Car of the Month, June 2013: Daniel Stern’s Enhanced Dodge Spirit Turbo

mexican dodge spirit r/t clone

Daniel Stern has one of the more interesting “one of none” cars out there: a plush Dodge Spirit ES, with the V6 removed and a well-built intercooled turbo four installed, along with Chrysler Europe safety and lighting equipment.

The base car was a plush V6-powered 1992 Dodge Spirit ES, bought in North Carolina with 58,000 original miles; and from outward appearances, it’s almost equal parts Spirit ES and Chrysler Saratoga (essentially, a Spirit in Chrysler trim sold in Europe at a much higher price). The powertrain is a clone of the Mexican Dodge Spirit R/T, a car which had a bit less performance than the American Turbo III powered monster, but with far better reliability and less need to hunt down rare replacement parts.

turbo engine

The conversion work was done by skilled, experienced, knowledgeable Chrysler-trained technicians (known to Allpar readers) with careful attention to detail (correct factory-style wiring, etc.) so future service work can be done according to factory procedures, without nonstandard knowledge. He wrote, “Last week I drove the car from Sacramento to Seattle and it put a smile on my face the whole way, especially through the twisties on Highways 101 and 199! Runs strong and sweet, drives (steers, stops, etc.) better than new. The car is reliable to hop in, drive, and register anywhere in the US or Canada, meeting all applicable safety standards, and can easily be imported into Canada if needed.”

The engine: 2.2 Turbo II

The 2.5 liter Turbo II engine, intercooled from the factory, was built by Hemi Andersen with top-grade components, including the correct intercooler and intake manifold with air charge temperature sensor, and a matching Mexican 2.5 Turbo II computer. It has a correct Valeo all-metal HD 2-row radiator, and a new (not rebuilt) TE04H turbocharger which Stern claims is utterly silent. The stock airbox was replaced with a higher-flow model from a Maserati TC, and the turbo has a big blowoff valve and proper heat shields. The car also sports a new vacuum harness, made with silicone hoses, and new vacuum ejectors and orifices.

belts and engine

A true Mexican Chrysler Phantom R/T dual-pipe muffler (with real dual pipes, not the “looks like two pipes but one of them is a dummy” setup used in American Spirits) sounds serious but is not obnoxious. A heavy duty alternator and starter were custom built to spec by Wes Grueninger at AutoLab. Other better-than-stock items are the stainless-steel fuel rail, braided stainless flex hoses, and nickelplate high-flow flex-fuel injectors). The car has the correct USA emission decal, and easily passed a California emission test. The car runs on Evans waterless coolant, which is also useful as a knock/ping suppressant, according to Mr. Stern.

The transmission is an automatic (the American Spirit R/T was a stick-shift only), a three-speed 31TH with all the updates and beef-ups, and a locking torque converter, built by Hemi Andersen. It has the correct Mexican Federal Police transmission fluid cooler, an oversized unit to cope with stressful duty in a hot environment.

seats

Body and suspension

Under the car, power is handled via a Spirit R/T rear axle assembly with a fully-welded solid sway bar, Eibach progressive-rate springs, and adjustable Koni shocks and struts. Stopping power comes with big four-wheel disc brakes; wheels are from the 1993 Daytona IROC R/T, the “Ninja” style 16” directional wheels with BFGoodrich Traction T/A P205/55HR16 tires. Steering comes via a quick ratio/firm-feel power steering rack and pinion assembly.

headlights

As befits a car built up by an automotive lighting expert, the Spirit R/T clone has Chrysler’s European lighting setup, a superior system in most regards which was standard on the Chrysler Saratoga version of the Spirit/Acclaim/LeBaron; glass H4 headlamps with fat wires and relays dramatically improve forward visibility, without glare for other drivers, while side repeaters and wide-angle amber turn signals in back make the driver’s intentions clear to everyone. The car has twin rear fog lamps and quad wide-angle/long-distance brake lights for added safety, with integral running lights. Safety is enhanced with Saratoga’s seat belts; the seat belts are height adjustable in front. Seats are the European Chrysler type.

amber turn signals

For gizmos, the car has a Clarion NZ501 stereo with satellite, DVD, input port, and navigation system, running through Clarion SRQ1331R three-way speakers all around, rather than the U.S. Spirit R/T’s well-regarded but prone-to-failure Infinity stereo system. The air conditioning system has been updated to R134a coolant.

The gray interior weathered well, other than sun damage to the dashboard top and some problems with the driver's door panel. The headliner was replaced, and the car has never seen cigarette smoke.

Putting things together and sending them away

The car has around 62,000 original miles, with Mr. Stern putting 1,200 on himself; the alternator, starter, tires, and brakes were all new or rebuilt at around 60,000 miles, along with the engine and transmission rebuild, brakes, and other new work. Of the major components, it seems like only the power steering pump and air conditioning compressor remain.

bad paint

There are problems. The paint is peeling, a problem with many early-1990s cars; the primer underneath is intact, though, preventing rust. There are also loose connections in the instrument cluster, and the oil pressure gauge always reads low though a mechanical gauge shows healthy oil pressure; the fuel gauge flickers on turns, and the speedometer reads 16% fast, since it has the wrong pinion gear. The cruise control doesn't work though the components test well; there could be a wiring problem or a bad switch. The heater does not reach full force unless one applies vacuum directly to the underhood heater valve, the windshield wiper motor is noisy, and the front sway bar bushings make some noise when cold.

rear fog lights

Still, Mr. Stern wrote, “This car was specified and successfully built up as a best-of-all-specs 1992 Spirit: torquey, quick, fast, and fun, without the hideously costly and troublesome hassles of the limited-production 16-valve engine in the US-market 1991-92 Spirit R/T.”

Mr. Stern has put the car up for sale after driving it for 1,200 miles. He wrote, “I have too many cars, and the rule in this house is that all cars are family cars, which means that decisions about what stays and what goes aren’t completely up to me. This one has been voted off the island, and I’ll miss it!” (It was sold in March 2015.)

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