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Chrysler LeBaron Coupe/Convertible

Lebaron1When discussing the topic of government bailing out struggling American automakers, the mind turns naturally to Chrysler. After all, the smallest of the Big Three famously received $1.5 billion from the government in loan guarantees in 1979. Powered by Lee Iacocca's charisma, a solid if unspectacular small car platform (the ubiquitous K-car), and brisk sales from its innovative minivan, Chrysler managed to survive and even thrive in the 1990s.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Chrysler tinkered with the K-car platform and the equally ubiquitous 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine like a small child tinkers with Legos--crafting endless combinations of disparate creations from essentially the same set of parts. As with the kid with the Legos, some of the results were wonderful--and some weren't. But only one was truly beautiful--the LeBaron.

I can hear the snickering already, so let me clarify--after all, as Oldsmobile did with "Cutlass," Chrysler throws the LeBaron moniker around with wild abandon. I'm not talking about the Dodge Diplomat clone (though that's a pretty wagon), the Dodge Aries clone, or the Dodge Lancer sports sedan clone (certainly a future Car Lust in its own right). No, I'm talking about the Chrysler-specific personal luxury coupe that debuted in 1987 and broke new ground with its smooth, stylish lines.

Now the snickers are turning into belly laughs--that's fine, laugh it up. Those of us with more refined tastes will be cruising around in our LeBarons.

Lebaron2 My 11-year-old eyes thought the LeBaron was the prettiest car around in 1987, and not even the cynicism of age has dispelled that impression. The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was the definitive personal luxury coupe of the mid-1980s, and it looked like the clear throwback to the 1970s that it was. The LeBaron's trim, curvaceous body and lack of ostentatious ornamentation--especially in silver--made the Monte Carlo look terribly dowdy.

The feline form was European in its svelte shape; but the hidden headlights, curvaceous rocker panels, and toothy grille were clearly American without resorting to cliche. Add to this the availability of a stunning convertible edition--a rarity in the 1980s--and the LeBaron really stood out. This might be damning with faint praise, but the LeBaron was much more classy and elegant than its more expensive quasi-Italian cousin, the Chrysler-Maserati TC.

Performance wasn't bad either. The smooth Mitsubishi V-6 was available, but I would have opted for the potent if unrefined 2.2-liter turbo. With about 175 horsepower on tap, the LeBaron had more than enough punch to keep the wind whistling through your hair. It wasn't quite a budget Mercedes-Benz 560SL in either performance or build quality, but the LeBaron was a very classy cruiser for the price.

Lebaron3Unfortunately, these haven't really aged well. As with most of the K-car derivatives, I haven't seen a really nice LeBaron in years. The styling that was so ground-breaking in 1987 began to look more anonymous as more and more cars aped its lines; and the car turned ugly in 1993 when exposed headlamps replaced the hidden headlights.

Unlike most of my car lusts, I'm not sure I'd want to actually own a 20-year-old LeBaron convertible. The whole experience is just far too likely to sour me on the car. No, instead I'll simply gaze at the ones I see with fondness and regret.

The commercial below is yet another Chrysler commercial that says little or nothing about the car itself. Though with James Earl Jones lending the ad a little of his freight car load of growly gravitas, I almost don't care. It all comes together with this tagline: "LeBarons are beauty with a passion for driving."

Better even is the Spanish-language ad below the English one. It includes many of the great cliches of the time, including the oversized sunglasses (0:07), the booting-up electronic dashboard (0:08), a fantastic shot of the electronic dashboard reflected in the oversized sunglasses (0:09), purposeful grasping of a shift knob (0:14), a little bit of air (0:21), and a dramatic reveal of the once-hidden headlights (0:25). Plus, the non-US cars were called Chrysler Phantoms. That's an awesome name.

The top image is courtesy of Flickr user BoLdOx, the second image is from 99HeyJude, and the third is from How Stuff Works. It is a bit odd that one of the images comes from a user with a Flickr handle named after a Beatles song; while the commercial below is serenaded by a cover of a Beatles song. Coincidence? Yes, absolutely.

