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.

1984 Chrysler Laser

“The competition is good. We had to be better.”

The 1984 Chrysler Laser was intended to be the upscale complement for the Dodge Daytona. Equipment was not notably different from the Daytona, but the Laser had more of a luxury emphasis with a slightly softer suspension.

Two engines were available. The base engine, Chrysler’s 93 bhp 2.2 liter inline four, was available with a standard five speed manual transmission or a three speed automatic transmission ($439). Mileage with the manual was 22 city/32 highway by the standards of the day (19/29 by today’s standards). Moving to the automatic helped city mileage a bit but dropped highway mileage significantly – 23/27.

The more interesting engine was the optional 2.2 liter turbocharged inline four cylinder with 142 bhp and the same transmission choices as the base engine. Depending on whether you were adding the turbo to the base Laser or the XE, the extra cost was either $934 or $872. Mileage with the hot setup (turbo and manual) was 20 city/27 highway by the standards of the day (18/25 by 2015 standards) while the 0-60 time was about 8.5 seconds. Moving to the three speed automatic once again killed highway mileage, making the ratings 20 and 23.

Standard equipment on the base Laser (priced at $8,648 or about $19,700 in today’s dollars) included a leather-wrapped steering wheel, intermittent wipers, and an AM radio with digital clock.

Moving up to Laser XE ($10,546 or about $20,400 in 2015 dollars) added features such as an electronic instrument cluster, tilt steering wheel, driver’s side sport seat, dual power side mirrors, and an AM/FM stereo radio.

Optional equipment included air conditioning ($737), cruise control ($179), rear defroster ($168 base/$143 XE), power windows ($185), power door locks ($125), and AM/FM stereo cassette ($285/$160). With all the trimmings, a Laser XE could fairly easily get to $12,900 or so or about $29,500 in today’s dollars—about what a 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT costs.

The Laser sold decently in its first year, with almost 34,000 base coupes and almost 26,000 XEs crossing dealer lots. This was actually more than its Dodge Daytona sister car (with a total of almost 50,000 sold).

However, Chrysler must have been disappointed—this was an era where the Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, and Pontiac Firebird were routinely selling in the hundreds of thousands (the three models combined for 530,000 sold in 1984).

Chrysler would never see these first year totals again—by 1987 the Laser would be gone, with the Daytona hanging on through the 1993 model year after a few pretty good years in the late 1980s.

DaytonaLaserSales

Lasers rarely show up in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds or on eBay. You see some Daytonas on eBay, but even they are relatively uncommon.

Not surprisingly, allpar.com has an interesting and detailed article on the front-wheel-drive Lasers and Daytonas—it is here. Make mine Black, please.

1986 Chrysler Town & Country Convertible

“Why sit around waiting for a summer breeze to come up when you can create quite a stir yourself?”

1986 was the last year for Chrysler’s Town & Country convertible. Basically a special version of Chrysler’s LeBaron convertible, the Town & Country was first available in 1983, and was intended to remind potential buyers of the classic (and valuable) Town & Country convertibles of the 1940s. It was not especially successful, selling only 3,721 units in four years, with only 501 sold in 1986.

Like all LeBarons, the Town & Country’s front and rear fascias, headlights, grilles, and taillights were all updated with a more rounded and aerodynamic look in 1986. The center mounted brake light mandated for all 1986 vehicles by U.S. federal law was mounted atop the trunk lid. Inside, the standard digital instrument cluster was redesigned for better legibility.

1986ChryslerTown&Country
1986 Chrysler Town & Country convertible from the LeBaron brochure.

Also for 1986, a fuel injected K 2.5-liter inline 4 cylinder engine producing 100 bhp replaced the carbureted 2.6-liter 4 cylinder built by Mitsubishi as the base engine. The optional fuel injected Turbo I 146 bhp 2.2-liter turbocharged inline 4 cylinder remained for an additional $628. Both engines were paired with a TorqueFlite three speed automatic. Mileage with the base engine was 23 city/25 highway by the standards of the day (20/23 by 2014 standards). The Turbo I was rated at 20 city/24 highway—not a big price to pay for a significant percentage of extra horsepower.

The base price for 1986 was a non-trivial $17,595 (about $37,600 in today’s dollars). For that money, you got halogen headlights, dual horns, power brakes, wire wheel covers with locks, and the Town & Country’s distinctive white ash moldings and teak appliques on the body sides. Inside you got a very attractive Mark Cross leather interior along with air conditioning, power mirrors, power driver’s seat, and the Ultimate Sound System AM/FM stereo cassette with graphic equalizer and six speakers.

Options included the $302 Deluxe Convenience Package (cruise control and tilt wheel) and the Power Convenience Discount Package (power windows and power locks).

These eighties Town & Country convertibles are being collected, but by a very small set of collectors. I have recently seen nice examples at several AACA judged shows. You do see them for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors: as I update this in June 2015, there’s a white 1986 Town & Country with 82,000 miles for sale for $6,500.

Of course, 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 only just exited with the demise of the Chrysler 200 convertible.

I still like what Chrysler was trying to do and I appreciate how these cars look. Make mine White, please, with that killer Almond/Cream leather interior.

Who Saves These Cars?

I was walking around a local auto show in August 2012, and I came across a near-perfect early Chrysler minivan.

chryslerminvan
First-generation Chrysler minivan at a car show in New Hope, PA.

The Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) has what I think is a wonderful rule—if the car is 25 years ago it can be shown and judged. Period. No cut-offs because of importance or beauty or rarity or anything else.

I would argue that the first generation Chrysler minivans were actually very important—the first of 13 million sold over the last thirty years, but that’s not the point here.

What’s interesting is that almost all of these minivans led unglamorous family or corporate lives and got “used up” and this one looks almost untouched. It’s a labor of love bringing one of these cars up to show quality: there’s no aftermarket providing restoration parts like there is for Mustangs, Corvettes, or Porsches of the same age. Methinks there’s a lot of chasing around junkyards and perhaps a donor car or two.

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