In 1984, Chrysler Corporation was on a cusp. They had just been saved by government loan guarantees, and years of engineering time on the incredibly flexible K-car chassis was about to bear fruit with a wide range of cars, from the basic Reliant to the Limousine to the minivan. The Limousine and Executive would be consigned to the ash-bin, due largely to their 2.6 liter Mitsubishi engine - hardly a good choice to pull around a heavy luxury car - but the minivan would take off to become Chrysler's best selling vehicle, and a perennial Canadian favorite.
The Daytona appeared as well, starting a long run that would garner a sizeable number of loyal buyers, and keeping Chrysler in the performance magazines for a while. The first turbocharged 2.2 liter appeared, which should have helped eliminate the 2.6 engine; it produced a full 142 horsepower, adding nearly 55 hp to the standard 2.2, using multiple-port injection rather than throttle body injection.
In general, Chrysler was getting quite a lot out of a relatively small engineering budget in those days, though both the minivan and luxury-car versions of the K-car desparately needed a good V6 - which would eventually be supplied by Mitsubishi and then by Chrysler itself.
Financially, 1984 was an excellent year for the company. Sales rose from around 1.5 million to 2 million vehicles, worldwide; but net profits rose even more, reflecting a lower cost structure and the amortization of fixed costs over a much larger number of vehicles. Most of the gain was in “trucks,” which not surprisingly includes minivans — car sales went up from around 970,000 to 1,163,000 in the US, while truck/minivan sales shot up from 294,703 to 573,248. Minivans carried a nice price premium, too. (The Canadian pattern was similar but car went up more.)
Chrysler was by this time essentially a North American outfit. 85% of sales were in the United States, with Canada supplying nearly all the rest; just 3% of sales were outside of those nations (and Mexico was likely a large chunk of that 3%).
Despite the success of the Horizon (Omni) and Reliant (Aries), Chrysler was also importing a variety of Mitsubishis, a practice the company would continue until it became part of Daimler-Benz - though Bob Lutz nearly succeeded in cutting off the Mitsubishi supply earlier. Chrysler marketed all their Mitsubishis as imported, to appeal to buyers who refused to even consider American cars, thinking imports had to be more fun to drive and more reliable. Dealers were told to only compare their Colts, Vistas, and Conquests to other imported cars, not to the domestics; and that the import buyers tended to be younger, to shop around more, and to ask more questions.
On a lesser note, all radios gained a digital clock and electronic tuning for 1984.
Specifications for all the vehicles sold by Chrysler and Plymouth, and most Dodges, are below:
Chrysler had geared up for continuing high gas prices, so gas prices fell, leaving Chrysler without a traditional large sedan to attract the traditional B, C, and D body buyers. Chrysler would continue to meet national gas mileage standards as GM and Ford failed; Ronald Reagan simply rolled back the standards so that GM and Ford would not have to worry about being fined, as Lee Iaccoca fumed (indeed, Iaccoca sponsored ads that protested the clemency). Chrysler barely had the resources to keep its three major carlines going (essentially, the L-bodies, K-cars and their derivatives, and F-body derivatives.)
In addition to having the best gas mileage of the Big Three, Chrysler had a lead in electronic vehicle design (CAD/CAM); and it established a design center in California (Pacifica) to get a head start on new styling trends. The Electronic Voice Alert system was unique and generally people wanted it to stay that way; in 1984, the system was modified to be more selective in its warnings and to thank the driver less, and people cut shut it off via a glove compartment switch.
Fuel injection was made standard on the 2.2 liter engine late in 1984, though publicity materials called for it to be standard from the start.
And now for the cars...
Chrysler called the Laser a highly personalized, sophisticated, sports car with excellent performance, handling and quality” and cited the Camaro, RX7, Supra, 280ZX, and Trans Am as competitors. Advantages included the luxurious interior, advanced technology, high standard equipment, aerodynamics, and gas mileage. Part of the rationale for selling the Laser and Daytona, incidentally, was bringing in showroom traffic for the cheaper Turismo 2.2, an Omni-based sporty two-door that amusingly might have outraced the standard Laser due to its lower weight. Laser was available as XE and Sport.
The Daytona was based on the K-car Reliant/Aries platform, but Chrysler put a large amount of work into making sure it could compete with the contemporary Mustang, Camaro, and various imported sports cars. The base engine was fairly strong from idle, and the optional turbocharged 2.2 liter four-cylinder, available in its first year, produced a respectable 142 horsepower, about the same as the 318 cubic inch V8 (albeit with less torque) — quite good for the low weight of the Daytona. Cornering was respectable despite the sold rear axle. Turbo models used equal-length half-shafts to avoid torque steer, and had a number of other suspension enhancements. Zero to sixty times of 8 to 8.5 seconds rivalled the Nissan 300 ZX Turbo, not to mention the Porsche 944. Gas mileage was estimated at 22 city, 38 highway with the turbo, 25 city/42 highway with the standard 2.2 (in both cases, with a stick-shift); the base engine could do 0-60 in ten seconds, quite good for the day.
