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Dodge Daytona and Chrysler Laser: Revised and Updated (book review)

daytona bookGreg McCausey deserves praise for being the first person in many years to recognize the value of one of the extended Chrysler K-cars. With the ignorant bloggers and trend-seeking writers rabble constantly slamming the ol’ EEKs with cheap shots, Greg’s recognition of the Daytona (and lack of sarcasm) is refreshingly fresh.

Even towards the end, the Daytona was quite a vehicle. Unlike many cars of the era, the base engine started out with decent low-end punch, compared to Asian competitors, and gas mileage was always a good balance between performance and economy. The seats were plush and comfortable, the ride smooth, the cornering capable; and the turbocharged engines were impressive, from the original Turbo I (sans intercooler) right up to the 224-hp Turbo III and variable-nozzle, no-waiting-for-power Turbo IV. Buyers in the last years could also opt for a Mitsubishi V6.

To his credit, McCausey not only covers all these options, but discusses them realistically, with both strengths and weaknesses. In many car books, only the top engine option gets real coverage, and any deficiencies are smoothed over; but not here.

McCausey also deserves credit for remembering the Chrysler Laser, a three-year sibling of the Daytona; that Laser is usually overshadowed by the longer-running Mitsubishi-based Plymouth Laser. Chrysler’s apparent contempt for the difference between brands came out in their switches of names from one brand to another, willy-nilly, but that’s neither here nor there (along with the reasons why Chrysler would help to sell a Mitsubishi that competed directly with a Dodge).

The third edition of this book is longer, at 193 pages, and has numerous improvements. The photography is far better (as is the reproduction of color photos). Unfortunately, and perhaps inevitably, many of the photos are still from auto shows. Now, at least, most of the hoods are down, giving a better impression of the car’s normal appearance.

daytona spread

One problem of car-show photography is the inclusion of aftermarket changes, but these shortcomings are not a serious issue unless the book is used as a restoration guide. Finding original-appearance Daytonas and Lasers decades after their production would be almost as great a feat as getting permission from publishers to use their old photography (not to mention getting the original photos).

JPEG artifacts are harder to find in this edition. The black and white photos remain a bit muddy, possibly an unavoidable result of the printing process.

The tables’ formatting still makes them appear as though they were copied into a word processor from the Web, or even printed off Web sites, but that’s a minor point. It detracts a bit from the professionalism of the book, as does the placing of some words into italics (including company names; Cars and Concepts in italics would indicate a book, not a company.) That’s not particularly important, unless you happen to be a publisher or editor or just very picky.

Much of the detail could be found elsewhere, including allpar, the Shelby Dodge site, and the writer’s own moparautos.com.

Some Chrysler sales materials are reproduced in the book, and for the new owner or someone seeking to upgrade or fix their own car, there are unusual resources including wheel styles (with their popular nicknames), production figures by engine, options by year and model, and a VIN decoder. None of these features are available on, as an example, allpar.

page o' wheels

A few technical issues in the first edition, pointed out by Mopar Action’s Rick Ehrenberg, have been addressed in this edition.

There are reasons why Daytona owners remain enthusiastic and why they keep their cars, made from 1983 (model-year 1984) to 1993, fifteen to twenty-five years later, even though most could easily afford a newer car with better paper specifications. The Daytonas had their own strengths as well as flaws, and while we could have a knee-jerk sarcastic reaction at the mention of the term “K-car,” the fact is that they were competitive when they were made, and have some qualities current cars are missing. The saddest part of the Daytona may well be the lost potential, since there was quite a bit Chrysler could have done, had it been willing to invest a little more money, to keep them ahead of the pack — Greg has photos of the proposed four wheel drive system.

chrysler laser book

(dodge daytona book coverAt right: the book cover of the first edition)

We could lay down petty criticism on this book, or we could write a balanced ending, and we’ll take the extra time to do it right.

The book integrates existing sources and new information to make an easy-to-read history of cars that were innovative when they first hit the road, and have been forgotten by most people (its owners excepted).

Yes, there are some “non-professional” giveaways, if you happen to be associated with publishing or a keen observer, and some of the photos are what you’d expect from a gifted amateur at a car show. And, yes, you can find a lot of this information on the Web. However, the Daytona/Laser book is the best paper-based reference we’re ever likely to see on any Chrysler cars of this era; it’s well written, in an engaging style, and McCausey pulled in numerous sources to have a well arranged, well written “definitive history.” It's worth a buy, and it’s a terrific gift for your Daytona-owning friends.

You can get it from the writer’s web site or from amazon.com


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