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The Plymouth Sundance / Duster, Dodge Shadow, and CSX

In 1985, Chrysler unveiled the 1987 P-bodies, designed to replace the aging but honored Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries. The new Plymouth Sundance and Dodge Shadow were heavier and more expensive, but had more standard features, a “big-car” ride, and a “hidden hatchback” for better storage. The name Sundance had been used on the final, 1974 Plymouth Satellite, as a trim level; Shadow was new to Chrysler.

plymouth sundance

The Shadow and Sundance were only .1 inches shorter in wheelbase than the original K cars, but were styled to look larger.

When it was first announced, Chrysler said the P-body would have a 1.8 liter derivative of the popular 2.2. This never happened, possibly because Iaccoca balked at the development costs for a new engine, and possibly because the heavy car would have been too sluggish with the smaller powerplant.

sundance interior

The Plymouth Sundance / Dodge Shadow appeared in the fall of 1986 as 1987 models, and looked remarkably similar to the upscale Chrysler LeBaron GTS / Dodge Lancer (H-bodies). The body was, indeed (according to Dan Minick), based on these cars, shortened somewhat, and using some Dodge Daytona body stampings and parts. They were built at Sterling Heights, along with the Lancer and LeBaron GTS.

The “hidden hatchback” design meant that the trunk lid moved up with the rear window glass to reveal a large storage space. There was room for a full-sized spare, or a mini-spare with room for tools. They had high ground clearance and traditional, straight front seats, unlike many cars in the class.

dodge engineOriginally, the P-bodies were to have an optional 16 valve 2.5 liter engine, with Lotus heads. Lotus Engineering’s Michael Royce wrote:

The unusual combination of a long stroke (104 mm) with the 16 valve head fixed the 2.5L's breathing problems, and gave a nice smooth engine that would rev easily up to about 7500 rpm. It gave about the same performance in a vehicle as a Turbo I. The last example I know of was in a P-Body with a manual trans with the emissions people out at the Chelsea Proving Grounds, about 15 years ago.

There was also a plan for a factory Shadow Convertible (rather than the converted-sedan versions sold by dealers), according to Greg Haberek:

Chrysler had worked out a factory Dodge Shadow convertible, but it never made it into production. The prototype is sitting in storage in the Detroit Office Warehouse with several other prototype vehicles. It has a purpose-built flush-mount convertible system similar to a LeBaron. It does not have that cap over where the roof was cut off like on the modified Shadow convertibles. The convertible top was down when I saw it, and the whole back half of the car was smooth and seamless. It was beautiful.

dodge shadow

A March 1996 Industry Week article reported that the P cost $600 million to develop (just $300 million less than the completely new “cloud cars” of 1996!), and were designed to be “upscale subcompacts” to compete with the Cavalier, Escort, Accord, and Corolla SR-5. The target market was first-time and female buyers, and the similarity to the LeBaron GTS and Lancer was deliberate. Chrysler engineers claimed to have paid particular attention to ride, comfort, and handling.

trip computerThe P-bodies were a qualified success, overshadowed in their early years by the Omni/Horizon and Reliant/Aries, but sales came near 200,000 units per year. Chrysler lost money on each Sundance and Shadow they sold, but Ford lost money on the Escort and GM on the Cavalier; they sold entry-level cars to gain gas mileage credits and to capture younger buyers.

Chrysler did not create any buzz around the cars, despite the fast CSX variant and the normal turbocharged cars. Had they generated some excitement among the car-buying public, they might not have needed to discount the cars below their production costs. Not investing in a fastback or true coupe probably also hurt; the Duster was simply an option and trim package, and stripped of the paint and decals, was identical to the standard model. The fault was not necessarily attributable to the cars themselves; to the press, it was “just another old K-car.”

sundance - shadow interior

1988 press materials

Chrysler wrote: “The Sundance 2-door and 4-door liftback are fun to drive because of their high level of standard equipment, their versatility and precision handling. They’re intelligent buys for the younger, upscale, contemporary buyer. Both models have special appeal to women because they offer purchase economy, value, reliability, fun-to-drive appeal and style in a complete package. They are truly cars anyone can be proud to own.

