1981 Plymouth Reliant coupe

Lee Iacocca passed yesterday after leading a full life—he was 94. In his honor, I have revised my write-up one of his most famous creations.

“right for the times we drive in”

The 1981 Plymouth Reliant and 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—with an overall length of 176 inches, the Reliant coupe is almost exactly as long as a 2019 Honda Civic coupe.

The standard powertrain was an 84 bhp 2.2 liter/135 ci inline four with a Holley two-barrel carburetor paired with a four-speed manual. A Mitsubishi built 92 bhp 2.6 liter/156 ci inline four was optional for $159 and required both power steering ($174) and the three-speed TorqueFlite automatic ($360). Gas mileage with the base powertrain combination was rated at 29 city/41 highway by the standards of the day (23/29 by today’s standards). With a 13-gallon gas tank, a Reliant coupe with the standard engine and transmission could travel between 305 and 410 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

For $5,880 (about $17,800 in 2019 dollars), you got a Reliant coupe with front-wheel drive, rack-and-pinion steering, front disc and rear drum brakes, a cloth and vinyl split back bench seat, and P175/75R13 tires (a size that isn’t generally available anymore) on 13-inch wheels. The base coupe was only available in white, tan, and black.

Spending another $435 on your Reliant coupe moved you up to Custom trim, which added front disc brakes, quarter-window louvers, halogen headlights, a cigarette lighter, a color-keyed “deluxe” two-spoke steering wheel, a digital clock, a glove box lock, and an AM radio. You also got many more exterior and interior color choices.

The top-of-the-line Special Edition (SE) Reliant coupes ($6,789 or about $20,500 in today’s dollars) added dual horns, deluxe wheel covers, special sound insulation, a cloth bench seat, and a snazzier “luxury” two-spoke steering wheel. An option only available with the SE was cloth bucket seats ($91).

External and mechanical options for all Reliant coupes included tinted glass ($75), a glass sunroof ($246), and power brakes ($82). Both the mid-range upgrade P185/75R13 tires and the P165/75R14 upmarket tires (a size that fit the mid-90s Plymouth Neon compact just fine) are still readily available.

Inside, air conditioning cost $605 and required tinted glass, power brakes, and power steering—things were tightly engineered in the early 1980s. Other options included automatic speed control ($132), intermittent wipers ($44), a tilt steering wheel ($81), power door locks ($93), power front seats ($173 and said to be quite rare), along with a variety of radios up to an AM/FM radio with a cassette tape player and four speakers ($224).

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

The Reliant sold well in 1981—between the coupe and the sedan, Plymouth moved 101,127. Motor Trend managed to get a 2.2 liter with the automatic to do 0-60 in 12.4 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 in the 2,350-pound car.

In 2019, Plymouth Reliants rarely comes up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors, though you do see them occasionally on Craigslist. I haven’t seen a coupe in the wild for many years. Make mine Baron Red, I think.

Other K-body and K-body based cars I have covered in this blog include the 1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible, the 1984 Chrysler Laser fastback coupe, the 1985 Dodge 600 Club Coupe, and the 1986 Chrysler Town & Country convertible. There’s also a short commentary I did on an unidentified K-car wagon I did called Some Quiet Love For A K Car.

Updated July 2019.

1987 Sterling 825 sedan

“… such effortless motion, …”

The Sterling 825 sedan was an interesting (perhaps desperate) attempt at re-introducing Rover cars to the North American market, but with different branding than the brutally unsuccessful Rover 3500 hatchback sedan from 1980. Based on the same platform as the acclaimed Acura Legend, the Sterling featured an angular exterior design and an interior with traditional British luxury cues such as Connolly leather seats and burled walnut trim. On the exterior, only the door handles were obviously shared between the Acura and the Sterling.

A Honda-built 151 bhp 2.5 liter/152 ci V6 with fuel injection combined with a five-speed manual transmission yielded mpg ratings of 18 city /24 highway by the standards of the day (16/22 by modern standards). The four-speed automatic transmission dropped mpg incrementally to 17 city/23 highway.

The $19,200 (about $30,700 in today’s dollars or about $6,000 less than the price of a base 2019 Jaguar XE sedan) 825 S came with remote locking, power rack-and-pinion steering, power brakes, and 195/65R15 tires (a size still readily available) on 15-inch alloy wheels. Inside, air conditioning, power windows, an electric moonroof, cruise control, velour cloth seats, and a Phillips AM/FM stereo cassette with six speakers were all included.

