10 Forgotten Classic Plymouth Models You Probably Never Knew Existed
Chrysler volume division’s forgotten mameplates
Published September 26, 2017
Much like Dodge, which we’ve covered recently, Plymouth also relied on special edition packages and limited run models in order to boost sales. Diversity was their strategy in fighting much more financially solvent General Motors and Ford. The strategy often yielded fine results, although not always. Sometimes, these classic Plymouth special edition models simply flopped. This time, though, we’re not reflecting exclusively on special edition Plymouths, but their regular short-run models as well. Models that, for one reason or the other, never managed to leave a lasting mark on American automotive history. Models that quickly became forgotten and were often discarded by their owners after their years of servitude had come to an end.
Since Plymouth offered those affordable entry-level prices with most of their vehicles, they also managed to sell a lot of models over the years. That said, there were plenty of Plymouth cars among them that people have simply forgotten all about. Or, at least didn’t think of for quite a while. But the history pages haven’t forgotten them, and we’ve browsed through them for you. We hope you enjoy one of the last installments in this forgotten classic models series of America’s most prominent car manufacturers.
1978 Arrow Jet and 1979-1980 Fire Arrow
When the first oil crisis shook the market in 1973, Chrysler faced it without a small car of their own. They were already importing the Mitsubishi Galant rebadged as a Dodge Colt, but in order to control the damage, Chrysler took the Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste under its wing as well. The subcompact hatchback started its American adventure in late 1975 as the Plymouth Arrow.
Chrysler being Chrysler, they didn’t wait too long before expanding the Arrow’s lineup with special edition models. First came the Jet package of 1978 which didn’t really change much. The Plymouth Arrow Jet was apparently only available with a base 1.6L Silent Shaft 4-cylinder engine, while the 2.0L mill remained reserved for GS and GT trim levels. What it lacked in power, the Arrow Jet made up for in appearances. It was the sharpest looking Arrow of them all thanks to the pairing of Spitfire Orange on black skirts, a black hood, white-letter tires with road wheels and special body decals. Few people bit the bait, however, and the Arrow Jet was withdrawn for 1979.
Chrysler learned from this and offered a similar package with much more potential under the hood. The Fire Arrow packed a 105-horsepower 2.6L MCA Jet straight-four mill, and offered four-wheel discs, white paint, lower body striping, unique decals, and a louvered rear window among other features. It would seem that the Fire Arrow resonated much better with buyers since Chrysler allowed it to remain for another year. Not only that, they added two new color schemes. Tan with a darker caramel hood and blue with a dark blue hood. Furthermore, 1980 Fire Arrow also received a new engine option – 2.0L straight-four. This proved to be the last year for the Plymouth Arrow which was succeeded by the rear-wheel drive Sapporo and front-wheel drive Champ.
Plymouth had already used the Scamp name when they borrowed Dodge’s successful Dart Swinger and assigned it to their Valiant line during the early seventies. Of course, the Scamp was added in order to distinguish Plymouth’s own Valiant series from the new Dodge-based Valiant model sold alongside them. Cooperation worked both ways as Dodge incorporated Valiant-based Duster coupe and branded it the Demon, as we’ve already explained in a previous installment in this series.
But the Valiant Scamp disappeared after the 1976 model year, and the 1983 Plymouth Scamp is one entirely different animal. It was actually a stablemate to the almost equally obscure Dodge Rampage coupe utility truck. While the Rampage survived for three model years, its Plymouth twin was a one year only offering. Both models drew power from a 2.2L straight-four capable of producing up to 84 horsepower. Not exactly a truck-worthy figure, but then again, the Scamp only weighed between 2,305 and 2,340 pounds depending on trim level. The lighter version was, of course, the conventional Scamp, while the heavier model donned the GT extension. The latter cost $500 more, offered a slightly larger payload, and added a hood scoop and dual remote mirrors among other things. Plymouth produced only 2,184 Scamps and 1,380 Scamp GTs. Most came with a 5-speed manual transmission, although the 3-speed auto and 4-speed manual were also options.
