How Plymouth Cars Work

1990, 1991, 1992 Plymouths

Horizons, like this
Horizons, like this

Again, Plymouth marketed a shared package less aggressively than Dodge, announcing Acclaim in base, midrange LE, and luxury LX guises with few sporting touches. Engine choices were naturally the same: blown and unblown 2.5 fours and a new 3.0-liter (181-cid) Mitsubishi V-6 with 141 bhp.

The last was reserved for LX and teamed only with Chrysler's first four-speed overdrive automatic transaxle, called Ultradrive. Of course, certain sporty features were available, including ­bucket seats and, for 1990, a Rallye Sport option with uprated chassis, enthusiast-oriented interior, and subtle exterior badging.

But this was only a nod to Plymouth's performance past, and fully 85 percent of Acclaim buyers opted for the workaday base model. That wasn't necessarily bad, of course. After all, Plymouth's value-for-money marketing emphasis stood to pay off big once the economy turned down again in 1990. But two domestic cars and a smattering of rebadged Japanese imports (still from Chrysler affiliate Mitsubishi) were no substitute for the full-range lineup Plymouth had lacked for so long, ­especially as none of its cars was really tops in class.

As a result, Plymouth became an even weaker also-ran in the early '90s, finishing next to last in domestic model-year car sales through middecade. The low point came with 1993, when Plymouth moved some 141,300 domestic cars, after which volume picked up to just over 178,000 for '94. While the make's overall volume in this period wasn't exactly puny at between 365,000 and 424,000, more than half of each year's total came from Voyager minivans, making Plymouth more of a "truck" producer than a carmaker for the first time in its history.

It was just as well, for Plymouth might have died sooner without Voyager's consistently high yearly sales. At one point in late 1991, Chrysler was said to be on the verge of killing Plymouth so as to free up funds for its new upscale Eagle line, of which great things were expected. But where Eagle generated only a third to a sixth of Plymouth's volume (to run dead last in the industry race), Plymouth still accounted for no less than 40 percent of total company sales, thanks mainly to Voyager.

On realizing that, management decided Plymouth deserved another chance and approved a heavy infusion of product and promotion money in an attempt to rejuvenate a name that had slipped in public awareness to somewhere between fuzzy and unknown. They even plumped for a nostalgic new Plymouth logo: a stylized sailing vessel reminiscent of the Good Ship Mayflower that would be in place by 1996.

Money was one thing, however, and mission quite another. Though any attention was welcome after some 20 years of not-so-benign neglect, Plymouth still had no place in the corporate scheme except as a "value" brand with a limited selection of low-priced, largely low-profile cars. No surprise, then, that Plymouth continued in the '90s exactly as it had in the '80s, except that offerings declined to three with the complete elimination of imports after 1994. This reflected the decision (at the time) of a newly resurgent Chrysler to sever long-standing product and manufacturing ties with Mitsubishi.

Among the casualties was arguably the most-interesting Plymouth of this era, the Laser sport coupe, a "badge-engineered" Mitsubishi Eclipse built in the same Illinois plant (as was an Eagle version, the Talon).

Voyager, meantime, kept doing land-office business, helped by the same thoughtful changes accorded Dodge's Caravan. Highlights began with a deft exterior makeover for 1991, which also introduced antilock brakes as a first-time extra, plus a revised dash and, with the optional 3.3-liter V-6, available all-wheel drive. A standard driver-side air bag was added as a '91 running change, followed by the industry's first integrated child safety seat as a 1992 option.

For '94 came a standard passenger air bag in another revised dash, plus side-guard door beams and an optional 3.3 V-6 converted to run on compressed natural gas. Environmentalists loved it, even if a $1700 price severely ­tested their convictions. The basic '84-vintage Voyager then put in a final year. Though Plymouth still trailed Dodge in passenger minivan sales, Voyager volume remained significant after 1990 at well over 200,000 per model year.

By contrast, Acclaim and Sundance mostly withered in both sales and interest value, giving little evidence that Plymouth had ever offered anything so exciting as a Hemi 'Cuda or Superbird. With product plans now dictated by marketing goals and sales trends, Plymouth's midsize line was reduced for 1992 to a single base-trim sedan with an exhaustingly long list of option packages but only two engine choices: 100-bhp 2.5-liter four and 141-bhp 3.0-liter V-6.

An eggcrate grille was the main visual change for '93, when an interesting "flex fuel" version of the four became optional. Sold only to fleets for '93 but available to retail customers for '94, this could run on any combination of gasoline or "M85" methanol (an 85-percent methanol/gasoline mix).

Also for '94, Acclaim gained a motorized right-front-shoulder belt to meet that year's federal man-date for dual front "passive restraints." The A-body Plymouth then made a last stand with a shortened options list omitting automatic, ABS, and the flex-fuel engine. Production declined steadily after 1991's respectable 97,000-plus, finishing just above 12,000 for the token '95 model run.

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