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Chrysler E Class, Chrysler New Yorker, Plymouth Caravelle, and Dodge 600ES

by Chris Wax

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In 1981 and 1982, Chrysler's K-car had just taken off, following the little Omni/Horizon. The rest of the Chrysler Corporation cars were still based on engineering from the 1960s, using torsion bars up front, leaf springs in back, and rear wheel drive. Lee Iacocca's mission was to streamline and modernize the product line across the board, with customers avoiding "boats" (as externally large cars were derisively called) and wanting high fuel economy.

The company was missing a modern mid-sized sedan was missing, and the new-ish R bodies (St. Regis, Newport) had been dropped fairly quickly, due to slow sales. The Diplomat/Fifth Avenue/Gran Fury was snubbed by retail buyers. GM beat Chrysler to the "modern midsize" punch with the 1982 Celebrity, Century, Ciera, and 6000.

Chrysler finally launched the Dodge 600 and Chrysler E Class for 1983, along with their first front wheel drive "luxury" car, the New Yorker. In 1985, almost as an afterthought, came the Plymouth Caravelle.

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This was a wise and frugal bit of engineering, for an under-capitalized company, and the first of the many permutations of the original K platform. As the K was a roomy, wide design already, they stretched the length by ten inches between the B and C pillars, making up some of the space by adding with extra windows in the C pillars. The deck lid was a bit higher than the K to increase trunk room. The front ends were taken from the smaller, but still upscale, Chrysler Le Baron and Dodge 400.

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The interiors were roomy and airy, with the extra legroom and windows. Dashboards and most interior trim were mainly borrowed from the K-car LeBaron and 400. The original engines were the 2.2 Trans 4 and the Mistubishi 2.6 Silent Shaft 4 cylinder engines, later moving to the 2.2 with single point fuel injection and the "Turbo I" 2.2 liter engine. Hefty option packages let them move up from basic family models to eurosport sedans.

Chrysler E platform breakdown and history

Chrysler E Class - 1983-1985

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This was the Chrysler for people who wanted an efficient front drive family sedan with room and a bit of flash, but not the girth or cost of the Fifth Avenue. The car was marketed against the Buick Century and Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, and came in one trim level, but with many options, either á la carte or in packages. It did not sell in the numbers that Chrysler had expected, so it was dropped at the end of the 1984 model year, despite having just been upgraded with new interior and exterior features, including a new instrument panel, power windows, electronic gauges with car graphics, and an optional Electronic Navigator.

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The E Class came with a standard 2.2 liter four-cylinder (electronic feedback carburetor) and three-speed automatic in 1983; fuel economy was 24 city, 32 highway. The trunk was rated at 17 cubic feet.

Plymouth Caravelle - 1985-1988 (USA), 1983-1988 (Canada)

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In Canada, Chrysler repackaged the E Class as the Plymouth Caravelle from the beginning. When it finally came to the United States in 1985, it, too, came in only one model/price only, the SE; most popular options were standard, including delay wipers, cloth split bench seats, AM/FM Stereo, cruise control, automatic transmission and power windows/locks. For 1985, buyers could pick from the 2.2 throttle-body, 2.2 turbo, and Mitsubishi 2.6 four. It had the same front end as the 400/600 with an egg crate grill instead of slats. The rear was clearly similar to the other E-body cars but different enough that one could tell it was not the Dodge or Chrysler.

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For 1986, the body was somewhat restyled to soften the corners a bit (apparently in a response to the new Ford Taurus). The interior was freshened with new seat materials, new round gauges, and a standard temperature gauge and ammeter. For 1986, a lower version was available with fewer features; the 2.6 was replaced by the new 2.5 litre engine. The Caravelle carried on until 1988 with few changes and was replaced by the Plymouth Acclaim.

Dodge 600 1983-1988

(From Chris Dunham's "Super K" page at Allpar:)

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In late 1981, the 1982 Chrysler LeBaron and a Dodge 400 were launched, with unique front clips and fascias, front grills, quad headlamps, pointed, prow-shaped front bumbers, hoods, and tails.

Chrysler carried over the K-car interiors, but with more plush fabrics and wood toned trim. There were features standard on the Super-K that were optional or just not available on the basic K-cars ... The Super-K also boasted quieter interiors, due to the heavier sound insulation used. ...

