Plymouth Acclaim / Dodge Spirit/ Chrysler LeBaron / Saratoga
The Dodge Spirit and Plymouth Acclaim (also sold as one model of the Chrysler LeBaron and, outside the US, as the Saratoga) provided reliable transportation in a traditionally styled four-door sedan from 1989 to 1995. They were available with the 2.5, 2.5 turbo, 2.2 turbo, and 3.0 V-6.
The Plymouth Acclaim and Chrysler LeBaron had a softer ride, and the Dodge Spirit was given a firmer ride with better handling. Other than the suspension tuning and the grille, there wasn't much of a difference between the Spirit, Acclaim, and LeBaron.
The Acclaim was used by some taxi services as an economical, fuel-efficient alternative. Starting at about $12,000, the Spirit/Acclaim was a bargain for most of its life, as a family car, fleet car, and even as an upscale economy car.
The Acclaim was the most reliable domestic car in 1991, according to J.D. Power - beaten only by the Accord and Camry.
The Spirit and Acclaim were probably not the best names Chrysler could have chosen. It would have been a good opportunity to drag out some old classic names, such as Valiant, Lancer, Seneca, or Sebring.
Like most Chrysler cars at that time, they were based on a stretched K (E) platform. The 2.5 was shared by most Chrysler Corporation vehicles, including the Daytona and Dakota. The V-6 was shared with even more vehicles: minivans, the Daytona and Shadow ES, and others.
While the AA-bodies were eliminated in 1994, in favor of the less-popular but cheaper to build (and more praised by reviewers!) Cirrus, Stratus, and Breeze, the tooling was shipped to China (according to Richard Winde, who continued:) so that the vehicles could be sold in China by the Beijing Jeep Corporation. Production was to start in June 1998 (info so far courtesy of the Saratoga site), but was scrapped due to budget issues by then Chrysler Corporation and Beijing Jeep. The Java "city car," made largely out of recycled materials and the clear inspiration for the new Ford "city car," died for similar reasons.
The Spirit and Acclaim were benchmarked against the Camry and Accord; they had more rear seat headroom, legroom, and knee room than any competitor, a flat trunk floor, a trunk led that opened down to the bumper level for easier unloading, and long rear door openings with large opening angles. They were, in short, very family-friendly and rear-passenger-friendly. The trunk had 14.4 cubic feet of space.
Bucket seats were standard, with optional split bench seats (except on ES and R/T). An optional six-way power driver's seat had low-effort switches. Split folding rear seats were optional.
Dome, trunk, glove compartment, and ash-tray lights were standard; map/reading lights were included with the optional sunroof. Courtesy lights were at all four doors. Dual headlamps had dual-filament halogen bulbs behind plastic lenses. A new wiper motor was brought out in mid-1989, as was a new six-point airfoil wiper blade and dual-nozzle arm-mounted washer.
In 1989, a mechanical gauge cluster with a tachometer and 120 mph electric speedometer were used. Gauges were provided for oil pressure, voltage, fuel level, and coolant temperature. A mini-trip computer was included with the Message Center on ES and LX models; the Message Center provided a graphic view of the car with lights for low washer fluid, door ajar (for each door), trunk lid ajar, headlamp out, tail-lamp out, and brake lamp out. The mini trip computer included trip odometer, average and instant gas mileage, distance to empty, and chronometer.
Sound systems included a standard AM/FM stereo with cassette player and two levels of Infinity sound system.
The body structure was fully unitized and conventional, with features similar to the Dynasty. The hood assembly included the grille for easier maintenance; the hood was counterbalanced. Side windows were semi-flush for aerodynamics. Rear door windows went down all the way with power windows (and partially with manual windows).
Up front, single lower control arms were used with gas-charged iso-struts with dual path upper isolation mounts. The front struts had increased damping when the suspension was near full rebound, to reduce suspension topping. All Spirit models used a “sport handling suspension calibration” with precision-feel power steering and a 14:1 power steering ratio. Turbocharged engines and the V6 came with a new low-rate, high-torque front engine mount.
