After publishing similar lists of Chrysler Corp’s forgotten models in the Dodge and Plymouth divisions, it’s finally time to conclude the series with the parent marque. Most classic Chrysler models were low production vehicles. At least, compared to the aforementioned performance and people’s divisions (not necessarily a strict description). This is why the idea of a mainstream Chrysler never resonated well with the automaker’s buyers.
But that wasn’t the reason for some models to fall through the cracks. After all, some of the most successful Chryslers have become cult-like classics. The 300 Letter Series, LeBaron and New Yorker are such classics that don’t necessarily require a Pentastar badge upon their hoods for us to recognize them. Nor do they need an automaker’s prefix in front of their name. Most car enthusiasts know what they are. Some Chrysler cars, however, are a different story altogether. Especially ones that weren’t even conceived by the brand, like the captive imports. Of course, not only rebadged Chryslers have fallen through the cracks. Some models they held their hopes high for have also flopped. For whatever reason, they’ve become mostly forgotten and obscured. Whether they deserved that fate or not, here they are.
Looking For A Chrysler Classic For Your Garage? Try One Of These Obscure Cars!
1989-1991 TC by Maserati
This 2-seat luxury grand touring convertible rightfully sits among the most intriguing Chryslers ever produced. The car, which was developed jointly by Chrysler and Maserati, was actually more of a project between two friends – Lee Iacocca and Alejandro De Tomaso who were, at the time, at the helms of the two companies. The TC by Maserati was supposed to generate some revenue for the then small Italian automaker while at the same time, bestowing some much-needed glamour upon the smallest of the American “big three”.
The strategy worked well enough on paper, though it didn’t translate into the real world. All 7,300 units (lower than expected) were produced in Milan, Italy, then shipped across the Atlantic. One of the reasons was its price tag. Coachbuilding, shipping, and exclusive interior costs added up to as much as $35,000. That’s about $67,000 in 2017 dollars – for a K-car!!! Although actually called Q-body, the TC’s platform was essentially an updated K-platform. Then there was the issue of scarcely available parts. Even then, very few TC parts were interchangeable with concurrent Chryslers. Today, it’s a nightmare finding spare parts for it, which are a necessity. And that brings us to another one of its problems – sub-par build quality. Then there was the issue of the TC’s late arrival. It was supposed to be ready by 1987 before the LeBaron convertible debuted, but instead, it came after its much more affordable counterpart.
Early TCs came with a 160-horsepower 2.2L intercooled Turbo II 4-cylinder engine tied to a 3-speed automatic transmission. A 141-horsepower 3.0L Mitsubishi V6 with 4-speed auto replaced it for the 1990 and 1991 model years. Finally, some 500 TCs were fitted with Maserati’s own 200-horsepower 2.2L 16-valve turbo four. It featured a Cosworth block, Mahle pistons, Crane Cams and an IHI turbocharger. Other parts were interchangeable with the Chrysler Turbo II mill. Although it’s the most exciting option on paper, finding spare parts for the Maserati engine is a pain in the… Still, the advocates for this classic Chrysler will tell you it’s more comfortable than any Italian supercar car of the time, fun to drive, more efficient than other American sports cars, and practical at the same time. You have to admit – at the very least, it sounds like a good time.
The E-Class was finally a smart move by Chrysler. After hanging from in limbo at the turn of the decade, they got back into the roomy family sedan game while managing fuel economy in an efficient manner. They accomplished this by stretching their compact platform and making previously small cars bigger. Namely, they stretched their well-known K-platform and named it the E-platform. And, while the E-body sold well as a Dodge or a Plymouth, the Chrysler audience rejected the idea of a pedestrian luxury car.
The problem was, the Chrysler E-Class was luxurious only on paper. Even then, that’s a stretch. There were no leather seats, no power from under the bonnet, and no advanced tech goodies usually found in luxury cars. Speaking of a lack of power, the E-Class was motivated by a trio of engine choices. Standard was the 99-horsepower 2.2L straight-four, while alternative options consisted of a 140-horsepower Turbo I mill and a 101-horsepower 2.6L Mitsubishi four-banger. It’s worth mentioning that E-Class at least offered air conditioning, power windows, and wood grain interior trim. Yet its stablemate, the New Yorker, offered all that and more. Needless to say, the New Yorker simply destroyed it in sales comparison. Chrysler withdrew the E-Class after only two years and 71,495 sold units. They didn’t discontinue the car, however. They simply moved it down a notch into Plymouth’s backyard and christened it the Caravelle.
