Iacocca’s Lifeboat: 1982 Chrysler LeBaron Convertible

By 1982, Chrysler was in real trouble financially.  Years of mismanagement and quality control problems had taken their toll, and the outside forces of rising fuel prices and double digit interest rates did little to help the situation.  Fortunately, two men were working to steer the venerable company away from the rocks.  Chrysler chief product planner Hal Sperlich, arguably the real father of the Ford Mustang, had just introduced the K-car.  With the flamboyant salesmanship of new Chrysler head honcho Lee Iacocca, the K-car became the platform that allowed Chrysler to begin its crawl out of debt.  Looking for any publicity possible, the company commissioned a company called Cars and Concepts to heavily reinforce the bodies of the luxury K-car derivative Chrysler LeBaron and Dodge 400 coupes.  These coupes were then modified at the factory into the first factory produced domestic convertibles since 1976.  Found on craigslist in Shawsville, Virginia, this 1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible is one of those first cars.  For a paltry $2,500, you can put one of these historic drop tops in your garage.

With these convertibles in the showroom, Chrysler had bait to draw prospective customers into their beleaguered showrooms.  While the sales price made them rather expensive, over 40% higher than the coupes they were based on, customers walking in got to see everything else Chrysler had to offer.  While 12,825 of these convertibles were sold in 1982, it would be hard to figure how many more customers ended up purchasing Imperials, Fifth Avenues, Cordobas, lesser LeBarons, or even used cars because of the halo effect of these little convertibles.  Given that Chrysler dealerships were usually paired with the Plymouth nameplate, you could probably lump those cars in as well.

This LeBaron is being sold as part of an estate, and has not seen the road in two years.  The seller tells us that the car has been garaged since 2003, and everything except for the convertible top is new.  The car is equipped with an automatic transmission, power windows and door locks, a power top, and what looks to be the Mark Cross Leather package.  This package added leather seats with vinyl trim, and adds to the previously mentioned options a 2.6 liter Mitsubishi sourced engine and air conditioning.  Of course, Chrysler used the suave and debonair Ricardo Montalban to sell the cars on TV and in print.

Looking at the pictures, it is obvious that this car was well cared for until it ended up in the garage.  As befitting a convertible, its use was limited.  In the 36 years since it was produced, the car has covered only 110,000 miles.  While the plastic rear window in the convertible top looks rough, Meguiar’s makes a plastic window polish called PlastX that would likely help you buff out enough of the cloudiness to see the police cars creeping up behind you.   Looking inside the trunk, you have the proper solution to the problem.  That folded up piece of brown vinyl is the top boot.  Just put the top down, fasten the boot, and drive it like a convertible was meant to be driven.

Inside, the leather faced seats look really good for their age, making me wonder of this car was given a set of aftermarket seat covers early on (sheepskin seat covers were the rage back then).  The leather would currently benefit from someone massaging in a quality leather dressing to soften them back up.  Other than that, everything looks to be in fine shape inside.  Chrysler products of this era were criticized for having cheap plastic interior pieces that didn’t hold up to long term use.  While a proper inspection is better than analyzing a photograph, I see noting inside that would require replacement.  Whoever owned the car deserves praise for keeping it so nice inside and out.

The rear seat also looks to be in great shape, but a little cramped.  The modifications needed to convert these cars into convertibles cut a lot of wiggle room out of the back seat, so I am guessing they weren’t the chosen car to take to the few remaining drive in movies when it was new.  One other matter that customers and reviewers complained about was that the top was difficult to see out of.  Chrysler partially remedied this in 1984 by putting a quarter window in just behind the front doors.  This addition to later cars makes the earlier ones easier to identify.