The Spirit and Acclaim had the new key system with double-sided keys, and new locks that were cheaper to make, had more drainage area (to prevent problems), were more compact, and were less complex. A key code was printed on the invoice in case new keys were needed.
Buyers of the 2.5 liter engine and V6 alike chose between a five-speed manual transaxle or an automatic; the old three-speed Torqueflite was available on the four cylinders (with a lockup torque converter on non-turbo engines), while the four-speed automatic was used with the V6.
While few American police departments went with the Spirit and Acclaim, they had some success in Mexico and Canada.
For 1990, both Spirit and Acclaim were available in three trim levels (Spirit, LE, and ES; Acclaim, LE, and LX). Elastomeric energy absorbers were added to the bumper system, allowing for protection from small collisions. The company increased corrosion protection in numerous ways. Base Acclaims got a large fuel gauge in place of the tachometer; all Spirits and higher Acclaims had a tachometer. New noise reduction tools were a plenum silencer overlapping the dash liner, and a new hood-to-plenum seal. Acclaim LX got new touring tires, and Spirit ES got four wheel disc brakes similar to those used on the Daytona; the parking brake had a drum system. All models now had an optional four-speed automatic which would cause Chrysler considerable trouble.
The big news for 1991 was the new Spirit R/T, with a 224 horsepower turbocharged engine that brought 60 mph in less than six seconds from a dead stop. The only transmission was a five-speed Getrag manual; the only colors for 1991 were red and white. The Spirit R/T used P205/60VR15 tires, higher rate springs, higher control strut shock abosrbers, a larger 28.6mm rear sway bar, and a deck lid mounted spoiler. The white cars had a red stripe down the side as one of the few styling cues to warn others of the dual overhead cam, 16-valve Turbo III engine.
Other models continued, with base, LE, or ES (Dodge)/LX (Plymouth) and LeBaron sedan. All AA bodies — LeBaron, Spirit, and Acclaim — had major suspension and steering changes to improve cornering and feel. Four-wheel antilock brakes were optional on all models, and a new caliper front disc brake system, with sensors to tell the driver when the pads needed replacement, was standard. Models with the 2.5 liter Turbo I engine gained 16% in peak torque, to 210 lb-ft.
Other changes included a floor-mounted shifter with an easier to grip knob, a new shift cable attachment, new HVAC graphics and “feel,” redesigned defrosters for quieter, faster, more even operation, and a redesigned Infinity II stereo. The optional overhead console had a rounded, organic look and provided four independent map lights, a storage bin for sunglasses, a universal garage door opener, and a compass/thermometer. Finally, all models got a new manual front seat mechanics for easier fore-aft operation — best in class, according to Chrysler.
The mainstay Acclaim and Spirit (and LeBaron) continued largely unchanged for 1992, with a new 3-liter V6/3-speed automatic powertrain combination, new colors, low-rolling-resistance tires, and consolidation to a single model. The three differed mainly in suspension tuning and standard features, with the Spirit having the stiffer suspension and the Acclaim and LeBaron having a suspension that rivalled Lincoln and Cadillac luxury cars for smoothness; they became moderately widespread as backup cars in limo fleets.
