“No other car is causing so much excitement.”
The Chrysler LeBaron convertible was a mid-year introduction, becoming available in the spring of 1982. It was the first factory convertible from an American manufacturer available for sale in the United States since the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado.
All LeBarons were all-new for 1982. Based on the more plebeian Dodge Aries/Plymouth Reliant front-wheel-drive K cars that had been on sale for a year, the LeBaron (sometimes described as the Super-K) was a move at least slightly up-market. Most exterior body panels were the same as the K. Notable styling differences were a waterfall style grill (somewhat resembling that of the previous year’s rear-wheel-drive LeBaron), quad headlamps, relocation of the parking lamps and turn signals to the front bumper, and a full-width tail-lamp housing.
Chrysler used almost all of the standard K pieces inside the LeBaron. Recessed door handles and rocker type door locks were among the few changes, along with a different style of armrest and door pull. There was less vinyl trim, and the carpeting and other fabrics were of somewhat higher quality. A significant difference was the attention paid to noise, vibration, and harshness: between soundproofing, better parts, and suspension tuning, the LeBaron was upgraded from the base K in 26 separate ways.
Cars & Concepts in Brighton, Michigan heavily modified two-door LeBaron coupes on their way to becoming convertibles—the process included 32 steps. They installed a boxed-in backbone along the center of the car and welded a three-piece windshield header to the A-pillars. Next, Cars & Concepts installed new door glass and added door wedges. Finally, they added a new fiberglass panel to hold the rather small rear seats and mounted the convertible motor on the floor pan behind the rear bulkhead.
The convertible top itself had a plastic rear window and broad rear quarter panels; Car and Driver wrote that this created “a sort of Conestoga-wagon effect.” The top was actuated from a button on the console, and a padded top boot snapped into place when the top was lowered.
A K 2.2 liter/135 ci inline four with a two-barrel Holley carburetor producing 84 bhp was the base engine. A two-barrel carburetted Mitsubishi G54B 2.6-liter/156 ci inline four with 92 bhp and 20 additional ft-lbs of torque was available for an added $171. Both engines were paired with a TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission. Mileage with the base engine was 25 city/36 highway by the standards of the day. The optional engine was rated at 23 city/31 highway and brought the 0-60 time down from about 17 (aargh!) seconds to about 15 seconds.
The LeBaron convertible’s base price was $11,698 (about $31,200 in today’s dollars and about 44% more than the 1982 LeBaron coupe). For that money, you got dual outside mirrors (borrowed from the Dodge Omni 024), power brakes, power steering, and P185/70R14 whitewall tires (a size still readily available, though finding whitewalls might be tough) on 14-inch wheels. Inside, you got vinyl bucket seats with a folding center armrest, digital clock, and an AM radio. 76% of convertible drivers moved up to Medallion trim, which boosted the price to $13,998 (about $37,400 in 2018 dollars) and added halogen headlamps, better gauges, and snazzier wheel covers.
The Mark Cross package cost an additional $861, moved the sticker to a non-trivial $14,859 (about $39,700 in today’s dollars), and added the 2.6-liter engine, air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, and attractive Mark Cross leather/vinyl seats. Other options included cornering lamps ($57), cast aluminum wheels ($344), automatic speed control ($155), and an AM/FM stereo radio with electronic tuning and cassette player ($455).
First-year sales of LeBaron convertible were a respectable 12,825, especially considering the shortened year and the relatively high price. In a piece of general eighties trivia, the first commercial cell phone call in history was made from a LeBaron convertible in October 1983.
These cars are being collected and shown—I see them often at AACA judging meets. You see them for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors: as I update this blog entry in December 2018, there’s a Morocco Red LeBaron with 24,000 miles for sale on Hemmings for $10,800.
These convertibles also started Chrysler’s long tradition of making convertibles that might occasionally be sporty but were not sports cars—a market niche they exited in 2014 with the demise of the Chrysler 200 convertible.
I still like what Chrysler was trying to do, and I appreciate how these cars look, at least with the top down. Make mine Mahogany Metallic, please, with the Mark Cross package.
Updated in December 2018