Grandma Owned: 1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS

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My mother takes fastidious care of her cars. A Honda woman for the last two decades, she has only owned two vehicles since 1986 – an Accord and a CR-V. The Accord was my first car and was a creampuff; the CR-V is no different. I have a feeling the original owner of this 1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS here on eBay was much the same way, bringing her car to the dealer for service so faithfully it became a religion. This LeBaron is a true survivor of a car we don’t encounter very often, and it’s unfortunately marred by two spots of rust you can’t even see. 

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A few years ago, I came across a similar GTS in a junkyard. I almost made the foolish decision to remove the seats and try to sell them since they seemed like a distant cousin to genuine Recaros and were supremely comfortable. Good thing I didn’t since I would have found a limited market for expensive parts like seats in what would otherwise be a throwaway car, but take my word for it – they’d make a great office chair. This GTS’ insides remain in great condition, no small feat for a car that is draped in beige from dashboard to floorboard. The car is located in Connecticut and was previously in New Jersey, so sun damage isn’t a problem for this example.

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We recently discussed the virtues and vices of Chrysler’s turbocharged engines in a recent post about a Dodge Daytona Turbo Z. The reason the original owner traded this vehicle in was due to a failed headgasket, which the dealer repaired and then wholesaled to another dealer before the seller snatched it up. He claims the 2.2L Turbo is so reliable that he wouldn’t hesitate to take it on long trips or use it daily. Assuming the long-time owner adhered to the dealer’s service plan (and a headgasket can sometimes be unavoidable, even if you do everything by the book), I don’t see much reason to doubt the seller’s faith in this LeBaron’s reliability.

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Two of my favorite features of this era LeBaron? The rear windscreen wiper and the subtle dual exhaust. For some reason, I dig the idea of rear wipers on sedans and that exhaust was tucked ever-so-nicely into the rear bumper. So many modern Mopars are designed in such a way that you see entire, ugly steel-gray exhaust hanging out below the bumper. However, aesthetics aside, this LeBaron is so close to being rust-free but unfortunately has some ugliness hiding in the lower rocker panels which will definitely need to be repaired to keep this survivor-grade turbo LeBaron on the road. Bidding is at $1,000 with the reserve unmet.

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Comments

  1. Ikey Heyman

    I looked for a reason to get enthusiastic about this car, but I couldn’t find one. This car just says “malaise era” to me. What am I missing here???

    • Cody

      Malaise era? Wasn’t that from 1973-1983 and is more defined by giant cars with anemic V8 engines making a fraction of the horsepower they are capable of? This has a 2.2 four cylinder that made 147 hp and it’s a small front wheel drive car.

      It say’s “K car” to me, which isn’t much better.

  2. Ryan

    I had an ’86 Dodge Lancer as my first car. Great car. Low on tech but very well built with nice features like real cup holders and child safety locks which were unheard of then. Typical head gasket replacement at 120,000 miles and regular maintenance, but supremely reliable and comfortable. Sold it at 180,000 miles to a guy I saw three years later who put another 100,000 on it before he junked it.

  3. Rich

    I admire it for being a survivor, but, yeah. Ikey is right. Btw, what’s with these survivors always being tan??????

  4. notpurple

    where do i click the “crack pipe” button?

  5. Steven C

    A group of friends and i had and worked on a whole bunch(more than 20)of these 80’s fwd chryslers in the 90’s, they were dirt cheap. I called them “one paycheck cars” cause the average price was $300. Very reliable, i only blew the headgasket on one because i drove it around all night knowing the water pump belt was broke. They handle Tn backroads very well, but ride rough. The interiors allways squeaked and rattled alot, even 20 years ago. The turbos are quick, but i prefer an automatic in these things because the manual trans shift is the worst gear change feel ever, it feels terrible and vague, usually prefer a manual trans in everything else. The fwd torqueflite is bulletproof. We would drive them like dukes of hazard for real, and no matter what would always get us home.

  6. Bob's your uncle

    First it’s the headgasket, then you realize the head is cracked between the valves, these are the days of a Chrysler 2.2 engine’s life.

    • Ed

      The tiny cracks between the valves are harmless.

  7. Blueprint

    The rear wiper belongs there because this is hatchback, not a sedan!

  8. Will

    This car is identical to my former mother in law’s 86 dodge Lancer. Same color. It was a great car.except for the AC. it never worked right even after numerous system rebuilds. The power windows sucked too. It handled great though. I would bid on this if it were closer. I would seriously have to hide the fact that there is a link to my ex from my wife. I can imagine my son saying “Hey that’s just like Grammas old car”. My wife wouldn’t speak to me for a week. Hmmm on second thought…….

  9. HeadMaster1

    My dad had an 86′ GTS like this, but his was a 5-speed. Very fun car and FAST back in 86. I fondly remember one night, rolling up to a stop light where two “rich kids” were about to race away when it turned green…..one was an 84 Vette, the other an 85 911 Cabrio………I had two friends with me….we were left sitting by the Porsche, but we took the Vette…..My dad traded it in 5 years later on a Spirit RT, and I smoked many a Vette in that car :-)

  10. Steve

    In my high school days in the 80’s, one friend had a k car and the other a shelby turbo daytona. Always the “mad scientist”, i dreamed of doing an engine swp of the turbo motor i to the k car. Ultimate sleeper. Btw we got the k car up to 80mph once. Downhill with a tailwind on a beer run. I could never figure why that friend let anyone borrow it. Later i realized he hoped someone would crash it.

    • Ross W. Lovell

      . Greetings All,

      My mother had one of these, black on black. Actually a pretty good car considering its Pentastar.

      The Turbo gave it pep and she had the 5-speed.

      Only issue was an electrical problem and the dealer wasn’t used as their service department originally told us the car “wasn’t a turbo”, and then later said “those are problematic”.

      Dealer aside, took it to a friend and found a bad trigger module.

      The odd thing is these cars seem to just disappear, haven’t seen one for years.

  11. jaymes

    ruined, maybe you could find a donor shell

  12. Dave Suton

    Funny, I still see honda brand vehicles today with ugly coffee can exhaust that make an ugly car, even less desirable.

  13. Davis Jones

    My parents bought a sky blue Lebanon new in 1986…. My dad wouldn’t​ get the turbo because he said my brother and I would try to race it….

  14. Vulcan Alex

    I bought one in red with automatic. Donated it when it had a electrical issue that was draining batteries like nothing else. It was a great car, it did have an issue where a bubble would get into the cooling system preventing the thermostat from opening, it warped the head. I sometimes wish I had it restored, it was fun to drive. I once had it up to 110 passing a long line of cars, then a Fed Ex truck which was behind me passed me. Good times a long time ago.

    Like 1
    • Steve

      Sorry to burst your bubble but it sounds as if your speedo was reading 20-30mph fast…

      Like 1
  15. Rob Frey

    My fam had one when I was a kid. Don’t think it was a sedan though. Pretty sure it was a hatchback.

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