There’s another thing that comes to mind with the E-Class. Apart from the obvious Mercedes-Benz-like name, they also copied the German automaker’s body-colored wheel covers with a star badge upon them. Sadly, it only goes to show that even if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it can still be a trashcan wearing a duck costume.
1970 Newport Cordoba
Five years before Chrysler Cordoba debuted and became the first non-full-size Pentastar-badged vehicle ever produced, Chrysler offered the name as a part of the Newport lineup. It was a spring special edition during the “fuselage” car’s inaugural model year, and it was only available as a 2- or 4-door hardtop. This setup differentiated it from conventional full-size Newports which were available as 2-door convertibles and 4-door pillared sedans as well.
Another thing that differentiated the Cordoba from conventional Newports was the special Cordoba Gold paint. There was also a unique brown vinyl “Español” roof, Aztec eagle hood medallion and Aztec pattern side moldings. A similar scheme continued on the inside as well. Vinyl seats matched the exterior color and featured Aztec design inserts. At the same time, door and dash panels, which were usually wood-trimmed in conventional models, also came with golden Aztec-themed inserts. This is where differences between the Newport Cordoba and conventional Newports cease. The standard engine was the 2-barrel 383 cu-in V8 with ties to a 3-speed manual transmission. A stronger 4-barrel version of the same mill and 440 cu-in V8 were optional. The standard price for this spring special was $3,769. However, with optional 3-speed Torque Flite auto, AM radio, power steering and white sidewall tires raised it to $4,241.65.
The Chrysler Newport Cordoba was an affordable option considering the aesthetics it offered. It’s no wonder, then, that 3,741 buyers decided to give it a go. 1,868 people bought the 2-door specials, while 1,873 of them went the route of the sedan. This obscure classic Chrysler is rather rare these days since not many of them have managed to survive.
The Laser was Chrysler’s first sports car based on its stablemate Dodge Daytona. Another one of the extended K-platform cars, the Laser also featured a front-wheel-drive setup. Unlike the Daytona which soldiered on until 1993, the Laser disappeared after only three model years. And to be clear, the Chrysler Laser shouldn’t be confused with the Plymouth Laser, which itself was based on the Mitsubishi Eclipse.
As is the case with most K-cars, the Chrysler Laser too came with a 93-horsepower 2.2L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine. This setup didn’t work too well with the sporty 2+2 image Chrysler was trying to imbue the Laser with, so a Turbo I version of the mill with 142 ponies on tap was offered as well. It came standard in XE and top of the line XT (introduced mid-1985) trims, while base models made do with it as an option. The Laser XT also added a digital dashboard and black louvers on the hood. In fact, every turbocharged model came with the latter. Mark Cross leather and a t-top roof were optional. The latter only arrived during the Laser’s last year in the market, though.
Chrysler dropped the plushy sports car after finding around 147,000 buyers for it. Most of them opted for the base version of the car, while the fewest (around 10,500 in total) ticked the XT box. It can safely be assumed the Laser was a success for Chrysler, especially considering it was their very first pony competitor. Yet, Chrysler still decided to discontinue the car quietly and unceremoniously. Did it deserve more? It certainly did.
Most of you probably remember this one, but I always thought its name was kinda out of place. It shares neither the platform nor the layout with its successor, the Chrysler 300. Unlike the plain 300 which (sort of) represents a return to roots by offering a rear-wheel drive layout, the 300M was actually a front-wheel-drive luxury full-sizer. Then again, the 300M doesn’t lean on the non-letter series’ legacy, and it certainly doesn’t represent a continuation of the letter series classics. Although, judging by its somewhat misleading name – it actually does. Last time I checked, an “M” came just after an “L”. And that’s precisely where Chrysler called it quits on the letter series in 1965.
