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’91 Daytona Shelby IROC: A performance coupe comes of age

When last we road tested a Dodge Daytona, itwas a V6-powered 1990 ES. While we were quite impressed, the Daytona ES made no pretensions about being an all-out performance car. The 141-horsepower V6 does a commendable job of propelling the G-body Daytona, but neither the ES or the 3.0-liter engine are directed at those in search of a performance image. That assignment belongs to the Daytona Shelby IROC.

Upon taking delivery of our IROC, we were happy to see that none of the things we love about the Daytona had slipped away. In its seven-year life span, the Daytona has undergone a myriad of changes in both styling and engineering, but Chrysler seems to know how to “tweak” the car without getting away from what works.The minor fifth-to-fourth downshift problem we had on the ES is non-existent in our IROC.

The Shelby IROC package includes firm-ride suspension, 16-inch directional pumper wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, performance ground effects and graphics, and the 2,5-liter MPI High Torque Turbo I engine with the Gertrag five-speed transaxle. The 153 cubic-inch Turbo I develops 152 horsepower at 4800 rpm. All 210 Ibs-ft. of torque (up 16 percent over 1990) are delivered at 2000 rpm, which gets the car moving off the line very quickly and effortlessly. The new High Torque design reduces turbo lag and fills a gap left by the disappearance of the VNT.

On the road the Daytona rides comfortably and smoothly for a small car. Road noise is well isolated from the passenger compartment and the multi-adjustable seats adjust to fit any driving position. To achieve the smooth ride, the front suspension was completely redesigned for ’91. Handling is light and somewhat soft — until you start to push it to the limits. At that point it tightens up and becomes a highly competent, firm cornering car. A 1200-mile weekend trip with two adults, luggage and a 100-pound German Shepherd on board netted a highway mileage of 33.5 mpg.

The trip to Orlando Speed World for our acceleration tests turned into a seminar on proper FWD launch methods. Launching hard results in lots of tire spin, while rolling out and nailing the throttle doesn’t provide turbo boost fast enough for good elapsed times. Leaving the line at 2000 rpm and allowing just the right combination of tire spin and clutch slippage netted a best run of 15.92/86.79. We also learned that the turbo engine likes some cool-down time between runs.

For us performance nuts, it’s difficult to find much of anything bad to say about the Daytona Shelby IROC, and it’s surprising sales aren’t better than they have been lately. There are, however, a few minor com promises made to mass marketing, meaning there’s more power on tap from the Turbo I engine and a real slot car hiding in the suspension. We plan to extract both. The IROC is going to be around for awhile as a long-term test car, so stay tuned as we tweak it for performance. We’ll keep you posted on what we do to improve both handling and acceleration.

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