American Hot Hatch: 1986 Shelby Omni GLH-S

By the 1980s, Carroll Shelby had shifted his focus from modifying V8 Ford-powered cars to tweaking front-wheel-drive four-cylinder Chrysler products. One of the fruits of this collaboration was the 1984 Dodge Omni GLH (Goes Like Hell), which was a version of Dodge’s five-door subcompact fitted with a naturally aspirated “high output” 2.2 liter inline-four, stiffer suspension, big brakes, and wider wheels and tires. For 1985, an optional turbocharged engine was added to the mix and this variant became the GLH-T. In the search for more performance, Shelby purchased the last 500 1986 Omni GLH-T cars and shipped them to his Shelby Automobiles, Inc. facility in California where they were further modified into the Omni GLH-S (Goes Like Hell S’more). These 500 cars were badged as Shelbys and sold through select Dodge dealers, and #382 is available here on eBay in Destin, Florida. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Boot for the tip!

The seller of this Omni GLH-S describes it as “roadworthy, not perfect” which seems like a fair assessment. Like all the GLH-S cars, this one is finished in black. The paint shines nicely and the body is free of any noticeable flaws. At a glance, the GLH-S is easily distinguishable from a standard GLH by the 15” Centurion wheels and the abundance of Shelby graphics on the exterior. The “Intercooled” text on the C-pillars and hatch and the big vent on the hood are clues to the performance ability within. The original Bosch Pilot fog lights are tucked into the front air dam but a little tough to notice with their faded covers. There is plenty of room under the rear hatch which is propped up by new struts.

The grey cloth and vinyl interior is in good condition with only a few small details to set it apart from a standard Omni. These include a black leather steering wheel and shift knob, and a numbered dash plaque with Carroll Shelby’s signature. Oddly enough, the GLH-S did not come with a boost gauge.

Under the hood is where things get interesting. For the GLH-S, Shelby took the 146 horsepower Turbo I engine and tweaked the Garrett turbo, swapped in a tuned intake manifold, and added an intercooler to bump power up to 175 horses and 175 lb-ft of torque. This one has a new battery, rebuilt alternator, new turbo cooling hoses, and a new turbo power module. Power is delivered through a 5-speed manual transmission which was the only one available. The GLH-S also had better handling over the Dodge version, being fitted with Koni shocks and struts and thicker sway bars. The original Koni adjustment tools are included as well. These power and handling enhancements make for a quick package. This was further proven out in April 1986 when Hot Rod Magazine ran a new GLH-S and a 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 for a few laps around Willow Springs racetrack. Despite the Mustang’s power advantage, the little Omni was two seconds faster!

Caroll Shelby with a 1986 Shelby Omni GLH-S, photo courtesy of horsepowermemories.com

Hagerty places an Omni GLH-S in #2 Excellent condition at $27,000 and #3 Good condition at $14,000. This one is being offered for $20,000 Buy-It-Now with a Make Offer option and seems priced well against the official values. The Omni GLH was the American answer to the emerging “hot hatch” trend spawned by the Volkswagen GTI, and the GLH-S was its ultimate form. Would you pick this car over one of its European or Japanese competitors?

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Comments

  1. nycbjr Member

    holy torque steer Batman!! Always liked these.. very 80s!

    Like 22
    • tom wasil

      i had an 86 # 188 for a few years. Gatorbacks and Adjustable Konis made it a hoot for back roads and the Cincinnati outer belt for time trials here to there to be determined. of course we ran at night . i also had an 85 GLH and my dealer called me and said he was getting 5. three were spoken for and did i want the fifth. of course i said yes and he delivered several months later in july 86.
      first gear was useless but in second to fifth when the boost came on it surprised many eastern higher dollar units. sold it 5 years later after 70 k to a racer that happened upon a 2.5 turbo with 225 hp motor from a ‘ wrecked ‘ 2 door .

      Like 1
  2. alphasud Member

    I remember Car & Drivers review of this car. I owned a mark 2 GTI at the time. I think it’s safe to say the GTI was the scalpel of hot hatches whereas the GLH-S was the sledgehammer. Shelby struggled to tame the torque steer but it didn’t deter C&D from having one hell of a good time. Pun intended.

