The Dodge Spirit R/T: 224 Horsepower Four-Cylinder Sedan
In 1989, the Dodge Spirit
was introduced to provide reliable transportation in a traditionally styled four-door sedan, building on the architecture of the Reliant
. Enthusiasts ignored it, though it gained a following among normal customers.
Then, in 1991, Chrysler added a 224 horsepower (218 lb-ft) screamer of an engine
, based on the 2.2 four-cylinder
that usually produced 93 hp. This car was a fairly ordinary looking Spirit, except for the "R/T" after "Spirit" on the trunk lid, body-color crosshair grille, a modest spoiler, and a decal on the fender. But most grocery-getters don't move from 0 to 60 faster than any other four-door sedan sold in the US in their model year.
Sold in 1991 and 1992, the Spirit R/T had a quarter-mile time of 14.5 seconds at 97 mph and a top speed of 141 mph, making it the quickest four-door sedan sold in the United States (the fastest mass-produced
four-door sedan in the world. Two cars sold only in Europe might have been faster: the handmade BMW E34 M5 and Alpina B10, selling for the equivalent of $59,905 and $109,500, respectively. Thanks, Stephen, for details on the competition
.) All this came at a base price of $17,820, including power windows and air conditioning.
The Dodge Spirit R/T's 2.2 Turbo III engine boasted 1.67 horsepower per cubic inch. Yet, unlike some of the Shelby sports cars, the Spirit R/T maintained its comfortable ride. The Spirit ES suspension was modified with increased spring rates and front valving, performance-oriented rear shocks, 70mm progressive-rate front jounce bumpers, and a 28.6 mm rear sway bar. Tires were 205/60R15 Michelin XGTV4, wheels 15" x 6".
Handling was decent, and while torque steer was minimized by the modifications, it was still a palpable presence. The front roll center was raised for faster response, caster increased for better tracking, and steering flex reduced. The R/T felt solid and stable even over 100 miles per hour, though the poor aerodynamics make wind noise quite high. Roadholding was measured by Car & Driver
at .80 g.
The 2.2 Turbo III engine was the third turbocharger setup Chrysler Corporation had developed. Mopar engineers worked with Lotus to create the engine, which included Lotus-designed heads; it was the first four-valve-per-cylinder engine Chrysler had ever built, and featured balance shafts, a double overhead cam, and an intercooled Garret turbocharger. It may also have been the first engine in the world with returnless fuel injection, which would, over the next six years, end up on all Chrysler engines. (Returnless fuel injection had the fuel pressure regulator in the tank, so there was only one line going to the fuel injectors; this reduced the risk of leaks and fire.)
There was only one transmission - the A-568 five-speed manual, created for that engine.
Dector Vega German wrote: "It also came out (in Mexico) as a LeBaron R/T.... It has a special manual gear box because conventional gear boxes could not stand the torque. Every 40,000 km or so the distribution chain (timing belt) breaks... this car is just incredible. I have reached a speed of 240 (km/h) but top speed is 270 (km/h)."
As Dector noted, unless you get a good Gates or Dayco timing belt and retension it after about 45 minutes of running (thanks, Ed at Delco), it may break far
ahead of schedule. Since the Turbo III is a "non-interference" type engine, this usually causes little or no damage but is inconvenient. Common reasons for belt breaking are improper tensioning, problems with the tensioner itself, and not retensioning it.
A common replacement item seems to be the gears that the timing belt runs on. The symptoms seem to be broken timing belts and a loud clicking noise which is especially pronounced over 2,000 rpm. The tensioner has been fingered as a common culprit but the exhaust and intake cam gears also go bad.
The most important issue when you own a Turbo III is to maintain the engine. Have the TSBs done; change the oil regularly; and keep the antifreeze topped off and purged of air bubbles.
The oil pump may also be a problem. One R/T owner said they sometimes suddenly "bind," resulting in the bracket breaking, and or the gears on the shaft which drives the pump getting stripped. While Chrysler no longer has any of the original $120 pumps in stock, aftermarket pumps are available for $30.
All Spirit R/Ts were made in Mexico, came with four-wheel disc brakes, trip computers, air conditioning, tachometers, a message center, speed control, tilt steering wheel, and remote release trunks. There were two colors in 1991 (white and red), three in 1992 (silver was added). Very few were made in 1992. Ironically, they were not sold in Mexico until 1992, and continued there until model year 1993.