It seems a bit odd to sell the Daytona as a Chrysler instead of a Plymouth, but the interior was quiet, cushy, and refined by 1984 standards, and maybe they figured the then-upscale Chrysler marque would be fitting. The Laser name would end up on a restyled, rebadged Mitsubishi Eclipse after a brief period of trying to sell Lasers, but the more popular Daytona would do quite well. (One has to wonder how well a Plymouth version would have sold, at a time when Plymouth’s performance heritage was still in many buyers’ memory, and what that would have meant for the Plymouth division as a whole; but most likely it would be no more heavily differentiated from the Daytona than the nearly-identical Laser was.) Available with a fuel injected 2.2 liter engine standard, and a turbocharged engine as an option, the Daytona and Laser delivered surprisingly good performance.
The Gran Fury continued the modified A-body chassis, now designated as M (more as a matter of image than reality, since the F was clearly a next-generation A body, and the M was even more clearly a modified F body).
A hard sell in times of high gas prices, the Gran Fury was now Chrysler’s largest car. The basic Valiant chassis, whatever the name, had gone from being Chrysler's smallest car to its largest; yet it only had about an inch more front headroom, about an inch and a half more rear legroom (and the same front legroom), a couple of inches more hip and should room, and nearly the same cargo capacity. Yet it used about double the fuel as the Reliant, was not substantially quieter, faster, or more comfortable, and ate tires and other consumables more rapidly due to its heavier weight - a full 1,200 pounds more for a nearly insignificant difference in interior space. It used the famous torsion-bar suspension with rear leaf springs.
When Chrysler management looked at the numbers and tested the cars, it's not surprising that they chose to emphasize the flexible new K-car platform over the old A-F-M bodies; indeed, low sales meant that the Gran Fury, Diplomat, and Fifth Avenue would be sustained by police and taxi fleets alone for the next five years. (Perhaps if they had made an M-body Plymouth Duster it would have been different, but by that time V8s appeared to be going out the back door in favor of turbocharged fours, and the Spirit R/T and Daytona Turbo IV would probably have outperformed a V8 M-body Duster at a lower cost to the company and to the customer.) Indeed, seeing these numbers, it's not hard to see why suddenly the larger rear-drive cars were looked down on as dinosaurs, with both American and Japanese front-drivers taking off in popularity. Adding to the attraction were far better performance in bad weather - in the days before Aquatreds, antilock brakes, traction control, and active suspensions - and the ability to keep a set of tires going for 40,000 miles. With engines generally below 150 horsepower (even the V8s), torque steer was not an issue with front wheel drive, so performance didn't suffer for the average driver - or even most enthusiasts.
The rear wheel drive Fifth Avenue was barely differentiated from the Gran Fury and Diplomat, the main difference in appearance being the much more refined (and New Yorker like) front clip and the fancier wheels; the rear pillar was also covered rather than bare metal. The interior was also different, with Diplomat and Gran Fury sharing appearance and Fifth Avenue adding a number of luxury touches.
Buyers may have been a bit confused this year with the Fifth Avenue (once called the New Yorker Fifth Avenue) being a rear wheel drive car and the New Yorker being a front-drive car. According to Chrysler, “Buyers of both cars seek big-car roominess and comfort. Both appreciate the distinctive New Yorker styling cues.
The FWD New Yorker prospect, however, is looking for an advance-technology, lighter-weight, fuel-efficient package. The buyer for the RWD New Yorker seeks a more traditional upscale car in a larger wheelbase, heavier eight-cylinder vehicle.” In contrast, the Gran Fury was marketed as the best value among rear-wheel-drive sedans, with “traditional room, comfort, ride, and security in an attractive package.” It was Plymouth’s roomiest sedan (not by much).
Competitors for the Fifth Avenue with Luxury Package included Buick Regal, Crown Victoria, and Buick Park Avenue; it was aimed at traditional full-sized buyers; for the Gran Fury, Chevrolet and Ford were targeted.
Changes for 1984 were minimal; the slant six had been dropped so the 318 V8 with two-barrel carburetor was standard. There was one new exterior color, P205/75R15 Goodyear Arriva tires were standard, 60/40 cloth seats were optional (Gran Fury/Diplomat), a digital clock was added to the AM radio (standard), and black velvet finish bezel overlays were used in various places to match the new corporate radios.
