Dodge dealers bemoaned losing the 600 convertible, but at least their Daytona sports coupe had no more in-house competition from Chrysler's Laser after 1986. Both models had arrived for '84 on a much-modified 97-inch K-car chassis topped by slick, "fast hatch" styling.
Corporate finances at the time dictated they be virtually identical, but the Daytona outsold Laser from the start, probably because it was geared more to Dodge's typical clientèle. Daytona also had an edge with three models to Laser's two: initially base, Turbo, and the racy Turbo Z, the last distinguished by ground-hugging lower-body extensions, discreet hatch lid spoiler, and big wheels and tires.
With the sort of evolutionary improvements found in all Chrysler products in this decade, the Daytona rocked along at around 50,000 units a year through 1986. By that point it was available with a stroked and fuel-injected 2.5-liter four as base power, plus a T-top option (shared with Laser) and a "C/S" handling package named for Carroll Shelby, the old friend Iacocca had persuaded to "heat up" certain Dodges, as Shelby had done with Mustangs when both worked at Ford back in the '60s.
To compensate for the lost convertible, Dodge dealers got a restyled '87 Daytona. It boasted a smooth, hidden-headlamp "droop-snoot," and was offered in base, luxury Pacifica, and hot-rod Shelby Z models. Pacifica carried the familiar 146-bhp turbo 2.2, the Z a hot 174-bhp "Turbo II" engine; even the base model could be ordered with the 146-bhp unit as part of a C/S performance package.
For 1989, Pacifica was replaced by ES and ES Turbo, the latter powered by a new 150-bhp turbocharged 2.5, and the Z was retitled Daytona Shelby. There were several styling and equipment adjustments, including standard four-wheel disc brakes across the board. Of interest to weekend racers was the C/S Competition Package for the base Daytona -- basically the Shelby model with special exterior, 2.2-liter "Turbo II" power, and "maximum performance suspension" but few creature comforts so as to realize a 200-pound weight savings.
All Daytonas sported a more-ergonomic dashboard and standard driver-side air bag for 1990, when the blown 2.2 received a new Variable Nozzle Technology (VNT) turbocharger that provided no more horsepower but did make driving much smoother.
That year's base and ES models also offered Daytona's first V-6: the 3.0-liter (181-cid) 141-bhp Mitsubishi unit fast-spreading throughout the corporate camp. was replaced by ES and ES Turbo, the latter powered by a new 150-bhp turbocharged 2.5, and the Z was retitled Daytona Shelby. There were several styling and equipment adjustments, including standard four-wheel disc brakes across the board. Of interest to weekend racers was the C/S Competition Package for the base Daytona -- basically the
Though Daytona generated only about a third as many sales as Mustang or Camaro, it symbolized Dodge's return to performance better than anything else in the line. And its sportiest models gave away little in acceleration or handling to those heavier, more-powerful rear-drive pony cars -- proof that Chrysler engineering was still to be reckoned with.
Bowing alongside Daytona was a very different '84 Dodge: America's first "garageable" van. Aptly named Caravan, it was essentially a tall K-wagon on a special 112-inch wheelbase. Caravan had a very roomy interior that offered seating options for up to eight. Quick-release anchors made for easy removal of the second and third bench seats for cargo carrying.
Front drive and astute packaging conferred a lower ride height than any rear-drive van, which eased entry/exit and contributed to a carlike driving position. In fact, aside from sitting a little higher and farther forward, driving a Caravan was much like driving an Aries wagon.
This as much as attractive pricing made the Caravan (and Plymouth's twin Voyager) an instant hit, generating upward of 200,000 annual sales. A fair number were windowless Ram Van commercials, but most were passenger models -- initially base, SE, and woody-look LE.
Extending Caravan's appeal -- literally -- was the 1988 addition of 14-inch-longer "Grand" models on a 119.1-inch wheelbase. At the same time, the 3.0 Mitsubishi V-6 joined the options list, bringing 144 horsepower and a welcome gain in towing capacity over the four-cylinders.
The main 1989 developments were optional availability of Chrysler's new 150-bhp turbocharged 2.5 four on standard-length SE and LE Caravans -- somewhat surprising for this sort of rig -- and "Ultradrive," a new electronically controlled four-speed automatic option for V-6 LEs and all Grand Caravans.
But Ultradrive had a shaky start, garnering some bad press that it was flawed. Chrysler stonewalled publicly while working quickly and quietly to amend the problems. The next year, Caravans offered a new 3.3-liter overhead-valve V-6 option: the first all-Chrysler engine since the 2.2-liter K-car four and the first in a family of corporate power plants for the '90s.
Unquestionably, Caravan (and Voyager) was Chrysler's biggest coup of the '80s. For once, Detroit's perennial number-three outfit had delivered the right product at the right time.
For more on the all-American Dodge, see:
- Dodge New Car Reviews and Prices
- Dodge Used Car Reviews and Prices