    Like 15
  3. angliagt angliagt Member

    In 1986,two of us were working the finish line at the
    Keno Hillclimb,just out of Keno,Oregon,East of Medford.
    We heard that they were sending an Omni up the hill,so
    we figured we had a fair amount of time before it passed us.
    All of a sudden it came flying by us,much to our surprise!
    The driver,Andy Anderson,bought it on Thursday,and
    was racing it at the hillclimb on Saturday.His car was featured
    in ads as giving Shelby it’s first race victory in XX years by
    a new Shelby.

    Like 23
  4. Dead_Garry

    Had a 1986 Omni GLH Turbo in Red that was breathed on. It was an utter hoot to drive around. Yes it’s basically a 80’s crap box in every aspect but man a better time with your clothes on is hard to find. Still regret selling it :(

    Like 18
  5. Dave Suton

    I’d say the VW Golf/Rabbit was a good competitor to this. But the GLH-S was definitely faster. Anything from Japan was slow and probably rotted away within the first 2 years

    Like 3
  6. Steve Clinton

    I know I’m being superficial but I could never get excited about these, even if they were barnburners. They just reminded me of a VW Golf.

    Like 2
  7. Sam Shive

    Sept 1983 I brought a 84 Shelby Charger as My Birthday, Welcome Home (WORLD CRUISE WITH THE NAVY) and Divorce Present to my self. Biggest POS I have had in my life. Would’ve Been Better To Keep The EX Wife. Buy the following Sept It had spent 4 months in the shop. Two years later, I couldn’t even get the dealer to trade me for a new truck. I dam near gave it away to get rid of it. Shelby made a mistake putting his name on anything mopar.

    Like 3
  8. Miguel - Mexican Spec

    I just looked at the Buy It Now price on Ebay.

    I am speechless.

    (For future viewers $19,500)

    Like 7
  9. nlpnt

    Shame about the black-only color policy on these, I always thought if there was only one color for these it should’ve been light blue metallic like seemingly 60% of the later-model Omnirizons (the rest were metallic red) for maximum sleeper effect.

    Like 2
    • Dead_Garry

      The GLH Turbos came in a rainbow of colors, sadly the GLH-S was black with a grey interior only.

      Shelby had 500 in black delivered to his factory and mod’d them there. The GLH-S Charger was a similar deal.

      A red GLH-S with a tan interior would have been my choice.

      Like 1
      • Car Nut Tacoma

        While I loved the styling of the Omni and Horizon, I would’ve preferred mine with a more functional gauge cluster, like that used on the GLH. My cousin had a Horizon, and although he seemed to enjoy driving the car, he seemed to hate the gauge cluster that came with the car. The only usable gauges were the speedometer and the fuel gauge. Everything else were “idiot” lights. Useless as sin.

        Like 1
  10. Car Nut Tacoma

    Beautiful looking car. Although I was too young at the time to drive, I remember cars like the Dodge Omni and the Plymouth Horizon. At the time I found the Plymouth Horizon more attractive than the Dodge Omni. Today, if someone were to offer me either car, I’d take the Omni and/or Omni GLH. Was there a Plymouth Horizon version of the GLH as well? I don’t recall.

    Like 2
  11. MikeB

    A mid eighties prime example of crappy cars. Poor quality interior materials, bad fit and finish, no power, stick on “Sport” packages. I imagine Shelby hated getting in bed with this car but money is money. At least he tried and did the best he could considering what he had to work with. Terrible times.

    Like 3
    • rodknee

      So true. This is lipstick on a pig. I had an 81 Horizon and the fit and finish looked like it was completed by a blind man wearing oven mitts.

      The Shelby name does nothing to raise it above ‘junk econocar’ status in my humble opinion.

      Like 1
    • Dead_Garry

      You couldn’t be more wrong about the GLH-S with all due respect.

      Yes the build quality was typical 80’s but look into what makes the above listing different from paint/sticker package.

