The Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon
Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon construction
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.
In 1990, there was a 1" diameter front stabilizer bar, with no rear stabilizer bar. Rack and pinion steering was available in both manual and power versions. Base wheels in 1990 were 13 inches, not unusual for the day, with ride-oriented P165/80 tires softening the stiff suspension.
While the American Omni/Horizon started out with European engines - some designed by Chrysler Europe, but officially called “Peugeot” because Peugeot had purchased Chrysler Europe; others were designed and sold by Volkswagen. Most Omnis were eventually equipped with the standard corporate 2.2, once production got up to speed.
With fuel injection, the base 2.2 generated (depending on the year) about 93 horsepower with peak torque of 122 lb-ft at only 3,200 rpm. The Volkswagen engines, at 1.7 liters, were modified versions of the Golf/Rabbit/Jetta powerplant. The three sets of engines - VW, “Peugeot,” and Chrysler - all had different displacements. Omni-Horizon-TC3-O24-Charger-Turismo-Duster engines
In Europe, Chrysler and Talbot Horizons used Simca engines, in 1.1, 1.3, and 1.4 liter sizes through their full lifespan.
The Omni/Horizon were internally labelled L-bodies (A included Valiant and Duster, B included Belvedere and Charger, C included big Chryslers, E was Challenger/Barracuda, etc.) [This section written by Allpar staff]
Geoffrey Lee noted: “This car helped pull Chrysler from the edge of oblivion. However, in crash tests, this car did not fare well. If you were involved in a front end collision of any type, survival stats were not that great, and crash-ability tests were one of the factors that lead to the decision to close this model down."
History of the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon
The year is 1978. Chrysler Corporation attempts to stay alive, making marketing changes in their product line. Chrysler continues to offer larger cars in weakening economic times. On November 2, 1978, the new Chrysler president, Lee Iacocca, replaces chairman John Riccardo.
The first front-wheel-drive subcompact car ever to be built in America hits the showroom...the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon. [Webmaster notes:] Based on the Horizon of Chrysler Europe, [End note]the Omni/Horizon would help to save the corporation from bankruptcy. For once, Chrysler displayed a product that was right for the times.
The Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon were probably the first economical cars Chrysler had ever produced. Similar to Volkswagen's trend-setting Rabbit, these were four-door hatchback models that offered an enhanced sense of practicality, roominess, and softer ride. Powered by a 4-cylinder (VW) 1.7-liter overhead-cam engine, it developed 75 horsepower at first. Consumers were eager, buying 189,000 total in its first year introduction - mostly Plymouth Horizons, with relatively few Omni moving out the door. The 1978 Horizon had a mere 99 inch wheelbase and 165 inch length, but the hatchback design and front wheel drive maximized interior and cargo space; cornering was very good and ride was smoother than most competitors. The meager 2,167 pound weight (while still much heavier than the Corolla) allowed the 70 horsepower, 105 cubic inch engine to stay peppy and helped gas mileage. A year later, the Horizon TC3 would join the standard Horizon, and the Fury would quietly fade away.
The stunning success of the Horizon didn’t surprise Burton Bouwkamp, one of its creators. He wrote, “We knew it was a great car and attractively priced. It ran eleven years with very few changes. We must have built around 2,500,000 Omnis and Horizons. It's still a good car. If we had modernized and improved it I think it would still be around.”
The Omni and Horizon were in production between 1978 through 1990. Throughout the eighties, Omnis never sold even nearly as well as the Horizon did. In 1979, a sunroof became available for both models. In 1981, a new 2.2-liter, 84 horsepower 4-cylinder became available and the term "Miser" was mentioned for the basic model with 1.7 engine, presumably to compete with the new, cheap Ford Escort. Throughout 1981 and 1982, an extremely limited number of Euro-models were offered with blackout trim in the package. The Custom package replaced the Miser and Euro models.
In 1979, the sportier-looking Charger/Turismo was introduced (also known as TC3 and 024), the first car to use the Charger name since the 1970s muscle car was dropped. Popular Mechanics would later test the new Shelby Charger against the original.
For 1981, electric-fan airflow was improved with a fiberglass-filled propylene fan, with a 1 inch larger diameter; the radiator was enlarged in frontal area and thickness.
For 1982, a linkless sway bar was used: this essentially used rubber isolators to hold the sway bar to the lower control arm and crossmember. Chrysler claimed this reduced body roll when cornering, and made the ride more comfortable.