Fast forward three and a half decades and the controversial Chrysler 300M is finally here. A fine car in its time considering it offered 253 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque via a 3.5L V6 engine shared with the Plymouth Prowler and the Dodge Intrepid R/T. The problem was, the 300M lacked exactly 47 ponies to, at least, get one 300 letter series’ aspect right. Chrysler knew that, too. When they introduced the 300M Special in Spring 2002, they finally got the chance to make things right. Only they didn’t. The 300M Special only got 2 hp and 3 lb-ft of torque more. Seriously, Chrysler!? The only thing special about it were the new tires, wheels, a body kit, and dual exhausts. They added 70 pounds to what was already a heavy car.
It’s safe to say that 300M didn’t meet expectations. At least not back then. Even though it was initially heaped with praises, people still expected something different from it. Looking from today’s perspective, the Chrysler 300M was a fine car. While not exactly a classic Chrysler, it does hold some special memories for a lot of us, for some strange reason.
The main reason behind the Chrysler Sunbeam’s obscurity in the U.S. is the fact that the subcompact hatchback never ventured beyond the borders of the United Kingdom. Moreover, the Sunbeam didn’t stick long enough. At least not under Chrysler’s patronage. After Chrysler UK got sold to the PSA Group (Peugeot Citroën), the Sunbeam simply received Talbot badging. It continued as a Talbot Sunbeam until 1981 when it was finally replaced by the Talbot Samba – supermini completely designed in France.
The Sunbeam’s story began in 1975 during the largest turmoil in the British auto industry. Constant strikes, poor labor relations and an invasion of Japanese imports brought most of the U.K.-based manufacturers to their knees. The U.K. divisions of Ford and Vauxhall survived by importing from mainland Europe, while British Leyland and Chrysler UK didn’t have that luxury. The former was bailed out by the government, and the latter saw it as a way out. The British government caved after Chrysler threatened to close the Linwood plant, and granted them £55 million to fund the new small car. Thus, the Sunbeam was born. It represented a ray of sunshine to the limping British auto industry, regardless of it being conceived as a result of extortion.
The Chrysler Sunbeam finally debuted in July 1977 – only 19 months after the project had kicked off. The 3-door hatch was nothing special, though. Powered by low displacement straight-four engines, it was rather efficient for its time. It was exactly what Chrysler UK was going for. It sold well, but not as spectacularly well as they had hoped for. The most interesting Sunbeams are the Sunbeam Ti hot hatch and the Lotus version of the car powered by a 150-hp 2.2L slant four engine. The latter also found its way to the World Rally Championship where its output was increased to 250 horsepower. The Talbot Sunbeam Lotus (no longer a Chrysler) was first piloted by the late Finnish rallying icon Henri Toivonen.
1971-1978 Valiant Charger
You probably didn’t know that Chrysler once had a Charger of its own. It was another overseas-only Chrysler marketed between 1971 and 1975 as the Chrysler Valiant Charger, and between 1975 and 1978 simply as the Chrysler Charger. As its name suggests, the muscle 2-door coupe was based upon the Valiant Sedan version of the car which, in turn, was related to the Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Dart. The only catch was that the Valiant Charger was reserved for the Australian audience.
The first couple of model years were extremely successful. The VH Series, as they were called, had made a connection with the buyers on more than one level. Pacy, affordable, and well built, Valiant Chargers were among the best deals Australian muscle car enthusiasts could have gotten their hands on back then. Top tier performance was reserved for a 340 cu-in V8 with as much as 275 horsepower. Actually, disregard what I just said. In bizarre fashion common only to Australia, the strongest powerplant was actually the one with only six cylinders. A 265 cu-in Hemi straight-six produced up to 302 horses and 320 lb-ft of torque. This high output was only available with the R/T E49 “six pack” option characterized by triple Weber carbs. E49 cars were able to storm from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.1 seconds.
Sadly, that also proved to be the Valiant Charger’s performance peak. Subsequent models would see their output figures decreased. VJ Valiant Chargers dropped the R/T models, although “six packs” remained. VK Chargers from 1975 would drop the “six pack” entirely, and finally part ways with the performance strategy that Chrysler Australia had utilized so well. This is one classic Chrysler that will certainly be missed.
Yes, yes, I know. Another Australian market Chrysler you’ve likely never heard of. It’s almost like cheating, but I simply couldn’t resist mentioning such a unique and utterly peculiar vehicle from the Chrysler universe. Did you know that Chrysler had actually offered panel vans and trucklets at one point? Well, you do now.
