The 1985 Chrysler LeBaron GTS appealed to the baby-boomer generation, capitalizing on a preference for European-style sedans.
The Chrysler New Yorker and Chrysler LeBaron
A more-successful spinoff was the first front-drive New Yorker. Bowing at mid-1983, this was an E-Class with more class -- or what passed for it at the time. Taking a cue from Fifth Avenue sales, stylists gave the E-body a blind-quarter padded vinyl roof, a more-upright vertical-bar grille, extra chrome accents, even "opera lamps" (a '70s throwback).
There was also a more-uptown interior with Mark Cross leather upholstery (introduced with the LeBaron convertible) and high-tech tricks like an irritating Electronic Voice Alert, a "back-seat driver" with a synthesized voice that nagged you from within the instrument panel when your "key is in the ignition" or "a door is ajar." New Yorker wasn't the only Chrysler afflicted by this ill-conceived device, which was soon dropped anyway. The car itself lasted longer, generating some 60,000 sales through 1987, after which it departed for a more-impressive New Yorker.
The two most interesting Chryslers of the 1980s were the Laser coupe and LeBaron GTS sedan. The former, new for '84, was a sleek "fasthatch" design on an abbreviated 97.0-inch-wheelbase K-car platform (internally dubbed "G24"). A near-identical twin to the reborn Dodge Daytona introduced alongside it, the Laser was a sporty, if somewhat crude performer in turbo form and practical in any guise.
But it may have been a little much for most Chrysler types, because the Daytona always outsold it. As Dodge was reasserting its claim as the corporation's "performance" division, Chrysler-Plymouth dealers lost the Laser after 1986, though they got something more salable to replace it.
GTS, a 1985 addition, was a very different LeBaron: a smooth hatchback four-door aimed at America's increasingly affluent baby-boomers and their growing preference for premium European sedans. As usual, there was a duplicate Dodge, the Lancer. Both shared the same new H-body and the usual K-car underpinnings on a 103.1-inch wheelbase. Available engines were the now-familiar assortment of Chrysler-built four-cylinder units teamed with five-speed overdrive manual and TorqueFlite automatic transaxles.
Though no threat to the likes of BMW and Mercedes, the LeBaron GTS was a competent all-around tourer, surprisingly roomy and quite versatile (like Laser, its back seat folded down for extra cargo space). Over 135,000 found buyers in the first two years at base prices running $9000-$11,000. Unfortunately, volume dropped by almost 50 percent for '87, reflecting tough competition from the popular new Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable. For 1989, GTS referred only to a top-spec 2.2 turbo model, the base and midrange offerings becoming just plain LeBarons.
As if buyers weren't already bewildered by so many LeBarons, Chrysler introduced two more for 1987: a new J-body coupe and convertible to replace the previous CV styles. Chrysler's design staff, under new chief Tom Gale, gave them rounded, GTS-type contours, a clean yet dignified hidden-headlamp nose, and a shapely tail with full-width light panel. From the rear, the coupe was nicely reminiscent of Studebaker's Avanti. The convertible looked great from any angle, especially with the top down.
Though the CV wheelbase was retained, the J-model's inner structure related more to Daytona than K-car. By now, corporate planners were seeking to reestablish Chrysler as their premium make, so there were no divisional doubles of these LeBarons. Instead, Chrysler gave up the Laser, and the Daytona continued as a Dodge exclusive. This strategy helped the Daytona less than the LeBaron Js, which got off to a strong sales start at nearly 83,500 units.
New Yorker figured in another name game for 1988: fully revised on the new 104.3-inch-wheelbase C-body platform shared with Dodge's Dynasty. There were no major chassis innovations at first, but there was a new engine: a smooth 136-bhp 3.0-liter (181-cid) Mitsubishi V-6 with electronic-port fuel injection (by now almost universal at Highland Park). Styling was clean but archly conservative -- really a cautious update of the Fifth Avenue and, again, reportedly dictated by chairman Iacocca himself.
Base and better-equipped Landau sedans (the latter with vinyl rear quarter-roof) were listed from around $17,500. A first for Chrysler was availability of antilock brakes, a $1000 option but worth every penny in peace of mind. Handling and performance were nothing special, but these were merely traditional luxury cars of a trimmer, more-efficient sort -- really, no bad thing to be.
And Chrysler made them better for 1989 with standard all-disc brakes and a new four-speed automatic transaxle that gave Highland Park another industry first with its fully adaptive electronic shift control. Other new features for the New Yorker nameplate's 50th year included options such as antitheft alarm system, power front seatback recliners, and two-position "memory" power driver's seat, plus a revised electronic instrument cluster.