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Car of the Month, December 2013: 1988 Dodge Aries America

by Justin Paulson, K-Car Owners' Club

Some would never think of an Aries being preserved, but this was the car that saved Chrysler; add an Aries whose owner was 11 years old at the time of purchase, and you get an even clearer picture.

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I first came across my 1988 Dodge Aries America on the local car lot back in the winter of 2000 while riding my bike to school. I stopped and sat in it, a solid car from the looks of it; but it needed engine work and we had no room or the need for another car, so a month later it was sold.

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For the next two years I saw my Aries around town, getting the daily grind complete with winter use. I thought there was no hope, but there was. In the spring of 2002, the Aries made its way into the weeds of the owner's house, with a for sale sign posted on the window for $700, with engine noise.

Being an only child has its advantages, such as getting the car you want without knowing. On July 11th, 2002, the day came. It was a busy morning around the house that day, I was going swimming with a friend and Dad was getting car stuff ready, battery, jumper cables etc. To my surprise he actually was going to get my K-car, he told me. Well, a day at the pool only lasted an hour, I wanted to get home to see the car I have wanted for quite some time.

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Upon my arrival from the pool, the Aries was already in service mode - up on jack stands. At first we thought it was a flex plate or something simple, but upon further inspection it appeared that the 2.5 had seen its days. So while dad was busy on the motor I proceeded to remove a window decal and repair the window cranks.

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I remember helping with the cylinder head removal, it was heavy for an 11 year old to carry by himself. I also remember dropping the motor using a jack; just as we got to the bottom the old motor decided to tip over, not a big deal as it was junk. We then had the idea of taking the motor out of our rusty 1986 Plymouth Reliant, but why ruin a perfectly good running and driving car? So off to the junkyard. $200 got us a 70,000 mile motor. This is where the big discovery came into play, a week passed and the motor was in the car running, but leaking oil. It turns out we didn't get the 2.2 like we originally thought, we actually got a 2.5 liter engine.

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That motor came as a surprise to our family as we were used to the 2.2 motor with 289,000 on it at the time. The 2.5 was smooth and quiet, but that did not last for long as it loosened up, the famous wrist pin noise returned and is here to this day. So for many summers the car took us all over the area, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois. We garaged the car in the winter so the tin worms would not hurt it any.

Sometime in the late summer of 2004, my mother and my grandma decided to take a trip to Green Bay in the Aries. Everything went fine on their way up, but on the way back the motor just up and stopped. The local used car lot came and towed the car to their shop, where it sat overnight until the next morning, and mom and grandma checked into the local hotel.

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The car was diagnosed as a broken timing belt and failed tensioner. An overnight stay, not so bad right? Wrong, The car itself is an 88 but the engine is an 87 and below, and it requires the square timing belt teeth, but the shop got the 88 and up belt; the correct belt had to flown in from Illinois for some reason. The car was fixed the next day and on the road, the timing was not set right but it made the trip home.

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Summer 2006 came around fast. After seeing a 1981 Plymouth Reliant at the Iola car show, my gears got spinning - Why not turn the Aries into a show car? For the first couple of years, I detailed the engine bay with a toothbrush and gasoline, next it was on to the body, cleaning every corner. I found myself starting to win at car shows. At first there was a lot of competition, I had guys who had perfect paint and such, so I didn't win very often, but I continued to show the car.

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As the cash flow improved I got bigger and brighter ideas, such as getting the car up on a hoist and detailing every single part. Next on the list was paint and rust blister repair, my dad and I repainted the car ourselves but we had a terrible time with the paint matching, so for a year I didn't show the car at all. By now, I had another K-car, which I still own (1986 Reliant).

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As the summer of 2011 came around, I found myself prepping the car for its new paint job. 11 hours in the body shop, and my cousin and I were finished painting the car. This lead to winning in a lot of shows, and this year a three-way tie for second place, pretty impressive for a little K-car playing against the big muscle cars.

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Today, the K lives a light life style, only going to shows and cruise nights. I enjoy every aspect of my little K-car, it's been a part of my life for eleven years now.

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At shows, one rarely sees a K-car that is restored or factory original, let alone an owner who was so young when his car was purchased. It resides in the garage with an 1986 and 1981 Plymouth Reliant.

The K-car, unlike the Citation, was a complete success, and they are a great way to get into the classic car hobby.

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