The Chrysler Drifter was actually based on the Chrysler Valiant CL – itself a continuation of the aforementioned Valiant Charger, only not consigned to the exclusive coupe body style. Moreover, the Drifter was actually only an optional package. Conventional non-Drifter panel vans and utes were also available. Still, the Drifter package was so colorful that the name actually stuck, hence all Valiant panel vans and trucklets were simply marketed as Chrysler Drifters. Needless to say, Drifters were much rarer than their conventional siblings which were already low production models to begin with. Of around 1,700 total Valiant panel vans, only a limited number received the special Drifter treatment. Trucklets were even rarer. Some sources state that only 6 of them were ever produced.
For 816 Australian dollars, the Drifter package included a honeycomb grille from the Valiant Charger coupe, Bridgestone radial tires, quartz halogen high beam headlights taken from the sedan, and a special paint job with triple side stripes. Only Impact Orange, Sundance Yellow, Harvest Gold, and Spinnaker White color schemes were offered with the latest having additional strobe stripes on the tailgate. A 265 cu-in 6-cylinder engine got the starting spot, while the 318 cu-in V8 started off on the bench. A 4-speed manual trans was standard regardless of engine choice. Reasons for the Drifter’s low production numbers can be found in Chrysler’s non-existent marketing and stern competition from other automakers. Or people simply didn’t like the fact that the panel van’s carpet wasn’t fixed to the bed, so it moved along together with the cargo.
2009 Aspen Hybrid
It wasn’t that long ago that Chrysler had offered their own version of the Dodge Durango. The full-size SUV was introduced in 2007, and with it, Chrysler became the final American automaker to offer an SUV in their lineup (not counting Tesla whose first car arrived a year later). Yet the Chrysler Aspen passed us by almost unnoticed. Slow sales prompted the Chrysler brass to give it an early axe, but not before they offered an even rarer, more obscure and slower seller – the Aspen Hybrid.
Chrysler’s Aspen Hybrid was built in collaboration with GM and BMW. A 5.7L Hemi V8 and two liquid-cooled electric motors were good enough for 400 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque when working together. Moreover, they boosted the large SUV’s fuel efficiency by 25% overall and 40% in the city alone. But don’t forget that the conventional Aspen’s figures were in the mid to high teens to begin with. That’s why the final hybrid’s 20/22 mpg shouldn’t be frowned upon. Yet, despite being more affordable, lighter and more efficient than their GM counterparts, the Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango hybrids only arrived in 2009. The year during which Chrysler finally went under and had to close the Newark, Delaware plant where they were assembled.
Exact final production numbers haven’t been disclosed, but some sources suggest that as few as 150 Aspen Hybrids were ever produced. We’ll never know how successful this not-so-classic yet still-forgotten Chrysler could have been.
The Chrysler Alpine was intended as a singular product under both the Rootes Group in the U.K. and Simca in France. Not only that, it almost made it into the U.S. as well. However, Lynn Townsend, then president, rejected that possibility. Chrysler was actively seeking a new compact car back then, but Townsend probably deemed the project too expensive and not profitable enough. Chrysler Alpines did make it to New Zealand, but apart from that and the U.K., it was otherwise sold under different badges and/or nameplates.
The family car would go on and become the most unlikely Car of the Year in Europe for 1976. Meanwhile, Chrysler had finally decided that the Horizon would become their long-sought compact for the U.S. market. It was another U.K.-built European Car of the Year for 1978. In other words, Americans could have received their affordable Dodge/Plymouth much earlier than the Omni/Horizon had arrived. Anyway, the Chrysler Alpine was offered alongside Simca versions of the car, and both drew power from French-built engines. Said engines were 1.3L and 1.5L in displacement early on, with 1.6L units arriving later. All were front-wheel drive cars, although Chrysler engineers first tried to distinguish the U.K. models by building them around a rear-wheel drive layout.
The Chrysler Alpine is one of those “what if” cars. Albeit on a much smaller scale than, for instance, the fabled Tucker 48. It was a successful family hatchback in Europe which had, ultimately, met its untimely demise due to Chrysler’s late seventies troubles at home. It did soldier on until 1986, but not as a part of the Chrysler legacy.