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 www.chryslerkcar.com. 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.
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]
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: http://www.chryslerkcar.com; wikipedia.org; imcdb.org.
This whole K-car back-and-forth reminded me of one of my favorite ads from the glory days of the Internet. First remember seeing this back in 2002 or so (if you can't tell by the resolution of the video). All modern satire/funny car ads owe a debt of thanks to Tim for producing this ad. 88 Dodge Aries Ad
So I wonder about the "great service"… one of my mom's co-workers bought one new and as I recall it started falling apart immediately, which from they way they talked about it wasn't at all uncommon. My mom's little accord at the time was a tank in comparison in terms of not turning to dust while you drive, and this was Tennessee where the weather isn't exactly hard on cars. Was this an unusual buyer experience?
Not seeing the video on my motorazr – here's the link youtube.com/watch?v=yvsTw-LPHHk&sns=em
My friend in high school drove one. It was an '86. I graduated in 2000. So it was 14 years old. Everything worked and it ran like a top. His dad had bought it new and it never needed anything. Wasn't much slower than my 96 civic and smoked my 82 Datsun diesel.
Actually have a lot of respect for this little car. Until it threw a rod in about 2005. But at that age it was only worth about $400.
You guys kill me! Some folks just lack a sense of irony. K Car……meh…fugedaboutit….
D, if by "irony" you're referring to the mixed metallurgy iron block / aluminum head architecture of the original 2.2, I agree, no one got it.
But that's the interesting sort of soup I really slurp.
It is unclear to me that the above defense of the K is ironic, as it would be if the topic were the Yugo or the Dauphin. It is important to point out that the crappiness of the K was emblematic of the impending doom of the entire industry. The Datsuns, Toyotas, Hondas, and VWs of the early eighties were in a completely different class, but in the same price bracket. Maybe someday Fiat will be able to inject its higher standards into the Mopar crap of today. (I own a 1982 Fiat 2000 which is as solid as a rock, has very high production values, and has held its value.)
K-Car 4VR! I think something that is lost in this conversation is that a something can be crappy but still perfect for its time. (The Chicago Cubs come to mind…) And that this combo of crappiness and timeliness can breed a certain type of love, admiration & desire. I know the K-Car kinda sucks. But it's never stopped me from wanting a convertible Town & Country (with the faux wood panels, damn it!). I deeply admire the K-Car and the Pacer AND the Scout and BMW 3 Series. In total, they tell a better story and I'd like to have a cherry example of each. (without slushboxes of course.)
The K-car was the platform for the minivan. The minivan is the best thing to come out of Chrysler ever. It created a market segment because it is the most useful form of auto-motives. Everyone goes ga-ga for the VW-Kombi, but if you want a VW van from this decade, that is a K-car evolved Chrysler minivan.
Late to the commenting party, but I wanted to chime in. As a 15/16 year old I learned to drive in a K-minivan (Plymouth Grand Voyager, 3.0L V6 / 4-spd auto). That vehicle soldiered on far, far longer than it should have by rights. Just recently sold off by my pops a couple years ago. I beat the snot out of it doing FWD drag race shenanigans with high school friends, before that it worked as a road trip machine, and afterwards more of an enclosed light truck. It was never the coolest thing around but I had respect for its basic goodness.