1991 suspension revisions
In 1991, nearly all Chrysler front wheel drive vehicles, and minivans, had major front suspension tuning changes to improve ride, cornering, and overall feel. The following changes were made:
- The roll center was raised by 3 inches, reducing body roll
- Caster was increased by 3° on passenger cars (less on minivans) to improve steering feel and to improve the lateral force provided by the outside tire when cornering, by reducing positive camber
- Steering geometry was revised to reduce toe change during suspension movement, which increased steering response and high-speed stability
- Steering geometry was also changed to allow the inside wheel to turn more sharply than the outside wheel during cornering
- Power steering valving was revised to be “tighter” — to increase responses to small movements
- The steering intermediate shaft and coupling were changed to eliminate torsional flexing
- Steering ratios changed from 14:1 to 16:1 on AA bodies, Shadow/Sundance, and Daytona
These changes involved changing:
- Strut towers — inclined to the rear to raise caster
- Front suspension cross member — changed for new lower control arm mounting
- Lower control arms — cast iron with front and rear bushings
- Struts — new spring rates and shock absorber valving
- Steering knuckles — modified for component mounting
- Anti-sway bar — enlarged by 1.5 mm
- New hub unit attaching to the steering knuckle with bults (replacing a pressed-on catridge type bearing that did not seal or last as well)
- New half-shaft boots using a new material, Hytrel, with greater durability.
Ed Callway wrote:
I've done all the easy stuff (some from the FAQ!): a custom 2.5" CAT back system, platinum plugs, advanced timing, and ripped off the air deflector in front of the engine controller for some cold air. This is all really easy stuff and it works well for the low cost. The only simple stuff left is a bigger throttle body and better cold air duct work.
By the way, the ES 205/60/15 wheels and tires work much better than the stock Spirit 195/70/14 rubber. I had to put on some 195's for snows, and the handling difference is amazing, from rails to pillows.
The 1996 Stealth has the same block, heads, cam, lift, duration, bore, stroke, valves, compression etc, but its SOHC non-turbo is rated at over 160 HP. Looks like it has a different intake manifold, a freer exhaust, a 60 mm throttle body, a cold air induction system, a knock sensor, and a different engine controller. Their extra ponies come in at a 1000 rpm more than the Spirit, so I'm guessing it's the two manifolds.
Bob Meyer added: The Acclaim LX and Spirit ES (3.0L/A604) were factory equipped with 15 x 6.0JJ aluminum wheels, 205/HR-15 Michelin EPX tires, and gas struts and shocks.
Derek Birch of Toronto wrote: I own a 1992 Dodge Spirit ES Turbo, which came with the 2.5 litre Turbo engine and automatic transmission. It had the same look as the RT, available only in red, white or silver, and the alluminum alloy rims and grill were colour keyed to match the paint. It even sported the same factory air dams as the R/T. It is a beautiful car, subtle and sporty all at once, smooth comfortable ride, and throws you back in your seat. This car is very rare, and I would like to see it mentioned here in your site.
On turbo models, the easiest performance upgrade is a turbo bleed. We will not pretend to be experts on this wonderful trick, but will refer you to turbovan.net.
Dodge Spirit R/T: 224 hp, 0-60 in 5.8 seconds
The Dodge Spirit R/T has its own page.
Peter H. Wendt wrote that the Chrysler Saratoga series was introduced on German market in late summer of 1989; it was also sold elsewhere in Europe and in Israel. A sign under the hood mentiones all three "A-body" family members. The first 100 cars shipped to Europe were originally built and planned for Canada, and modified for Germany. They used the Canadian model because it was already fitted with metric instruments (speed, distance, computer). Three different types from two base models were available: the S and SE (manually shifted 2.5 liter engines) and the V6/automatic LE.
The SE was basic, with manual windows, no air conditioning, no electric driver’s seat, electric mirrors, or cruise. The S was a “stripper” or basic model.
The 3.0 liter V6 LE came with all the electric equipment, and a four-speaker stereo-cassette player; air, metallic colour, and a glass sunroof were the only extras. No airbag or antilock brakes were available at launch. (Allpar note: a 1989 Chrysler ad claimed engine power at 107 kW or 139 hp at 5,200 rpm). The standard U.S. three-way catalytic converter was used.
They may have been sold to test the market, because the marketing didn't put much effort on commercials — the Saratoga was an all-time-secret model, nearly unknown in Germany compared to the LeBaron series or minivans. The car could have attracted more people - if only the customers had known about it.
