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Shelby’s GTI: 1985 Dodge Omni GLH

1985 Dodge Omni GLH

After Lee Iacocca asked Carroll Shelby to breathe some life into Chrysler’s bare-bones hatchback, the famed performance consultant created the Dodge Omni GLH (short form for “Goes Like Hell.”) When stacked against competitors like the GTI and the Civic Si, the GLH was a formidable opponent right out of the box. What’s even more impressive is that the Omni was a contender before a turbo was bolted onto the 2.2 liter engine, which was offered later as an option. A seller in Maine apparently felt these cars are worth saving, as he’s given a naturally-aspirated GLH a new lease on life and listed it here on craigslist with an asking price of $3,000.

Dodge GLH Engine

Though quality and comfort were never strong suits of the Omni, it’s hard not to love the bulldog personality of the GLH. It never tried to hide its econocar roots, but Shelby injected enough performance goodies to make consumers cross-shopping a MK2 GTI consider the Dodge as a viable alternative. Stiffer springs, firmer shocks, a lower ride height and a few extra horses and pounds of torque (courtesy of higher compression and revised camshaft profile) helped put the GLH neck and neck with Volkswagen’s hot hatch, often considered the benchmark of the breed.

Dodge Omni GLH Interior

The later turbocharged models are considered more desirable by many. I get that, the additional performance is no joke, as the GLHS could clear the quarter-mile in less than 16 seconds, serious scoot for a car that in stock form wouldn’t be considered a performer for anything other than fuel economy. Both models feature low curb weight and decent handling, making either platform a great choice for an autocross car on the cheap. Plus, starting in 1985 all GLH models received the factory body kit and air dam as standard equipment, along with the 15 inch wheels and more aggressive rubber.

Dodge Omni GLH

This original, 2-owner car for sale in Maine looks like a great example of a classic Shelby special. The seller purchased it from the original owner, who held onto it until 1999. Although it is lacking a headliner and some interior trim, the hard-to-find bits are there. In addition, the maintenance performed by the seller includes a lot of projects I’d be glad to not have to tackle myself, such as fuel lines, head gasket, a new gas tank and wheel bearings. While the non-turbo model may be slower in a straight line, a car like this is all about the twisties for me. What do you say? If you were looking for a hot hatch on the cheap, does this GLH make you want to run like heck to the bank? Let us know in the comments below.


  1. Mike G

    Design wasn’t Chrysler’s strong suit here, but they were quick, as I recall one that gave my modified Scirocco a good run in High school! A little upholstery cleaner would go a long way in this case.

    Like 1
    • Jim

      Good luck with the upholstery cleaner. Within a month of leaving the dealership lot they all looked like that. It was some clever design that was able to capture all impurities in the air and adhere permanently to every nook and cranny and high spot in that interior. I scrubbed ours religiously from new and it still looked like crap.

      They do go like stink though. I had wayyyy too much fun banging one of these through the twisties. Wore down a set of Goodyear Eagles in about 20k miles. Parents were not pleased (it was mom’s car)

      Like 1
  2. cory

    wow. I guess anything can be collectible if you wait long enough. given Chrysler build quality perhaps GLS is a better tag? not my cup of tea.

  3. Patrick

    Wow! Seeing this GLH really brings back memories for me! In June of ’86 I purchased an ’85 exactly like the one pictured. It was nearly brand new, having less than 5,000 miles on the odometer. I purchased it because my daily driver 1965 Ford Falcon Sprint didn’t have seat belts and I had just welcomed my first child into the world (she came home in the front seat of the Falcon!). I remember feeling like it was the fastest thing on the road….until my buddy with a TPI equipped 1985 IROC Z smoked me on RT 495 while we were headed to Hampton Beach, NH. I remember doing smoky burnouts in the McDonalds parking lot, much to the amazement of onlookers. Of course, I would have to roll it backwards first but it would leave a nice “J” on the pavement. I drove it daily for a little over a year, but had to trade it in for something a little bigger and equipped with 4wd (I bought a then brand new 1987 Nissan Pathfinder SE for the princely sum of $19,000.00). It was a fun car, super reliable and a great driver (weather permitting with the low profile rubber). I always loved that chrome valve cover, and was always positive that it made it go faster (lol). Shelby’s influence may have been minimal on this model, but the forthcoming GLH-S was a whole different ball of wax. I hope someone snatches this great find up and enjoys it as much as I did mine. Thanks Jeff for bringing back those fond memories!

