- Chrysler Advert 1980s.

10 Performance Vehicles from the Chrysler Corporation You May Have Forgotten.

Here's a list of 1980s/1990s performance vehicles from the Chrysler Corporation you might have forgotten or may have never known about.

7w ago
19.3K

1. 1985-87 Dodge Shelby Charger Turbo

1985 Dodge Charger Shelby Edition.

1985 Dodge Charger Shelby Edition.

Before there was the Omni GLH ("Goes Like Hell"), there was the Shelby Charger, first in a long line of Carroll Shelby-ized front-wheel-drive Chryslers. Introduced in '83 with the engine, suspension and gearing tweaks—not to mention the famous "pizza" wheels—the first-gen Shelby Charger could match a Cobra in the corners, if not the straights. Lee Iacocca had told Carroll he wanted something like the Ford big-block V-8; the closest Shelby figured he could get to that edict was turbocharging Chrysler's corporate 2.2-litre four-cylinder. Character differences aside (in terms of the engines, we mean), an over-boost function helped squeeze 150 horsepower and 168 lb-ft of torque from the little four-cylinder in ten-second bursts. That was enough to punt the Shelby Charger Turbo to 60 mph in just over 8.0 seconds, warp speed in those dark days. The Shelby's engine noise, turbo lag, and torque steer were off the charts, but the Charger Turbo nonetheless turned the ten-year-old L-body into an honest-to-goodness thrill ride. (Source: MotorTrend).

2. 1986-89 Chrysler Conquest TSi

1986-89 Chrysler Conquest TSi.

1986-89 Chrysler Conquest TSi.

I n the days when Japan started kicking Detroit's ass at building decent cars, Chrysler had Mitsubishi build a home-team version of the Starion coupe, which was rebadged as the Conquest. (Trivia: This was one of a handful of Mopars to be sold as a Dodge, a Plymouth, and a Chrysler as part of an agreement known as Diamond-Star Motors.) The top-of-the-line Conquest TSi had a 176-hp turbo four and sprinted to 60 mph in just under 8.0 seconds, good enough to run with the contemporary Toyota Supra and Mazda RX-7 Turbo while handily out-pacing the Nissan 300ZX Turbo. For some reason, the car (again, sold in multiple versions) never caught on, no matter which of the Diamond-Star member badges were affixed to its rump. Good as it was, the Conquest was out-sold by the K-car-based Dodge Daytona—and if that's not the ultimate insult, what is? (Source: MotorTrend).

3. 1989 Shelby Dakota

1989 Shelby Dakota.

1989 Shelby Dakota.

With gas prices falling and interest in trucks on the rise in the late '80s, Shelby was directed toward Chrysler's taller products. He quickly returned to his roots of stuffing big engines into small places, replacing the Dodge Dakota Sport's V-6 with Chrysler's venerable 318 (5.2 liter) V-8. Swapping the fan's belt drive for an electric motor boosted output by 5 horsepower to 175, and torque stood at a healthy 270 lb-ft. With its 3.9:1 rear end, the Shelby Dakota could smoke its rear Eagle GT tires as and when needed. A heavy-duty suspension and a billion Shelby decals rounded out this limited-run, single-model-year truck. GM and Ford soon jumped on the bandwagon with the 454SS, Syclone and Lightning sport pickups, so clearly, Carroll was on to something. (Source: MotorTrend).

4. 1987-89 Dodge Lancer Shelby

1987-89 Dodge Lancer Shelby

1987-89 Dodge Lancer Shelby

It's hard to believe today, but the Dodge Lancer really was America's great hope to take on Europe's best sport sedans in the late 1980s. The Lancer was pretty talented out of the box, but that didn't stop Chrysler bigwig Lee Iaccoca from again calling on his old pal Carroll Shelby for some image enhancement. Shelby fitted the Lancer with a new turbo, intake, injection and intercooler that added 29 horsepower for a total of 175 ponies. He also replaced nearly all of the suspension components and swapped the rear drum brakes for discs. The result was a car that could run with the BMW 535is and Mercedes 190E Cosworth 2.3-16, provided you could stand the engine noise and the extreme torque steer under acceleration. Those foibles were easier to swallow when you considered the Lancer Shelby's $17,000 price tag, which undercut its European competitors by half. (Source: MotorTrend).

5. 1989-91 Dodge Caravan Turbo

1989-91 Dodge Caravan Turbo

1989-91 Dodge Caravan Turbo

Yes, you read the title correctly. It's a Dodge Caravan, but not an ordinary Caravan to 1989 specifications. This 7-passenger family hauler came equipped with a 2.5L Turbo I four-cylinder engine, supplying 150hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. With a five-speed manual in the equation, this is certainly an outlier to the world of minivan buyers and owners. While it does not sound impressive today, this Dodge Caravan in 1989 was definitely an eyebrow-raiser. However, many failed to survive and most produced lived short lives. It was, however, a semi-performance vehicle for that era when operating on a tight budget.

6. 1991-92 Dodge Spirit R/T

1991-92 Dodge Spirit R/T

1991-92 Dodge Spirit R/T

If ever a car deserved to toil in anonymity, the Dodge Spirit is it. The R/T version, however, is worth noticing. It used Chrysler's unloved 2.2-liter four-cylinder, albeit with a Lotus-engineered 16-valve head, a turbo, an intercooler, and bottom-end balance shafts, which boosted output to a hard-to-believe-at-the-time 224 horsepower! Those ponies were capable of yanking the Spirit by its front tires to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds, meaning the Spirit R/T could show its taillights to the Ford Taurus SHO and Mitsubishi Galant VR-4. The Dodge boys had so much faith in the Spirit R/T that they flew a pair to Italy for journalists to drive during the Lamborghini Diablo press preview. If the Dodge's handling was just as good as those benchmark sedans' moves, its refinement was nowhere close. Oh, and the Spirit's geriatric styling had about as much sex appeal as Donald J. Trump in a bathrobe. (Source: MotorTrend).