The 1989 Saratogas were sold as 1990-models and slightly adapted for local regulations — the German Saratoga headlights were 55/65 watt H-4 asymetric types with “real” front glasses; European fog lamps were fitted. The third rear brake light was blackened and the bulb removed; the marker lights inside the front flashers had their cable cut, while side lights were removed and small round flasher repeater-lamps were put into the front fenderes. Aluminum 15 x 6.5J wheels were fitted with Michelin H-rated tires. European rear lights had amber flashlights, fog lights, and integrated reverse lights. The V6 was rated at 141 hp or 104 kilowatts at 5,200 rpm.
Later versions (after 1991) also had electric headlight adjustments, and height-adjustable front seat belts (on some models after 1992). They were sold for 37,950 DM (LE) or 29,720 (SE) at first, with relatively minor price hikes in time.
The 1992 models came with air conditioning, driver airbag, and ABS. They used a chromed plastic grille and used different wheels, reserved in the U.S. for the Spirit R/T. The 2.5 liter versions were not sold in Germany after 1992. The Saratoga itself officially disappeared in mid-1992 from German markets, but some from the stockpile were sold until the Stratus arrived in 1994.
Some of the last imported models had leather seats and wooden-style applications for the dashboard. These versions can be identified by the VIN. European Saratogas VIN begins with 1C3BA7..., later imported-and-modified models have a VIN beginning with 1C3XAB... and were originally LeBaron Sedans rather than modified Spirits.
Eric A. Bechtol wrote: “I think the one thing that is lost on the Spirit/Acclaim is the overall quality of the automobile itself. This car is a bank vault. No rattles or booming. And with the 2.5/3sp auto, the car is bulletproof. I have no money in the car except for regular service. The air conditioner still freezes like it always did. I love this car.”
Clayton Gosmeyer wrote about the FFV version: “I have a 1994 Spirit 2.5l flex fuel (4 high volume injectors - needed for alcohol - and a higher pressure pump/regulator). It makes good power all the way up. MPG is 24-27 town depending but I have gotten 30MPG freeway with the cruise set at 75. I burn regular gas, but the car was a government fleet and was run on M85 until now.”
AA Body Repairs
Sam wrote: “For those of you who have a frequent/infrequent leak in your trunk, the most likely source are 2 holes a little larger than a quarter in diameter, that are in the top portion of the trunk between the rear-window and the trunk lid. There is a piece of sheet metal covering it, but if you do what I did, and re-seal the bottom of the rear window, then seal the borders of the metal plate with silicone or some other waterproof sealant, the water will no longer be able to penetrate the trunk.”
Dodge Spirit Production
(thanks to Paul Bicknell and Chrysler PR for the following):
Total 1991 Spirit production: 93,773
|1991 Spirit Engines||Spirit||Spirit LE||Spirit ES||Spirit R/T|
|2.5 Liter TBI||61,654||1,368||not avail||not avail|
|3.0 Liter V-6 (Mitsubishi)||18,053||6,245||5,676||not avail|
|2.5 Liter Turbo (LE, ES)
or 2.2 16V Turbo (R/T)
|1991 Spirit Transmissions||Spirit||Spirit LE||Spirit ES||Spirit R/T|
|A-413 3-speed automatic (2.5 liter)||60,668 TBI||1,367 TBI
|A-604 4-speed automatic (3 liter)||18,053||6,245||5,676||0|
|A-523 5-speed manual (2.5 liter)||986 (TBI)||1 (TBI)||318 (turbo)||0|
|A-568 5-speed manual||0||0||0||1,208|
|1991 Special Emissions||Spirit||Spirit LE||Spirit ES||Spirit R/T|
|31 2.5 TBI
18 2.5 turbo
|25 2.5 turbo||0|
|High Altitude||1,850 2.5
If you eliminate all 1208 R/Ts, you are left with only 1,109 turbos, or a little over 1%.
