1982 Chrysler LeBaron Convertible

“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 available for sale in the United States since the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado.

All LeBarons were all-new for 1982. Based on the more plebian 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 one of 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 major 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.

Two-door LeBaron coupes were heavily modified by Cars & Concepts in Brighton, Michigan on their way to becoming convertibles—the process included 32 steps. A boxed-in backbone was installed along the center of the car and a three-piece windshield header was welded to the A pillars. New door glass was installed and door wedges were added. A new fiberglass panel was added to hold the rather small rear seats and the convertible motor was mounted on the floor pan behind the rear bulkhead.

The convertible top itself had a plastic rear window and a very wide 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 inline 4 cylinder engine with two-barrel Holley carburetor producing 84 bhp was the base engine. A two-barrel carbureted Mitsubishi G54B 2.6-liter inline 4 cylinder with 92 bhp and 20 additional ft-lbs of torque was available for an additional $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 $28,900 in today’s dollars and about 44% more than a LeBaron coupe). For that money, you got dual outside mirrors (actually taken from the Dodge Omni 024), power brakes, power steering, and P185/70R14 whitewall tires. 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 $34,600 in 2015 dollars) and added halogen headlamps, better gages, and snazzier wheel covers.

The Mark Cross package cost an additional $861, moved the sticker to a non-trivial $14,859 (about $36,700 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).

1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible advertisement.
1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible advertisement.

First year sales of LeBaron convertible were a respectable 12,825, especially considering the shortened year and the relatively high price. These cars are being collected and shown. You see them for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors: as I write this in July 2015, there’s a Mahogany LeBaron with 39,000 miles for sale on Hemmings for $6,500.

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 only a couple of years ago 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.

1985 Merkur XR4Ti

“For the North American continent the Merkur XR4Ti represents an innovative, new total performance machine.”

The Merkur XR4Ti never had a chance.

There, I’ve said it. Though the redoubtable Bob Lutz was involved, I can’t even imagine the combination of decisions that made Ford think that selling a Karmann-assembled version of the European Ford Sierra at Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the mid-1980s was ever going to work out.

Because the Cologne 2.8 liter V6 the Sierra used in Germany could not clear US emissions, the engine the XR4Ti received was Ford’s Lima 2.3 liter turbocharged and fuel injected inline four cylinder, making 175 bhp with the five speed manual transmission and 145 bhp (ouch!) with the three speed automatic transmission. 0-60 came in about 7 seconds with the manual and top speed was a little under 130 mph. Fuel economy wasn’t very good: with the manual it was 19 city/24 highway by the standards of the day (17/22 by today’s standards).

Base price for the 1985 XR4Ti was $16,361 (about $35,700 in 2014 dollars). Standard exterior and mechanical features included flush headlamps, power disc brakes, nitrogen pressurized shock absorbers, and the famous (and polarizing) biplane rear spoiler derived from the one on the Probe III dream car. Pirelli P6 195/60HR14 tires were fitted on 14-inch wheels.

Insider, standard equipment included air conditioning, variable ratio power steering, power mirrors, a 60/40 folding rear seat, and an AM/FM stereo with cassette player.

Options were relatively few: Convenience group (power door locks, power windows, and cruise control), moonroof, leather, heated seats, and metallic paint.

1985 Merkur print advertisement.
1985 Merkur print advertisement.

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for an 1985 Merkur XR4Ti in #1 condition is $6,300. I find it interesting that Hagerty tracks them at all—there are many of what I think would be equally interesting cars that they don’t track. You rarely see them for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds—they are at least a little more common on eBay Motors.

Make mine Paris Blue Metallic with the optional Gray leather interior, please. The real question is how many are left.

1986 Chevrolet Camaro Berlinetta

“Elegance With a Technical Touch.”

1986 was the last year for the Berlinetta semi-luxury version of Chevrolet’s Camaro and they were by far the rarest of the three Camaros. With only 4,579 Berlinettas built in 1986, Chevrolet sold more than eleven times as many IROC-Zs alone.

The base power combination for the Berlinetta was the 135 bhp LB8 2.8 liter multi-port fuel injected V6 with a five speed manual transmission. Optional power was the $750 155 bhp LG4 5.0 liter V8 with 4-barrel carburetor which was paired with a $465 four speed automatic transmission (the five speed manual was not available with the V8 on the Berlinetta). Fuel economy with base power combination was 17 city/26 highway by the standards of the day (15/24 by modern standards). Moving up to the V8 dropped mileage ratings only slightly—to 17/25.

Your $11,902 base price (about $25,500 in today’s dollars) bought standard mechanical and exterior equipment including power brakes, power steering, dual horns, and Berlinetta-specific wheel covers. Inside, a custom interior, intermittent windshield wipers, a roof console, a locking rear storage cover, and an AM/FM stereo radio with clock and four speakers were included.

Camaro Berlinetta print advertisement.
Camaro Berlinetta print advertisement.

Of course the notable interior component for the Berlinetta was the “Welcome aboard Starship Camaro.” (yes, that was a real advertisement) cluster with dual adjustable control pods, a vacuum-florescent digital speedometer, and a bar graph tachometer. To an aspiring young audiophile, the killer feature of this interior was the optional (an extra $242) AM/FM stereo on a swivel with a “proper” upright (no slot) cassette deck and a five band graphic equalizer. For 1986 only, the stereo had substantially improved backlighting.

Exterior and mechanical options included four wheel disc brakes ($179), t-tops ($846—ouch!), a rear spoiler ($69), halogen headlamps ($25), rear window defogger ($145), and nice looking Berlinetta-specific aluminum finned wheels ($225). Inside, you could add cruise control ($175) and Berlinetta-specific electronically-controlled air conditioning ($750).

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for an 1986 Berlinetta in (rare) #1 condition is $13,400, with a more normal #3 condition car going for $6,200. In general, third-generation Camaros have good club support and are often available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds, but Berlinettas of any year are rarely seen. Make mine Black, please.