Many people forget that Carroll Shelby worked for Dodge in the 1980s. Whether or not Shelby wanted to forget about that is up for discussion. Regardless, his legacy with Dodge consists of a rather unusual line up. It is also important to note that not all of the cars that bore his name were developed by Shelby. Instead, some models simply used parts he developed.
Before I get into death traps I owned, it is appropriate to review this awkward era of Dodge. By the late 1970s, the Chrysler corporation was sinking into what would be later remembered as proof history repeats itself. Government intervention prevented the company from folding and the fruits of the tax payers dollar was nothing less than the K-car. Ah, yes, the K-car. Proof that style isn’t everything, but everything can have a turbo engine.
Carroll Shelby, previous known for making Mustangs tolerable, began working for Chrysler in the early 80’s to breathe some life into their rather anemic lineup. In 1983, the Shelby Charger entered showrooms as the first product of this new relationship. With the rise of the hot hatches on the import market, Dodge sought to fight back with an American option. And while the Charger was nothing like its namesake, it did usher in a new era for the Dodge enthusiast. Shelby followed up with cars like the Lancer, the CSX, and of course, the Omni GLH-T. I guess the Viper is appropriate to mention here but I know jack squat about them.
One unifying theme was the extensive use of the 2.2 and 2.5 liter turbo engines. Everything from the Omni to the New Yorker came with a turbo at one time or another. The engine was an option throughout the front wheel drive lineup and supposedly there is even a half-year run of turbo Caravans with a manual transmission. If you squint really hard, you’ll be convinced it was a Volkswagen 8v engine, but unlike Volkswagen, Dodge knew that forced induction could give them an edge on power that the GTI lacked.
My first turbo dodge was the Omni GLH-T. Why on earth would I seek out such an peculiar feat of automotive malpractice? Well, like any good bad habit, I blame my friends. Jon, who you probably know for some reason or another, has had a Plymouth Horizon for what seems like forever. Its strangely well kept considering that it not only lived in the rusty abyss of northern Ohio, but that literally no one keeps L-body cars nice. Seriously, no one. I’m not raving about the carbureted boat anchor it came with or its dumpster like aesthetics. Instead, Jon swapped in a turbocharged boat anchor, and all trash receptacle metaphors aside, it was fast. Not to mention cheap.
This had a lasting effect on me, and when the opportunity came to buy a GLH-T, the factory turbo variety, I couldn’t pass it up. I drove a few hours down to Columbus to get a 1985 Sante Fe Blue one. The condition seemed like an odd mix of haggard and rust-less with a natural two-tone. It fired right up, drove well enough, and stopped well enough. I gave whoever it was the 500 dollars they wanted and drove off.
Off might be too strong a word. I drove for about 40 miles, then broke down. Can’t recall what I jiggled and / or hit but she fired up again and I continued for about a half hour later, then I broke down again. Wound up using the AAA (which I had on speed dial) and towed it home making this car dubious from day one. Nothing like towing home your new car.
After I fixed the hall effect sensor, I tooled around in this car for a couple weeks. I loved it and I hated it. The transmission rod and linkage which made for rather sloppy shifting. I also discovered the the floor was almost nonexistent. The car is light enough, it didn’t need the floor to be missing. Then one fateful day the engine died a soldier’s death. I had intentions to rebuild it, but I had a move to Colorado looming and I couldn’t manage to take it with me. Its parts went on to complete other Omni projects.
I would equate buying the Shelby Z Daytona to a drug addict relapsing. You would think I would remember that the Omni was a douche, but evidently I remember the good times more than the bad. Honestly, I have no idea how I even got wind of this car being for sale in Upstate New York. Maybe it was a forum, maybe it was something nostalgic like Autotrader. Regardless, that part of New York is rather far and of course, I bought the car in the winter. The learned man would consider that the last car didn’t make it an hour before stranding me, and opt not to drive many times farther. However, I am an idiot. The drive was quite scenic, as the Adirondacks are, and rather snowy. I also recall the rather French-Canadian accent the fellow had as we talked over the car in the freezing cold, which was to be expected since his backyard literally butted up against Canada.
The drive home in this thing was rather long since it was loud as hell (open downpipe) and the radio didn’t work. Which is probably why everyone I drove up with stayed in the other car on the way home. Unlike before, this car worked just fine. In fact, the car the got us to New York gave us fits when we stopped at a convenience store. Something about the door, and breaking. Outside of it sucking, I can’t recall the details.
Also, I feel like I need to say that T-Tops are the worst damned thing in history. EVERY time it rained, my leg was peed on from leak that could not fixed. No amount of new gaskets or sealant solved it.
Despite my predictions, the Daytona was pretty reliable for some time. On paper, it should be since it had the stronger variant of the engine and the A555 manual was considered to be quite stout. So stout in fact I was told it can’t break. Many months later, it broke in third gear while I shifted rather gently pulling away from a light. Can’t escape the law of entropy. With the transmission thrashed, I was temporarily hosed and I parked it for a few months until I sourced an automatic. I then proceeded to do what I assume to be the only manual to automatic swap in the history.
This is also the first time I ever rebuilt a automatic transmission and with the help of my other turbo Dodge guru, Adam, it was rather successful. Except for the fact that making it an automatic was much like declawing a cat, clipping the wings of a bird, or getting married. It just lost a great deal of character. At some point I sold the car off, pretty sure for the engine to be swapped into another chassis.
While the Daytona didn’t screw me over nearly as well as the Omni did, I still miss the Omni more. It had a raw character that only comes with a poorly made chassis with a great deal of torque steer. It was pure fun.
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