Under the hood rests what I believe to be a Mitsubishi 2.6 liter engine, which came with the Mark Cross leather package.  Just like the smaller Chrysler 2.2 liter engine that was standard equipment, these inline fours were fairly economical and reliable.  The Mitsubishi provided a few more horsepower, but it also had a reputation for leaking oil.  Acceleration could be measured with a sundial, as these cars usually took about 15 seconds to make it up to 60 mph.  Top speed was around 95-99 mph, so they weren’t sports cars by any means.  Thankfully, the legendary 2.2 turbo engine became available in 1984 to get owners to the beach a little faster.

The price on this car is $2,500 or best offer, and it is being sold out of an estate.  My guess is that you could find yourself in the driver’s seat for a bit less.  Form there, a set of tires and some fuel system work should have this one up and running.  I do have worries about any car with an automatic transmission that has set for too long.  Sometimes long term siestas wreak havoc on the internals, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find someone to rebuild this one if there is a problem.  What impresses me is the condition of the car.  The leather is nearly perfect, if the pictures do the car any justice, and the exterior seems a good detailing away from being show ready.

There is a following for these cars, and they are fairly popular at Antique Automobile Club of America meets and tours.  This convertible can be entered in three different classes: Historical Preservation of Original Features, Driver Participation Class, or Production Vehicles 1982-1983 (27O).  In addition, there are dozens of local chapters of the AACA that would love to have you as a member so that you could have some local fun with the car.  Or, this would be a great ice cream getter with the family.  Add to the cool factor the huge amount of spare parts and knowledge out there for front wheel drive Chryslers, and you can see why it would be a great car for a first timer.  In short, why not start enjoying the hobby in an inexpensive car with an impressive history?

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Comments

  1. Jeff

    Love it!

  2. CanuckCarGuy

    Very nice, with a 2.2 turbo I would think these to be pretty spry for the era.

  3. Tom Justice

    These were really popular in the used car market where I was living in NC. A lot of teenagers got hold of these as most had never been in a convertible. They were cheap and the kids I knew that drove them eventually drove them into the junkyard but they had fun doing it.

  4. Classic Steel

    It would be a good beater for a first car for someone 👍

  5. ATL_Jeff

    A friend of mine had an 84 as his first car in high school and college. We drove the heck out of it. To the beach, around town, up and down the east coast visiting friends. It was cool in the summer, and downright cold in the winter because the top was just there to hopefully keep the rain out and barely did that. But it was the first reliable Chrysler I had ever seen and was easy to maintain. Someone should scoop this up quick at that price.

  6. Bill T

    Another “I can’t believe someone hasn’t bought this” car that I have seen today. I moved to the south in the late 80’s and these cars were everywhere. I remember going to the mall with a friend to see a movie matinee who had one. When we parked I asked if she was going to put the top up, she said “dam Yankee whats wrong with you, it’s a convertible!” I was trying to fit in.. so I just said “I reckon” A short time later in the mall I could hear the rain POUNDING on the mall metal roof. I looked at her, she said, “Ill be dry by the time the movie is over”. After the movie we grabbed a bite to eat at Chick-fil-A and as we were walking out the sun was setting… everything was dry. We got to the car, I was reluctant to get in and sit down… but to my surprise… everything was dry… but I always wondered what about the electronics, and what about the floor pans. Maybe that is why it’s still for sale…

  7. SunbeamerStu

    Had one of these for a short while in the late ’80s. Cheap convertible fun. Nice road trip to California and back.

    Wasn’t a bad car. Wasn’t a great car. It was just a car. Which seems to be what Chrysler was aiming for.

  8. John M.

    A nice little convertible for not much money.

  9. grant

    A writer/video maker in another area of the netterweb just buried one of these cause he couldn’t sell it. His was rusted out though.

    • Fiete T.

      Hoovies Garage

  10. Superdessucke

    Was it owned by Jon Voight?

    • grant

      It looks like that one yes!!! And it talked too.

    • ACZ

      No. rented by John Candy and Steve Martin.

  11. John D

    The only reason police cars would be creeping up on, is if you ran a red light or stop sign. These cars were never in a hurry.