The ultimately unsuccessful Plymouth trucklet likely deserved a better fate. Although underpowered and not exactly a looker, the Plymouth Scamp still offered a fine package completed with optional stripes taken straight from the seventies. Alas, it wasn’t enough. Car-based trucks had become niche vehicles by the time the mid-eighties had arrived, and even the mighty Chevy El Camino had trouble keeping up.
Not all, but still plenty of us, remember Mitsubishi’s turbocharged wonder from the eighties. I talk, of course, of the Mitsubishi Starion – a 2-door rear-wheel-drive sports coupe of impeccable pedigree. Needless to say, Chrysler made a smart move and brought it stateside under its own guise. A number of people will also remember the Chrysler Conquest – the Starion’s badge-engineered American clone. There was also a Dodge version of the Conquest, but who actually remembers that Plymouth offered a Conquest of their own as well?
Dodge and Plymouth actually started the rebadged Mitsubishi Starion trend. Both divisions’ cars were offered side by side until parent company Chrysler took over in 1986. During those two model years, Dodge sold only a marginally larger quantity of Conquests than Plymouth, though. Dodge production number totals were 2,502 units for 1985 and 2,791 models for 1986, for a total of 5,293 cars. Plymouth, on the other hand, sold 2,500 and 2,653 Conquests of their own respectively – a grand total of 5,153 units. Both were extremely rare, as you can clearly see. For some reason (let’s be honest, they weren’t cheap), Mitsubishi’s turbocharged sports hatch simply never appealed to the American crowd. Even the 2.6L turbo version of the Astron four banger exclusive with Chrysler captives wasn’t enough. Even though it raised a more-than-healthy 145 horses in base form and 170 ponies with the intercooler.
Intercooler versions were limited to a 5-speed stick, while non-intercooled models came with a choice in 4-speed auto. Moreover, base versions used narrow bodies, while intercooled models came with wide body treatment. Although Chrysler’s modified and overhauled version of the Conquest looked better and managed to create a steady base of worshipers over the years, Plymouth and Dodge Conquests more than deserve credit for their role in launching the rare Starion clone into stardom.
The Acclaim was actually a rather successful model for Plymouth. The AA-body intermediate sold a grand total of 470,000 units during its 7 years on the market and migrated to other Chrysler divisions in the process. Dodge sold it as the Spirit, while Chrysler branded it LeBaron in the US and Saratoga overseas. Although successful, the Acclaim became obscured and forgotten soon after its discontinuation. It was never a fun car to begin with – just a plain 4-door sedan, ideal as a family or fleet car.
Unlike the Dodge Spirit, which also came in a sporty turbocharged R/T version, the Plymouth Acclaim never exhibited such aspirations. The Acclaim did feature an optional turbo-four engine, but it was never as powerful as the Spirit’s Turbo III mill. It remained a mediocre performer throughout its life. Boring and bland on one hand, yet affordable and efficient on the other. The Acclaim was always going to be a bargain. A return to its roots for the Plymouth division, if you will. It even received J.D. Power’s most reliable domestic car accolade for 1991 (behind Accord and Camry). It was available with the aforementioned 2.5L turbo four (until 1992), a conventional 2.5L straight-four throughout its life, and optional 3.0L V6 (standard with LX trim).
Only once had the Acclaim stridden from its uninspired narrow path when in 1993, Plymouth offered the optional Gold Package with it. The package didn’t offer anything besides golden paint, pinstripes and alloy wheels, however. There was also a special dealer-installed Shelby performance package available (talk about coming out of left field), but apparently only 15 Acclaims received it. Less than a dozen survive today.
1979-1980 Volaré Sport Wagon
The Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volaré were so riddled with special edition models that it’s almost impossible to account for all of them here. Instead, I’ll only cover one – the Volaré Sport Wagon. The Sport Wagon debuted during the compact F-body car’s penultimate year on the market, and it remained an option on regular wagons until its demise the following year.