--Chris H.

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OOOoooooooo. . .excellent! I was actually thinking of doing a Lust on this. Someone has one (a coupe) a couple blocks from my house and it's nearly in mint condition ("nearly" because a couple months ago it got a pretty substantial ding on it).

Frankly, I know next to nothing about these cars, but the look is just plain pleasing to my eye. Simple without being boring, just nice compact lines without a lot of clutter, and everything in good proportion.

My grandma had one of these - it was graphite gray and had a moonroof instead of the sunroof. I remember being positively mesmerized by the digital dash, the way it would tell you the gas mileage while you drove, and all the other cheesy American electrical doo-dads that were quite popular at the time. From what I remember, she drove that car quite a while (five years or so?) and it held up reasonably well, save for the cracked windshield from when she decided she would hunt for an abandoned mine on her ranch with it and the rear view mirror fell off. She ended up replacing it with a much less interesting (in my young eyes) 1st gen Concorde.

Granted, it may not age particularly well, but I think it ages a lot better than most cars of that time period, especially as far as domestics go. People definitely seem to take a little better care of them than they do their period Cougarthunderfalconbirds.

The Spanish language commercial makes me want a Phantom. Really want a Phantom.

Ah yes, the LeBaron. I was 12 in 1987, and I thought that the convertible was the sexiest car on the road. I still love the lines of that car - clean, crisp, elegant.

I'll take a white GTC please. Smashed. Then I'll shove that engine into an Omni GLHS and run 13.5s while getting 35mpg. WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Convertibles a rarity in the 80s? Surely you jest. Convertibles went away in the latter half of the 70s, but Iococca brought them back because he liked them. Each of the Big Three had at least one model available as a convertible, compact cars being the most likely platform for them.

You might want to fix the were/weren't links to not use that weird and horrible Yahoo redirector.

I mean, I don't think there's any need to be warned that other Car Lust entries are "not part of Yahoo!", especially since almost all of us didn't get here via Yahoo anyway.

When I think of Lebarons I think of the Space Shuttle blowing up.

My mom had a 87ish Chrysler Lebaron Turbo (thankfully, the hardtop variety). The patrol man, who was driving behind her a ways down the highway when the engine exploded and the hood was forced off by the engine parts that came flying out of the car with a trail of white smoke a mile long, remarked that it look like the Space Shuttle blowing up. "Lady, I ain't never seen nothin' like that before in my life!" The smoke trail was mighty long as the "power" part of the power brakes had sorta stop working (as one would imagine with no engine power and parts from the engine bay scattered along the road). Therefore getting the car from 70 to 0 took a highway marker or two. After a month or so at the dealer she had to sign the warranty paperwork which she claimed was as thick as a telephone book with total charges close to $10K. Maybe not a telephone book for Manhattan but closer to say...I dunno...Trenton, NJ. Thank god for those long 80's era Chrysler warranties.

Nice factory stereo. Had one them joy sticks for speaker balance control. Don't see enough joy sticks on car stereo these days.

Sigivald: "You might want to fix the were/weren't links to not use that weird and horrible Yahoo redirector."

Ugh - thanks for the heads-up. I guess that's what I get for doing "copy shortcut" from a search result rather than clicking through to get the URL. Laziness never pays, ladies and gentlemen.

meccano: I forgot about the joystick! Oh, that thing was sweet.

Thank goodness your mom's car was under warranty. Good Lord... then again, I've heard that the turbo that Dodge used on those old 2.2s was, shall we say, troublesome.

Just found a 1995 white convertible with only 28K. Do you think it is worth picking up. What's it worth?

This car was attractive at the time, and Chrysler made later generations even more attractive...until the current Sebring. Which is hideous. And which isn't selling. Who would have thought that styling was so important to convertible buyers?

