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.

1980 Plymouth Volaré station wagon

“Value were it counts.”

For 1980, Plymouth’s Volaré got a new grille but was otherwise little changed aside from a few new options. 1980 would be the Volaré’s last year—the Reliant would replace it in 1981.

The Volaré’s standard engine for 1980 continued to be Chrysler’s evergreen 3.7 liter/225 ci Slant Six with a Holley one-barrel carburetor, making 90 bhp and giving a 0-60 time of a little over 16 seconds. Optional power was (of course) the 5.2 liter/318 ci V8 with a Carter two-barrel carburetor, making 120 bhp and costing an additional $211. A three-speed manual was standard with the six, but a TorqueFlite automatic was required with the V8. Mileage with the three-speed manual and the six was (ooog) 16—with the 18-gallon fuel tank, a Volaré driver could expect a 260-mile range with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $5,422 Volaré station wagon (about $18,200 in today’s dollars) included power front disc/rear drum brakes, a torsion bar front suspension, and P195/75R14 glass-belted radial-ply tires. Inside, a heater, a defroster, a three-spoke steering wheel, an all-vinyl bench seat, and an AM radio were included.

Exterior and mechanical options included halogen headlamps ($37), a power liftgate ($24), a luggage rack ($91), a rear wiper/washer system ($64), and cast aluminum road wheels ($287). Inside, air conditioning ($543), automatic speed control ($106), electronic digital clock with a fluorescent display ($55), carpeting in the rear ($69), lockable storage bins ($24), and a range of stereos were available.

A Premier package ($831) added woodtone trim on the body sides, rear gate, instrument panel, and glove box door, along with a hood ornament, deluxe wheel covers, and 60/40 individually adjustable vinyl seats. You could also get (but few did) the $721 Sport Wagon package, which included fender flares, front air dam, tape stripes, black grille highlights, dual sport mirrors, Tuff three-spoke color-keyed steering wheel, and eight-spoke road wheels with trim rings. Finally, the Handling/Performance package ($385) included heavy-duty shocks, Firm-Feel power steering, and FR70x14 Aramid-belted radial tires.

Station wagon pages from the 1980 Plymouth Volare brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures pages

Like almost every Chrysler product in 1980, sales of the Volaré station wagon were not good. At 16,895, they were well less than half of 1979’s total of 44,085. Sales would recover substantially with the release of the Reliant station wagon in 1981.

Plymouth Volarés and Dodge Aspens were once common on American roads, but have virtually disappeared by now. You do occasionally see them for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors, but there are no Volaré station wagons out there as I write this in August 2018.

1980 Plymouth Horizon hatchback sedan

The October 2017 issue of Hemmings Classic Car included an article on an “Unbelievable Restoration of a 1979 Plymouth Horizon,” which certainly falls into my “Who Saves These Cars?” category. In honor of this, I’ve updated a blog entry on the 1980 Horizon from a few years ago.

“Handling it with confidence.”

1980 was the third model year for Chrysler’s “Omnirizon” front-wheel drive subcompact. Once again, the only available engine was a Volkswagen-sourced 1.7 liter/105 ci four-cylinder with a Holley two-barrel carburetor and all of 65 bhp. With the standard four-speed manual transmission, 0-60 came in about 14.5 seconds in the 2,135-pound car. Fuel economy was rated at 24 city/31 highway by the standards of the day, so the 13-gallon fuel tank gave a range of about 320 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $5,526 car (about $18,500 in today’s dollars) included rack and pinion steering, front disc/rear drum brakes, a rear electric defroster, tinted glass, and P155/80R13 glass-belted radial tires (a size still available from Kumho) on 13-inch wheels. Standard interior equipment included a heater, an AM radio, and an electric clock.

A variety of exterior and interior packages were available to dress up the rather spare base Horizon. The Custom exterior package ($101) added some bright moldings to the outside of the car. Moving up to the Premium exterior ($207) added some more bright moldings and deluxe wheel covers. The Premium Woodgrain exterior added (natch!) woodgrain appliques on the body sides and lower liftgate pane. The Custom ($112) interior added a glove box lock, a cigarette lighter, custom door panels, and custom vinyl seats. The top-of-the-line Premium ($355) interior added a color-keyed console, a “luxury” three-spoke steering wheel, premium door panels, and a reclining passenger-side seatback.

Exterior and mechanical options included a removable flip-up glass sun roof ($182), power steering ($161), power front brakes ($77), and a three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission ($340) that slowed the Horizon’s acceleration even more. Inside, air conditioning ($541), a sport steering wheel ($40), and an AM/FM stereo radio ($93) were available—there were no eight-tracks or cassettes available as factory stereos (it was left to Crutchfield and others to provide those upgrades—and they still do).

Page from 1980 Plymouth Horizon brochure, linked from the always useful PaintRef.com.

The Horizon continued to sell reasonably well in the 1980 model year—almost 86,000 units. The slightly sportier two-door TC3 hatchback added another 60,000 or so units. Combined, the two models accounted for 58% of Plymouth’s dire 1980 automobile sales totals in the United States (Plymouth’s other offerings for that year included the Arrow, Champ, Gran Fury, Sapparo, and Volaré).

A few folks are trying to save “Omnirizons”—including that fellow featured in Hemmings Classic Car (journalist Robert Suhr)—but you rarely see these cars for sale in either the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors. The exception is the later and much faster Dodge Omni GLH. Make mine Crimson Red Metallic, please.

Updated December 2018.

Some Quiet Love For A K Car

I walked to the local supermarket today to secure some Coca-Cola which we had somehow run short of. We’re located on the southeastern edge of what most weather forecasters seem to think is going to be a full-out blizzard over the next day and a half or so.

It’s only a couple of blocks to the supermarket. On the way is a little tan house which almost always has an original Natural Suede Tan Dodge Aries or Plymouth Reliant station wagon parked next to it. There is no garage for the wagon, so usually it sits out in the weather and rust is definitely showing in parts of that famously squared-off body.

This morning, however, there was a fitted blue car cover on the wagon to help protect it from this particular storm, which has just begun.

An original K car wagon sits under snow and a car cover this morning
An early Chrysler corporation K car station wagon sits quietly under a little snow and a car cover this morning

I may be projecting here, but I choose to see a lot of love and caring for an old and hardworking friend. Is that cover original or new (you can still get them) ? Does it only go on when the predictions are as dire as today’s? How many miles does that wagon have?

Questions, questions, questions. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the owner — if I do, maybe I’ll ask a few.