1981 Plymouth Reliant

I don’t know if he was serious, but one of the folks on Corvette Guru asked me when I was going to do a write-up on the K cars. So, here’s the Plymouth version.

“right for the times we drive in”

The 1981 Plymouth Reliant (along with its sibling the Dodge Aries) are the K-body cars often (and reasonably) credited with saving Chrysler in the early 1980s.

The first K cars were basic transportation, famously (like the GM X cars a year before) with no roll-down rear windows and just barely mid-size by the EPA’s classification. For $5,880 (about $16,900 in 2015 dollars), you got a Reliant coupe with rack and pinion steering and a front vinyl bench seat. Base tires were P175/75R13—a size that basically doesn’t exist any more. The upmarket tire was a P165/75R14—a size that fit the mid-90s Plymouth Neon compact just fine.

Spending another $500 or so moved you up to Custom trim, which added halogen headlights, a cloth front bench seat, a cigarette lighter, a color-keyed steering wheel, a digital clock, and an AM radio. Custom wagons also got power brakes.

The top-of the line Special Edition (SE) Reliants added power steering, power brakes, dual horns, deluxe wheel covers, and a snazzier steering wheel. An option only available to the SE was cloth bucket seats.

1981PlymouthReliant
1981 Plymouth Reliant two door coupe, scan courtesy of Alden Jewell

All levels of trim were sold as four door sedans and two door coupes, but station wagons were only available in Custom and SE trims. In 1981, the 151,000 buyers split almost evenly between the three trim levels.

Options included air conditioning (which required tinted glass and power brakes—things were tightly engineered in the early 1980s), cruise control, power door locks, power front seats (said to be quite rare), along with a variety of radios.

Standard engine was a 84 bhp 2.2 liter inline 4 with two-barrel carburetor—a Mitsubishi built 92 bhp 2.6 liter inline 4 was optional. The standard transmission was a four speed manual, with a three speed automatic optional. Gas mileage with the standard combination was rated at 29 city/41 highway by the standards of the day.

Motor Trend managed to get a 2.2 liter with the automatic to do 0-60 in 12.5 seconds—they tried with another Reliant running the same combination and it took 14.0 (oog) seconds. Top speed (if you could call it that) ranged from 88 to 96 mph.

Thanks to the crazy folks at Allpar for much of the source material for this post.

2 thoughts on “1981 Plymouth Reliant

  1. I had one of these back then (the Mitsubishi engine version coupe, exactly like the one in the picture) and had it until 1995. Great car. Wish I still had it. Good report!

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