      A inter-cooled turbo engine was not available on the regular GLH, there were limited number produced (500), numerous suspension upgrades and these were built in the Shelby Factory and carry Shelby build tags unlike a lot of other “Shelby” products.

      Also Shelby stated he was a big fan of the little Omni, it was a true American giant killer on/off the track.

      Whether you like them or not is another issue but there are Not a Paint/Sticker package!

      Like 10
  12. Gary Raymond Member

    Of course the ‘S’ in GLH-S stands for ‘Shelby’ and not “S’more”, great write-up!! ‘Back in the day’ one of the guys in one of our local Mopar clubs bought one of these and tucked it in the back of his warehouse…lost contact with Mark, always wondered if he still has it!

    Like 3
  13. Bruce G Hughes

    My first new car was a 1978 yellow Plymouth Horizon. 4 speed, AM radio tan interior. Car sticker was $4,300, monthly payment was $77.00 a month on a 4 year loan. Loved that car, traded it in on a Plymouth Reliant. My wife had a Dodge Omni when we got married. Love to find a old Horizon or Omni in decent shape for cars and coffee events. Mopar or no car!

    Like 6
    • GLHS#384

      Friends of ours had s sign on their door that said Harriet died. We didn’t know it at the time that they had a similar Horizon that they named Harriet. We thought it was a friend or family member.

      Like 1
  14. Dan

    Always wanted one in high school in the 80’s. Bought mine in 1995 with 59K from the original owner in San Francisco. Life happened and I’ve kept it stored ever since. Still has only 60K miles on it. Wish I had the funds and someone I could trust to make it perfect again.

    This one looks really nice too. GLWTS!

    Like 1
  15. Jwaltb

    It appears it’s called a GLHS. No hyphen. See decals, Car and Driver, other authorities.

  16. RobertV

    Is this the same base model that Lotus took to make their Lotus Talbot in the ‘80s? Albeit with a north-south Lotus 907 motor.

    • Dead_Garry

      No relation at all, just happen to look similar. You aren’t the first one to bring it up :)

  17. Rockie Stewart

    Nearly 20k… nice little car but I wouldn’t pay that much for one. Maybe half…. maybe I’d at least think about it.

  18. Gary

    I had an ‘85 GLH-T and and ‘87 GLHS #953. Both super fun cars!

    Like 2
    • Dead_Garry

      100% Agreed Gary, super fun little cars.

      These days finding one that isn’t rusted out or thrashed to peices is a challenge.

  19. Ben

    Growing up, my parents bought a brand new 1978 Dodge Omni. It had a VW Rabbit motor!!! My dad always said it was the best car they ever owned. It last 150k+ miles – which was a lot for cars of that era!

  20. Phil O

    I had just gotten into SCCA Autocross competition in 85, and in 86 a small town dealer had a red GLH Turbo on the floor. Red interior, and black accents, the car was exactly what I was looking for. I did a test drive (another story unto itself) and came back to the dealer to work a deal. The female sales leader turned the sale over to another employee, and I drove out of there in my new GLH Turbo.
    I autocrossed that car for 8 years, street drove it sparingly, and sold it with only 22 K miles on the odo. At 1200 miles, I blew the entire drive train out of it in Cincinnati at a Cincy Region SCCA event. It blew pieces through the radiator and AC components and had to be trailered home. I took it to the dealership and they happily replaced trans, diff, and all other damaged parts. During installation they installed a hardened spider gear pin, a replacement authorized by Chrysler. Apparently mine was not the first to explode in such a manner. I never had another issue with that car, and hauled it all over the country to various autocrosses, plus SCCA National and Pro events. I sold it to build another car, what I considered the forerunner of that car, a 94 VW GTi, purchased from a college student. I built it to run in a modified Street Prepared class. Loved the car, but it was a colossal headache to keep running due to breaking axles and diffs. I regretted selling my GLH T for many years…

    Like 1
  21. Harry Piekema

    I had a 1986 GLHS (#180) & I remember hearing that there was a performance chip available that would increase the hp from 175 to 200. Unfortunately, I could never find one to install & eventually sold the car (in 1990) for 6K … wish I had kept it.

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