“The Sundance 2-door provides a liftback rear opening and split fold-down rear seat. It's very much a personalized car-while the 4-door represents a large measure of function and versatility for families with young children. The Sundance RS Package, available on both models, adds still more excitement with a 2.5-liter EFI engine, two-tone paint, luggage rack and a performance interior.”

endurance testing

Standard features in 1988 included:

  • Gas-charged, dual path front Iso-Struts and rear shock absorbers and front and rear antisway bars
  • Firm-feel power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering
  • Power-assisted brakes: dual braking system split diagonally, vented front discs and self-adjusting rear drums
  • Dual outside remote control mirrors
  • Stainless steel exhaust system
  • Color-keyed front and rear bumpers with soft fascia, integral rub strips and bright accents
  • Two rectangular halogen headlights
  • Wide bodyside moldings with bright accents

plymouth sundance dimensions

Also standard were childproof rear door locks; a mini-console with front and rear storage bins; full electro-mechanical instrument cluster with speedometer, tachometer (later removed), odometer and trip odometer, voltage, gas level, and coolant temparature; and remote liftback release. A full length center console was optional, with a forward storage compartment with a viscous damped door and new-for-1988 removable cup holder, a rear cubby bin (replaced by optional power window and mirror switches when ordered), and center armrest with a storage compartment, coin holder and rear ash receiver.

1987 plymouth sundance interior dimensions

Changes: 1988 to 1990

For 1988, the turbocharged version of the Sundance/Shadow used an equal length drive shaft system; the unequal length system used on standard cars had a short, solid drive interconnecting shaft on the left side with a longer tubular drive shaft on the right. The equal length system cut torque steer.

Sundance 50/50 seats and bucket seats were redesigned so that the recliner mechanism took less effort and the handle was sturdier and easier to grasp than in 1987 models. The seat side shields provided more hand clearance. A new, larger fan and scroll delivered more air flow, with better reach into the rear (in vent mode).

shadow seating

1989 saw numerous refreshments; for that year, half of Sundance buyers were under 35; more than half were women. The top two reasons given for buying the car were durability and quality.

The 2.2 liter Turbo I (non-intercooled) engine was replaced by the 2.5 liter version of the same engine; it provided better low-end torque. This was also the first year for a universal block casting on all 2.2 and 2.5 liter engines, and numerous durability changes for the four cylinders. All engines were quieted down using “Phase II Quiet Idle,” including an acoustic cylinder-head cover (already used on turbos by then), a change to the tooth style on cam belts (deep rounded teeth), plugs for the timing indicator and probe in 2.5 Turbo I and manual-transmission cars, and a transmission dust cover-to-engine oil pan foam seal on 2.5 Turbo I and manual-transmission cars. Idle quality was improved by cutting valve overlap by 30% (this had already been used on 2.2 Turbo I and II engines in 1988).

The Dodge Shadow got a new cross-hair grille and aero-style headlamps; Sundance had similar changes but with a chromed Plymouth grille. The headlamps had sealed plastic lenses with replaceable halogen bulbs. The hood was modified to match the new opening. Single-piece tail-lamp housings changed the rear appearance. There were also new side and lift-gate paint stripes (in a choice of five colors), and a 14” premium wheel cover on Sundance.

Inside, the rear knee room was increased by 0.8” by changing the front seat structure (the cushioning was unchanged), while entry room into the back was increased by using a thinner pad on the back wing. Rear-seat three-way seat belts secured two of the three rear passengers. The bezels of the optional full-length console were color coded to the interior, a six-way power seat was optional, and illuminated sun visors (for driver and passenger) replaced their simple predecessors; on the driver’s side, the visor included a map/sunglass holder. Shadow ES and Sundance RS got new leather-wrapped steering wheels with red accent stripes on the spokes.