7. 1992-93 Dodge Daytona IROC R/T

1992-93 Dodge Daytona IROC R/T

1992-93 Dodge Daytona IROC R/T

The International Race of Champions (IROC, not to be confused with today's old-timey Race of Champions) was a Chevrolet Camaro stronghold for 15 years. When Chevy dropped out of the series in 1990, Dodge wasted no time in picking up the contract and pasting the IROC name—by then synonymous with Camaro—onto the freshly-facelifted Daytona coupe. With the addition of the 224-hp turbo engine from the aforementioned Spirit R/T, the car once known as the Daytona Shelby Z became the IROC R/T. It was ridiculously quick (zero to 60 mph in under 7.0 seconds) and a rocket on the track, amazing capabilities for a K-car-based design with a strut-type front suspension and a beam axle in the rear. Its only major downside was its ride quality, which was so hard that contemporary testers feared the Dodge might set off its own airbag if triggered by just the right road imperfection. (Source: MotorTrend).

8. 1992-94 Plymouth Sundance Duster

1992-94 Plymouth Sundance Duster

1992-94 Plymouth Sundance Duster

In 1992, the Ford Escort GT and Honda Civic Si had established themselves as solid low-cost enthusiast cars with appealing styling to match their zesty moves. By comparison, the awkwardly upright Plymouth Sundance looked dowdy and cheap. So, Chrysler resorted to a time-honored Detroit trick: Adding horsepower! The automaker stuffed the Voyager minivan's 141-hp 3.0-liter V-6 under the Sundance's hood and, ahem, dusted off the Duster name to create the Sundance Duster. With a five-speed manual transmission, the new-age Duster scooted to 60 mph in a respectable 8.4 seconds. Sticky Goodyear Eagle GT+4 tires represented the car's lone handling improvement, but they were enough for the Duster to keep pace with the 'Scort and the Civic. What the Chrysler lacked in panache (read: everything) it made up for in value: At $9,849, it undercut the Ford and the Honda by two grand. (Source: MotorTrend).

9. 1998-03 Dodge Dakota 5.9 R/T

1998-03 Dodge Dakota 5.9 R/T

1998-03 Dodge Dakota 5.9 R/T

It had been ten years since Carroll Shelby figured out that Chrysler's LA small-block V-8 would fit under the Dakota's hood, so you have to wonder why Chrysler waited for the following-generation truck to drop in the 360-cubic-inch version. Still, the results were just what you'd expect from 250 Magnum-ized pushrod-actuated horsepower in a relatively small truck: Lots of exhaust rumble and lots of tire smoke (the latter thanks to a front-heavy weight balance). The surprise was that the Dakota actually handled pretty decently provided you add the necessary disclaimers (for the time, for a truck, etc. ). People loved the idea of a home-grown muscle truck, but sales skidded as the novelty wore off. (Source: MotorTrend).

10. 1987-89 Shelby CSX

1987-89 Shelby CSX

1987-89 Shelby CSX

By the late '80s, turning Chrysler K-car-based relics into serious sportsters had become Shelby's bread and butter, and the CSX might have been his finest work. Based on the humble Dodge Shadow, the CSX had Shelby's by then expected mix of more turbo, more suspension, and more brake. The CSX was fast, sticky, and delightfully twitchy, although poorly-thought-out steering and throttle inputs could make it a real handful to the uninitiated. And like other Chryslers of the time, it was noisy and rattled like—well, like a baby's rattle. A new variable-nozzle turbo quelled turbo lag and put the CSX back in the headlines for '89, even as the new Diamond-Star cars (Mitsubishi Eclipse, Eagle Talon, and Plymouth Laser—see below) were busy redefining the sport-compact universe. Still, is there a better example of a car being transformed from excrement to exotic? Not that we can think of. (Source: MotorTrend.)

A lot has changed in 41 years, but Chrysler surely has shown us through its past vehicles and its current ones, the possibilities and capabilities of modifying a stock vehicle and configuring it into a performance vehicle.

Join In

Comments (36)

  • SHELBY DAKOTA

      1 month ago
  • what on dear Earth happened to car design in the 80s? The Conquest has decent lines, but other than that..

      1 month ago
  • Great list of cars... some of which I had actually forgotten! ;)

      1 month ago
    • Yes, as had I. I grew up around them but it's been a long time since I've seen any of them on the road.

        1 month ago
  • This article needs to be on the homepage

      1 month ago
  • Great article, Mr. Noonan. Styling and innovation were what Chrysler was known for back then. I have one question, though. If the article is about Chrysler cars from the 80’s and 90’s, why use a photograph from the dealer brochure found in dealerships of a 1976 Plymouth Road Runner? I almost bought one new. What stopped me was that the Road Runner and it’s sibling Aspen held (holds?) the record as THE most recalled car in history.

      1 month ago
    • Sorry for the confusion. The copyright on the image was 1981. I know the cars are not from that year but it was the best looking cover image out of all the others I found.

        1 month ago
36