Thursday, February 12, 2015

Chrysler K-Cars: Plain and Fancy

Chrysler Corporation launched its K platform car line in 1981 in what was thought by many as its last gasp before descending into bankruptcy and possible total failure.  As it happened, the K-cars proved to be the company's salvation as it recovered once again in a series of swings between prosperity and near-obliteration that had been going on since the early 1950s and have continued to this day.

The K platform was a front wheel drive layout with a short, 100.3 inch (2548 mm) wheelbase.  Over the years, many variations were produced and often given different platform code letters, creating the impression that the newer models were not really K-cars, even though they fundamentally were.

Chrysler's entry-level and mid-range brands were respectively Plymouth and Dodge, and their K-cars were called the Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries (for details, click here).  For 1982, the K platform was extended to the Chrysler brand as the Chrysler LeBaron line.  The LeBaron name was from a classic-era coachbuilding firm that Chrysler acquired remnants of, and proceeded to cheapen by placing it on progressively mundane cars (LeBaron history is summarized here).

This post deals with some of the original K-cars marketed 1981-84.  The styling was pre- modern aerodynamic, a remnant of the so-called "three-box" styling prevalent in the 1970s and early 80s.  K-cars were generally cleanly-styled, with few strong curves.  Glass-area was proportionally large, in tune with the styling fashions of the time.  Roofs were essentially flat and thin.  C-pillars were thick, providing a town-car look that was another fashionable feature.  In sum, given the K-platform parameters, Chrysler Corporation stylists did a clean, competent job on the earliest K examples, though I must add that the cars lacked visual excitement.
Gallery

First Plymouth Reliant
Posing with the first K-car to come off the assembly line is Chrysler Corporation chairman Lee Iacocca, who is credited with the K-car assisted turnaround.

1982 Plymouth Reliant 4-door

1982 Plymouth Reliant 2-door
Note the vinyl cover at the rear of the "greenhouse" of this car.  The four-door sedan above it seems to have vinyl covering all the top's sheet metal.  This was yet another circa-1980 fashion, one that Iacocca was especially fond of.  The concept was to provide a car with a dignified, classic-era aura.  Unfortunately vinyl tops did not age well; they might fade or unpeel if not cared for.  More such tops are seen in some of the images below.

1981 Dodge Aries

1982 Dodge 400 Coupe
The 400 was essentially another name for the K-car.

1982 Chrysler LeBaron
The first Chrysler-branded K-car.

1983 Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country
Town & Country was a Chrysler name applied to "woodie" and faux-woodie designs since the late 1940s. That's a 1947-vintage Town & Country woodie convertible lurking in the background; the 1984 version is a faux.

1984 Chrysler Limousine
An ultra-stretched K-car with a 131.3 inch (3,335 mm) wheelbase.

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