For all cars, a new AM/FM stereo with stereo AM became standard. Shadow ES gained a new higher-performance suspension, with stiffer springs, retuned struts and shocks, and new urethane front jounce bumpers; the new suspension had a bellows-type upper strut shield to prevent dirt from reachign the strut rod. The package included newly resized speed-rated P195/60HR15 tires; new 15x6 wheels were included.

Regular cars had optional 14x5.5 cast aluminum wheels.

In 1990, the P-bodies were given new computer-controlled instrument panels, dropping the cable-driven speedometer. The gauge cluster and steering wheels were both redesigned, a new interior color was added, and the Infinity I stereo became optional. Cruise control was moved to the steering wheel, and corrosion protection was improved. There was a new five-speed manual transmission, and the bumpers were upgraded to provide 5 mph impact protection.

1991: the America series appears

In 1991, following the success of the Omni/Horizon America models, Chrysler brought out the Sundance America and Shadow America. These were nicely featured versions of the vehicles with lower prices - they were the lowest priced cars on the market with driver’s-side airbags, and retailed for under $8,000 - for a full dollar under $8,000, unless you added in the destination charge, or $163 for the common rear-window defroster option. Still, at $8,627, it was hard to beat the Sundance/Shadow America, with their big 2.2 liter engine - providing much more torque than anything else in its class - along with a nice cloth interior with bucket seats, driver airbag, prop-rod-free hood, power brakes (discs up front, drums in back), fourteen-inch wheels, fold-down rear seatback, hidden-hatchback storage, and other niceties.

The other models were the un-named base and Sundance RS (Rally Sport), or Dodge Shadow and Shadow ES. The Sundance America (and Shadow America) featured power front disc / rear drum brakes, a five-speed manual transmission and 2.2 liter overhead-cam four-cylinder engine, power rack and pinion steering, extensive corrosion protection, front and rear storage bins, side-window de-misters, remote driver’s-side mirror, color-keyed dashboard, lighted ignition switch, reclining seats with adjustable head restraints, and folding rear seats. Options included the three-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning, tinted glass (standard with air), clock, AM/FM stereo (with or without cassette), two or four speakers, lighting package, dual remote-control mirrors, body mouldings, conventional spare, and rear defroster.

shadow and dynasty

The standard Sundance/Shadow added cloth-covered door trim panels with armrests and integral door handles, black bodyside mouldings, and 14 inch wheels with covers. Optional on that trim level were the 2.5 liter engine, a center console, tachomerter, inside remote liftgate release, intermittent wipers, and bright accent bodyside mouldings.

The Sundance RS came with the 2.5 liter engine, in standard or turbocharged trim, the latter cutting quarter-mile times to around 16 seconds and making 0-60 around 8 seconds; the RS came with two-tone paint, leather-covered steering wheel, fog lights, color-keyed fascia, dual horns, remote liftgate release, better seats, AM/FM stereo cassette with four speakers, and variable intermittent wipers. Options included the liftgate-mounted luggage rack, message center, air, tinted glass, tilt wheel, Infinity audio system, power locks, seat, and windows, cruise, and dual remote power mirrors.

The 7/70 warranty was in effect for powertrain components. Research from 1990 showed that more than half of those who test drove the Sundance actually bought it; durability was listed as the top reason, and 76% of customers who cross-shopped it preferred it to the Honda Civic.

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 the strut towers, front suspension cross-member, lower control arms, struts, steering knuckles, and the sway bar. The hub unit and half-shaft boots were also changed for better longevity.

1992 notes

Why a V6? “JTE” wrote, “Chrysler had contracted with MMC to buy a certain number of 3.0 engines. With the 3.3 coming on line, they scrambled to fit the 3.0 in the P body to use the engines they had arranged to buy.”

New for 1992 were body-color front and rear bumpers on the Highline model, new wheel covers, three new colors outside and crimson inside, the replacement of the turbo vehicles with the Mitsubishi V6, and an optional four-speed automatic to go with the optional three-speed automatic.

