by Kevin D. McCarthy
I have lived in Panama for 10 years. During my time in this hot and humid country I have owned quite a few vehicles, 1973 BMW 1800, 1974 Ford Bronco, 1985 Toyota 4x4, 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass, 1980 Ford pickup and a 1988 Dodge Daytona w/2.5 and others.
None of these vehicles were in great shape. The heat and general abuse takes its toll on vehicles here. Technologically, local Panamanian mechanics make due with what they have to repair the beasties and more times than not, it's not a pretty site.
I purchased an '88 Daytona for next to nothing from an army enlisted man about four years ago. He had run the poor thing into the ground. Hard. I fixed the window lift problems with a new plastic track from the dealer. The steering rack leaked so bad it had to be refilled with fluid everytime you stopped ($500 for a rebuilt rack from Chrysler). Front Macpherson struts and bushings were replaced at this time as well (except for a critical part at the top of the front strut towers that J.C. Whitney failed to send with the other parts).
Only once, after returning from a 2 month long trip, did it ever fail to start. A $40 sensor fixed it the same day. The local mechanics had no problem diagnosing its fuel injection system via the lights on the dash.
The drivers door hinge became worn enough to allow the door to sag. Just enough to allow the window to strike the body near the B pillar. This caused the glass to shatter one day. I taped a plastic bag over it for about three weeks until I could locate a used local replacement. It was reinstalled with less parts than it had orginally. Hasn't broken since.
Since the day I bought, to this very moment, the retractable headlights will raise and lower on their own. Totally at random. Could be a few minutes to hours between cycles. Countless times have I seen people walk by the car and jump as the headlights cycle open or closed and look at the car without anyone in it. The lights always worked correctly when I am in the car. I just disconnect the battery when leaving on a trip to prevent drainage. People say it was possessed.
The T-Tops leaked badly every time it rained, which was about every day at 2:00 in the afternoon. I would carry bath towels in the car to put on my lap to keep the rain from soaking my pants.
Interior lighting comes and goes as well. If you really want to see a gauge, just beat on the dash till the one you want lights up.
For the first 2.5 years, it never ran right. Always seeming to be down on power. Then I found a mechanic who knew Fuel Injection well enough to figure out it needed a few parts. I was told it had been operating in a "limp home" mode all those years. After the replacement of a couple of sensors (less than $80). It ran very well and had much more power/ torque than other 2-2.2 litre class vehicles I had ever driven, including the 1.8 litre BMW (which was a parts hungry vehicle, I can tell you).
I have hit curbs so hard it blew both tires on the same side and removed chunks from its aluminum rims. (Panamanian streets are not reknown for their street lights) I have replaced something like 5 tires that way. The car always tracked straight afterwards. Tires do not wear irregularly.
I never really liked the car as I was using it as my daily driver to work. My hack car. (Burgundy inside and out with t-tops). It's interior was always a little too cheap. Too cheesy. It has been hit in the front twice, the drivers side once, and the rear twice. I repared the sheetmetal of the car after each incident.
I am now leaving Panama (in 2 more days) along with many others as part of the military's departure later this year. The Dodge Daytona will be left behind as it is not cost effective to bring back to the United States.
Today the moving van left with all of our household things. The Dodge sits in the driveway forlorn and soon to be left behind. I think to myself just how dependable a car it has been. Actually, it was been better and cheaper than all the other vehicles I have ever owned. From a drivetrain point of view. I briefly wondered if and how I could ship it back to the states this late in my move. But alas, it is just that.
Hmmmm. Maybe I will look for another one like it when I return to the states..........They are pretty cheap, after all.......I could even remove the steering rack, air conditioner compressor....etc....etc.......I could mail the parts to myself and.........
I guess I liked that old car a lot more than I thought I did.
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