Moving up to the $23,900 (about $38,200 in 2018 dollars) 825 SL added a four-speed automatic transmission, Bosch anti-lock brakes, a trip computer, leather upholstery with a heated driver’s seat, and an eight-speaker stereo.

Advertised as “The inevitable British road car.” Sterling sold 14,171 units of the 825 in the 1987 model year—not a bad debut. But, trouble was brewing; in an attempt to generate more jobs in the United Kingdom, Rover had decided to use Lucas electronic systems instead of those from Honda. Predictably, those electronics weren’t reliable, and there were also issues with the interior plastics and the exterior paint. Finally, rust came much too quickly.

All this meant that sales dropped rapidly. In 1988, only 8,901 were sold, and every year following things got worse. In August 1991, Sterling announced they were leaving the North American market after selling a total of about 35,000 cars over five years.

In 2018, the Sterling 825 rarely comes up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors. I haven’t seen one in many years, but I believe I’d still notice that handsome styling if I did. Make mine silver, I think.

1983 Buick Skylark T TYPE coupe

“A road car with a very distinct personality.”

Buick offered five separate T TYPE models (their spelling) in 1983. One of the new ones was the Skylark coupe, Buick’s version of the X-car.

The Skylark T TYPE‘s standard powertrain was the LH7 “high output” 135 bhp 2.8 liter/173 ci V6 with a Rochester E2SE two-barrel carburetor paired with a four-speed manual. The 0-60 time was a little over 9 seconds—respectable but not great in 1983. Mileage was 21 city/34 highway by the standards of the day (17/23 by today’s standards). With a 15.1-gallon fuel tank, a T TYPE owner could expect a range of 270 to 375 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard mechanical equipment on the $9,337 T TYPE coupe (about $24,000 in today’s dollars or about what a base 2018 Regal Sportback costs) included a Sport suspension (stiffer rate springs, stiffer shock absorbers, a more rigid front stabilizer bar, and added rear stabilizer bar), a “special tuned” exhaust, a 3.65:1 final drive ratio, and P215/60R14 steel belted radial tires (a size still available from BFGoodrich and Riken) on 14-inch styled aluminum wheels. Exterior equipment specific to the T TYPE included a blacked out grille, smoked tail lamp lenses, and charcoal lower body accent paint. Inside, vinyl or cloth bucket seats with backrest recliner, full-length operating console, special sport steering wheel, and color-coordinated seat belt buckles were included.

Standard equipment on all Skylarks included front wheel drive, power rack and pinion steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, tungsten-halogen high/low beam headlamps, a Delco Freedom II Plus battery, and an AM radio with two front speakers and a fixed-mast radio antenna.

Options included dual electric remote mirrors ($78), Vista-Vent flip-open removable glass sunroof ($295), air conditioning ($725), Cruise Master speed control with resume ($170), power windows ($180), tilt steering ($105), and an ETR AM/FM stereo radio with cassette player and graphic equalizer ($505).

Skylark pages from the 1983 Buick T TYPEs brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures pages.

Despite Buick’s commitment to extending the T TYPE line (they even went to the trouble of creating a T TYPE brochure), sales were not impressive—about 3.5% of the sales of the Skyhawk, Skylark, Century, Regal, and Riviera. Of the T TYPEs, the Skylark was comparatively successful, with 2,489 sold—about 6.1% of overall Skylark sales.

I haven’t seen a Skylark T TYPE since they were new and I saw one parked outside of the long-gone Crown Buick on the Lincoln Highway in Ardmore, PA. Skylarks of this era are rarely seen in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors—when one does come up for sale Hemmings considers it worthy of a portion of a blog entry.

There were only four exterior colors available for the Skylark T TYPE: White, Silver, Dark Red, and Light Sand Gray. Make mine Silver, please.

1985 Chevrolet Citation II hatchback sedan

“One car that does it all.”

1985 was, mercifully, the last year for the Chevrolet Citation. It was also, in a sad General Motors tradition, the best Citation (the 1985 Citation had no recalls after the nine that the 1980 had). Half-heartedly renamed Citation II in 1984, the X-car would be replaced by the Nova in 1986. There were some changes: new colors were available, and the dashboard was revised, allowing the “normal” horizontal Delco radios.

For 1985, the Citation II’s standard powertrain remained the LR8 “Iron Duke” 92 bhp 2.5 liter/151 ci inline four with throttle-body fuel injection paired with a four-speed manual (the Citation never got a five-speed—even as an option). With the standard powertrain, 0-60 came in a little under 12 seconds in the 2,500-pound car with a theoretical top speed of 101 mph. Mileage was competitive: 24 city/34 highway by the standards of the day (21/31 by today’s standards). With a 14-gallon fuel tank, the owner of a base Citation could expect a range of between 325 and 365 miles with a 10% field reserve.