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Glad you enjoyed it, Patrick, and thanks for sharing your memories. It sounds like it would have been a helluva fun car to own in the 80s, along with a GTI or Civic Si (hell, even an Escort GT) of the day. Those original hot hatches speak to me something fierce. I can’t remember the last time I saw a GLH in any form in person – it was ages ago, whenever it was.

      • Patrick

        My pleasure Jeff! It certainly was one helluva fun car, especially as a teenager who was (and still is) a major car nut. The Pathfinder that replaced it was slower than a bay window Bus, I can recall being passed by a few on inclines :((( so that was a real bummer. Car like this and the others you mentioned were fantastic “back in the day”. I traded in the Pathfinder for another lost car of the ’80’s, an 1987 1/2 Subaru XT coupe. It was the GL-10 model, turbo charged, AWD and “electro pneumatic suspension with height control”, said it right on the back window. Now that was high tech stuff! I think you have about as much of a chance of running into one of these nowadays as you would a GLH. Fortunately for the GTI and the Civic Si, they have developed a much stronger following, rightfully so, as they were and are far superior cars! Keep the hits coming Jeff!

    • Chris

      Hampton Beach in the 80’s. I can remember taking an hour to make one pass around the strip in my GTA.

      • Patrick

        That was a quick pass Chris! That place was crazy!

  4. Dan h

    As a mechanic here in So. Cal., I’ve driven allot of fast cars but the quickest (and your gonna laugh) was a Mazda 323 hatchback with a massive turbo and about $40k worth of performance gear.
    That was a humbling day and I now have a whole new respect for these little machines!
    I’ll bet the this Omni could be made into a really fun car for cheap.

  5. david

    I remember the GLH. I was selling cars at a multi line dealer in The Peoples Republic of Bezerkely Ca. Most of the other salesman would borrow a Datsun Z or some Toyota to go to lunch or whatever. I loved taking the GLH. When someone wanted to know what “torque steer” was, I would take them out in that car. When the turbo spooled up in the middle of a turn; big time torque steer! It was actually fun purposely getting it to t.q. as long as you knew what to expect. Most of the drivers in Berkeley Ca. were challenged to drive anything with more horsepower than a Civic. So I don’t think we ever sold that GLH, but traded it away for some other slug of a car. Great fun!

  6. Jeff Lavery Staff

    Patrick, we better never get in the same place where project cars are present and we each have $500 in our pockets! I almost attempted to buy an XT6 – with a manual trans – out of a junkyard in PA. It killed me, the thing was PERFECT (besides whatever mechanical calamity put it there). White with a mint blue cloth interior. I then YouTube’d several videos of XT6s with full exhausts and spent days wondering how I could get it out of there…sigh. Too many cars, too little time/space/money/etc.

    • Patrick

      Yes Jeff, I certainly appears that we have similar taste! I have never had a Miata or a Civic Si (each great cars!), but at final count I have owned 13 Mustangs and two BMW’s….my current is an E46 330xi with a 5 speed and my former was an E39 540i with the M Sport package and a 6 speed. Now that was a fast car! A little project I am working on with a friend is transplanting a Subaru SVX 3.3 liter 6 cylinder into a 1995 Impreza that we race in the 24 Hours of LeMons. That should be fun too! Those XT6’s were really neat….my old XT that I mentioned was actually traded in on an XT6 when they came out in 1988. Unfortunately we are in the same boat….not enough time/space/money, but boy do we enjoy it when we can. I hope some day we do run into each other….I think we would have plenty to talk about!

      • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

        Patrick, what team do you race with and where? I’m part of Austin Powerless (Marina) and RiffRAF Racing (TR6) in the Southeast, we run CMP and occasionally elsewhere…

    • cory

      i’m gonna guess the suspension put it there. lots of problems with that. I loved those quirky bastards, I remember the funky mail slot door handles and the space age interior.

  7. tom999p

    There was a complete GLH Omni in my local junkyard last summer. It even had the front air dam and driving lights. Someone also sold an all original GLH in my town for $1k just last month, a great deal.. There’s a GLHS Omni for sale now in Long Island for $9800.

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Oh man. I would have absolutely grabbed the fogs and air dam, not to mention the side skirts. What a shame it went to the scrapyard!

      • tom999p

        Well I’d asked around on the two 1980’s dodge forums and people responded too late. I would have pulled them off for someone too for free. I hate to see super rare cars like that get crushed :(

  8. jim s

    this would be a fun daily driver. they did good on an autocross course back in the day. nice find.