In 1992, the Sundance came with the 2.2 liter and 2.5 liter throttle-body injected four-cylinders, producing 93 and 100 horsepower at 4,800 rpm, respectively, or the Mitsubishi 3.0 V6. Four-cylinder torque was far better than with competitive cars, at 121 lb-ft at 3,200 rpm on the 2.2 and 135 lb-ft at 2,800 rpm on the 2.5.

Gas mileage with the five-speed stick-shift was 26 city, 32 highway according to the EPA, limited by weight (2,644 lb for the four-door America model), aerodynamics, and the single fuel injector; but it was a leap ahead for the Sundance, which had been rated at 23 city, 30 highway in 1991.

The V6 was good for 141 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque, making it less powerful than the turbocharged four it replaced as well as less fuel-efficient; but many customers preferred the V6 for its lack of “turbo lag” and use of regular gas. The V6 went from 14” to 15” wheels, had a stiffer ride and beefier sway bars, and used comfort-oriented Eagle GA tires rather than the base Goodyear Invictas.

There were three lines now: America, Highline/ES, and Duster/SE. The America was more standardized, with the 2.2 engine only; the Highline had the 2.2 standard, with an optional 2.5, and included dual vanity mirrors and an FM stereo, among other features. Most buyers got a customer value package, adding air conditioning, tinted glass, rear defroster, trunk and hood lights, remote liftgate release, four speaker stereo, tachometer, tilt wheel, and intermittent wipers. All cars had a driver’s side airbag and front disc brakes.The Duster included the V6 and all Highline options; Duster (or SE) buyers could go down to a 2.5 engine as a “delete option” cutting $600 from the price of the car.

The Sundance was priced lower than the Civic and Corolla at this time, having taken the place of the Reliant.

1993 notes

woodgrain dashboardThe new Neon started production in December 1993, but Chrysler still updated the Sundance and Shadow. The America model was dropped, and a body-colored pentastar was added to the hood of the Shadow; a new beige was added to the interior, and the base model was given an option package to replace the midline (including color-keyed instrument panel bezels). Duster and Shadow ES had seat and door trim fabric upgrades and got attractive faux-wood bezels.

ABS were now optional on all models, and a high performance torque converter was available on four-cylinders with automatics. The stereo was given an optional upgrade with graphic equalizers and a choice of cassette or CD player. The 2.2 and 2.5 liter intake manifolds were redesigned for better idling and gas mileage, the V6 idle speed was cut back for gas mileage, the timing belt cover was redesigned on four-cylinders to cut back oil leaks, the final drive gearing on three-speed automatics was quieted down, and new colors were added. Intermittent wipers were now standard. (The changes to the four cylinder engines were also applied to the Spirit and Acclaim, which lasted one year past the Sundance and Shadow.)

1993 stereos

Dodge Shadow and Plymouth Sundance observations 

In later years, there were two interior colors: light grey and a light beige. The dashboard trim was light gray, black (in base models until 1993, and standard on even the RS until fairly late), or a “wood grain” plastic on 1992-1994 Dusters and Shadow ES.

The five-speed transmission, chosen by fewer than 10% of buyers (in some years, by fewer than 3%), didn’t have a smooth clutch, though it improved over the years; shifting became easier, particularly going into reverse. Turbo versions had a better-quality Getrag transmission.

Earlier models used the European pattern of having reverse to the left of first, with a pull-ring that had to be used to get into reverse; in 1990, the “three-plane” shifter (with reverse below 5th gear) was used, improving shift quality. Earlier clutches were stiff, but durable. Getting into reverse could be eased by going into first before going to reverse, since first gear was synchronized.

Some called the Sundance a 1990s Valiant, because of the upright driving position, almost-slant-six-derived 2.2/2.5 engines, and its sales niche; thus, the performance version was eventually named “Duster.”

