed with them then. I actually looked at new K cars in 1981 but as new hire previous year the credit union at work wasn’t willing to loan me enough to swing a new car (not sure why I looked at them other than curious, especially since the Scirocco I ended up with was hardly similar to the 1981 K cars). My Mom worked for Dodge dealer in South Burlington, but I was living in Mass at the time, and that’s where I went to look at the K car for some reason.
I just wish the domestic makes took more time changing over to FWD, they seemed to be pushing to a schedule before the cars were really ready. Chrysler seemed to do the same thing in ’76 when they pushed out their compacts early, but of course they were under the gun financially, but GM was not…but of course they did have the timeline setup by CAFE and still plenty of cars that didn’t help them with that goal. Maybe as early as ’75 they should have been working on the FWD transition (maybe they were, the X cars came out in ’79, not sure when they started working on them) but similar to the way they came out with diesel, it seemed like they were adapting something they already had rather than taking the time to make sure it was ready for prime time. This took a lot of the confidence the buying public had in them before…maybe the workmanship was questionable, but you could still maybe buck the odds and get a good one, but if the design wasn’t there, you weren’t battling workmanship, and the odds of getting something good were greatly diminished…not eliminated, since there were some people who seemed to get a good X car for instance, but it seemed to be the exception rather than the rule (and it should have been the rule if they seriously wanted it to succeed).
Oh..almost forgot, my Dad kept the ’86 Dodge 600 through 1989, but my sister borrowed it and totalled it…he replaced it with the first of 3 Mercury Sables he was to own in a row…never did make it back to MOPAR, which was his first car (a ’56 Plaza stripper he bought new) before he died, but I think he liked the 600, just that the Taurus/Sable were hot back then and (they opened up a nearby Mercury dealership)….now that same location sells Alfa Romeos.
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