Five-speed V6 cars
Tom Popiel wrote: I recall ordering a 5 speed LeBaron convertible with the Mitsubishi V6 for a customer. I got to drive it and it was a great experience. Plenty of power, smooth and easy shifting, almost shifted itself. (Proud owner of a 1989 LeBaron GTC Turbo Coupe, 2.5 turbo/auto - currently has 150,500 miles).
Brian Peter Mirabito added:
I own a 1991 LeBaron Convertible with the 3.0L V-6, and the 5 speed manual. From the 3.0L introduction to the J-body in 1989, it was offered with a 5-speed. Near the end of the model run Chrysler made the automatic and the V-6 the only drivetrain combination, as is mentioned on the web page.
The manual and the V-6 are rare, even on the Daytona, and Spirit/Acclaim, but to a larger extent on the LeBaron. ... that drivetrain was also offered in the Spirit until Chrysler did the same thing they did to the LeBaron at the end of production and cheapened the car.
My father worked for New Venture Gear, as a product engineer for the last 35 years. New Venture Gear supplied Chrysler with their manual transaxle. I have also worked there as an intern. I can vividly remember the discussions with my father of how a great combination the 3.0L and the V-6 were going to make in the LeBaron. Maybe the talk about the 5-speed V-6 being made for employees only was because the only people who knew of its availability were Chrysler employees, you weren't going to find one ordered by a dealer.
It's unfortunate that the V-6 5-speed is so hard to find.
Dodge Spirit / Plymouth Acclaim Specifications
Description -- Hydraulic w/electronically controlled converter clutch
Gear -- Ratio
- 1st -- 2.69
- 2nd -- 1.55
- 3rd -- 1.00
Effective Final Drive and Overall Top-Gear Ratio -- 3.02 (2.5 liter); 2.78 (3 liter)
(With 5 passengers)
|Wheelbase -- 103.5 (2629)|
Track-Front -- 57.6 (1463)
- Rear -- 57.2 (1453)
Overall Length -- 181.2 (4602)
Overall Width -- 68.1 (1731)
Overall Height -- 53.5 (1358)
Ground Clearance -- 4.6 (116)
EPA Cargo Volume -- 14.4 ft3 (408 L)
Curb Weight-Est -- 2862 lb (1298 kg)
|Weight Distribution, F/R -- 63/37|
Frontal Area -- 21.37 ft2
Drag Coefficient -- 0.40
Fuel Tank Capacity -- 16 gal (61 L)
Seating Capacity, F/R -- 3/3
Front-Head Room -- 38.4 (976)
-Leg Room-Max. -- 41.9 (1063)
-Shoulder Room -- 54.3 (1380)
-Hip Room -- 51.7 (1312)
|Seat Travel -- 8.1 (205)|
Recliner Range -- 34 Degrees
Rear-Head Room -- 37.9 (962)
-Leg Room-Min. -- 38.3 (973)
-Knee Room -- 2.9 (74)
-Shoulder Room -- 55.0 (1397)
-Hip Room -- 52.0 (1320)
EPA Interior Volume Index -- 111.2 ft3
Layout -- Transverse front engine, front wheel drive, steel unibody
Suspension-Front -- Iso struts w/integral gas-charged shock absorbers, asymmetrical lower control arms, coil springs,linkless stabilizer bar
Suspension-Rear -- Beam axle, trailing flex-arms, track bar, coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, frameless tubular stabilizer bar
Type -- Power rack and pinion
Overall Ratio -- 16.1:1
Turning Diameter (curb-to-curb), L/R -- 37.0 ft (11.3m), 39.0 ft (12.0m)
Steering Turns (lock-to-lock) -- 2.6
Steel 14 x 5.5 JJ or aluminum 14 x 6 JJ.
185/70R14 Invicta GAL (a low end tire) or 195/70R14 Michelin XW4
Spirit R/T: 205/60R15 Michelins (Mark Flory)
see: Dodge Spirit R/T. In 1995, the Spirit and Acclaim were replaced by the Chrysler Cirrus, Dodge Stratus, and Plymouth Breeze.