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Car of the Month, December 2010: 1987 Chrysler LeBaron

by Verne Andru

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In 1987, I noticed the TV ads for the new LeBaron convertible, which reminded me of the 1960 Studebaker Avanti I always fancied, and decided to check them out. They were going on the lots for around C$23,000 [C$ = Canadian dollars] for the basic model, up to C$29,000 for the model with the Premium package. This was a lot of money for a vehicle in 1987.

As I recall, the Premium package included the digital dash, leather upholstery and special exterior trim. Models included the coupe and convertible with a choice of the 2.5L and 2.2L Turbo. They came with an automatic transmission but a 4 speed standard was available as a special order. I tested a few and, while initially interested in the standard, found the throw on the shifter too long for my tastes. I was planning on pulling a camper and was told the 2.5L would be a better engine.

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During my quest I happened upon a Tilden Car Rental outlet in Richmond, BC, Canada toward mid August 1987. They had 50 that were coming off their fleet service at the beginning of September. The manager said that Tilden Canada was the first to put in an order when Chrysler announced the model and, therefore, was first in line to receive vehicles when they shipped. Due to production delays, they never took delivery of the cars until the first week of August. I was told these were the first 50 to come off Chrysler's assembly line and were only in the rental fleet for 3 weeks because Tilden only keeps convertibles in service during summer months.

I was greeted at the Tilden lot by 50 beautiful 1987 Chrysler LeBaron Convertibles in every color offered by the company. I was told I could have which-ever one [or all of them] I wanted for $14,500 each - the amount Chrysler was paying Tilden to take the cars back. I'm not familiar with the arrangements between rental companies and car makers, but was told this was how things were done.

After looking them over I favored one in dark blue with the Premium package and a 2.5L automatic with only 8,600 Km on it. The vinyl upholstery was used because leather would get damaged if it rained while the top was down, so leather was only available on the coupe (I've seen later-year convertibles with leather, so they must have changed their minds over time). The factory AM/FM radio is serial number 47, which is more than likely the order the car came off the line.

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I still have the car to this day [November 2010]. It has 189,000 km [117,440 miles) and has served me extremely well. The transmission was rebuilt once and required service once - neither through any fault of the cars. In the first instance I was hit broadside which knocked some gears out of kilter. The second time a quick lube place (who shall go nameless) put power steering fluid in the transmission.

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The 2.5 L engine has a problem with the head gasket failing, causing the engine to overheat. I understand this has to do with the heat expansion/contraction mismatch between the metal engine block and aluminum head. When I brought the car in with an over heating problem the service outlet didn't diagnose the problem properly and simply replaced the radiator instead of attending to the head gasket which gave out shortly thereafter requiring an engine rebuild. That head gasket went over the 2010 summer with approximately 188,000 km on the engine. I took it back to the shop that did the first head gasket job and they claimed bad radiator fluid was the culprit.

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They also replaced the radiator but when they put it back in the hose between the transmission and the radiator cracked causing all the transmission fluid to drain out over the next few months. Fortunately I got the car back to the radiator shop before any serious damage occurred.

As with many of these models, the headlight cover motor stopped working as did one of the back power windows. The headlight cover was fixed by replacing a resistor and the power window mysteriously decided to start working again after a couple of years' holiday. Generally minor issues in the grand scheme of things.

Because of the mild Vancouver climate, the car is still in near show-room condition with only a few scuffs to show for its many years of faithful service. There was only one factory recall and that was to replace the inside roof liner - the first batch was too small causing buckling to the roof over time. As the car is nearing it's 25th birthday, I'll soon be able to put "vintage" plates for it - a fitting tribute to a classic design that looks modern to this day and is still a joy to drive.

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