The distributorless ignition system uses a coil pack (about $120) that fires spark plugs 1 and 4 together, then 2 and 3 together. The air intake is better designed than the TBI cars, as one might expect.
Paul Bicknell got the following production figures from Chrysler PR:
Total 1991 Spirit production: 93,773
79,707 ordinary Spirits
The Turbo I models are more practical and get higher (about 30 mpg) mileage; they are cheap and have plentiful parts. Spirit R/T parts often cost more, and are harder to find. Many mechanics are taken by surprise by this engine, which is rare and has then-unusual technology. The Turbo III seems to max out at 30 mpg and city driving drags it down quickly.
The police were invited to test the Spirit R/T as a potential squad car, along with the Taurus SHO and Lumina Z34, both of which were V6 models. None was suited to police work.
Dodge Spirit R/T performance upgrades
wrote about his well-researched R/T upgrade plans:
See extensive 2.2 Turbo III specifications
I am running a 16 valve T3 Spirit. My starting point is a 14.6 quarter mile. The only current mods are a K&N airfilter and the removal of the muffler.
On street tires I have very little traction for launches and thus my 60' time is ~2.4. If I rev the engine above 2500 RPM, I have no traction on the launch. The passenger tire will just spin and smoke.
I have consistently heard that an ND Performance computer will net you 1-1.5 sec. Conservatively, that is ~13.0...
The exhaust piping is somewhat open, but could be a little better. 2.5" piping has been done and should be sufficient if manderal bent. With a T3 a little larger may be helpful, especially if it the head is ported.
Once port work is done, the computer would have to be recalibrated. This is part of the reason I am holding off on getting a computer. When I do get one, it will almost definitely be a multi-program one, I want to make sure the engine can run on bad gas and survive, run on everyday 92 or 93 octane fuel, and be able to go to the track and dump octane booster in and run all out.
and Centerlining the Turbo III camshaft.
Car reviews - living with a Dodge Spirit R/T
The clutch action is heavy, and not too smooth, though there is reportedly a replacement clutch that is much better. The engine idles smoothly.
The car is moderately comfortable to ride in, somewhere between a Civic and a Corolla. There's little power at the low end, but at about 2500 rpm the turbo spools up with a friendly whistle and off we go. If I have not gotten the turbo spooled, the Neon will get the first licks in at any traffic light. On the highway, power is available in a second.
Gas mileage could be better, but it is exceptional for the power and speed you get - compared even with, say, a brand new Audi TT, which is much smaller inside, not to mention newer, pricier, and kitschier.
Highway mileage is not too bad at about 28-29 mpg, but city is about 22, I'd say. EPA estimates of 22-29 seem to be accurate. Using regular gas hurts power, and you feel it at the lower rpms. After speaking with Neil Emiro, I discovered that the computer only has one program, for premium, and that using a lower grade causes knocking, which the computer quickly detects and stops by changing the spark advance. One thrilling burst of acceleration can kill quite a bit of gas mileage! but it's probably worth it.
The Spirit R/T is much faster than the Contour V-6 SVT, but gets the same or better gas mileage!
The problems of living with a Spirit R/T are what one might expect. Insurance costs more. Parts are often more expensive. Some things break more often. In three months, I lost an oil pump, two timing belts, the MAP sensor, and the battery, but I have a 103,000 mile car. The timing belts seem to be a common item.
Is it worth it? Well, if you absolutely need to rely on your car...get something with lower performance. If you have a spare car or a short commute, or a surfeit of mechanical skill, it's probably worth it.
Mexican Phantom R/T and LeBaron R/T
Cuevas Seoane Jose Luis wrote:
The Phantom came in 3 versions in 1992 and 1993: one with luxury accessories, and a 160 hp 2.5 engine, a similar one with R/T logos, and a limited edition Phantom R/T Turbo III (only black, white, and red colors). In 1994, the luxury and Turbo III were dropped. The Spirit was sold with the 2.5 TBI (110 hp), the 2.5 turbo, and the Turbo III in 1992 and 1993.
Mexican Spirit R/T
|Supplied by gts1|
High altitude figures,
speeds at lower altitudes
will be much faster