  12. Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    I had a silver mid-80s LeBaron convertible Mark Cross edition with gray leather and it was a great car with the 2.6 Mitsubishi engine. It seemed to be a magnet for people running into it, though. I had someone run a stop sign and t-bone the car to the tune of $6,500 in damage. Not that long after getting it back, better than new, someone changed lanes without looking (before texting was a thing) and did yet another $6,500 in damage. It was never the same after that second repair and I traded it in on a BMW 318i. I missed the convertible feature but not the bad luck.

  13. Royal Ricci

    So thrilled to see this being offered and the interior you mention is actually original unless someone went through the expense of replacing it with exactly what was there. I know this because last July, I went down to norther NJ and bought one of these only it is an 86 with the Turbo 2.2. I wish I had the 2.6 though because my Dad had one of those in his 84 Voyager SE, and it never gave him any issues in the six years he owned that van whereas the Corolla Wagon we owned before needed a oil pan gasket with less than 30K on the car and to replace that, the motor needed to be lifted out of the car! However to be fair, the 2.6 my friend had in his Voyager had issues with the carb requiring a full professional rebuild to get it back to spec and there were issues with the timing chain tensioner coming loose on many of these engines that gave them a bad rep. While taking awhile to get up to speed, once there they could comfortably cruise all day.

    As for this unit, it is in nice shape and it is my guess that it spent most of its life with the top up. The design revision to add the quarter windows was an improvement as I feel confined in mine when the top is up and I have the quarter windows.

    Going to try and include a photo of mine here. Not as nice as this one. If you want a ragtop and don’t mind the color combo on this, this would be a nice way to go.

  14. charlie Member

    The next generation (the bean shaped) are much the same mechanically, but if you can find one with the V6 and leather it is a great, underappreciated, inexpensive, way into the hobby. You can drive it, it is reliable, you can get parts, and the top goes down.

  15. AMCFAN

    This is actually not a bad find. The eventual popularity of the K car and Lee on TV telling everyone if they could find a better car “Buy it” Really saved Chrysler. Lee brought back the convertible and introduced the iconic mini van. For the money would be a great little driver

  16. dr fine

    It’s been many years ago, but my ’68 Mustang had a good top but a brown rear window. I went to a really good hardware store and got a piece of clear vinyl that actually was convertible top material. I used a heavy thread and awl to sew it in and it lasted until the top had finally had it.

  17. Jerry Brentnell

    the trick here is find a shelby daytona and transplant the whole front end in this and with some tweaking ,go hunt mustangs, did you know chrysler offered a kit to turn these cars into a v8 rear wheel drive! why? well back in the day there was a stock car racing class for daytonas and plymouth lasers, i drove a lebaron coupe with a 5.2 magnum 5 speed that looked bone stock it was rear wheel drive what a hoot to drive

  18. Maestro1 Member

    Lee had some great ideas and saved the company. I had a friend who has Passed who had the Dodge equivalent of this car and had no issues whatsoever.
    I had a station wagon, a Reliant K, and it was very slow and fine. I know the horror stories on this product, and the person who suggested the next design with a v-6 has it right; that is the car if you can find one that’s not beaten to death.

  19. Fiete T.

    If you keep your eyes open, Chrysler TC by Maserati pop up. Decent ones are a bit more…but a lot more entertaining. And for gits & shiggles you can call it a “Chryslerati.”

  20. Ken Carney

    I can just see my Mother-In-Law tooling around in this car and having a
    grand old time doing it. Mom had an ’86 LeBaron very close to this one,
    only hers had the turbocharged four cylindrr engine instead. Sadly, due
    to a defect in the turbo itself, Mom’s car burned to the ground one morning
    just before she was ready to leave for work. The insurance adjuster told
    Mom that this was a common problem with this particular engine. I’d buy
    her this car because it is not a turbo, and I’m sure that she would enjoy it.

  21. charlie Member

    But the later versions with the Chrysler engine are less trouble, less expensive, and just as good (or bad) looking.

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