Consumers' Guide rated the Sundance/Shadow as a best buy due to its price/performance ratio. That other consumer reporting magazine did not like it, mainly for arbitrary reasons, such as the foot-operated emergency brake (by the time of their 1991 review, only 2% of buyers ordered the manual transmission) and claims that the doors and hidden hatchback could hit drivers who leaned over in just the right way.

Edmunds' Used Car Book wrote a positive review, focused on the V-6 models. They reported a braking distance (60-0) of 160 feet and roadholding of .80 g. Edmund’s gaves the 1993 Sundance an 8.1 for safety and a 7.5 overall.

The Shadow/Sundance body was renamed from“P” to “AP” after Chrysler acquired AMC. Dan Minick wrote that an “A” was added to the front of all Chrysler body codes, because AMC mainly used two-digit codes; Premier, the B body, became BB, while XJ, MJ, and such remained the same. Part numbers were also changed, but only for AMC items: AMC numbers added a J in front while Renault parts added a T prefix.

According to Dan Minick, at launch the Sundance was priced higher than the Dodge version, an effort to bring Chrysler and Plymouth closer together by raising Plymouth above Dodge. Dealers balked and pricing was matched within months.

The aerodynamics were haphazard; the 1993 Dodge Ram had less wind resistance. Base tires tended to be cheap and poor for handling.

Shadow/Sundance engines

The 2.2 TBI engine revs more easily, but the 2.5 TBI provides more low-end torque; the V-6 provided better low end torque and high end power, by a large margin, than either one. The turbo engines, however, had the best gas mileage and power.  The 2.5 had satisfying power from idle but at higher rpms was somewhat disappointing. The air path was limited in size, and the active patch of the air filter ended being quite small. For more details, see the engines page.

The 2.2 turbo revved higher, with higher power when intercooled; the 2.5 had better low-end pull. The most powerful engine on the Shadow/Sundance was the Turbo IV with variable nozzle technology, only sold in 1990 and rare even at the time.

Dodge Shadow convertibles

There was a Shadow convertible (no Sundance version), which contemporary reviews said was better-sealed than most. It was relatively inexpensive, at about $16,000, and was sold from 1991 to 1993.

dodge shadow convertible

The P ragtops were made as regular cars and converted by an outside supplier (like many other convertibles). Richard Winde wrote that the Shadow convertible was built to compete with the Geo Metro and other small imports; Dodge had been asking for a convertible since losing the 600 in 1986, and Chrysler-Plymouth dealers already had the Chrysler LeBaron.

Jason Baker reported that Shadow convertibles were made only from the Highline and ES models. In 1991, there were 1,938 2.5 turbo ragtops, about 71% of which had automatic transmissions. Altogether, 1991 saw 17,307 Highline ragtops and 27,031 ES ragtops.

Other topics

In the interest of saving loading time and reducing file sizes, topics have been moved:

Through our partnership with Amazon.com, you can get the Haynes Shadow/Sundance/ Duster Repair Manual for 20% off! Just click here.

The end

March 11, 1994

Sterling Heights, MI -- Chrysler's Sterling Heights (Mich.) Assembly Plant today produced its last Dodge Shadow and Plymouth Sundance (P-Body) compacts, after an eight-year production run. After a 19-week, $350 million model changeover, production of the all-new compact car, the 1995 Chrysler Cirrus, will begin in July, followed later in the year by the Dodge Stratus.

The 1,423,068th vehicle, a two-door Dodge Shadow, features a two-speed automatic transmission [sic] and 2.5-liter engine. The vehicle will be delivered to Colonial Dodge in Kensington, Maryland.

The first Dodge Shadow and Plymouth Sundance was produced at Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in May, 1986. The plant has the capacity to produce about 270,000 units over a full model year on a two-shift production basis.

(The Sundance and Shadow were supplanted by the Dodge and Plymouth Neon. For a direct comparison, click here.)

Thanks to Jason Rogers for his corrections and observations.

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A page dedicated to the Dodge Shadow, Plymouth Sundance, Shelby CSX, and Plymouth Duster, with repair info, history, specifications, performance upgrades, and more.