Did these come with a manual transmission, or is the guy in the second video purposefully shifting into park? Maybe it stalled. heh

Sorry guys, no LeBaron lust from me. To each his/her own.

You mention "K-car" derived several times, but this is a Chrysler J body, the successor to the K car (82-87) and the predecessor to the lhs platform.

Nice cars. Made with 2.2, 2.5 4 cylinder and a 3l v6. Transmissions Automatic (3 speed, 4 speed, 4 speed + overdrive), or Manual 5 speed. Thinking of picking one up myself.

Yes Old CarGuy, some did come with standard trannys....just not as many as maybe should have. I am a standard transmission kinda person but I purchased a 92 LeBaron that had a 3speed auto because is easier to drive in city traffic. Remember these cars were designed to be easy to drive and relaxing....hence the auto transmissions.

I cant say it is the most exciting car Ive owned, but I picked up a 92 with 60k and a salvage title for $100 and got it on the road for about $600, great acceleration, good Handling, OK Ride,27MPG the interior seems ahead of its time, doesnt feel like a 17 year old car, Quieter than you would think with the top down on the highway

Just bought my mom's 94 convertible -- black with a new paint job. While I was not nearly as ga-ga over it as my wife, it's growing on me. It really has style -- a cute little car. Compared to my Honda Civic, it's a lead brick, but with the V6 it moves quite well. The rag top takes out the back seat and the trunk, but hey, this is for cruising with your girl. The Infinity stereo with the joystick is gonna be great for blaring tunes with the top down. Good thing I have plenty of old cassettes. It doesn't handle New Orleans' pot holes too well -- that bouncy suspension is better on the highway. But it's a perfect Sunday car.

Back in the mid 1980's I remember an article about a Chrysler Lebaron Town & Country Convertible which had been fitted with a continental kit and a rumble seat. Seem to me it was in Motor Trend or Car & Driver. I was wondering if anyone has a photo of that car? Or where I could find information about it.

Thanks

Great article. Enjoyed the read and had a good laugh...Thanks!

For the LeBaron fans, feel free to visit: http://mylebaron.com/

I have an 89 LeBaron GTC Turbo convertible with 83k+ miles. It's in surprisingly good shape for a 21 year old car. It needs some minor bodywork--a few dings and bumps, but otherwise it's great. Black with a black top and tan leather interior. There's no rust whatsoever. It has its quirks, sometimes the headlight covers won't go back up, the one rear quarter window doesn't operate--the usual LeBaron stuff. I plan on keeping it for a while, only running it in the summer. I've always liked the style of the 1989 LeBarons. There's nothing else like them out there. Chrysler must have done something right with these cars, as there are quite a few out there still running.

my dad has this car and i am going to get it next year. I dont have a clue how good it is because most of my friends say its old and ugly.I dont know if i should sell it, trade it or keep it?

Meh. To my eyes it's just another square '80s car. They're all pretty much the same.

I'm into Chrysler products from the late '50s to mid '60s. After that Chrysler products began suffering from terrible quality plastic interiors that continue to present day.

There's NO doubt that Chrysler's DARKEST, DREARIEST and MOST DISMAL era ever was in the '80s. Old Lee had K car-ized the corporation. Chrysler reached its lowest degree in styling automobiles during that time.

The only automobiles that Chrysler built in the '80s that were good looking were the 1980/83 Dodge Mirada and Chrysler Cordoba. I'll give a marginal honorable mention to the 1987/95 LeBaron coupe and convertible.

Chrysler's new cab forward LH cars were some of the corporation's best styling and engineering efforts in decades. Sadly those LH cars still suffered from poor quality, mechanical and electrical glitches.

I'll admit Chrysler has come up the rungs in recent years, but their product lineup is stink-o. Why did they abandon the beautiful sleek styling of the last LH cars? Sorry Chrysler, but I don't identify with the DUB crowd and I wouldn't want to own an automobile that gang bangers salivate over.

I hope that Fiat will do something to shed that egregious ghetto appeal of their products.

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