  9. cliffyc

    Hello chaps from the UK!,we never got a “hot” version of this model. In Europe it was sold as the Simca Horizon,later (after Chrysler takeover),the Talbot Horizon. The best optioned model the Premium (not sold in the UK!),had a 1582cc motor giving 90 bhp making it a 110 mph car. It was I suppose a Golf GTI alternative. The big selling hot hatch from this stable was the Sunbeam Lotus which was very popular (I guess never imported to the States,sadly). It became a regular (and still is) ,rally and track car. With Lotus tweeks it has a 2.2 litre 4cyl engine with standard power at 150 bhp (in race tune 234 bhp!),so in it’s tiny body it was a fast little car out of the showroom!!. Hope someone in the US has one of these as they are fun!.

    • RickyM

      Great cars – really lusted after them ! Problem was Talbot (Chrysler) metal was not good, and add in wintry salty roads, the tin worm soon attacked them. Still see the odd one around but not often………..

  10. Dirty Dingus McGee

    As long as the tin worm hasn’t burrowed to deeply into it, this is a good deal for somebody. I have owned 3 of the Charger stablemates(currently still have an 86 Shelby Charger), and as long as you follow certain maintenance recommendations, they can be quite dependable. Glad the shifter linkage has been upgraded as they were soft from the factory.The interior was never noted for quality parts, but at least they were easily replaced. You can hot rod the engine a good bit, as an 85 non turbo I believe it has a factory 2 barrel carb, and get around 150 hp quite easily without sacrificing dependability and a small penalty of fuel mileage.

    Kinda glad I don’t have the time or space for this one. Besides, it’s too cold to go to Maine this time of year. And those grapes were probably sour anyway.

  11. Patrick

    Hi Jamie! I raced with my good friend and 9 LeMons race veteran Jeremy in his 1995 Subaru Impreza, The team name is “Fubaru” and we ran at the race at NHMS in Loudon, NH this past October. We want to run twice this year, in August in CT at Thompson Motor Speedway and again at NHMS in October. We are hoping for better success with our revamped car this year and if all goes well we plan on doing CMP the following year. Hope to run into you, well, not literally of course lol!

  12. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    Yes, fond memories here, too. I bought a GLH Turbo new in ’86 and probably drove it around the Hampton Beach Strip a few times too. I really wanted a GLHS from Fitzgerald – Hicks in Laconia, but they were out of my price range, so I “settled” for the GLH-T.
    Man, it was great surprising the hell out of IROC-Z drivers – I could smoke them off the line easily.
    Sadly, it is the only car I ever totaled, and would go look at this one if it were the Turbo model.

  13. KennyS

    Wow. So many memories. My first new car was a 1986 GLH in blue. My first exhibition of acceleration ticket was for lighting up the front tires at an intersection when a Rabbit pulled up next to me and revved up his engine. It was like a first girlfriend in a lot of ways. I look back on it fondly, had a blast with it, and I only remember the good times with it.

  14. DOUG P.

    had a 85 GLHT. bought it in 1989 for $ 3000. I bought it from the owner of the auto parts store I worked at. Best part was he had already put the better ecu in and all the accessories they made for the car headlamp covers, vent visors and bbs style American racing wheels. the car was red like most in 85. A lady drifted in to my lane and totaled my car with a A pillar hit that bent the frame. sold it to a mechanic friend for 300.

  15. John W

    I looked for ages for one of these. Test drove a turbo ’86 version in rough shape that beat the pants off a young fella’s new ’87 GTA TransAm up until 85+mph. Finally found a non-turbo ’86 GLH. Ended up rebuilding the engine & 5 sp. trans with many parts & input from MoPar Performance. Milled the intake/exhaust ports, high performance cam, exhaust header, .030″ oversize pistons & much more. Also installed a pair of matching gray leather power bucket seats from a Chrysler LeBaron. It looked great and was a fun little rocket on the road as my daily driver. Eventually rust got the better of it from Canadian winters and I ended up putting the engine/trans into an ’84 Dodge Caravan. That was fun, but then my ex got it, too and it ended up being used as a derelict storage unit. Only 15k miles on the engine at most after the rebuild. I wonder if the engine would still turn over…

  16. Bill

    I had an omni non turbo with a manual transmission. I smoked iroc Zs, mustang gts, and cars like VW were a joke. I’ve had my cars and the omni had the best gear ratio I’ve ever experienced

  17. James

    This is my car! Hahaha funny to see it here… I love it! The car jumped between owners for a few years after this ad and ended up sitting for a year or so on a farm. I purchased it from him and have been fixing it up a lot. These are such loveable cars.

    Like 1

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