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The 1995-1999 Dodge Neon vs the 1961 Dodge Lancer

While the Neon was revolutionary when it came out in 1994, the same could be said for the Valiant when it first arrived in 1960. We have the specifications for the 1961 Dodge Lancer (a clone of the Valiant), so we can make a comparison between the pair.

1962 dodge lancer

We were surprised on our Lancer test drive by how comfortable the ride was, and by the strength of the acceleration from a tiny 170 cid slant six putting out under 100 horsepower. Yes, the Neon will easily outhandle and outrace the Lancer, but let's give credit where it is due - the Lancer did quite well by the standards of the day, despite overly loose steering and barely adequate brakes. The pushbutton transmission gets points for style, and the body itself is clean and attractive, with an almost Neon-like smile. We were impressed - but, at the same time, we must say that the Neon has such amenities as maintenance-free ignition and fuel delivery systems, front and rear shoulder belts, dual airbags, excellent handling, fuel economy of over 30 mpg, etc.

Without further ado -


1961 Dodge Lancer 1995 Chrysler Neon Advantage
Wheelbase 106.5 104 n/a
Length 188.8 172 Neon (parking)
Width 72.3 67 Neon (parking)
Height 53.3 54.7 n/a
0-60 Roughly 12 seconds 7.8 - 8.0 seconds Neon
Road clearance 5.4 4.9 Lancer
Headroom (front/rear) 37.9 / 37.4 39.6 / 36.5 Neon / Lancer
Legroom (front/rear) 42.8 / 39.8 42.5 / 33.9 Lancer
Hip room (front/rear) 56.8 / 56.9 50.8 / 50.6 Lancer
Shoulder room (front/rear) 54.0 / 54.1 52.5 / 52.3 Lancer
Trunk capacity 24.9 cubic feet 11.8 cubic feet Lancer
Std Horsepower/Torque 101 / 155 (gross) 132 / 129 (net) Neon / ?
Opt Horsepower/Torque 145 / 215 (gross) 150 / (net) Neon / Lancer
Price $2200+ $11,000+ Lancer

3/4 view - dodge neonThe Lancer is considerably longer, but the wheelbase is similar to the Neon, giving a handling advantage to the Neon (which is augmented by a fully independent four wheel suspension, MacPherson struts, etc.) The Lancer's length, unfortunately, does not necessarily mean it has more interior space - the relatively unsophisticated, albeit much more durable, slant six requires more room under the hood, and the substantially larger trunk also eats up length, so that the Neon, while over a foot shorter, still manages to have six inches of extra rear legroom. That room makes a real difference.

Other issues

1961 Dodge Lancer 1994 Plymouth Neon Advantage
Ride Soft but not sofa-like Relatively firm, but good for the class Lancer
Handling Good for the 1960s Good for the 1990s Neon
Braking Not even up to par for 1961 Almost up to par for 1994 Neon
Acceleration Good for 1961 economy cars Best of class in 1994 Neon
Gas mileage 25 mpg is good 34 mpg is average (five speed) Neon
Reliability Slant six is incredibly durable. TorqueFlite is bulletproof. Many maintenance items, though. No distributor, no rotor, hydraulic valves, and fuel injection mean practically no maintenance - but automatic is not as strong, engine mounts are weak, and head gaskets are a for-sure replacement. A/C troublesome. Mixed
Safety Standard front seat belts. Optional rear belts. Four way shoulder belts. Dual airbags. Side impact protection. Safety glass. Rollover protection. Side demisters. Electric rear defroster. Antilock brakes and integrated child seat optional. Neon

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