The Reliant and Aries continued with a facelift for its third year, as “America’s family car of the 1980s.” Their six passenger seating was fairly unique, and they had good mileage, performance, and durability.
The cars were a combination of the traditional American architecture and the modern European style pioneered by SIMCA, Chrysler’s subsidiary in Europe. They had a solid-beam rear axle, independent front suspension, and transverse-mounted four-cylinder engine with front wheel drive.
The Reliant/Aries wagon was practical, and like the others, could be had with a stick-shift or automatic. The SE provided B-body-type interior appointments (cloth center armrest seats, lots of standard equipment), providing the features of the LeBaron without the bulk.
1984 brought a more upscale appearance and a new instrument panel with gas, temperature, and voltage gauges, and a trip odometer; color-keyed seat belts; molded trunk carpet; and another 7.5 inches of front seat travel.
Chrysler LeBaron (sold with different styling, and without a sedan, as the Dodge 600) had a coupe, coupe, and sedan as well as the Town & Country wagon, and a Mark Cross luxury edition. The extended-size K-car featured an optional turbocharged engine, fuel injection, and “luxury features.” The convertible featured a new roof, larger rear seat, power-drop quarter window glass, and a tinted glass rear window. New for the series were cosmetic changes inside and out, electronic gauges in the convertible Mark Cross, a longer front seat adjustment, and illuminated entry available on all models.
The New Yorker was designed to retain upper-end Chrysler owners, with luxury cues in a more efficient vehicle and loads of high technology. It provided the roominess of the B-bodies with much less bulk and fuel use. Restyled for 1984, the New Yorker had “refined suspension and handling, excellent passing power (enhanced by a new turbocharged engine option) and electronics with new luxury "engineered-in.'”
The E Class was essentially a New Yorker with fewer luxury cues and a lower price; the electronic-fuel-injection 2.2 was standard, the 2.2 turbo (adding nearly 60 hp, with multiple-port injection) optional. A number of interior and exterior features were new on both models, including a new padded woodtone instrument panel, power windows, electronic gauges with car graphic, and optional Electronic Navigator.
The Executive Sedan / Limousine were introduced at this time for real luxury buyers. At a time without a gas shortage, these cars were doomed from the start with their 2.6 liter Mitsubishi engines coupled with three-speed automatics, but had OPEC once again throttled back on America’s oil supply, Chrysler would have been ready.
New for 1984 were the Caravan and Voyager. We have loads of details on these groundbreaking vehicles at our minivan page. Chrysler said that the “Voyager will not be positioned against traditional competitors, but rather as totally unique and having no direct comparison available today.” ... “The Plymouth Voyager marketing strategy will be to create the image of a totally new, unique American family wagon.” Special attributes were the large interior, compact exterior; seating flexibility and comfort; handling; visibility; and gas mileage, as well as “fun-to-drive.” Despite the boxy styling, the minivans had a low drag coefficient of .43.
Three price classes started with a five-passenger minivan, with AM radio, five-speed stick, and power steering; the SE had an upgraded interior and options such as seven passenger seating; and the LE had a standard woodgrain exterior treatment, better seats and other interior trim, and standard features. Production began in late 1983, but the introduction was made in January 1984.
Voyager and Caravan were clearly based on the Reliant, and shared a surprising number of parts, including interior trim pieces, the instrument panel, and engines.
The Horizon (Omni) was aimed at domestic buyers looking for a small-but-not-too-small car, and import buyers. It arguably offered the best value for the money, with a good level of performance, gas mileage, and interior space. The Horizon, even in base model (with “blackout” exterior), was more than entry-level transportation. The SE model (formerly called Custom) had extra features and brighter ornaments for an upscale look.
The L-body platform which the Horizon and Omni used had been developed largely in Europe by SIMCA, along with American and Rootes Group engineers and stylists. It was a trend-setting car, winning numerous awards, but by 1984 it had been on the market for six years — and on it still had six more years left.
The Omni/Horizon was designed by Chrysler
Europe (a merger of Simca and Rootes Group). The Omni and Horizon were the first North American mass-produced cars with a transverse mounted engine, and the first front-drive subcompact four-door hatchbacks made in America; they were also the first front wheel drive Chryslers, and the first to use a semi-independent rear suspension, with trailing arms and coil springs. The construction was unibody, with an independent iso-strut coil-spring front suspension. Full development story as told by the design team.