Unlike the coeval Buick Century Wagon, which came with standard rally suspension, the Volaré Sport Wagon offered only cosmetic upgrades. The package itself consisted of tape stripes, aluminum road wheels, sport mirrors, a front air dam, and flared wheel arches. Despite being only appearance models, all Volaré Sport Wagons could be ordered with the additional performance and handling package, as well as with the most powerful 360 cu in V8 engine. At least for 1979 they could. Chrysler withdrew the 360 from the Aspen and Volaré lines for their final year, limiting them to a 318 cu in V8 and 225 cu in slant-six. At least they received a new front fascia, even though it was in their final year.
The Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volaré Sport Wagon would be the last sporty wagon offerings by the Chrysler Corporation in the second millennium. Their spiritual successors would become the Dodge Magnum and Chrysler PT Cruiser Turbo in the 2000s. Despite failing to offer truly sporty performance, this classic Plymouth still managed to add some much-needed pizzazz to the people’s brand.
1970-1975 Gold Duster and 1976 Silver Duster
When Plymouth introduced a sport-bodied semi-fastback Duster to complement the compact Valiant line in late ’69, they probably envisioned the special edition strategy for it from the very beginning. The Plymouth Duster was available in numerous different versions over the years. We’ll reflect on two of them here. One from the Duster’s inaugural year, and another that saw the iconic nameplate into its well-deserved retirement.
The Gold Duster made its debut mid-year during 1970. More of a full-fledged model of its own than a special edition package, it survived until 1975 – the Duster’s penultimate year on the market. Engines available with the Gold Duster were the larger 225 cu in slant-six and 318 cu in V8. The package could be distinguished by special gold stripes on the sides and at the back, and by unique badging. It also added whitewall tires, wheel covers, a canopy vinyl roof, wall to wall carpeting, all-vinyl seats, dual horns, and a cigar lighter. The exact number of units produced escapes us.
For the Duster’s final year on the market, the gold version of the compact coupe was replaced by a silver one. The Plymouth Silver Duster continued right where its predecessor left off. It still offered unique exterior striping, albeit upon silver paint this time. A red vinyl canopy roof also remained, and it was complemented by the “Boca Raton” cloth and vinyl upholstery. Powertrain lineup remained unchanged as well. With the exception of third option – a 360 cu in V8 which generated up to 220 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. However, only a few Silver Dusters had received the strongest available engine offering. Yet again, exact figures elude us.
1979-1982 Arrow Truck
Despite what its name might suggest, the Plymouth Arrow Truck didn’t get its inspiration from the Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste captive import. Instead, it derived its cues from another Mitsubishi, the Forte pickup, currently known as the Triton or L200. It did, however, coexist with the Arrow for a year or so before the subcompact disappeared in order to make way for the Plymouth Sapporo.
The only thing that the Plymouth Arrow car and Plymouth Arrow truck shared was Mitsubishi’s 2.0L and 2.6L Astron engines. You might also recall that only the Fire Arrow came with the larger of the two four-bangers. The Arrow Truck squeezed out 105 horsepower from it, but payload, as you can imagine, remained on a low end. Other than the engine, Arrow hatchbacks and Arrow Trucks didn’t share that many parts between them. An interesting offering in the Arrow Truck lineup was a Sport package which added either a two-tone paint job or multi-color striping, contrasting colored wheels, and bumblebee-styled striped buckets. Exact production numbers are, again, unknown. Both for the Sport option and for conventional models.
Not only was the Forte Mitsubishi’s first compact pickup ever, but the Arrow was also Plymouth’s first and only post-war rear-wheel-drive truck. It was a belated answer to the Ford Courier and Chevy LUV – as expected – but it wasn’t really successful for Plymouth. Dodge did get a little bit more out of their D-50 (Ram 50 after 1980 model year), but it too came way too late to make a lasting impression.
GTX is probably the least obscured of all Plymouth models on this list, but I simply had to include it. The gentleman’s muscle car represented a unique blend of style and performance that was available alongside the Plymouth Belvedere intermediate. Thus Chrysler actually offered an in-house competitor successor to their famous 300 Letter Series models. Albeit in rather unconventional fashion.