In 1984, the Dodge 400 was renamed 600, to closely align with the larger E-body 600ES sedan.
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The Dodge 600 was sold as the standard 600, the luxury 600SE, and the 600ES Sport Sedan. Styling had the Mirada-like "slat" grille and quad headlights set into the front fascia. This version of the E car was meant to cover many bases, from grocery getter to Audi.

The standard 600 was for the value minded consumer with practicality and value. The 600ES, with its stretched wheelbase, was luxurious, with standard amenities such as power windows/locks, velour or leather interiors, stereo radios, climate control, Voice Alert, and wire wheel covers.

The 600ES was one of the most unique of all the E cars. It had an uprated suspension, Eagle GT tires on cast aluminum wheels, a blacked out exterior, full gauges, bucket seats, console, and all of the luxury features of the 600SE. It was marketed as an alternative to European sport sedans. In 1984, the 600SE did that job well since the Turbo became available offering astounding acceleration and handling.

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Though somewhat noisy, the 600SE was the first US alternative to Euro-sedans and was less costly (and more available) than Pontiac's slower 6000STE. For 1985, the 600ES sedan was joined by the K based 600ES Turbo convertible.

For 1986, the 600 received the same minor styling changes as the Caravelle; the 600ES sedan was replaced by the larger Dodge Spirit.

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Chrysler New Yorker 1983 - 1988

The New Yorker was Chrysler's ultimate expression of the front wheel drive car and the top of Chrysler's line (later models were more expensive than even the Fifth Avenue.) It was marketed as a technologically advanced luxury car aimed for those who wanted the style and content of a premium sedan without the girth and thirst of a traditional large car [interior space was similar to the Diplomat; see our comparison]. It came as only one model, the four-door sedan.

The 1984 Chrysler New Yorker was designed to keep upper-end Chrysler owners, with luxury cues in a more efficient, technologically advancd car; it had the roominess of the B-bodies with much less bulk and fuel use.
The New Yorker had a "refined suspension and handling, excellent passing power (enhanced by a new turbocharged engine option) and electronic with new luxury 'engineered-in'."

A number of interior and exterior features were new, including a padded woodtone instrument panel, power windows, electronic gauges, and the optional "Electronic Navigator."

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Options were limited to sound systems, interior fabrics, wheel covers, and a sunroof, while a digital dashboard with full instrumentation, voice alert, trip computer, reclining seats, and climate control were all standard. Styling was made upscale with a formal vinyl Landau roof, silver trim, and electroluminescent coach lamps.

The car had the same front grille as the Lebaron for 1983. For 1984-1988 the grille was made a bit more vertical. For 1986 new rear quarter panels were added with a full width tail lamp. The rear license plate was molded into the bumper.

For 1983, the only engine was the Mitsubishi 2.6. For 1984 the 2.2 Turbo was added as an option (adding the ventilated hood). For 1986 the 2.5FI was added and the 2.6 was dropped, the turbo remaining an option. The 1988s were marketed as "New Yorker Turbo" alongside a new New Yorker (rumour is that they were all re-badged leftover 1987s).

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The E Bodies in Retrospect

Though these sedans were marketed only for a few seasons, they were the first "stretched" K cars. Their plebian roots were well concealed, and they had their own personalities and sense of style; most importantly, they validated the engineering of the K platform. The 600ES Sedan and New Yorker were the most distinctive of this generation. They offered styling, decent performance, and value.

My own experiences

I owned a 1984 Dodge 600 sedan and currently own a 1987 New Yorker:

1984 Dodge 600

We purchased the base 1984 Dodge 600 as a used car in January 1986 and had it until May 1997. It had few options, such as A/C, automatic transmission, delay wipers, and custom wheel covers. Though it was the standard model, it hardly looked it. The stylish front end with slatted grille, a modicum of chrome trim, pinstripes, and lustrous black paint made it look very sharp.

The gray interior was done in a tufted vinyl, with a split front bench seat with arm rest, reading lamps, wood trim and assist straps, was quite nice for a base model. The dashboard was quite basic but featured the message center, a group of lights in the shape of the car indicating door ajar, low fuel, and the like. The dash was logical, with a large speedometer and fuel gauge, electronic-tune AM radio with clock, and center mounted A/C controls.