Powertrain options included two different 2.8 liter/173 ci V6’s (why?): the LE2 112 bhp version with a two-barrel carburetor ($260) and the LB6 130 bhp type with fuel injection ($435). A three-speed automatic was—of course—available ($425). The V6 in general, and especially the fuel injected version, made the Citation II substantially more spritely: 0-60 times of about 9 seconds and a top speed of about 118 mph. You paid a mileage price for that performance: 19 city/26 highway by the standards of the day (17/24 by today’s standards).

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $7,090 Citation II hatchback sedan (approximately $16,900 in 2019 dollars—about what base 2019 Chevrolet Cruze L sedan goes for) included halogen headlamps, rack-and-pinion steering, front disk/rear drum brakes, and P185/80R-13 radial tires (now a trailer size) on 13-inch by 5.5-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers. Inside, sliding door locks, a lockable glove box, a folding rear seat, and an AM/FM radio with two speakers were included.

Exterior and mechanical options included tinted glass ($110), two-tone paint ($176), power brakes ($100), power steering ($215), and the F41 sports suspension (acknowledged to be a bargain at $33). Inside, a quiet sound/rear decor package ($92), air conditioning ($730), cruise control ($175), Comfortilt steering wheel ($110), an electric rear defogger ($140), and an electronic-tuning AM/FM stereo radio with cassette, clock, and seek/scan ($319) were all available.

1985 Citation II brochure cover, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures pages.

The 1985 Citation II did not sell—overall sales in this last year fell to a mere 8% of the first year sales. At an average Chevrolet dealership, you could expect it to be outsold by the Chevette, the Cavalier, the Camaro, the Celebrity, the Monte Carlo, and the Caprice Classic.

I haven’t seen a Citation in years—the last one was an X-11 in early 2014. They rarely show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds or eBay Motors. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen one shown, though I’m not betting against that at some point.

Updated in February 2019.

1987 Mercury Lynx XR3 hatchback coupe

“… the sporting side of Lynx.”

1987 was the last year for Mercury’s version of Ford’s Escort. The Escort would soldier on for many more years (through model year 2002), but from 1988 forward the smallest American-built Mercury would be the Topaz. For 1986 and 1987, the top of the line Lynx was the XR3 hatchback coupe.

The Lynx XR3‘s standard powertrain was a “High Output” 115 bhp 1.9 liter/113 ci inline four with Bosch fuel injection paired to a five-speed manual transmission. Mileage was good—25 city/34 highway by the standards of the day (about 22 city/31 highway by 2018 standards). Acceleration was reasonably quick: 0-60 came in about 10 seconds in the approximately 2,400-pound car. With a 13-gallon fuel tank, Lynx XR3 drivers could expect a range of from 310 to 345 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $8,808 Lynx XR3 (about $20,100 in today’s dollars and close to what a 2018 Fiesta ST hatchback costs) included an asymmetrical grille, aerodynamic front air dam with built-in fog lamps, wide wheel flairs, rear spoiler, dual power mirrors, and P195/60R15 Goodyear Eagle GT tires (a size still readily available) on 15-inch cast-aluminum wheels. Inside, cloth sport bucket seats, power steering, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and locking fuel filler door with remote release were included.

Standard equipment on every Lynx included front wheel drive, rack-and-pinion steering, independent four-wheel suspension, aero halogen headlamps, low-back individual reclining seats, and a folding rear seat.

Exterior and mechanical options included tinted glass ($105), rear window wiper/washer ($126), and engine block heater ($18). Inside, air conditioning ($688), speed control ($176), and tilt steering wheel ($179) were available.

1987 Mercury Lynx XR3, from the 1987 Mercury Lynx brochure.

The final-year Lynx didn’t sell very well: a total of 39,039 in a year when Ford sold 374,765 Escorts. First-generation Escorts and Lynx’s were once so prevalent on American roads, but have virtually disappeared by now. You do occasionally see Lynx’s for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors, but there were none out there as I write this in July 2018.

1985 Pontiac Grand Am coupe

“Introducing a brilliant new driver’s coupe”

The Grand Am name returned for the 1985 model year. Instead of the rear-wheel-drive coupe and sedan that it been in its previous two lives from 1973 to 1980 (with none in 1976 or 1977), it was now a front-wheel-drive coupe, part of GM’s N-body offerings. As such, it’s first relatives were the Buick Somerset Regal and the Oldsmobile Calais.