New features included a five-speed stick, 165/50R13 tires standard, various cosmetic changes inside and out (with new gauge cluster), Rallye instrument panel option with full gauge cluster, new seats, and four-spoke steering wheel. A “Shelby” version of the 2.2 was available with 110 hp.
The Turismo / Charger finally gained an engine to match its looks. The Charger/Turismo 2.2 was a strong value due to its high level of standard equipment, affordable price, performance and gas mileage, and cornering, with a full independent suspension. Engineered by Chrysler Europe, it felt like an import.
In addition to the 2.2 option, cosmetic changes were made inside and out, including a new gauge cluster and optional Rallye full instrumentation.
The base engine on Turismo was still the French 1.6 liter. One source claims it was only available with an automatic, while another said it was only available with a four-speed manual. The latter seems more likely.
The Dodge Rampage and Plymouth Scamp appeared in 1984, with pickup beds instead of hatchbacks, and a “Shelby” 2.2 was available with 110 hp.
The 1984 lineup of Dodge trucks included light duty pickups, Ram wagons and vans, the Ramcharger SUV, and the Ram 50 (imported from Mitsubishi), as well as the Omni-based, front-wheel-drive Dodge Rampage pickup.
The Dodge Ram pickups were basically carryovers from the 1981 redesign. The Ram symbol (dating back to the 1930s) now symbolized the entire lineup, with the slogan "Ram Tough,"a change made in 1983. Dodge Ram continued the popular slant-six-powered Ram Miser, in rear and four wheel drive; Ram pickup models included a three-man cab on a 115 or 131-inch wheelbase with two box styles and the Crew Cab for six passenger capacity.
Four-wheel-drive pickups were called Power Rams; they were available in 115 and 131 inch wheelbases (six and a half foot or eight foot beds); Dodge-made Rams started at the D150 full-sized pickup (W150 with four wheel drive) and continued with the D250 and D350 (two wheel drive) or W250 and W350 (four wheel drive); chassis cabs (medium duty trucks) were also sold as the D450/W450. The 250/350 were available with crew cabs. The club cab was no longer made.
Engines were the usual 225 cubic inch slant six (3.7 liters) with single barrel carburetor, 318 V8 with two-barrel carb, and 360 V8 with four-barrel carb.
The Mitsubishi-made Ram 50 had a 109.4 inch wheelbase; the base economy model and Ram 50 Custom had a payload of 1,503 pounds, while the Royal had a payload of 1,556 pounds and the Sport had a payload of 1,534 pounds. The Ram 50 was probably one of the best Asian pickups, and it was carried by Chrysler until 1993; to date it has not been replaced by a Chrysler vehicle.
The Ramcharger SUV, essentially a pickup with a built-in bed cap, had two and four-wheel drive, with more standard equipment.
Standard features included a 35-gallon fuel tank and automatic locking hubs on all four-wheel-drive models.
The Rampage, a pickup truck based on the Omni/Horizon platform with an optional 2.2 liter engine, continued into its third year.
In 1984, the Mini-Ram Van, sold for only a few years, was dropped, with the name transferred to the new minivan platform; it was powered by a 101 horsepower 2.2 liter engine. The Ram Van now had computer-selected front springs, a bigger 60 amp alternator (replacing the 48 amp model), and a Value Wagon edition with a 36 gallon fuel tank, more gauges, and more chromework.
Dodge's Ram Wagons had extra seating capacity and trailer-hauling ability in a space-efficient design that was shorter than traditional station wagons. They had the industry's only single rear door.
Vinyl high back bucket seats, a deluxe heater, bright surround moldings on all vented rear quarter windows, and tinted glass in all Ram Wagons were among new standard equipment. On the Ram Van, tinted glass and a vinyl low back bucket seat for the driver were standard.
From 1984, as the company dove into efficient front wheel drive vehicles, the Ram van was increasingly neglected despite comfortable fleet sales; it was no longer a star, with attention and retail sales focused on the minivans, and few non-institutional takers for the various vans.
The 225 ClD Slant Six engine was the basic power plant for most domestic truck models for 1984.
The 2.3 liter four-cylinder turbodiesel from Mitsubishi was available on the Ram 50 and Power Ram 50 Royal premium models.
The Colt was made by Mitsubishi, and sold by Chrysler in hatchback form. The unique manual transmission, the Twin-Stick, operated like a 10-speed bicycle, with a low and high gear and a set of standard gears. The GTS Turbo was a pocket rocket with stunning acceleration, and the GTS provided good handling and a sporty image without the cost of the turbo. The Colt E was Economical, and the DL provided various comfort and convenience features. All were front wheel drive. The GTS Turbo was new for 1984, and a number of other minor changes were made for the year.
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