Head room and leg room were exemplary and the many windows gave fine visibility. Other conveniences included door kick panel lights, passenger assist straps on the headliner and doors, map lights, and dual remote mirrors.

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The ride was smooth and relaxed, in line with most midsizes of the day. Handling was safe and predictable; it cornered fairly well and absorbed the bumps. Power steering was on the light side, but not as bad as the GM competition.

P185/75R14 WSW tires with deluxe wheel covers were on our car. Acceleration from the 2.2, rated at 99 horsepower, was not bad for a 2500 pound car. The 2.2 was much better in terms of drivability than the Mistubishi 2.6 (which lacked fuel injection and which I found to be noisy and unrefined and not worth the marginal increase in horsepower). The quiet ride was only marred by a bit of noise under harsh acceleration. Cruising down the street or highway, the 2.2 was fairly quiet, especially compared to GM's ancient 2.5. Its mileage was never less than 24 MPG, even with lots of urban driving.

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We had it until 1997 when it had 187,000 miles. It was used for commuting about 60 miles a day as well as vacation driving. The real benefit of owning this Dodge 600 was its durability and reliability. Aside from routine maintenance and regular items such as brakes, struts, alternator, muffler rear springs and battery, we never had any major breakdowns. The engine, transmission, fuel injection system and A/C were all original. The only major repairs were a timing belt at 112,000 miles and a rack and pinion a few thousand miles later. It never ever left us stranded. Even though the body loosened up a little bit with a few rattles and squeaks, the engine ran like a Rolex watch. The paint remained lustrous and there was not one spec of rust anywhere.

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My only complaint about the body was the hubcaps, which were made from plastic (replaced with ones from an Aries) and the AM radio which never worked well (poor reception and "kazoo" sound quality) .

Its interior was roomy enough to carry my ailing Mom with her wheelchair and oxygen tank, lots of college friends, furniture, and computers. It plowed through snow with ease and kept us cool in the hot summers.

In May 1997 it was it struck by (ironically) a Dodge Caravan making an illegal u-turn and rolled over. My father walked away with only a few bruises from the seatbelts. The front of the car was damaged but the roof did not crush in the roll. Even the doors were able to open and the engine started up and ran. We would still have that car today if not for that accident. The Dodge 600 is the best car we have ever owned.

1987 Chrysler New Yorker

The 1987 New Yorker was purchased in May 1997 with 64,000 miles. We were looking for another Chrysler product to replace the fine Dodge 600, and while we were looking for something newer, the price was right and the car was beautiful. Because it was an E Body and derived from the 600, we bought it.

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Our New Yorker is silver with a grey interior, with every option but the turbo. It is every way a Chrysler, offering classic styling, boulevard ride and a sumptuous interior with the added bonus of economy and maneuverability. Even today, my New Yorker stands out from all the other luxury cars

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The 2.5 liter engine with counterbalancing shafts had a bit more torque and horsepower than the 2.2, with more smoothness from the balance shafts. Acceleration is more than sufficient to propel the 2700-pound New Yorker and has surprising midrange pick up for highway passing. Like the 600, it is frugal with the gas, never getting less than 24 MPG in mixed highway/urban driving. The ride is smooth and refined with silence, even under hard acceleration. The supple suspension absorbs the bumps. Highway driving is smooth and relaxed as well. The tires (currently) are Dunlop Axiom Plus P205/70R14 WSW. Power steering is light but road feel is pretty good for a luxury minded car.

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The seats are covered in rich dark grey velour with a "loose pillow" look. The rear seat has a fold down arm rest. The front seat is a split bench affair, with individual armrests and cargo packets sewn onto the front below the leg and on the back rests. The reclining front seat has headrests that not only go up and down, but pivot front and back as well. Combined with the tilt steering column, maximum comfort for the driver is assured.

The long wheelbase provides ample legroom for all passengers. There are door pull straps and passenger assist handles and courtesy lamps on each door kick panel. An overhead console has reading lamps, storage for sunglasses, a garage door opener, and compass/thermometer. On each "C" pillar there is a courtesy lamp and an adjustable high intensity reading lamp.