The standard powertrain on the Grand Am was GM’s Tech IV 92 bhp 2.5 liter/151 ci inline four with throttle-body fuel injection connected to a five-speed manual. For $560, optional power was a 125 bhp 3.0 liter/181 ci V6 with fuel injection which required the $425 automatic transmission (also available with the base engine). 0-60 times for early N-body cars are hard to come by, but were likely about 10.5 seconds for the standard powertrain and about 9.0 seconds for the V6/automatic combination—the 2,419 pound shipping weight helped. Mileage with the standard powertrain was rated at 24 city/34 highway by the standards of the day (21/31 by today’s standards). With the 13.6-gallon tank, Grand Am buyers could expect a range of 310 to 350 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $7,995 base coupe (about $19,100 in 2019 dollars) included power rack and pinion steering, power front disc brakes, and P185/80R13 tires (now a trailer size) on 13-inch wheels. Inside, reclining bucket seats and an integral floor console were included.

The LE (starting at $8,495 or about $20,200 in today’s dollars) included “substantial body side moldings,” upgraded front bucket seats with adjustable headrests, deluxe door trim, and a fold-down rear seat armrest.

Options included rally tuned suspension ($50) and cruise control ($175). A Driver’s Package was also available, which included 215/60R14 Goodyear Eagle GT radials (a size available thanks to BFGoodrich and Riken) on 14-inch turbo cast aluminum wheels, “sport-tuned” front and rear stabilizers, and a Driver Information Center.

Grand Am pages from the 1985 Pontiac brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures pages.

I think these were handsome cars, especially with those turbo cast aluminum wheels—Pontiac had great wheel designs in the eighties. Like many America cars of the era that aren’t considered to be collectible, they have essentially vanished despite over 82,000 sold in 1985 alone. They’re invisible in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay and are hard to find anywhere.

Make mine Red, please.

1980 Pontiac Grand Am coupe

“One exhilarating road machine”

The last of the rear wheel drive Grand Ams came in 1980. Unlike in 1978 and 1979, the sedan was no longer available—only the coupe remained.

The standard engine in non-California cars was the L37 155 bhp 4.9 liter/301 ci V8 with four-barrel Rochester carburetor and electronic spark control (California cars got the Chevrolet-sourced LG4 150 bhp 5.0 liter/305 ci V8). The only transmission available was a three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic TH200 automatic transmission. Mileage was 17 city/25 highway by the standards of the day. With the 18.1-gallon fuel tank, range was about 340 miles with a 10% fuel reserve. Period performance tests of the Grand Am are hard to come by, but 0-60 mph likely came in around 9 seconds.

New features for 1980 included a revised soft-fascia front end with three sections per side, an Ontario Gray lower accent color for the exterior, a silver upper body accent stripe, larger wraparound black-out tail lamps, and larger front and rear stabilizer bars for the optional ($45) Rally RTS handling package.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $7,299 car (about $24,500 in 2018 dollars) included dual sport mirrors, dual horns, power steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, and 205/75R14 black sidewall radial tires (a size still readily available) on Rally IV cast aluminum wheels. Inside, Grand Am purchasers could expect cut-pile carpeting, custom vinyl front bucket seats with center floor console, rally gages with clock embedded in a brushed aluminum instrument panel, and a custom sport steering wheel.

Available exterior and mechanical options included a power sunroof—either metal ($561) or glass ($773), dual remote sport mirrors ($73), Soft-Ray tinted glass ($107), and electric rear window defroster ($107). Inside, air conditioning ($601), power door locks ($93), power windows ($143), a six-way power driver’s seat ($175), a tilt steering wheel ($81), automatic cruise control ($112), and an AM/FM stereo radio with stereo cassette player ($272) were all available. A nicely configured Grand Am could easily push past $9,600—real money in 1980 and over $32,000 in today’s dollars.

Page from 1980 Pontiac full-line brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

Grand Ams didn’t sell at all well in 1980—Pontiac moved only 1,647 of them, after selling almost five times as many coupes only two years prior in 1978. Despite this, Pontiac would not give up on the Grand Am name—it would be back in 1985 as a small front-wheel-drive coupe.

Most of the Grand Ams being collected are the larger and more powerful first-generation Colonnade versions sold from 1972 to 1975. You do occasionally see second-generation Grand Ams for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. I haven’t seen a Grand Am from this generation for many years.

Make mine Starlight Black, please.

Other G-bodies covered in this blog include the 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme coupe, the 1983 Chevrolet Malibu sedan, and the 1984 Buick Regal Grand National coupe.

Updated December 2018.

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