In 1984, an SE (sport-edition) model was created with two-tone coloring available, and the basic styling that would continue until 1990 was put into place. The instrument cluster was revised, and blackwalls became standard. Most significantly, 1984 brought the new Omni GLH — for "Goes-Like-Hell." This lightweight Dodge Omni had the 2.2 liter engine with turbocharged power. Omni GLH and GHL-S page.
For 1984, the Horizon 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. 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.
1986 simply brought about a center-mounted stop-light. Dodge again got the hot Omni GLH, Plymouth the ordinary version; both had coupe versions, the Turismo and Charger. These were the only Chrysler vehicles to have semi-independent rear suspensions; the Caravan and Gran Fury used standard four-leaf spring rear suspensions, and the Reliant and Caravelle used a trailing-arm rear suspension.
The 2.2 liter engine made the Omni and Horizon quick, but still turned out 26 mpg city, 36 mpg highway (with manual transmission). The base 1.6 engine beat that with 31/39. Radio options were similar to the brands’ top of the line cars; electronic spark and fuel control were standard. Base models had a speedometer, voltmeter, and fuel gauges, with dummy lights for other functions, but an optional instrument panel was identical to the attractive, high-end design used on Turismo. In a break with the past, the wipers/washers were on a stalk.
1987 brought the "America" program, which improved quality of production and helped cut costs by offering a single price with limited options (in Canada, the Omni America was called the Omni Expo). The instrument cluster was revised with tachometer, oil pressure and voltage gauges added. The 1.7-liter was dropped; only a Chrysler-built 2.2-liter with 96 bhp was offered. The Omni America was the lowest-priced car in its class in America.
In 1988, fuel injection on all Omnis and Horizons was standard, with the 2.2 engine producing 93 bhp — the rating it would keep for the next six years.
1989 brings some changes to the engine which allow for quieter and smoother running. Major service pointers were highlighted with paint for checking fluid levels.
Finally in 1990, the America edition was dropped. In its last year, a driver-side airbag was added, along with rear-seat shoulder belts and a revised climate-control system.
The Omni GLH and GLHS
Also in 1984, a new model called the Omni GLH arrived. Appropriately named "Goes-Like-Hell", this Dodge Omni was created with Carroll Shelby. We now have a separate page for the Omni GLH and GHL-S.
The Scamp and Rampage
Carl Raupe wrote:
In 1982 Chrysler introduced the Dodge Rampage and the Plymouth Scamp to compete with import trucks. Both were based on the Omni/Horizon platform with the wheelbases extended to 109 inches, beefer rear springs, and a pickup bed carved just behind the two front seats. Even with its diminutive size the little truck had double wall bed construction with galvanized steel. Everything from the front seats forward was straight off the shelf Omni/Horizon.
The Turismo, Charger, TC3 and O24
These sporty derivatives were light-weight contenders which, due to their light weight, packed a punch as heavy as the Neon's from 0 to 60 (with a five-speed). They had a sporty look, but never quite caught on (even the Shelby models) in the waning days of the V-8. Turismo, Charger, TC3 and O24 pages
The de Tomaso sports car that never was
Chris Theodore said,
I worked on a great show car with Ken Mack – sort of an underground program. It’s still in the basement at Highland Park. It was going to be a de Tomaso 2-seat sports car - long before the one that we all know. I still love that show car. We built it from the ground up from an Omni chassis and put a turbocharged motor in it, yet it looked mid-engined.
It’s got a low dropdown beltline with gull wing windows. It was designed by Steve Bollinger [who styled the 1981 Imperial, and I believed worked on the original Ford GT40], a really neat looking car.
But that one got killed when Iacocca brought Don DeLaRossa over from Ford design. He didn’t like it and killed that program, replacing it with the Dodge Daytona.
These have been moved to their Omni-Horizon and other L-bodies common repairs.
These have been moved to the Omni, Horizon, and other L-bodies engines page.
Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon specifications and competitive comparisons
|Headroom, F/R||38.6 / 37.8||37.2 / 34.4||38.1 / 36.9|
|Legroom, F/R||42.2 / 35.4||42.5 / 28.7||42.1 / 33.3||42.1 / 33.3||41.7 / 34.0||40.2 / 32.1||41.5 / 35.1|
|Hiproom, F/R||55.6 / 56.2||52.6/46.4|
|Cargo, cub. ft.||15.0||10.7||15.6||10.5||9.7||13.0||16.4|
seat down, c.f.
|32.4-34.3 cf||36.6 cu.ft.||28.8||37.8||37.5|
|Std Engine||96-hp 2.2||65-hp 1.6||78-hp 1.5||90-hp 1.9|
|MPG, std engine||25/34||26/35||28/34||29/34||(?)|
|Gas tank (gals)||13|
Racing - Plymouth Horizon, Dodge Omni GLH
Angelo Taylor wrote that he has a "1984 high output 110 hp Horizon. Matchbox has won most of my championships ....no longer close to being my quickest car, but it is the winningest! Car now has a 3 speed automatic with COAN 3500 stall converter and weight of only 1900 lbs and street driven. Car has 248,000+ miles."