For 1986, Chrysler rearranged the gauges and controls. The speedometer had large numbers, with vertical bar graphs on either side for fuel level, temperature, voltage, and oil pressure. The five-function "Traveler" trip computer and headlamp switch were on the left. All controls were within easy reach and easy to read in all light conditions.

The car has the Electronic Voice Alert, which reminds one "Please Fasten Your Seat Belts", "a Door is Ajar" and several other messages in an authoritarian male voice. (As a computer systems engineer, I really appreciate the voice and the digital dash; even though the technology may seem dated by today's standards). The steering wheel is leather wrapped as well. This car has one of the most "opulent" interiors I have seen on a luxury car and one of the most comfortable.

The New Yorker, like the 600, has held up well. The metallic clear coat paint is lustrous and the Landau vinyl roof is soft and not faded. There is no wear on the seats either. The previous owner took excellent car of the car and we keep it garaged. The body is tight with no sqeaks or rattles. Reliability has been excellent as well, though a bit less than the 600. The engine is holding up well as is the driveline and suspension. The car currently has 88,000 miles on it. We did however have to replace the power steering pump, front axles, master cylinder, a burned out power window motor, and a failed blower control module.

Overall, I rate both of these cars as excellent. They have offered reliability, convenience, and economy. They are still competitive today [late 1990s], especially the New Yorker. The New Yorker is fully featured, roomy and economical, a combination that many carmakers still can't get right. My New Yorker is still my "dream car."

Tips, points of view and some observances:

The basic versions of these cars are (were) reliable, efficient, and inexpensive. They offered middle of the road handling, great fuel economy, and distinct styling. It is amazing how many other cars sit on this car's basic chassis and engine. These cars were simply engineered and that is a big plus in keeping them going.

The 2.2FI and 2.5 FI engines are efficient and very reliable and have sufficient power. The three speed transaxles are reliable, smooth, and durable. We received 178,000 miles from the 600, even though it received heavy use as a commuter.

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I have found that there are things you can do that are not extreme. Use name brand filters and lubricants. Improve handling and adhesion with a good set of tires (I replaced the tires on my New Yorker with Dunlop Axiom Plus WSW tires). Be vigilant in washing waxing and polishing (every 6 months to a year for polish wax). Use good quality fuels (I use premium fuel because my chances of getting at least 90+ octane are better, since fuel can be (and is) adulterated, dirty, watered down etc.) . Use only high quality replacement parts of the proper specification. Use Mopar or reputable replacements from name brand manufacturers. All common sense, but true; I'll bet my 178,000 miles on it.

Some weak points and issues I have found:

Vinyl tops look nice but are a pain to keep up and to replace. Clean and protect them often (I have seen several Fifth Avenues and New Yorkers with shredded vinyl tops). Rear springs can sag, and it was one of the few problems on the 600. Leaking gaskets and heads, as described on other pages of this site are well documented and the 2.5 in my New Yorker is no exception (It was repaired).

Soft trim and body parts are a chore to replace on the New Yorker [due to the lack of replacement parts]. I had to fix a tail lamp after an encounter with an idiot in a Navigator, an electro-luminescent coach lamp had to be replaced, and conceivably anything like the trunk lid, rear fascia, from grille and headlight carrier will also be difficult since they are unique to the New Yorker (and not interchangeable with the 600/Caravelle). There are also several other unique parts which are becoming scarce, such as some of the electronics for the dash and climate control system.

Mechanical parts are in good supply. However, when dealing with a lot of the salvage yards and mechanics, be sure to be concise about your year E car. I have had a lot of confusion because the 1987 and 1988 New Yorkers are separate cars with nothing really in common. Include part numbers if you can, pictures, and a VIN number (only give out the first part, not the last six digits, because title fraud is a possibility).

One major problem is finding a mechanic who can deal with the electronic parts on the New Yorker. The Chrysler dealers are good sources for parts, but are not cost effective for repair (and occasionally snicker at older models).


The Allpar web site has been one of my best reference points in keeping my Chrysler products rolling.

(credits -- Consumer Guide books, my Dad, ALLPAR, Cameo Motors (out of business))

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