The fancy GTX trim cost an arm and a leg back when it was introduced, but that was precisely the point of its introduction. Chrysler wanted to cash in on their famous Hemi Elephant engine which people ticked off more than 1,500 times on the 1966 Belvedere option sheet alone. In contrast, only 125 people were prepared to cash in on the 1967 Plymouth GTX. This left most people only dreaming about the 425-horsepower 426 cu in V8. But at least a 440 cu in V8 rated at 375 horsepower was available at a lower price. The following year would see the new “coke bottle” styling’s introduction followed by an optional cold-air induction package with a new grille and hood scoops in 1969. 1970 introduced another facelift and saw out the slow-selling convertible. Finally, 1971 proved to be GTX’s last year as a separate line, despite incorporating the new “fuselage” styling.
GTX became an optional package on the 1972 Roadrunner where it would finally meet its end in 1974. Very few nameplates have offered what the GTX had throughout its rather short lifetime. The most powerful available engines, a plush interior, and a plethora of advanced mechanical components. All of that under the people’s classic Plymouth badge.
Before Plymouth offered the successful Acclaim mentioned above, they had the Caravelle. Plymouth’s first ever front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan was actually first assigned as a Canadian-only model in 1983. It only arrived stateside in 1985 in order to replace the outgoing and slow-selling Chrysler E-Class. The Plymouth Caravelle was based on the same platform as the E-Class it replaced and the Dodge 600.
Built upon the K-based E-platform, sedans differed from their K-body siblings which were never offered in the U.S. In order to make the Caravelle as plain and base as possible, Chrysler reduced it to a single trim offering. All popular options like the AM/FM stereo, power windows and cruise control, however, became standard. The engine lineup consisted of a 96-horsepower 2.2L straight-four and 146-hp turbocharged version of the same mill. A 2.6L Mitsubishi Astron engine was only available during the Caravelle’s sophomore year before making way for the 100-horsepower 2.5L fuel-injected engine. Another change that 1986 brought was a facelift for the Caravelle and a new base trim level.
The Plymouth Caravelle was introduced ad hoc and as a necessity. Hence, it’s not surprising why only around 133,000 of them were produced over the course of four model years. The Caravelle’s successor, the Acclaim, was a more purpose-built extended K-car which, as we’ve seen, offered an optional V6 engine. It’s no wonder the Caravelle is even more of a forgotten Plymouth model than the Acclaim ever was or will be.
1979-1982 Horizon TC3
The Plymouth Horizon was nothing more than a stablemate to the Dodge Omni 024 subcompact hatchback. Chrysler envisioned the two as economical and affordable options that would thrive under newly transpired circumstances. Those circumstances, of course, being the 1979 oil crisis. Only they didn’t. Neither the Omni 024 nor the Horizon TC3 were particularly successful, and Chrysler replaced them with the Charger and Turismo – uncannily similar L-body subcompacts powered by new engines.
When the Plymouth Horizon TC3 arrived, it only had a 70-horsepower 1.7L Volkswagen straight-four under its bonnet – an engine that later generated only 63 ponies. The average fuel economy of 40 miles to the gallon (34 mpg in the city and 51 mpg on the highway) was the only thing this petite engine could boast. That’s why Chrysler offered an optional 84-horsepower 2.2L four-banger beginning with 1981. The car came with a standard AM/FM stereo, electric hatch release and radial tires. These were features rarely seen on similarly affordable subcompacts beforehand. Even that wasn’t enough to sway enough buyers that would justify Horizon TC3’s existence, though.
The most interesting of Plymouth Horizon TC3’s was the Turismo package offered since 1981. Yes, Plymouth gradually introduced the Turismo name to the car before renaming it completely in 1983. Apart from a larger engine, the Turismo package offered rally wheels, different lower body paint, and a rear spoiler. Similar to the Dodge Omni 024 DeTomaso. Even that wasn’t enough to prolong the life of this classic Plymouth. Probably deservedly so, though.
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