The Left-Handed Spanner: A Thin Line Between Meh and Hate

The recent K-car feature got a good number of comments, and they continue to trickle in. This morning, in a major development, we heard from none other than the illustrious president and founder of the Chrysler K-Car
Club, Guy V.Coulombe! Standing up for the K, with a stiff upper lip:

To the writer of this article, I saved that car from the junkyard last year, and it used to be in the Chrysler K-Car Club, at It is a classic car, and should be respected as such. It sold this morning by the way. 

I’m sure I speak for all DT-ers when I say, the K has our respect. Full stop.  The Left-Handed Spanner is a special feature column written by DT contributor Kaibeezy.

Image used for illustrative purposes from

Contemporary observers knew it was doing something very right. Here’s a typically favorable review:

The K cars, Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries, succeeded admirably. Not only did they almost single handedly save Chrysler from certain death, they also provided the company with a vehicle that could be stretched, smoothed, poked, chopped and trimmed to create almost a dozen different models with prices from $7,235 to $22,475.[The K Car: Variations On a Theme Helped to Save Chrysler, January 1984]

The K was a completely appropriate car for the times, got the job done, and it is absolutely a classic car. But — elephant in the room — when we post it here alongside other mid-80’s classics it’s not exactly the enthusiast’s choice, now is it? Among sedans, we favor the BMW E28/E30, Mercedes W123/W124, Saab 900/9000, Alfa Milano, but even the Maxima, Accord and Camry of that era are on our lists if we can find one with a stick. Even more on point, there’s DT’s love affair with Volvo bricks and blobs of all eras — come on, what’s duller than a Volvo 240? I think you know the answer.

With the perspective of 25+ years, recent commentators are not shy, or kind:

The K-Car was a big step forward for Chrysler and Detroit, and a reasonably capable car. But by the time it arrived, Honda was readying the second generation of the killer Accord. Comparing the two is an exercise in futility. The Honda simply felt (and was) profoundly better in every possible metric. It took a long time for Detroit to finally narrow that
gap. [Curbside Classic: 1983 Dodge Aries – The K-Car Saves Chrysler, March 2014]

… ball-less (detesticulated)
technical specifications so it won’t go more than 55 miles per hour. Most drivers driving K-Cars are Sunday drivers or those who want the looks of a car but YET the power of an electric go-kart or granny pusher scooter. [Urban Dictionary, October 2005]

… wasn’t fast, it didn’t handle well, it didn’t look especially good, it wasn’t particularly innovative, and wasn’t really that interesting in any way. [Car Lust Blog: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan–Plymouth Reliant, July 2009]

Even the MoparWiki throws an elbow:

First sold as the 1981 Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant, the four-cylinder K-Cars were extremely simple, extremely boxy, not particularly powerful, boring in almost every way and destined to save the company. [MoparWiki K-car, May 2012 revision]

In this context, DT was kind of on the positive side, don’t you think? OK, we said it’s “horrible”,1 but also “not the most horrible”. That’s something. And our commenters said things like: “some rubber”, and “fun”, and “fond memories”, and
“quite fun”, and even “classic”. Oh wait, that was Guy. But still. 

So anyway, that’s what I saw when I gave it some thought and poked around a bit.

I absolutely appreciate your position, and I have to say I am completely charmed by your pitch for the value of these cars. Here’s the heart of it:

This is the car that saved Chrysler from bankruptcy and they were more than just an economy car. They were luxury economy cars with classic styling and good gas mileage. They were available in every single body style, even a limo, and provided excellent service. They were classed as a midsize even though they were a compact. They had the roominess of a Cadillac, but were four bangers. They were the first cars in American history to provide four cylinder turbo charging and they provided the platform for nearly every other American Chrysler car of the 80s into the early 90s, including the first Chrysler minivan. These cars presented the first digital technology and the Electronic Voice Alert System. They were the last Chryslers that were easy to service and could be worked on by the do-it-yourself mechanic.

How foolish many are to so quickly junk these cars without a 2nd thought. They had classic lines, fine luxury, fuel efficient engines, front-wheel drive, and are a pleasure to drive.  [Chrysler K-car Club]

Amen, brother. 

In conclusion, I want to share this video by William Davies King, a theater professor at UC Santa Barbara. I think he could be Guy’s soulmate. King’s memoir, Collections of Nothing [2008, University of Chicago Press], chronicles a decades-long personal obsession with preserving what everyone else throws away — the wrappers and boxes his food comes in, chiefly, but there are other things. Yep. Seriously impressive. The description of his binders full of over 800 different versions of the security pattern printed on the inside of envelopes is spellbinding. 

The New York Times said:

Part memoir and part disquisition on the psychological impulses behind the urge to accumulate, “Collections of Nothing” is a wonderfully frank and engaging look at one man’s detritus-fueled pathology. King’s honesty and ambivalence about his pastime only increases his emotional connection to the reader. I wanted, by turns, to breast-feed and strangle him. [The Curator, July 2008]

In the video, we travel with King to his local Ralph’s supermarket for some treasure hunting. With only 109 views since 2008, if 3 of us click it we’re going to make his day!


(camera sideways at 90 degrees clockwise)

0:27 – the whole art of collecting nothing is finding a great source of nothing

1:46 – chicken broth is what we call a necessity soup, it’s not the interesting sort of soup that i look for

1:52 – what i look for are different soups that i don’t have the label for yet

2:35 – now let’s move over to the luxury soups

3:51 – honey nut cheerios with the batman inside, that’s pretty nice also

(camera rotates to 90 degrees couterclockwise, still sideways)

4:34 – [King starts furtively peeling labels off produce, glances around looking for The Man]

Image credits:;;