Hot Hatch: 1986 Dodge Omni GLH Turbo

As the ’80s pushed toward the ’90s, fresh flavors began to replace the bitter taste of slow and poor-running cars that plagued the world during the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. The Omni gave Dodge a player in the burgeoning market for a reasonably-roomy and fuel-sipping European-style hatch-back. The space-efficient layout of a transverse I4 and FWD makes for great traction and a minimal floorpan “hump,” four doors, and a back seat suitable for adults. Popular abroad since the advent of the innovative Mini, this formula gained respect in America as gas prices rose. This turbocharged 1986 Dodge Omni GLH represented the sporty side of the category. Popular with young buyers, the turbo “Hot Hatch” represented New Muscle, a practical alternative to the V8, RWD cars that the upcoming generation’s parents knew so well. Bucking its target market, this 82,000-mile specimen in Santee, California attracted a 58 year-old new-car buyer who kept the almost completely stock sedan until his passing at the age of 91! Offered here on craigslist, the imperfect but well-preserved Omni can be yours for $7500. Thanks to reader Matt B. for spotting this potent black beauty.

This Golden State four-door shows sunburn on the horizontal surfaces and rocker trim, but otherwise looks good for a car no one would have expected to last this long. “European” often suggested “sporty and efficient,” a combination American cars rarely delivered in a single vehicle. At the time, no small car feature was more European than a hatchback, and buyers had to have one. Need to move a giant TV? No problem; simply pop the hatch and fold down the rear seats. Try that in your Corvette! When not hauling furniture, the hatchback promised nimble handling and excellent gas mileage.

What might be the world’s ugliest steering wheel reminds you that this is an economy car at its core, but smash the accelerator and the 2.2L turbo four spools up 146 HP, only 33 fewer than Chevrolet’s Z28, the latter saddled with an extra 1000 lb. Grippy 50-series tires and a sport-tuned suspension add to the fun when you dive into the corners. It’s easy to forget you’re surrounded by gray plastic when you can dust off nearly every V8 of the era. To be fair, the light gray interior was practically a legal mandate in the ’80s. Kudos to the seller for showing that driver seat wear, the interior’s only obvious flaw.

This profile could almost be taken for a new car in Europe today. Only the sharp corners disclose the Omni’s decade of manufacture. Pictures of this GLH’s turbo engine escaped the listing, but it’s said to run “excellent,” and a non-purist will find power mods for this model limited only by their bank account. What’s your favorite hot hatch?

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Comments

  1. alphasud Member

    I was shopping hot hatches when these came out. Remember reading the car review articles and ended up with a Golf GTI. Even though the GTI lacked the power I think it was 105hp the GTI was much more refined than the Omni with better composure and no issues with torque steer of which the Omni had in spades. Not a car I would desire to own 34 years later.

    Like 6
    • Rick

      I test drove the gti in 85 then tried the glh bought the dodge the power was addictive car was 9500 dollars brand new

      Like 2
  2. Richard

    My dad had a Plymouth Horizon ( Same car ) and a K-car both “New” and both were pieces of garbage, he took very good care of both cars and they still fell apart and there was nothing he could really do to stop it! I personally would never buy even a new Chrysler product and I really wish that Chrysler was the one to go out of business instead of American Motors, AMC had much better quality and had much more potential.

    Like 1
    • bone

      I’ve always liked AMC cars . In the 1960s I would saythey were comparable to Chrysler , by the 1970s AMC was lagging behind ; some cars, like the mid 70s Ambassador wagon were still the same shell as the late 60s version. By the time Chrysler purchased them in the early 1980s , AMC was sinking, still rehashing old platforms like the Gremlin and Hornet because they didn’t have the money for retooling.
      The early 80s front drive cars from the big three were all awful ; they were all learning how to make fuel efficient cars and for the most part they came up with junky, underpowered , boring cars. The technology has greatly improved now !

      Like 1
  3. kiteflier

    Oldest son bought one of these for a pittance in ’94. It had a blown head gasket and I helped him replace it. I wanted to take it for a test drive and took it up to the highway. This was before we knew anything about the engine set up or that a hose and few other things were missing that controlled the turbo boost. I floored it when we were doing about 45 not knowing it had unlimited boost because of the missing parts. Never experienced acceleration like that before or since. It was like a booster rocket kicked in.. for about 10 seconds then “boom” as the head gasket blew, Fixed that again and the boost control and he used it as a daily driver for years. Thing could go that’s for sure.

    Like 19
  4. Ed Hardt

    These were late ’70s cars and over stayed there welcome far to long. In ’86 these were peppy and poorly made piles of crap. Today you’d have an ugly car that if it is running will be able to keep up with modern traffic in a straight line.

    Like 6
  5. bikefixr

    That’s a lot of $. Shelby’s personal car with a fraction of the miles sold for not much more than this.

    Like 2
  6. Hemidavey

    I had one, super fun to drive! Easy to mod. Looks like condition is very good. This is NOT A SHELBY!! The Shelby version had better crank, rods, pistons, very different intake and turbo, wheels, tires, stripes, etc. I worked on these engine programs at Chrysler. Implying it wasn’t driven hard is BS. I drive my Hemicuda like I stole it! I’m 60 and not slowing down. These cars are getting hard to find in very good condition, most rotted out and scrapped long ago.

    Like 6
  7. david R

    I had one of these after years of driving a Chevette. What a difference! Great cars.

    Like 4
  8. JP

    These & thier twin Plymouth look alikes were great little puddle-jumpers used by NJ Bell & other companies for company cars!

    Like 1
    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

      Comparing this car to an Omnirizon is like saying a Road Runner is the same as a Satellite.

      Like 3
      • Dave

        Well…that depends on what year. Satellites predate the Road Runner but shared the same body. The difference was the trim levels…The Belvedere and Road Runner were on par, while the Satellite and GTX were on par. The GLH was more like a GTX than the Road Runner. In its time, the turbo 4 made it more like a family version of the GTI on steroids. I owned a 82 Rabbit and a 83 GTI and the GTI had a nicer interior but drove more like a go kart.

        Like 1
  9. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    I owned a black one back in ’86, it had a red interior.

    Mine came to a premature end when I literally wrapped it around a telephone pole, so a part of me wants to leave this well enough alone. But, another part wants to take it out for an awesome thrill ride!

    Like 3
  10. Stangalang

    I had one of these years ago..bought it used..very nice car and pretty fast also handled well. The bumpers were a bit nasty so I started polishing them and noticed what I thought was chrome peeling in the corner..nope the chrome had a thin layer of plastic still on the bumpers (from the factory I’m sure) when I finished peeling I had new bumpers..then I had to get it painted lol

    Like 1
  11. Aunt Man

    Nobody has mentioned how this car got its TLA: supposedly a development test driver said, this thing goes like hell!

  12. RacinRob4

    Ad been pulled by owner

  13. TJ

    It sleeps 4 in a pinch. A Las Vegas pinch. Sadly I know this first hand.

    Like 2
    • wallyum

      I can attest to the fact that the trunk holds an incredible amount of beer. We took mine to North Myrtle Beach the year after we’d been dinged $1 a can for Red, White & Blue, Black Label and Schaeffer. Since we were just packing shorts and t-shirts, we filled the excess with cheap beer from home. I don’t remember what we did the next day, but that first day we drank cheap.

  14. Monte Richardson

    Bought mine new in ’85. Bright red with a red interior. NEVER lost to a GTI in a straightaway OR twisty road. GTI drivers say their cars are more “refined”. Hahaha. They can have refined…I’ll take the lead!

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