"[I also have a] 1985 Omni GLH turbo converted to a Turbo II. This car has my own nitrous set up on it that is based on the base EFI NOS kit from NOS....When the car was a T1 with 16 psi of boost it was running only 14.0s....but the extra 175 - 200 hp of nitrous I put through it made it run in the 11s....11.89 at 118 being the quickest. I even ran Super Pro with it once and won 5 rounds before I red lighted...car IS NHRA legal with 8 point roll bar and 4 point harness. Three speed automatic with COAN 4000 stall converter. 2400 lbs. Car has 210,000+ miles."
Stefan Mullikin wrote:
For the Omnis, 1988-90 had throttle body injection and are easier to convert to turbochargers. If it’s a very early Omni/Horizon with the 1.7L VW Rabbit motor then you can upgrade it to a 1.8T or 2.0T if you were willing to do the fab work (the earlier 1.8L GTI drivetrain fits just fine). To upgrade to the 2.2 turbo from the standard 2.2, you can do the following:
Drill block for oil return and water outlet
Turbo pistons and rings (forged is best); turbo (5-bolt) oil pump
Turbo exhaust valves, cam and followers (you can buy complete turbo heads pretty cheaply)
Turbo exhaust manifold (you can add a turbo flange to the stock N/A manifold and make more HP)
Garrett turbochargers are best for overall power. The tiny Mitsubishi turbos are great for getting off the line.
Turbo intake manifold (The 87 2-piece units is best, but expensive. The 88 and later 1 one piece works fine to about 300+hp)
Swap to a turbo or HD Minivan 3-speed transmission or mod your existing unit Turbo forward clutches; use an external transmission cooler
Suspension: take all parts from turbocharged cars except the bushings and strut tower braces —
21mm master cylinder (24mm for 60mm calipers/drums or D-150 1-1/8" for 4-wheels discs)
54mm front calipers (or 84-90 Minivan 60mm calipers)
220mm rear drums (or rear discs from a Daytona, Lebaron or Neon)
14:1 power steering rack
Turbo or Quickor sway bars
Front wheel bearings/hubs
Quickor poly bushings (front and rear)
Neon strut tower braces
Front core support bracing to handle the extra torque.
2.5 or 3" exhaust (FWDPerformance.com sells all the pieces for that)
Turbo fuel system (tank, pump, lines), electrical system (interior and under hood), vacuum system, motor mounts (Quickor.com's Poly units are wonderful), radiator (A Shelby GLH-S radiator and intercooler will drop right in
Now when all is said and done, assuming you use the right pieces, you could have a 300+hp Omni that handles on rails and stops on a dime.
If you really want to have fun, grab a Neon, Stratus or PT Cruiser 2.0/2.4L DOHC cylinder head, a Mexican Stratus R/T turbo manifold and a Spirit R/T turbocharger and put the DOHC head on the 2.2/2.5 motor and make lots and lots of HP and torque!
Rallying on the Horizon
After Chrysler sold its European operations to PSA (Peugeot-Citroën), PSA renamed the brands to Talbot in both England and France, and used motorsports to garner publicity. In Formula One, PSA became the Ligier team’s title sponsor, rebranding it as Talbot, with Matra V12 engines. In rallying, Talbot put its finances behind the Sunbeam-Lotus project, which had already been under development.
The Formula One project failed, but the Talbot Sunbeam-Lotus was a stunning success in 1980. However, the Sunbeam was not planned to remain in production after 1981. Lotus began work on a “silhouette” Horizon, using a Lotus slant-four engine behind the front seats. The Horizon Group B was the result, but only two prototypes were built before PSA canned it. In 1981, Audi exploded onto the rally scene with its Quattro, and teams realised that they would need four wheel drive. Peugeot took over the project, and by 1984, it had produced the mid-engined, four wheel drive 205 T16.
Relevant Local Pages
- The Chrysler Europe design team speaks
- Testimonials and viewers' cars (updated)
- Some common "quick fixes"
- 2.2/2.5 performance modifications (not for turbos)
- L-body forums
- Turismo, Charger, TC3, Duster, O24
- Rampage and Scamp
- California Shelby Rampage
- Allpar (our host)
- Chrysler Europe and the creation of the Horizon
- Chrysler front-drive performance 1983-1993